Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Relationship with My Estranged Mother’s Family is Strained”

I have always had a difficult relationship with my mother, and after my parents split up two years ago, I put a lot of distance between us which has been very healthy for me. While it hurts to not have a strong relationship with my mom, I’ve realized the negative impact of her behaviors of guilt-tripping, oversharing and treating me like a confidante (i.e. telling me about my parents’ sex life – ew!), raging when I don’t do exactly what she wants, and verbally abusing me (calling me evil, manipulative, etc). I’ve told her my reasons for having a limited relationship, and I know she has not done any work to try and address my concerns as she still treats my sister terribly (negative comments on her weight although my sister is beautiful and perfectly healthy, telling her she will die alone when she breaks up with a guy she’s dating). I’ve also gone to therapy to address the emotional backlash this relationship has had on my life (my therapist suggested my mom may have a personality disorder). I’m very close to my siblings and my dad, and I’m lucky to have a great support system of friends and a supportive boyfriend.

The problem is, my aunt and grandpa have taken her side completely, and have really bought into the idea that my dad ruined my mom’s life. Post split-up, both my grandpa and my aunt essentially reprimanded me for “taking sides” and told me I should be more sympathetic and supportive of my mother. They’ve also talked very negatively about my dad, which has been difficult to hear as he used to be very close to them. I would like to continue to have a relationship with my mom’s family, and up until now I have tried to stick to neutral topics and not discuss my relationship with my mom with them. I just received another email from my aunt reminding me not to take sides and that my mom needs support. Without opening the floodgate of the many reasons I have for the way things are, how do I clue my aunt and grandpa in that their well-meaning advice is not only unwelcome, but painful? I’m beginning to dread getting emails or phone calls from them. — Family Ties in Knots

First, it’s wonderful that you have a great support network, are in therapy, and are open to having a relationship with your mother’s family and even the idea of reuniting with your mother one day should she prove she’s worked through some of her issues. Don’t let your aunt’s and grandfather’s comments and behavior undo the work you have done. If it comes to a point where you need to choose keeping connected to them or remaining on course to mental well-being, choose mental well-being.

In an effort to have both, you have to set very clear boundaries with your mother’s family. To do this, you can answer your aunt’s most recent email with this message:

I understand that you feel I shouldn’t take sides, but there are more than two sides in this situation. This isn’t just my mother vs. my father. There is also the issue of my mental well-being, which is a side I will always, always fight for. Right now, as sad as it makes me, I cannot choose both my mental well-being and a relationship with my mother. I wish it could be different, but until my mother addresses some of the issues that have hurt our relationship and have hurt me — like the name-calling and put-downs I dealt with for years, for example — it isn’t healthy for me to maintain a relationship with her.

I do agree that she needs support, which is why I am happy she has you and Grandpa and the rest of the family. It’s my hope that supporting her and supporting me aren’t mutually exclusive and that you can find a way to have a relationship with me despite my need to keep my life separate from my mother’s right now. If you can’t — and if you continue pushing me to compromise my mental well-being and the work I’m doing to get to a healthy place — I will have to start distancing myself from you, too, which I really don’t want to do.

Please respect my decision to put my emotional well-being first, and accept that for now that means maintaining a healthy distance from my mother. Let me know if that is something you are willing and able to accept or if you think I need to distance myself from you, too.

You can’t force your mother’s family to stop pushing you to “support” your mother. You are only in control of your own behavior. If they continue harassing you, you need to follow-through with your intention to distance yourself from them, as hard as that may be. Good luck.

60 comments… add one
  • Budj

    Budj August 21, 2012, 9:04 am

    I’m always hesitant to put things in writing – but – I don’t see how you would get any unwanted backlash from a message like that.

    They also shouldn’t be cutting your Dad down to you. Sure…have their opinions…but keep that shit to themselves. I would almost suggest addressing that in any message you would decide to send.

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    • avatar

      Emsz August 21, 2012, 9:15 am

      I can see how you would get unwanted backlash from that e-mail. Take this part for example:
      “like the name-calling and put-downs I dealt with for years, for example”. Possible backlash (based on the fact that the aunt and grandfather seem very unreasonable):
      “What are you talking about, your mother never did that, you are very ungrateful” etc.

