Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“I Can’t Get Along with My Mother”

My mother and I do not get along. She left when I was 3-years-old to pursue a career and her own life while I stayed behind with my grandparents. I would go visit her during the summer months as a child, but most of my memories involve being left alone while she went out, or being put on various diets and exercise regimens.

I’m a 20 year-old college student now and as I’ve gotten older, the nit-picking at my body has morphed into other criticisms. She always believes I’m lying or hiding something when I’m telling the truth; if I become too sensitive on a given topic, she calls me a “bitch.” And today, when I shrugged her away because I did not want her hugging me after she made me cry in a restaurant full of people, she proceeded to give me the silent treatment and then when we finally arrived home, she told me that I was “not the only person who could be hurt by words” and that I needed to stop “acting like a wounded victim.”

The thing is, I should be used to this by now because the 3-4 times a year I visit my mother, she yells at me for something I’ve done or said even though I typically bite my tongue and hold back what I really want to say to her because I don’t want to hurt her feelings. I really don’t know what to do anymore. I’m seeking help for my Mommy (and Daddy) issues, but despite those issues I still love my mother and I want to get along with her! What should I do? — Mommy Issues


Of course you love your mother and want to get along with her; She’s your mom! And that only makes it harder to accept the way she’s treated you your whole life. But one of the biggest, most important lessons people can learn — and one you’ve likely had a head start embracing — is that our parents are only as good at parenting us as their own issues and limitations allow them to be and those limitations in no way define their love for us. Obviously, your mother has had a lot of limitations she either could not or chose not to push past to do better by you. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you enormously, and I’d bet there’s a part of her that’s as frustrated with herself as you are for her inability to mother you the way you deserve to be mothered.

So, what can you do to foster a better relationship with her now that your childhood is over and you’re moving into your own adulthood? Well, you’re already doing one great thing by seeking help to deal with the issues she’s passed on to you. That’s a wonderful start. The next step is to forgive her. You don’t have to express the forgiveness to her; having it in your heart is enough. Forgive her for the mistakes she’s made and continues to make and realize you are utterly powerless to change them. The only think you can change is your own behavior. So if the way you have been reacting to your mother only fuels the flames between you, change the way you respond to her. If your tendency has always been to repress your feelings when you’re around her, quit repressing them and start expressing them. If expressing them in the past has only made her blow up at you, then save your outbursts for your therapist. Basically, act the opposite of how you have been behaving and see how that changes the dynamic between you.

Finally, accept that you may never have a great relationship with you mother. That sucks, but it isn’t the end of the world. You can still get the love and attention you miss from her from other relationships in your life — from your grandparents, for example, and from other close relatives and friends. You won’t ever find a replacement mother, but you can befriend older women who can impart the wisdom you never received from you mom. There’s a role in all of our lives that a mother-figure fills, but that role doesn’t necessarily have to be filled by our own mothers for us to reap the rewards. And even if it’s never filled at all — or if it’s filled a little bit by one person and a little bit by another — it doesn’t mean we can’t be just as happy and fully-functional as someone who grew up with a “perfect” mom.

*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com and be sure to follow me on Twitter.

27 comments… add one
  • avatar

    pho_sho July 11, 2011, 7:28 am

    I have to wonder if your mom might have a personality disorder because her behavior seems kind of odd. I would recommend looking into your college’s counseling program because a good therapist may help give you insight into your relationship with your mom, and s/he might also be able to give you strategies for navigating this situation. Your mom making you cry in a restaurant is not something that should be happening in a healthy relationship.

    I’ve had a similar experience with a mother that had unstable behavior. Like you, I tried to build a better relationship in my early 20s, but came to a point where I realized that we would never have the kind of relationship that I wish we could. It was difficult to come to terms with, but it ultimately helped me redefine my expectations of the relationship. I found that maintaining boundaries helps keep me emotionally healthy when it comes to my relationship with my mom. Even though it means we aren’t as close, and she’s more of a monthly presence in my life, it means I can look forward to spending time with her and enjoying her company when I do… for a little while.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    BoomChakaLaka July 11, 2011, 7:55 am

    This sounds a lot like my Dad before I emotionally cut him off from my life. I totally don’t recommend you do the same thing LW, but I can offer some advice on how to deal with your current situation.

