Relationship with my Mother

Parent Q&A

  • How to Enforce Boundaries With Mom?

    (7 replies)

    I would appreciate some advice about dealing with my Mom, who is in her 70s. When I was growing up with three siblings, my mother terrorized us with her unpredictable rages. She once hacked off all of my sister's hair at the breakfast table while screaming at her because she had seen my sister flirting with a boy. There were a lot of other awful incidents. I moved out at 18. My parents divorced when I was 37 and my mother seemed to really change for the better. She was a lot happier, made friends, began to hike and travel. When I had a child at 40 I decided to try to create a better relationship with my Mom and began to spend more time with her. Long story short, we had a falling out because I overheard her gossiping about me to my aunt and saying unpleasant things about me and because she began screaming at me when I asked her to contribute (about 1/3) towards her costs for a trip we took together. She is relatively well off and travels frequently.

    I am fine with our estrangement. Unfortunately, it is causing family drama as my older sister (yes, the one whose hair was hacked off) can't accept that I don't want a close relationship with our mother. Also, my mother sends me flaming texts periodically and I just received a post card from her denouncing me for "hating" her when she "didn't do anything" to me. I don't hate her, I just don't want to spend time with her. Any advice would be appreciated. I would like the drama to end but I don't want to give in and start inviting Mom over for holidays again.

    Regarding your mom's texts and cards, just wait it out.  As for your sister, just keep repeating the same mantra "I don't want her in my life," "I can't handle the drama," or whatever it is. Pick one short, simple explanation and just repeat it, without regard to what your sister's argument is. "But she's your mother!""I don't want her in my life."  "You'll never forgive yourself if she dies and you didn't have a chance to reconcile." "I don't want her in my life."  Etc.  

    I agree with the previous poster about just ignoring/waiting out your mom. (and agree she sounds like a real piece of work) However, the relationship with your sister is the one you need to perhaps put more effort into preserving. I suggest you two have a sitdown (or scheduled phone call if she's not local), where you take it from the top one more time about why you don't want your mom in your life, but discuss how you two will remain in each other's lives despite the mom estrangement. Keep in mind she might be under a lot of pressure from your mom to take sides or heal the breach. She also may be worried you plan to stick her with the whole burden of eldercare when your mom can no longer take care of herself. (Do you? It's time to think this through.) You and she will be living a lot longer than your mom; no matter how much drama your mom tries to create, don't put your sister in the middle of it since that's an ugly place to be.

    Good for you for having given it a second shot. That said, sounds to me like your mom is toxic. Mine was as well. I didn't hate her, but decided I would be happier (and by proxy, so would my children) without her. She passed away this year. My siblings had stayed in touch with her, but I kept her out of my life for the last 25 years, and have no regrets. YMMV, and perhaps I'm projecting, but it sounds like you know what you need to do. Your and your sister each have the right to define your own relationships.

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Estranged from my mother but my brother's family isn't - how to explain to my son?

Oct 2015

Okay. I was emotionally and physically abused by my Mother. During my Adult years we became close and I shared my life with her. Though it was really my own desire to have a Mom, that made it happen. She was still controlling and we had some major blow ups whenever -surprise- I stood up to her. The only times I ever stood up to her was when I thought she was saying something inappropriate in the presence of my son. Obviously, he was too young to hear this, but the first time I held my son (in an ICU unit) my Mother said to me, about my (adopted embryo) son: I wonder what his Mother looks like?! Hmmm... well this became a bit of a theme for her. A couple times later on as my son grew older she made a few more subtle comments in front him about his heritage, etc. I told her to please not make such comments around him. She blew up, and accused me of being controlling! Oh well ... we, (meaning I) moved on and tried harder to make everything hunky dory as by now my son is besotted and Loves his Nana. She was very sweet and loving towards him in return, for s few years. So far so good. Until two years ago, when I stood up to her again- nicely but firmly about something to do with my son and That was That for her!!! She no longer wants to ''deal'' with me anymore so the story goes! My child is 6 now and still asks for her, misses her and is hurt by her complete disappearance from his life. Meanwhile, my mother continues to treat my neice as usual; she buys/sends her cards and presents on special occasions, yet no longer sends anything to my child. I cannot for the life of me imagine shopping for one grandchild and not the other:( My siblings have completely ignored, dismissed what she's done, is doing. Oh, ''he'll be okay'' they say. Last week my brother sent me a message to say he's coming to the Bay Area for The Holidays. He told me he would love to see us; he also mentioned that he and his child will be visiting my Mother. My concern is, if my child hears that his (disappearing from his life) Nana is still very close with the cousin, then he will truly feel that he has done something wrong to lose his Nana in his life. I don't want my son to not see his Uncle and neice, but then should they mention a visit to or gifts from Nana... He would be devastated. He has cried a lot about her absence and his loss; I don't want to put salt on his wounds. How should I handle this?? I'd truly appreciate suggestions. Anon


Your story so clearly resonates with my experience of my parents that I have to, first off, tell you that you are not alone. There are HORRIBLE grandparents our there, and your mother is one of them. You did a wonderful thing for you son by advocating for him and protecting him. Of course, there are always two sides to a story, but I don't believe that anybody with true love for a child will just up and leave them, abandon their place in their grandson's life. It's narcissistic, it's lazy, and it's cruel.

Regarding your family and the immediate problem, I would ask your brother to visit your mom after he visits you, so that your son doesn't end up hearing about his grandmother. As for how you talk to your son about this, I think you should take all off the responsibility for the rift. Tell him you had an argument with his grandmother and that his grandmother is unable to ''talk things out'' with you. Tell him this is in no way his fault or problem. Listen to him when he suggests wildly sweet ways to reconnect with your mother and repeat, repeat, repeat that she isn't safe, that you wish she was and that you can feel his longing and sadness. ''She's not safe and it's my job to keep you safe,'' are words I repeat again and again.

Lastly, make your friends your family, or your distant family your family. Our weekends are filled with ''family'' activities even though we have nothing to do with my abusive parents. Prioritize close relationships over weekend activities, allow your son to form strong bonds with his friends and do your best to nurture his sense of belonging in a tribe in this world. There are lots of ways to make a family, but you will love him forever and you will never, ever be absent from his life. Good luck, and good work for growing away from your mother's style of manipulative and conditional child rearing. Isn't it a miracle that we survive these people? M


I'm so sorry to read what you are going through. I am also going through something similar. We adopted our son from foster care when he was three. My dad and stepmother have never treated him as a grandson, instead they treat him like my charity project. The bio granddaughter and her two half-siblings (who are no longer related to us as my brother is now divorced) walk on water. My stepmother is a horrible person and she is mean to a three year old in order to hurt me. My father is also dying of cancer.

When I go see my dad, I see him by myself. He doesn't deserve to have this wonderful child as a grandson. And my son certainly never needs to know that he's a second class citizen in their eyes (certainly not in mine). Because my dad is dying, this is probably easier for me than it is for you. But I've basically let my son forget that these relatives exist. If he asks (and he hasn't in more than a year) I just tell him that my dad is very sick and it's hard for him to have visitors. I've told my brother about my position on this and he supports me. It's really embarrassing for him that his ex-stepkids are treated better than my son.

