DEAR MISS MANNERS: I'm a 16-year-old girl, and while I love my mother, she complains about things WAY too much. And 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.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: We are having a Christmas Party on Saturday night. We have lived in this neighborhood for almost a year.
The party will be large (125 people), and we will be outdoors in the backyard (we live in a warm area). We do not want to disturb our neighbors.
But we also want to play music and be festive and have fun. We do not know our neighbors well on either side So, do we invite them? Send them a courtesy note of our plans? Or just party away?
GENTLE READER: Party away until they call the police to complain about the noise? Why would you want to do that?
This strikes Miss Manners as the ideal way to become acquainted with the neighbors. The party is large, so it can absorb them even if they're not destined to become your friends. Furthermore, if they decline, they either have other engagements that night, in which case you won't disturb them, or they will feel bad enough about rejecting your overture to put up with the noise.