Dear Margo: What's Up with That?

My mother doesn’t hear a word I say. Margo Howard’s advice

What’s Up with That?

Dear Margo: I really don’t know what to do about my mother. It’s as though she’s made a career out of not listening to what I say … or she’s dedicated herself to doing the opposite. Right after I told her I was going on a diet and staying away from sugary things, she sends me a five-pound box of chocolates. (We live far apart, and she sends packages from time to time.)

At the very least, she is not listening to me, or worse, she hears exactly what I am saying. This strikes me as insensitive. I don’t know what to do about it — or her. — Talking to the Wall

Dear Talk: Sending chocolates to anyone (especially a daughter) following an announcement of a diet is just hostile, passive aggressive and sabotaging. There is nothing you can do about her, but for yourself, you can try to understand where the pushback is coming from. Understanding a situation makes it more manageable (and less of an irritant).

Because you cannot make her hear you or behave appropriately, train yourself to ignore all the noise and save yourself aggravation. As “crazy mothers” go, yours is not at the top of the list. You can’t improve her behavior, so work on yourself to diminish the annoyance quotient. Just using the chocolates as an example, I would’ve written her a note saying, “Thanks! I gave it to Gail. My diet is going really well!” — Margo, protectively

Look Neither Right nor Left

Dear Margo: I am 18 and a senior in high school. I have great future plans to look forward to, and I have worked hard to get where I am now. Although I’ve accomplished many things I am proud of, I always let the “greater” achievements of others (particularly my friends) make me doubt myself. I know deep down that the accomplishments of others do not detract from my own, but still I feel myself slipping back into a negative and self-loathing mindset. I know that thinking like this is holding me back in a lot of ways, but I can’t seem to shake it.

Occasionally, I am truly happy for someone when they have done something impressive, but if this person has hurt me in any way in the past, I am immediately taken over by petty jealousy and wonder why I can’t be as good. Although I try to be outwardly supportive, I am afraid that my resentment will start to show — if it hasn’t already.

I know I tend to crave approval and often feel I don’t get it, but then I realize I’m probably just being too hard on them or making a fuss over nothing. How can I feel better about myself, become a better friend and start focusing on the positive? If there’s a big secret I’m missing out on, I’d like to know! — Not Good Enough

Dear Not: Somewhere along the way, your sense of self-worth got dented and insecurity and inferiority took over. I do not care for the word “self-esteem” because it has become so hackneyed, but that does seem to be your main issue — that and an instinct to compare yourself to others, which is a mug’s game, by the way, because there always will be someone smarter, prettier, richer, whatever, so conserve your emotional energy.

Other people’s achievements really have nothing to do with you. Should it prove too difficult to pull yourself together in this regard, consider using a therapist’s help to get to the root of your competitive, self-demeaning instincts. I believe you can outgrow this by working through it. — Margo, productively

* * *

Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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40 Responses so far.

  1. avatar James says:

    Re LW1: Maybe Margo is right and “there is nothing (she) can so about her.” But it would be interesting to know how she’d respond to a direct approach, i.e. “I told you I was dieting and you immediately sent me a huge box of chocolates. Why?”

    • avatar Lady Jane13 says:

      I told everyone I worked with that I was on a diet and the next day at lunch I had a co-worker open her burrito supreme, wave it under my nose and say “Look what I get to eat”. Amazingly I replied “Good, I’ll eat this and get skinny and watch you get fatter”. It never happened again. My sister used to regularly sabotage my diets, so I guess I was already armed and didn’t realize it.

      • avatar Lym BO says:

        Awesome answer!

      • avatar Diagoras says:

        Can’t do that to my youngest sister because she’s been smoking since the age of 14, so she can eat anything she wants and stay rail thin (although she doesn’t eat a lot of it because the nicotine keeps her appetite down). But I don’t talk to her anymore anyway. Not just because of her “eat to live, don’t live to eat” chants but because she’s a high school drop out who never stops telling other people how to run their lives.

  2. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    Re LW#1:  I fully understand weight issues and can see that sending chocolates to someone on a diet is passive-aggressive behavior.  It really isn’t uncommon for loved ones to try to sabotage dieters.  Particularly if they have weight issues too.  But, putting that all aside, I think you are getting yourself a little too worked up here.  Yes, your mother was insensitive, yes she tried to sabotage your diet, but after knowing this woman your whole life, this type of behavior cannot be some big surprise.  And, it may in fact, have no passive aggressive intentions.  She may honestly think you are just fine the way you are and wants to send you that message.  Misguided though her intentions may be.  I suppose having lost my mother, I am a little impatient with those who complain because their mother sends them candy, tacky knick-knacks, unwanted pots and pans and attribute to the mothers the basest of motives.   Maybe some of the mothers think they are doing a nice thing.  And, this complaint about *she doesn’t listen to me*.   Give her a break…you didn’t listen to her for probably 1/4 of your entire life if not more.  

