Lory lives in Paris, where COVID-19 shut down the city of lights as the pandemic ravaged Europe. Her mom lives in New York, which weeks after Paris went on lockdown would become the American epicenter. But Lori could not convince her mother to take, what she believed, were necessary precautions.
Our expert, Dr. Pam Thompson, is a psychologist, professional life coach and the author of "Surviving Mama," a book that focuses on mothers and adult daughters. She joins the podcast to break down what makes a successful mother-daughter relationship. She practices in Atlanta, Georgia. You can find out more about Dr. Thompson and her practice by visiting her website.
You can find out more about Dr. Thompson and her practice by visiting her website. If you loved this episode, be sure to check out Parents Might Be Spreading Fake News and Dad Voted for Trump
We’d love to hear your stories of triumph and frustration so send us a detailed voice memo to firstname.lastname@example.org. You might be on a future episode!
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Hi, everybody. Welcome back to How to Talk to [Mamí and Papí] About Anything. I’m the host and creator, Juleyka Lantigua-Williams. Since we launched, I’ve been talking to adult children of immigrant parents, who open up about situations from which the rest of us might learn something. I’ve also invited experts with experience and advice, to help us understand and navigate these rough moments.
This week, I’m talking to Lory Martinez about her experience living in France as the COVID pandemic set in across Europe, and her efforts to get her mom in New York City to take serious safety measures. Let’s get into it.
Lory Martinez: My name is Lory Martinez. I’m Colombian American, and I call my mom and dad Mamí and Papí, and I currently live in France, where they call their mom and dad Papa and Mama. It’s so frustrating to tell this story, because just in hindsight, to be correct is not what you wanted at this point, you know? So, basically I’ve been living in France for the past five years, and when the pandemic began, I had the foresight of what would possibly happen in the US in the weeks that followed. And I started to warn my mom, like, “You should be careful. You’re gonna have a lockdown very soon. You should probably stop going to work.” And you know, as things intensified here, I basically told her, “No, you really need to stop going to work.” And the conversations became more and more anxiety inducing on both ends, because for her, in the US, there was nothing happening and there were very few cases, and for me, in France, it was like you can no longer go outside unless it’s less than a kilometer from your house. You have to have special permission to go outside with a piece of paper saying, “Okay, you’re going out for a specific reason.”
And I knew that that would end up happening in New York, and so I would talk to her, and I would say, “Mom. Mamí. Listen to me.” And you know, it went from phone calls, to text messages, at one point I texted my mom and I said, “Mom, if you love me, please stop going to work.” And she still refused to not go to work. She kept going for days and days, and you know, it wasn’t until the point where in New York City there was already a lockdown, but not in upstate New York, and there were like a few cases in her town, and she was like, “No, but there’s only six people in Monroe County.” And then, like two days later, there was 30 people in Monroe County, and then two days later it’s like, “Oh, there’s 130 cases.” And it just kept escalating, and she still was like, “No, but it’s not as bad as New York City.”
You know, for her it was really a joke at the beginning, and so the fun thing that I tell people is that… Because we used to watch a lot of Korean dramas when I lived back in New York, because we had the Chinese and NDTV channels in Flushing, Queens. Basically, she was like, “You’re being a Korean drama.” And I just couldn’t handle it, and at one point I basically… You know, for her it was hilarious, but for me, I was crying. And I would cry to my husband, and I said, “I don’t know how to talk to her anymore.” I told my brother and he was like, “No, this is not a big deal.” And so, my brother was like, “No, it’s not. Relax, Sana.” Because he calls me Sana, because my middle name is Susana.
