Advice columnist

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My mother gave me a calendar filled with dozens of preplanned family events throughout the year. I didn't notice that at first, said it was great and I loved it. Later I noticed there are several events every month, ranging from a week at the shore to game night twice a month. Every holiday, birthday or anniversary is preplanned.

I'm 30, and she's never done this before. It could be a reaction to my father dying two years ago and my getting married last year. She said she wants to be sure she gets her "fair share" of our time. She even expects us to spend our anniversary dinner at her house since "it's in the calendar."

We have naturally missed a few of these events. This is not going over well because she keeps insisting we accepted her "invitations." Yesterday I got a several paragraph text from her saying we "agreed" to those events by accepting the calendar, and we are letting her down.

There are four this month alone, including my birthday and a 20-person brunch at her house. My mother has two cats and a dog, two sisters she sees every day, nieces and nephews, she still works and has lots of friends, so I can't understand what's behind this and she won't discuss it. I'm her only child, and I want to make her happy but this is too much. Isn't it?

— Her Only Child


(Nick Galifianakis/for The Washington Post)

Her Only Child: It is.

And you’ve done a good job, it seems, at not giving in to her emotional blackmail.

That’s what she’s doing, no matter how sweet the original intent might have been of her keeping you close through so many big life changes. (It hints at anxiety, as so many control attempts do.)

As soon as you know, tell her which events you will and will not make. Attend or skip accordingly. Do not explain. Respond to complaint texts with: “These are our plans. I’m letting you know as a courtesy.” Ignore the emotional implications of her insistence you “agreed,” because that’s a rabbit hole and an utter fiction.

In other words, treat the calendar as what you allow it to be — a menu of opportunities — and not the mandate Mom says it is.

If she presses: “I’m happy to attend what I can and give you plenty of notice.”

Many suggested returning the calendar if she insists it’s a contract. I hope it needn’t come to that.

By the way, there is no “fair share” of someone else’s time. You have yours, she has hers and any you give to each other is an act of free will — and more beautiful and loving for it. I’m sorry she doesn’t trust herself enough to see that.

Re: Calendar Mom: Carolyn, I understand your advice, but if the mom is already sending giant text messages, isn't proceeding as you suggested likely to result in her working herself up even more?

— Warning

Warning: No — well, maybe, but it’s not up to the child to govern Mom’s reaction. Child governs own schedule. Mom either adapts and calms down and enjoys Child’s company, or has tantrums into the void of Child’s non-reaction. Child stays on own course, never rewarding a fit.

Write to Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at wapo.st/haxpost.