Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“I Helped My Mother Divorce My Dad and Now She Wants My Help to Get Him Back”

My mom and I have always had a strained relationship throughout my life. I spent the majority of my childhood away from my parents because of their busy work schedule. I lived with my grandparents until I was 13, and my parents would visit me once a week at most and spend a few hours with me. They brought me home after eighth grade to live with them, but I never seemed to feel close enough to them. My mom is a strict disciplinarian. She was nice to me and never intentionally abused me in any form, but, to be honest, I don’t think I ever felt loved or loved my parents the way a child is supposed to. If I got a bad grade, lied to them about boys, or did something wrong, my mom would punish me by not talking to me for months. This went on repeatedly for years until I was 17 and we moved to Canada.

Fast forward to about ten years ago: My parents got a divorce because my mom felt my dad no longer loved her. At that time I was in college and living with my mom in Canada while my dad lived in our home country. I’d seen my mom having many male friends over for late night movies and such prior to their divorce. They were being overly friendly and I was angry, but I couldn’t tell my dad because I didn’t want to hurt him.

When her male friends came over, I was distant and never friendly towards them. I would say a quick “hi” and then hide in my room so I wouldn’t see them hang out. My “unfriendly” behavior upset my mom and we barely spoke until I graduated, right after which she moved out.

For the past few years, I’ve tried to patch things up by warming up to her and her boyfriend of a few years, taking her out as often as I could, and getting her gifts for special occasions. As a result, our relationship has thawed, but, still, she is not a typical mom nor a mom that I imagined I’d have – she forgets about my birthday, she wasn’t interested in attending my graduation, and she only emails or texts every few months if I don’t initiate anything.

Just when we started to have a civil, peaceful relationship, she began to consider getting back together with my dad and started emailing him multiple times, expressing her regrets over the divorce. Mind you, she is still in a committed relationship with a very good man and they’ve been living together in his house for a number of years. My mom’s boyfriend treats my mom well. I think it is wrong for my mom to lie to her boyfriend even though I would be happy if my parents could reconcile.

My dad told me he never wants to talk to my mom again if not necessary, so he never replies to my mom. My mom now asks me to send emails to my dad and asks me to help her to convince him to reconnect with her. This gives me flashbacks of what happened during my parents’ divorce – my mom forced me to email my dad on her behalf. She would literally sit next to me and press my finger to hit “send” on my laptop. I hated being manipulated like that and felt vulnerable. So this time I went to see a therapist and asked her what to do. She told me to clearly tell my mom how I feel and accept her reaction, whatever it might be. So I told my mom that I would help her send an email one last time, after which she needs to talk to him directly – and if he does not reply, she needs to respect that and accept it.

Not surprisingly, my mom was livid, and she said she was hurt and betrayed. That was in January, and she has since stopped talking to me completely. On this past Mother’s Day, I sent her a message wishing her a happy Mother’s Day, and she texted back, “Thank you.”

So my question now is: How should I move forward from here with my mom? I have thought about reaching out to her and visiting her, but I don’t know how I could start a conversation with her and how to address what has happened. And what if she is still upset about what I did? I also have a lot of resentment that I have to deal with on my end, but perhaps you would suggest I see a therapist about it? — Ready to Move Forward

I do suggest you see a therapist, which you said you’re already doing. I would not focus on how to move forward with you mother but rather on how to move on without her… or, at least, without the idea of ever having a loving and healthy relationship with her.

You say multiple times in your letter that your mother was not what you imagined a parent should be, that as a child you never felt loved like a child ought to be loved by a parent, and that the best that things have ever been between you is “civil.” Based on what you’ve shared about your mother, it would seem there’s zero chance of you and your mother ever having the loving and nurturing bond you’ve always wanted, and this is 100% your mother’s fault. While she may never have been what you would call “intentionally abusive,” she hurt you — intentionally, deeply, and repeatedly for years by withholding emotional warmth and manipulating you every opportunity she had.

It is time for you to release the grip she still has on you and move on. It’s time to accept that she will never be the mother you want — not even close — and that, is as long as she still has a foothold in your life, the door is still open for her to hurt you. Close the door. As painful as it is, cut her out. THAT is what you should work through with your therapist — not the how (simply stop reaching out to her and stop replying to any attempts she might make to contact you) and not the when (NOW!), but the what comes next for you.

What does your path look like when it no longer includes detours to your mother? What is the trajectory of your own will when it’s no longer bent to your mother’s desires and manipulations? Who are you when you are no longer a daughter longing to be loved by her mother but instead are a woman who has made peace with the cards she was dealt and accepted what will never change?