    It definitely sounds like your mother (a lot like my father) is frustrated at herself/life for not being able to be as good of a mother to you as you deserve. Instead of righting the wrongs, she is falling back into old and safe patters of verbally and emotionally abusing you. It’s hard to get that pattern of behavior to change, especially when she may not be aware that she has a problem or even want to take steps to change it. The first thing you need to do is forgive her. Forgive her because she might not know any better. Even if she does, forgive her for not knowing how to be better.

    If you want to maintain some semblance of a relationship with her, as Wendy said, YOU will have to be the change. That means looking out for those signs that the conversation is getting heated and maybe not fanning the flames. Don’t argue with her, just let the conversation die out or switch topics. Another thing I noticed was that she seems to be angered at the fact that you could be sensitive. Then, don’t show that emotion in front of her. Put on a strong face in front of her, but when you are alone, with friends/family or a therapist, then let those emotions out.

    If you take this route, you may never have a “normal” relationship with your mom, but you can still have something. I don’t have what I consider a normal daddy-daughter relationship with my dad, but somehow we’ve made living under the same roof tolerable. Maybe sometime later on, you will be able to open up to her more about your emotions and your thoughts.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    PFG-SCR July 11, 2011, 8:32 am

    Mother-daughter relationships can be very complex, and there are few relationships that have as much of an impact on how we, as women, feel about ourselves. This applies to whichever role we are in.

    First and foremost, both of you need to adequately come to terms with her choices from when you were younger. Whether you acknowledge it or not, there are very likely some “abandonment” issues that you’re both dealing with – you feeling hurt, and your mother feeling guilty.

    I do think you need to have an open and honest discussion with her about the state of your relationship now – it sounds like you’ve not communicated this to her at any point. While I agree with Wendy that parents are limited in their abilities based on their own set of baggage, I don’t think this gives them a “free pass”. She’s still responsible for her behavior towards you, and she’s an adult and can can make positive changes, as well. However, this has to be something she wants to do – you cannot compel her to do it if she’s not interested or willing to put forth the effort.

    It’s good that you’re seeking help with your issues and the history with both of your parents (you never mention what relationship, if any, you have with your father). I think this is a journey that will take some time, and ultimately, you need to decide what type of relationship you want with your mother based on her reaction when you two work through the past and the current situation. It’s important for you to “find your voice” in your relationship with her. Unfortunately, certain relationships are healthier (or less unhealthy) if there is some distance and more boundaries. I know you love your mother and want a closer relationship, but you need to weigh that with the potential damage to your self-esteem that she likely is causing, and if she is unwilling or unable to change, you ultimately need to be focused on your own well-being.

    Good luck, LW.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    honeybeenicki July 11, 2011, 8:33 am

    I may be going out on a limb here but, barring any mental illness, her treatment of you is unacceptable. Of course, I haven’t seen the two of you interact so I obviously can’t say anything as far as your actions or reactions. If anyone else other than your mother was treating you this way it would be considered emotional abuse. Slap a boyfriend’s/friend’s/etc face on hers with the same behavior and it is abuse. And because she is your mother, that makes it just that much harder. Continue to seek help and I definitely agree with Wendy about forgiving her and adjusting your own reactions, but do not forget how she treats you.

    To be honest, if it was me I wouldn’t stand for it (which would probably make the situation worse) because even if you don’t see it as abuse its at the very least disrespectful. I’m all for giving parents (and pretty much anyone in generations older than myself) all due respect, but from what it sounds like she was not truly your PARENT. She gave birth to you, but she left and did not take on any of the responsibility of a true parent. Take what she says and does with a grain of salt and maintain a level of contact that you are comfortable with. Don’t try to pressure yourself (or her) into more of a relationship than that. Unfortunately, sometimes parents aren’t all that great at parenting. I went 4 years when I was younger without speaking to my dad (we have a great relationship now) and that was really hard for me, so I don’t recommend cutting off all contact unless that is an absolute last choice. I’m sorry you have to deal with something like that but keep seeking help and build up a strong support system.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    A July 11, 2011, 8:43 am

    LW,

    Your description of your mother is remarkably similar to my own mother. I lived with my mother for 20 years in a very toxic environment and it was difficult to forgive her all the craziness and instability that she provided as a grew up. Once she lost our house, I moved in with another relative who was much more stable until I found my first apartment. It took me about a year before I could speak to my mother again. In that time and in the years since, I have forgiven her for the past and accepted that we are never going to have a close relationship. It saddens me still sometimes, but then I remember the people that DO want to have/maintain a close relationship with me. I’m sure that you also have many people that care about you too. My mother and I talk every three months or so and see each other maybe twice a year. I am happy with that. I know that my mom loves me and I love her, but her emotional/mental unavailability for a relationship will always keep us apart.