If I were you, I would have an honest talk with your brother soon. Tell him what your mother does and the fact that you want to protect your son from any further abuse (this is abuse btw, no matter what fiction your siblings tell themselves). Tell him that you want them to visit but that your mother's name may not be mentioned in front of him. If they won't agree to help protect your son, don't see them. Your mother is a nightmare and you are absolutely correct in protecting your son from her.

My son did ask about my dad a few times. The most heartbreaking was when he saw a picture of my dad and said ''why doesn't this guy ever come visit me?'' All that I can do is tell him that my dad is very sick. I think that your mom is very sick too (mental illness counts) and it would be okay to tell your child the same thing. I'm crying right now


Your mother is cruel. You and your son are better off without her. She chose to have a relationship with your son, and then decided to pick up and leave abruptly with no explanation to him whatsoever. It almost seems calculating - she knew your son loved (loves) her greatly, so she's using that as leverage. Personally I think the way you handle it is to just be honest with your son about the situation. Tell him you and your mother had a big disagreement and that your mother chose to leave instead of find a compromise. ..... I have the flip problem. I have children and chose to leave my mother. But my kids never ask about her. She never cultivated a relationship with them (unlike my MIL did). My oldest is now 7. Contact me if you like they the moderator. Anon


I have a long answer and a short answer.My short answer is, how does it feel to you when your mother switches her allegiance so cavalierly? Pretty crappy? Make you wonder what about yourself is not lovable? (Okay, you're older now, and you seem to have come around to the correct interpretation that the problem lies with her not with you...but how did you explain it to yourself when you were little?) And, so, do you want your child to experience those same feelings? Lie awake wondering ''what is wrong with me that grammy doesn't like me?''

This woman has shown her cards. She has shown you what she is capable of. I suspect she has a personality disorder along the Narcissistic/Borderline dimension. You need to keep your child as far away from her as possible, and explain it to your precious son, whom your job is to protect and love, as ''This woman seems nice and fun sometimes on the surface, but inside, something in her is broken, and we cannot be around her just as we would not go running around with shards of glass in our hands.''

The long answer is contained in what I believe is a hugely mind-blowing book, Dr. Laura Schlessinger's Bad Childhood, Good Life. Page 140-41 especially. It's hard to cut people out of our lives who have a psychiatric disorder because it doesn't feel compassionate, but there is compassion for yourself also...and I really feel that for your son, if you don't protect him from that damage, you are actually negligently allowing her to harm him. Sorry to be blunt, but it's how I see it. Let your brother and his child talk about her all they want. You sit down with your son now and do the PR work about what the real situation is, and give him this framework to understand what's really going on. (DON'T just hold your breath and hope your brother and his child omit the topic.) As hard as it is to do, explaining this to him now will help him for years to come -- to know how to tease out the truth from what we really so much want to believe in our hearts -- and may keep him from getting hurt down the road by other people. It will certainly help him not get hurt by her--and I think you know she is capable of hurting him.

What she said to you after your precious child was born is unconscionable. I can't imagine how much that hurt. What if, in a moment alone with your son, she said something equally hurtful into his little ear, about that particular subject or something else that she knew would really twist him up inside? (How he's not a great soccer player, isn't as bright as so-n-so, you name it.) Wouldn't this hurt him more than trying your best to explain a really hard and ugly situation to him? Sending you a hug


I'm the long poster from the previous message. I just re-read your message and I wanted to add one thing. (Believe me when I say I've had to go through a very similar situation, and it was incredibly difficult...) I think it's your choice whether you let your mother back into your life, knowing full well what she is. It's really not your choice to let her into your son's, though.

The way I described it to my children was, ''Look, this was really Mommy's mistake. I thought it would be nice for you to know _____, and so I made efforts to get us back together. But I've learned that ____ is really a broken person, like sharp glass is sticking out all over her, and if you or I are around her, we are going to get cut up and bleed. I am sorry I didn't realize this from the very beginning and never bring her into your life in the first place, but Mommies learn things to and are always growing. I want you to be a person who protects yourself in life. _____ is like this and so are some other people. When you see them and hang around with them, and find out that they have this sharp, broken quality to themselves, the thing to do is to remove yourself from their lives, to be compassionate to yourself.''

I really said it like that in so many words. of COURSE, my first hope would've been that my relative would've just been different this time. That didn't happen. But I came to see it as a teaching opportunity. How I wish someone had taken me aside and given me this framework to fit MY life into. Years of pain avoided...!!! So....as far as your brother and your niece, YOU have already done the right thing in not going back to your mother and making nice after she decided ''she couldn't deal with you.'' She is out of your son's life. This is a blessing. The next blessing is you get to show him a healthy way to view the world. If your brother and niece mention grandma to him, take him aside and remind him, but I would tell him SOON and I would tell him OFTEN the truth of this damaged, damaging person. He's not too young to understand. another hug


You made a mistake. You fostered a relationship between your son and your abusive mother. Now she has cut off contact and your son is sad. It is time to apologize to your son. Tell him you are sorry that they became friends and that you should have seen this coming. Tell him that the relationship is over and it is time to move on. Other people have relationships with your mother, but that has nothing to do with you or your son. Make the break complete and vow to never see her again. It will just cause more pain. Anon


I'm sorry that you aren't getting more support from your siblings / extended family. I agree with the fundamental situation that your son needs to see you receive respect / be respected, in order to know how to function in the world. Kids learn their boundaries from their parents. Would it be possible to only see your brother / niece before they visit Nana, and to ask your brother not to tell your niece that they will be visiting her? Then it wouldn't slip out. Agree that this puts you in a pickle. A couple more years and he might be able to understand. anon


You are right to be concerned that your son may internalize this and think that it's about him. Kids see the world that way. So, it's up to you to make sure he knows that HE is not the problem. Try telling him the truth (in an age appropriate way): your mother was not nice to you when you were a kid, that she can still be not-nice, and that she's not being nice now, and it's *not his fault.* You are his mother, so whatever you say, he will believe is the capital-T truth. If you say something like ''it's not your fault, you didn't do anything wrong, Nana has some problems where she is sometimes nice but then sometimes not nice and this is a time when she's not being nice, but it's got *nothing* to do with *you*, you DON'T DESERVE this'' it will go a long way to helping him get that he didn't do something ''wrong.''

Do not worry about his image of his grandma. She is clearly still a toxic person, and protecting his feelings and sense of himself is much more important than protecting her image in his eyes. Just Be Honest


Dear Anon, What a painful dilemma for you, your son, and your family! Your mother seems to have found her own solution for managing disagreements and conflicts with you by disengaging completely and rejecting you AND your son, maybe the best she can manage. When faced with your assertiveness, her best response is ''one'' (my way) or ''zero'' (no way.) Given your history together, fraught with (unresolvable?) hurts and disappointments, this is not news. Setting aside for a moment how her attempt to reduce the conflict and criticism she feels coming from you has affected your son, how do you feel about the space you now have from her critical and hurtful comments? Is this easier and more peaceful for you to have stood your ground with her and no longer have to be so vigilant about what she might say? If she can only offer ''all or none'', is this acceptable at this stage of your life and relationship with her, and in your life with your son?

