How to Cope with Not Being Able to Establish Expectations with My Mother's Visit

Updated on October 13, 2019
B.F. asks from Seattle, WA
23 answers

This is related to my other question regarding this topic here:

Historically, I have not ever had a good relationship with my mother. She has been selfish, mean, self-centered and verbally abusive. Won't go into too much detail but it's never been so bad that I'd cut her off completely but we just don't enjoy each other at all. We simply don't ever meet each other's expectations or needs in any way and annoy and bore each other.

Last time my mother came to visit was last Halloween. I was 2 weeks post-partum with her grandchild and she came to my house and stayed for 3 weeks and did not want to help me. All of the conversations were about her and she was so self-absorbed that I was crying in my bedroom.

Basically it's been another year and she's talking about visiting again in 2020 or 2021. I told her that I'm not interested in having any tourists stay in my house as I have 2 young children (a 5 year old and a 1 year old) but if someone who actually wants to be a grandmother comes to visit then it's OK. She told me that she's not paying a lot of money and using all her vacation time to come and sit in my house and be a nanny to my kids for me.

The trouble is that my husband and I don't want someone who is not going to really be a true visitor stay in our house. It's very disruptive to our routine to have a visitor, extra work for us with the kids and cleaning, and a more expensive electricity bill. We have enough to deal with as it is and a lot going on and are not interested in houseguests.

No one is ever going to facilitate our vacations so I'm not keen on facilitating anyone else's especially if it's more work for me. I don't want to make it so that she can't have a relationship with her grandchildren though. But she's not very maternal and gets mad if they have a tantrum or don't want to do what she wants them to do.

I don't think she can afford a hotel. It will be for 2 weeks as well. She won't travel that far for only a week. We are never going to be able to afford to visit her with the 4 of us staying in a hotel. It's too far and too expensive.


My mother keeps saying things like this: I held your baby for hours last time. You're asking me to be something I'm not. I am a loving grandmother but I'm not the one you think I should be. You want to control me or not see me at all.

Me: I want visitors who actually want to be a visitor and are going to be emotionally present and engaged with the kids and not on Facebook for hours.

Her:That settles it! If I can't meet your expectations I will not be spending my precious time and money on travelling out there. I will never be able to make you happy no matter what I do.

Me: I just want you to spend time with your grandchildren and not on your phone.

Her: Your behaviour is appalling.


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answers from Kalamazoo on

Well, at least you fully understand the situation and that it's NOT going to change. So that's good, expectations ARE established already. So the only question is, knowing what you KNOW about her and how she WILL be when there, do you want her to come???? Is it worth it, to deal with her in exchange for the limited time she will spend with her grandkids??? That's the balance, that's the trade. You have to decide if it's worth it. My personal opinion??? I'd suck it up and let her's only once a year or so. I would want to feel like I tried to make it possible for mom and kids to have a relationship......even if they probably won't. At least you can say you tried.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Miami on

I would stop letting her have these arguments with you. All they do is feed on themselves.

“I’m sorry, Mom, but we are not prepared to have any houseguests.” Leave it at that. If she keeps calling, as soon as she starts up talking about that, repeat it and get off the phone.

If she wants to see you all, she will save enough money to afford a hotel.

1 mom found this helpful

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answers from Portland on

You don't like your mother and she doesn't like you in part because each of you want the other to be different than you are. I'm surprised she wants to visit. I would not be happy at your house.

The way she treated you is in the past. You're angry. I get that. I was angry with my father until he was sick facing obstacles new to him. Then I was back to being angry because because he did not meet my needs. Still, I loved him. I didn't want to hurt him. With the help of counseling, I let go of that anger.

I started counseling in my 30's. When I realized that I was often angry when people didn't be the way I expected. My anger was making life difficult.

My first counselor asked me to read a book on co-dependence. The part I eventually understood is that I expected others to make me happy. When I started, I was very unhappy.