He was like, “Sana, it’s not a big deal. Relax. Stop harassing Mom. Stop harassing Mamí. Stop it.” And then I said, “Okay, but could you tell her not to go to work? Like for me, please?” And he didn’t. We basically had gotten to an impasse in our text messages. Every message I sent her was, “Please stay home. Mami, stay home. Si me amas, stay home. Por favor.” And she just said, “No, No me estreses así. Don’t stress me out. It’s too much.” And then, I guess because she speaks to her own mother every day the way I speak to my mother every day, she told her mom. She told my grandma. And my grandma, we don’t really talk as often on the phone. Sometimes we send each other text messages on WhatsApp in the WhatsApp family group and everything, but we don’t talk directly as much, and so I was really surprised, because the day after that, I got a call from my grandma.
And she was like, “Mijíta, dejéla en paz. Leave her alone. You’re stressing her out. This is not as serious as you’re putting it out to be. You know, all we have to do is be very careful, and you don’t have to… Don’t stress her out. Stop messaging her like that. And you know, it feels like you’re giving her an anxiety attack, and you know how she lives alone. You’re gonna make her even more anxious. And we know that you love her so much.” And so, at this point I’m like crying with my grandma on the phone. Because one, I don’t think she realized how scared I was, and two, she forgot that I was in France and I was already in lockdown. I don’t know if she understood the extent of my own experience with this lockdown, and the quarantine, and having colleagues that have COVID, and just being like, “I really want you to stay home, mom.”
And so, I told my husband to call her, and then my husband, her son-in-law, called her, and they had this very in broken English conversation, both of them, on both ends, with accents, talking. And he convinced her, halfway convinced her. She said, “Okay, my dear. I will stay home, but only at the end of this week.” And what’s really funny is that that Wednesday, social distancing measures got even more extreme in New York City and it was really like locked down full, and then on Friday, the day of Friday, a coworker says, “Oh yeah, I don’t know. Martha, I don’t want to scare you, but one of the drivers who we work with,” because they worked with food delivery trucks, so this is an essential trucking company that is bringing essential supplies to New York City, “One of our drivers tested positive for COVID. And he dropped off a folder, and it’s on your desk.” And so, she said, “You know what guys? I’m out. I’m done.”
She didn’t even take the folder from her desk. She just grabbed her stuff and went home, and then she called me, and she said, “You were right, Mamí. You were so right.”
So much of Lory’s story is so familiar to me. My mom also lives in a different country, and sometimes that makes it hard for us to see eye to eye on some things. She’s also fiercely independent and happy with her life exactly as it is. Thankfully, she’s retired, so our early COVID conversations were a little different, but the dynamics are not that far off from Lory’s and her mom. So, I called Dr. Pam Thompson, a family and marriage therapist and the author of Surviving Mama, to talk through what’s at play here.
What do you hear in Lory’s story?
I hear a couple things in Lory’s story. First and foremost, I think that they were not only in two different places geographically, but they were in two different places emotionally, and I think that her daughter was living in the midst of a highly intense situation and wanted so badly to reach out and protect her mother. However, I don’t think she was in a space where she could give proper credence to the fact that her mother was not able to respond in the way that her daughter wanted her to just jump and respond, and create this very abnormal situation, when her world was not being impacted in that same way.
And so, she didn’t really allow her mother some space there to digest what was happening, and then to make her own choice as it was best timed for the situation in New York.
So, in your experience in these kinds of mother-daughter relationships, what are… I want to say typical, normal, standard underlying dynamics that you see often? Because we encounter situations where the daughter and the mother can not seem to see eye to eye on something, and a lot has to do with the underlying dynamics.
Thompson: It repeatedly comes up that the adult daughter at some point has to unzip herself outside of her childhood body, and her childhood stance, and meet her mother for the first time, woman to woman. And so, baked into that is going to be some inherent struggle, because the mother’s not accustomed to seeing her daughter as this adult woman, and the adult daughter is not used to relating to her mother in that woman to woman way, and so it’s just bound to be some friction.
So, in this instance they live on different continents, so how have you, in your experience, seen distance, physical distance, play into these dynamics?
