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Should I break up with my mom?
January 18, 2011 10:01 AM   Subscribe

The crazy lady killed my cat, hates my boyfriend, and is acting vindictively again...I am fully prepared to cut her out of my life forever. Should I?

This was all touched off by my recent trip to California to visit my sister. My mom and my boyfriend came with. My boyfriend was seriously irritated by my mom. That's legit. I've had 27 years to deal with her crazy, and there are things that she does that I tolerate because that's how she's always been (ie pretending she doesn't know how to do something because she wants someone to do it for her, letting me know that I should just settle for a job that makes me unhappy because I can't get another one, etc.)

I wanted a cat when I was 12 and I got one. But when I went to college I left him at home with my dad (my parents are divorced). Well, my dad lost his house and couldn't take care of the cat anymore, about 2 years ago, and my mom took the cat (I couldn't because I have a beagle, and they didn't get along). My mom was gone from her house for 7 days and thought that leaving some food and water out for the cat, who was suffering from reduced kidney function, would be okay. Shockingly, when we got back (my friends gave her and us a ride to/from the airport), the cat was dehydrated and nearly dead, surrounded by feces and he screamed when he saw a person close to him, but his pupils were dilated and he couldn't blink or move, just scream. I was pretty traumatized, and I tried to give him water. My mom basically said that he was going to be okay and she was going to sleep. I took the cat home (as she yelled at me that it wasn't her cat anyway, and that if I took him I couldn't give him back) and tried to get him to be more responsive. I took him to the vet the next day, but it turned out that he wasn't going to make it so I decided to have him euthanized.

My mom never called me or spoke to me after this happened, which is kind of consistent with my childhood (lucky my sister and I survived; probably because my dad was there to feed us and stuff).

When I went back to her house to get my tv a few weeks later (I let her borrow it b/c there wasn't room enough for it in my apartment), she demurred and said that she had paid for it anyway so it was hers (since she had given me some money after I broke up with my ex-boyfriend of 6 years and I was moving from his house into an apartment but didn't have enough savings to furnish it).

She eventually decided to let me have the tv (while calling my boyfriend a good-for-nothing loser since he had attempted to ask her to back off while we were in CA)(yes it should have been me, but I evidently have difficulty setting boundaries). Later that evening she sent me an email letting me know that since I'd taken the tv that she would be wanting other things back that she had given me in the past.

This is driving me crazy. It feels like she's a crazy boyfriend trying to hurt me in a breakup (my relatively recent ex and I were very civil, and he never tried to keep me from anything I left in his house, and I never wanted to hurt him). I feel like I'm ready to break up with her. Obviously, after the cat died I knew that she'd never be alone with any children I ever have. But I imagined a cordial Hallmark card relationship, until she sent that email. Now I'm pissed, I don't know what to do about the crazy email (should I give her back the panini grill she never used and I took as a favor to get it out of her garage since it was in the box for 2 years???). This is consistent with her past behavior, which I would politely characterize as emotionally abusive. But for some reason the fact that she's my mom makes me hope that she'll support me someday.

Breaking up is hard to do, and more so with a parent. Let me know how to set boundaries better, or make me feel better about never talking to her again, or not. Give me some feedback. I appreciate it.
posted by thebeagle to Human Relations (39 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Get the hell away from her, cut off contact, and do NOT respond to the attempts at provocation.

If she has keys to your home, I'd change the locks, too.

It's pretty clear she's at best extremely disrespectful of you, and at worst she's actively trying to manipulate you. Mother, father, regardless, that's not anything you can stay with in a healthy fashion.
posted by BZArcher at 10:06 AM on January 18, 2011 [8 favorites]


Read This.
posted by zizzle at 10:08 AM on January 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


This person is nutty enough that you shouldn't feel bad about cutting them out of your life. In addition to being generally toxic, your mother is also acting like a child. Not cool.

She obviously needs therapy, but it's not your responsibility to get it for her. You can try, but that usually doesn't end well.
posted by wierdo at 10:12 AM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Disengage. Do not suffer fools gladly, even if they are your mom. She's trying to draw you into more drama; do not let her. If you must, send one email to let her know that you can't continue this relationship, and then end it. Send her emails to the trash without reading them, and block her number. Change your locks if she has a key.

