Dear Rabbi Saulson,
Lately my mother has become SO stubborn and inflexible – a recent and sudden development. I don’t remember her being this way in the past, and truthfully, I don’t recall exactly when she became like this. Worse still, I don’t know why she acts this way. Everything has become a big argument between us: what time to have Sunday dinner, which sibling’s house to go to for the holidays, even exactly how much money she wants to spend on her groceries, all of a sudden (though she and my father are quite well off). She won’t even take the time to speak to me on the phone if I call between the hours of 9:00-11:00 a.m., as she’s “too busy” cleaning her house to talk!
What do you think is going on with her? I have tried to speak with her about her shift in attitude, but we always end up in an argument and both very upset. She and my father are healthy and active seniors with many equally healthy and active friends.
Have you seen this behavior before in someone in her age group?
~Tuckered out in Tucker
Here is my response:
There is a range of possible explanations for your mom’s “stubbornness,” from nutritional deficiencies, to late onset depression, to early onset dementia, to anxieties about mortality (especially if your mom has recently lost friends to death or to their moving away to be with their children), to anger which she has suppressed these many years, to a change in what’s happening in your dad’s life or your life (you don’t mention any siblings). Even our most well-founded and logical assumptions may be wrong as they are just that — assumptions. We simply can’t know unless we talk with your mom.
Perhaps your mom is not even aware of her behavior or, if so, finds talking about it too painful, even though you really do want to talk. Those closest to us — including our parents — often find it difficult to share without the fear of being judged or of causing worry or of becoming dependent. Still, our love and concern for one another usually do not just evaporate overnight. In this regard, the long-term relationship you have had with your mom certainly points to the benefit of an uninhibited and productive conversation.
I’d suggest that the three of us – you, your mother, and I – meet and have a non-threatening roundtable discussion to clear the air. You can always tell her – and it would be true – that you need to speak to someone with her (as opposed to about her), and thereby reaffirm her importance to you as your mother.
I look forward to your call. We’ll plan a session at a time that works for you and your mom.
[Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.]