“Mona wanted me to tell you that she’d really like to spend more time with you the next time she’s in town,” Ami IM’d me the other day. Mona is her mom. “She’s, like, obsessed with you.”
“I would love to see more of your mom next time,” I wrote back. “We should all go out for pedicures and a glass of wine.”
“Oh, she’d love that,” Ami typed. “She’ll be so excited.”
Shrug. What can I say? Mothers love me.
I’m not being egotistical. This is just a fact. Moms across the board — of serious boyfriends and of friends, especially — nearly always develop a crush of sorts on me. I almost unintentionally manage to charm even the most “difficult” of moms. Moms with whom I have very little in common — save a vagina and an association with the person that calls them “mom” — think I am the bee’s knees. I’m kind of the mom whisperer. After much thought about how and why this is, I’ve decided to share my mom-wooing wisdom with you. (For what it’s worth, I’ve always gotten along with dads too, and I’m sure this advice would work on them as well. But I’m writing this with a mom-focus, as they tend to feel especially passionate about me.)
1. Be genuine. Moms can smell bullshit from a mile away, which means that if you want a mom to like you, you have to want to like her. If there’s a hint of fakeness in your smile, your handshake, your compliments, she will know and you’ll be at an immediate disadvantage. There are certainly some moms out there that you will not want to like, to get to know, and that is okay. You can mutually tolerate each other. But personally? I think the moms (and dads, for that matter) of the people you care about are worth at least trying to care about too. If you don’t have to fake it, don’t fake it.
2. Be specific. Just a couple seconds ago, as I was writing the previous sentence, a coworker brought her mom in to meet me. Mom was carrying a shopping bag. Instead of just spouting off the usual canned “nice to meet you” commentary, I got a little more specific based upon what little tidbits I remembered from conversations with my coworker. “You’re in Boston right?” I asked. “You must be so glad that Kelly flies from Los Angeles to New York often for work now — great excuse to come into the city to do some errands.” I gestured to her shopping bags. “Any good sales we should know about?” In layman’s terms, this is called “making conversation,” and it goes a long way.
One of the biggest mistakes “younger” adults make with “older” adults, especially older adults that are the parents of friends or boyfriends, is reverting back into the role of “child.” It’s understandable — a friend or boyfriend’s parent forever, in some way, sees their kid as just that, a kid, and it’s easy to, by association, see yourself that way too in their eyes. As a result, subtle childlike behaviors can suddenly come back. One example? Expecting the “adult” in the scenario to lead the conversation, to make you feel comfortable. But snap out of it! You’re an adult too! Make conversation like one!
3. Demonstrate how well you’ve gotten to know her kid. Ultimately, a mom’s number one concern is her kid, so her opinion about you is largely going to be based upon how she sees your relationship with their kid. Do you have her child’s best interests at heart? Do you treat them well? Hopefully, your friend or significant other has mentioned you a few times, told her things about you so Mom has at least started to build some sort of opinion about you — and this is your opportunity to show her that you’ve put in as much effort getting to know her son or daughter.
Driving to meet his parents for the first time, my ex and I got in a huge fight in the car. We were lost and I was in charge of the map, but the roads were dark and we kept missing the correct turns. He got really, annoyingly frustrated with me, but I knew he was really just pissed at himself and was acting like a baby. I had seen this side to him multiple times over the course of the few months we had been dating. When we got to the place where we were meeting his parents, after exchanging pleasantries, he made a joke about us bickering over directions. I gave his mom a knowing look and said something along the lines of “I’m sure you know how cranky he can get when he feels powerless.” My tone was affectionate but slightly ball-busting. And she loved it.
“Oh my god, I know exactly what you’re talking about!” she exclaimed. “Both my son and my husband are terrible about keeping their cool when things aren’t going perfectly according to plan.” This was a tiny, tiny moment, but it said so much. It was like she and I shared the same frustration with the men in the family, that I knew something about her son that only those closest to him would know, and she could see I handled this particular peccadillo with as much sanity as she did. Thus we were instantly bonded. Then she looked over at my boyfriend and said, “You be nice to her!” It was that easy.
4. But acknowledge Mom knows more than you. I’ve known Ami for nearly five years now. We started off as coworkers, but are close friends outside of work as well. I know a lot about her and there are certainly things I know about her that her mom doesn’t. But Mona? She knows a hell of a lot more about her than I do. She knows Ami, the musical theater prodigy! She knows Ami, the high school goth! She knows all the versions of Ami that came before and made the Ami I’m lucky to know now. When Mona and Ami and I finally go for pedicures and wine, Ami is just going to have to deal with me asking her mom all sorts of questions about her. Moms love to talk about their kids, and good friends/romantic partners want to know more about the people they care about. Defer to the knowledge Mom has that you don’t, and revel in it.
