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Published December 12, 2010, 12:00 AM

Miss Manners: Show mother who whines that you do care

Dear Miss Manners: I’m a 16-year-old girl, and while I love my mother, she complains about things way too much and about things I can’t help her with: how busy she is, how much her back hurts, how bad other drivers on the road are – jeez!

By: Judith Martin, INFORUM

Dear Miss Manners: I’m a 16-year-old girl, and while I love my mother, she complains about things way too much and about things I can’t help her with: how busy she is, how much her back hurts, how bad other drivers on the road are – jeez!

At least half of the conversations I have with her are like that. It’s so annoying to have to listen to someone complain all the time, and even worse, when I don’t do a good enough job faking interest, she gets annoyed with me for “not caring.”

I wish I could just tell my mom, “You complain too much. I don’t enjoy listening to it,” but of course, she would get very offended and make a fuss about it (she’s really touchy, too, which also gets annoying).

I feel like living with her is like walking on eggshells, and she is a bit of a baby about things. How can I get her to stop acting in a way that bothers me – without her taking it personally?

Gentle Reader: By showing you care, just as your mother said – but not just as she hopes. Feeding her moroseness by commiserating is not only tiresome, as you well know, but counterproductive.

“Mother,” Miss Manners suggest you say the next time you hear a complaint, no matter how trivial, “I’m worried about you. Every little thing seems to bother you. There must be something deeper that is wrong. I’m too young to know how to deal with it, but please find someone who can.”

Now, there may or may not be something deeper wrong. Some people are just in the habit of grousing, and mighty tedious they are, too, Miss Manners agrees.

In either case, your mother is likely to deny that she is doing anything more than reacting to stupidity of others and the injustice of fate. However, if you repeat the Deeper Concern statement each time she voices a meaningless complaint, she may think about it. It could lead her to deal with her emotions, but at the very least, it will make her aware of how easily and often she complains. And it will remove her ability to complain that you do not care.


Address your etiquette questions to Miss Manners, in care of The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, DC, 20071 or e-mail her at missmanners@unitedmedia.com

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