Dear Ms. Peirano,

I am 34 and mother of two children (6 and 3). I work part-time, but with the commute it often ends up being 30 to 35 hours a week.

My mother has always been very demanding and demanded a lot of attention from me. If I didn’t give it to her, she would get offended or make snarky comments. She often calculates how much time I (supposedly) have for myself, to go to the hairdresser, meet up with friends, watch series, and then she is disappointed and remarks: “But you never have time for me .”

She often calls suddenly and then talks about herself and her worries. Sometimes I don’t answer the phone anymore because it never ends. It stresses me out a lot when I’ve been bending over backwards to spend time with my kids or get something done, and then my mom barges in with either a phone call or an unannounced visit and throws all my planning into disarray. And she always has to be the center of attention and rarely notices what others want or need.

Now I’m already dreading Christmas time. My mother always feels very lonely and wants to be there in everything. At the Advent markets in the daycare, at the Christmas market, while doing crafts. Most of the time it’s a double effort because then everything revolves around my mother and I can’t enjoy the time with my children. Honestly, I’m really stressed out about her.

My mother also unspokenly demands that I make her an Advent calendar, bring her a gift for St. Nicholas and plan the Christmas days in a way that is best for her. The work then remains on me and I stand in the kitchen and please everyone, while my mother sits comfortably on the sofa with my children and has a good time with them. We are currently renovating and my husband Michael travels a lot on business. I’m dreading the next week and I’m afraid my mother will make things worse.

How can I distance myself without her turning the tables again? For example, when I tell her what I’m up to, she tells me: “But I can help you, unfortunately you don’t accept help.” And then she comes over and I have even more work because I also have to take care of my mother.

I would be very grateful for a tip!

Kind regards, Miriam G.

I work as a behavioral therapist and love coach in private practice in Hamburg-Blankenese and St. Pauli. During my doctorate, I researched the connection between relationship personality and happiness in love and then wrote two books about love.

Information about my therapeutic work can be found at www.julia-peirano.info.

Do you have questions, problems or heartache? Please write to me (maximum one A4 page). I would like to point out that inquiries and answers can be published anonymously on stern.de.

Dear Miriam G.,

It sounds like your mother demands a lot of attention from you. Has it always been like this or has it only developed in recent years, e.g. because your mother retired or separated from a partner? Are you used to your mother making you responsible for meeting your own needs? Your mother could also expand her own social contacts and join groups or look for friends who also need to talk a lot and have a lot of time.

Obviously, it’s not easy for you to formulate your own priorities and live by them: taking care of your small children, your husband, yourself, and your job. Because your mother keeps getting in the way and demands attention, involvement and time. And apparently you don’t experience this as support, but rather as an additional burden because your mother is very demanding and self-centered and she is unable to help you.

In such situations, we behavior therapists offer role-playing games to develop and try out new behavioral patterns. Especially in problem situations that arise again and again (such as repeated spontaneous visits or demands from your mother), it is very helpful to be prepared through role play so that you can react completely differently in the future.

It sounds like you haven’t had success with the pattern of justifying yourself and disclosing your own time management. The statement: “Mom, I have so much to do because we have a craft afternoon at daycare this week and Michael is always on a business trip,” led to further offers of contact and boundary crossings from your mother: “You, Miriam, if you have so much to do If you have anything to do, I would be happy to help you! I’ll just come with you to the craft afternoon and can also stay overnight at your place on the weekend.”

With this answer you have scored your own goal, so to speak, because your mother is simply imposing her view of things on you. “If you have too much to do, you need your mother and her closeness.” In addition, your mother has very elegantly created a debt for you in her own world of thoughts, because if she helps you with crafts or lives with you on the weekend, you can’t refuse to make her a tiny Advent calendar.

I would suggest a new answer pattern. Do not defend yourself, do not justify yourself and do NOT disclose your priorities and time management, as this leaves you vulnerable. Stay cool with yourself and your needs: “When I have too much to do, I want to concentrate on myself, my tasks and my children in peace and my mother disturbs me.” (This is your own inner position, so to speak).

In a further step, you can imagine a boomerang that you send back to the sender, namely your mother, with a small movement of your hand. Linguistically, the boomerang would mean that you are mirroring your mother’s aggression.

For example:Mother: “You haven’t contacted me at all in the last week. Have you forgotten me?”Daughter: “Mom, I’ve told you many times that I have a lot to do right now and need some peace and quiet. “Mother: “But I can help you and take the children. Then you can rest.”

Here you can send the boomerang back by saying, “Mom, what makes it so difficult for you to accept that I just need rest?”

Now you’ve turned the tables: you’re no longer being attacked as an ungrateful daughter who doesn’t have time for your mother, but rather your mother has a problem respecting her daughter’s boundaries. You can now take your time and wait to see what your mother says and then use the cracked record technique. Repeat again and again in a friendly but firm manner: “Yes, Mom, you may need closeness when you are stressed. But I just need peace and quiet. What makes it so difficult for you to accept that?”

Or you grab your mother by the motherly honor and ask: “Mom, do you know what I want from you? I would be really happy if you gave me space and understood that I want to concentrate on my children and my tasks at the moment .”

Give it a try and expect that your mother will react to it in an unusual way at first. Maybe she is offended, maybe she also insists that you have to take care of her now (e.g. because your mother has to go to the doctor or has a problem). It’s best to endure this for a while and repeat the jump in the record. It is important that you remain consistent and maintain your no. If your children whine at the supermarket checkout because they want chocolate, all that matters is that you don’t buy them chocolate. Otherwise the children will learn that whining leads to success.

And in the same way, it would also be important that you consistently tolerate the fact that your mother is not happy with your life decisions for a while. And yet you live according to your own priorities (just like your mother lives according to her own priorities) and do everything you have to do in peace.

I have seen with many patients that this demarcation has led to a clearer and more relaxed relationship. Ultimately, your relationship with your mother will also benefit if you no longer feel overwhelmed and annoyed, but instead meet your mother when it really suits you.

Herzlich Gr├╝├čeJulia Peirano