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 “Mommy Dearest’s Daughter” who wondered whether she should cut all ties with her abusive mother. Find out whether she’s still in contact with her mother in her update below.
By the time my letter ran, my dad had come to my house to get my side of what was going on. I got really upset when I tried to talk to him because I had been holding it all in and I didn’t want to tell him what I suspected about my mother, but in my emotional state I said that I thought she was a horrible wife and mother and that he deserved better, that we all do. He basically told me that I shouldn’t worry about trying to stand up for him, because he is going to be fine no matter what, and that the reason that he doesn’t want to divorce mom is because he thinks it would be bad for my youngest sister. He worries that, because my mother doesn’t work at all and he works full time, she would get primary custody, and he worries about what kind of people she would bring around my sister if he weren’t there.
I don’t know how founded in reality these concerns are, but it makes me feel better that he isn’t totally oblivious to what is going on. That being said, there were a lot of commenters who were rough on my Dad, and I think that is partially my fault. All I did was say he was a saint and then explain how horrible my mother has been my whole life, so obviously it looks like he was just allowing it all to happen. To an extent, maybe I need to accept that is true, since he knew she had a drinking problem and he knows she spends nearly all the money he makes on herself. However, most of her emotional/physical abuse (and the neglect of my younger sister) took place while he was at work, and she always lied to him to paint herself in the best light. I think that now that she has been doing it for so many years he is figuring it out, but I was the oldest and he probably bought the story that she was selling – that I was just a melodramatic teenager being disrespectful. Also, there is no chance that he enjoys or “gets off on” the dynamic that she creates in the family. He seems super depressed about it sometimes, but I think he really just is trying to do the best he can for his kids. I’m not saying there aren’t potentially better options, but I am saying that he thinks there aren’t.
Anyway, to the update: I started talking to my mother again, around the time my daughter was born. Basically, I have been polite and distant when I see her and have tried to avoid her as much as I can, but I have given up on writing her out of my life completely at this point, so I can see my sisters and my father with less hassle. I never apologized, and I don’t intend to. I also never trash-talked her to the extended family, or tried to clear my name with any of the various cousins, aunts, grandparents, and so on, but she ended up getting found out anyway (actually, she decided to brag about her exploits to some of her cousins, and word got around) and I had family members actually apologize to me for thinking badly of me.
Commenter Sue Jones mentioned that I should look up Narcissistic Personality Disorder. She was right — that is my mother to a T. Reading up on it in some ways makes me feel sad for my mother, because it is a problem founded in extreme insecurity, but it has also helped me to start accepting that things are never going to improve for her. She is always going to be the same miserable person, and I just can’t engage her on a personal level without getting blowback. I have to remain aloof. So far, that has been working for me.
As for the commenters who questioned why I want her in my daughters’ lives – I only want her in their lives in a limited way. She has never been a source of childcare for me and never will be. I just want them to know their family. Also, she has only ever expressed a sort of warmth towards them (why shouldn’t she? They are no source of work or difficulty or judgment for her) and, if that ever changed, I would pull the plug in a second. My kids’ well-being is always my priority.
Thanks to the commenters who thought my husband should be a little more supportive. You all were right, but he didn’t get it yet. Since I wrote in he has slowly come to see how things truly are and is more compassionate and lets me vent if I need to and it just feels great for him to understand. I know it was hard for him to fully comprehend because he comes from a wonderful, supportive, close family where there is never drama of this caliber, which is great!
Thank you for your update and best of luck for a happy future.
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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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Taylor October 21, 2013, 3:50 pm
Awesome update LW! You sound healthy and like you are making the very best of a tough situation, good for you!
bethany October 21, 2013, 4:16 pm
This letter/update makes me sad. I’m glad things are looking up, though!
SasLinna October 21, 2013, 6:13 pm
That’s a tough situation to be in, props to you for handling it so well.
nothingcankill October 22, 2013, 2:53 am
I remember reading the original post and sorrowfully commiserating. My mother was abusive and negligent. I haven’t spoken to her since Feb and honestly it feels good. I do dream about her a lot now which can be eerie and leave me with guilt but I don’t regret my decision. Talking to her was very procedural; it was just this formality I had to do. But I never relied on her for emotional support. I feel more free now. I talk to my older brother frequently so it’s not like I’m excommunicated from the rest of my family. I don’t imagine all always be estranged from my mother but for now it’s just what I need.
kalipso October 22, 2013, 9:13 pm
I haven’t spoken more than 10 words to my mother in almost 9 years. I’m convinced she has NPD. She will always blame someone else for her problems, and never accept that she’s her own worst enemy.
Emily October 26, 2013, 9:34 am
What a great update! I realized this summer that my mother has severe Narcissistic Personality Disorder this summer. In a sense I felt like I lost my whole family. My mother has my siblings and father convinced that I hate her and my sister when nothing could be farther from the truth. The holidays are the toughest time of year for me. Even though I will swear up and down that I love spending holidays doing exactly what I would like to do, it’s still tough that I cannot choose to spend a holidays in peace with my family. The Al-Anon program has been extremely helpful in healing me from the abuse I experienced in my family, taught me about boundaries, emotional intimacy, and the importance of taking care of myself. I think there should be support groups for people who survived narcissistic parents.
Jenn C. December 16, 2013, 7:44 pm
That revelatory moment when you realize that the problem has a name and symptoms and that you’re not alone in this damaged relationship that is beyond your control. Isn’t it truly empowering!?
That said, I strongly encourage you to seek the advice of a family therapist who is familiar with Cluster B personality disorders. It’s likely that you will need positive outside guidance in being a parent, as the role model you had was broken, and you may find yourself unwittingly (& unwillingly) repeating some of your mother’s behaviors. NPD individuals are made, not born, which is really the saddest part of the whole story.