Mean Old Lady

26 May

Dear LetterBalm: My mother turned 90 last month, and we had a big birthday celebration for her. I confess my heart wasn’t in it. She believes in speaking plainly, that because she’s old, she’s allowed to say whatever she wants. She says the most outrageous, unkind and critical things about everybody, even to their faces. My mother has all her faculties, and she’s very smart, so she knows exactly what she’s doing. She thinks she can get away with her nastiness because she’s old and no one can call her on it. Her attitude is causing people to stay away from her – my sister and I had to coax people to come to her party. I think we need to tell our mother how much she’s hurting those around her, but my sister says to let it go because she’s too old to change her ways. Advice?

–Chagrined Son

Sometimes age is no excuse. Everyone – no matter how old – must earn respect, and the Golden Rule applies here: Treat others the way you want to be treated. Just because your mother is 90 years old doesn’t give her the right to be mean and nasty. If you genuinely believe that she’s not physically or mentally ill, Ms. L.B. believes you should inform her that her behavior is unacceptable and that she is responsible for her actions. In other words, she’s not fooling anyone. If your sister doesn’t want to participate, that’s O.K. When you and your mom are alone in a quiet moment, speak your piece, understanding that it may do little good:

Mom, I want to talk with you about something serious. I think you believe you’re entitled to say deliberately hurtful things to people. You say the most critical, narrow-minded and outrageous things about people – and, even to their faces – and you think that you can be excused because you’re 90 years old. Mom, you’re not stupid, you’re not demented. You have to know that you’re hurting everyone, especially those who love you, and it’s having a very negative effect. Do you know that Gloria and I had to coax a lot of people to come to your birthday party? They didn’t want to because they’re being driven away by your negativity. Maybe you don’t realize what you’re doing, or maybe you do and you don’t care. But it has ramifications, and you need to know. A little kindness goes a long way, Mom. Will you at least think about this?


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