I suggest that you're angry and still expect your mother to make you happy. You write about all the ways she treats you. Have you thought about all the ways you treat her that could make her unhappy. Seems she continues to try to have a relationship with you and your family even though her visits are painful for both of you.

I urge you to start counseling so that you can start to heal the pain and anger from your childhood. The only person who can make these visits work is you. Ypu cannot change your mother into the person you needed as a child. Counseling can help you let go of the past. It can help you learn how to love yourself enough to be happy in situations over which you have no control. You are in charge of your happiness.

Of course, you'll still have that anger and you'll learn how to handle it so that it doesn't take over your life.

I suggest you don't have your mother visit until you love yourself and your mother enough to accept that she is who she is. Love isn't only hugs and closeness. It's accepting the other person as they are.

You're now an adult with your own family. Though it's hard to believe, you do not need your mother to change for you to be happy. She will never be able to be the mother you needed as a child. That time is in the past. Learn why you continue to look for something that did not ever exist. Be happy for the love you have now with your husband and children.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I think you have to prioritize your complaints. Her nagging you is a big problem. Not helping with your kids is in the middle - but she's not your nanny and she has a point. I think costing you more electricity is a baffling comment - what in the world is she doing that is using up that much energy? Put in some energy efficient lightbulbs and let that one go. Focus on the big stuff.

I don't think you can tell your visitors how to be. "You can't come unless you're emotionally present and not on Facebook" is what you want, but it's not what you should say. She's on her phone and Facebook and in her room because she cannot relate to people. She's not going to be involved with your kids, so stop hoping for that. She's not going to stop criticizing you, so stop hoping for that.

Your mother has a point with this: "You're asking me to be something I'm not. I am a loving grandmother but I'm not the one you think I should be."

Control what you can control. You control whether she comes to visit, and whether she stays with you. That's all. The answer is "No, that won't work out." You can say that it's not healthy for your children to hear the criticism, but you can't say she increases your utility bills. You can say you don't have the space, or the time, or the interest. You can't say it's because she's on Facebook. Just say no if you cannot adjust.

That said, if you can adjust your expectations and not ask her to be someone different, you might get through this more easily. But I think there's a whole ton of resentment built up over the years and you're having tremendous difficulty putting that away in a mental drawer someplace and seeing her as she is.

If you really need to see her, go alone, and for 3 days. Really. Or, meet halfway for 3 days in a different city and go to museums, or do things separately. Enjoy some tiny things you have in common and let the rest go. Save a little bit of money every month. After all, your mother is talking about 2020 or even 2021. Surely you can set aside a little cash if you really want to see her. If you don't, then be content with your decision. Just stop trying to remake her.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Santa Fe on

My mom is similar to this. What I suggest is you learn to stop expecting anything from her...she cannot be the grandma you wish your kids had and she never will be. What I do is tell my mom a week is my limit for a visitor. She used to always come for 2 weeks and it was very hard. Next, fully expect she is not going to engage with the grandkids but will instead get on her phone (my mom does this every single day when she visits! It's crazy). What I tell myself is this is all she can handle...she can watch her grandkids and be in the same room and to her this is getting quality time with them. The other thing I do is I now always schedule one date night with my husband while she is here. It's great. The last time we went out to a concert which we never get to do anymore. I also invite over some friends for dinner one night...also great because it takes the pressure off. And last, I try to get her to help a little by saying, mom, can you stir this and make sure it doesn't burn while I pick up daughter from soccer? Or mom, can you run and grab these 5 things at the grocery store while I'm at work this morning? That would help. Small things that I would normally have to do but by delegating them it makes my life slightly easier. What I have found is confronting her about her odd and self centered behavior only makes things worse. She feels attacked. She never ever gives in or changes or apologizes. I am lucky in that my husband's mom is a great grandma and likes to spend quality time with our least there is one normal grandma. I'm sorry you have a mom like this and I know what you are going through. What I tell myself now is that one day my mom will die and even though she is a very flawed person I will still miss her in some way. This helps me to be more patient with her and not get as annoyed. It's hard though.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Two weeks is too long. I get along super well with my family, and would never be able to handle that. A week max.

