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#23 Mother-daughter quarrel / Daughter creates mess and blames mother


DEAR ABBY: In my 32 years of living, I have spent every Christmas with my family. I am now in a serious relationship. My boyfriend and I recently decided to go skiing the Christmas during our short vacation time.

I called my mother to advise her that we wouldn't be spending Christmas Day with her and my large family, but I would love to come home for Christmas Eve.

My mother hung up on me and we haven't spoken since! She told me I was being unfair and selfish and that I should know how important the holidays are to her. I love my family, but I am an adult and should be able to make my own decisions without feeling guilty.

Isn't it time she let go? What happens one day when I have a family of my own? Is there a right and wrong? FEELING GUILTY IN LOS ANGELES

DEAR FEELING GUILTY: Your mother is wrong. Don't feel guilty. You are offering a fair compromise by attending the family gathering on Christmas Eve. And yes, you will want to establish holiday traditions of your own in the future. Why not begin now? —ABBY

Gabby's Response:

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Gabby’s Response:

Hi Feeling Guilty: Of course you are right, and so is your mom. One thing we are supposed to learn from parents is enrolling skills. Specifically, how to enroll others in support of our plans and projects. You have not learned this yet, so it's not time to cut the apron strings.

To master enrollment you must know how to create a context so as to deliver an important communication. A context is the basket into which you put a communication. In this case, it might have worked better for you to have begun a month or two earlier. "Mother, I want you to begin thinking about me not spending the whole Christmas holiday with you. Someday I'm going to have a family . . ." or, "Mother, do you know what I want for Xmas this year, more than anything else in the world? Something that will really tax your generosity to the max. You'll have to give up something you value very much... I'm afraid to ask because I think you might get upset. Is this a good time to ask?"

You say you called to "advise." In truth, you called to tell her; in communication coaching lingo it's referred to as a dump.  You presented her (dumped in her space) a shocking ultimatum for which she had no choice. You've demonstrated mastery of control, manipulation, unfairness, and selfishness; in short, you have become your mother.

I sense there's more here than what you are presenting. Apparently your family gatherings are not as great for you as they have been for her. We have a tendency to want to share great times and to create our own if nothing great is on the calendar. It's possible you have some withholds between you and your mom and the rest of the clan.

I'm also concerned about Mr. Serious. Sounds like what I used to do, divide and conquer. He is sabotaging instead of supporting your mother. Not a smart move. Of course you're supporting him in thwarting her, so—I'm confused. I'd think it would be, "Come meet my great family. You're going to be a part of it. etc., etc."

The responsible way for you to have described what happened is, "I got her so mad that I caused her to hang up on me." And, ". . . I haven't spoken to her since, nor have I enrolled everyone in helping me get back into communication with her." You have created what's referred to as a breakdown in communication.

Re: "Isn't it time she let go?" This is a blaming victim statement. Wimpy at best. Your communication model (it's called the Adversarial Communication Model) will have undesirable consequences later on in your personal (marital) relationship.  You will notice yourself causing hang-ups and refusing to accept responsibility for starting arguments—behaviors you have learned from your mother. Notice that she is addicted to being incomplete and to keeping you incomplete (abuse of self and another).

Lastly, there are such things as implied agreements which are as valid as verbal ones. You did have an implied agreement to spend Xmas day with your family. There is a way to change such agreements so that it works for all concerned. Dumping a threat to break an agreement is abusive, it upsets others. —With aloha, Gabby

PS: Please show this to your mom and your boyfriend. It will generate some valuable conversations, ones essential to the success of your future/marriage.

PPS: I suspect that you are hiding (deceiving) your mom about having premarital sex.*  If so, you have a far greater problem on your hands; it's possible that Mr. Divide and Conquer supported you in deceiving your parents, knowing full well it would upset your father to have conned his little girl into deceiving her parents. This is most likely what your letter is really about, as it reveals that all  of you are out-integrity; all that takes place between you is but an imitation of communication.  It's an excellent predictor of future deceits. (read Creating a Marriage Vow that Precludes Cheating.) 

* The responsible ethical way to handle premarital sex is, "Mom, Dad, I'm thinking about having sex with my boyfriend. Is that OK?" Or, "I need to hear your thoughts." And, after you had introduced Mr. Serious to your parents he would have talked with your father, "Your daughter and I are thinking about sex. In the event of an "accidental" pregnancy I promise to pay 50% of all child expenses (through age 18). Is that OK with you?" [This presumes that you intend to have open, honest, and spontaneous communication (zero withholds) with your spouse and children.] If so, do The Clearing Process in support of restoring your integrity (it's free and it works). Once you've done five clearings, one per day for five days in a row, then invite your boyfriend to do The Clearing Process for Couples, you'll be very very glad you did.

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Check back occasionally for minor edits (last edited 2/1/13)

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