Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Mother Complained to My Brother About Her Birthday Party”

I am writing you in desperation. Yesterday was my mother’s birthday and I asked her not to make any food for me or my family because I did not want to bother her, but she kept insisting on making food. Finally, I said I will also make a dish, but she said no. So I said OK and then I went to her house to celebrate her birthday, but I guess she was so exhausted making food that she told my brother, “Next time when it’s my birthday, just take me to a restaurant.” Well, I got offended, because I told her not to make food and then she was complaining to my brother. I let her know the next day that next time we siblings will have a potluck so she does not have to make food (my two single brothers live with her and our dad, and we have a sister who lives nearby and doesn’t talk to me). One of my brothers agreed to this proposal. The reason I didn’t offer to take her out to a restaurant is because last year I took her to a Chinese restaurant and she got sick afterwards, and, since her birthday fell on a weekday this year, I didn’t have time to cook a dinner for her, which is why I agreed to come to her house for dinner.

She is not a typical mother. She doesn’t care about my kids. She never visits my house unless I invite her. She never says: “It has been so many days, why don’t you visit us?” She is selfish and she always thinks that, whenever I want to visit her house, she will have to make food. I always ask her not to make food. My siblings are also selfish; they never want to do anything. They are just living their own lives. By the way, I am the first born, so I feel obliged.

What is the best way to celebrate her birthday because none of my siblings care except one brother? I feel like next time I will just visit her unannounced, give her a gift, and leave. One more thing: I have two sisters — the one who lives near my mom who does not talk to me and one who lives in Canada. My mom is always praising them in front of everybody, but she’s not praising me. I don’t think I have a place in my mother’s heart. I am sick and tired of her attitude. I tried to sit down and explain to her about her unfairness, but she started fighting with me. I do not go to her house that much and try not to call her too much because she drains me. Please advise. — Tired of Mom’s Attitude

This is more than what to do for your mom’s birthday, no? It sounds like there’s a LOT of baggage here — much of it sounding pretty self-created on your part — but I’ll get to all that in a minute. First: your mom’s birthday. Clearly, she just wants to go out for dinner. Why is this so hard? She doesn’t want you to cook, she doesn’t want to cook, she doesn’t want anyone worrying about hosting and cleaning up and all of that — she just wants someone to take her out. Just because she complained about getting sick at the one restaurant that you took her to last year doesn’t mean you should never take her out anywhere ever again. She has expressed that what she wants is to go to a restaurant for her birthday, so, for the love of God, quit with all this ridiculous drama, ask her what restaurant she wants to go to, make a reservation, and go. If she gets sick or she complains about something — well, she picked out the same restaurant, so that’s on her, I guess.

But, as we know, this isn’t really about the birthday. This is about you feeling like you don’t matter to your mother and making a big stink about whatever you can to try to get some attention from her. I can’t quite understand what it is she’s doing that’s so terrible. She doesn’t drop by unannounced? Most people would be happy to have a mother who respects boundaries and calls first before stopping by. She praises your sisters in front of you? Ok, I can see how that might get annoying, but she’s proud of her kids. I bet she praises you in front of them, too. She gets tired after cooking a dinner on her own birthday for her kids and grandkids when all she wanted was to be taken out to a restaurant? Normal. She asks to be taken out to a restaurant for her next birthday and you shoot her down and suggest a potluck instead? At whose home? Hers? So she has to prepare to host and then clean up afterwards? Take her to a damn restaurant!

Ok, sorry, I said we were going to move on from that, but really, I just can’t get over how you’re making this birthday thing all about you and using it to highlight what you feel are gross injustices in the way your mother treats you. I don’t see the injustices. Nothing that you’ve mentioned here sounds unfair or cruel or cold, except maybe your idea to drop by your mother’s home on her next birthday, unannounced, with a gift that you’ll hand her before quickly leaving. Come on, grow up! You sound like an 11-year-old who’s jealous that her mother is giving too much attention to the newest baby.

