When you really just need to say No!
December 20, 2008 4:34 PM   Subscribe

How can I convey to my Mother that she is not welcome to be part of my children's lives? (very long, sordid details inside)

Oh, where to start on this one. My parents divorced when I was six years old, my father died when I was 10. My brother (35) and I (38) were more or less raised by my mother (68). It was anything but an easy childhood, and looking back it has become glaringly clear that she is dealing with an unmedicated borderline personality disorder (I've discussed her symptoms at length with psych professionals and they all seem to point in this direction).

My maternal grandparents were very, very instrumental in my brother's and my upbringing, as they knew just how undependable my mother could be. It wasn't unusual at all for her to have the highest of highs, where she would spend her paycheques (she always had jobs, but it wasn't unusual for her to get fired for, uh, not being cooperative) on things redecorate the house instead of paying for the utilities. So, we never knew if we would have electric or if the phone would be on when we got home from school. Then there were the occasions where she would spend entire weeks on the couch watching TV in her bathrobe surrounded by empty cereal bowls and ice cream containers. My friends kind of all knew that she was crazy, and their parents took pity on us. As such, we always kind of had open invitations to dinner at their houses, or knew we could spend the night if she was on one of her crazy/mean benders.

I moved out when I was 17, after I found out that she intentionally didn't fill out any of my financial aid forms for college. She told me that I didn't deserve to go, and that since I didn't save enough of my part time money from my jobs (I worked from when I was 15; she charged me $300/mo to live at home), she wasn't going to help me, either. She also forbade my grandparents from helping me. So, with that, I said fuck it, got a second job, and found a room to rent. It was several months before I even told her where I went. (My brother made it out of the house at 18 when he joined the military.)

So, needless to say, our relationship has been very off and on again. And it's been one where I've never had a problem telling her how I've felt. Sometimes the relationship would be great - usually much better on the phone than in person (I'm in NJ, she's in FL), other times, not so much.

She did come up for my wedding, and was mostly well behaved. Fast forward two years to my first daughter's birth, and I was very clear that I didn't want her there immediately. The first visit was three months afterward. It was somewhat stressful, in that I was completely undermined in all things parenting-related - but that's nothing surprising. Where I drew the final straw, however, was when she informed me that I was not paying enough attention to Mr. dancinglamb (because I wasn't ironing his shirts, but sending them to the laundry instead), or waiting at the door to give him a kiss and asking about his day. She kindly informed me that, and I quote, "There are many much more attractive women that would be happy to take much better care of him" and that I better get my act together. She, instead, would wait for him at the door with a very un-MIL-like hug and kiss (as if to show an example?!!) Um, yeah. OK. With that, I threw her out of the apartment. I also caught her with my engagement ring on, saying that it looked much better on her...

I think it was probably a good four months before I talked to her again after that. My second daughter was born two years later and I had some pretty serious complications after delivery, where I ended up in ICU for a week. Mr. dancinglamb was really freaked out, with a toddler and newborn home, and decided to call my mother. I told him that he really needed to think that one out, but he was in a panic. Wellllllll, really, really bad idea. Long story short, I got phone calls every day informing me that it was, "Such a shame that I couldn't be there at home, because I was missing out on how much my daughter was changing each day." Mr. dancinglamb, THE most laidback person I probably know, actually told his Mother in Law to Fuck Off. The morning I was discharged, I ended up in a screaming match on the frontlawn (nice scene, indeed), where I threw her out once again.

Two years later (I know, I know). She made all kinds of crying apologies, saying how much she wanted to change. That she was on meds! That she wanted to be part of the girls' lives! The girls were 2 and 4yo respectively. Mr. dancinglamb and I needed to go to Washington, DC for two nights for a family event (not kid friendly). My mother *jumped* at the opportunity to come up and stay with them. She had been reasonably normal on the phone for months. I told her that this was her absolute last opportunity to redeem herself and that I would hold true to my word. She yes'd me to death, promising that everything would be fine, etc. etc.

