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Old August 7th, 2013, 06:36 PM
rotunda rotunda is offline
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Mother dominates conversation with same old stories

Hi there, I hope this forum and its members might help me understand why my mother does this, and what I can do, if anything, to change things.

My mother monopolizes conversation at any social gathering and repeats stories from mine and my siblings (all in 30s and 40s now) childhood. I don't think it would be an exagerration to say I have heard some of these stories 100 times, over the last 20 years. At the conclusion of one story, we all desperately try to begin a conversation about something - anything - else but more often than not she will pause for breath and then begin the next one.

If I begin to talk about something perhaps that was in the news, or how a friend is doing, how my job is going, she will find a story in some way related, involving one or other of me and my siblings as children to repeat again, while we all sit stony faced because we have heard it so many times before and there is no pleasure to be had in hearing it again. She is as far as I can gather completely oblivious to our discomfort.

If I have the temerity to point out she has told us this story before (even a couple of days before), she reacts angrily and the situation becomes very uncomfortable. My sister and I still dutifully turn up to birthdays and whatnot and sit through it, however my brother and his family no longer do so, as he doesn't like how she would corner his children to tell them stories about what he did as a child, almost like she was picking them as the least resistant audience.

I suspect part of this is to do with a relatively unhappy childhood she had as a result of her mother dying young and her stepmother not wanting her around, a sense she didn't achieve everything in life that she wanted to, and a rocky patch with my father a couple of years ago. Relatively speaking, bringing us up successfully was a good period in her life. She drinks too much probably because of the issues I describe and this naturally makes her more keen to tell stories and even less aware she's the only one in the room having any fun. I think my father does little to intervene as he feels guilt for having caused her pain (he tried to leave her, but she had a nervous breakdown as a result and he relented) and has resigned himself to sitting and listening. I can draw parallels between how she behaves with family, enjoying telling stories while nobody else enjoys hearing them, with how she is with my father, happy he has not left her, while he must remain unhappy with her.

That's about where I've got to with this, and I wonder if it chimes with anyone else. How do you introduce some awareness? How do you persuade her it isn't just whoever brings it up being difficult? She's been through rough times in her early life, and again in later life and I would like time with her to be a pleasure as opposed to something I always predict accurately will be something of an endurance test.
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Old August 7th, 2013, 07:59 PM
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Re: Mother dominates conversation with same old stories

Welcome, rotunda.

Urgh. That's a dilemma. I think you have done a fabulous job determining the reasons that she does that, and I appreciate that you have put so much thought into it.

The first question is - do you think this might be a sign of dementia? Is she hard of hearing and dominating the conversation because she can't really participate in back-and-forth? Has she been evaluated or seen a doctor? Barring that...

Since you have thought through this long enough to come up with a ration reason that she's doing this, I imagine that you've also tried the gentle redirect (laughingly finish the story for her, in an abbreviated fashion, as though you are appreciating it "I remember that story! That was a funny one!" and move the conversation along without completely changing it - "It reminds me of something I read in a magazine the other day... Did you see that article? Doesn't it remind you of that story?"). That will get you through the stories faster (oh, did I mention that my mother-in-law does the same thing? ).

The thing I'd be curious about is WHY she keeps repeating these stories? Is there some reaction she wants? Some stroking, perhaps? "That was a great day, Mom. You were always so good at finding fun adventures for us." Or maybe she's trying to think of what she's leaving behind - how she will be remembered - and she wants to have/leave these great memories and not the bad ones (unhappy childhood for example).

I don't have really good suggestions, sorry. About the only thing I can think to do to ease the burden is to increase her repertoire. Do you think it would help to ask her stories about other things (happy memories, if need be) so that she doesn't feel censored or scolded and you get a chance to somewhat escape the inevitable monologue?
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Old August 7th, 2013, 09:15 PM
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Re: Mother dominates conversation with same old stories

She may be like my DM and have nothing else to talk about (or my OS who, in the past, had to control every conversation and it had to be about her/what she wanted to talk about).



This is what I have started doing with my DM ... I bought a book (From me to you/Grandma to Grandchild version) and asked DM some of hte questions ....and typed them up too.


This has done several things - given DM something new (to me) to talk about, really increase my enjoyement of the stime we spend together, and is creating something permanate to keep


If you're interested I could pm you some of the questions/topics
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Old August 8th, 2013, 03:19 AM
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Re: Mother dominates conversation with same old stories

Hi, and thanks for the welcome.

I don't think it is dementia. She was hard of hearing for a long time (during which we were all frustratingly "softly spoken") before she finally recognised she needed a hearing aid. My brother and sister and I had at the time hoped this would mark a point at which she'd realise how many conversations she interrupted to talk over people but she still does it.

In fact I forgot to mention something new I spotted recently, my sister attempted to begin a telling me something over dinner and she physically gripped her wrist and spoke over her to tell me some other story. It was quite alarming at the time, the urgency of it.

I think you've hit upon something there with what reaction she wants. In my 20s I moved back in with my parents for around a year and found it to be excruciating at meal times. I think at this time my father was at his unhappiest (he was the one drinking too much at this time, but has since overcome that demon) with his life and would sit down eating his meal without talking. My mother at that time worked and would talk non-stop about her day at work. She didn't do an interesting job, and at the time I just wished she would give it a rest for once but as time and events have progressed I realise she was very much aware of my father's love diminishing and perhaps this was her way of trying to get any kind of reaction out of him. I think perhaps because her father (someone she still holds deep hatred for, 40 years after he died) was so uninterested in her, she really needs approval, stroking as you say. I wonder then if the way she ignores the fact she tells these stories to rooms full of glazed over eyes without any apparent awareness is a coping thing she's developed over the years?

In a perfect world I would call her up, tell her this is what she does and explain how it ruins social events to the point where one of her sons just doesn't come anymore but I know she'd be stubbornly unwilling to cede any ground and I'd just be the bad guy for a couple of weeks. It's a trait I have inherited from her and constantly battle to suppress it.

I suppose my options are take the rather hard hearted approach my brother has and just extract myself from the situation, or if I'm going to keep visiting, at least understand why she's doing it and give her the approval she seems to crave, instead of looking at my shoes. Watch this space.
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Old August 8th, 2013, 08:34 AM
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Re: Mother dominates conversation with same old stories

Well, to be honest, rotunda... I'm not sure giving her the reaction that she craves will be doing the best thing for the long run. If a little extra stroking helps her and she relaxes and lets someone else talk, that's good. However, it might just be enabling her, kwim? Give her a little, she might want more and the next thing you know you've created a monster.
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Old August 8th, 2013, 03:12 PM
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Re: Mother dominates conversation with same old stories

Hi rotunda, and a warm welcome from me too.

Its a very strange situation, it's like she HAS to be heard, but has nothing worthwhile to say. Or doesn't even want to say anything worthwhile or important.

I can only second what Snafu suggested, and look at ways of introducing new conversational topics. You seem quite articulate, are you verbally agile at moving the conversation around when she starts on a one-tracked story? Good luck, hard for all of us when our parents age ungracefully.
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