      Not that it’s a bad message at all, it’s just that people who are unreasonable can take offense at everything.

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      • Budj

        Budj August 21, 2012, 9:20 am

        True – I just mean they can’t parade it around and ruin her image….without looking crazy or changing it (which would be crazy).

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      • avatar

        Liz August 21, 2012, 9:43 am

        Its a very nice message but I agree with you both here. I wouldn’t email it. My mother and sisters and ex-best friend are extremely manipulative. I’ve had so many emails and text messages used against me. I’ve had them altered and forwarded around. I’ve been burned and it makes me extremely cautious to send anything like that to anyone again.

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      • Budj

        Budj August 21, 2012, 9:47 am

        Yea – I was nervous about that. And now I’m more paranoid.

        LW – Just memorize the message and recite. haha

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      • avatar

        Liz August 21, 2012, 10:32 am

        I’d call them on the phone and have note cards handy. Been there done that.

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      • bagge72

        bagge72 August 21, 2012, 12:04 pm

        Yeah I think this is the best road to take, that way they can hear your emotion as well.

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      • avatar

        Taylor August 21, 2012, 1:03 pm

        Yes! It’s harder to have that sent around.

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      • avatar

        MMcG August 21, 2012, 10:45 am

        Perhaps writing a letter the old-fashioned way? Especially for grandma, who I am going to assume is old enough to remember the joys of the post office 😉

        Much harder to try and manipulate or forward a handwritten piece of stationary.

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      • bittergaymark

        bittergaymark August 21, 2012, 11:51 am

        I agree with Budj here, putting ANYTHING down in writing is a bad, bad idea.

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    • avatar

      ktfran August 21, 2012, 9:21 am

      I agree that her mom’s family should keep their opinions about her father to themselves. However, I don’t think I would put it in the letter. I think that if they accept her letter, which she should totally send, and they have a relationship, she can mention it when it happen.

      Grandpa – “You’re dad is a really shitty person.”
      LW – “I understand you don’t care for him right now, but he is my dad, so please refrain from putting him down in front of me. It makes me uncomfortable.”

      But yeah, it should definitely be addressed. One problem at a time though, I think. Because there are a lot.

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    • avatar

      Jshizzle August 21, 2012, 9:50 am

      I’m of the don’t put it in writing opinion. Don’t pick-up when they call, and don’t respond to emails. Unless they want to say it face to face, I don’t think the LW needs to acknowledge it.

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    • avatar

      MsMisery August 21, 2012, 1:13 pm

      Crazy people, unstable people, and/or biased people will always find a way to respond in a crazy, unstable, and/or biased fashion.

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  • katie

    katie August 21, 2012, 9:10 am

    that is a perfect email. i would literally copy and paste that, if i were you, LW!

    and wendy is right, it really is all you can do. as you have done with your mother, all you can do is distance yourself. me and sampson were talking about this yesterday concerning crazy mother-in-laws- and its unfortunate, but its literally the only card you have. you cant change people. all you can do is choose not to be a part of their little crazy world. and, if the aunt and grandpa are a part of the crazy, that is just the way it is.

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  • Lianne

    Lianne August 21, 2012, 9:18 am

    I am dealing with a similar issue with my mom – except my parents have been divorced for years and my mother uses alcohol to self-medicate all of her deep-seated issues. It’s now gotten to the point where finally – finally! – her family (father, cousins) have stepped in to intervene.

    Our unhealthy relationship goes back years and has some to do with the fact that she was a functioning alcoholic almost my whole life and even more to do with the fact that she often put men before my brother and me growing up. Therapy helped me realize I didn’t have to make a place for my mother in my life if it hurt me mentally and that I didn’t have to feel guilty if I couldn’t “support” her in the ways she’s always asked me to. So, when my grandfather (mom’s dad) sent me an email last week asking me to come “support” my mother because she is on medication and other “remedies” (???) to help get over drinking, I felt angry and frustrated. I spent the next day gathering my thoughts and finally responded that I couldn’t be part of this time in her life. Once she really shows that she is serious about getting help (i.e., therapy, rehab, and generally working on her issues and not just putting a bandaid over everything), I would be happy to reestablish a relationship.