Thompson: Well, I do think that distance can create misunderstanding that is baked in when you can’t intimately see somebody function in their environment and trust that they’re doing okay, that they know what they’re doing, that they’re managing their life. And younger women have had so many more opportunities than their mothers with travel, and educational opportunities, and job opportunities, and financial opportunities, that they forget that their mothers and grandmothers haven’t had that kind of exposure, haven’t had that kind of experience that has made them so independent and so strong-willed, and so there are these misunderstandings when the daughters assume that their mother should just harken to their voice, because, you know, I know these things.
Thompson: I’ve lived. I’ve experienced. And your mother hasn’t, but she did okay. She did okay.
This is true. So, I actually want to talk about that, because there was one point that really hit home for me, which is when her mom basically says to Lory, “Well, you’re just being dramatic. You’re just being like a soap opera.” My mom has said that to me. Like, literally the same thing. Like, “This is not a telenovela, okay? So, you can bring the acting down. You’re being very dramatic.” So, what is up with that?
Thompson: When we speak about those generational differences, younger people live in an environment and are exposed to so much more expression in their day-to-day lives. You know, they love to tell all their business. They love to get on every platform and share every feeling, and every emotion, and everything I’m going through. What do y’all think? And get everybody’s opinion. And people join in the emotional party, so there is all this emotion, which is often not anchored in more sensibility and more restraint, and more wisdom, and more prudence around what you choose to share, when you share it, and how, and with whom.
And the older generation doesn’t express themselves like that, and so it can be overwhelming. It’s just too much. Calm down! It’ll be okay.
Right, they can’t get to the point of actually hearing what you’re saying, because they’re just reacting to how you’re presenting what you’re saying.
Thompson: Yes. When people are caught up in emotionality like that that’s off the chart, rarely are you going to have productive conversation, if ever. And so, if they could learn to turn that dial down a bit, and regulate the tone of their voice, and not overwhelm with too information at one time, because that’s the other thing about the younger generation, the daughters, their access to far more information all the time drives a lot of their sensitivities and their need to express this, whereas the older generation is not as inclined to seek out that minutiae of detail, nor do they need it to make decisions and solve problems in the same way.
So then, as a daughter, Lory or I should basically stick to the headlines, right?
Thompson: I think so, and here’s a big thing. I’m glad you just said that. Stick to the headlines. Yes, that would be great. With a regulated tone of voice, and also with some degree of empathy for what your situation is, like that creates some wiggle room and some space in the conversation if I say, “Hey, okay. I understand where you coming from, mom, because I can see here that it hasn’t hit New York yet, and so I can appreciate the fact that I sound very strange calling you right now and asking you to stay home from work. I get that that’s a bit of an unreasonable request.” And so, if you could just own that, if the daughter could just own that yeah, I know this is crazy, let me acknowledge that and let me own that, and let me listen more to what you’re hearing and experiencing in New York. That just creates some room in the conversation for it to move forward.
I want to get you thinking a little bit from the 30,000 viewpoint, because Lory’s gonna encounter similar situations. I’m definitely going to encounter similar situations. And I want us to be better prepared next time. What are the takeaways for Lory, for me, for other daughters listening, in terms of how to strengthen their way that they can approach their moms in future scenarios, where we can anticipate that there’s going to be some pushback.
Thompson: Yes. So, first of all, your mother is grown, and she has lived her life and done it well. She raised you. And so, we have to start from that premise that I’m not trying to tell you what to do. If we can just sort of enter the equation with a posture of listening, as well as something complimentary, like, “I just want you to know, mom, I respect your judgment so much. You know, I just value all the ways in which you have lived a very wise, and caring, and nurturing life. I just-“
But you have to mean it, though. Like this is not BS. You have to mean it.
Thompson: No, this is not BS. Yeah, you have to really mean it.
Thompson: And by the way, if you’ve had a difficult relationship with your mother, that is full of resentment, or there’s bitterness there, or whatever, still look for that one little thing that you can compliment. Still look for that one thing you can validate, and say, “Okay, mom, you were just the best at this, and I get that you are a grown woman and you make your own decisions.” And you’ve gotta mean it. You can’t be attached to the outcome. You gotta release the outcome, and when you back up like that, you make room for her to move a little closer to your opinion and your perspective. But if you just come in, like guns a blazing, “You gotta do this, and you blah-blah-blah-blah.” You’re just shutting that thing down and she’s never gonna move closer to your perspective.
