“Should I Cut All Ties with My Abusive Mother?”

When I was young (starting around the time I was five) my mother was emotionally unavailable to me and particularly to my sister, to the point that she severely neglected my sister when she was in diapers and left her alone in her crib day in and day out while she slept (not because she was depressed, as she would later claim, but because she had been out until dawn drinking and sleeping around behind my poor father’s back). Eventually, she got pregnant by another man and had to tone down her wild ways while she incubated my second sister, whom my dad has always treated as his own (and who is legally recognized as his child).

About a year after my second sister was born, when I was eight, my parents separated for a few years and my mom and my sisters and I ended up moving in with my youngest sister’s biological father for part of that time. During the time that we lived separate from my father, he brought us groceries weekly, paid my mom child support (without having to go through the courts), took us on family outings frequently, and never ceased trying to get my mother back. Meanwhile, she became increasingly verbally and physically abusive to me. In retrospect, I think she may have been doing a lot of drugs (maybe cocaine?) because she was getting very thin and because her behavior was increasingly erratic. As a ten-year-old, I would frequently be left overnight to care for my 5- and 3-year-old sisters while she partied.

Eventually things ended with the guy that she was with (she caught him cheating!–shocker) and we moved back in with my dad. He is kind of a saint, but he has a blind spot where she is concerned, and, after we moved back in, he looked the other way as far as her behavior is concerned. She stopped going out as much but instead had her bar friends over at all times of the day and night to drink, and she never felt particularly compelled to make sure her children were adequately dressed or fed for school in the morning or even sent to school at all. She rarely came to any school functions such as plays and performances, and she never ceased her physical and emotional abuse towards me. (She called me a whore and accused me of being pregnant well before I even lost my virginity, frequently hitting or kicking me when she was mad, etc).

During my whole life, she has always maintained outward appearances of being some kind of Suzy-homemaker, and has been obsessed with spending more money than Dad can make to furnish her house just so or to dress a certain way. One of her worst offenses, in my eyes, has been her ability to falsely assert her love and pride over her children whenever she is presenting herself to someone outside of the immediate family, since it is in such a stark contrast from how she actually behaves.

Now I am married, have young child, and am pregnant with my second. I recently (within the past month) discovered that my mother is again cheating on my father. My proof is not irrefutable but is very strong circumstantial evidence, and it was made that much stronger by her behavior since I confronted her. I never intended to tell my father or shame her to the whole family (which is what she deserves, but it is not my place) but I guess, since she was scared that I would tell on her, she decided to get out ahead of me and tell her own version of reality to everyone, which includes painting me as a mentally deranged person who can’t deal with issues from her past and who hates her sister (my sister born of mom’s affair over 15 years ago).

I really didn’t expect this, even from her. I did not expect systematic alienation from the extended family, to whom she has always worked so hard to maintain appearances, because I never thought she would tell them what I said to her! I thought she would want to keep it between us! I only even confronted her, clearly foolishly, because I wanted to protect my father and because I thought, if she knew I was on to her, maybe she would stop. And I don’t know where the part about me hating my sister comes from–we have a very good relationship and she is supposed to be throwing my baby shower– except that it further serves to create the illusion that I am this unhappy person looking to create problems in the family.

Anyway, things have gotten bad and I am overwhelmed with sadness. Despite everything, I love my mother and don’t want things to be this way, but I doubt at this point that I can forgive her. I don’t actually even want to talk to her at all and have told her to consider our relationship over. It is much harder to stick to my guns about this when I consider what repercussions this has for my relationships with the rest of the family since my parents are still together and live in my childhood home with my two youngest sisters (including a fourth daughter my parents had after they got back together). I do not want to miss out on relationships with my father or my sisters. My father doesn’t really know what’s going on, except for my mother’s skewed version of the story. Furthermore, I don’t want my daughters to miss out on those relationships. However, for as long as I am not talking to my mother, she will not allow much interaction between the people in her household and the people in mine.

Is it worth it to cut ties with her? If not, what do I say to make up with the world’s most selfish person? The idea sickens me, frankly, because if I decide to be the bigger person and apologize for the sake of peace, this is just another battle she wins by being an awful person. And should I address the situation to the rest of the family, instead of sitting silently by while she paints me as a crazy person? I’ve heard through the family rumor mill all kinds of nonsense about myself, and it really hurts. That’s the thanks I get for trying to keep things private, I guess. My husband is in the turn-the-other-cheek camp, but watching her play the victim while I get publicly smeared is a little more than I can handle sometimes. I still haven’t told on her! I don’t understand how she can go on the offense when she should be thankful that I haven’t aired my grievances to the whole family. — Mommy Dearest’s Daughter

I’m so sorry that you grew up not knowing the love and care of a good mother. Not only were you cheated out of a healthy relationship with your mother, but you were also forced to take on way more responsibility — caring for your younger siblings, and even, to an extent, your parents — than any child should have to. It’s not fair, and there’s nothing you or anyone else can do to right the wrongs of your childhood and give you the past you deserved to have. Fortunately, you can give yourself and your children the life and happiness and stability you didn’t have as a kid, and it sounds as if you are doing just that, despite the trauma of your childhood.

In order to keep moving forward, you have to accept that you are no longer responsible for your mother or your father. That means, it’s not your job to save one from the other (or from themselves) any more than it’s your responsibility to seek an apology or force your mother to acknowledge what a shitty person she is. You also need to accept that, as much as you would love an apology from her for all the crap she’s done to you and put you through, every time you give her an opportunity to make amends and she fails you’re letting her hurt you all over again. That’s what happened when you told her privately that you knew of her affair. Maybe you told her so she would confess to your father, but I think the more likely truth is that you told her in hopes that she’d have an “a-ha moment,” realize what a fuck-up she is, and finally acknowledge at least some of her transgressions to you, if not apologize for them. Maybe you thought that, if you shared a secret together, she might even feel some sort of kinship to you or feel indebted to you for keeping her secret safe.

Instead, she bad-mouthed you to the rest of the family. She threw you under the bus to save her own ass, and your father, yet again, looked the other way. It sucks, and I’m sorry, and, unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to change what has happened. But what you can do moving forward is to live well. You’ve heard that saying that living well is the best revenge? Well, it’s true. And you are capable of living well. You are capable of having the happy family life now that you missed as a child, complete with strong relationships with your siblings and extended family.