    Wendy’s right – stand your ground and don’t let anyone break those healthy boundaries. You deserve to be happy just as much as anyone else, and if your relationship with your mother doesn’t give you that, then it’s ok to distance yourself.

    Good luck!

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  • avatar

    j2 August 21, 2012, 9:21 am

    Based on the recent health news stories, I wonder if the LW’s mother has cats.

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    • katie

      katie August 21, 2012, 9:25 am

      what recent health stories? and what is wrong with cats? i love my cats.

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      • avatar

        bethany August 21, 2012, 9:34 am

        I love my cats, too!

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      • Budj

        Budj August 21, 2012, 9:37 am

        may be referring to the study by an eccentric european dude that bacteria in cat poop causes people to go crazy…correct me if I’m wrong, please 🙂

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      • Budj

        Budj August 21, 2012, 9:42 am

        if you look it up it pretty much says “the verdict is still out”, but wear gloves while changing the litter anyways.

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      • avatar

        bethany August 21, 2012, 9:44 am

        WHo actually touches the poop while scooping the box?! That’s what the scooper is for.

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      • Budj

        Budj August 21, 2012, 9:46 am

        Never scooped it out and lifted it up with a little too much vigor and had the poop bounce up or roll off the back end? *shudders* poop is gross.

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      • avatar

        Addie Pray August 21, 2012, 10:00 am

        It’s always funny how we quickly get to a topic you would have NEVER predicted we’d get to (e.g. cat poop) from the subject of the letter (estranged family).

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      • katie

        katie August 21, 2012, 10:11 am

        no! geez. who does that? and i wash my hands with soap after i do it anyway.

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      • Budj

        budj August 21, 2012, 11:37 am

        by then it’s too late!

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      • CatsMeow

        CatsMeow August 21, 2012, 11:39 am

        It’s a parasite. There’s been a theory that it’s what puts the crazy in crazy cat ladies.

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    • avatar

      Addie Pray August 21, 2012, 9:46 am

      Haha, j2 said it, not me!

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  • avatar

    Alecia August 21, 2012, 9:27 am

    I agree with Wendy- if you’re not healthy and happy- you can’t have a good relationship. And I also believe whatever they think of you father, they need to keep it to themselves. Setting boundaries and standing up for yourself is just the beginning. I wish you the best LW.

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  • avatar

    bethany August 21, 2012, 9:34 am

    WWS

    Also, this part, “You can’t force your mother’s family to stop pushing you to “support” your mother. You are only in control of your own behavior”, is really something that a lot of LW’s, and readers need to remember.
    We can never control what another person does or says- we can only control how we react to it, and how we move forward from it.

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    • avatar

      Visharoo August 21, 2012, 9:40 am

      I wish I could like this a million times. It took me a very long time to learn this!

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    • iwannatalktosampson

      iwannatalktosampson August 21, 2012, 10:01 am

      YES! I have to tell myself this over and over and over again when dealing with people that have to remain in my life (MIL) even though hate 90% of their actions. It’s hard and no one “wins” but hopefully the LW will be able to find the peace in her life she is craving.

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  • avatar

    jlyfsh August 21, 2012, 9:41 am

    Wendy has excellent advice and the email she set up is a perfect response to your Aunt.

    It’s easy for family who no longer lives or interacts with another family member on a daily basis to judge other family for their actions. Especially if they act different or play the victim to those family members. On the flip side maybe they are tired of dealing with her and feel since you are her child it’s your responsibility to deal with her. Neither situation puts you in a great spot.

    It’s hard to cut off family but you sometimes it has to be done. They may never understand why you had to cut your mother off, but you seem to have a strong support system with your siblings and Dad. I would focus on that and understand like others have said you can’t control other people or even make them understand your point of view. All you can do is take care of you.

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  • LK7889

    LK7889 August 21, 2012, 9:46 am

    Dealing with mentally unbalanced family members is hard. My mother has schizophrenia and emotionally/mentally abused me until my parents got divorced when I was 14. As long as I haven’t had to live with her, I’ve tried to be there for her because it’s not her fault that she got this illness. At the time, the only part of her family that lived close by was her sister’s family. And they refused to help us out (even me and my brother) because they had to “take care of their own family” and look out for my aunt’s “mental well-being”. I still resent my aunt for it to this day. Now, my grandmother is terminally ill with cancer and my aunt is trying to reestablish ties with me. The only reason I haven’t given her a piece of my mind is that I don’t want to hurt my grandmother who was the only person in my mother’s family willing to even try to help my mother, my brother and I out. Once my grandmother has passed, you better believe I’m going to let her know what I really think about her.