Perhaps finding peace within this position here and now can fortify you to move forward to now help your son understand something about your mother's emotional life that you may not have understood about her when you were 6 years old. It is so important for him to know that his Nana's abrupt disappearance is not about him, but the best way she can think of to manage her feelings, and without defending or explaining her decision. Six-year olds can be surprisingly worldly with amazing depth and capacity for empathy when their feelings are acknowledged (loss, anger, hurt, jealousy, disappointment), and they know they are not the cause -- but rather, like you -- the recipient of something Nana decided to do without talking it over with you and him. Talking and listening is always a good place to start even if there is no best solution at the moment. Another piece of helping your son with his feelings is the different socialization experience that growing up male or female adds. Here is a 20-20 interview with John Stossel and Wm. Pollack, ''The Secret Life of Boys'' that looks at this: http://www.thesociologicalcinema.com/videos/the-secret-life-of-boys

So back to your question about the Holidays and your brother and niece's visit.. Sometimes one child is singled out for ''special care'' by a parent, and the others are not so sensitive or have found a way to accept things as they are. This in no way should diminish your feelings about her insensitivity and the disrespect you feel. Keeping your family connected with siblings and cousins is a good thing to do. Perhaps at some point when you have laid the groundwork about feelings and when you are ready, your son may want to find a way to let Nana know how her decision is affecting him. This is real life and an opportunity for you to be a different kind of parent for him. And isn't this, after all, what it is all about? Debra


I have recently had to deal with mother issues related to psychological manipulation and my child. I see some similarities in the decisions I had to make and what you are trying to navigate right now.

This is a tough situation. What I have found is that the more I can share with my child, the better things feel overall. I'm not sure how old your son is or what level of sharing you are comfortable with, but as soon as possible I would advise letting him in on some information about your mother so that he learns sooner rather than later that he's not responsible for her behavior. I began explaining to my child that my mother had some issues from her childhood, and that she didn't feel good about herself, so she did not learn how to interact with people in a respectful, loving way. I was always very careful not to say nasty things about my mother, but my goal was basically to let my child know in appropriate language that my mother was a head case and that my child was in NO WAY responsible for the way my mother was treating her. The main message to my child was that she is important and loved and that she has a right to be treated respectfully.

You can't control your mother's behavior, but you can control yours. If you do your best to explain to your son that you love him and that your mother has some issues that are causing her to choose not to be in your lives, but that those issues have everything to do with her and nothing to do with him, my belief is that he'll come to understand that over time. He'll remember that you were always honest with him, and that you did your best to protect him from abuse from your mother.

Hang in there. Meredith


I'm sorry I don't have specific advice about what to do to protect your child from knowing his cousin is still in while he's out - perhaps others will. I just want to chime in as a 50-year-old whose mother was as toxic as they get. Unfortunately it can take decades to truly truly let in the insidious effects of being the child of this kind of mother. I consider myself flexible and aware and I have been to therapy at a couple of points in the past when I needed it. I am still now becoming aware of the connection between my mother's personality disorder and my scarcity of confidence doing new things. (As I write this, I have a text-only relationship with her and thank god she's out of state. She still managed to let my daughter know she is choosing to travel to see another cousin for Thanksgiving rather than my daughter, who had asked to go see her.)

Your son's birth and your very normal desire for him to have a grandma, came at an early stage of a long, difficult learning curve. She is who she always was, she will not change, you have been affected deeply in layers, and you will most likely need help to separate from her fully. You are still in denial about who she truly is, maybe deep down still wanting her to have been/to be the mother you needed. This is why you are shocked, hurt, and surprised. Coming out of denial is hard, but now you are your son's protector. She has demonstrated who she is (again) in her behavior toward him. Her behavior is cruel, irrational, narcissistic and extreme. He is not any safer in relationship with her than you were. In the long run he is much better off without her.

You will have to navigating your son's healing from this and develop boundaries and scripts around family contact, etc. I believe a good therapist can help you with this. I wish you the best in protecting your son and yourself, and living a lighter life. It can be done. Very best of luck. - been there


Exhausted by my martyr mom's constant complaining about work

Oct 2013

My mom had a very bad childhood (abusive dad, and then abusive step-dad), but has had a sunny life and generally happy disposition. She's loved every job she's ever had. At over 60, she's still an elementary school teacher who loves her students and has remarkable energy and enthusiasm. She's well loved by almost everyone who has ever met her.

All that said, conversations with her have become soooo hard. She's always had a touch of this, but in the last five years, basically all conversations end up being about all the ways people around her have wronged her. I should first say that I believe she actually IS being wronged. Her claims are really legitimate. The principals really have been unreasonable and unprofessional, her colleagues have been cliquish and exclusionary, and she has had some nightmarish parents of students who have said awful, abusive things to her.

That said, she hasn't done anything about her situation. She was forced to move schools, but even though she doesn't like her new school or principal, she didn't put in for a voluntary transfer. She doesn't confront people or stand up for herself. She does things like stays extra late or gives someone something that is a real sacrifice for her (without telling them about the inconvenience) and then tells me how ungrateful the people are. In other words, she is a total martyr. I think it makes her feel like she's a good person.

But as her daughter, it's exhausting. I want to be supportive and a good listener. I want to give her good advice (I'm a teacher, too, so I've had a lot of experience with some of these things) that will improve her work and life. My dad won't talk to her about work anymore because he says it's frustrating and boring, and that really hurt her. So I don't want to be that person, too. It's not this huge burden and I don't feel like I'm not taking care of myself by listening to her, but it makes for (my dad is totally right) frustrating and boring conversations. I would make totally different choices than she is (I'm tough, and wouldn't put up with all that crap). It's also hard because I'm giving her sound, experienced advice that she never follows (I've only been teaching for about three years fewer than she has been; she came to teaching later in life). I have a lot more sympathy for the ''man'' way of handling women's complaints now (''but Mom, I already told you three ways you could solve this problem and you haven't done any of them''). I try to steer the conversation into happier waters, but we always end up back in the sharks. My mom and I are really close and I want to do right by her.

Advice?

- Recipient of the list of injustices


I identify with a lot of what you related, and my suggestion is to let go. I know it's hard - very hard - to watch your mother suffer after she's given so much as a teacher. It's also unpleasant having a martyr for a mother, something I also understand. However, you cannot change her. Yes, you're also a teacher and I'm sure your advice is good but she's a lot older than you and likely a lot more tired (even if it's not always apparent). When confronted with mistreatment, some people have the energy to fight and some don't. We must accept this. Offer her love and compassion, and then set boundaries.

For me, it got to the point where I would become so upset at hearing of the mistreatment my mother received that I would simply tell her I couldn't listen to more. You describe it as exhausting for you, as her daughter. Of course it is! Listen as much as you can. When you reach your threshold, when it's too much for you to handle, communicate that to her in a loving way. Tell her you're sorry this is happening to her, then end the conversation (without offering advice). Her situation is out of your control. Stop expecting her to behave as you want her to. Be compassionate, but take care of yourself.