I'm so sorry. I know this must be terribly hard.
posted by runningwithscissors at 10:12 AM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure if you need to cut off all contact absolutely, but there does need to be a definite retreat to where there's no practical business overlap between you. Have you talked about family counseling with her?
posted by Burhanistan at 10:14 AM on January 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ugh. I'm really sorry. Unless she goes into therapy there doesn't seem to be any hope that one day she'll miraculously turn into a person who isn't completely toxic. Just because she has ovaries and a uterus doesn't make her a good mother, or even a good person. DTMA.
posted by iconomy at 10:16 AM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Obviously, after the cat died I knew that she'd never be alone with any children I ever have.

I don't think she's being a good parent or person, and I am very sympathetic about the loss of your cat. But you abandoned that cat with people who were unfit to care for it, and it lived with your mother for 2 years before that incident. This isn't about having a crazy mother, this is about having extremely toxic relationships with your family, and perpetuating these relationships, and allowing other people (your boyfriend, your cat) getting dragged into the mess alongside you. I don't know how you can manage to navigate this or recover without some sort of consistently rational outside voice (hello therapy!). But in the short term, if you want to view this as a breakup, do the kinds of things that BZArcher advises. It doesn't have to be forever, it's just about getting yourself to a point right now where you can begin to make decisions that you can actually trust -- decisions based on what you truly want, instead of just reactions to the craziness that leads to endless tug-of-war.
posted by hermitosis at 10:20 AM on January 18, 2011 [48 favorites]


How do you feel about some tough love advice?

You need to learn how to interact with your mom as an adult. You're 27 and seem to have the sort of relationship with your mom that I had with my parents when I was an undergrad. It got better when I graduated, got a job and gained some real independence. You need to end the weird transactional relationship that parents have with their young adult children. I can almost guarantee this'll get better if you can do that.

Simple Do's and Don'ts:
Don't take gifts from her. Don't take money. Don't give her anything with the expectation you'll get something in return. Don't ask her to do anything for you. Don't tell her about problems you're having. Don't respond to crazy emails from her. Don't answer the phone late at night.

Do go out to dinner frequently. Do call on Sunday. Do drink a bottle of wine with her. Do send her pleasant emails about all the good stuff in your life. Do ask for help if it's an actual honest-to-god emergency.

Part of growing up is realizing that, for the first time in your life, your parents don't run your life. In fact, they need you way more than you need them. UNLEASH YOUR POWER OVER HER.
posted by pjaust at 10:24 AM on January 18, 2011 [48 favorites]


It feels like she's a crazy boyfriend trying to hurt me in a breakup

This is a good analogy. My "breakup" with my parents definitely resembled the end of a romantic relationship, in that something very strong keeps on compelling you go go back and question your decision, and you feel totally enmeshed. And just like the end of a romantic relationship, you'll do best if you just rip off the bandage and cut off contact for now. It's easier to create boundaries that are very hard and very visible. That means delete all emails, block her calls, and don't let your sister convey messages to you from her. No contact.

After a while, you may find yourself ready to try to have some sort of relationship with her, and you may have also adjusted your expectations of what she can give you. She's never going to give you the support to you want and deserve -- I think you know that -- but i, maybe, be ready to accept what she can give you. Or, not: maybe you'll decide your life is just plain better without her. That's fine too.

The columnist Carolyn Hax is really good on the issue of estrangement and boundaries. I'd suggest reading her archives. Here's one good one to start with.
posted by yarly at 10:25 AM on January 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


This isn't about having a crazy mother, this is about having extremely toxic relationships with your family, and perpetuating these relationships, and allowing other people (your boyfriend, your cat) getting dragged into the mess alongside you.

I agree with this too, in part. One reason to create boundaries is realizing that while your mother is very important, now that you are an adult there are other people/beings who you have responsibilities to too, like your cat and your boyfriend. Conversely, there other people who are more worth your energy and devotion than your mother. Right now your main emotional world is reduced to you and mom, and you're making your other relationships take a back seat to that. Growing up is about separating, and one of the worst things about toxic parents is that the toxicity keeps the parent front-and-center in your psyche, when really you should be working on creating your own life.
posted by yarly at 10:30 AM on January 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Unless you see any signs that she's willing to change, perhaps you should cut ties with her. She'll just keep on hurting you, until you draw the line and decide that you won't let her do that anymore. You have every right to decide under what parameters this relationship continues or stops.