Stop with the passive-aggressive bullshit. Tell your mother that you love her and that, if it’s possible for her, you need her to express her love for you in ways that are more compatible with your love language (more frequent visits or phone calls, verbal expressions of love, asking about your children, praising you to you and telling you she’s proud of you). Recognize that these expressions may not come naturally for her and be extra appreciative of any effort she makes.

Ask her if she knows how much you love her and whether there are ways you could more clearly express your love so she understands what’s in your heart. Maybe for her, she would like for her wishes to simply be honored. Maybe, when she asks to be taken out to a restaurant, and you’re all, “Nah, we’ll just bring a bunch of food to your house,” she feels the same way you do when she fails to “drop by unannounced” — like you aren’t loving her the right way. Maybe there’s all this love between you and it’s just not being expressed in ways either of you fully appreciate or even understand. So, let her know what you need and ask her what she needs. And LISTEN. Listen to her. She may be your mom, but she’s a person just like you are. She experiences disappointment and sadness and feeling let down, too. Your relationship isn’t just HER responsibility to maintain. You have to put effort in, too. You have to act with love, as well. In reading your letter, it’s difficult to see where you’ve been doing that. You whine a lot about all the ways she’s let you down, but you mention very few things you’ve done to try to appeal to or celebrate her. Your mother-daughter dynamic is no longer one between an adult and a child. You are both the adults now. Start acting like one.

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

22 comments… add one
  • avatar

    SpaceySteph February 28, 2017, 9:46 am

    “She never visits my house unless I invite her. She never says: “It has been so many days, why don’t you visit us?” She is selfish and she always thinks that, whenever I want to visit her house, she will have to make food.”

    Wait a minute, she doesn’t come over unless invited and she doesn’t nag you to visit more often? And, to top it all off, when you come over she feeds you? The nerve of that woman.

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    • Dear Wendy

      Dear Wendy February 28, 2017, 10:03 am

      Right?

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      • juliecatharine

        Juliecatharine February 28, 2017, 10:21 am

        That bitch served me CRACKERS!!

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  • avatar

    Hannanas February 28, 2017, 10:42 am

    LW – I feel for you, but I think you may be too controlling. It sounds like you want to decide everything because you feel like as the oldest, it’s your duty – but it isn’t, really. Especially if you don’t get appreciation, which it also sounds like.
    Plus you don’t have anything nice to say about your whole family – one sister doesn’t even speak to you anymore. Your siblings don’t do anything. They ‘live their lives’. Your mom doesn’t act the way you think she should act. And that’s what it boils down to: no one acts the way you think they should act. People tend to notice other people judging them.
    .
    I would seriously let go a bit. Take a step back. It’ll do you good.
    .
    Also: you have a place in your mothers’ heart – every kid does.

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  • GertietheDino

    GertietheDino February 28, 2017, 10:58 am

    You know what I do? I pool the family, select date that works for most, we do food or select a location and don’t bitch about it! We aren’t doing this for our happiness, it’s about mom (or whomever). Get over yourself, stop being so passive aggressive and deal.

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  • avatar

    LisforLeslie February 28, 2017, 11:07 am

    My grandpa was awesome – I’m just going to get that out of the way before I retell the following anecdote:

    He would brag about his grand kids – but would always brag to my folks about the cousins and brag about us to our aunt. He never bragged about us to our own parents. Years later everyone compared notes and found out he was bragging about all of us. We knew he loved us, we knew he was proud, we just didn’t know how much.

    My point – and I do have one- are you sure you’re being treated differently or does she treat all of you the same it’s just that you’re viewing it with a massive humongous chip on your shoulder?

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    • avatar

      MissDre February 28, 2017, 11:47 am

      Yeah, my grandma is like that. She’s always bragging about my brother and about my cousins. I’ve never once heard her say that she’s proud of me, or brag about me, or anything like that. But my mom says she’s probably bragging about ME to my cousins, and they probably have no idea how much she boasts about them to me.

