I grew up in an abusive household, and severed ties with my abusive father after moving out. Over the years, I cut off more of the family because they didn't understand why I couldn't forgive and make up with my father. (They also had their own drama). But I've staying in touch with my mother, though at arm's length. I'm now seeing she wasn't the "good guy" in all this, or maybe a lifetime of being in a terrible relationship made her unbearable. I've made the decision I don't want her in my life, but I'm not sure what the best way to make it happen.
posted by [insert clever name here] to human relations (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
My father was physically and mentally abusive, and early in my adulthood, I realized I didn't need to talk to him anymore, and in fact, my life was better without him. I firmly and clearly told him he was in no way welcome in my life. The problem I began to encounter was as I got older and developed normal, healthy adult relationships, I realized how fucked up the rest of the family was (my dad was an alcoholic who hit us, HIS father was the same, my mom's side has their own issues, which is probably why all the women are married to abusive men). And because misery loves company, I realized much of my family on both sides created and even thrived on emotionally toxic situations, so I eventually stopped talking to them. The few that weren't were collateral damage because I wasn't close to them and they were a direct line into the crazy.
My mother though, I kept in touch with, even though I kept her at arms length. My childhood memories had painted her as both the savior and the victim along with me. So it only made sense I'd keep her in my family. But there were problems. She didn't respect my wishes, she harangued me to reconcile with my father, and guilt-tripped me about not being closer with my sister. She didn't respect boundaries I set, and she used me as the unwilling shoulder she cried on when she wanted to complain about my father (but never actually took action to better her situation). But most of all, she constantly told me how I was doing everything wrong. It did not matter how successful I was or how much was going right in my life or how much better my life was going than the rest of anyone in my family.
But she was my mom, you know, and so I continued to keep her in my life. I would reinforce boundaries, point out where she really had no idea what she was talking about, and tell her to take her criticisms elsewhere. Sometimes I'd not speak to her for months on end after a particularly bad confrontation.
But then I got sick. I had to stop working, and had to deal my health. I didn't really even want to tell her, because I didn't want her barging into my life, but felt a sense of guilt not doing it, so I did. This unleashed the monster, and I started seeing things with her in a new light. It was if knowing I was weak, she could get years of "mothering" and agenda through. The criticisms increased; as did the pressure to reconcile with the family. She blamed me for my illness, saying I was not taking care of myself, even as far as repeatedly harping ridiculously that I must not be taking the right vitamins or I wouldn't be sick. She took it as an opportunity to tell me how everything I had done was wrong both currently and in my past, attempting to wipe away all my achievements. Keeping her at arms length all these years, she really was out of the loop and had no actual idea what my life was or how good it was, but that didn't matter. She'd bring family over to the house I didn't want to see, she'd ignore requests to call or email first. She'd call at insanely early hours even after explaining how I have trouble with sleep and she shouldn't call until the afternoon.
But perhaps ironically, she didn't actually help in ways that mattered. When I asked for her help to clean the house because I couldn't, she'd say she would but then wouldn't show up. When I asked for help with teaching my husband to cook, she'd come over, launch into her tirades about how I'm sick because I wasn't eating the right foods or wouldn't see the right "doctors" (she's big into woo medicine and practioners), and then have to leave before actually helping. Or she'd offer to help clean if she could bring said family member over that I expressly said I didn't want to see.
Being ill, I didn't have my normal set of defenses. And it wasn't a torrent of terrible behavior at first. It started as small things she'd say when she was over to "help." But it kept escalating. Eventually I had enough and told her not to call, but to email instead, not to stop over unannounced, and definitely not to bring anyone over. I'm sure all of you who've had similar situations know what happened next. For about a month, she respected my wishes, and then the old behavior resumed.
I've decided it's time I end contact with her, at least for right now so I can focus on my physical health without worrying about trying to be on the defensive from misguided motherly concern. But I'm not sure how to break off contact in a way that is going to cause the least drama. And, I don't want to hurt her. I'm sure it will, but I don't want to be anymore painful than it has to be. I don't want her to think she's a bad mom, it's way more complicated than that. But I also do not want her in my life. Not now, and maybe not ever; I don't know.