My love and protectiveness of my mom also made it too painful for me to listen without urging her to take action. For her, being on the receiving end of the mistreatment drained and exhausted and depressed her so that she had absolutely no energy to fight for herself in the way I wanted her to. Other older teachers had received similar harassment at her school; often this happens when either the older teacher is costing the district more money or a younger principal wants younger teachers who will be yes-men for them. Regardless, it's legal and a terrible thing to suffer. My mother ended up not finishing the year; she took medical leave (due to the stress of the harassment) and retired early; she just couldn't take it. She saw a therapist who also provided documentation for the debilitating quality of the stress her job caused. Throughout she was in frequent contact with her district's Teacher Union rep (who also helped her find the therapist). Where is your mom's union representative? Maybe quitting isn't a choice for your mother, or perhaps she doesn't want to. Maybe she can tolerate the mistreatment better than it appears and she just needs to vent. Whatever her situation, it is her situation. You can listen less without telling her that her stories of personal pain are ''boring'' or hurting her feelings as you describe your father did. If every time your mom wants to share you listen for a few minutes (you set the limit), then tell her you're so very sorry this is happening to her, and you love her so much that it pains you too much to listen any more (then restate the boundary if necessary)... She will feel supported.

I wish the best to you both! Loving Daughter


I think your mother's difficulties are real -- many school districts (including some local ones) are finding ways to get long-term teachers to resign and/or firing them. Most of these teachers are still quite good in the classroom, and have a lot of support from students and parents. There's a fairly well-known case of this happening with a local teacher. Some of the campaign against experienced teachers is financial -- i.e. you greatly reduce costs by hiring teachers on the bottom of the salary scale; some of this is discrimination against older women; and some is because principals and ''reformers'' are afraid of experienced teachers being an alternative center of power. A previous poster suggested speaking to the union, which depending on the district could work, but some unions in an effort to curry favor with management, have joined in the push against older teachers. That said, it is ok to tell your mother that you can't be her primary sounding board, and that while you care deeply about her situation she needs to find other people, perhaps a therapist to talk to, perhaps other teachers who are in the same situation. anon


My Mom is a psychologist and has always been interested in the brain and the aging process. I recall her telling me that brain chemistry changes as people age, and some people benefit from an anti-depressant as they get older. I recall my Dad telling me once that he was taking an anti-depressant because his wife was a wonderful woman and he didn't like 'biting her head off'. A year or so later he ended up in the hospital seriously ill and after a week of not having his anti-depressant, he was biting everyone's head off--mine, my step-mom's, the nurses! In the crisis of his illness, everyone had forgotten about his anti-depressant. After a few days back on his medication, he was relaxed, happy and joking around with everyone. I wonder if an anti-depressant would improve her outlook on her situation. Good luck!


My mother is a bigot

Aug 2013

I was talking with my mother soon after the Zimmerman trial closed. Long story short, I discovered, much to my complete horror and surprise, that my mother is a bigot (no details necessary, just trust me it was quite clear). I am sorry to admit that we ended up in a screaming fight such as one might have as a teenager...and probably haven't had a fight like that since I was in high school. We haven't spoken since.

My mom and I have always had our differences, and she makes me crazy much of the time. However, she is a good grandma to my kids and she lives fairly nearby, and my kids are starting to ask when they can see her. She would never discuss her political views with them, so I'm not worried about that.

I don't want to see her at all...but not *only* because she is a crazy bigot, but because of the way the fight went. She treated me like crap, stormed out of the room while I was talking, and would never ever dream of apologizing for either her bigotry (she is a well-intentioned, White, liberal ignorant bigot, the ''I have lots of Black friends'' kind: the worst kind, if you ask me) nor for the screaming in my face: all triggers from my upbringing. Instead, I feel that she is waiting for some sort of apology from *me* for screaming at her, and that is just something that I don't want to give. Yes, I am thinking of getting a little ''refresher'' therapy (I guess I hadn't completely finished my work around her that I did many years ago), but honestly, I just don't want to forgive her for her treatment of me nor for her racism and ignorance.

I don't know what to do. Being with her without addressing it feels inauthentic (although throughout my life she simply behaves as if unpleasant things have not happened), and I don't feel great about myself that I don't want to apologize to her, as she has never apologized to me. For anything, ever. (Trust me on this, too.) How do I spend time with her (and she is still married to my father, whom I adore but is passive and therefore useless in this situation) while staying true to myself? anon


oh, mama, I am sorry. my mom is a total bigot, and it makes me ill. but she is a terrible person (selfish, alcoholic, narcissistic, just vile). but I have to live far away from her, and have very set boundaries. the thing is, she isn't going to change. I view her as a sick person- with a mental illness. so saying ''i'm sorry'' etc. is just not expected. I just try to get by and keep my self respect, and model how I think one should treat an elder for my kids. it hurts. I still cry. I want her to be maternal, and think ''oh she has changed!'' but am always sadly disappointed by the next put down, the next mean thing she does, the next manipulation or emotional abuse. please build your relationship with your dad outside of your mother's vile grasp. my dad died suddenly almost 1 year ago today and I am so angry at my mom for souring my relationship with my daddy. it isn't worth it for your pride. your daddy will be gone someday, so love him and appreciate the unconditional love while you can from him. And then firm boundaries after that. Don't say I am sorry. if you are not. But do say I love you. if you do love her. sad


My mother is a bigot, too. I grew up in a very red state where the majority of the people I knew were bigots, so I have vast experience in the realm of severe political and ideological differences with the people I otherwise love. I have the luxury of being a white person, so their bigotry does not affect me as an individual, but it can make me crazy. If I let it. And that's the key point. There are a couple of ways to keep other peoples' opinions from making you scream. First, don't talk about this kind of thing with them if it can't be done in respectful ways. They are not going to change because of a fight with you. If it is possible to have a reasoned discussion, in which you explain why you think they are wrong, do it in reasoned tones, being careful not to be smug or condescending at any level. I have done this with racism and capital punishment and homophobia and religious fundamentalism and crazy patriotism and.... you name it. On a number of occasions.

On a few occasions, a conversation ending with ''I think my way and you think yours'' has been possible. The positive side of this is that they will at least have some notion of why you think the way you do, and vice versa. But don't even try it if the person is not going to listen, or if they use abusive language about other people. I don't listen to abusive language, period. When an abusive word or term comes up, the discussion is over.

The second thing is: don't scream. Don't get emotionally involved and raise your voice. As soon as that happens, the discussion is over. Disengage. Walk away. I think that you recognize that a part of the problem here was your behavior. I'm sorry, but you don't need to engage in a shouting match with anyone. As you indicated in your post, when you went there, you were acting out as a teenager again, and it was poisonous for you. You don't need to apologize, precisely. You don't have to say, ''I am sorry for my behavior.'' But you can say, ''I am sorry that we spoke to each other in the way that we did.'' But I would also say to your mother in reasoned tones that you have a deep disagreement with her on issues regarding race, and you would appreciate it if you could leave these issues aside in the future, since it distresses you to hear her views. (Don't cycle back into the discussion -- just say that you are not going to discuss it with her.) And say that you are eager for your kids to continue a good relationship with her, asking her to keep in mind that if you hear her say anything objectionable to your kids, you will counter her on the spot. She may object to your censorship, but it is a condition of continuing a relationship with her grandkids. My mother is very much aware that I will counter her if she offers an objectionable remark in front of my son, so she avoids that embarrassment. And I have instructed him to refrain from making jokes about Republicans while visiting. It's only fair! daughter of a red state


Welcome to my world. My mom comes to dinner at my house every Sunday where she talks non-stop throughout dinner expressing her ancient, biased, sometimes extremely offensive, views. I am usually not very good at dealing with her, so I'm probably not the right person to be giving advice about this. But for what it's worth, here is what I do: 1) I tell her that we do not discuss politics or religion at the table. Repeat as often as necessary. Cut her off when she starts in on it again. Don't engage. 2) On a few occasions she has crossed the line and used certain words that aren't even allowed on radio or TV. I have told her that we don't use those words in our house and if she can't comply, she cannot come to the house. This works, although I had to repeat it three times. 3) I leave the room hopefully before I explode. 4) I have an awesome husband who has a high threshold for pain and who is very nice to her, stays at the table listening to her, armed with a laptop to research and refute her ''theories''. She enjoys this and he doesn't seem to mind.

