Make It Stop: How Do I Get My Mom To Chill?

My mom flies out from LA to visit me in Brooklyn every year for my birthday. I never invite her and she never asks for permission. She started doing it eight years ago when I was in college. Now it’s a full-blown thing. She rolls into town and we go to restaurants she likes, stores she adores, and generally do what she wants to do under the guise of “celebrating” my day. I DREAD her birthday hijacking and resent her barging her way to into my life like this. But since I’ve let her have her way for so long, I’m afraid how she’ll react if I tell her to not come. How do I get mom to stay home this year?

Does the thought of telling her to step away from Travelocity flight confirmation page make the little hairs on the back of your neck stand up? Are your palms sweaty at the idea of shutting this enforced birthday hang down?

Takes some deep breaths. I know you hate setting boundaries. Most people-pleasers do.

Maybe you’ve imagined how she’ll react when you tell her to stay put in California. Maybe there’s a lot of cursing or screaming or crying on her end. Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe she’ll get real quiet and not talk to you for six months. It’s scary not knowing, right?

But, usually the fear of saying no is worse than actually saying no. Your job is to push through your fear and remain calm, loving, and firm. Saying no to people is one of the most important actions you can learn as an adult. Because, unfortunately, it’s on you to set this boundary with your mother. It sounds like she’s perfectly happy running the show for as long as you let her.

Your question is about your birthday, but it’s really about how you find you voice. That’s what I want for you. Not just to shut down your mom’s yearly invasion, but to speak up in all situations.

I wish I could be your “no” coach. I’d make you flex your “no” muscles. We’d start small at first. I’d take you to Whole Foods and make you politely decline free samples of sprouted quinoa with tahini dressing. I’d high-five you after you say “no” to pesky telemarketers. I’d cheer you on as you’d turn down free spritzes of perfume at Macy’s. Under my coaching, I’d make you say no at least two times a day for a week before you approached your mom. Because once you start saying no, it becomes easier to do it.

When you’re ready, tell you mom something like, “As much fun as it’d be to see you for my birthday, I’m not available for a visit this year. We’ll make plans for a visit another time (or whatever outcome you’d be more comfortable with).” Don’t elaborate much more than that. Don’t over-explain yourself. Decline with grace.

This might sound corny, but I believe the universe rewards those who summon their courage to assert themselves in situations like this one. And teaching your mom how you’d like to be treated has the potential to send shockwaves to other parts of your life in unexpected and delightful ways. Maybe you’ll be less likely to settle in work or romantic situations as well. Maybe you’ll pipe up next time you see an injustice. Who knows? Don’t you want to find out what happens when you find your voice? How powerful that feels? You’re not a wobbly college kid anymore. You’re a woman with a full, busy life. Honor the woman you’ve becoming by saying no to things you don’t want to do.