I'm sorry, though. Ideally, family should be there for you, but that's not always the case.

Do be kind to yourself and know that you have every right to make decisions that are best for you.
posted by SillyShepherd at 10:31 AM on January 18, 2011


Hi Beagle - sympathies on the difficult parent front. I had to leave the continental US in order to get away from my damaged mother. I knew that if I just moved to, say, Chicago, she would pack up the R.V. and start meddling in my life again.

It was the best thing I ever did. I only occasionally saw my mom after that (which sounds sad) but we had a much better relationship.

When she passed away I couldn't attend the funeral due the physical distance of my new life and also the demands of my job. These circumstances unintentionally fulfilled a childhood oath that I would never attend that woman's funeral. Life if funny sometimes.

Good luck and know that you are not alone in your situation.
posted by pandabearjohnson at 10:33 AM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm so sorry about your situation. It's very hard when you begin to realize that a family member doesn't care about you, and that you can't trust them with anything that's important to you. Accepting that fact means experiencing a great loss of hope, and it's very, very sad -- even if you're better off without them.

You don't have to decide right now if you want them out of your life permanently. Even if you do decide that, you don't need to announce it to them. You can just deal with each thing as it comes. Like, walking away from conflict, instead of engaging; not counting on them for anything; not answering their calls and emails until you've had the benefit of some therapy.

What you do need to do is get some help in setting and keeping boundaries. If you learn to value your own needs, you will have much more success in rejecting their inappropriate actions toward you. You'll be better able to say no. A therapist will work with you so you'll actually have some confidence as you change your behavior with your mother and sister. And the training will help hugely in your future relationships.

Changing what you do and say in your relationships is the only way you can change things.
posted by wryly at 10:34 AM on January 18, 2011


I'll tell you what I did, and add that you might benefit from some talk therapy on this subject. I certainly wish you well. You're embarking on a difficult and painful journey to free yourself from the influence of a person who perhaps does not hold your best interests close to her heart.

My mother was severely mentally ill. I didn't know how severely while she was still alive (she passed 20+ years ago) because nobody in the family thought that my brother and I should be party to the decisions my grandparents had to make about her care. My father was barely in the picture at all. I fought with her the entire time I lived with her, and when I couldn't take it anymore, I chose be homeless rather than live with her.

She told every family member who would listen that I was crazy, she was going to disown me, and a host of other awful things. She would use my brother to send me hate messages. She was also abusive to animals, causing the deaths of more than one of my pets while I lived with her.

I didn't learn to control what I said to people about her for a long time. I would reply to the cruel messages she'd send with my brother, he'd convey my replies. Round and round we went, until I figured out that he didn't have to tell me what she said or did, and I didn't have to listen. So, I just stopped.

If you can disengage yourself from her, you might find it liberating. I did. But I let myself get drawn back in repeatedly, so that's a potential pitfall. If I'd made a plan on how to deal with her attempts to contact me, or have people put us in touch, I might have done better.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 10:37 AM on January 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


I already get the feeling that I'm going to be in the minority here, but I've always been of the opinion that stuff you store at your folks' house after you have a place of your own should be considered lost to the void. If you get it back at all, much less in good condition, awesome, otherwise don't be suprised or upset when it is gone. I find this to be true with living things (pets) as well, unfortunately.

Not to say that your mom is faultless, but realize that this whole thing could be reframed, and that this is how she sees these events:
You left your mom with a pet she didn't want, and then you got another pet that made it so you couldn't take her pet back. This cat was not your cat. The only thing that really, really, really is awful in all of this is that your mom was neglectful and killed her (or your dad's?) cat - that breaks my heart. You stored your TV at her house. In exchange for storage, she got to use it. You didn't mitigate arguments between your boyfriend and mom and let him fight your mother. As an adult, you could've sold the tv and rehomed the cat and kept things civil between your boyfriend and mom.

You could break up with your mom, I guess, but I am thinking that isn't really the appropriate solution here.

If I were you, I would set (at least) four new rules for happy living:
Don't store your stuff at her house.
Don't store her stuff at your house.
Don't let your parents talk badly about or to your signficant other.
Don't let your significant other talk badly about or to your parents.