Okay, but that’s a big ask, not to be attached to the outcome.
Thompson: It is a big ask, and that’s what big girls do. That’s what women do, is they learn how to release the outcome, and still plant my seeds, and still offer you what I have to offer you, but it is a sure-fire sign of maturity when you are mature enough to let people make their own decisions, their own mistakes, solve their own problems, even if you know this is not a good path, but I’m gonna let you do that out of my respect and honor for you to live your on life.
So, how do you communicate that without basically saying, “Do whatever you want! I don’t care anyway!” Please tell me.
Thompson: You don’t even have to say it. You don’t have to say, “Oh, well, I’m gonna let you make your own decision and your own mistake.” You don’t have to say it. Your silence will begin to speak volumes. If they say, “I’m not gonna quit going to my job. What are you talking about? That’s ridiculous.” You can start to back it up a little bit, like, “Okay, I hear you. I hear you. And I respect that. I just want you to pay attention to the news, and I just want you to be alert to the fact that some things are headed toward New York that you might want to consider.” And back up and listen. And listen. Change the topic if you have to. “Well, how was your day today? Did you have a good day? Blah-blah-blah.” And just entertain some pleasantries. Pepper the conversation with some pleasantries and not just hammer the person with this one issue. You gotta listen.
An elephant can’t be eaten in one bite.
Wow. There’s a metaphor for you.
Thompson: Yeah. Right. That’s right. Not one bite.
No. Not one bite. Okay, so then I want to talk about the other strategy that Lory tried to deploy, which is first she tried to get her brother to talk to their mom, and then she convinced her husband, in their broken English, to have them talk to one another. What about that strategy? Is that something you would recommend?
Thompson: No, I wouldn’t. I don’t think it makes the situation any better, because now you’re talking about me to everybody. So, now you’re team tagging. Now everybody’s talking about me behind my back. That makes a person even more inclined to not listen and to dig in. And to feel kind of hurt by that, too.
Last question, and I don’t mean to be simplistic about this. I just want to make sure that I convey this in the way that I’m understanding it. It comes down to you self-regulating how you respond and act in the relationship.
Thompson: Yes. It does. It’s up to you to go forward and demonstrate to her that I’m a woman in my own right. And you don’t have to attach a lot of words to that. You just have to act in accordance with somebody who is living their own life, living a good life, living a respectful life, a contributing life, and your mother will generally be pleased with that.
All right. Let’s recap what we learned from Dr. Thompson. Start with words of praise. Pepper the conversation with some pleasantries at first. Turn down the emotional dial, so the person can really hear you. Listen, then listen harder, and express empathy for their situation. Stick to the headlines. Do not overwhelm with information. Avoid tag teaming. Avoid tag teaming! And remember, release the outcome. Be detached from what the person decides to do.
Thank you so much for listening. I think we’re official, since our podcast stickers arrive this week. DM us on social media or send your address to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will personally send you a free set. How to Talk to [Mamí and Papí] About Anything is an original production of Lantigua Williams & Co. Micaela Rodríguez produced this episode. Kojin Tashiro mixed it. Cedric Wilson is our lead producer. We’d love to hear your stories of triumph and frustration, so send us a detailed voice memo to email@example.com. You might be on a future episode. Let’s also connect on Twitter and Instagram @talktomamipapi, and please subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and anywhere you listen to your favorite podcasts. Bye, everybody. Same place next week.
Lantigua-Williams, Juleyka, host. “Trying to Warn Mom about COVID-19 from Afar.” How to Talk to [Mamí & Papí] About Anything, Lantigua Williams & Co., May 15, 2020. TalkToMamiPapi.com.