Advice columnist

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

I’m getting married soon, and I need help dealing with my mother. She has a lot of good qualities, but she tends to be pretty negative (she’s already let me know she doesn’t like my wedding dress), criticizes when it’s too late to change something, and reacts badly when she feels affronted, which is often. For example, she screamed and hung up on me when she found out a wedding detail from a cousin instead of from me and then gave me the silent treatment when I tried to apologize.

Of course, when she does these things, it makes me feel awful. I do want to share my wedding day with my mother, but I’m terrified she’s going to act in a way that really hurts me right before I walk down the aisle. Is there any way I can set behavioral expectations ahead of time in a way that won’t make her angry, or should I just grin and bear whatever she throws at me?


(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

I’m going to go with (c) Develop a better understanding of, and emotional resilience with, your mother.

There’s no “of course” in she “makes me feel awful.” To see it that way is to give her power over you when you can claim that power yourself. Specifically, you can choose not to take your mom’s hostility personally because all of it — all — is about her.

Who criticizes a bride’s dress? Someone who is too emotionally stunted to even be happy for her own child, that’s who. (Translation: When you’re the center of attention, then *gasp* she can’t be!!) And that’s some sorry stuff.

As too is the screaming about learning details from a cousin (translation: “Everyone must think I’m out of the wedding loop, how embarrassing!!”), as is criticizing when it’s too late to change something (translation: She gets the last word). As is her silent treatment (translation: “[Bride] doesn’t get what she wants till I get what I want!”)

So, you needn’t worry that she’ll act up at your wedding — you can go straight to counting on it. But instead of being terrified, be prepared:

1. She will undermine you as you head down the aisle, because she has to. It’s where she is, emotionally.

2. It will be lousy for you, since who wants that kind of crud pie from her own mother — but it will be far worse for her. She doesn’t find joy where humans reliably find it; she finds insecurity and anxiety. Would you want to be in her place?

3. You have options. You can adopt a mantra, for example — “She does this because she’s needy, and it’s not about me”; or talk to a good family therapist; or develop cheery responses that deflect barbs, like, “Oh, Mother, really”; or decline to engage with absurdity. For example: Why on earth were you apologizing for the cousin incident when you did nothing wrong?

Ideally, you can combine these approaches. Just avoid the one where you try to preempt her attacks. That will just frustrate you and, worse, invest you in changing her behavior (which puts her in control) instead of brushing it off (which puts you in control).

Congrats, good luck, and train your eyes on the good.

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