I've been thinking I would write a letter, but haven't thought of the words. Honestly, it's not high on my todo list; taking care of myself is. While I've been thinking about how to handle this, she's been calling, leaving more and more insane messages, making demands that I call her back by x. I started deleting the messages rather than dealing with the insanity.
Today though, I got a glimpse into what might happen, and this is what I want to minimize. She showed up unannounced, but I decided not to answer the door. I don't know why, I just didn't want to give her positive feedback for doing exactly what I told her not to do. She had no way of knowing I was home or at a doctor appointment or where since only one car was there and my husband has to drive me most places. But I assume she thought I was home, because she kept ringing the doorbell, then calling (presumably from her mobile), then pounding on the door, all for about 20 minutes. I have two dogs who bark like crazy, and I just let them bark because I didn't want her to know I was home. I mean, it was insane level stuff, not something a reasonable person would do. I'm not sure that not answering the door wasn't on it's own level a little messed up, but I live in a large enough house that you aren't going to know if anyone is home unless I want you to.
Now, her sister (my aunt) once broke into my home because I told her she couldn't call me at work and I had her mail at my house (the story is more complicated than that, but the short version is that she was hiding her credit card from her husband and she and my mom roped me into letting her get the mail at my house. That's before I realized I don't need to participate in the crazy.) So there is precedence in the family for this to escalate.
I know my mother doesn't think/realize she's doing anything wrong, and thinks she's helping. She thinks the criticism is how you help. Right now though, I need to take care of myself. I feel like a letter with as little detail as possible, just a "I need to take care of myself, and I can't handle your behavior right now. I'll contact you when I'm ready to talk again." will just incite more attempts to reach me. But a longer explanation will probably result in her needing to justify her actions. No word from me will likely continue to escalate her behavior as well.
I just don't know how to do it. With my father, it was easy. I told him what I told him growing up, that the abuse and the drinking were unacceptable and now I wanted him out of my life. It wasn't news, the only news was that I couldn't be bought off with gifts like my mother and my sister. But with my mother, even though our relationship has been strained, she used to be the person I came to to be "rescued" from my dad. And she doesn't think her behavior is unreasonable. I've told her numerous times that I don't want to hear how everything I do is wrong, or that it isn't some sort of requirement I follow all her unwelcome advice.
And to be honest, I also just want a clean break from the rest of the family, and she's the last link. I just don't know how to do that. I'm not in a position to move. And even if I did move (which I'd like to do down the road for other reasons), it would be across down and I really don't intend on hiding; so I'm sure my name and address will be public record somewhere.
I know some of you have gone through estrangement from various family members, and it seems like living a few states a way is part of it. How do you do it with someone in the same area? How do you minimize the drama? What strategy should I take and what blowback should I anticipate?
Two possibly relevant things;
- My husband has offered to "take the blame" and say he forbids me from seeing them. While sweet, I don't want my mother rallying the family and plotting rescue attempts. And it just feels like a bad idea. Like if I ever did decide to reconcile later on, I wouldn't want anyone in my family having a bad view of him. Plus, for an entirely selfish and probably irrelevant reason, I don't want them having the satisfaction of feeling I fucked up in the same way they all did in choosing their spouses. Yes, I do want to look down my nose at them, as petty as that is. (I realize I switched to them from just my mother; I did so because I am sure one way or another, this gets back to them. Plus, my mother is really the last link to the rest of the family.) But, on that note, he's willing to run interference with my family if there is something he can do. I don't think there is, I think it's all me, but maybe I'm missing a strategy.
- I'm in therapy, but it's part of helping me cope with chronic pain and hasn't really been touchy feel-y family stuff aside from a basic history. And I'm not sure how much I want to introduce into therapy beyond "so this is happening and it might be affecting me." because that's really not why I'm there. Plus, I'm not really feeling conflicted about this or that it's something I need to work through. I just really want a big red button that says "delete" and would love strategies to get there as easily and drama free as possible.