Don’t let your mother continue to rob you of the things that make you feel whole. If you have to “make up” with her in order to keep your siblings and father in your life, then swallow your pride and apologize for making her business your business. Tell her you should have kept out of her affairs (pun intended) and will do so in the future. This isn’t letting her win the battle. This isn’t giving her another victory she can celebrate. Because she’s still herself, with all her flaws and unhappiness — and you better believe a person like her is unhappy — and that is nothing to celebrate. And you are still you, living well and being happy.

As for the family smear campaign your mother has launched against you, let the rumors run their course and die out. If your mother works as hard as you say she does to maintain appearances of a quaint home life, she will shape this narrative in a way that paints a happy reconciliation between the two of you. It may be a tough pill to swallow, thinking that people might believe such a thing, and that your mother has, yet again, gotten away with bad behavior. But remember, your mother is not and never has been a victor. She is just a sad person who knows how to manipulate people and who won’t ever have true relationships with anyone because she is incapable of being true. You, on the other hand, are the true victor. You managed to rise above your own painful childhood and create a fulfilling life as an adult — as a loving wife, a responsible mother, and a loving sister and family member. That is more than your mother has ever been able to say for herself.


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


  1. Of course you have to cut ties with this manipulative narcissist who has injured you your entire life. You certainly don’t want your children to be exposed to her. You may want to believe it, but there is no way that turning submissive and baring your throat to her will result in anything better than a ripped out throat. Your father is bewitched by her. Too bad, but you can’t fix that and, for now at least, that means you and your children miss out on contact with your father. Tell your sisters the truth. With their life experience with your mother, they will believe you. Your mother is plain nasty, but your father is her enforcer. He has always ignored her behavior. By withdrawing his contact from those she opposes he goes beyond enabling.

    1. I agree. And the father is not blind. He is an enabler who chooses to look the other way for his own selfish reasons. He could – and should – have taken control of the situation years ago and not allowed his children to be abused and neglected. I disagree with Wendy today. Cut ties and make your own supportive circle because there is nothing you can do to make your own family supportive of you.

      If you really want, you could go to certain members of the extended family and tell them they can contact you privately if they would like to maintain a relationship. Then leave it at that.

      1. Avatar photo landygirl says:

        Agreed, the father is no saint and the LW needs to realize that.

  2. “Don’t let your mother continue to rob you of the things that make you feel whole.”

    Question, though, very closely whether your father truly makes you feel whole. He’s enabled your abuse your whole life; it was only because he himself was under the thumb of his abuser probably, but that doesn’t mean he was a good father to you. Anyway, Wendy’s advice is great… you should do exactly what’s healthiest for you and your child, because you deserve that, and not feel guilty about others’ bad behavior.

    BTW, your husband is a “turn-the-other-cheek” person? That doesn’t sound very supportive. Full disclosure, I feel like I’ve been in your husband’s situation — not understanding what “abuse” really meant, and counseling my SO at the time (we were 18) to “think of the good qualities” about his mother who had abused him as a child. Big mistake! I did it because I was uncomfortable with the idea of anyone’s relationship with their parents being truly unsalvageable, since I was lucky enough to have good ones. I was too naive to get that some people are better off without their parents and that led to me doing a terrible job at supporting my SO. Maybe you need your husband to be more supportive — you could ask him to read up on abuse and its effects so that he understands better how to be on your side.

  3. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

    I would cut contact. She adds nothing positive to your life but she does give you loads of ugliness. It’s one thing to put up with that for yourself but quite another to allow that to affect your children. If you continue this relationship you will be teaching your children that it is okay to allow people to mistreat you and to assassinate your character. You will be teaching this through your example with the way you allow your mom to treat you. Your dad knows how bad she is and chooses to not look and to allow her to malign you to all your relatives. He knows and he refuses to do anything about it. I’m sure he is a loving dad and having him in your childhood helped to make a difference but he is still allowing your mom to treat you this way and so it is better to have him out of your life than to have him along with your mom. Sometimes turning the other cheek is too destructive.

  4. WWS…I thought her reply was perfect, but I just want to quote & second this part especially: “In order to keep moving forward, you have to accept that you are no longer responsible for your mother or your father. That means, it’s not your job to save one from the other (or from themselves) any more than it’s your responsibility to seek an apology or force your mother to acknowledge what a shitty person she is.”

    As shitty as this is, LW, I think you need to repeat the above to yourself until you realize it. And also realize that doing the things Wendy suggests—staying out of your mother’s business, letting the rumors run their course—may feel like you’re getting run over, but they’re the steps you must take in order to rise above everything.

    1. That part of her reply was good. The part about apologizing to her mother was not. Do that, and her mother has control of her.

      1. lets_be_honest says:

        I know it sucks to have to apologize to someone who doesn’t deserve an apology, but for this LW to get what she wants (no alienation from her other family members), it seems like she must apologize, so I think Wendy crafted the best one. She isn’t apologizing for anything other than butting into her mom’s private life.

      2. Except her mother does not sound like a person who will accept a neutral standoff of I won’t hurt you if you won’t hurt me. The mother needs to be in absolute control and even when it is, it isn’t a pleasant ride, as she will abuse, cheat, and abandon. MOther is all about mother. There’s really no way to compromise with that. When LW and sibs were young, the whole family seems to have gone along with mother, accepting her abuse and cheating. That has served none of them well. LW seems the only member of family who has escaped relatively intact and uncowed. She shouldn’t throw that away. She has a new core family which she is happy with and should focus upon. I know she has says what she wants with regard to birth family, but frankly an apology won’t get her there and where she wants to be seems impossible. Her mother will jerk her around for sport.

      3. Yeah, I can see that argument, but personally—I feel as though the apology is more for the LW’s sake. Entering into a battle of wills with the mother is a losing fight for the LW, & holding an active grudge puts far more control into the mother’s hands than apologizing would (in my opinion). Not to say she should forgive & forget, or anything, but “letting go” in general sort of breaks the hold that her mother still has on her.