Are you expecting your mom to be a guest (just offer to set table etc.) or be your mom?

I have a girlfriend who thought her mom would still be her mom (like take over when she visited, and look after her kids for her) and was really hurt it didn't happen. Her mother made it clear - I raised my kids - now it's your turn. We're visiting you and your family. They were willing to do as much as guests did - like set the table, etc.

My mom - opposite. My mom bathes my kids and haves them ready for bed, or if we're doing that, she's cleaning up our kitchen. She cooks ..

My husband's parents? They expect to be fed and entertained. We feel drained. They are helpful in their own way, but usually have to be told and instructed, and my husband finds it more draining than it's worth. They are very critical.

To me, it depends on what kind of relationship you have with your mother. If it's easy, have her help out with your kiddos in small doses (be specific) - if it's not, don't. If she doesn't want to - why force it?

The part you can control - easily - is how long she stays or if she stays with you. You say you don't think she can afford a hotel. That's HER business. Not yours. Say you'd love to have her to visit, but you think it's best she stay elsewhere (come for meals, etc.). Colleges, etc. have rooms you can stay (with washrooms, etc.). There are alternatives. I have friends who have done that.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

i'm sorry the dynamic is so fraught with tension. it doesn't sound as if either one of you is going to be able to meet the other halfway. the history is overwhelming you both.

but it also sounds as if she's settled on NOT coming and wasting her precious time and money. so that's fine, right?

i think there's a huge area of happy medium. she should get to decide the degree of involvement she has with the kids, and to engage in social media as much as she wants. you get to decide to what degree your home is open for visitors who are there for fun, not to help you out.

i myself don't demand that my guests do housework, or worry about a slight jump in the electric bill. but you get to pick.

i'd have been pretty unhappy at bringing home a newborn and having someone in my space who wasn't helpful, for sure.

obviously a little family counseling could work miracles here. are you guys open to that?

if not, your contact should be in situations where you're not stuck with each other for days on end. maybe she should book a lovely B&B nearby and plan her vacation to suit her tastes, and include a couple of visits with you and the grandkids. and you could be courteous and accommodating about it.

if neither of you can afford a hotel, then it's a moot point. 2 weeks of being that tightly packed together is doomed from the outset without a lot of discussion, compromise and boundaries.

doesn't sound as if you're there.

'i'm sorry, mom, that's not going to work for us. have a great vacation whatever you pick. i got new photos taken of the kids last week, i'll pop one in the mail to you.'

not every interaction has to be a battle, right?


5 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

It would be lovely to have a mother who was kind and helpful and sensitive to your needs, but that isn’t the mother you have. It sounds like you have a long history together of ways that she let you down, and you both seem stuck in continuing that pattern. You express your hurt, she gets defensive....She is not going to change, so the question is, can you forgive her? Can you accept that she is who she is, probably damaged by her own upbringing, and limited in her ability to be kind and loving?

You have an opportunity with your children to be a kind and loving mom, and hopefully that can be healing for you, but if not, you might want to seek counseling to help you heal. Can you ensure that you have other people in your life who are kind and helpful to you? I think her recognition that you’re asking her to be something she’s not was spot on. This is getting you nowhere.

Since you seem to want your children to have a relationship with her, you need to think about how that can actually be possible. If it is too painful for you to have her in your home for two weeks (which I totally understand, even in the best of circumstances, that can be a long time to have a houseguest), then it seems reasonable to insist that she either shorten her visit or stay in a hotel or both. I don’t understand why she won’t consider a shorter stay, as one good week sounds better to me than two stressful weeks. Maybe if you present it that way, and not focus on the ways she is a lousy houseguest, you can get somewhere with her. Tell her how much you would love to have her visit, don’t say a word about how she lets you down.