    LW, I highly recommend that you set some boundaries with your mother until you are very confident that her words and actions will no longer affect you when you are together. It is absolutely unacceptable that she made you cry in a public place. Take some time apart until you have accepted and forgiven your mother for the past. It is imperative that you forgive her because the anger will consume you. I know this. I wish you the best of luck.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    oldie July 11, 2011, 10:42 am

    I think there is a strong possibility that the mother is mentally ill. Beyond that, I question Wendy’s automatic conclusion that the mother loves LW. The letter suggests that she really doesn’t. It’s bad enough to dump her on the grandparents at age 3, so Mom could get on with her life, but the story about summer visits consisting mainly abandoned while Mom went out, suggest that Mom was not at all eager to see LW. If I had to guess, I would say that the grandparents strongly pressured Mom to spend time with her daughter and Mom did so against her will. The insults and bad treatment of LW were acting out against the requirement that she had to spend time with her daughter.

    The biggest advice for LW is not to allow her mother’s words and actions to harm her self-esteem. There is nothing wrong with LW, her mother is the problem. Her mother likely has low self-esteem and wants to bring daughter down to her level. I’d advise LW to take a break from her mother and to let Mom know that unless she is treated better, the break will become permanent. There is no need for LW to surrender the totally dominant position to her mother. That will only lead to further erosion of her self-esteem.

    It’s natural for LW to want to love her mother, but continuing to seek out that love can be very detrimental to her self-esteem. She should look to her grandparents, instead, until her mother is ready to behave as a mother. If fathers can be nothing more than a sperm donor, this woman has been nothing more than the egg provider.

    The distancing approach can work. My wife’s mother was frequently demeaning and chipping away at my wife’s self-esteem, from the days she was in middle school. After a particularly snide comment one evening that we invited her parents over for dinner, my wife told me that she wasn’t inviting them back for six months. It took a second six month interruption of invites until her mother’s behavior improved. They eventually became good friends for the last ten years of my mother-in-law’s life.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    kdog July 11, 2011, 10:50 am

    LW, I’m sending you a big hug. I also have a pretty tough relationship with my mother, too. I know how strong the drive can be to create a decent relationship out of a very strained one. No one wants to have a bad relationship with their parents. But, because of personal experience I think it’s important to add a few things to Wendy’s advice. While it’s going in the right direction, I’m worried that you will take the onous of this situation onto yourself, which is exactly what I did when I was your age.

    Forgiveness is wonderful, but you have to give yourself plenty of time and space first. At twenty you are still very close to the things that happened to you before you became an adult and had full reign over yourself. First of all, if you are financially dependent on your mother, which it doesn’t seem like you would be, look into ways of becoming totally independent. I’m assuming based on your letter that you are in therapy, or at least tossing around that idea, which is great.

    I would also say please consider taking a few weeks or months of mom (and possibly dad)-free time to process your anger while you are going through therapy and processing your emotions. Depending on the details of your situation that may sound extreme, but I can guarantee that it helps. Right now your mom knows how to make you upset and is doing a great job of it.

    I know how frustrating this can be, but if you give yourself time you will be able to protect yourself and react the way you would like. This isn’t going to happen overnight or even after a couple of months of therapy. Just stay committed to yourself.

    Guess what? You get to be your own mom now. You can love you unconditionally. You can make healthy choices for yourself. You can love yourself. You may find out that the best relationship you can have with your mom will happen once you realize that you aren’t going to get what you need from her and you start giving it to youself.