      4. The apology might get her what she wants if her mother didn’t have a pattern of needing to both dominate and abuse all of the family members in her life. She rules the roost and everyone must toe the line absolutely or be cut out. If LW wants in with her family, she is bargaining for far more than an unwarranted apology. She is signing up for more of her mother’s treatment. As she says, she has not talked to her father about the cheating, yet her mother is out to crush her with the family. She will continue this route until LW is either crushed or has been driven away from the family. LW and sisters desperately need to get out of the ‘poor Dad’ mode of thinking. He is dependent on the mother and likely already knows she is treating. He demands the kids be subservient to her in order to have a relationship with him. He doesn’t sound like he’s worth it, nor does he sound like he’s suffering and in need of rescuing by his kids. When he tires of this woman’s antics, he will leave her on his own. For now, LW has to protect her core family from her dysfunctional birth family. It’s possible for the sibs to break away together. Mom does not need to be the route to contact with LW’s sibs. Frankly, that route sounds more like returning to a cult than re-establishing ties with kin. Daughter absolutely should not be exposed to this situation. It is toxic.

  5. Yeah this is creepy… I had no idea the woman listed as mother on my birth certificate was leading a double life when we grew up :-/

    One thing you need to get over real fast honey: your dad is no saint. He neglected you as much as she did, maybe even moreso since he was supposedly sane and sober. 😐 That’s a rough pill to swallow. I know, I gagged and choked on it many times before I got it down my own throat. But once I got mad at my dad for not doing his fucking job to protect us from that crazy bitch he married, I got over it and we’re actually very close now. He is glad he has a chance to make up for the non-parent he was during my childhood. But my dad also admits he fucked up and says flat out “I wasn’t parenting properly. Neither one of us were. We were drunk and caught up in our own drama.”

    Your husband probably sees you all upset about this and is trying to get you to stop feeling miserable. It’s not that he wants you to forgive her or is on Team Mom (in fact he probably loathes her more than you do). He may also be in denial how awful it was. I strongly suggest talking to a therapist (NOT one who is going to coddle you and say “poor poor you” but more one trained in active listening who can help you realize X and Y was pretty fucked up stuff to do to a little kid) about ways to get to a position where you feel comfortable not interacting with her, and explore why on earth you’d think it important to continue relationships with people like her.

    Cutting off doesn’t have to be a big huge dramatic thing where it’s formally announced either. Just ignore phone calls. Be busy. Be vague in responses. Don’t get personal with questions. Answer everything with the most absolute basic minimal info. This is a coworker, not someone you feel safe and intimate with.

    Oh and back to your husband a minute… look guys are socialized to “fix” shit. So if you go to him wailing and crying about this witch, he’s going to try to “fix” it which in his mind is “blow her off, don’t worry about her, ignore her” lalalala and he doesn’t realize people have been ignoring how she treats you and your dad and sisters your WHOLE LIFE so what you really need is someone to say flat out “that’s pretty fucked up” and assure you that you will figure things out and your feelings are justified. I’m not saying you should hide feelings from him. But I’m thinking he may not be the person to explode your emotional angst on. Also? Pregnancy hormones are not making this fun. As someone who had an absolutely insane family drama come up when pregnant last time, I can tell you this just isn’t the time to deal with it. I actually simply told my husband what happened and informed him this issue would not be discussed further until I was done being pregnant and until such time we were pretending it did not happen even because I had no emotional or mental energy to deal with it.

    So ignore your mom for now. Talk to a therapist about ways to set boundaries and acknowledging the toxicity (and again I do not understand WHY you want your daughters to have relationships with this vile woman, so explore that too). Family relations aren’t mandatory. I have not spoken to the person listed as “mother” on my birth certificate in 22 years, except for once when my brother the idiot called me when our grandpa died and she demanded to speak to me (I was civil and cordial and blew up at brother later) and another time when her son/my brother died and I simply told her (sincerely) I am oh so sorry (I was). My children have other grandparents, aunties, friends, mentors etc and really do not miss her or her drama. It’s really fine. There’s been three occasions we had to be together for family events (and hell no I did not invite her to my wedding). We sit across the room from one another and do not speak to one another and I watch my kids like hawks to make sure she does not corner any of them. They know who she is and to be polite but not to speak to her if they can avoid it. Honestly? It’s not a big deal.

    BTW My dad finally divorced the battleaxe… actually, she divorced him, in a (failed) attempt to upgrade, and I had to listen to him whine for two years about how full of woe he was. I finally blew up at him and said one day he’d think it was the best thing that ever happened to him. He was horrified and appalled how could I say that… 10 years later, he admitted I was right. See he was celebrating his 5th wedding anniversary that day to my totally awesome stepmom who we all adore. They hit 20 years this year and have a wonderful healthy relationship and she’s a great grandma to my kids. Even if she’s only 12 years older than me. I got over it 🙂

    1. SweetPeaG says:

      I LOVE your statement about how cutting off doesn’t have to be a big and dramatic event. Sometimes a “fade out” suits a situation perfectly. Just ignore her! I also think that although her Dad may be naive as to how truly terrible his wife is, he can hopefully understand the LW’s need to limit contact. He’ll love her either way. She can invite him out for lunch, on a trip to the zoo with the grandkids, etc. There are ways to see him without seeing Mom! The same goes for her sisters. They are not stupid… they know Mom has some issues. They’ve got to know (at least partially) how bad she is. Invite them to do things away from the family home. Those relationships CAN remain intact.

      1. Rangerchic says:

        I love this! This is about the only time I don’t really agree with Wendy’s advice. The woman is a narcissist (or something like that) and is not able to have empathy for anyone but herself. I don’t think an apology will work but to stoke the mothers ego making her think even more how she was right all along.

      2. I’m a huge supporter of the fade out. Then there isn’t a bad memory of you two blowing up at each other, and it leaves the door open in case you ever want to reach out again. The fade out can sometimes backfire though, if the person you are trying to fade recognizes what’s going on. I do NOT recommend this.

  6. wow, thats intense.

    honestly, what would the “relationships” between your children and their grandparents give your children? i really hate to say it, but they might do much more harm then good. having grandparents in grandchildren’s lives are only good and beneficial if the grandparents are good people. forcing a relationships that is only going to further break their mother and potentially expose them to *exactly* what they do to their mother is not beneficial. i would really, really weigh that. is the relationship, or potential for a relationship, worth all the bullshit YOU have to put up with, and then is it worth the potential for the exact same bullshit to happen to your kids? i dont know, i honestly dont know if this is a case of “make nice for the sake of the grandkids”.

    as for your sisters, i assume they wont be taking your mothers side, having you know, actually had her as a mother as well. talk with them. they can be your advocates, they are in your same spot.

    and, also, your father is nowhere NEAR a saint, and you need to learn that.

    find some people in your life who enrich it, who make you happy, who love your kids and build your own family from them. no one has to deal with the shit you have had to deal with, and you have the power to end it.