I believe the world will open to you in ways you haven’t yet imagined when you are able to re-direct the energy you’ve expended thinking about and dealing with and being resentful of your mother. That’s what you should focus on in therapy — redirecting that energy. I imagine it will be like cleaning out a room in your house that’s been used to store crap you don’t need or want but never knew what to do with. You’re going to clear out that room and suddenly feel overwhelmed by how much space there is. You didn’t even realize the room was so big, or that you had been storing so much stuff you didn’t want. And now it’s gone and you can do whatever you want with this huge room! What will you do?! Take up painting and turn it into an art studio? Rent it out to a yogi friend to hold classes? Have weekly dance parties? Buy a baby grand piano and start taking lessons? The possibilities are endless! And so many of them lead to much more joy than a storage room full of junk you didn’t want ever could have brought you. But you have to let go of the idea that the junk is salvageable or worth something or that you should keep hanging on to it because you’ve invested so much time hanging on to it already.

Your relationship with your mother is not salvageable, and it isn’t your fault. After all this time of being manipulated and emotionally abused by her, you deserve the the space in your heart and your psyche that you’ve been reserving for her in hopes she might want it. There’s so much potential for that space, if you’ll let yourself clear it out.

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy​(AT)​dearwendy.com.

18 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Ale May 17, 2018, 8:13 am

    You don’t have to have arelationship with her just because she is your mom. This is toxic and you need to move on. Do WWS 100%

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  • avatar

    TheRascal May 17, 2018, 9:05 am

    Oh MY. Your mother is a heinous, manipulative person. Drop the rope. Stop chasing her affection/approval, you will never have it. I’m sorry that you did not get the mother who you deserve. Take the time to mourn the relationship you want to have. And never speak to this horrible person again.

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    • avatar

      anonymousse May 17, 2018, 9:10 am

      Absolutely, stop chasing for approval. Well said.

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  • avatar

    anonymousse May 17, 2018, 9:09 am

    Take this time of silence as what it is, a blessing in many ways. You can see how messed up your childhood was, and you can see that she isn’t the kind of mother you need. Enjoy the distance, don’t reach out. Let her reach out to you, but make sure you know how to build healthy boundaries with her. Don’t get involved in her personal life. You shouldn’t let yourself be dragged into her romantic relationships, or be doing her bidding in regards to your father or any other person. I’m not sure she intends much of her behavior, but it certainly sounds like she has plenty of issues. I don’t mean that to make you want to forgive or forget what’s happened, but more so that you can accept she is this way, and do a better job of protecting yourself from her manipulations.

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    • avatar

      Artsygirl May 17, 2018, 9:52 am

      I was going to say the same thing – I am sure the LW’s mother is going to reach out to the LW as soon as she realizes the her daughter is pulling away. The mother sounds like a narcissist and needs to manipulate the people in her life, and will not put up with loosing control easily (look at what she is doing to her ex-husband). If the LW and her family are from an Asian country, the mother is going to use a lot of cultural guilt regarding filial piety especially if she is the only child. LW be prepared for all this and practice saying no.

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  • juliecatharine

    juliecatharine May 17, 2018, 9:14 am

    Your mother is awful but honestly both your parents suck. For 13 years they left you with grandparents and dropped in maybe once a week? Wtf? That is very unusual. I think you should focus on building your own family of friends. Damn near any stranger on the street would be better than the abusive, abandoning parents. Your dad may be ‘better’ but if he allowed your mother to not speak to you for months on end he enabled her abuse and is no prize in my book. Stay in therapy, look to the future, it will be brighter without your mother.

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  • avatar

    ktfran May 17, 2018, 9:19 am

    Wendy’s response was quite lovely. LW, I imagine if you clear out the space in your life devoted to your mother, who is awful, there will be so much more space in your life for meaningful, fulfilling relationships that make you happy.

    There are so many people in the world who create families with people who aren’t related by blood. Set yourself free of your mom and give yourself permission to have the kind of family you want.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros May 17, 2018, 9:42 am

    Does your mom bring anything positive to your life? Because you describe someone who is selfish who manipulates you and makes you unhappy. But you don’t describe anything she does that improves your life. So, why have a relationship with her?

    Because of how she’s treated you, it sounds like she’s sort of impeded your ability to understand how normal familial relationships work, or any sort of interpersonal relationship. Hopefully therapy can help you. But the basics are that if someone treats you like crap, you don’t have to put up with it. You don’t have to do what they tell you to do. You don’t have to talk on the phone or hang out with someone just because they are your family.

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  • avatar

    IbeKG May 17, 2018, 11:52 am

    Your mom acts very similar to mine. I’m so sorry that you have the mom you do, but you sound like you have tried everything. You’re putting her emotions before your own, and have been for a while. My mom also used silence as a manipulation tool, and also cut downs to emotionally extort me.
    I agree that this relationship needs to be cut off, or at the very minimum needs SEVERE boundaries.
    I cut off contact with mine about 3 years ago, and it’s honestly the most emotionally liberating thing I have ever done. Once you get past the overwhelming guilt you feel (mine still flares up when she texts me mean stuff-but it subsides quickly once I realize I have the choice to not reply).
    You’re going to miss the good parts (doesn’t sound like there are many though), but I had to think about it like this; if I wouldn’t let my best friend/significant other treat me like that, why would I let my mother.
    I hope you find the strength to stand up for yourself, it’s not easy to unlearn habits that have been there since childhood. I still have a problem feeling happy sometimes because it feels unfair (she was never happy & I was expected to feel the same way she did or I was “betraying” her), but if I doubt my decision, I just think about how much healthier I feel without her toxicity in my life. You will have so many well meaning people that had great parents tell you, “but it’s your mom!”, I’ve had to learn to either not tell people much about her, or just explain briefly that reconciliation is not possible.
    It took 20 years, and 4 estrangements (6 years total time) for her to go off on me to the point I couldn’t do it anymore. I hope that since she is already not speaking to you, you can just phase her out. Or just have a superficial “happy __(insert holiday)__” relationship if that is what you can handle.