(And remember, the trick with rules is to not make exceptions to the rules).
posted by Acer_saccharum at 10:42 AM on January 18, 2011 [25 favorites]


Give her hack her shit; you're getting off cheap. Then disengage. Send her a card on holidays if you wish. If she calls, either do not answer or use the "gotta go, bye" a lot. She will never change unless she makes significant efforts to do so and that does not sound likely.

Tell your sister, that you just cannot interact with Mom right now. She is too draining. Tell her to not get in the middle, but only tell you if there is something physically wrong with her like she has some sort of disease in case you might want to reconcile at that point.
posted by AugustWest at 10:50 AM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't take gifts from her. Don't take money. Don't give her anything with the expectation you'll get something in return. Don't ask her to do anything for you. Don't tell her about problems you're having. Don't respond to crazy emails from her. Don't answer the phone late at night.

This is my advice as well. If you don't want to Officially Cut Off Contact, you can avoid a repeat of the sort of situations you detail in your post, which all seem to revolve around a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding about what belongs to who.

Ideally, you'll be able to evolve into a limited-but-cordial relationship. But it's also very possible she'll find some other, crazier way to be manipulative.

I sympathize, I've got a father whose controlling behavior revolves around similar issues, though not to the extent of your mom.
posted by desuetude at 10:54 AM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


You don't need to break up with your mother but you do need to set boundaries. Ignore stupid emails. Don't ask for any favors and don't do any favors. Touch base once a week, less if she gets manipulative. Refuse to argue. (Mom, I'm not going to argue with you. Call me back when you've calmed down. Love you. Bu-bye.) Remember her birthday and do brunch and flowers on Mother's Day.

Be occasionally thoughtful, I know how much you like peonies, or chocolate truffles or whatever. Be prepared for criticism, flowers died, candy caused diarrhea, shirt was wrong shade of blue and didn't fit or fell apart. Respond with, oh that's too bad. I'm sorry to hear that. Oops, there goes my other phone, gotta go. Love you, bu-bye.

When you go out to dinner, meet there so you can leave if you need to. Don't drive her.

Start being a grownup and create a full and satisfying life away from her. Rely on yourself.
posted by shoesietart at 10:54 AM on January 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


From your mom's point of view, she took care of a cat for two years, that wasn't hers and which she didn't want. She fed it and dealt with its poop and all that, but at the end of the day she wasn't interested in devoting major resources to its illness. She probably feels that you owe her a thank you for taking care of it for two years. It wasn't her decision to get you a beagle, after all.

As far as the television goes, it sounds to me like she was doing you the favor by giving you free storage, and hoped to be repayed for it by sort of inheriting the TV. If she didn't make room for your stuff then you'd have had to pay to store it, or get rid of it.

I wouldn't cut her out of your life over these things. Just be an adult and draw your boundaries much more sensibly. No more storing anything at her house, for instance. The email she sent you was sent in anger. I would give back everything she asked for -- this is part of the disentangling -- but then call it even.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:56 AM on January 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


If this was your significant other, I think the general consensus would be DTMFA With Prejudice (tm). I don't see why this should be any different, your own mother or not.

If you still want to, have civil conversation with her EVENTUALLY (not right away), trade Holiday cards, etc, but the second she gets all crazy on you, cut off the conversation. Don't let her give you ANYTHING, because she'll probably demand it back later or use it as guilt-trip leverage to have you buy her something when you don't really want to or can't afford it. Don't give HER anything, because she can claim it's just 'payment' for some thing she gave you six years ago or whatever.

Visit if and when you have to, but tell her you won't put up with any crappy behavior and be prepared to leave at a moment's notice. Saying you won't put up with it means nothing if you stick around after she does something shitty.
posted by Heretical at 11:02 AM on January 18, 2011


Ok, your mom sounds like she has some issues. FO SHO. But I have to agree that there is some growing you could do that is truly essential at this stage of your life and would positively impact this situation.

Part of being an adult is taking personal responsibility for your choices. It sounds like you have relied on your mother for certain things - practical help with pets, items for your home, etc. This isn't a bad thing and some people are lucky enough to have parents that help them throughout their lives without making them miserable. It doesn't sound like you do, though. On the same thread, accepting help from people means accepting it on their terms. If you don't like the terms, you shouldn't accept the help. It's not fair or realistic to accept or request help but set the rules of the exchange. Help and gifts get to be defined by the giver, not the receiver.