    1. lets_be_honest says:

      Sounds like grandpa would be able to provide a good relationship. Maybe there is a way she can have them minimally exposed to mom, while fostering a relationship with dad.

      1. Avatar photo LadyinPurpleNotRed says:

        But grandpa didn’t protect his kids from the abuse so what would make him protect the grandkids?

      2. lets_be_honest says:

        No, he didn’t, but he still tried to be a good father. If the kids aren’t exposed to the grandma, and the LW only invites her dad over, it sounds like the LW can protect the kids from grandma which is the only thing the grandpa didn’t do.

      3. Avatar photo LadyinPurpleNotRed says:

        Being a good father means protecting your kids from abuse. He exposed them to her. What’s stopping him from exposing her kids to this woman?

      4. lets_be_honest says:

        I didn’t say he was a good father, I said he tried to be a good one.

        What’s stopping him from exposing them to her is the fact that he can’t. If LW invites only him over, he is the only one they are exposed to, and while being supervised by the LW.

      5. Avatar photo LadyinPurpleNotRed says:

        But the mother has the control and he seems to follow whatever she wants and I doubt she would agree to that.

      6. lets_be_honest says:

        Well if she doesn’t, then cross that bridge when it happens.

      7. lets_be_honest says:

        I’ll just add, its very possible I’m seeing this through my own experiences. I never dealt with anything like this as a child, but my dad was a pretty crummy dad in many ways. As I’ve gotten older, and had a child of my own, we’ve made amends over the past, and he is an unbelievably good grandfather. He’s improved as a dad, but I can’t imagine a better grandpa for my kid. If someone is going to be of benefit to my kid, then I will welcome that, no matter how they’ve been to me personally. So I’m just giving the LW another option. If she wants her dad in her kid’s life, then I am just suggesting a way it could work without the kids being exposed to the mom.

      8. findingtheearth says:

        I am with you right here. My parents were not the best. My grandparents were not the best. But do they love my daughter, and honestly, I think they will be a lot better with her. I will still watch it all like a hawk and have laid down very finite ground rules.

      9. Yup. It was watching the lengths my dad went to in order to keep the witch listed as mother on my birth certificate from harming his new wife and my younger brothers he had with her that got me to feel he would keep *my* children safe as well. Dad of my childhood =/= dad of the present. But, until THIS dad leaves his wife or she’s dead, I wouldn’t ever let him have the kids as he’s so dickwhipped he’ll bring them over to visit poor oppressed granny. 😐

      10. Avatar photo landygirl says:

        Do or do not, there is no try.

      11. I think if the grandfather only visited the children under the LW’s supervision that would be okay – but I wouldn’t leave my kids alone with him given his predilection to do whatever his wife wants and his inability to stand up to her.

      12. lets_be_honest says:

        Yes, I completely agree.

  7. lets_be_honest says:

    Wow, Wendy managed to find a way for her to apologize without really apologizing for anything she shouldn’t be sorry for. Impressive. I feel for you LW.

    1. Yeah, but what difference would that apology actually make? None. LW’s mother has already demonized her to one and all. Mother couldn’t stand to be revealed to have lied about LW, so LW will also have to acknowledge and accept as true all of the lies her mother told about her. She’ll get zero help from her father on that score. He’ll never buck the mother on anything. If LW grovels, accepts her subservience, and pretends to be as bad a person as mother described her to be, then perhaps she’ll be accepted back. Think her mother will treat her well in that case? That seems to be the exact route the father took, repeatedly, and how has he been treated?

      1. That was oldie.

      2. lets_be_honest says:

        I didn’t think the point of apologizing was to get mom back, but to be able to have a relationship with her sisters and dad.

      3. And exactly how is that going to happen? The mother has already told the father and sibs lies about her. She is not going to allow LW to get together with them and disprove those lies. That would totally undermine the mother’s position. Either LW allows the lies to stand or mother won’t cooperate in a reconciliation in any way. Far better to somehow contact them directly and tell them the truth.

      4. lets_be_honest says:

        Idk, you seem to have all the answers thanks to your crystal ball, so I’ll stop trying to help the LW get what she specifically said she wanted.

      5. lets_be_honest says:

        Sorry, I’m cranky.

      6. No offense taken and I wasn’t trying to offend you, but you seem to be overpersonalizing this and not considering that LW’s mother may be a lot worse person than your father. Also that LWs father seems to be the other have of a rather unique and warped parental pair.

      7. lets_be_honest says:

        Thanks and I think my opinion is because of my dad, but not coloring my opinion of the mom, just the dad. The mom sounds horrible, but the dad doesn’t sound as bad and the LW seems like she wants her kids to be close with him. So if half ass apologizing to mom will allow that, then try it. Then stay away from mom and have dad over for dinner every now and then. You all may be right that mom won’t allow it, but it can’t hurt any more to give dad a chance to stand up to her if it means he gets to know his grand kids. I feel like there is a chance, so it’s worth a shot. If it blows up in LWs face then she can walk away from all of them.

      8. I know what she said she wanted. I don’t think it is possible for her to get that. She needs to face who her mother actually is. She also said that she was shocked by the way her mother lashed out at her with lies to all the relatives after she went to her with knowledge of her mother’s new affair. That says to me that LW needs to really give greater thought to what her mother is capable of. If she reacts like that to her daughter coming to speak to her rather than ratting her out to the father, then she is not about to open up the family to her based on an apology, especially of the very limited type Wendy described. A normal person might well accept that and call a truce. Unfortunately, the mother is clearly not a normal person. The LW was no threat to her mother. Mother knows that telling the father of an affair will cause the father to leave her. They’ve been there before. She knows how the man reacts, although apparently LW doesn’t or can’t admit it to herself. Father is totally controlled by mother, either out of obsessive love or as BGM says a love of mistreatment and the thought that he has found his ideal dominatrix. From the contradictions in the letter, its clear that LW, despite all her history of abuse, still has a pollyannish view of her parents. It is not in her interest to encourage her to apologize and walk into the spider’s web. If you look at this dispassionately and not with a sense of overoptimism, I think you will realize that this is true. If it were just the LW at risk, then an attempt at reconciliation would be sad but on her. She will also bring her child and her husband into her mother’s orbit.