    For the flamers…I have no children and have no agenda other than impatience with whiners who make mountains out of molehills.  Throw the damn candy away, recognize your mom is not perfect, and move on. 

    LW#2: Your feelings are, I think, very typical of people your age.  It really is no shame to feel a bit of envy towards others you see as prettier, smarter, more talented etc. than you are.  When the envy turns to hostility and rage, then you should worry about yourself and seek some help.  I don’t sense you are at this point at all, and you seem to have a very level head on your shoulders.  Focus on doing what you truly love to do.  I’m not saying that if you are tone deaf you should audition for American Idol, but you say you have had successes and are proud of them, so cherish them and nurture the talents you have.  I really think the saddest thing is people who are in their 50s or 60s who still think highschool was the best part of their lives.  My highschool life was not horrible but it wasn’t a time of glory either.  I so wish I could have my older self talk to my highschool self and say…but you will do THIS…you will do THAT! 

    The hardest thing is to let go of comparing yourself to others.  You will never completely let go of this.  But as you grow older you will learn to love yourself for what you have accomplished which will allow you to be and feel more gracious toward the accomplishments of others. 

    • avatar R Scott says:

      “Throw the damn candy away, recognize your mom is not perfect, and move on.” I think that pretty much sums it up. Thanks. You just saved me some typing.

    • avatar Deirdre Cerasa says:

      Your reply to letter writer one is so perfect! You have saved any number of people from having to try to add to it; especially me!

  3. avatar Constance Plank says:


    Your mother is covertly hostile, and passive aggressive. Um, that was my mother, too, and my husband. If you like something, they make it wrong. If you do something really great for them, that is just what people do.

    Your deciding to go on a diet affects her status quo, so she decides to do what she can- hidden in a “very nice gift” to make sure you can’t succeed. Based on my own experience, I’d decide what to tell her of your own plans that won’t harm you. Tell her something harmless that you don’t care about, and see how she responds.

    My mother hated all my few boyfriends until after I broke up with them. Then she “kind of liked them.” I had thought about going to a graduate school near where she lived after college. My working in Europe stopped the dream of being a conference interpreter in its tracks. And living with her for a few months after college made me sure that I would never voluntarily live with her again.

    Getting back to covert hostility. I always ran cold, and then I went to college back East, where there are seasons.

    She used to make me the cutest flannel nightgowns in the world- but once she found out that I was sexually active- at age 24, with a dear friend I had known for 4 years, she started making me hideously ugly flannel nightgowns of the teen-age mutant ninja turtle persuasion.

    When I had established the beginning of a good career, at age 26, and my fiance and I had moved in together, suddenly she wanted me to move into her rental unit and go to the graduate school. My fiance and I could see each other on weekends.

    It was all about control.

    A person who loves you, wants the best for you, regardless of what they think is best. You want to lose weight- it doesn’t matter if it’s for your health or your self-image unless you are anorexic? You want it. She wants the opposite because it lessens her control on you.

    Write her a pleasant note thanking her for thinking of you. If she’s as bad as my mother- don’t waste your time saying that you gave the chocolate away- unless you think she can change. Write a pleasant note, and, meanwhile, figure out who would enjoy a 5 pound box of chocolate. Senior centers, churches, schools, a bunch of your friends.

    It’s all good.


    Constance, in the Sierra Foothills of CA, who says that if you KNOW someone wants to hurt you, it’s silly to give them that power over you.

    • avatar Dee Gee says:

      If you haven’t read Julia Cameron’s book, “The Artist’s Way”, I highly recommend it.  It’s about creativity and how everyone is creative and how to release that part of you… I like everything about the book, but I bought it after a friend read me a section in the book about “Crazymakers”.

      It has the best description of how some people (often parental figures) set up blocks to your successes:  like the mother who calls with a made-up crisis the night before her middle-aged daughter has a final exam.  The mother has a hard time with her daughter continuing to grow and she is always putting up roadblocks.

      Constance, it sounds as if you have a good handle on what your mother is doing.  I just want you to know you aren’t alone.  😀

    • avatar bright eyes says:

      Been there, done that as well. Yes it is all about control. I choose to do what I want and have control over my life while letting my mother express her opinion. I’ve learned a nod and smile routine. I listen and do what I want to anyway.
      Much the same, she hated any guy I dated – no matter what. She doesn’t want me to do anything that would take away from her time with the family.