Anyway, I think her staying with you for a week could work if you could just go about your routine and fit her in as possible. Don’t worry if she’s on facebook or not present, just live your life. Plan a couple of outings to things you think she might be able to enjoy with your children, like the zoo or an ice cream parlor, and then enjoy what you can and let go what is disappointing to you. If you keep your expectations low, you are less likely to be disappointed.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Tampa on

Why do you expect her to change? She is the way she is. See people for who they are NOT how you want them to be.

Personally I would welcome her( don’t take grandmother away from kids) and just plan out her time. Make some time with her and the kids, like local parks, ( see the troll) see the fish market with her and the kids, gum wall, go see the falls, it’s interesting for kids and adults. You live is a stunning city with a ton of things to do! So honestly I do not blame your mother for not wanting to ogle at the kids for 3 weeks. She ties visit to her vacation. And some grandparents have the mentality “ I raised my kids already..” she sounds young and active.. and you sound almost resentful of that. Even you said she is not too motherly. Remember that!

And few days dedicate to you and her time, have hubby stay at home and you go check out the local wineries, go have nice lunch, meni/pedi, go see a movie and later meet up hubby and kids and go out to a nice diner! Seattle has awesome restaurants.

Her stay needs to be planned out. So you and her do not get bored or have time to be nasty to each other. Make it a positive experience for all. And use the time for yourself as a break from kids and routines! Mommy needs a break! That’s how you keep your sanity!

And I raised 4 kids by myself with no help. Trust me 2 is very doable! As far as help.. I was irritated of anyone trying to help with a newborn. I wanted to do everything .. and newborns sleep like 90% of the day anyways! Lol

Maybe not trying to change her you both can adjust to each other and build a relationship with newly found respect. Lots of luck!

5 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

I'm confused, it sounds like the problem has been solved. She wants to visit on her terms, and you want the visit to be on yours. Since neither of you are willing to accept the other the visit won't be happening, right?
I'm also semi estranged from my mom and she was never into being a grandmother, at all. Sure, it hurt a little when my first child was born but as soon as I realized that's how it was going to be I LET IT GO. It feels so much better when you stop having unrealistic expectations of others! YES, it would be nice if your mom was a helpful, loving, hands on granny but she's not. You need to accept that and move on.
You might also want to rethink your expectations of help. I never quite understand when people say they have no "help" from family. Why do you even expect that? They are your kids, your responsibility. If you need a break then hire a sitter or trade babysitting with another family. That's what the rest of us do.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

You just need to tell your mom no. Tell her you have plans that week.

She is welcome to get a hotel and if you have the time? You'll come visit, But otherwise, sorry. We can't accommodate you and your visit at that time.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Springfield on

This is really tough! She's not going to be able to be exactly who you want her to be, so you need to decide whether or not there is room for compromise.

If you really want to be able to have your mom visit (and if you don't, then just say that and don't feel bad about it), then you need to really think about what you WOULD be ok with. She wants to stay for two weeks. Honestly, that's a really long time for someone to stay, even if they are engaged with the family and helping around the house. How long would you be ok with her staying? Rather than say, "I need you to actually visit with us," plan a couple of things to do with her so that you are all spending some quality time together. Tell her that you are all going to the zoo (or whatever) and then all hop in the car together. If her phone tends to be an issue, (this might be a bit passive aggressive) consider something you can do together that has bad phone service :-)

Think about it for a couple of days and see if you can come up with a plan that you can actually be ok with and present it to her. Try to be as positive as you can when you do talk to her. Focus on the things you would do with her that she would really like, and try really hard not to complain about the things you don't like (like her being on the facebook or not playing with the kids.)

Do keep in mind that many people find young children to be extremely boring and a lot of work. Your kids are still young, but they are getting older and more social. Can you plan something fun for your mom to do with your 5 year old? Take the 5 year old to the park or to a movie? Find something your mom likes that the two of them can do together.

I realize you may have been more diplomatic with your mom when you talked to her than when you explained here. Just make sure you choose your words carefully.