I know there are some people who just write off their difficult parents and stop seeing them but I worry that I need to set a good example for my kids. What if I become a difficult parent myself? I want them to at least *try* to be nice to me. local mom


Your situation is really tough. I would suggest separating the two issues in your mind: the screaming fight vs. your mom's racist revelations. I would set a good example of how you want to be treated by apologizing to her for losing your temper to the point of screaming. And if you became unnecessarily derisive about her character or took potshots that were unfair, apologize for that. It may be hard, but don't require an apology in return -- but certainly don't let yourself get pushed into apologizing for objecting to her racism if she tries to take it there. Just say you hope to foster loving and effective communication with her, and so you're just apologizing for your participation in the screaming match, which certainly must have felt very bad for both of you. Prepare yourself ahead of time for a disappointing response, but do it anyway. Resume your relationship.

I've discovered, in years of processing about negative arguing patterns among my family members, that one thing that can be healing is to let go of the impulse to persist until you change the other person's opinion or response within one argument/discussion. Be willing to let it go, to try to shift the conversation without scoring a victory, to say you think you should drop the argument just for now; you may discover later that once your loved one has time alone to feel and reflect over time, they may shift. It can be hard, especially with a family member, to stay competent communication-wise once a debate gets emotional, much less be open to changing one's stance. But if you keep the argument from going over the rails, from becoming derisive, then later, you may discover that you have been heard more than you expected. So let the argument about her bigotry go for now.

After some time has passed, maybe you'll want to reopen the conversation about race. Maybe you won't. She's your mom. Few adults are fully themselves, fully ''authentic'' all the time around their moms. She knows your opinion. Unless she is actively hurting someone and you have the power to stop it, I don't think you are a bad person for continuing a relationship with her.

I would reflect over time on how she might inadvertently give your kids some negative messages about black people, because we are your neighbors, and you might have to counteract those messages with your kids. I would also start planning what you might say if, in the future, she does or says something subtly or overtly racist in front of the kids, other family members or anyone else when you're with her.

Good luck! Hillary


My late MIL was really, really bigoted. She was mostly OK with black and gay people, but she was really insufferable about Latinos. I just assumed that we were stuck with her the way she was, and that she was too set in her ways to be educable.

Since she did not try to poison our impressionable young children with her views, I did my best to ignore her or leave the room when she got going on offensive rants. As our children got older, I would discuss some of the things Grandma said with them privately, and point out why I felt that her views were racist and unacceptable. The kids understood.

If I were in your position, I would allow the kids (depending on their ages) to call her and make social plans, but you could tell her that certain subjects will have to be off limits. You have the power to deny her access to her grandchildren, so it would behoove her to suck up to you. Paddy Mama


Wow, what a bad situation. I really feel for you. Would you and your mother consider going to therapy together? I did this with my mom a year or so ago (over completely different, but also historical, issues) and was amazed at how helpful it was. She was genuinely clueless about how awful she had made me feel for years. Doesn't sound like that's exactly the case with your mom, but I doubt she wants to be estranged from you and your family, so maybe she would try it. My mom and I will never be warm and fuzzy, but we have a much better relationship now - I am amazed. Contact me directly if you'd like a therapist recommendation (I think ours was key to helping us get through this). If she will not agree to therapy together, I do think you need to let her continue having a relationship with your kids, but personally I would stay away from her - she sounds pretty toxic and narcissistic. Star


The Zimmerman/Martin case brought up an enormous amount of emotional hostility between people. Many people on both sides of the table could be accused of bigotry around this case. Most people seem to take on a highly exaggerated point of view, no matter what side of the issue they stand on. Each opinion seems to rest on some morally higher ground.

I myself have had some very difficult discussions surrounding the case, as it seems no matter which ''side'' you take, if the other person disagrees with you, it seems to turn into a major explosion. In all cases, one side cannot persuade the other side to make an about-face. As for me, I quit discussing the case long ago because very few people are rational about it nor do very many people seem to be able to discuss it without getting heated about it.

Seems to me you both owe each other an apology; you were both screaming at each other, after all, and both behaving irrationally. If you really feel she's a bigot and that's the crux of your problem, then you have to decide if you want to have a relationship with someone who has a differing viewpoint; and I say this because the Zimmerman case wasn't cut and dried and there were many compelling pieces. You aren't 'exactly' right, and neither is she. I'm certain of that.

That said, it sounds like you and your mother have some other issues to work on. It might help for you to seek some counseling to work on your feelings about her and target some of the areas that you have had to deal with about her. Anony


First, I don't think it's a good idea to use a media-ridden trial as a basis for establishing if your mother is bigot or not. If I were you, I'd completely let her opinion of the Zimmerman case go. Let it go, because really, were you there? Was she there? No and no. Get over your difference of opinion about an event that neither of you witnessed.

Your situation is so minor compared to mine. My brother is a white supremacist. It's beyond sickening, it's embarrassing, and it's the furthest possible viewpoint than anything I believe. It hurts me that my own flesh and blood could hold such extreme and hateful views. But guess what, as wrong as they are, they are his and he has a right to believe what he chooses. So, the question is really, can you have a relationship with someone who believes the opposite of you?

I choose to have a relationship with my brother for the sake of my family. I choose to look at all of his good characteristics and do my best to not let his personal beliefs affect me. For many years we just coexisted. Now, we get along somewhat better. He respects my home and leaves his viewpoints at the door. My child will grow up knowing that in our family we love everyone equally, but my child will also grow up knowing that not everyone feels the same way we do. And that despite this we are called to love everyone regardless, even our family members who are hateful.

I think it would be wrong of you to close a significant relationship because you feel your mom is a bigot. Your case isn't nearly as extreme as mine and our family makes it work. Plus, you were both emotional over a media case!