      She has expectations about me that drive me crazy. Small things, but they bug the heck out of me. For example she thinks I sleep late on weekends, so she calls and accusses me of sleeping late (and makes it sound like its a crime for me to sleep in when she does it all the time) when in reality I’ve been up for hours. She puts down various things about me but I know she’s really projecting about herself. She constantly tells me I need to be on a diet when she’s the heavier diabetic. She didn’t like the way my childs hair was cut last time so she told me to never go to that place again. My chile likes the place, so guess where we go?

      It’s constant jabs and pokes about me and how I run my life. And yes, like the LW#1, every now and then one tiny little thing she says or does will set me off. But it’s not just about that one tiny little thing – it’s about the pattern of hearing the same things over and over again. It’s getting tired of someone trying to control your every action when you’re an adult and have been on your own for years. You lash out or get upset or write to a columnist and then go on. I’ve learned that what she says isn’t necessarily a reflection on me, it’s more about her than me. I feel fine the weight I am – and would NEVER tell her if I were to go on a diet. I limit the amount of information that I give out and expect the bad comments to come rolling in. But still, there are times that it does get to me and then I shut off the phone, log off the computer and am unavailable. I’ve learned that I can’t change her by defending myself at every turn, so I defend what I feel that I need to and let the rest roll off. It’s a compromise that works well for me.

  4. avatar crystalclear says:

    LW1, you “hold” the power.   We teach people how to treat us.    Somewhere along the line you taught your mother that it was okay to treat you this way.    Time to break a cycle!   I loved Margo’s advice.   Next time she sends you chocolates give her a huge thank you and tell her how much your  neighbors enjoyed it as you are on a strict diet.   You might want to “stretch” and ask her to keep the chocolates coming because it is making you very popular in your neighborhood!   As far as your mother not listening to you that’s an unfortunate side to her personality.   My guess is that she probably doesn’t listen to anyone.    Accept her for who she is because she probably won’t change.   Through the years I stopped expecting family members to act a certain way.   Once I stopped expecting something from them they were never able to disappoint me again.   I’m sure they were happier and so was I.   Life can be complicated if we expect too much out of it.   My advice, adding to Margo’s advice, is for you to understand that when your mother sends you a little goodie package she is thinking about you.   That should make you feel good.  

    LW2, after reading your situation the first thing that came to my mind is that you may be having a bout with depression.   Not to read more into it than you stated, the “ups and downs” you are experiencing is a tough road to be on.   You might want to consider seeing your doctor and sharing these feelings with him or her.    You are young and have your  life in front of you.  Embrace it and try not to be so hard on yourself.    It might help to sit down with a pen and paper and write down all the things you feel you are doing right in life and then write down what you feel is wrong.   Once you do that concentrate on that long list of good things in your life and leave the short list alone!  

    • avatar John Lee says:

      Eh, answer passive aggressive behavior with sarcasm and lies (“keep the chocolates coming, making you very popular”) is not exactly learning that you hold the power.  It’s falling into a time wasting game with the manipulator, exactly what she wants.  The mom would either argue and say how dare you give away my gift, or good, I’ll keep them coming!

      Holding the power is doing what Margo suggested first, understand and ignore.

  5. avatar Barbara says:

    LW#1: I guess there are a lot of bad mother-daughter relationships out there. We went from getting a box of chocolates to discussions of hostile behavior. I’d say you’ve let your mother control your emotions too much. Go on a diet and get a box of chocolates? Say thanks and then throw them away, give them away, put them in the trash compactor, feed them to the squirrels…whatever. If that’s the best example you can come up with of poor treatment from your mother, who cares enough to send you packages from far away, then I’d say you have it pretty good. You’re a grown up. If she’s not listening and you need someone to listen to you, talk with a friend or a counselor.

  6. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: Whittle down what you say to your mother. You already know what to expect from her if you get too personal.

    L #2: Margo’s right on. Life is a mixed bag of people who have more OR less than you. Accept that basic fact of life as quickly as you can (spare yourself years of frustration) and move on.

  7. avatar Lisa Cornell says:

    LW#1 As I sit here writing, my mother is asleep in the next room. She has been visiting for just over a week now. She lives 1800 miles away and I really only see her a couple of times a year. She is in her seventies and not in the best of health. When she is here, I look after her, do everything for her, take her shopping, to attractions, etc. In short, I try to be very accommodating. Two days ago we were in a shop that I patronize frequently and where I am well known. My mother sat and criticized me and my purchases nonstop. She finally left me alone in the store to go to the next store on her list while I finished paying. The assistant told me that he felt very sorry for me and that my mother was a piece of work. He said he couldn’t understand how or why I put up with her and how I managed to not snap, yell or murder her. I have to admit, I don’t know which I found more embarrassing, mother’s tirade or the clerk’s comments. That said, I have to tell you, I know I can’t change her. I love my mother and she has many fine qualities. I try to ignore the unpleasant attitudes, pray I haven’t inherited those less than stellar qualities and count my blessings that my mother is still here.