    My point in this anecdote, LW, is not that I don’t agree with Wendy, because I do. But you need to be mindful that your family will probably not easily forgive you for “failing to help out” right now. In their minds, they might be just as hurt by your mother as you are, or worse, see you as a fair weather person who won’t help out her own family in their times of need.

    All that being said, in your position, I would still take Wendy’s advice. If I’ve learned anything from my childhood, it’s that you can’t count on anyone but yourself to do what is right for you.

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom August 21, 2012, 9:49 am

    I like most of Wendy’s suggested letter but would modify it a little. I would probably say that I had distanced myself from my mother due to her verbal abuse which had forced me to seek counciling for my own mental health. You may need to give some examples of the abuse and how it affected you and also mention your concerns for your sister and her mental health. Explain that you’ve told your mother why you are keeping your distance and that you can’t have a closer relationship until your mother changes her behavior. I’d use most of Wendy’s letter but add these bits to it.

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    • theattack

      theattack August 21, 2012, 1:00 pm

      Ehh, I don’t know. They’re going to be defensive of the mother anyway, so I wouldn’t choose words as strong as abuse to describe the situation, even if it’s true. It will only make them think she’s an ungrateful daughter and that her concerns aren’t real. I think it’s best to leave a light description of what happened, like what Wendy wrote.

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  • avatar

    temperance August 21, 2012, 9:57 am

    LW, I think Wendy’s response is great, and I think it might behoove you to also distance yourself from your mother’s family. Make your mother their problem, to put it bluntly.

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  • avatar

    Anna August 21, 2012, 10:03 am

    I wish I had some advise for you but I’m just as lost when it comes to f’ed up family relations as you are, LW. I’ve distanced myself from most of my family as an adult and I know it’s for my own sanity but it still makes me feel like I’m a bad person and I owe it to my family to spend time with them even though that time isn’t enjoyable for me.

    I’m hoping for an update from you soon. I really want to know how it goes so I know if there’s hope for me yet!

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  • avatar

    MiMi August 21, 2012, 10:43 am

    Hilarious that your aunt and grandpa are exhorting you to not take sides when they are far from objective and in reality mean no such thing: they want you to take your mother’s side.
    I always hesitate to give too much information/ammunition to such people, particularly when they are mixing in where they don’t belong – like in your relationship with your mother. None of their business. Their business is to be loving and supportive of their sister and daughter – period. Not to tell you how you should be or what you should do.
    It appears boundaries are a problem with that side of the family, so it will be up to you to set ones you can live with. It is possible to gently and consistently refuse to discuss not-their-business with clueless peoples – it takes practice to be able to comfortably sit there for a few moments of silence with a rueful smile on your face before changing the subject, but it is possible.

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  • avatar

    MMcG August 21, 2012, 10:52 am

    I would only add LW that as you do deal with these issues, which you seem to have a very healthy grasp on which is admirable, is to please try to assist your sister. It appears that you have “broken free” so to speak from the harshness of your mother’s personality but if she still has direct access to your sister for whatever reasons (financial support or age most likely) and is critical and makes ugly, crazy comments be a resource and consider taking her to a counseling appointment or whatever would be appropriate so that she doesn’t suffer too greatly.

    No girl should ever have to deal with a mother telling her (projecting on her most likley) that’s she’s going to be fat and die alone… which would only crush self-esteem. And we wonder why some women write in willing to do anything to keep a man!?!

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    • LK7889

      LK7889 August 21, 2012, 10:58 am

      Yes, I agree that you should definitely focus some helping your sister in this situation. You know what it’s like and she could probably use your support.