It would be sad for your children that they can't be with grandma because mommy can't understand grandma's opinions. Instead, teach your children how to love. This is a very good opportunity to show them what unconditional love means and that you will also love them if they have opinions that differ from mommies. -one who chooses love


You are calling your mother a bigot? And you screamed at her? Yes, you need to apologize to her, even if she provoked you are if she started screaming first. Doesn't matter. You behaved badly and you need to apologize. Secondly, you cannot control other people. You only get to decide about your own beliefs. Stop talking about hot topics with your mom. Talk about the weather. You really need to become philosophical about her. It may feel inauthentic, but it really doesn't matter. She is family, and you have to just learn to get along with her. As they say, Stay Calm and Carry On. Anon


Ouch. My mother has the same ''MO'' as yours in that she has never, in her life, apologized for anything. Now she is over 80. Amazing to go so many years without ever making a mistake one would apologize for! And, no matter what transpires between us (luckily we both stay away from difficult subjects and infrequently cross each other, but it happens), I am always expected to apologize. Makes me crazy. And, she is also able to act like nothing happened. I think what you describe is generational. Women were brought up a certain way. Parents were right, kids were wrong. And, she may be ''evolved'' for her generation to care about racism and hope that she is not a racist, but not as evolved as ours (and we still have a long, long way to go), to see our own opinions and behaviors as racist. So, what should you do? You go along with her ''pretend nothing happened'' scenario. Wait until your blood stops boiling and invite her over for something innocuous. Let one mundane thing happen, and then ease back into your old routine. If she can go on without apologizing, maybe you can too. Meanwhile, go back to your therapist and think about how you get hooked into a dynamic that doesn't work for either of you (I am sure she is ashamed of her own behavior - that's part of why she avoids revisiting it, even to apologize). As for her being a bigot, she very well may be. But she won't un-learn her beliefs and behaviors by being yelled at or criticized. After all, she has been simmering in our societal stew of racism her whole life, whether she likes it or not. We all simmer in that stew, and it's very hard not to soak any of it up, even when we fight it consciously. She may not be able to un-learn this from you. Your judgement of her may be too harsh for her to work around, and she just may not be able to ''hear'' what you have to say. If you find a good book, you could send it to her home with a note of ''I found this book incredibly insightful'' . Maybe she will read it, maybe not, but I don't think you are the right teacher for her. Too loaded of a relationship, too loaded of a subject. So, my advice is to let the status quo re-establish itself, accept what is good about her, abandon the hope of being her teacher, and go about your business. I can do all of this, but what I don't get is a true, intimate, meaningful relationship with my mother. If we are going to meet half way, she has to cover some of the ground, and my mother has never had the self reflection or motivation to look at herself, be humble, apologize, grow. That's the way it is. She is still a great grandma, and I can enjoy many of her qualities, especially if I avoid the difficult subjects. Luckily I have a great husband and kids. I spend my energy making those relationships work, which is more in my power, and in the long run will deliver more lasting results. Good luck. Realistic Daughter


I have a fairly stubborn/opinionated mother so in theory I could relate. But I don't engage her or anyone else for that matter in discussions about wedge issues, identity politics, or when I detect a strong opinion.

Having strong opinions about something guarantees you will eventually run into someone with just as strong but opposite views. You will not change them, and they will not change you. That type of encounter will always make both sides more hardened in their views. As an example that's why climate scientists recommend not engaging into an argument with anyone who is ideologically opposed to the current consensus.

And just to be clear, noone owns the truth about this trial. You did not have to sit on that jury, you probably haven't talked to a lawyer or judge about the grounds on which a case could be decided, or what beyond reasonable doubt means, etc.

As far as who is bigoted and who is not I find most strong or absolute opinions on either side of any given issue to be anywhere from less than genuine to downright bigoted. YMMV.

I could say a lot more but it will all boil down to the fact that having rigid views (however ''correct'' you think they may be) is not a good way to converse with people, let alone change their views. In fact, you do a lot more damage to ''your cause''.

Finally this being a parenting forum you may want to keep in mind that much of what we do as adults is based on seeing how our parents behaved. As a parent you constantly model behaviors that your kids will replicate as adults. If you think your mother has strong views, or screams and acts immaturely, or expects an apology, you have a great opportunity to ''correct'' all that in your own family i.e., not have strong views, engage in civilized discourse and avoid taking disagreements as a personal affront to your dignity.

Rewriting that script is proving to be very difficult for most people I know, myself included. Perhaps it will be easier for you. S.


Don't worry, lots of people are -- it's beyond your control. My Jewish mother-in-law (I'm Asian) often make comments about the number of children some minorities have, how Gypsies steal, about Muslims, about gays, etc. I've tried to deal with it by saying, ''can you replace ''target group'' you are talking about with ''Jews'' and see how you feel.'' Sometimes it helps. I come from a Buddhist practice and try to remember that we are all layered in different kinds of ignorance. My family back home (especially older members) make similar comments sometimes about different groups there -- I think this is just human nature. Maybe if your kids are around her & hearing these things, you can just tell them to be aware of bias. Maybe they can try to avoid these biases, even if it makes life (and ourselves) so much more comfortable to use these shortcuts in thinking. philosophical


Our moms sound similar.. and I'm sorry, it's so difficult! You got great advice about how to deal with the differences in views. I'll address the more general issue of the relationship.

I, too, struggle about how to be true to myself in the presence of my overbearing mom. I've done a lot of therapy around it, including refreshers during major flare-ups. Therapy has been helpful in understanding the root causes, but she still makes me CRAZY when I'm around her! My mantra in dealing with her is ''I can't change her, so what do I want to happen here?''.

The answer is usually that I want to minimize the drama, try not to get into the heavy issues between us, keep our time together pleasant, allow her and my kids to have a nice relationship, and try to focus on the parts of her that I love and enjoy.

So, I swallow my outrage that she's never apologized and that she causes so much strife, and I try to get along. If that means apologizing (or flattering her, or calling every week, or visiting when I don't want to..), I try to do it. And while it's not fair, I find it works. My kids love her, we have an OK relationship, I feel like I'm doing the right thing.

Even though I feel like I have to squelch myself in certain ways around her, I also feel like this approach makes my life nicer and creates less anxiety for me. Good luck! anon


I think that my answer depends on how you see yourself in the world. I think one responsibility for me as a person of various levels of privilege who works around social justice issues is my responsibility to be a majority ally for others who are oppressed when possible. One of the most difficult tasks of a person interested in actively working in the world on social justice/fighting racism and other isms is to figure out how to move from the stage of righteous indignation over others' lack of ''getting it'' and into a place where we can actually engage in dialogue with others about the roots of unconscious bias, degrees of racism, and the damage to us all when we can't reflect on how we are in the world and where our thoughts come from and how they inform our thoughts and behavior both.

This is very hard especially within our families as we can, as you experienced, be easily vaulted back into old childhood roles and patterns. I know that my parents frequently say things that come from their unconscious biases about various groups of people and how they ''are''. I try to ask them questions like ''why do you feel that way?'' to force them to stop just regurgitating old scripts. Sometimes I turn it around on them and say something equally ridiculous about the personal identity factors they possess that others might have stereotypes about and then when they say ''that's ridiculous'' or ''what are you talking about'' I ask them to reflect on that what I said is just like what they said about someone else. Ex. My dad: ''Oh I bet that person in the news who was hiding all their money in their mattress was Asian. They don't believe in banks.'' Me: ''Oh, I think they just hate Jews because they all own the banks, right. Don't you own a bank dad?'' (my parents being obviously Jewish, oh and not owning a bank) After a while they have caught on and have actually considered what they say and think more since I have repeatedly called them out in small ways. In other larger conversations, I try to remain calm and educate them about systemic racism and oppression and historic trauma and poverty and ask them to think about how they fit into that. Maybe this is not possible with some people's families; I'd imagine it depends on how they act and react but I feel responsible to do my best to ask them to consider how they are in the world. They are old and I think I give them a headache a lot but that's tough. Silence is complicity and if I change one thing they say or one bit of negative energy they put into the world and increase their empathy for others one bit, then I've done something. Sometimes they are too frustrating, sometimes I don't do a good job but I try to stay aware that my choice to stay silent is exercising my unearned privilege of being on the upside of power in whatever matrix we are discussing and the price of privilege is responsibility to speak up.

we're all trying our best-good luck!


