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Grandma heard us say she’s boring and we hate to visit. Hax readers give advice.

Carolyn Hax (The Washington Post)
6 min

We asked readers to channel their inner Carolyn Hax and answer this question. Some of the best responses are below.

Dear Carolyn: During Christmas 2021, my mother walked into her kitchen as my 15-year-old said, “I hate being here. She's boring, and I would rather be at home,” and I replied, “I agree but she's family.” I was standing at the sink looking outside and didn't see her. She cleared her throat, filled her glass with water and left the room. Nothing more was said before we left. She gave us all plenty of hugs and kisses when we were at the door.

Since then, she sold the house and left no forwarding address. She sends gifts in the mail, and we exchange cordial but insubstantial emails. When I have asked if something is wrong, she simply responds, “Enough has been said already,” and “Young people are very observant.” No anger. No animosity. Just complete disinterest.

She is clearly upset, but I can't even say she is angry. This is completely unlike her! What can I do or say now?

— Caught

Caught: It’s hard to be caught, no doubt about it. But it seems like asking your mom to tell you what is wrong is putting the burden on her. You both know already what is wrong, and it’s on you to address it.

Do you feel bad for what was said? Tell her. Do you wish you had stood up for her? Tell her. Do you want to make it right? Tell her. Teenagers say cruel things sometimes, and you offhandedly agreed to the cruel thing and, to no one’s surprise, your mom is hurt. While it might seem like giving no forwarding address could be an overreaction, it also stands to reason that if someone thinks your house is boring, you wouldn’t want to obligate them to be there. This is her way of avoiding that. It’s up to you to make it right.

— Sequoia

Caught: Oh my. You do know the answer to your question, right? You know what’s wrong. And you know it was not your intention to hurt her feelings, but you did. I see two steps to mend this relationship.

First, talk to your kid about what those visits mean to their grandmother. You validated their statement that the visits are boring. Time to revisit that. As a teacher, I sometimes had students talk about a task they found boring. I challenged them to reframe their thinking: It is boring if you think it is. If you can dig deep and find ways to engage with grandma — instead of expecting her to entertain you — that would be good for all. Meet her on her level and respect what she CAN do.

Second, it is up to you as the parent to model restorative action to repair your relationship with grandma. She is deeply hurt. An apology and ownership of your hurtful statement is in order. You can’t erase what she heard, but you can own that it was a hurtful thing to say whether she heard it or not. Ask for forgiveness and an opportunity to help heal — on her time frame. Give her time and space to consider your offer. Best of luck.

— Cyntax

Caught: Have you asked Mom where she is and what she is doing? Maybe overhearing that conversation gave her permission to stop fulfilling a perceived duty and break out of the jail of society and family expectations! So many of my friends (especially single grandmom’s, but not exclusively) are enmeshed in their children’s lives, including me. We regularly joke that we are going to sell the house, change our phone numbers and not come back. The Mom sticker on our forehead is so big that we can’t breathe.

Don’t ask your Mom what’s wrong. Ask her what she did yesterday, how her friends are, what music she’s listening to, how she feels about the state of the world, etc. She’s probably not as boring as you and your teenager think. I hope she is having a blast.

— Never Too Late

Caught: Speaking as another older person, it sounds like it could be depression to me. Pervasive self-loathing of varying degrees saps the will to be spontaneous or even active, which makes anyone appear “boring.” That she caved so quickly and completely, inferring your teen was correct, suggests plenty of self-conditioning ahead of these overheard remarks.

I know from my and my peers’ experience that thoughts about aging include feelings of social irrelevance, fear and hopelessness. The urge to withdraw is powerful. I suggest facing this with your mom squarely as a matter of concern about her general well-being and your (plural, include her grandchild) desire to be active in her life. Isolation, if that is your mom’s case, is dangerous to older people mentally, spiritually and even physically.

— Lwoodsky

Caught: Wowzer. Imagine one day hearing your child describe you as boring and the time spent with you as an obligation. That kind of pain would take anyone’s breath away. Your mother’s response indicates to me that this is not the first time you have treated her badly, and she has just had enough and moved on.

If you truly want her in your life then figure out why. In your letter you don’t say you miss her or value her or how mortified you are to have hurt her. If you can’t see her as a person who deserves kindness and respect and worthy of love and connection with her own family, then take her lead and stay away. If you do want a connection with her then find your way to I’m sorry with a very good therapist.

— Look Within

Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read the last installment here. New questions are typically posted on Fridays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.