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  • FireStar

    FireStar August 21, 2012, 11:22 am

    Maybe it is me – but why do you have to engage in this conversation at all? I guess it depends on the type of person your aunt is but why must you justify your choices at all? ÖR if you must – why not “Aunt B this has nothing to do with my dad – it has to do with my relationship with mom and how she has treated me. I’m not going into details but the distance between us is a distance that has to stay for now. If you aren’t alright with that – I understand but I’m not going to have this conversation with you again.” If she raises it again you say – “I thought you understood I’m not having this conversation – I’ll call you next week” If her behaviour doesn’t change then limit your contact. Do you think your aunt and grand-dad really don’t know the type of woman your mom is? They know. They signed on and they want you to sign on too – because it is best for your mom – not for you. Your feelings are secondary to your mom’s as far as they are concerned. You have to make their feelings secondary to you. I have disappointing family members too – you don’t need to pour your heart out – what you need are serious boundaries.

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    • CatsMeow

      CatsMeow August 21, 2012, 12:11 pm

      I didn’t really think they needed that level of detail either. I would just say something like, “I’ve chosen to distance myself from my mother for reasons that have nothing to do with the divorce. These are personal reasons between my mother and me, and she is aware of my decision and we have already discussed it. Thanks for your concern.” The end.

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  • bittergaymark

    bittergaymark August 21, 2012, 11:31 am

    Divorces are messy because they seemingly ALWAYS reveal just how fucked up and petty most people truly are. If I were you, with an aunt and grandfather as bad as you’d say, I’d just write them all off for a while… But honestly, of course they don’t see any flaws in your mother’s behavior — as it appears they are simply acting the exact same way. Fuck them. Seriously. Fuck them all.

    PS. Personally, I think the email is a terrible idea as it will only fan the flames so to speak… Worse, you’ll put down all that negativity in writing and — OF COURSE!! — the very first person that email is going to be forwarded to will be your mother. Honestly? Why even bother? Trust me, the results WON’T be pretty…

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  • avatar

    ktfran August 21, 2012, 11:36 am

    I know your therapist threw out the term mentally ill. And your mom might be, but I’m going to say she’s not. That she truly is mean and manipulative. I’m only basing my opinion on the examples written in the letter.

    I know plenty of people who tell their daughters they can’t survive without a man. And to lose weight or make yourself prettier to keep or attract men. I also know moms who share too much of their sex life. For instance, one of my friend’s grew up in a bedroom right next to their parents. She had to go through their bedroom to get to hers. Anyway, she walked in on them having sex more than once. Her mom also asked said friend to pick up porn since she worked at a video store. Gross! And there are plenty of examples of mom’s wanting to be their daughters bff’s. Or who even compete with daughters.

    From the examples given, I’m going to say it’s not mental illness, but more of an unfit parent.

    LW – i think it’s great that you continue to take steps to break away and lead a happy life. I really like Wendy’s advice and I think you should seriously consider following it in some way.

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    • bittergaymark

      bittergaymark August 21, 2012, 11:40 am

      I also don’t think the mom is mentally ill. To me — she just sounds like a real bitch.

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      • katie

        katie August 21, 2012, 12:03 pm

        yep. i agree. like chris rock says, what happened to just being crazy? some people are just that. crazy/mean/whatever. no explanation needed.

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      • avatar

        MMcG August 21, 2012, 12:20 pm

        I vote for narcissism plain and simple. Everything is about the mom, and her children are just extensions of her that are obviously failing to live up to some bizarre expectation.

        Symptoms of this disorder include (not saying it crosses the line to disorder, or that I’m making a diagnosis, but there’s something to this list that reminds me of the LW’s story):
        Reacting to criticism with anger, shame, or humiliation
        Taking advantage of others to reach their own goals
        Exaggerating their own importance, achievements, and talents
        Imagining unrealistic fantasies of success, beauty, power, intelligence, or romance
        Requiring constant attention and positive reinforcement from others
        Becoming jealous easily
        Lacking empathy and disregarding the feelings of others
        Being obsessed with oneself
        Pursuing mainly selfish goals
        Trouble keeping healthy relationships
        Becoming easily hurt and rejected
        Setting goals that are unrealistic
        Wanting “the best” of everything
        Appearing unemotional

        Perhaps consider looking into these types of resources, and sharing them with your sister:

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      • avatar

        Katie August 21, 2012, 2:45 pm

        I agree, those resources have helped me quite a lot. This essay also gave me a lot of strength in my personal life.

