Tell Me About It: Self-centered Stressed Mom

Posted: January 11, 2012

Question: What is the best way to end a friendship - to back away slowly and quietly, or to be up front about why you are unhappy?

My close friend has become the Patron Saint of Stressed Mothers over the last two years. All of the friends in our group have pitched in to help her adjust to this new lifestyle by babysitting, bringing over meals, listening patiently to all of her problems, and politely tolerating her constant berating of her husband and own mother for the slightest child-rearing offense.

Before she was Stressed Mom, she was fun, although she always had to be the center of attention, also politely tolerated because we all love her husband so much.

Now, her rudeness is extending to friends, with comments such as, "Well, now you know what my life is like," after seven hours of babysitting for her. Or better yet, you bring over meals, and she complains that you did something wrong or she had to turn on her oven.

We all realize that part of this is related to the hormonal adjustment and just being plain tired, but she recently stopped working, and we hoped things would improve. They have not.

Is it time for an intervention, or should we move slowly away and then explain when she finally realizes we've had enough?

Answer: Seven hours? My former new-mother self just fainted.

My current incarnation is finding it hard to believe there isn't one truth-teller in your entire group.

Actually, the thing to say to a person who just watched your child gratis for seven hours is, " 'Thank you, o madly merciful one.' "

"If there's a problem with my dinners, say so, because I'll gladly stop feeding you."

"Perhaps you don't realize how you sound, but you are being really tough on your husband/mom lately."

These are plenty solicitous and completely clear - steel wrapped in flannel.

You're still her friend (for now), so try using this formula to tell her kindly whenever she crosses a line; then wait a reasonable interval to see whether she gets this overdue message. Reasonable is in the eye of the beholder, but don't expect her to have an epiphany with the first limit you set.

Even if you cave on everything else, please call her on the way she treats her husband; what you describe is verbal and possibly emotional abuse, and "politely tolerating" is not a valid response.

If she responds by tearing into you, then remember you went into this prepared to end the friendship, and calmly explain to her exactly what you think of her attitude. And if she doesn't confront you, but persists in taking you for granted, then just stop offering yourself up for her use.

You're the only one of your put-upon-friend-group signing this letter, but all of you owe it to yourselves, and to Momzerella, to stop being her coach mice. How will she ever figure out the world doesn't revolve around her when your actions tell her it does?


E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com,

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at noon each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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