Not feeling great about the conversation I had with my mom


My mom called me this morning crying because my brother was going to put a lien on the job they’re doing to receive the $50k they owe him. To make a long story short, my parents have a plumbing company which my brother worked in until January when he (finally) left. The money my parents owe him is from his salary that they stopped paying when they found out he was leaving.

Obviously, the result of putting a lien didn’t just come from out the blue. My brother hasn’t been happy for years working with my parents. In fact, just a couple of months ago, he was plotting to steal the company from under my parents. The plot failed before it even began because my parents found out about it.

Both my brother and me and my husband have a mile-long list of grievances with my parents. My husband worked with them too for almost 10 years but we left and moved out of state in 2015 because we didn’t want anything to do with them or the company. We’ve since forgiven them and acknowledge to ourselves we could have made different choices instead of being victims.

But my brother and my parents…not so much. My brother blames them for everything wrong in his life and my parents pretend to be completely clueless as to why my brother (and almost everyone they know) is angry at them.

So when my mom called me today crying on the phone, she said she was completely blindsided by this and felt like it was the biggest betrayal she’s ever experienced, and that family should never do this.

When I was talking to her, I felt like I was understanding but still distant because I think my parents are reaping what they sowed. They borrow tens of thousands of dollars from anyone that has it–whether its friends, family, or employees (either directly by asking them or indirectly by paying them inconsistently so that they end up owing employees tens of thousands of dollars). Then they either don’t pay people back or only pay when threatened. They currently owe about a total of $600k+ to various people.

Anyway, I told my mom it was sad, I made a suggestion of asking my brother to put the lien on the rental house they have instead and then selling it, and asked if she didn’t think she’d have at least $50k in profits left at the end of the job. She said no because she still had to pay the pastor back because she borrowed $15k from him.

I saw how my model played out there and after I hung up I decided that when I called her later today, I wanted to feel empathetic; to just be with her in her sadness and let her know that I’m connecting with her on this emotional level.

So I did a thought download that included some of the thoughts that popped up here and decided that to show up as empathetic, I didn’t have to agree with them. Instead, I just wanted to sit with her on the phone and listen, recognizing and relating to the fact that we’ve all felt hurt and misunderstood. Grief is grief and we don’t have to agree for me to relate to that emotion.

So my intentional model I came up with was:
C = Mom is crying about son putting a lien
T = I can relate to the shared human experience of grief
F = Empathy
A = I put aside my judgments, opinions, biases; I stay on the phone with her and listen; I don’t provide suggestions; I hear her story and her pain; I focus on her emotion and relate to it
R = I create a deeper connection with my mom

When I called her at lunchtime, though, I’m still not sure how well I was able to play this model out. I think I was doing well, but then she asked what my husband thought about the situation. So I tried to find something truthful and evident, but that was still true to the empathetic feeling I wanted to show. I said, “He thinks it’s sad, and that it’s a sad situation and that the family feels broken.”

Then my mom was like “well, it’s just your brother so it’s only 1 person in the family.” And I was like “Well, there’s my brother, but there’s also my father- and mother-in-law [they borrowed $250K+ 10 years ago and haven’t paid], and my brother’s wife and their kids, so it’s many people involved and it feels broken because we can’t spend holidays together like we used to.”

Then my mom was like “The impression it gives is that it’s our fault” and I was like “…..well…..with my father- and mother-in-law it kind of is because you borrowed money and haven’t paid them back at all. And with my brother, he made his mistakes and could have done things differently. But it’s a relationship so there are things you and dad could have done differently too.”

She responded with something along the lines of “yeah, I guess.”

I left the conversation feeling like I didn’t achieve my result of creating a deeper connection with my mom. I wanted to support and acknowledge her feelings and instead, I feel like I just kicked her while she was down because she asked a question and I don’t think my answer showed I was sharing in her sadness.

I wasn’t saying it in an accusatory tone or anything. I tried to be gentle in the way I said it, and I stated what I perceived to be the truth. And I thought it was evident the family was broken and didn’t think it was something that would lead to further questioning.

Where did I fail in my intentional model? How could this conversation have gone differently?