Your story about your cat is heartbreaking, but also points to not taking personal responsibility. You left your cat with her and decided that was a safe enough place for her to be, even after you were in a place to take her on as an adult. You essentially chose your dog over your cat. I think a lot of us do this (my childhood cat grew old in my mom's home and died there of natural causes thankfully), but you've put all the responsibility on your mom and have not acknowledged the choice you made.

I am not saying any of this because I don't sympathize or I think your mom is right and you are wrong. The point is, adulthood is a bitch sometimes. But it's your bitch. You have got to protect yourself. You have got to step in, show some guts and make sound decisions. Right now, you aren't taking the initiative and you are leaving yourself WIDE OPEN to bull shit. In this case it's your mom, but my guess is this extends to other areas of your life. It's a state of mind. Put on your big girl pants and start kicking ass and taking names.

I know a thing or two about breaking up with a parent - I am largely estranged from my father - and I can tell you first hand that there's a way to do it and make a fool of yourself in the process (as well as be unnecessarily cruel to your parent) and a way to do it that is graceful and kind. The difference is making peace for yourself, finding empathy, and letting go of your illusion of what your parent should be or do for you. You know who your mother is and is not. Accept it. Draw some lines.
posted by amycup at 11:05 AM on January 18, 2011 [19 favorites]


Cut her out of your life forever? Forever is a long time.

You need to take control, deal with her in a controlled and structured way -
but don't burn the bridge -
posted by Flood at 11:06 AM on January 18, 2011


It's kind of missing the point to focus on the cat and the TV incidents and try to resolve the problem by saying "no storing things at mom's house." If OP's situation is anything like mine, these are a series of anecdotes adding up to cuh-razy. Sure, you could try to take the mother's perspective about one of events (say, that OP should not have expected to get the TV back and shouldn't store stuff at her mom's house), and there may be some truth to it, but crazy people will always find something else to be crazy about. It's a pattern that always ends in the crazy person using their crazy to manipulate the normal people.

One of the most crazy-making (and damaging) things about dealing with toxic people is precisely the way that in individual events, you might give them the benefit of the doubt, think that the immediate problem can be solved, or look for your own role in the conflict. Normal people try and try again to mollify the crazy person when they have their outbursts. At first we does this because (as normal people) we want to at least attempt to keep the peace and see things from both perspectives and accept any blame due to us. But it's a moving target -- even if you solve the immediate crisis, there's always another flip-out around the corner. The only answer is to disengage from the pattern.
posted by yarly at 11:12 AM on January 18, 2011 [14 favorites]


Replace mother with good friend and what would you do then?

Cut her off. Hang her out to dry and get on with YOUR life. She's crazy and not the good kind of crazy that's somewhat endearing, she's crazy in a scary and bad way.
posted by fenriq at 11:22 AM on January 18, 2011


> Replace mother with good friend and what would you do then?

There's a lot of callousness in this thread. A person's mother is their mother--perhaps I'm old fashioned (and have more gratitude than anything else towards my mother) but this is inviolate to me. An adult child certainly doesn't have to let all their affairs intertwine with their parents, but as long as you learn to voice emotional boundaries it is indeed possible to have some degree of contact.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:30 AM on January 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


One of the most crazy-making (and damaging) things about dealing with toxic people is precisely the way that in individual events, you might give them the benefit of the doubt, think that the immediate problem can be solved, or look for your own role in the conflict. Normal people try and try again to mollify the crazy person when they have their outbursts. At first we does this because (as normal people) we want to at least attempt to keep the peace and see things from both perspectives and accept any blame due to us. But it's a moving target -- even if you solve the immediate crisis, there's always another flip-out around the corner. The only answer is to disengage from the pattern.

Repeated for truth. If your mother has a pattern of this, which you strongly hint at concerning negligence to you during your childhood, and she has never sought help or shown genuine remorse (genuine remorse that takes responsibility for her actions and steps to improve, as opposed to fake panicky "omg my kid realized I did something wrong and now I should apologize to look good" remorse that only goes back to the same damaging stuff), yes, disengaging would be good.

