‘I Work From Home and My Mom Won’t Stop Talking to Me’

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Dear Boss,

I work remotely for an organization as a salaried employee, and I work from home. I also still live at home. My mom works from home, too. She’s a real-estate agent. Here’s the issue: She will not stop talking to me about every single communication she has with her clients. Literally every single communication. When I say literally, I mean li-truh-ly. I’ve told her point-blank, in no uncertain terms: “You have to stop telling me about every single thing, Mom, please.” It has not helped.

Here was my day today so far:

• At 9 a.m., I delayed my morning to help her with updating her résumé (she’s been doing real estate only for a few years and is between sticking with it and finding a permanent role).

• After that, I worked on some emails and then went to get some water, where I was promptly stopped to be told that a potential buyer decided to reject her client’s second counteroffer.

• Then, I worked on a project and was interrupted to be told that her client — let’s call her Jane — is upset she wasn’t more assertive with trying to get Jane to understand the initial offer was a good one.

• I went out to inquire about buying some lunch and was told that Jane had texted her to suggest she work with another real-estate agent from the same company who had initially sold her the apartment.

• Later, I went to use the bathroom and was stopped to be told that Jane wants my mom to give her daily reports about how the selling is going.

It’s currently 3 p.m. and I’m exhausted.

Though I haven’t had a formal, sit-down conversation with her about this, I’ve told her to stop because it’s stressing me out, and she says she’ll stop but then doesn’t. She often starts an interruption with, “I know you don’t want to hear it, but I have to tell you …”

And yes, my workspace has a door that I close. When my door is closed, she’ll call my name from right outside or knock and ask me if I’m busy.

I’ve tried to be a sounding board, tried to be “on her side” when she’s frustrated, I’ve tried to offer solutions, I’ve told her not take it so personally, I’ve shared that every freelancer has clients from hell. I get it.

Short of moving out (which of course is a future plan), what’s there to do? Should I respond with every single thing that’s going on at my job? Maybe there are some tips for how one might navigate this if I worked in an office and my mom were just any other co-worker. Help.

Congratulations to you for not screaming at your mom yet! I say this as someone whose mom once snuck into the woods to call her from a silent yoga retreat.

I think you need to tackle this from two fronts: One is a very direct, very serious conversation with your mom, and the other is changing some of your habits so that it’s harder for her to interrupt you, thus making you less dependent on her exercising a willpower that, so far, she seems to have lacked.

Let’s start with the direct conversation. This is exactly where you’d start with a co-worker, but we can put a mom-specific spin on it.

You said that you’ve told her she needs to stop telling you about every single thing in her day, but that’s not the same as telling her what you need. You also said you haven’t had a serious, sit-down conversation with her, and it’s time for that. So, sit down with her and say something like this: “I need your help with something that’s very important to me professionally. When you and I talk throughout the day, I can’t concentrate on work and maintain the productivity that I need in my job. The nature of my job is that it’s not very social and I really need to focus, so I can’t stop working to talk during the day unless something is truly an emergency.”

And if you really want to make it mom-specific, you could even say something like, “I can see this impacting my ability to work at the level my company needs from me, and it’s at the point where it may impact my standing at work and my professional reputation.” If your mom is the type who worries a lot about your well-being, this could be a precision strike at the heart of her parental urges that successfully gets her to back off. (You’ve got to know your mom for this one, though. With some parents, this would just introduce excessively worried questions about your career.)

Then prepare her for what’s to come: “Going forward, I’ve got to do a better job of keeping work boundaries while I’m working. So, if you ask me if I have a minute during the workday, I have to say no. And if we both end up in the kitchen at the same time, I can’t stay and chat. I’m telling you this because I want you to understand where I’m coming from and I’m worried otherwise it might come across rudely! I really do love talking with you the rest of the time. This is just about me needing to be able to focus on getting my work done during my work hours.”

Will this work? Maybe, maybe not. My hunch is that she’ll get better about leaving you alone but will still slip into old habits — because you’re her kid and you’re in her house. She sees you as her kid sharing space with her, not as an independent adult who is currently at work.

So, you’ve also got to fight this on another front: your own habits.

For starters, don’t delay your workday to help your mom with personal things that you wouldn’t be helping her with if you worked at your company’s headquarters. It’s okay to say, “I’m expected to be working right now, but I can help you with this tonight or over the weekend.”

Similarly, set boundaries when you bump into each other during the course of the day, like when you’re getting lunch or going to the bathroom. This actually isn’t all that different from what you’d need to do with co-workers if you were working in an office. It’s normal that when you leave your desk, you might encounter people who want to chat with you. It’s on you to set limits on that, and to say, “I’m just quickly grabbing water but I’m on deadline and have to get back to my desk.” You’d need to do that with co-workers sometimes, and you can do it with your mom, too. (Although on the very practical side, you might consider buying a mini-fridge for your office and keeping water in there, so that you’re leaving your office less frequently.)

And as with co-workers, you don’t need to be her emotional support during the day! This is your mom, so you shouldn’t cut her off completely — but it’s entirely reasonable to confine that piece of your relationship to outside of your work hours, just like you would have to do if you were working in an office. Practice saying, “That sounds tough. Let’s talk about it tonight since I’m on the clock right now.” In fact, “on the clock” might be a very useful expression to introduce in your conversations with her, since it reinforces that right now you are being paid to be accountable to someone else.

Similarly, when she knocks on your door and asks if you’re busy, tell the truth. Say, “Yes, I’m working, but I should be off around 5:30” (or whatever). Hell, you might even try putting up a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your office door to see if the visual cue helps remind her.

If you try all of this and the problem continues, it might be worth experimenting with working outside the house for a while. It’s possible that if you spend a couple of weeks working from a coffee shop or a library, you’ll break her of the habit of being in such frequent communication with you. And if not, you might find that a library with free Wi-Fi and librarians to shush people is a good space to continue in.

One last piece of this: Make sure you’re spending time with your mom outside of your work hours. It will probably help your boundaries during the day go over more easily if you make a point of being accessible and talking with her at other times. And in particular, if you say something like “Let’s talk about that tonight instead,” make sure that you really do go back to her that night and raise it again, which will reinforce for her that she can get (at least part of) what she wants by respecting your new setup.

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‘I Work From Home and My Mom Won’t Stop Talking to Me’