      9. I would wait until the sisters were out of the house. It’s not that long. They’ll call. I’m sure of it.

  8. I agree with Wendy’s advice. But I also have trouble wrapping my mind around the fact that your family believes the rumors she is spreading. Does she really put on such a good show to outsiders that they have no idea how she is? What about your sisters and your father? They know how she is. Maybe you could clear the air with them; let them know that you had a fight with your mom (without saying what it was about if you want to keep that to yourself), which is what launched her smear campaign.

    1. my guess is that the mother “runs” the whole house and everyone in it, so by extension she can control what everyone thinks

    2. In my experience, they KNOW she’s nucking futz. I’ve never seen a situation where they didn’t. Most of the time they shut up because “we didn’t want to interfere in the marriage” “we didn’t want to make life even worse for you with her temper and all” “we had no way to end the situation so we were just trying to be as supportive as possible and not cause more problems” etc. After that interloper my father married left for good, holy cow the people came out of the woodwork to share similar stories of “wow we had this total toxic witch in our midst and had no idea how to handle it and it was awful and I’m so sorry you had that happen.” I cannot tell you how healing it was to know I wasn’t crazy. People like OPs mom are MASTERS of gaslighting. The anxiety they can create that you’re some pariah of society, that your extended family hates you, that everyone thinks you’re a dirty slut or an unstable crazy bitch creating drama is unfathomable to those who have not been there. But once you’re truly out, you’ll find out that NO it was NOT just you. Right now, where LW is, people don’t feel safe confiding. You know why? Because she wants to make up with mom. And so they worry she’ll go back and make up and say “oh btw aunt sue and uncle fred said this and that” so they are just waaaaaaaaaaaaaiting. It is extremely unlikely this woman fools anyone but her cuckolded husband. I actually said to my dad once “god she must have been a great fuck”. 😐 (My dad is the type to be scandalized by such a remark. I was not looking for confirmation. I was letting him know I could see no other earthly reason he would be near her.) This type of woman offers very little other than that, and usually uses her sexuality to achieve her goals. This is way beyond common sex work. This is mental fuckery, literally.

  9. I get that it is almost incomprehensible for some people to envisions their lives without a parent when that parent is still alive but there comes a time, my dear, when you have to protect your own little family. Having someone toxic in your life isn’t something that remedies itself. There will always be something. Why would you want you daughter exposed to such a woman – under any terms? You sisters are teenagers and can think for themselves and certainly your father is capable of thinking for himself. So you can reach out to them to let them know you are there for them and would like a relationship – and then you leave it to them. Your mother may have played a good game to the extended family – but your immediate family knows the truth. If no one doesn’t want to defy your mother – then that is on them. I second what everyone else has said about your dad. I get the desire to paint him as a saint when you were faced with such a evil mom but he was there throughout all your abuse and didn’t stand up for you. He has a chance now to stand up for you – let him make the call to do that for you. I think it is time he did – don’t you?
    If I were you, I would focus on my own little family and grow my own extended family of friends and loved ones who you don’t have to worry about turning on you. We all want the little Disney version of family with doting grandparents and happy aunts and uncles that love everyone…but families come in different forms – perhaps it is time to create the family you want since you lucky enough to be born into it. There will always be a sadness for the dream that was lost but knowing that you are creating a reality for your children that is safe and free from abuse will more than make up for it. And I say this as someone estranged from members of my own immediate family – but there comes a point where your own well being has to trump all other considerations. Good luck.

    1. *weren’t lucky enough to be born into it.
      boo Monday mornings.

  10. Regardless of whether or not you cut your mom out, I would say please get yourself to a therapist or at least read some books about abusive childhoods. I am currently reading “Recovery: A Guide for Adult Children of Alcoholics,” and it has been very enlightening. It is wonderful that you have a good life with your husband and children, but the fact that you chose to confront your mom about her affair indicates that you haven’t created healthier patterns for yourself in regards to your original family unit. It is tough to do (I really understand!), but it is necessary for your own peace of mind. By the way, I don’t think there is anything wrong with you cutting your mom out IF that is what you need to do. Turning the other cheek is usually a lovely sentiment, but some people are too damn toxic to have in your life. Also, if you decide to move forward with therapy, you may eventually realize that cutting your mom out of your life (at least for a period of time) is necessary for you to heal and find healthier boundaries with your family.

  11. It’s not worth it to stay in touch with your mother. I don’t see any logical reason that you shouldn’t cut ties. Your kids not having relationships with their grandparents or your siblings is not the end of the world. Plenty of kids are born to parents without any siblings at all or have their grandparents die when they’re super young, so it’s not like you’re going to be ruining their lives. I’m also not sure why you’d care about protecting your father. He knows what your mother is like, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to him that she’s cheating.

    As for your husband, I wouldn’t take his advice to heart. Clearly, he’s not understanding the situation. It isn’t his place to analyze the situation and give YOU advice, so sit him down and explain to him why he’s wrong. Because I don’t think it’s ever appropriate to tell someone who’s been abused that they need to continue letting the abuser do whatever the hell they want to them or allowing their own children to be exposed to those people.

  12. As someone who grew up with a toxic and sometimes abusive parent, I can relate LW. What worked for me was setting boundaries with my mother and reshaping those boundaries as needed. For me, that means that I have limited contact with my mother (talk on the phone a few times a year, see each other once or twice a year when other family are present) and truly, my life is infinitely better than it was when we had more contact. Boundaries are the only way to protect yourself and your family from the craziness, instability and pain that goes along with having someone like this for a parent.

    I know how hard it is to let go of the dream of having a loving relationship with your Mom that every other woman on the planet seems to have. Give yourself some time to mourn that dream. It took me a long time to not feel like if I just tried a little more, maybe she would care about me. It’s pretty devastating to realize that this person is never going to care enough about you that they will feel sorrow and regret for treating you, their child, so poorly. Ultimately, you have to let go of that dream, set boundaries with your real-life mother, and do the hard work to be the best person that you can be.