I'd suggest first getting yourself as independent as possible. Cut yourself off inwardly. Do not approach your mother from a position of need for anything. Find a good therapist. See how things go, with therapy, with your mother from that new position. Take the steps you need, as and when you need. It may mean cutting her off; it may mean less contact; every relationship is different. Therapy will help you work out the details.
posted by fraula at 11:45 AM on January 18, 2011


A person's mother is their mother

Nobody has the right to abuse you, no matter who they are to you genetically.
posted by yarly at 11:52 AM on January 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


> Nobody has the right to abuse you, no matter who they are to you genetically.

Ok, but that's not what I was implying. One should be careful about just throwing away their connection to their parents without making some effort to rescale their interaction, and seek help in communication.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:01 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think you need to cut off all contact, necessarily. But you can make it clear that your contact with her is voluntary, and, as such, is contingent on certain behavior on her part. Which is just a way of saying that you don't have to give her something that you don't want to, and you can tell her to stop asking for it. You can hang up the phone if you don't like the way she's talking to you, and you can ignore emails if you like (and I'd suggest that you guys use the phone instead of email - if you're having communication problems, and it sounds like you are, it's really best to be able to communicate through tone of voice as well as words).

What this amounts to is transitioning to an adult relationship with your mother, where you don't expect her to do things for you, but you also recognize that she can't make you do anything. It's tough to do - I have a good relationship with my parents, and I'm still working on sorting this out. But I think it's worth it.
posted by Ragged Richard at 12:15 PM on January 18, 2011


Perhaps work on putting up a wall emotionally first?

I had to do that with my own mother, who emotionally abused me for over 25 years. (It was out of ignorance, not malice. She's an adult survivor of child abuse and grew up in poverty. She had no idea what being a truly supportive parent was like.) I can't cut her out of my life entirely, as she's still married to my Daddy & they're my landlords.

So, to me, my Mom is Daddy's Wife. I will talk to her, but I refuse to let her get to me emotionally. Oddly enough, it's now easier to talk to her, and she's so clueless I'll bet she thinks I've gotten over whatever issues I have with her. (Daddy knows what I've done and has decided it's best not to clue his wife in.)

Best of luck. It sucks when parents let their own issues get in the way of proper parenting.
posted by luckynerd at 12:59 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


You cannot rely on her, so don't. Don't give her animals or things to care for. Don't loan her things. Limit your contact, and limit your expectations. You sound pretty deeply enmeshed with her. It's hard to recognize that your Mom, who is supposed to Be There for you, isn't going to be any good at it. But she sounds pretty unhealthy, and she's not going to be the Mom you want. Over time, try to develop compassion, and have a relationship where you accept whatever good she can give, and don't accept the bad.
posted by theora55 at 1:12 PM on January 18, 2011


First, take some time to cool off. Don't respond to the email. Take a week or a month if you have to. Seriously cool off.

I have a mother who has weird and often abusive behavior. Though I haven't had to cut her off, I have had to stop reacting, stop engaging, and stop asking for help (there are some exceptions, but it's tricky). This is really really hard. She's my mom! She's supposed to want to help, right? Well, she might, but it's always going to come at a price. So painful not being able to get support from your own mom.

I would set some pretty firm boundaries for awhile. No responding to weird emails or phone calls, maybe even opting out of receiving them all together for awhile. Get your life set up so you don't have to store stuff at her house, don't ask for financial assistance, and focus your energy elsewhere.

What I discovered, weirdly enough, is that as long as I don't respond to email specifically, for the most part things are fine. Email is a weird place for people that have issues and communication problems. For others it might be phone or in person, but only I only check her emails once a week (they go to trash and I check it later) and then I only respond to emails that aren't negative or mean.

I really love my mom, too. I just don't love that crazy part about her, so I try to stamp that out by simply not engaging it. I try to see her and her crazy as separate, when I can. It's hard, but it will get a lot better with practice.
posted by Rocket26 at 1:13 PM on January 18, 2011


I successfully (and in a kind way) completely disengaged from a mother like this about 16 years ago at the age of 24.

