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.