    Reply Link
  • Heather

    Heather July 11, 2011, 11:45 am

    Reading this letter actually made my heart sad. Although I’ve had my own issues with my mother (really, who hasn’t?) we are still incredibly close and I cannot even fathom not having her in my life. I don’t feel as if I can give any good advice, because as one commenter stated above, I would not tolerate the behavior and that is probably not the healthiest way to deal with it. So at the very least I can extend to you a virtual hug and the best well wishes that the situation improves for the sake or your well-being and your relationship with her.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    LTC039 July 11, 2011, 11:37 am

    I have a friend that has the same issues with her mother. Her mother pushes her around so much, & most of the time, she allows it. (We’re 23 yrs old!) Her mother stopped talking to her FOR A WEEK because one Sunday, my friend didn’t call her to ask her if she needed a ride to church. (There was nothing pre-scheduled or spoken about for this, it just came out of her you-know-where to say this)
    My friend doesn’t live with her, but sees her more than you do as she lives in the same city. It’s so difficult because it’s your mom. I think my friend just accepts that her mom is always going to be this way & that she loves her, bc she is her mom, but doesn’t necessarily like her persona. I think you should have a heart-to-heart with your mom. What have you got to lose? Tell her everything you wrote in your letter. She may surprise you.

    Reply Link
  • TaraMonster

    TaraMonster July 11, 2011, 11:43 am

    I’ve commented a few times on here about my mother who is schizophrenic and probably has a host of other personality disorders that are undiagnosed because she does not believe she is mentally ill. This may not help you as far as advice goes, but maybe my experience will give you some insight –though I’m totally not saying your mother is schizophrenic, just to be clear.

    My mother is incredibly abusive and emotionally draining to be around, but I love her and worry about her constantly since she lives on the other side of the country, cannot hold a job, and has a douche bag boyfriend. She’s never been a real mother to me; it’s always been my aunt or I taking care of her. And you bet your ass I’m in therapy for this. In addition to not wanting to deal with her I’m constantly racked with guilt over the fact that I know she’s lonely and sad. She leaves voicemails on my phone of a rambling nature that paint scenarios of her wanting me to move across the country with my (grown) brothers to move in with her like we’re still the children she skipped town on fifteen years ago. It’s fucking heartbreaking and infuriating at the same time.

    Recently, my therapist suggested an intervention. And it’s not like I haven’t thought about it before but my mother needs resources to help her that are not feasible for me to provide, nor are the other members of my family a proper support system for this (this ranges from denial, to irresponsibility). And there’s also her reaction to contend with –she already believes the gov’t, the devil, and everyone in our family is after her. I’m going forward with this plan, though it won’t be easy and I will have to invest a lot emotionally into this effort. If your mother’s treatment of you is evident to anyone else who can provide support, maybe a type of intervention would work for you too. I also think Wendy’s suggestion of forgiveness is a good one.

    To be completely honest, I have not accomplished this with my own mother. I think it’s especially difficult when the person you are trying to forgive is still actively hurting you. I hope you can get through to her, but just remember that her reaction is not a reflection of the person you are. This may just be me (and I hope it is bc it truly sucks), but my thoughts sometimes spiral it guilt and what I should have said or done to change a situation with my mother. I have to remind myself that this is who she is, and it is not my fault when she flies off the handle during regular conversation. Best of luck, and I hope this helped at least a little.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    Turtledove July 11, 2011, 1:24 pm

    I have a very tenuous relationship with my mother. It’s a hard thing, especially since it’s also not something you can really talk about with just anyone– it’s like not liking babies or puppies, everyone seems to think there’s something wrong with you if you don’t like your mother. But here’s the thing, I may love my mother. I may be tied to her by blood and instinct, but I don’t like her very much. She’s critical, demeaning, demanding, and a gossip. At 20, you’re on the first steps on a long road to creating a working relationship. I say working, because it likely will never be everything you want it to. She may have given birth to you, but she just may not have what it takes to give you much more than that.

    One of the first things I had to do was to see her clearly. Perhaps this is what people mean when they say “forgive.” I don’t know that I ever did that, but I learned to see her clearly. Not as my mother, but just as a human being. I tried to understand her actions, her reasons, her personality and her circumstances. These things don’t absolve her, but understanding her life really helped me see that the way she’s been treating me is not about me. You can think it, but until you really understand it, it doesn’t help.

