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05 March 2010

The Parent Trap I just listened to the first five minutes of this and could totally relate to the sort of sneaky trap they describe. My mom does this all the time--tells each sibling that the other sibling will be at some event, even though they've never committed. Do all parents engage in this sort of sneakiness?
For all their faults, my parents were never that manipulative. . .
posted by danf 05 March | 13:54
That particular trick would never have worked in my family.
posted by Ardiril 05 March | 14:06
No, all parents don't.
posted by Hugh Janus 05 March | 14:20
No, my dad was always very straightforward and my mom would never be organized enough to try to manipulate anyone like that.
posted by octothorpe 05 March | 14:38
Parents are just people. If you had kids, would you do it?
posted by Obscure Reference 05 March | 14:59
I have four kids. I am manipulative all the time. If I did this with my adult kids, I would at least own up to it!
posted by craniac 05 March | 15:02
Oh yeah, all the time. But only my mother. (Pops doesn't arrange anything at all, he just shows up randomly.)

The real fun is in conversations like this:

Mother: "I'm making a pot roast, if you want to come over for dinner around 6."
Me: "I've got other plans."
Mother: "Your brother said he's coming over to work on the bathroom."
Me: "Still have other plans."

And then I'll hear about it the next day and she'll say 'well you said you were going to be there!' as if by her mentioning an event to me that I'm automatically committed into going.

(My brother is terrible in that he often forgets and gets wrapped up in things and usually doesn't tell them that he's not making it to whatever, but she does the same shit with him too.)

Fucking aggravating.
posted by sperose 05 March | 15:11
Not all parents do this stuff. When I listened to that story, I kept waiting for another shoe to drop: why, exactly was the son so susceptible to this brand of manipulation, what's the hidden factor here? But it never came up. I guess it was just that he was living with Mom and felt inclined (though not necessarily obligated) to yield to her pressure.

My mother is a hinter, though. "I don't have any plans this weekend. I would [go to favorite bistro/ make special meal/ whatever] if I had some company, ho hum."

If she repeats something like this a couple of times, I will flat-out ask, "Are you asking me to dinner this weekend?"

At lunch last week, my mother mentioned that there are some messages on her cell phone but she doesn't know how to access them, and I smiled and nodded and let it go. The Fella was amazed I didn't offer to help, which is obviously what Mom was hinting at... except not too long ago, she got mad at me for giving her unasked-for advice with her gadgets. I apologized and told her that I would stop trying to solve her tech problems unless she explicitly asked me for help.

Now she can't get the messages off her phone. I see. Yes, I am exactly that petty.
posted by Elsa 05 March | 15:28
Off-topic, but the second half of that TAL broadcast, the part about Lucy the chimp, will rip your heart out and tap-dance on it. I listened to it last Saturday morning and was depressed for the rest of the weekend. Excellent stuff, but OMG so sad.
posted by kat allison 05 March | 15:50
My mom and aunt are fanatical about having me come into their house after an outing (right when I need to go home and decompress). Mom will come up with any excuse under the sun to get me to come in. And "it will only take a second," but it always turns into a half an hour as "while you're here, look at the new Mac for Dummies book I bought!"

I'm always impressed at the manipulation that occurs. "I have leftovers that need to be eaten up" is the biggest one; "I need help counting the number of children's books in my overall collection" was another; most recently it was "I bought too much of this EXPENSIVE cold sore medication, and would like to give you half." (Like she couldn't have brought it with her on the outing.) It's always something completely different each time so I can't say "well, last time I told you to write down the number of books." There's some biological wiring of "I need to be reassured that I'm still a mother with a little girl that I can control" going on here, and fortunately I can see through it and don't feel too guilty anymore about saying no.

Ok, I feel better now. :)
posted by Melismata 05 March | 16:24
Do all parents engage in this sort of sneakiness?

No, no, no, never. Although my parents ended up far apart emotionally and communicatively even before my dad's diagnosis, they were never cravenly sneaky like this. I suspect this is sort of a continuum of "ask vs. guess" family culture. My family is definitely "ask" at least where this is concerned.