    As for your relationship with your father, if he chooses to limit his contact with you because of your choice to limit contact with your mother, then he isn’t the great parent that you take him for. Boundaries! Gotta love em.

    1. I love this answer. I wish we could move it to the top of the page. I think there are boundaries that can be set without the all or nothing.

    2. Temperance says:

      This is a really great response. I spent far too much time wishing that I could have that closeness with my mother, but she’s not a good person and she still feels like she can control me, even though I’m 29.

      I realized in the past few years that my mother never made an effort to know *me* and instead treats me like the person she wants to know. It’s not a great loss for me.

    3. Yup. My husband is like this with his dad. They see one another rarely and never without his mom except for quick drop offs, talk very minimally, share nothing of significance. It gives them both comfort and peace.

  13. Lemongrass says:

    I disagree with Wendy. I think you should cut ties with your mother. Do you really want your children to see that this is an acceptable way to treat you and not only get away with it but to manipulate an apology out of you? I don’t think this woman is capable of the grandparent experience that you want for your kids. Just simply don’t make contact with your mother. Don’t answer her calls. Facebook your sisters to see if they want to meet somewhere other than your parents house. You can do the same for your dad but on the stipulation that he doesn’t try to coerce you to suck up to mommy dearest. If he can’t do that then you will have to cool things with him. Don’t let your mother continue to abuse you.

  14. Older and (hopefully) wiser says:

    And I thought my mother won the award for most selfish! Apparently not. But an incredible bond formed between my brothers and me because of it. And I can’t imagine your sisters would ever not have a relationship with you, especially since you even raised them.They are your family.
    I think Wendy’s advice is rainbows and unicorns (sorry, Wendy). Anyone who has suffered this kind of abuse feels differently. I cannot imagine how much rage you must have inside you. So my advise to you is stop being the victim. Cut her off. Tell everyone the truth. Take your father off the pedestal.(He knew she was abusing his children). You may lose some of your family members but you will have your integrity. And maybe that’s more important.

  15. findingtheearth says:

    I think everyone hopes for a great relationship with their parents, especially once they start having children of their own. Sometimes, it is simply not plausible. Parents can be toxic and narcissistic, and to assume anything else of them can be outright dangerous to yourself and your children.

    I think you need to evaluate if you are capable of cutting ties with your mother completely. If not, you may have to set some pretty firm boundaries – including always supervising interactions if your children will be present. And as your children get older, you will probably have more explaining to do to them regarding their grandmother’s behavior, statements she makes, etc.

    And I hope the rest of your family will not play dumb about the situation – especially your siblings.

    Also, if you are always stressed out and frazzled around your mother, your children will pick up on that and begin to mimic that behavior. You do not need that extra drama and stress in your life.

    I hope you find peace with this situation.

  16. Sue Jones says:

    Your mother seems to suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Please google it and read up on it. They never get better, and are hard pressed to even see that they have a problem. My mother was a narcissist also, but in a different way. I think that it is important to mentally place her in the category of a 3 year old toddler emotionally. Then you can begin to have a little compassion for her while treating her rants and her destructiveness the way you might a 3 year old having a meltdown. Not that you should surround yourself with toxic people like her, but it can be a way to mentally deal with them while not loosing your cool – it helped me deal with my mother, anyway…, while keeping ties with the rest of your family. Your Dad is an enabler and you can be sure that he probably suspects something is going on but is choosing not to deal with it, for whatever reason. That is not your business. Wendy’s advice is good. And I am sure that the extended family has a clue about her. You should have heard the things my mother said about me at times… but when her words stopped being able to hurt me, when I started doing the mental 3 year old trick, that is when I got the upper hand on the situation. And also your secret weapon is that you have her GRANDCHILDREN! You would be surprised how many horrible parents can be put back in line with the threat of not being able to see their grandchildren anymore. It is often a very effective way to tame a grandparent.

  17. As yet another person with a verbally abusive mom, I have to say that I also sympathize with this letter writer. I am lucky enough to have a fiancee that knows that my mother is toxic, and he has been encouraging me to limit contact after he witnessed her distain for me in person.

    As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that no matter what I did, who I became or how hard I tried, I couldn’t make my mother like me. And coming to that conclusion sucked. But when I look back and I realize that all of my childhood she spoke down to me, ignored my talents, and did all that she could to keep me from succeeding (most of which didn’t work) that it wasn’t my problem. It was all her. She’s never liked me, and never really tried to find common ground. I have memories going back to preschool where mommy has fun with my little sister, but was all serious and, well, strictly “business” around me.

    As weird as it sounds, figuring out that she didn’t like me has actually made me feel better. I fully know that it’s not my fault, and that it’s HER problem. My dad also never saw any wrong in my mother, and while she never mistreated him to the extent that the LW’s mother did to her father, my mother constantly reminded my father that he needed to take her side, on every issue. And that hurts.

    I still love my father, but I’ve realized that I needed to put a stop to the communications with my mother, especially after the last phone conversation. She, like the LW’s mother, is extremely manipulative, and I wouldn’t be surprised if her half of the family fails to show up at my wedding in September. She loves to play the victim, and I’m sure they’ve all heard what a terrible person I am (I quoted the bible, and stuck up for my beliefs, but that’s another story). Will I be sad if my siblings, parents and relatives fail to show up? Sure, but you know, I’ll get over it. I’ve surrounded myself with plenty of supportive people, and that makes all the difference.

    LW, keep living life the way you are and showing the world that you are not your mother’s daughter. Don’t apologize (I disagree with Wendy on that). If you want to try and keep communicating with your siblings, and your father, do it. I still send cards, text messages, and facebook messages, and they know that no matter what my mother tries to say, they can always call me when they want to. Just not if it’s to try to force me to make up with “Mommy Dearest”.

    1. Temperance says:

      I just wanted to comment and let you know that I grew up in a similar way to you (my mother never liked me and tried to sabotage me at every turn … I have memories of her verbally abusing me from childhood on, and I never saw her do it to my other siblings). It does get better, and I’m a lot happier and less anxious with limits on contact.

  18. LW – *hug*

    I feel for you. There are a lot of things going on in this letter, and your mother is at the center of it all.
    If you feel that you would be best served to cut ties off with her, then do so. What exactly does she bring to the relationship that isn’t a negative? She breathes well? She’s creative? Those aren’t exactly warm-fuzzies.
    Your first job is to protect YOUR children, not your father. Your father has been your mother’s enabler for a very long time. That role will not change unless he WANTS to change it.