    I have found when she becomes really impossible, I use humor. My mother is a Billy Crystal fan and one of her favorite movies is Throw Momma from the Train. I do a really good impression of Ann Ramsey. So when she becomes really impossible, I call out “Owen come here ya little bas**rd” She breaks out laughing, stops being obnoxious and the message has been sent. I am so sick to death of people taking a small circumstance such as a box of chocolates and blowing it up out of proportion. All of us are capable of being mean, petty and childish. What we don’t expect is that our parents will be this way. My view is why not. My mother is human, she is in pain and she is scared. When she acts out, it is up to me to neutralize my reactions and offer her comfort.

    • avatar Liz54 says:

      Lisa, what a wonderful, constructive response. It’s so nice to hear from someone who has learned to adapt and adroitly deal with those around them. I have watched my own mother “handle” her mother-in-law (my grandmother) this way for years and I admire her restraint and pleasant demeanor, even when my grandmother is being a handful. There have been many times when I would have snapped or lost my temper at some of my grandmother’s remarks, but my mother just takes it in stride, accepts her for who she is–good AND bad–and in my eyes this makes Mom an even lovelier person. It keeps the peace in our family and everyone just accepts that this is how Grandmother is and we’re lucky to have her still with us.

    • avatar Katrina Volkert says:

      Lisa — what a wonderful attitude. So many people don’t give their parents credit for being human, having faults, not being perfect. Of course, there are terrible parents, I feel for people who got them, but sometimes, they are just doing the best they can, and as children, we have to be patient, and love the parts we can. (That being said, my parents are both flawed, but perfect FOR ME!)

      I have a question: what did you say to the clerk? I find that presumptuous and rude, personally. I imagine HE thought he was being supportive and kind, but I don’t. Had someone witnessed my mother being *bitchy* and commented on it, I would find myself sticking up for her, and saying something like “you haven’t any right or knowledge to judge her, so I’d keep your comments to yourself”… or something. (I think it’s the momma-bear in me, you know, I can say something about my mom, dad, kids, hubby… but YOU better not. LOL)

    • avatar John Lee says:

      Like you said, your mom “has many fine qualities” and that’s wonderful that you can ignore her bad qualities.  You handle it well.

    • avatar Beanthere says:

      Lisa, I may need to print this response and keep it close at hand to use during those calls with Mom when she’s being a handful. 


  8. avatar martina says:

    This letter could have been written by my daughter.  She is involved in many things at school, debate, student council, Interact, the school musicals, etc. and she has accomplished much in those areas.  There are many of the same acquaintances in these groups who always get the better role, the higher position, the better grade.  They have to put in a lot of effort to get what they have and panic when they are not the top of the class, the president of the club, the star of the show.  My daughter has accomplished what she has without having to make that kind of effort.  She has come to me with the same concerns as LW1 often and I make sure that she understands how much she has accomplished and she should be proud of those accomplishments.  This generally builds up her self esteem and she is good until they accomplish something else more than she has.  Then, I just remind her again of all she has done.  I have also explained to my daughter that she is good in many things rather than just one and because of that she may never be exceptional in just one area but will always be good in many and that is something to be proud of and something many people would be envious of.  I wonder if LW1 has spoken with her parents and are they building up her esteem.  Perhaps this is where some of her issues lie.  If these people she is feeling loathing for are not close friends, she may want to distance herself so that she does not have to deal with listening to what ivy league colleges they are planning on going to, the number of SAT and ACT tests they need to take, their class ranking, etc.  This was also much of my daughter’s problem – very simply, peer pressure

  9. avatar R Scott says:

    LW1 – My mother is dead and although I’m sure she had some irritating habits (we all do) I don’t remember them now. Just a thought.

    LW2 – I was you at 18. I think a lot of us were. You’re really not that bad. Maybe a therapist wouldn’t hurt but some life experience and maturity will do wonders as well. You do have a great future so don’t trip over yourself. Good luck…….loser. Just kidding.

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      I laugh about my mother’s irritating habits now as well—as many of them have been passed on to me and I am the one struggling with them.

      I’ve also been in the shoes of the “mother,” with partners who have made grand pronouncements about how they are GOING TO CHANGE THEIR LIVES RIGHT THIS INSTANT (smoking, dieting, new job, etc, etc) and how I need to be excited and supportive and understanding and—oh where did they go? Ah… out on the patio to smoke. Here’s $10, why don’t you just go buy a pack of cigarettes, come back to the party, and shut up?

      My point is that it gets old after a while—on both sides of the fence. My suggestion to LW1 about her diet plans is to keep them to herself. There’s no need to tell her mother about this attempt, or the next one, or the one after that. That way, if the attempt falters, she doesn’t have to explain that either. Just a thought.