    With my mother, I had to have space before I could have closeness. Perhaps this is counterintuitive, but I couldn’t build the best relationship I could have with my mother out of our current relationship. Instead of boundaries, I had to put up brick walls (the woman’s never met a boundary that she didn’t happily trample over). I limited our contact, but never cut it off. I felt that completely cutting off contact would eat up a lot of the goodwill I needed in order to make this all work. But I did severely limit contact and I limited it to things I felt I could do and situations that don’t really allow for bad behavior. After that, it’s almost like training a dog or small child, it’s about patience and predictability. If she treats me badly, I go home or get off the phone. But I still predictably call every Sunday and go for a visit once a year. I’m not punishing her, but I won’t tolerate being treated poorly. In this regard, I am completely predictable, so at least on some level she knows. I don’t yell, pout, or cry. I don’t mention past infractions. I just go home. I also keep the smallest apartment I can fit into so there’s no mention of visiting me.

    It’s taken years, but it seems we’ve managed to make something of ourselves. It’s not exactly what I wanted, but it’s what we can do. I give a little, I don’t get upset or punish her when she’s unkind and she minds my boundaries for the most part.

    Reply Link
    • avatar

      MsMisery July 11, 2011, 1:39 pm

      I could have written your first paragraph myself. 🙁

      Reply Link
    • avatar

      moonflowers July 11, 2011, 2:16 pm

      Amen to all of this post.

      Reply Link
    • avatar

      Christy July 11, 2011, 8:27 pm

      I really agree with your second paragraph. I’ve always had a difficult relationship with my dad, who was very controlling toward my mom and me when I was growing up (not in an abusive way). But after I left home and got into the real world I began to understand more about who he was as a human being–someone who screwed up royally sometimes but actually loved us very much. It’s really difficult with your parents because you spend your whole life seeing them in a particular role and wishing they could have done a better job, it’s hard to step back and see the whole person.

      LW, I agree that you should step back and take time to forgive and come to terms with the past on your own. And then reach out to her. The nice thing about being an adult now is that you DON’T have to put up with her poor behavior. You can just go home, like Turtledove said. You can establish new patterns of communication that are going to be healthier for you, and she’ll get the picture after a while. Good luck!

      Reply Link
  • avatar

    AKchic July 11, 2011, 1:28 pm

    *sigh*
    I can see bits of my family in this, as well as bits of some of my former friends in this.

    Continue with your therapy. Your mother couldn’t handle motherhood. She left you with loving parents – your grandparents. Continue to associate with them and love them. If your mother gets to be too much, talk to them (if you can). They know what it’s like too.
    Your mother – you can love her and still be distant, be respectful but still not take her disrespect.
    When she starts getting verbally abusive in public, all you need to do is get up, tell her you had a lovely time, but until she can speak nicely, you won’t be in her company, go to the waiter, and pay your bill. Walk away. That’s all you need do. When you next speak, do not bring it up.

    *hugs* I’m sorry you have to deal with this sort of thing. Eventually, with help, you might be able to handle it better. Right now, you just need the tools to help you do so.

    Reply Link
    • avatar

      moonflowers July 11, 2011, 2:24 pm

      I can’t agree more with the “calmly end the conversation and don’t bring it up again” tip. It’s one way to get out of the Rescuer-Victim-Persecutor cycle, a concept from codependency that describes how people get trapped in dysfunctional interactions. As long as you play just one of the three roles (i.e. crying in restaurant = Victim), you will end up playing the others too (your mom wanted you to assuage her guilt over making you cry with a hug = Rescuer; your refusal to do so = Persecutor).

      The only way not to get drawn in at all is not to play this messed up game in the first place – calmly but firmly setting boundaries and staying emotionally detached. That is ridiculously hard because parents are probably the most devastating button-pushers on earth, but it is possible. And once you change how you deal with them, that’s enough to slowly shift the relationship dynamic to a healthier place.

      Reply Link
  • avatar

    Greebo July 11, 2011, 1:42 pm

    LW, I’m sorry that your mother wasn’t the kind of mom you–or anyone–should have. I hope you had a warm, welcoming, loving upbringing in your grandparents’ home, and that you still get from him the support any young person needs.

    I don’t know why your mom is the way she is. Maybe she’s sick, but maybe she’s just selfish or clueless or harsh. In a way, ‘why’ doesn’t matter. After all, the effects on you are the same no matter the motivation.

    Sadly, at this point, she probably won’t ever be the “real” mom you crave. Definitely continue counseling. I may get a lot of criticism for this, but I’m not sure you need to make forgiving your mother a top priority. Maybe she deserves it, maybe not, maybe a disinterested observer would see a very different dynamic than you describe.

