How can I avoid family members who stress me out?

My mother takes care of niece whom my sister abandoned. She calls me every day complaining, but I don't want to hear it anymore.

Virginia Chow
Virginia Chow
Theraspace

It is understandable that it's very hard for you to hear daily complaints from your mother regarding the caregiving of your niece. You cannot change your mother's feelings and responsibilities, which could create feelings of frustration and helplessness. It must be equally hard for your mother to assume full responsibility for your niece at a time where your sister cannot take care of her. This type of responsibility usually produces an enormous amount of stress and pressure because your mother and niece would both need to adapt to this new relationship, living situation, and the feeling of being "abandoned." 

Not knowing the history of your relationship with your mother and how you respond to each other in times of need, it may be difficult to fight the right recommendation on how to deal with this situation. Nonetheless, it is not easy to have to face daily complaints and you may have to set a healthy balance between empathy and boundary setting with your mother and some personal boundaries for yourself. 

It is likely that your mother's "complaints" may be her desperate cry for help because she does not know how to cope with stress or how to ask for the right kind of support. In this case, you could calmly and respectfully tell her the next time you hear her complain, "This must be very difficult for you because I hear the stress in your voice almost everyday. It's very hard for me to hear you feeling so overwhelmed. I feel helpless in this situation and would like to suggest that it might be helpful for you to seek some professional help and support to deal with such a big matter of importance." When empathy and understanding is communicated, recipients are usually more open because they hear and feel the caring behind it and are more likely to seek additional help.

After sharing this message of empathy and encouragement to seek help, the next step is to protect yourself by explaining to your mother where your limits are so that she understands what she can expect from you. This means that you can decide the kind of support or help you are willing to give your mother and/or niece that is within your ability to provide without feeling overwhelmed. This could involve inviting them to dinner occasionally, taking them out to see a movie or inviting your niece over to give your mother respite. You could then say to her if she complains again, "I cannot change the way you feel in this situation and I encourage you to seek professional advice about that but what I could do is .........(explain what you could do to help)."

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The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Sherry Katz, LCSW
Sherry Katz, LCSW
Couples and Family Therapist, LCSW

Then one day when life between you and mom feels calm, tell your mom that you aren't able to listen to her complaints about your sister.

The truth exists whether or not it is acknowledged.   Bu acknowledging what feels real and necessary in your life, you are helping your mom see what she may not like to see and what nevertheless is right in front of her.

There is no good reason or good to come of hiding your own truth about not wishing to continue listening to your mom complain.

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Lauren Ostrowski, MA, LPC, NCC, DCC, CCTP
Lauren Ostrowski, MA, LPC, NCC, DCC, CCTP
I tailor my therapeutic approach to each client's strengths and goals

This sounds stressful.

You mentioned that you want to learn how to avoid them. I'm not sure whether you want to avoid them overall or if you would like to ask your mom to maybe only talk to you about it for a few minutes about your niece in each conversation that you have.

Maybe you can connect your mom with some support. It sounds as if she has lost part of herself and/or is very stressed out and in talking with you about it because she trusts you enough for you to be someone she can speak openly, you are becoming stressed because of things that you cannot directly change. This is the presumptive based on the amount of information that you posted, but it sounds like there is a bit of a circle of stress here.

I also wonder who you could talk with when you are stressed.

It may be helpful to see a local mental health professional to help redefine some boundaries so you can have the type of relationship with your mother that you want without necessarily feeling stressed out by it every day.

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal, as if you want to hurt or kill yourself or someone else, or are in crisis, call 800-273-8255 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week), call 911, or proceed to your local emergency room.
Linda Spyres
Linda Spyres
LCSW, CEO

This sounds like a possible boundary issue. Boundaries are important in relationships. They are invisible lines that we will or will not cross. It is up to us to create and hold them. We have the ability to rethink them and change them as needed. It sounds like you have thought it through and would like to makes changes in the relationship between your mother and you. In the main question, you want to avoid the family member, however in the following comment, it sounds like you may just want the avoid that conversation, not so much your mother. 

Once we review the issue and decide what we need (create the boundary), I suggest opening talking with the person when everyone is calm (not in the middle of a stressful moment when we often are unable to focus and hear the other person). Always understanding that we had time to think about this issue and the other person has not (catching them off guard). State clearly your need. Such as "I am not comfortable with hearing about my sister. It stresses me out. I would appreciate it if you would not bring it up anymore. If you do, I will not respond and I will change the subject " It is important to use "I" statements. I feel" this way". I will "do this". We only have power over our actions. Also when we use "you " comments, the other person can become defensive and unable to hear what we are saying. 

Once we let ourselves know what we need, then let the other people know our new boundary, then it is up to us to follow through. We will make mistakes. Not follow through every time with our boundary. That is okay. Start again. It gets easier with practice. It is also appropriate to reconsider and change your boundary as needed. Just let the others know when you need to change it. Remember, they can not read our minds. 

I wish you much strength and hope the best for you and your family.

www.parishhealthandwellness.com

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Marquita Johnson
Marquita Johnson
LPC, MDiv, NCC, DCC

It is difficult to implement healthy boundaries when the person is a parent or family member. I would encourage you to identify how it makes you feel after talking with your mother. Work on establishing healthy boundaries where you do not feel obligated to engage the complaining daily. Maybe setting a time limit to talk with your mother and practicing how to be assertive and not disrespect or aggressive. Helping your mother understand how you feel using  "I" statements  i.e  ( I feel _____ when you call to talk about my sister). Maybe asking your mom how can you be supportive of her during this time other than listening to her vent. It may also be helpful for your mother to get connected with support groups to help her cope with this life change. 

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Earl Lewis
Earl Lewis
Relationship Expert

I just want to understand before I answer. Who exactly is complaining?

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide.   If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Kristi King-Morgan, LMSW
Kristi King-Morgan, LMSW
Social Worker, Psychotherapist

Buy the book "Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin." Read it. Apply it.

Seriously, I'm not joking. You're not wrong to "not want to hear it anymore" but if you don't maintain healthy boundaries, you will allow your family to make you feel guilty for "not wanting to hear it anymore". That's not fair to you.

Give a copy to your mom, too. No, I didn't write the book nor do I have any affiliation with it - I simply recommend it because it's a wonderful book and it helped me out a lot. I recommend it to a lot of people. It should be required reading!

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.

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