    • avatar Deirdre Cerasa says:

      R Scott,
      I was thinking the same thing. My mother is also dead and as you say I suppose I could think for a few days and come up with something. You are so right, I don’t remember and it doesn’t matter! I think I have most likely inherited all of the habits, at least I hope so.

  10. avatar Michelles11 says:

    LW1 I work with a lot of elderly people, they tend to blame a lot of things on their children, while I know they are very loving and caring.  i suppose it must be some way to take back some control when they are unable to really do things for themselves.  It seems like a competition sometimes, one the children don’t want, but the parent perceives as on-going.  Anyway, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks it seems…and some people don’t want things to change…even if it’s just your weight. I would have thanked mom for the chocolates and given them away!!   It’s just easier, trust me, I have a lot of experience in regard to unwanted gifts. 

  11. avatar D C says:

    LW1 — I wonder if you told mom you had realized you were an alcoholic if she would start sending you bottles of Tequila and Bourbon.  Maybe mom is one of the “mean girls” we discussed here earlier. 

    My money goes on the theory that mom is jealous of your life (looks, accomplishments, freedom, etc) and she resents you. 

    Whatever theory wins, you need to commit this to heart:  You cannot control what anyone else does.  You can only control how you react to it.  Seems to me like tossing the candy, or donating it to a non-dieting friend, a good eye role and/or face-palm, voicing the word “OY!” and moving on with your day would be a lot healthier than getting worked up over something you cannot control. 

    • avatar SueB says:

      Brilliant! You’ve lost a few pounds and need new clothes. Tell your mother you have too many and that size X (your new size) doesn’t fit you. Be more specific if you’d like. Want a fancy pink sweater? Tell her you think cashmere is for a pretentious bourgeois. Would like to join a gym but can’t afford it? Tell your mother that your coworkers are bugging you to join Gym X but you would feel uncomfortable working out in public. Maybe she’ll send you a gift certificate. It doesn’t have to be mean spirited, you are just tapping into this little quirk of hers. You’re not making her send you anything. If she wants to, it might as well be something you want.

  12. avatar lebucher says:

    LW#1, On the surface this appears to be a trivial annoyance… but as someone who has experienced this behavior, it is not necessarily so cut and dry.  Personal experience – I announce I am on a diet – next day, husband brings me luscious brownies (my favorite) while I am eating lunch – I decline – then I am berated by him for being so inconsiderate as to reject his offering, blah blah… lots of pressure to actually EAT the brownies right then and there.  Fortunately when I was in Weight Watchers they discussed how people, often relatives, will actively try to sabotage your dieting and coached us on how to deal with it.  When you are trying so hard to lose weight, it is hurtful that the people who are supposed to love you and care for you want so badly for you to fail.  The only way to cope with this is to recognize this behavior as a controlling one, it’s more about them and very little about you, and to respond accordingly to the pressure they put on you.

    • avatar John Lee says:

      It’s very true.  When I was younger, I was shocked to learn that friends would sabotage their friends’ good intentions to improve themselves, whether it is dieting, exercising, education or career.

      I thought about it a lot while I studied psychology in college and realized that many of these friends aren’t intentionally malicious.  Most commonly, they are just small minded and unable to grasp the power that others have to improve.  The reason is, of course, that they can’t believe that it is possible for anyone to change and succeed because they can’t do it themselves.  As a result, they assume that you will fail and act accordingly.

      Once I realized this, whenever someone tells me I can’t do something, I know it’s says a lot more about them than it does about me.  Sometimes I feel sad for them, but more often I just laugh and realize how much superior I am – it’s a nice ego boost if you realize the dynamic at work.

  13. avatar Debbie Ciaravino says:

    LW #1) she is your mother and has been this way for a long time according to your letter. Why you allow it to upset you is beyond me. You need to figure out that you are not going to change her. All you change is how you react to her and her antics. It’s all in the way you percieve her actions. Instead of getting upset, try the following… send a thank you note. “Thanks for testing my resolve. I wasn’t tempted by the box of chocolates at all and feel confident I will meet my weight loss goals this time. Next time I see you, I hope to be a healthier, thinner version of myself. Lots of Love,”

    She can’t bring you down and her actions cannot hurt you if you don’t allow them to. Be the adult in this situation.

    • avatar bright eyes says:

      I have a much calmer approach to life now that I’ve taken on that philosphy. You can’t change people, the only thing you can change is how you react to them.
      I would have just sent a Thank you note and not worried about saying if you ate the chocolate or not. Let her assume that you did and she gloats over the victory. Tell her you didn’t and she will just send something else that you don’t need.
      And surely this is just a case of the straw tha broke the camels back. If she’s talked with her mother before and nothing has changed then there’s a good chance that nothing will change.