I promised myself my crazy mom was never ever getting anywhere near my future children back when I was about 12 or 14 years old. I had hoped we could remain in some kind of civil contact, but over time my mom's manipulations and abuse made that impossible. Coincidental to the OP's current situation, my mother also interfered with my romantic partners when possible. And my efforts at college. And then my first employer on my chosen career path, which was the final straw for my relationship with my mom.

OP, I wish you godspeed in your endeavor. It's over, and you know it.


Yes. You need to take COMPLETE responsibility for your part in all of this. You continued to give power to a crazy person by putting yourself, your cat and BF (and probably others) in harm's way. You continued to pretend things could be "normal" long past the point it was obvious that "normal" was unattainable. Sure your mom's controlling and undermining tactics interfered with your sense of maturity. But, that's no excuse. You have been capable of acting in congruence with reality for a long time now. Take responsibility for yourself. You can do this.

As per my story above, I tried the boundaries, the infrequent dinners, and weekly phone calls. I agree with Yarly - crazy manipulative people just try to find ways around and through any protection or boundary you create - it's a futile battle.



FWIW - my slightly younger brother let our mom back into his life after he got married and had a child. That's not going so hot for him on many many levels, but I don't think he yet sees the correlation between the decline in his well-being and his choice to re-open the door for our mom. I worry especially for his wife and child.

Via contrast, I'm super happy in life now. Whenever I look at my brother, I thank god I disengaged when I did. I only wish I had stepped away from all of it sooner.

posted by jbenben at 2:11 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


pjaust speaks the truth. In the tl;dr version, BOUNDARIES. Set them, and do not budge.
posted by Brittanie at 3:37 PM on January 18, 2011


...and then one day I asked myself, "If these people were strangers, would I have a relationship with them?"

"Hellz no."

So it was, from then on.
posted by trinity8-director at 4:45 PM on January 18, 2011


I can't tell you what you should or shouldn't do. But I can tell you that I had a pretty bad mom, and I broke up with her in 2001 or so, and it was one of the best decisions of my life.

The trick is you have to cut off all contact AND maintain the line. If you respond to her 50th email, all you've done is taught her to bug you with 50 emails.

Cut the cord, keep it cut, and don't look back. That's what I did in your situation, and frankly, it's been pretty great!
posted by ErikaB at 4:53 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


If someone did that to my cat I would never speak to them again. I didn't even have to read below the cut to give you a resounding "hell yeah!"
posted by xenophile at 6:51 PM on January 18, 2011


"If these people were strangers, would I have a relationship with them?"

If these people were strangers, would you leave your cat or your TV with them either?

Own up to your own decisions. You got a dog that didn't get along with the cat so it had to stay somewhere else. Did you pay for food and litter for those years? It seems like you were in on the decision to leave the cat alone or at least knew about it, and didn't take action until it went wrong. You loaned your mom the TV because you made a decision to get a place that didn't have enough room, plus she paid for the TV in the first place. Seriously, it sounds like your mom is the one that needs to set some boundaries. These were all your decisions. If you feel like you don't get along with her or need to deal with some issues from the past, then do whatever you need to do to heal yourself. But taking some ownership over these issues would be a great first step.
posted by tamitang at 8:44 PM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


my boyfriend ... had attempted to ask her to back off while we were in CA)(yes it should have been me, but I evidently have difficulty setting boundaries)

This is the part that jumped out to me, because this is what's hard about having tricky parents -- it's the primary relationship in your life! Someone else, with great boundaries and assertiveness, might be able to come in and handle the situation with grace and control. But you were around this behavior when you were a baby, and when you were a toddler, and when you dressed up like a pirate for Halloween, and when you went on your first date, and when you left for college, and so you just ... relate to her. The way you always have. It drives you crazy but you don't know what to do.

What helped me was to forget how to relate to my parents. Between them being preoccupied with getting divorced, and the five thousand miles and three time zones separating us, we dropped down to chatting once a month or so for about six years. Meanwhile, I had several serious relationships, started a career, went to therapy, and found great friends. I kind of got out of our old habits. When I go back now, I spend half the time realizing what's great about them and half the time realizing how weird are some of the little things they do. But when something weird happens, instead of going into autopilot and reciting the old script, I mostly get confused like "what does that even mean??"

So even if you don't break up with her, get some distance and fill your life with opportunities to learn new ways to relate to people.
posted by salvia at 12:13 AM on January 19, 2011


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