My sister-in-law's whole thing, though, is very manipulative and sneaky. She's in a feud with the girlfriend of her son, my nephew (almost like a son to me, he grew up in my parents' home) and they do things like say that the baby clothes she just gave him came from SIL's mom instead of SIL herself, otherwise the GF would reject them. Meanwhile GF is borderline decent person with mostly decent parents but her sisters are sneaky slinky sluts and it's a constant battle to deal with even this arm's length drama.
posted by dhartung 05 March | 16:44
kat allison, that segment killed me. I listened to it alone in the house and sounded like a lunatic; I was talking back to the laptop speakers and wailing in dismay.

Melismata, I used to get a lot of that from my mother, the Columbo-esque "Oh, just one more thing" approach, too. It drove me wild. I want to help with things, but I like to have some prep time and some sense of how many, how long, how often, what tools I might need, and so on. She is much more seat-of-her-pants about stuff like this.

The following is me venting, and absolutely not advice to you.

I asked her to start making lists of chores she'd like done and giving them to me before I come out to her house, rather than springing them on me as I was putting on my coat to leave.

This isn't an ideal solution, because it privileges my planning style over hers, but I figure: what the heck, I'm the one helping, so I'm the one who gets to choose the planning process. And it keeps us from rolling our eyes at each other, which is great.
posted by Elsa 05 March | 16:53
Very insightful, Elsa, especially the part about the fact that we have different "planning" styles!! Thanks.
posted by Melismata 05 March | 17:05
My parents would never do this. They hate events. They're poor housekeepers and worse cooks. Both my brother and I live halfway across the country. Heck, I think my brother is in a completely different country most of the time. My mother-in-law, though... I love her to death, but every time 'Dude and I go visit, the exact same thing happens:

"Oh, when you come up we'll all take a trip up to Vancouver to go shopping and get some dumplings!" (Or wherever - when they were in Boston it was Plymouth Rock or Lowell)

First day of visit, talking about our plans:
"And then of course on Thursday, we'll take that trip up to Vancouver. Hope you brought your passports!"

Thursday rolls around:
"Oh, here are the car keys. I don't think anyone else wants to go! There's a GPS unit in the car."

It always ends up with me and 'Dude numbly wandering around some touristy location, not particularly interested in sightseeing or shopping, often while it's pouring rain and freezing cold. And yet we fall for it every time.
posted by muddgirl 05 March | 17:27
especially the part about the fact that we have different "planning" styles!!

To be perfectly honest, I didn't see it that way until I moved in with The Fella and saw that his on-the-fly planning style is very effective and comfortable for him. Up until then, I really thought that late-schedule planners were just non-planners, which made for friction with my mom: I saw myself as a responsible planner and her as a scattered non-planner. I'm glad to have learned otherwise, and especially if it's helpful to you, too.

Also, I said "it keeps us from rolling our eyes at each other," but I'm sure that's not true. It keeps me from rolling eyes at her, which is the dynamic that sets me off. She probably rolls her eyes at me plenty, but I don't mind!
posted by Elsa 05 March | 17:47
Nope. My parents are generally reasonable people. They're very much the kind of people I'd want to know even if I weren't related to them, and with very rare exceptions we all get along as grownups now.

Still. Every time I leave for the airport, my mom tries to make me take some food along. This has been going on for decades. No? Not even an orange? Are you sure?
posted by tangerine 05 March | 18:19
I just miss my parents. Sure, they do irritating things. But I turned 40 last year and I've been living several states away from them my entire adulthood. I don't really have any battles any more. I just want to love them and spend time with them.

We are human beings, homo sapiens - we are all crazy and complicated and overthinking and irritating people; we all want stuff from one another and have whole giant sets of erroneous beliefs about the way people and families should be. Ultimately, none of it is all that important as long as all parties recognize the primacy of love.

My parents don't lay traps, but they do try to find out the goods on us from one another. They ask if I've heard from my brother, what he's doing, and what I think about it - and I know they ask him the same stuff. It all comes out in the wash. Nothing to get het up about.

Life is short. There aren't that many people in your family. Take the opportunity to enjoy them.
posted by Miko 05 March | 23:23
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