    I think that because you were forced into an adult-protector role early, you want to protect your “saint” of a father like you would one of your siblings or children. Honey, he’s a grown man and made his choices. He needs to be the one to deal with the outcomes of his choices.
    Same with your mother. She made her choices. Without a proper diagnosis, and based on your information alone, I don’t doubt that there is alcoholism at the very least, if not other substance issues. Perhaps she’s bi-polar, or is just mentally checked out thanks to the substances she has put into her body over the years. It’s not for either of us to judge.

    I also think that because you’re pregnant with your second child, when you’ve been the de-facto maternal role for the majority of your life (since you were 8 at least), it’s rankling you to have been in that position because you can’t imaging putting your own children in that position. Add the pregnancy hormones to the mix, and yeah, I don’t blame you for confronting your mother.

    She’s spreading her own tales in order to paint a false picture of you. It doesn’t sound like any of the family members played an active role in your formative years. Or, they all enable her as well because it’s easier to do that than confront her (as you’ve seen). Hell, maybe they DID confront her during your youth and she played the story game on them as well. We don’t know.

    As much as you want your mother to straighten up and BE the person she tries to paint herself as being, it’s time to let go of the fantasy. She is human, she is flawed, and unless there is a catalyst, she will not change.
    In the mean time, if someone asks you what’s going on, be honest, but not a gossip. The two of you aren’t speaking. You’d rather not embarass her with the truth of the matter, so you won’t be discussing it. You can be the one to take the high road and let people try to bombard her with more questions. Her story may very well unravel. Or, if she’s done this to other people (which is what I suspect), then they will know that the story she’s fabricating is bupkis.

    Limit her contact with your children. She doesn’t sound pleasant, so why allow her there? Relationships are what you create. You owe your mother nothing, especially not the joy of watching her grandchildren grow up, since she didn’t even have the decency to give you a normal childhood.

  19. Here is the funny thing about appolgies. They are only as good as the meaning behind them. So some people on here say “stand your ground.” but what does that do really? It lets you hold on to the moral high ground but lose what is important to you.

    You can set boundaries. Put the relationship with your mother on stable footing then start to create the relationship you want with your father and siblings. For example. Get tickets to a baseball game and only one extra for your dad. Or something overtly masculine that he would enjoy and your mother would be happy to miss. Have your dad come over to help on a house project.

    Start planning just sibling events. only see your mom when the family is together. Be “too busy” for events with just you guys but big family things just see the rest of the family. Once your siblings move out, it will be much easier to do.

    1. IME people like this woman’s mother do not accept boundaries. That one ticket stunt will become LW “dividing the family” and “trying to play mom and dad against one another”. And any sibling under 18 will likely be threatened with total ostracism should they be willing to meet LW in private.

  20. What a horrible childhood! I am so sorry, LW!

    W’s advice might work, but I know I could not do it. My own experience is that W’s recommended approach tends to be as successful as feeding website trolls.

    I would ask if LW’s husband has a family that you can turn to. That is, his kin are just as related to LW’s children as her kin are. Maybe the relationships the children need can be found there, at least for now.

  21. Avatar photo sobriquet says:

    Am I the only one who thinks that sometimes apologizing and being the bigger person and looking the other way is not the best approach? Normally it is. Normally that is the best way to move on and find peace, but sometimes you just NEED to tell someone off for their bullshit and the harm they caused you in order to fully move on and be happy. Because when someone has manipulated and abused you, it can truly make you feel worse to stay silent and turn the other cheek. Sure, there’s no drama that way. At the end of the day you get to say that you were the bigger person and if people are talking about you, well, you had nothing to do with it. But that can also make you suppress feelings and ultimately make you feel powerless.

    Has anyone else felt this before, or just me? haha

    1. Word. Though I tend to lean more towards burning bridges than apologizing anyway ;))

    2. Temperance says:

      I feel the same way. If it’s a one-time issue, of course I’ll just bite the bullet and apologize. If it’s a pattern of behavior … sorry, not going to let you walk all over me again.

    3. I’m happy to be a torch-wielding bridge burner when it comes to mentally unbalanced family members.

    4. I totally will apologize. In fact it’s my biggest issue with my husband, whenever I say “such and such upset me” he will immediately go into defence mode and I’m like “goddamnitt just fucking ONCE can’t you just stfu and say you’re sorry?!” Because I do.

      But not for people like this.
      That said… um… very dumb to confront a cheater. That’s between the couple. None of LW’s business. For all we know her dad gets off on it literally or they have an “arrangement.” Seriously 100% not her business.

      Also I don’t actually ever tell people off or make a big dramatic official “cut off.” I just file my grievance against them in my brain and use it to judge how much contact I want with them going further. I share the correct amount of info based on that and get together more or less frequently depending how they treat me/mine.

  22. Older and (hopefully) wiser says:

    Sobriquet, you are not the only one who feels this way. In fact in all my years of therapy, not once did my shrink suggest it would be a good idea to have a relationship with anyone, who is in any way, toxic.

  23. Temperance says:

    Please cut ties with her. Your children do not need a relationship with her. If your father isn’t strong enough to make an effort on his own … that’s his fault, not YOURS. Same with your sisters.

    I have a mother who I firmly believe has a personality disorder, but who claims to only have mild anxiety and depression. She never liked me much, and she finds everything about me to be the antithesis of what she wanted. She wants me to be a “traditional” woman, and is desperate for me to have a kid. Meanwhile, I’m working my butt off in law school, which she is convinced I only did because I felt like I was “too good” to be a secretary. Now, of course, she wants to be “close” but she is a sneak, a thief and a liar who broadcasts everything she knows to everyone who will listen.

    Growing up, she would verbally and physically abuse me. I have memories of her screaming at me for being mean, evil, bad and nasty from a very young age because I didn’t “love my sister enough”. I was maybe 5, and was jealous of all the attention she received. My mother once told me that I couldn’t really be a Christian because I was such a nasty, mean girl. I was maybe 8. She called me a snob and a bitch from such a young age, and would slap me constantly up until I was 16 and I slapped her back. The thing is, she’s close with my youngest sister and always coddled my brother, so they didn’t get to see this side of her. It was reserved for me and my other sister (although I was always her target).