Repatching difficult relationship with my narcissistic mom

Jan 2013

For psychology people or those with experience with narcissistic people: I'm seeking advice about some structured activity or way to communicate with my mom.

I desperately wanted (and still do) her to be in the role of the mother instead of constantly needing me to take care of her, which is the nature of our relationship whenever we're together. I had a baby so got back in touch with her (after I stopped all contact for 6 mos) on the condition that I would communicate each time I felt she was hurting me.

Now that I'm back in contact with her it's the same thing: she's so self-centered and self-absorbed that I end up taking care of her and it's very draining. I'm the one with a newborn baby and I need the help! She does not see it and it doesn't sink in when I tell her. The whole problem is that she's never been able to see things from another point of view (I even have spoken with her parents about it and they said she's been like that since childhood).

I thought that if I had a structured way to voice my feelings about how our relationship is 'working for me' that I might feel better. The problem is that I've spent my whole childhood taking care of her and suppressing my own needs in order to do so, so it's not coming easily. It's just not working out that simply so I find myself still hurt in the relationship and angry and bitter (ie. not wanting to be in contact with her anymore).

I thought I could write down any incident that affected me and then we would have a structured time where I would talk about them and she would listen. But it seems too simple, I've done this in the past and she simply says, ''I'm sorry you feel that way''. I want it to SINK IN! I want her to think about how she acted in that situation and let her think (or come up with together) ways that she could have acted differently in order to consider me and break the destructive pattern of self-centeredness (it negatively affects many of her relationships).

I don't want a relationship with her that continues to be abusive and one-sided. I feel like I'm the daughter and I deserve to finally be in that role (ie she takes care of me instead of me only taking care of her).

Your advice would be appreciated of a way to structure this communication ie a technique from family therapy or any advice you have regarding this situation! still wants a mom


From my experience, I would warn you that probably nothing is going to change with your mother. My mom is very similar, and I have spent 1000s of dollars in therapy trying to get over the hurt. Try communication plans all you want, but narcissists are NEVER going to get it. When I was in my early 30s, I even did family therapy with my mom, and she actually got up and left in the middle of a session! I have had to let go of all my expectations (and that was so emotionally painful), and once in a while I am pleasantly surprised. It helps me is to talk with my sister (who totally gets it) and two other close friends with narcissistic moms. None of us received the help or emotional support we wanted from our parents, but we have been there for each other instead (e.g., family dinners together, help during emergencies, advice on diaper rash--all the kinds of things we wanted out of our mothers). After several decades, I can now see my mom for limited periods (I do want my son to have some sort of connection), but I often have to dose myself with chocolate or Ativan to get through the anxiety and disappointment I still feel around her. Having a child helped with the healing--I am able to mother someone in the way I wanted to be mothered myself. I have to watch out though, children of narcissists are more at risk of becoming narcsissists themselves, and I don't want to be that kind of a parent! Mothering myself


Sorry, this is going to be harsh, but it is the truth. You cannot control other people. You can only control yourself. Your mother has never taken care of you and she isn't going to start now. She has never heard you and she is not going to start now. The only person you can change is yourself. If you don't want to take care of her simply stop doing it. If you want to spend time with your mom you can, but she is not going to change. You have to accept her the way she is. Anon


Definitely definitely check out the book ''Will I ever be good enough'' http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/1439129436 It will bring great insight to your situation. Best of luck! anon


I'm so sorry,what a difficult situation you have with your mom. But I always try to remember that you can't change people. It sounds like you are desperately trying to change an outcome that you have been dealing with your whole life. Trying to find a better/new way to communicate with your Mom so she'll give you what you want. I think you have to stop trying and realize it's not going to change. It's not up to you. You are not the problem, she is. It's not like you have control over how she reacts/acts. It will just keep being so disappointing for you and you'll keep getting hurt.

You can only change your own attitude and your own feelings and try to deal with the situation that way. Set new boundaries and new perimeters for yourself so that you don't keep getting hurt and disappointed by your mother. anon


It appears you have spent most of your life trying to have your mother become the person you would like her to be. It is unlikely that is going to happen. You have tried many appropriate interventions, but she will not change. For you to be sad and regretful would make sense. I suggest you do what you can to take care of yourself. Call upon the time and energy you have used to focus on her and seek alternatives.


Dear Daughter of a Narcissistic mother-- this is a very sad, sad reality, but the fact is your mother will never car for you as a daughter, or care for anyone else but herself. Becoming a parent makes us realize how distorted our parent's reality (and our upbringing) has been.

We now have a child, and love that child and want to nurture them. And we realize that *we have never been nurtured properly (at least not from our mothers)*. Some days are better then others, but I still have these very sad moments where I just want my mother-- the one person in the world who is supposed to love us unconditionally-- doesn't even perceive me as a real person separate from her strange conception of me.

There is a great book called _Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers_. I urge you to get this book, and read it. It might be helpful to find a therapist to work through it with as well... but the book alone was very helpful to me. I have been mourning the fact that my mother is completely self-absorbed... but at least I no longer yearn or expect her to change.

I am sometimes envious of others who have supportive moms. My dad recently passed away, and I miss having a parent with whom I can just tell my struggles to and he will listen and give me a hug (although my mother went a long way in really harming my relationship with my dad, but I *knew* he loved me).

But it is much better then thinking ''this time will be different'' and then of course being disappointed. Firm boundaries and very limited contact have been bet for us. Especially as your child grows... exposing your child to this kind of twisted manipulation of a relationship should be carefully thought out. Don't think she won't harm her grandchild... she had no problem harming her *own* child. Daughter of a Narcissistic mother


I'm sorry that your mom sucks so much. I've had a similar relationship with my dad and agonized for most of my adult life over how to set useful boundaries/rules with him.

Here's what you need to realize: your mother is not going to change. Period. NOTHING you say or do will make HER change her behavior.

However, the thing you do have control over is your own behavior, how much you let her into your life, how you interact with her, etc. It's up to you to find a way to interact with her that doesn't allow her to hurt you. If you can't do this (and honestly, it's hard to do, because you really have to accept that she can't be who you have wanted and needed her to be your whole life) your best bet is to just limit your interactions with her as much as possible. anon


I feel for you and I can relate as well. I see a therapist to help me with this same issue and I am a therapist intern myself. I am not sure there is any technique that can help one get through to someone who is narcissistic. If those with narcissism could really understand how they impact those around them, they wouldn't be narcissistic.

I think the only thing to really do in this situation is to find other ways to get your needs met. It's taken years for me to make peace with my mom's limitations (and I'm still working on it). It's helped me to acknowledge what all my needs are (such as help with childcare, supportive and caring communication) and to get them met elsewhere. Also, to feel the pain and grief that comes with the loss of not having a mother who can be there for me. Another important step was taking care of myself in relation to my boundaries with my mom, ie not taking care of her or putting her needs first because now is the time to focus on self-care and caring for my child. It's no easy thing to be a mom myself, when I never experienced being mothered in a healthy way, but, with good support it is doable. Anon


I wish I could tell you what you'd obviously like to hear: that you can have the relationship you want with your mother, but I doubt very much that is true. A mutually loving relationship takes empathy and imagination, and narcissists don't possess much of either. Narcissists usually have at least one person who takes care of them, emotionally speaking, sometimes referred to as their source of ''narcissistic supply''; they're not real interested in people who can't feed them attention and admiration.