  14. avatar Debbie Ciaravino says:

    LW #2) The big secret you’re missing out on is… there is no big secret! You may be surprised to know there are probably other teens who look at your accomplishments with jealousy and envy too. You reminded me of a movie, “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion”. In the end, they found out the lives they envied weren’t as perfect as they outwardly appeared and there were other people who envied them.

    The point I’m trying to make is, concentrate on what makes you feel happy and successful without always looking over your shoulder to see what someone else is doing. When you can look in the mirror and honestly say you like the person looking back, then you will be a better friend and have a positive outlook on life. This will come with time and experience. Be patient, even if some does it better, doing your personal best is all you can realistically expect from yourself. Good Luck.

  15. avatar Crinoline says:

    I see great opportunity in lying:

    “Well, Mom, the doctor told me to avoid this particular piece of exercise equipment because it’s bad for my back, and I hated the desk staff at the gym closest to my house.”

    Then you sit back and wait for your favorite exercise machine and paid membership to a convenient gym to arrive as a gift.

    The beauty of this is that you don’t even have to remember or be consistent in your lies. Mention at random not enjoying authors you admire to see if nice hardcover copies of their books arrive. If you later say you loved a particular book, no matter. When you’re together, you can have your favorite foods served to you by saying you no longer care for them. When you finish every bit of your favorite vegetables, you can say there must be something special in the way your mother prepared them.

    The larger lesson is this: There’s no sense in having rational discussions with irrational people. Stop trying, and you’ll be a lot happier.

    • avatar SueB says:

      Sorry, Crinoline. I hadn’t gotten to your comment when I replied to DC who suggested that mom would send alcohol to an alcoholic. I thought it was a brilliant strategy to build on and gave a few examples similar to yours (gym membership, weird). Love your books and food ideas.

  16. avatar G Knight says:

    LW #2 reminds me of a few men I know. I’m a guy and I am not against a little competitiveness among friends, but I only feel joy for my friends when they are successful and sorrow when they hurt. When competition becomes this constant comparison that spills into whose-life-is-better games, well, I’ve had to put the big chill on at least one long-term friendship over this. I realized when I spoke to that friend I was actually down-playing the good things in my life to fend off his resentment. LW #2 is wise to be recognizing this trait early, because I think it grows and turns bitter.

  17. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Letter #1 – I have diabetes and everyone in my life knows this. Everyone knows it is imperative that I lose weight and watch my sugar intake. Want to venture a guess what the number 1 thing is people buy me as a gift? Chocolate!  I kid you not. 

    This isn’t happening because people in my life are purposely attempting to sabotage me. It is  happening because people love me and have a learned behavior that certain foods make me happy, so even though they know better, they buy me things I don’t need. You know your mother more than I do, so I could be wrong. But I would offer up another way of looking at it. It may not be that she isn’t listening to you, it may be she has a learned behavior when it comes to dealing with you, so old habits are hard to break. I say be patient with her.

    Letter #2  – Your problem is an easy one to get over.  Although it is never a good thing to be self obsessed, sometimes it can be beneficial. When I was in my teens and 20’s I too compared myself to others. I wasn’t as smart….as pretty….as intelligent…. Then came the day when I stopped focusing on how others lived and more so on how I was living, acting, looking and behaving.

    Now at the age of 50+ I’m at a happy balance of having a healthy sense of self AND accepting of the fact that others are more than I am. As politcally incorrect as it is to say, some people achieve more in life, look better and have more than we do. The secret is to understand this and not let it affect your own life. It is doable. Hang in there.

  18. avatar crystalclear says:

    Belinda Joy, from your avatar picture, you look like a beautiful, healthy woman.   I’m happy you found your worth and your inner peace.   When we are happy on the inside we don’t tend to notice that others have more and are better off.   It’s the inner peace that makes us beautiful and caring people and we tend to notice those who have less than we do and want to help them in any way we can.   It’s a lovely place to be.  

  19. avatar Briana Baran says:

    Re: L#1: First, don’t ever announce that you are on a diet. Ever. Period. End of story. I don’t diet. I have changed my lifestyle and eating habits…and my total cholesterol dropped 40 points, my triglycerides a whopping 89 points and my bad cholesterol 13 points. I’ve lost both weight and inches. Only a handful of people know…and they’re benefiting as well, as they’re my family.

