It’s time again for “Dear Wendy Updates,” a feature where people I’ve given advice to in the past let us know whether they followed the advice and how they’re doing now. Today we hear from “Feeling Abandoned” whose mother essentially abandoned the family in 2007 for a controlling boyfriend when the youngest sibling was 17. In more recent months, the LW has cut her mother off, and stopped paying the bills she was helping her mother with, after years of increasing issues with her mother. In her letter, she was grappling with how to negotiate this estrangement and what it meant for her, going forward. Her update below:
You wrote three things in your response that I found really helpful. First, you called my mom a narcissist and her boyfriend abusive. In my heart I knew these things, but to see them written out so directly really freed me in a way. I couldn’t make excuses for her – like thinking maybe she’d come around or blaming it all on the boyfriend. We are all adults and I can’t continue living like I can change that situation for her. I don’t need to carry it on my heart. Previously, I’d call him controlling or manipulative. The difference in language made me go back and think about past situations. I have to confess that, if I’m being honest with myself, she exhibited narcissism and toxic behavior prior to being involved with this man.
Second, you didn’t really give that much attention to them but focused correctly on what it was that I could do. It was really helpful for me to realize that I could only be responsible for my own behavior. I could control what I post on social media. I could decide to think about this and let it derail my life. Or I could take it as a learning opportunity for the future. I analyzed the original social media post that started this, as you mentioned that I should review my social media. It was a friendly meme with clouds and a message about the rain going away. He had been posting on ALL of my social media posts where I tagged my mom. When I see it like that, I don’t know why I kept sending her things I thought she’d like when I knew what he had been doing.
Third, you wrote something interesting in your response. I’m not sure if you meant it as I took it, but it was helpful. You wrote about what I could have done for her friends and boyfriend to treat me this way. And I realize that the answer was nothing. I really hadn’t done anything to them. Perhaps to the boyfriend, I was a risk for his control over keeping her away from us. I don’t know. But this realization that these people are willing to treat me this way has really resonated with me. Do I want to allow people to treat me this way? People who would try to embarrass me? Humiliate me? Hurt me? The answer, of course, is no. As a result, I’ve cut other people out of my life that I realize through this lens don’t treat me well. The primary care doctor that made snide comments about my body: fired. The friend that only called me to complain but wasn’t there for me in return: I broke it off. It’s been empowering in the most positive way to realize that I am the gatekeeper to allowing negative people into my life. I don’t have to accept it any longer, even if they are “family.”
Part of me remains a little sad my kids don’t have their grandma. I also realize that she wouldn’t ever be the “grandma” I’d want them to have. I’ve had to spend some time really coming to terms with that.
Regarding my aunt and brother, who I mentioned I felt kind of distancing themselves from me, things are better now. I resolved to not really talk about my mom with them. That’s helped, though they sometimes bring her up. My brother has a lot of unresolved negative feelings about her that he feels he can talk to me about, so I listen. She abandoned him for said boyfriend to move to a different state when he was still in high school. He feels that it’s his fault she abandoned him. With my aunt, I accept that time and distance have changed our relationship and theirs. I don’t want to put her in a negative place, even though I know she has her own challenges with my mom.
My mom actually had heart surgery a few months ago. She put it off for two-three years. Every time before, we’d drop everything to go support her. We didn’t this time, and as terrible as it sounds, it was somewhat freeing. I couldn’t force her for the years I tried to help her to get the surgery. So she did it with her friend, the only one willing to go up to see her because of her own actions with our family. From what I hear, she’s fine now and she’s happy with the decision she made to choose her boyfriend over her entire family.
Bravo to you for all the emotional work you’ve done, the boundaries you’ve set, and the self-care you’ve implemented! You should be proud of yourself, and I hope as you continue to navigate these relationships, you feel affirmed in the choices you’re making to free yourself from burdens that were never yours to carry and to let go of relationships that no longer serve you or return the investments you make. Thanks for the update, and best wishes to you.
If you’re someone I’ve given advice to in the past, I’d love to hear from you, too. Email me at email@example.com with a link to the original post, and let me know whether you followed the advice and how you’re doing now.
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