    Set your own boundaries, you have tithed enough towards a parent that only thinks of themselves, and puts you in situations you have no business being in (who makes their kid play divorce lawyer like that??) – oh wait a horrible one!

    Good luck, hope it works out for you

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  • avatar

    carolann May 17, 2018, 2:07 pm

    WWS!!!!!!! X a million
    I always say that one of the most important life lessons I ever learned is to accept people for who they are NOT who you want them to be.
    This was hard to swallow, but once I did my life got a LOT easier.
    I was raised without a Mom since I was 5 when my parents divorced.
    She had me very young and never had another child although she is on her 4th marriage.
    I stayed with her briefly in New Mexico when I was 15. (The only time I ever lived with her)
    My Mom is not mean or manipulative…she is just absent. She lives “off the grid” in another State neighboring mine. (People joke about being hippies or Granola, but my Mom is the real thing she is Native American and she lives it) She communicated with me for years with phone calls from my step dad (while she sat right next to him) and one short note every Christmas. I finally “lost” my step dads number and my number had changed, so I just let it go. I have had 3 children (one is partially named after her) She has only ever seen one. (Because I drove to her state in 2004 and she met us at the beach) the last one she doesn’t even know about. She has never met my husband. I don’t currently know exactly where she is. The last time I spoke her was in 2005 when my dad died. She was VERY supportive which surprised me. Like I said, she was never mean really just absent.
    I accepted it and moved on. It hurts me that my kids will never know her…that is about it. My husband’s Mom fills that void somewhat.
    It is what it is and that’s what it is. MOA

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  • avatar

    carolann May 17, 2018, 2:20 pm

    I might add that my Mom can’t come to the state I live in because of her past with organized crime and biker gangs…no I am not kidding. She is terrified.
    Not very long ago one of them showed up at my Grandmothers house and my whole family freaked out. I didn’t talk to my father for 8 years before he died for fear for my safety.
    If anyone is curious to know what kind of things I am talking about read the book “Three Can Keep A Secret If Two Are Dead”.
    But she still could have initiated more communication with her only child…j/s

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    • avatar

      Keyblade May 17, 2018, 9:30 pm

      Sounds like she gave you a really interesting life.

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  • avatar

    Euphoria May 17, 2018, 10:24 pm

    Hi guys, I am the LW. I appreciate all of your comments. WWS and your input have given me some invaluable impartial opinion on this problem that I’ve been struggling with for many years. Frankly the guilt, stress and confusion that I’ve had about my relationship with my mom is overwhelming that sometimes I find myself yelling out things in my car when I am alone, driving, as if I was talking to my mom and saying things I couldn’t have the courage to say in front of her.

    You guys make me realize that it IS ok to not have a relationship with her and I should stop trying to please her. Thank you, truly, from the bottom of my heart.

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    • avatar

      JD May 18, 2018, 8:44 am

      Also, you did not help your mother divorce your father. You were forced to send an email. That was HER. Do not feel guilty or responsible for that. You did your father a favor in the end.

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    • avatar

      saneinca May 19, 2018, 1:16 am

      LW, repeat the following to yourself everyday
      “I am not responsible for my parents marriage, divorce or reconciliation”

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  • bittergaymark

    Bittergaymark May 18, 2018, 12:34 am

    She is trash…

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  • avatar

    LisforLeslie May 18, 2018, 5:47 am

    @Carolann -wow – thank you for sharing.

    I think the LW’s mom is nothing like your mom -your mom may have been absent (and involved in some downright scary shit) but you said that she was absent. This mom is punishing the LW for disagreeing or setting boundaries. That’s a whole new level of shittiness.

    LW -your mom is a shitheel. Seriously, if you ask someone for a favor and they say no you don’t stop talking to them for 6 months unless you’re a complete and total asshole.

    Ergo, your mom is an asshole. Seriously, normal people don’t behave that way. Read up on narcissism, if anything it will give you tips on how to set boundaries and phrasing /coaching on dealing with your asshole mom.

    P.S. I’m sorry your mom is an asshole.

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  • avatar

    Anon May 18, 2018, 11:59 am

    I’m a big believer in letting people define their own experience. So I do believe it’s up to you to decide if you believe she was intentionally abusive.

    However, I will say that for me, if my parent gave me the silent treatment for months on end while I was a minor living under their roof, I would consider that behavior abusive.

    Just pointing this out because there are many types of abuse. But people are often afraid to define behavior as abusive if it doesn’t involve physical violence.

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