Whatever plan you come up with, you have to sell it to her. Really work on convincing her that it's a great plan and she'll love it!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

I think that you are vilifying your mother for your own personal agenda. You call her selfish and self-centered when everything in your post points that finger at you.

It's very disruptive to our routine to have a visitor
extra work for us with the kids and cleaning
more expensive electricity bill
We have enough to deal with
not interested in houseguests.
No one is ever going to facilitate our vacations so I'm not keen on facilitating anyone else's especially if it's more work for me

Clearly, you are not in a position to host anyone, including your mother. Not because of her actions, but rather you simply do not have the time, patience, will or want to host ANYONE.

Email your mother and be honest - "I don't want anyone coming to stay. This isn't a problem with you, it is a problem with me. I just don't like house guests (but I will take free help who will clean and nanny and pay part of the bills during their visit and provide my children with undivided attention - so if you are game for that, come on over!)."

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

You are digging at her by saying you only want visitors who are going to interact in the way you wish them to interact. The truth is that you don't want your mom there because she's self centered and irritated by having young children around. She expects to be accommodated but stays too long and just adds stress to your household.

So when she hints about coming just stop the cycle and let her know that if she comes she'll be staying at a hotel. Having someone in the house for longer than a day or two throws the family routine off and with 2 young kids the routine is important. Lather rinse repeat. If she guilt trips you tell her you have to hang up and then do. Also don't answer her every call. Only talk to her when you feel like it.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

Since the only person you can control is you, it seems to me that having expectations of other people’s behavior will lead to nothing but disappointment. It also sounds like you are coming up with every excuse in the book to not host your mom (seriously, you’re concerned with an increased electricity bill 😳).

Save yourself as well as your mom a lot of grief and just tell her having house guest is simply to disruptive to your family and you are unable to host her for 2 weeks.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

I had a controlling and verbally abusive mother, and I was unable to set boundaries. However, when I read your post, I would never have said things like that to my mother, so you are obviously more comfortable with boundaries than I was.

I think your expectations are inappropriate. She won't be the kind of mother you are. Why don't you just limit the visit to 5 days, and then treat her as a guest? Do some fun things with her, with and without the kids. Three weeks is WAY too long, and that seems to me to be the primary problem. Let her visit for 5 days, and in that time if she wants to be on the phone that's her business. While she's on the phone you can go about your business.

You cannot force your mother to be "emotionally present and engaged with the kids." As she says, that's not her. But maybe she has other qualities she can share with them. Does she have any hobbies she would like to do with them? Would she be interested in taking them anywhere? There has to be something your mother can bring to a 5 day visit.

And by the way, when you say, "I want visitors who actually want to be a visitor," I think you have erroneous ideas about what most visitors want. Most visitors expect to be entertained somewhat, at least some of the time, not to sit around hanging out with the kids all the time. I promise you, my mother was horrible, and she certainly didn't engage with the kids the way I would have liked, but I never would have had the expectations that you have.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Baton Rouge on

You are not obligated to have anyone stay in your home that you don't want there.
Tell mom to either plan for it to be a day trip or get a motel room.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

It’s ok to say no. Really.

“No” is a full sentence. No further explanation needed.

Instead of being passive aggressive, be direct and clear.

“That’s great that you want to visit. I can give you a list of hotels near by, as we are not hosting guests for the time being.” No further discussion except about local hotels.

If she visits give her defined options to see grandkids (Saturday afternoon, Thursday evening until 8) that work best for you. When she comes, be kind and let your unrealistic expectations of her go.

She is just a human after all.......

To me, your argument sounds like:

“You don’t meet my expectations, so I won’t love (accept) you”
“No, you don’t meet my expectations, so I won’t love (accept) you”
Over and over and over.

A neutral third party needs to step in to change the pattern. At least for one of you. I think you would get the best benefit from getting help.

You don’t need to establish expectations. You need to establish boundaries.

Your mom won’t be around forever........