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      • theattack

        theattack August 22, 2012, 1:12 am

        Wow, I felt like I could identify with everything in your list. That’s kind of scary…

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  • avatar

    CG August 21, 2012, 10:56 am

    Holy crap, *I* could have written this letter! LW, I know this doesn’t address any of your immediate concerns, but just know that one day (hopefully sooner rather than later) your mom’s family *will* see what she’s really like. My mom’s family has finally, over the past few years, come to realize that she’s not the victim/saint she always makes herself out to be, and it’s because of her own actions, not anything I did or said to them. They finally realize that all the bad stuff my mom told them about me and my dad (they’ve been divorced for 20 years now) was a bunch of lies, or at least exaggerated/distorted. And now that they realize she’s full of crap, my relationship with all of them has improved. But I have also never lived in the same state as any of her family, so it’s not like I saw them frequently. So I’m sorry I don’t have any actual advice, other than to pull a Dan Savage and say “it gets better!” But it does, eventually. And also, speaking from experience, it will take *years* of therapy to deal with all your mother issues. But you’re on the right track!

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    • avatar

      Oldie August 21, 2012, 11:19 am

      It is 99.999% certain that the mother’s family knows exactly how the mother is. Family’s of the mentally ill cannot escape this knowledge. They just want the LW to be part of mother’s support system, despite the psychological harm that would occur to LW, because they don’t know how else to help her mother. As one with a schizophrenic, who refuses medication or other treatment, in the family I well recognize this syndrome. The parents strongly believed that everyone else needed to help this person, who would be magically cured just by providing lots of companionship. It doesn’t work that way, nor did this person seek the companionship and acted very nastily toward anyone who tried to get involved. LW should not let her mother’s family guilt trip her. She can’t fix her mother. Her mother needs to want to be fixed and seek professional help. A lot of the mentally ill are convinced that they are fine and anyone around them is mentally ill.

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      • avatar

        j2 August 21, 2012, 11:37 am

        Personal experience supports both CG and Oldie.

        Eventually the other’s family cannot sustain (self-)denial.

        Unfortunately, damage accumulates until “eventually” arrives, and that may be too late for relationships.

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      • avatar

        MMcG August 21, 2012, 11:48 am

        Sounds like part of the problem was the family’s unwillingness or inability to get the LW’s mother help when she was growing up… even if it’s not clinical this woman has a very unhealthy attitude towards life that probably didn’t develop post-divorce. The family was probably happy when she got married and became someone else’s problem and now they resent having to deal.

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  • AKchic_

    AKchic_ August 21, 2012, 3:06 pm

    Sometimes, even when you spell things out for extended family, you still have to cut them off. I have a very pushy paternal aunt. She so badly wants me to be the close Daddy’s girl that she is sure my father wants (and that he plays up that he wants, and I have no doubt he probably wants) that she refuses to listen to anything I say.

    I didn’t want my father having my phone number and I told her that. So, she allows him to use her phone to call me. He still gets my number but it’s just not using his phone to call me, but her number. She gets mad when I change my phone number and emails me and guilt trips me for being “brainwashed” by my mother and not giving my father a chance to be a father and grandfather. One day, I finally had it and emailed her back and said that my mother had nothing to do with it, that my father’s decision to molest me after my mother left him had everything to do with it. That his lack of remorse and his selective memory and the idea that cheap jewelry suitable for a 7 year old and a $20 gift card 15 years after the fact and a pushy aunt who knew no boundaries wasn’t going to change what he did and wasn’t going to change my mind or the fact that he was an unprosecuted child molester. Her reply was that I was a lying, manipulative, vindictive child after my mother’s cold heart. I replied back that my mother still didn’t know about it, but I had no wish to see justice through legal channels and described exactly what I wanted to see happen to him in gory detail. They haven’t contacted me since, but have moved on to contact my younger sister. She is happy to provide them with pictures, updates and all sorts of gossip for the $20 gift cards here and there. *shudder* I make sure that nobody in my family gives my sister any information about me or my kids.

    LW, remember, in many cases, certain personality traits are a learned thing. Manipulations, guilt trips, etc – maybe your mother and aunt learned it at grandpa’s knee? Don’t be afraid to cut them out of your life.