    When I was at my last job, I noticed what happened whenever anyone announced a “diet”. She’d be showered with food. This also happened when I quietly began losing weight. No announcements, no big deal made…my clothing just got looser and looser…and suddenly donuts, french fries and candy started appearing on my desk. I would donate it just as quietly to the guys who could afford to eat it. It got much worse when I was pregnant…I had been instructed by my OB to gain no more than 25 pounds, and everyone insisted that, since I was “eating for two”, I needed enormous quantities of junk food. Maybe this had something to do with the fact that the last two pregnant women gained (to their own and their newborns’ serious detriment…including low birth weight, respiratory issues, hypertension and diabetes) 65 and 75 pounds respectively. My own weight gain was 21 pounds and my baby and I were both very healthy.

    I don’t necessarily think these things are motivated by “we love you just the way you are” sentiments, or “the baby needs nourishment”. People do NOT like change in others, and they do like to see the status quo remain constant…some more so than others. There can be unconscious jealousy, resentment, competition…or fear that another will suddenly enter the competitive field and feeling that attention will be diverted away by the dieting person’s new activity. The last can be justified…there is nothing worse than someone who announces on a regular basis “I am on a DIET!” then constantly, obviously, loudly frets about her food, eating habits, silhouette in mirrors, asks if her clothing looks looser, gasps in horror at the idea of a certain restaurant or proclaims, “I wouldn’t eat THAT, I’d get FAT!”. The same can be said for pregnant women who use the fact of carrying a child as an excuse to slack, to whine and to demand constant attention (no one would believe I was pregnant until my belly suddenly burgeoned into an enormous medicine ball on my 5’1″ frame at the full five month mark…I did all the same things I’d done before. Except for the notes I left anonymously on the microwave and coffee-maker reminding people that the stench of burnt popcorn and coffee were grounds for being puked on due to morning sickness).

    All of that said: the two of you who come down the hardest on those who have had miserable mothers have not had mothers in your lives at all…and I think that alters your perspective. I have come to a working method with my mother, but she has no redeeming qualities at all. I do NOT know why I love her, and I wish I did not. This has more to do with me, the one who takes in strays (people and animals) and nurtures them until they don’t need me anymore, who has friends who stay until they’re finished, then leave unexpectedly, without reason, who learned long ago to love people and expect absolutely nothing from them. I do NOT like her. I have known wonderful, nurturing mothers, damaged mothers who have done their level best, horribly abusive mothers who redeemed themselves later in life…and every sort of mother in between. Being a mother is not a magic pathway to sainthood.

    I despise those who say, “We teach people how to treat us”. When I was a young teen, I was so broken that I began to believe my mother’s constant mantra that I was fat and ugly. I was 5’1″, weighed 130 pounds, wore a 34c bra, had a 21 inch waist and wore size 14 (this was in the ’70’s, and sizes ran much smaller then) jeans, and size medium Gunne Sax dresses. I was all muscle; I could dead lift and throw 100 pounds. My only loves were riding horses, reading, writing and drawing. I thought that I should lose weight, so I stopped eating sweets. I made no announcement at all. My darling mother started buying chocolate glazed donuts. When I said “No thank you”…she would go on a tirade about how no one cared about her, how the food was going to waste, how she had bought these good things and no one would eat them. After days of this, she’d wear me down, and I’d eat one (I was 14…and my father would get on me for how badly I was treating my mother)…and my mother would call me fat, and tell me I’d better stop eating. By the time I was 16 I’d learned to refuse and take the abuse silently…but it never stopped until a few years ago (although it became more subtle). I am 52 years old.

    As I’ve said before, I talk to her once a week, look out for her as best I can from 1300 miles away, am planning a welfare check trip to Illinois this spring, which she’ll hate me for (my sister sees her, but is absolutely delusional about her actual health…and I am the realistic, proactive person in the family) which may require sleeping with Prince Valium (just kidding), send her books, pictures of the boys and funny cards and no longer am affected by her dysfunctions. When I relate things about her, don’t misunderstand me…these are anecdotal examples of just how bad a mother can be. I am not like her at all…which may be why she’s always despised me (she’s actually indicated as much). But cut people a bit of slack, those of you who are motherless…some of us would have traded places with you in a heartbeat, once upon a time.

  20. avatar crystalclear says:

    Briana, I disagree on only one point.   I believe we do teach people how to treat us.   We teach them that what they are saying to is us is alright when we are silent.   We teach them that it is okay to criticize us when we are silent.   If we want people to treat us differently then we have to change the way we respond to them.   I have found this to be true in every phase of my life and I’ve watched co-workers agonize over a boss belittling them and they wonder why it continues.   It continues because we allow it to happen.   So, we think differently on this particular subject.    I’m not saying you are wrong and I’m right.   What I am saying is that I’ve been an observer of this for many years.   I have changed the way people treat me (my children included) by responding with “please don’t ever think it is alright to treat me with disrespect.   It is never alright.”   

    Enjoyed your other comments in your candid post.   Many can learn from your experiences.