    The thing is … I’m HAPPY now. Keeping the woman who stole my identity at 18 at arms’ length is the best choice I ever made. My sister and I have been working to build relationships with our aunts, who she kept us from for years, and we’ve decided that if our grandparents buy everything she’s saying, we don’t need them in our lives, either. (My sister has a baby and my grandparents want a relationship with her, but won’t make the effort to visit her because my mother has told them that she has to call first and SHE IS HER MOTHER AND HAS TO CALL FIRST so they think my sister is an unreasonable bitch.)

  24. fast eddie says:

    I respectively disagree with Wendy, about making nice with an abusive mother, or anyone else, for the sake of harmony. That Mom isn’t going to change, but you have control over how and when you interact with her. Being a mother yourself it’s up to you to decide what the benefit(s) are of be close to her for yourself and your kids weighed against the cost.

    You could accept grandma for what she is in total and understand that it will never be what you want. There are several options for doing that: confrontation, avoidance, intervention, etc. At the same time denying your own kids of a grandmother is a disservice IF she isn’t physically abusive with them. The emotional drama that comes with with her will confuse the kids, but they’re plenty smart enough to finger all that out with you to guide them of course.

    1. temperance says:

      Mental abuse can be just as damaging, and she’ll probably mistreat the grandchildren because of her feelings about the child’s mother.

  25. bittergaymark says:

    Eh, to me the problem isn’t your cunt of a mother but rather your idiot fool of a father… Stop trying to save somebody who CLEARLY doesn’t want to be saved. NEWSFLASH: some people simply love being treated like fucking shit. In your father’s case he eats shit on a daily basis it seems and so, deep down, I suspect he probably gets off on being treated this way. Seriously.

    This is a controversial view — I’m blaming the victim and blah blah blah… Whatever. I hold it steadfast and true. Some “victims” are more than worthy of blame. Deep down, your father simply loves to be treated this poorly — if not, he’d actually fucking do something about it.

    Frankly, your father wasn’t exactly a real prize to you at any rate in that he KNOWINGLY left you with this monster… Seriously, he is NOT the woe is him victim you seem desperate to paint him… As for the rest of your family? Fuck them. Seriously… Why would you even WANT contact at this point? Remember what I said about some people get off on being treated like shit….?

    1. But even in saying “some people simply love being treated like shit” you’re continuing to view him as a victim. He’s not. He’s a grown ass adult male with obvious income and skills to live on his own. Rather than do so, he chose to not only stay with this woman (which is fine, his choice) but subject his children to abuse. I suspect he likes being a martyr and she’s a great fuck. He’s not in any way shape or form a victim. What he is in all fairness is an even worse abuser than the mother. Too lazy to do it himself, or give a shit when it’s done to his kids, he leaves it to her. He’s even worse than her and I don’t get at all why anyone would want to give him a chance until he admits that was fucked up. In no way would my kids be allowed to see my dad had he not made ammends for his utter and total neglect of us as children. Fuck that noise. Children gain no benefit from being “friends” with genetic relations who are toxic and actively encouraged, enabled, and permitted abuse.

      Frankly LW, allowing your kids to socialize with these jackholes is just you continuing the cycle of your dad.

      1. No, that doesn’t make him a victim. He gets what he is seeking and it makes him happy. Furthermore, he gets to be seen by the kids as the good guy who somewhat tempers their mom-ruled home. The customer of the dominatrix is not a victim. He pays for the service. He gets off on it. The father in this story is more like the customer of a dominatrix than like a victim. The children are the victims. They were unable (the younger sibs still are unable) to get away and they are not enjoying their presence in that family. BGM is not at all saying that the father is a victim. He is saying he is so fucked up and so happy with this situation that he willingly exposes his children to it so that he doesn’t have to live apart from this woman. Even when she has affairs and leaves him for other men, he is happy to stay with her and does his very best to woo her back. No, not a victim at all. He is a grown ass man who knows the treatment he craves. Does anybody really think that he couldn’t leave this woman and get custody of the kids, whom he seems able to independently support? He certainly knows LW will back him up in this attemp. Anyone think other kids wouldn’t back him? He willingly sacrifices kids for his ability to stay with this woman.

  26. John Rohan says:

    This is probably the first Dear Wendy column I’ve seen where the majority seem to disagree with WWS. I also disagree.

    This woman was not only abusive and toxic while you were growing up, but she continues to be so. I just don’t see what advantage there is in having her in your life. I recommend telling everyone what you know and what really happened. Yes, your account will differ from hers. But guess what? After all these years, people know her and they know you and they will decide which is the more believable. Even if your mother put on a June Cleaver appearance to outsiders, she didn’t pull that off with your father or your siblings! Maybe if you have the courage to make a break with her, the others will also, including your Dad.

    Good luck, and please, please don’t take Wendy’s advice on this one.

  27. Most people grow up and get a life. They move away and are not dependent on Mommy & Daddy emotionally…financially…..etc. The original poster seems to feel that some miracle will eventually transpire and that her mother will treat her differently. Well…your mom has four children…..a husband and she seems quite adept in getting everything she wants the way she wants it. She is not going to change the way she treats you. If it were me I would just be as neutral and dignified as possible with mom and sidestep/avoid her drama.The original poster has to understand that she is the one with the labile emotions relating to her mother…that whole wounded child issue. The mother will never admit wrong doing or give an inch. But seriously…..most people start to get a life and begin to detach from their parents….siblings….home life when they are 16 or 17 years old. Just move on. No need to stay where you are not welcome and there is no reason to not be cordial if you have to interact with that family. If it were me I would just make new connections and surround myself with positive influences. That whole ambivalent weird controlling scenario being played out is way too much time…energy and emotion being invested in a very unhealthy manner by the O.P. and it is bound to influence the original posters quality of life….her husband and kids in a negative energy type of manner:( Who wants that?

  28. Free yourself from the concept that you have to “fix” your parent´s relationship. You are not your father´s “keeper”. He is an adult. Take the high road and ignore your mother´s comments to friends and family. Remove yourself from judging her. Accept she was not a good mother. Leave it behind. It will allow you to enjoy your relationship with your sisters and father. I would, however, be very observant of the impact she –or the family dysfunction– could have on my children. Change your focus to your family.

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