Please really read what Marda wrote.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Anchorage on

I would never expect my visitors to only spend time with me, of course they might want to do some stuff on their own. It does feel like you are being a little unreasonable in your expectations of her, she doesn't need to give 100% of her time to show she loves her grandchildren. But, if you don't want houseguests you have every right to say so, it is your house after all. But I do wonder if your relationship with your mother and your children's relationship with their grandmother might be worth a couple of weeks of inconvenience once a year.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I think it should be about whether or not you want a relationship with your mom vs how engaged she is with the kids and if she helps. My parents were kind of too old to really engage with my kids and saw them so infrequently bc of distance that my kids weren’t comfortable enough with them for it to be easy. But I still welcomed their visits bc unlike your mom, they were really good to me my whole life. You might feel differently if that was the case for you too so maybe try to separate. If you can push the visit to 2021, kids will be older so it will all seem a bit easier. And you could also suggest 2021 to kick the can down the road and buy some time. Feelings may change etc. I believe my next door neighbor’s MIL would come visit and not help when the kids were young. Just not her thing. But they still had her come a lot. I’d not wait on your mother nor expect her to help you. That’s how my neighbors did it and seemed to go fine bc generally they like her. So it can work but you don’t really like your mom. I’d examine that first and see what you want to do about her kids aside..

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

She can talk about visiting all she wants - you don't have to listen.
She can't be who you want her to be.
If she visits it's going to be exactly like it was last time.
Neither of you is going to have a good time.
So just say no - she's not staying at your house.
She can vacation where ever she can afford to stay - it's not up to you to be her hotel.

She's right - she'll never make you happy - she's not interested enough to make you happy - she doesn't care about your happiness.
She's telling you who she is - believe her - it's official permission from her that you should not care about HER happiness.

You need to give up on her ever being the mom/grandparent that you want her to be.
It's just not going to happen.
Mourn that fantasy and then be over it.
You can talk to her on the phone - you don't have to cut her off completely - but this is going to be a one sided relationship.
She's just not all that into you or your family.

Frankly I don't know why you want to waste your time on her at all.
What kind of relationship do you think your kids will have with her?
They are just going to learn how to bend over backwards for her - and I wouldn't want them to learn that.
You might share dna - but so what?
Who needs her or her attitude?
Not you or your family.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I don’t really go on this board much anymore and my kids are older but I do feel compelled to answer because my mother is somewhat similar. We to always had issues and I realize that she was verbally abusive to me and she always favored my seven years younger sister and got off on making sure that one of us was not getting along. Around the time my youngest was in fifth grade, I had enough of her treatment of my kids and favoring of my sister’s younger kids. And like you she does not live close to either of us.

(She was so unhelpful on her visits that when my second was first born I did make her stay at hotel if she wanted to come out because I just couldn’t deal with it.) I did allow her to stay at my house in the few visit she made after.

But anyway back to what I was saying about my story is once I realized how she was treating my kids I had enough. I cut her off. I went no contact and that was it. I’ve had extremely limited interaction since. I did invite her to my youngest son’s bar mitzvah because we felt it was the right thing to do and once again she pulled one of her self-centered BS things. Even my husband said you did the right thing, we’re done.

I recommend you look into some of the toxic parent groups on Facebook. For me, no contact was the best thing, I don’t have to deal with this anymore. I’ve released any guilt I have any hope of having a mother like all the other people post about. It’s really very freeing. And as for the relationship with my kids, well that’s her loss and my kids are old enough and they see her for what she is.

I read it said let your past be it’s up to you whether you wanted it to control your future - don’t let the past control you - you are in control of that. And think about the example you’re setting for your kids.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

I'm not sure why you even keep the conversation going. When she says she wants to come visit? Tell her great! What hotel is she staying in?

If she gets pissy? Tell her you and she are on totally different wave lengths when it comes to parenting/grandparenting and having her as a guest in your home is disruptive.


1 mom found this helpful
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