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      crystalclear, I agree with you that there is no one method, or school of thought, that is wrong or right. It is sometimes possible to alter the behavior of others by your own actions. At my last workplace, the other women, most of them “feeders”, finally stopped trying to stuff me full of cheeseburgers, donuts, candy and popcorn during my pregnancy when all of the offerings would appear on their own desks. To their cries of “I don’t need that, I’ll get fat!”, I’d gently reply, “That’s exactly my point”. I also got the constant popping and cracking of gum to stop. I’d asked politely. I’d begged. I’d gone to the supervisor, who wrote a memo about office etiquette. When none of that worked, I told a young woman who was driving this generally extremely happy and good-tempered pregnant woman (pregnancy made a teddy bear out of me) that, if she did not lose her gum, I was going to insert it somewhere that would allow her to blow bubbles all day long in relative silence and privacy…and that I absolutely meant what I said. Then I handed her my copy of the memo. There was blessed silence forever after.

      But, when you’re a child or teenager trapped in a home with no support from anyone, and a mother who will find a way to undermine you no matter what you do: vocally protest, stick to your guns, silently refuse to comply, act out (I never engaged in the latter…that really would have brought down the house and accomplished nothing)…there is no altering her behavior. None at all. I give you this: I was brutally sexually assaulted when I was 16 by a 65 year old dear family friend whose house I was confined to, with no escape, for three weeks. I had to injure myself badly to get free. When I confronted my parents, to whom I never lied (I have always detested liars…that is part of my mother’s idiom), they wouldn’t even listen. Later, they bought property and horses from this man, helped him out of money problems, had him over to dinner, and invited him to my wedding. This man raped me. My mother KNEW that other teenage girls had been victims of this man…she talked about it all of the time…but she would not give me the time of day.

      How on earth had I taught her to treat me this way? By being born black haired and golden eyed to her pale blond and green? By growing up muscular, curvy, and strong to her flaccid, flat bottomed and weak? By liking primary, bold colors, flowing dresses and blue jeans, drawing in exquisite detail and writing poetry as opposed to her neutrals and tailored clothing, sloppy, hasty sketching and inability to convey a single thought in prose? By being different in ways she couldn’t accept, such as loving to read, mostly silent, tolerant of others even if I didn’t like them, defensive and protective of my sisters, willing to fight if that’s what it took…not just whine and kvetch? What? What should I have done differently?

      You cannot apply the rule of “we teach others how to treat us” to mothers and daughters. It took me nearly 50 years to set boundaries with my mother…and it hasn’t taught HER…it’s taught ME. If she strays across the limits and refuses to back off during conversations, I terminate the call. Brutal honesty is what it took to get her to stop sending candy…it’s horrible to have your children get nothing from grandma and ask why she doesn’t love them when they’re young because all she’ll send is candy that they can’t have because it’s been ruined by her freezing it and the Texas heat…or one child is pre-diabetic…or it’s the sticky kind the dentist has expressly said, “NO” to. I tried you’re hurting your only grandsons’ feelings, it’s a health issue…and the only thing that worked is I’m throwing it away and you’re wasting scads of money. The knick-knacks we just laugh over…especially the ones that self destruct because of her cheapness in packing them.

      But her younger grandson (of her only two) has only seen her five times in his entire life…despite the fact that we’ll pay for everything (and have been willing to do so for years) to bring her down here to visit. No one bothers her, takes her to task, treats her with less than respect and kindness…she has her own rooms, whatever special food she wants, no requirements or pressure. We can’t afford, nor do we have the time to visit her as we’d have to drive. We can’t stay at her home…it is infested with mice, spiders, has no A/C, only one functioning toilet and one barely working shower and leaky pipes…hence mold. Don’t feel sorry for her, she’s let this happen with full knowledge of what’s going on…she won’t fix it, and she isn’t nearly incompetent enough in the legal sense (she’s a marvelous actor and liar) to do anything about.

      Her youngest grandson is 14, her oldest 20. They are the only grandchildren. For a while, they both believed they’d done something wrong, because grandma didn’t care. I told them that it was grandma’s problem…not mine, not their’s.

      In a workplace, in friendships, in relationships (but beware of that one, as so many people have discovered to their sorrow) it may be possible to teach people how to treat us. But between mothers and daughters can exist one of those inexplicable, ineffable horror shows of a relationship in which it is simply impossible to know why you are the object of such scorn, loathing and contempt, and even more impossible to ever alter the way she treats you. The best thing you can do is accept that it was never your fault, and to roll with it and move on.

  21. avatar Diagoras says:

    LW #2, yeah you need to work on your self-esteem but sometimes achievement can boost it remarkably well. Compare yourself not to others, but to your previous self. Focus on your own goals and don’t worry about what others are doing.