Done Listening

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My daughter is a chronic kvetch. When she’s in a good mood she’s a
very nice person, but when she is not, which seems to be an
increasingly amount of the time, she complains and complains and
complains. Her most chronic sources of aggravation and frustration are
her job, her relationship, and her need to lose weight and have more
money. It’s not that I don’t think she has the right to complain. We all
do. But she calls me several nights a week and just rambles and
drones, repeating the same list of why she is angry, upset, tired,
cranky, needs to treat herself to something (that means eating or
buying), needs someone to “fix it” for her, and on and on. I try to be a
good listener and to be supportive. I’m not even sure she hears what I
am saying. It’s like she needs the sound of her voice the way some
people keep a radio or TV on in the background. How can I make her
feel supported, give her the advice se needs to hear, and save myself
from disowning her?

Done Listening

Dear Done Listening:

I’m gong to rattle off a series of possible answers and you can see
which strike your fancy, at least as a starting place: Say, You kvetch a
lot and nothing seems to change. Are you ready to approach your
problems differently? Tell her, I think we need to change this dynamic.
I’m gong to set a timer and you have five minutes straight to complain
about whatever you want. Then we’re going to pick one problem and
together develop a strategy for changing the dynamic that you’re
going to buy into and do something about. Ask, Have you thought
about journaling about this and not talking to other people until you
know what you want to change? Or just get right to it and say, Is
being a kvetch good for you? Does it seem to help? Because on this
end I think the answer is a big NO!

Most people who complain feel stuck and also feel powerless to change
anything. Your daughter seems stuck in that pattern, so the only thing
she can do to pacify herself is to look for sympathy. Or so she thinks.
As her mother you do have the moral authority to give her advice. The
kind she might reject from a well-meaning friend. I think you have to
hold up the mirror to her behavior and see if she is willing to change.
Otherwise, for your own sanity, set limits on how often and how long
you speak to her and allow her to kvetch. If you don’t help her the
behavior will bleed into her workplace and relationship, and they’ll
head exactly in the direction she fears they are headed.