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It is a good thing to show appreciation, but it is not your responsibility to manage your mother’s feelings of value and self-worth.Anyone who insists she wants nothing for her birthday, then locks herself in her room when she receives precisely what she asked for is a person who is determined to be disappointed by the people around her, no matter how hard they try.
What she wanted for her birthday, more than anything else, was to feel aggrieved and misunderstood, to refuse to be comforted, to remind the people around her that they have once again failed to live up to her standards.She wanted that state of martyrdom more than any phone call or present, and that’s why she’s refused to hear your apology.I promise that you could spend the rest of your life trying to make your mother’s birthday perfect every year, and she would still find a way to make you feel guilty.I think you would benefit immensely from taking the space your mother has recently granted you and seeking therapy to figure out how to assert healthy boundaries with a parent who throws tantrums like a child. Boyfriend’s rude daughter: My boyfriend’s adult daughter routinely treats me poorly at family functions and gatherings.Mallory Ortberg, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. (Sign up below to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Mompocalypse now: My mother is a very emotionally sensitive person and struggles particularly with her birthday.She never wants a party and sends mixed messages on gifts; if I ask what she wants she says “nothing,” but the one year I didn’t get her anything she was visibly upset and shut herself in her room until I left.
More than anything I think she wants to feel appreciated by our scattered family—both my sister and my father spend most of their time at least a six-hour plane ride away from our family home. This year we took a family trip to a destination of her choice a few weeks before her birthday as a celebration of a milestone year.She had a good time on a trip, and a few days after our return I gave my mother a few small, personal gifts and my best wishes.On her actual birthday, I was admittedly rushed and not thinking, so I didn’t contact her until I got out of work. The next day she notified me that she has nothing to say to me and has resisted any attempt to contact her since.Through my sister I know that she’s upset that I waited until later in the day to call and also that my father got her a thoughtless present she’ll never use—all of which, combined with her usual birthday malaise, have triggered a mompocalyptic rage that I don’t know how to defuse.I feel like it’s all my fault for not trying harder. A: I think I have an idea why your sister and your father spend most of their time so far away.When my mother gets like this, I get stuck on the image of her being upset and alone while my father and sister are away, and know that she relies on me to feel appreciated. Your mother does not—should not—“rely” on you to feel appreciated.