    Lowering your expectations of your mom may help ease your anger. Learning to deal with her as she is instead of as you want her to be may help. Mentoring someone younger than you could help, too, by giving you a chance to be the positive, guiding influence you wish you had.

    I don’t know if she would consider joining you in a therapy session, but you both seem to want some sort of relationship so maybe it’s worth a try. With the help of a neutral party, maybe you can both get insight into how you relate, and how you could relate better.

    Best wishes.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    Something More Than Blah July 11, 2011, 1:48 pm

    This could be the result of a mental illness, but some women just weren’t cut out to be mothers. Forunately, this mother left her daughter with people who would raise and care for her like a child deserves. She sounds horribly selfish and honestly, like a bitch. I know this isn’t a very desirable *reason* for the mother (and I’m using that term loosely) to act the way she has been. Someone had commented earlier that if this were anyone else in the LW’s life, it would clearly be emotional abuse and we would all be screaming for her to MOA. Yes, this is her mother and yes, it is different. But, why would you want to be around someone, ANYONE, who consistantly makes you feel like shit. I mean, really?

    LW, my advice to you is to tell your mom you’ve had enough. If she continues to bully you like she has been, then all contact will stop. You can only control how *you* proceed from here. I would continue to seek couseling for your issues and hopefully, she will get her act together and start actually like the woman who gave birth to you. I sincerely hope she does. Good Luck.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    MiMi July 11, 2011, 1:57 pm

    As the child of a mother who wasn’t loved or cared for properly by her own mother, I have to say we all suffered for it. My mother was well into her 40’s before she could accept that things would never be any better between them, after which our yearly pilgrimages to spend the summer in Hell (aka Nana’s house) thankfully stopped.

    Whether you hold your feelings in, let them out, try to dance just right in order to not upset your mother, etc., please realize that in the end, you are only responsible for your half of the equation, LW. You are to be commended for seeking help at a young age (and your future children thank you as well).

    You might want to consider if 3-4 visits a year with your mother are entirely beneficial to your progress, if I am right in assuming that these are “stays” with her, as opposed to short contacts like a meal or an hour or two at her home? It sounds like you are both uncomfortable and liable to fall into a negative pattern, so maybe it would be helpful to dial back the number of days or number of times you see her while you are working to understand the past and gaining confidence in standing your ground..

    Reply Link
    • avatar

      SpyGlassez July 11, 2011, 11:31 pm

      I’m with you on this – dialing back the number of visits OR the length of each visit might help the LW gain perspective and free herself from feeling so hurt.

      Reply Link
  • avatar

    moonflowers July 11, 2011, 2:39 pm

    “I should be used to this by now because the 3-4 times a year I visit my mother, she yells at me for something I’ve done or said” – No, you shouldn’t. No one on earth “should” habituate themselves to the kind of abuse that your mother has treated you with. It’s doubly worse because most all children can’t help but want to love and have positive relationships with their mothers, and your mother is either clueless about how much she can affect you, or is maliciously taking advantage of your vulnerability to her to inflict great pain.

    In my experience, things didn’t get better with my parents until I distanced myself from them by moving out, learned to deal with them with detachment (“I’m sorry, I can’t talk to you right now when you’re screaming at me” and hang up), and began to understand their own limits as parents and human beings.

    My dad is incredibly messed up and very good at projecting his dysfunction on other people (“I’m fine, YOU are nuts!”), and it wasn’t until a few months into therapy, and reading about many mental illnesses, that I realized just how sick he is. I started to pity him instead of hate him, and it’s a lot easier (though never easy!) not to let what he says get to me if I know it’s his disease speaking and not him, my Daddy.

    Kudos to you for starting therapy and seeking help. My heart goes out to you for all the abuse you’ve put up with quietly til now. Abuse can do a number on your self-esteem and make you feel unworthy of *anyone’s* love and care, which is absolutely not true, so don’t be afraid of leaning a little more on your therapist or friends when things get you down – after all, there’s that saying, “Friends are God’s/life’s way of apologizing for your family.”

    Reply Link
  • sobriquet

    sobriquet July 11, 2011, 4:57 pm

    I think the LW needs a little space from her mother. Even if it’s “emotional” distance, where she checks out mentally the moment her mother begins to criticize her or even physically exits the moment it happens. Because frankly, I don’t think changing her behavior is going to work. Her mother is criticizing her to the point of making her cry in a public place and then manipulating her into thinking it was her fault. The name calling is also completely unacceptable. I highly doubt this is because the LW is doing something wrong.

