Dear Crucial Skills,
My mom continuously interrupts me when I’m speaking to her. She’ll sometimes finish my sentences, as if she knows what I’m thinking. Or she’ll start in with something that occurred to her based on something I’ve said. I’ve asked her to please allow me to finish and explained that when she interrupts, I feel disrespected. She didn’t take it well. Since then, I’ve sometimes gently reminded her, “Please, let me finish” and sometimes not so gently said, “How do you know what happened next?” Sometimes I just give up and let her do all the talking. She doesn’t seem to notice that our relationship is becoming, well, not much of a relationship. Any suggestions?
If you want more peace in your life, you’ve got three options:
Revise Your Expectations
Stop expecting your mother to behave in ways she has demonstrated repeatedly she is unwilling or unable to do. Of course, I know nothing about what’s behind her pesky habit. It could be that her own sense of weakness or emotional need causes her to fight for conversational airtime. It could be that interpersonal insensitivity is part of her aging process. Who knows? What you do know is that you’ve asked for a reasonable consideration, and she is not offering it. So stop expecting it of her and make a decision about what you really want.
If you want to spend time with your mother, reset your expectations. Make it all about listening to her. Expect little interest or curiosity about your life. There are a few people in my life that I understand have little room for exploring what’s going on with me. When I spend time with them, it will always be about them. And since I love them, I’m willing to spend time on those terms. However, because of the limited agenda of our visits, I limit the visits. I ensure that when I am with them, I am doing so willingly. And when my willingness expires, I terminate the visit. I want my time with them to be genuine, not forced, so I engage as long as I have something real to offer.
Get Better at Asserting Your Needs
You also have the option of becoming more responsible for asserting your conversational prerogatives. Since she isn’t ceding them herself, it’s up to you to seize them.
I had a dear friend who could literally talk for an hour without noticing that I had not participated once in our conversation. I loved him and was fascinated with what he had to share, but found myself leaving our conversations at times feeling resentful. Then I learned that my resentment was not a product of his insensitivity. My resentment was produced by my unwillingness to assert my own needs. I made myself a victim in our conversations by waiting for him to tend to my desire to talk. He never did. I found myself avoiding him when I’d see him at events or in our neighborhood. One day I came to the following conclusion: If others don’t honor ordinary rules of politeness, I don’t have to either.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not offering justification for spite or petty rudeness. What I’m suggesting is that if others are interpersonally insensitive, you must give yourself permission to assert your needs in ways that might otherwise seem rude. Assert yourself as strongly as you need to, but no more. For example, with my friend, I listened sincerely to his monologue, but when I felt a desire to change topics or add my view, I would interrupt him. I sometimes had to talk for a few uncomfortable seconds before he registered that I was seizing the baton, but he would then stop, listen, nod and engage. Our friendship continued for years, and the pattern never changed. I had to fight for my airtime, but he surrendered it when I did. My resentment disappeared and my willingness to spend time with him genuinely grew.
With your mother, you may need to do the same. When she starts to cut you off, continue talking. Firmly raise your voice a few decibels to signal your determination to complete your thought. Stop making yourself a victim of her interruptions and you’ll stop resenting them. Stop taking it personally and you’ll stop feeling offended. Her behavior is not a measure of your worth, it’s a facet of her personality. Accept that this is who she is and how she’ll be, and take responsibility to assert your needs.
Spend Less Time with Mom
If options 1 and 2 don’t work for you, you’ve got one remaining option: Take responsibility for your own well-being by limiting the frequency or duration of your time with Mom. Again, stop blaming her for being who she is, and start deciding how you’ll care for your own needs given this reality.
The ultimate invitation life offers all of us is to learn to live happily with imperfect people. I hope some of these ideas help you find greater happiness as you do.