      The only thing I’ve heard her say, in an incredulous, bewildered tone, is how amazed she is that all of her grandchildren turned out so incredibly different but all equally amazing. And in my head I laugh, because yes grandma, we’re all individual people (she’s not good with kids haha, she admits that).

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  • bittergaymark

    Bittergaymark February 28, 2017, 12:13 pm

    This letter is really strange. Wendy nailed it… I honestly fail to see ANY of the myriad of problems supposedly presented here…

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    • honeybeenicki

      honeybeenicki February 28, 2017, 12:29 pm

      But don’t you see?! She doesn’t come over uninvited! How dare she!

      Reply Link
      • bittergaymark

        Bittergaymark February 28, 2017, 12:40 pm

        Honestly? This is the MOST bizarre letter on here in a while. I can’t make heads or tails of it…

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  • avatar

    Northern Star February 28, 2017, 12:27 pm

    This all seems really, really childish. Mom said she didn’t want to cook for her birthday, but instead of suggesting ways for Mom NOT to cook, you showed up at her house, where you know darn well she feels obligated to host/feed you.

    How about inviting her to your house and ordering in—or taking her to restaurant—or making something ahead of time/in the crockpot for a weeknight celebration. A festive taco bar would take 10 minutes to set up if you chopped ingredients ahead of time, for example. It’s just not that hard.

    It sounds like you don’t like your family members, so doing something nice for them is a tedious chore rather than a heartfelt gift. If that’s how you feel, just make things as easy as possible. You can’t control what other people do. You can’t force your siblings to pitch in. You can only do what you think is right, and be at peace with your own actions.

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    • avatar

      SpaceySteph February 28, 2017, 4:25 pm

      I totally get the weeknight pinch but then… can’t you celebrate her bday not on the actual day? Isn’t it very common for people to celebrate things on the closest weekend. Say “Mom’s bday is on a Wednesday this year and it’s a little tough for me to throw a party that night, how about everyone comes over Saturday and we’ll celebrate?” Then call mom on Wednesday and say “Happy Bday, can’t wait to celebrate with you on Saturday!”
      It really does seem like LW decided this is how it has to be (when it wasn’t her decision), expected her entire family to get in line, and is mad that anyone dared to question the brilliance of her plan. (Also there’s obviously more to the story of why her sister doesn’t even talk to her… LW is trying to come off as a flawless, poor little victim which I suspect is far from the truth.)

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  • avatar

    Arra February 28, 2017, 1:17 pm

    LW, you need to read your letter out loud, perhaps in front of a mirror….then put this BS in perspective. Let me help you get started: Your mom will not always be around. Your “problem” is childish and petty. There are many of us who wish we could still call or visit our mothers any day, let alone on birthdays. Get over yourself & grow up, despite what you wrote in your letter, you seem to be the selfish one. Kiss your mom, hug your mom, love on your mom, appreciate your mom, celebrate your mom (on more days than just her birthday). Your mother doesn’t have to be a “perfect” person in order to get respect from you. Adjust YOUR attitude so that you won’t be forced to look back on your life with regrets.

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  • meadowphoenix

    meadowphoenix February 28, 2017, 1:32 pm

    Stop taking everything your mother does so personally.

    You have some narrative about your place in this family (you’re the eldest constantly burdened with responsibility and no. one. appreciates. you.) and you need to let that go. That narrative isn’t going to make your family relationships smoother.

    Look, would I feel wanted if I thought that if I didn’t call my mother, we’d never talk and she’d never see me? No. Do I appreciate people saying that they will do something you didn’t ask for and explicitly removed responsibility for and then have them complain about having to do it? No (although seems like the apple didn’t fall far from the tree with that sort of gift-sharking). But these are fixable and tolerable foibles, that start with communication.

    With that in mind: tell your brother to stop telling you crap about your mother. Either you’re nosy or he’s shit-stirring and it’s uncool.