    I think that in time, the LW will understand how to deal with her mother and accept that she’s wacko and will probably hurt her feelings every time they speak. I have a friend with a mother like this. She loves her to death, but knows that she’ll never be good enough for her mom, whether it comes to her career, relationship, body, etc. Except, she spent the first half of her twenties trying desperately to please her mother until she realized that was impossible. Hell, even my MOM’s mother is like this. My mom can never do anything right, even though she has a freakin doctorate for godsakes!

    Know that you’re not alone, LW, but also know that you don’t have to suck it up and let her berate you.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    ted July 11, 2011, 5:37 pm

    you MOA.
    the woman only gave birth to you, that is it.
    you don’t owe her anything and she obviously never felt she owed you anything as a mother.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    oldie July 11, 2011, 5:39 pm

    LW would be better off if she stopped thinking of her birth mother as her mother. The woman has never behaved like her mother and she seems to have no fond motherly memories of her. Her grandmother effectively is her mother. It is as if she was adopted when she was 3 and occassionally has highly unsatisfactory meetings with birth mother. The best advice to LW is to enjoy her grandmother while she is still alive.

    It wasn’t mentioned by LW, but I wonder what her birth mother’s relationship is with her grandmother. Seemed more than passing strange that she talks about visiting her birth mother multiple times a year, but never about birth mother coming to visit with her and her grandmother. It is as if her grandmother and birth mother are close to totally estranged. LW also doesn’t mention if she’s discussed any of this with her grandmother. She should. Grandmother owes her the whole back story and likely will be supportive. Grandmother might even encourage her to cut down on interactions with her mother.

    Reply Link
  • katie

    katie July 11, 2011, 7:24 pm

    LW, i would just like to say that I dont think people would blame you for ending your relationship with your mother. I know I wouldn’t.

    Im not saying that is the outcome you or anyone else wants, but if she just really is that terrible, it might be the lesser of two evils for your own happiness.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    caffeinatrix July 11, 2011, 11:34 pm

    I would also be concerned that your mother might have some psychological issues going on. Unfortunately, she may not be willing to accept that idea or get any treatment or therapy for it. Having a close relationship with a family member like that is difficult to damn near impossible.
    My dad’s behavior toward his children is very, very similar. Throughout my childhood, though we lived in the same house (my parents divorced after I left for college) he was cold and distant. He had impossibly high expectations. When I was a teenager he started picking at my weight, too, making passive-aggressive comments about what I was eating or wearing and how I should really lose some weight. I basically stopped speaking to him after he took me out for my 21st birthday, made horrible accusations against me (calling me a bad, disrespectful daughter, implying I had insulted his new wife and that I had psychological problems, etc.), and made me cry in the middle of a restaurant (sound familiar?). It wasn’t crowded, but the waitress still looked very uncomfortable.
    He’s never been diagnosed with any type of social or mental disorder, but he’s probably got several issues going on. He’s got some sociopathic and narcissistic tendencies for sure. Sadly, my only recourse for dealing with it was to cut off contact completely. We cannot have a conversation without him drawing the conclusion that my life choices and personal preferences are meant as a personal attack and an attempt to embarrass him. I know he’s my father, but I have to remember that, if one of my friends or a boyfriend behaved the way he does, I would never put up with it.
    If you want to keep your mother in your life, remember you only have control over your own behavior and your reactions to what she does. Avoid polarizing topics; if she brings it up, ignore it. If you can both stay within those agreed-upon boundaries, you might be able to sustain some semblance of a relationship.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    Monica M July 12, 2011, 12:01 pm

    Relationships with relatives are difficult to navigate. If this was a friend you would have ended it a long time ago. There is nothing in your letter that indicates that your mother has ever been a positive influence in your life. This relationship appears very toxic and you are doing harm to yourself in trying to maintain the contact. Other commenters have tentatively mentioned stepping back however, for me I think severing ties is a definitive option. Parents have a unique ability to stunt our growth and this is what your mother is doing to you. It might be different if there was anything in your previous relationship with her that indicated that she has ever acted like a mother, but I don’t see it in your letter. I think you need to ask yourself why you want keep trying to have this relationship.

    Reply Link

Leave a Comment