5. Get to know her outside of her role as mom. This bit of advice really should be extended to all people who happen to also be parents. Before the Mom in question was a mother, she was not a mother and she had a whole bunch of life experiences that matter and made her who she is. Even now, shocker of shockers, she’s a person before she’s a mother, and that person who is not solely defined by her children deserves to be acknowledged. So, ask her questions about her life before having kids or marriage (if she’s indeed married). Ask her questions about her career or her hobbies or what she studied in college or what book she’s reading. For the love of God, get to know her as a human being. Because even she thinks talking about her kid all of the time gets boring.
6. Ask for her advice. Chances are, she’s an expert on something, so exploit that expertise and make her feel good at the same time by asking for her advice. Is she a financial planner? Ask her for her thoughts on how you could better manage your 401K! If she’s well-traveled, ask her to share some favorite destinations for your next vacation. Does she have an impeccably decorated home? Ask for her opinion on the coffee table you’re considering buying. And feel free to reach out to her yourself if it’s appropriate and you have exchanged contact information, but give her son/daughter a head’s up that you’re doing it. Speaking of which, I really need to email Julie’s mom for her opinion on a guy I kind of like. She’s psychic so…
7. Be opinionated. As the saying goes, opinions are like assholes, everyone has one. But for whatever reason, when people get around other people’s parents, they tend to hold back on sharing theirs. I think this is a mistake. Yes, keeping your opinions to yourself will certainly help ensure that you never have a moment of quarrel with the Mom in question. But she will also probably feel like she doesn’t have any fucking clue about who you are or what you like because you never say. So share your opinions! If she’s just raved about a movie and she asks what you thought, tell her if you disliked it and why. If she’s invited you to dinner, actually give her an answer when she asks what kind of food you’re in the mood for. And if at said dinner a rousing debate about some sort of current event starts, participate. Trust me on this one. I dated a guy whose parents were pretty conservative politically. Over the years that he and I were together, I discussed a number of so-called “touchy” subjects with both of his parents. Because everyone was respectful and thoughtful in expressing their views, these debates only made us closer personally, even when our perspectives were different. His mom had a clearer picture of who I was because of the way I felt about certain topics and issues. Even the things I was obsessed with that didn’t appeal to her became sources of affection that she could joke with me about. We developed a really wonderful rapport.
8. Be more than polite — be thoughtful. Look, it should be a no brainer that if someone’s parents take you to dinner or invite you to stay at their home, there’s a code of conduct to adhere to: send a thank you card or a small gift, don’t leave your wet towels on the floor, offer to help cook dinner or clean up afterward, etc. This is Politeness 101. Fail at these things and nothing in the rest of this article will get you out the hole you’ve dug for yourself, let alone make mom love you. Sorry.
So assuming you have basic manners and excel at Politeness 101, consider taking it up a notch and giving to them in some way that isn’t in response to something nice they’ve done for you. Look, if you are someone I am especially close with, chances are your mom (and dad!) has a special place in my heart too. I want to hear what is going on in her life, good and bad, as much as you or she chooses to share with me. And I’m inclined towards doing thoughtful things for her just I would for any person I care about. These can be tiny gestures too, by the way, they don’t need to be grandiose. See an article online that you think she would find interesting? Email it. Come across a funny trinket at the flea market that you know she would get a kick out of? Buy it. Moms are just like anyone else — they like knowing other people are thinking about them.
Recently, a very close friend of mine told me about the hard time his mom had been having — her sister had passed away and her husband was battling cancer. My friend wasn’t sure how to help her and I certainly didn’t know either.
What I did know was that during some recent difficulties of my own, I found comfort in a book I was reading at the time, Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. The book is a series of advice columns/essays written during the author’s reign behind The Rumpus’s Dear Sugar column; the amazing thing to me was how much universal advice could be found in its pages, even though it was directed at specific advice seekers. I wasn’t sure if it would have the same affect on my friend’s mom, but I figured it was worth a shot — at the very least, she would maybe just enjoy reading it. So I sent it to her.
I know from the note she sent me, and what she has since said to her son/my friend, that she was thankful for the book not because it was a “present” (or even that the book had any major impact), but because the gesture symbolized much of the advice I’ve given in this piece. It was genuine, it was specific, it demonstrated how much I cared and knew about her child, and it showed that I regarded her as a woman beyond just that of my friend’s mother. Really, the best way to get (almost) any mom to love you? Treat her the way you would want to be treated. It’s as simple as that.