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  • avatar

    cdjd0523 August 21, 2012, 4:48 pm

    My mother sounds much like yours with the constant verbal and emotional abuse. On top of that she is also an extreme alcholic who refuses to get help since she believes she doesn’t have a problem. The thing is she, like your mother, learned the behavior somewhere and while they very well could have amplified it the fact is they most likely got it from their parents. If you choose to confront them don’t put in there what behaviors from your mom resulted in the fractured relationship because they won’t see it if its a trait they share.

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  • avatar

    Eve Harrison August 21, 2012, 10:05 pm

    LW, try to think positive while you’re navigating your family. You are away! Like Wendy said, you are actively healing your emotional state and have the means and opportunity to stay away from your manipulative mother. Some people don’t have the resources, and may be too young, inexperienced, and time-confined to escape the house of their mother. Escaping emotional abuse is near impossible for many who lack the financial means, so at the very least your [presumed] economic independence appears to be your greatest asset in this moment in your life. Try to realize that this moment will pass. Eventually you will find freedom, with or without your grandpa and relatives.

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  • Emily

    Emily August 22, 2012, 12:17 am

    In this situation I agree with Wendy in spirit but not in execution. I have an emotionally abusive, crazy mother. My issue over the years has been how manipulative she is with others. Not only will she put me down but she is also talented at convincing others that I’m the “bad one.” Wendy’s advice is wonderful, but I feel the letter justifies LW’s decision too much.

    In this situation LW needs to set some clear boundaries with her aunt and grandmother.I would say something along the lines of, “Mom and Dad’s divorce has been hard on everyone. While I respect that Mom is hurting, I am dealing with some things in my own life that prevent me from offering her support. I request that you stop talking bad about Dad in my presence, accusing me of “taking sides” and not offering “enough support” as this only makes something painful even worse. We all deal with things in our way and regardless of the divorce, Dad is still my father. I am so thankful that she has the love and support of you and the rest of the family during this difficult time. I love my mother and nothing will change this. Please respect that we all must deal with things in our own way.”

    My big concern for LW is that by disclosing the fact that she has been abused, she might be opening herself up to further criticism by her mother’s side of the family. Her mother’s side of the family might not want to view her mother’s behavior as abusive in spite of evidence to the contrary (this has been true in my case.) I recommend two books on this topic: Forced to Be Family by Cheryl Dellasega and Boundaries Where You End and I Begin by Anne Katherine, M.A. I hope these books help as you continue your journey of healing. Good luck!

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  • avatar

    GTR August 22, 2012, 1:59 am

    Honey, I suspect that part of the reason why your relatives want you to be more supportive of your mother is because, without the support of her husband and children, she’s turning the full force of her manipulative, drama-queen personality on THEM. It may only be at a subconscious level, but they’re trying to stop her coming to them with cries of “my daughter doesn’t love me!” by trying to force you into a better relationship. Making you the bad guy allows them to avoid responsibility for this unpleasant woman themselves. Blaming you won’t result in explosions and screaming – blaming your mother will.

    Also if your mother has a very forceful personality, her family is probably accustomed to doing exactly what she wants just to keep the peace. That may be what they’re doing now.

    Bearing in mind the (entirely valid) criticism of the email idea, it may be wise to arrange a tete-a-tete over coffee or lunch with your aunt, and calmly explain why you can’t be more involved in the marital train wreck occuring around you. In turn listen attentively to what she has to say – she may have an informative, if secondary, perspective. But then make sure she realises that your mother’s behavior has driven you to therapy, and remind her that as a daughter, you know a little bit more about your family’s dynamics than she does.

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  • avatar

    DMR August 22, 2012, 7:36 am

    Your mother is an abuser. Her family facilitate that abuse, and may be emotionally abusive as well. In fact, it’s quite likely that it’s a family trait. They are not a positive contribution in your life and you should let them go.

    There’s really no more to say on this situation. Just walk away from these monsters.

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  • avatar

    fallonthecity August 23, 2012, 2:29 pm

    LW, only you know your family well enough to know how they will receive that letter. I have a good relationship with my parents but have to deal with some really pushy and nosy relatives on my mom’s side. Directness had always served me well with them… They usually will back off if I calmly address whatever crap they are trying to throw at me in a way that just lets them know I am not going to go along with whatever they are trying to bully me into… So the letter may work if they’re like my relatives, but who knows?

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