I could rant on and on, because one of the people who reared me was a narcissist, but there is a fair amount of good information out there in libraries and on the Web; I especially recommend:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/stop-walking-eggshells/201110/what-have-you-done-me-lately-entitlement-key-narcissistic-trait
http://www.halcyon.com/jmashmun/npd/
http://www.outofthefog.net/Disorders/NPD.html

If you can spare the time, therapy is what I believe you need the most. (Narcissists themselves are notoriously difficult to treat.) In fact, someone in the January 26 BPN recommendations e-letter did mention a therapist who's good with relatives of narcissists. You need an understanding ear and techniques for dealing with your mother and, equally important, for learning to parent yourself, because she's probably incapable of doing so.

Most of all, please remember that this sad situation is not your fault. Narcissists home in on kind, generous people and suck them dry. I hope you have a relative or an older friend who can give you some of the maternal attention we all sometimes need.

I'm sorry if my words seem harsh, but narcissists are not very nice people (although some are brilliant at faking a sort of Hallmark-style warmth). But it's crucial that you learn to see your mother and her disorder in a more realistic light, so she'll hurt you less and you'll have more undivided energy for yourself and your child and the rest of your life.

Very best of luck to you. The Narcissister's Sister


Once-wonderful relationship with my mom now kaput since I had kids

Nov 2010

My relationship with my mom used to be fantastic. She was my best friend throughout my childhood, teens, and early adulthood. I could talk to her about anything and we had a very natural and very easy relationship. Things changed dramatically after the birth of my older child. I suppose it was the old story of the mother giving unwanted ''advice'' and coming across as judgmental and bossy. Over the course of many months, this definitely began to chip away at our relationship. I should say, as background, that we live on separate coasts, so our face to face time is limited, although we talk weekly on the phone. At this point, my older child is almost four, so it's been four years and two children worth of consistently feeling judged about my parenting choices. My mother's style is very passive/aggressive and she likes to just 'slip in' her negative commentary at any opportunity. With her, nothing she says can ever really be taken at face value. Knowing her as well as I do, I am particularly attuned to her disparaging comments. Considering that she is averse to any true hands-on care of our children when we are all together (once per year or so), this makes the situation even more strained. You can imagine - full of advice/'helpful' suggestions and then unwilling to actually DO anything with the children.

More than anything else, I am greatly saddened by the deterioration of our relationship. Because her commentary is so toxic to my frame of mind, I have considered cutting off contact. However, the thought of doing so just kills me. Have any of the women out there been in this situation with their mother? Any advice would be welcome here.

Sad Daughter


I'm sorry, but something about your post didn't jibe with me. If you mainly talk by phone weekly, how can you go from a wonderful relationship to considering cutting her off for being toxic? You didn't say if you have addressed this head on with her--have you told her you feel judged and it bothers you?

I think now that you are a mom yourself maybe you need to take more responsibility on your relationship with your mom. If you don't want her to make comments on your parenting, don't tell her about those things that you think she'll be judgmental about. You can control the flow of information. Share with her the things she wants to hear and leave out the rest. If you only see her once a year, what's the point of conflict? Are you seeking to have all of your parenting choices to be validated? I'm sure that would be ideal, but it may not be possible and making the extreme choice of cutting off contact probably won't make you feel much better.

Unfortunately, the grandparents not being helpful scenario is familiar to me through my in-laws. I think many parents have found that to be true and you may be stuck with that reality. Try to accept that and don't put yourself in a position to expect it when you visit with her. I think if you make the effort to keep your relationship with your mom without hoping she will suddenly change and accept everything about you, you will be doing what is best for your kids. I'm sure you want them to have a relationship with their grandmother.

It's like what you do with your kids sometimes, right? It's not always perfectly fair or just, but you bring peace and harmony and reason to your home life. Elizabeth


Just a thought - What has come out in your mother now that you have kids seems deep-rooted and was probably something always there but under the threshold and not a problem... perhaps counseling would help you sort it out, but I can see why you'd want to limit contact. anon


I wonder if this book would help you: ''You're Wearing That? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation'' by Deborah Tannen. It helped the relationship between my mother and me. I think it would help you because most of your problems sound like they happen during your phone conversations. Find the book here: http://amzn.to/fgNQT0 Andi


Your description of your mom sounds painfully familiar. My mom lives about 1.5 hrs from me and I rarely see her. I often feel resentful and angry with her due to her underhanded remarks which she passes off as innocent comments. Like your mom, mine is pretty uninterested in spending much time with my kids. I've spent a lot of time over of the last several years trying to understand her behavior and now I realize I have to accept her as she is. I also make my best effort to react calmly and rationally by saying ''when you said....it made me feel that you were judging me'' etc. She actually responds positively to this. My dad recently was diagnosed with cancer and I feel less angry with my mom. I feel for her and I love her despite her faults. Life is short, don't cut off your mom. Try to make it work somehow. ASP


Personally, I'm appalled. In my book, you are overreacting in a big way. You mom was EXCELLENT for about 25 years, and now that she wants to give you advice, so you can have a excellent relationship with your child, you want to cut her off? Really? My first thought is ''listen to her'' because I think you are the one who has changed, not her. But, if you really can't stand her advice, it is your job to tell her so. At the beginning of the next conversations just tell her, ''I don't want to hear any parenting advice or judgment.'' Then, when she hear those ugly words say ''that! I don't wan to hear that!'' Do it several times if you have to. Then, the next time she calls, tell her the same thing, but that you will hang up if you her anything offensive. Then when you hear it say, ''There it is again. Good to talk to you. Bye!'' And hang up. Then she will have some idea of what the problem is and how to fix it. It is reprehensible to cut off contact with a friend or relative without letting them know what the problem is. Far worse than what your mother is doing. Please rethink this. anon


hello. i really feel for you and understand. i had always had a rocky relationship with my mother. its great that you once had a wonderful one to begin with. i had thought that once i became a mother myself my relationship with my mom would mend itself, unfortunately she passed away and we were never able to work it out. i regret everyday that i didnt do anything sooner. IF you will have no regrets to cutting off your relationship now and in the future (think of your children), then by all means cut if off. BUT if you feel that cutting it off is your temporary solution and to deal with it in the future, well like i said - have no regrets. as daughters or adult children who have a family of their own, forget that moms are people too. they have problems that they are struggling with and it may not even be about you. she could be struggling with the fact that she FEELS as though you dont/wont need her anymore. you are a mother yourself now. step outside of yourself as her daughter. see her as not only your mother but a person that may be struggling with something she doesnt know how to confront or deal with and is expressing it in a way that is affecting you negatively. anyway, no one person is right in a relationship like this. and it shouldnt be about who is right either. if both of you can come from love, then you two will find the answers. perhaps bringing in a third party will help if you can not get thru to her or no talking of any kind is helping. motherless daughter