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  • avatar

    csp February 28, 2017, 1:44 pm

    LW, It sounds like your mom is passive aggressive. My mom and mother in law are both this way. They will say “oh don’t bother” about all sorts of stuff then turn around and say things to other people rather than speak to me directly. Most recently, my MIL refused to talk to us and wouldn’t tell us why she was mad. She said we hurt her. I said to her, “I cannot make this right if you don’t tell me why you are upset. That is not fair to me.” I found out that she was mad we weren’t taking her to my son’s first santa visit. So she felt left out. Was this silly? I thought so but I want her to feel valued and cared about so I work hard to make that happen. So we found a way that she could be there for santa. The same thing with birthdays. One year we had it at her home but i brought balloons and flowers and cup cakes. Does a grown up need balloons? yes, because what you are doing is focusing on what makes them feel valued. Don’t worry about your siblings or anything, just focus on giving your mother the relationship you want to have with her and let it grow from there. Look up the 30 day kindness challenge.

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  • avatar

    Scooze February 28, 2017, 1:51 pm

    I want to know why the LWs father, and two brothers living at home, all did nothing for this birthday. The LW is taking responsibility for all of this on herself, but WTF! There are three family members living in the home who should have at the minimum cooked dinner for mom. Why didn’t dad make the plans? He couldn’t pick up a phone and make a reservation. What is going on here?

    Also, there is more going on here than mom not visiting unannounced. She said her mom “doesn’t care about her kids”. So there is definitely dysfunction at play.

    I agree she needs to be direct with her mom, and she needs to stop making all of this her problem.

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  • avatar

    Janelle February 28, 2017, 3:25 pm

    I also didn’t get the thing about being sick from a restaurant last year and so now you won’t take her to one? Almost every human has become sick off food from a restaurant at some point in their lives. Pretty sure we still go out to eat, perhaps not to the same restaurant.

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  • avatar

    for_cutie February 28, 2017, 3:49 pm

    Why doesn’t the LW take her mother out for a belated Birthday dinner – just the two of them. LW gets the time and attention she wants and the mother gets her dinner. Hell, maybe make it a monthly date between the two. The relationship is not going to get better by avoiding conversations and then not listening to each other when they actually talk about what they want.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros February 28, 2017, 8:18 pm

    The hard thing for me is determining who’s at fault in your relationship, and what is it she’s actually doing wrong versus your perception of the situation. Is it that she’s passive-aggressive, is it more than that? I can’t tell.

    The issue is that regardless of this, your excuses sound sort of silly. It’s fine to just say you resent her and don’t want to celebrate (well, I mean, here, not to her face necessarily). But you say you couldn’t cook on a weeknight, but then got mad that she didn’t let you bring a dish. You say you couldn’t take her out because she got sick last time (couldn’t ‘you take her to a different restaurant?). You didn’t want her to cook, but you went to her house (I think it would be kind of odd to celebrate a birthday with no food or anything). None of that makes sense. You could have taken her out to a different restaurant, you could have prepped the meal ahead of time, you could have brought a dish over anyway (despite her objections, which for a lot of people are out of politeness), you could have ordered food in, etc.

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  • FireStar

    Firestar February 28, 2017, 9:35 pm

    Why do you care so much? If your mother is indeed cold and distant and doesn’t care about your kids… Why care? Do the minimum – which in this case is what she wants – take her out for a couple of hours. Focus on your own family and being a loving and involved mother and stopping whatever cycle of dysfunctional is going on with your mom and you. If you want to fix the relationship then the others have given you good places to start. If she come when invited and you want to see her more then invite her more. If you don’t want to see her then invite her less. You aren’t a passive victim of circumstances here. These are choices you make.
    You seem to think there is a way all mothers act. There isn’t. Each come with their own issues and all us kids have to navigate them to some degree.

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  • avatar

    L.G.J February 28, 2017, 11:01 pm

    there is so much going on in this letter I am impressed Wendy got through it. I’m really stuck on you not being able to just go to a restaurant. The solution to which was forcing your mother to cook her own birthday dinner? or something, I’m not clear what exactly happened to be honest, or if anybody even got to eat with all the drama.

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