Well, it couldn't have gone worse. Apparently she wasn't on meds. Within 24 hours, she had downed three bottles of wine, called my cell to inform me that my kids were, "ungrateful little bitches" (yeah, at 2 and 4yo) because they broke snow globes she bought them, and that it was once again a demonstration of my failure as a parent. I had to have a friend come get them out of the house (we were 5+ hours away). My friend got there the next morning, my 2yo couldn't be found at first - but then was located sleeping in my bed. They hadn't been fed, or their clothes changed. My older daughter told me that Grandma had hit and kicked the dogs. The $200 I left for groceries was gone, but there was no food purchased.

I found out all of this from my friend as I was driving as fast as I could back from DC. All the while getting nasty calls from my mother. I informed her that if she was still in the house by the time I got there, to fully expect the police to be called. Her response, "You're a bitch, and you're over reacting." She was gone when I got home. My kids cried and didn't talk for a day. I didn't have any contact with her for 2-1/2 years.

My mother sent me flowers for my birthday in October. I called to say thank you. She more or less knew the vague details of my life thanks to my brother (he's in distant contact with her). She can't call my home phone because I have her numbers blocked, but she's been calling my cell. I've spoken with her three times in the past two months (her birthday, and Thanksgiving). She keeps asking to speak to the girls. They have no idea who she is. I don't want to open that door. I simply can't trust her.

How do I deal with this? I know it's easy to say she's a crazy motherfucker, how could you even *consider* talking to her, but it's not that cut and dried. I have three remaining family members left (my mother, brother, and my mother's sister).

If you're still with me after the epic saga, I appreciate it. I know it's drama at it's highest...

posted by dancinglamb to Human Relations (54 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Restraining order?
posted by SansPoint at 4:57 PM on December 20, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: "Mom, I am legitimately frightened of the things you do. I do not feel that I can trust you to take care of, or even be around, my children. As things currently are, I will not let you be a part of their lives. I wish things were different, but they are not. I will not set any preconditions on what might change my mind, but I think you need to seek professional help. I hope that you get better. I will continue to speak to you, but it will take a while for me even to consider letting you speak to or be near my children."
posted by Etrigan at 5:00 PM on December 20, 2008 [14 favorites]

Why do you keep up any contact at all with her? Is it for your benefit? You're a mom, your kids come first - your benefit is utterly second to them, if at all. Why keep talking to her on these days? It just leaves the door open. You ask a 'how' question - it's a nuts and bolts question - so we need to know why you are in touch with your mother.

I would never allow my children contact with someone of that type. She traumatised a couple of toddlers!

You have problems, mrs. lamb. You need to, again, put yourself second and get over whatever it is that's causing you to depend on your mother in these crisis situations. What's distorting your judgement?

Also, if you care about her feelings, in the long run it will be lots harder to have contact with you and not the kids.

How do I deal with this? I know it's easy to say she's a crazy motherfucker, how could you even *consider* talking to her, but it's not that cut and dried.

So tell us some of those details, please. Family is NOT that important - NOT worth the risk. You can find a supportive community in other ways.. one great way, if you're a believer, is to join a house of worship such as a church.

I know this post sounds stern and please know that I hear and empathise with your pain and the situation your family is in.

on preview - I disagree with etrigan's post because she's proven that she can't keep her promises.

Also, if you need somehow to keep your mother informed about stuff, do it through your brother. Change your phone number.

Good luck.
posted by By The Grace of God at 5:07 PM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry you've gone through all of this. It's obvious to me that you know that your mother being around your children is a recipe for disaster.

I have three remaining family members left (my mother, brother, and my mother's sister)

Actually, you don't. Your family includes a husband and two daughters, who are your primary responsibility is at this point. Your mother hasn't earned your loyalty. She has shown herself to be unstable at every turn. Any contact with her has turned out badly. How many times must she let you down before you realize that she doesn't want to change? Why should she change, when if she waits you out you'll let her back in eventually, to steal your money, imply that you're a bad wife and make your children go hungry?

Your mother isn't going to change. The only thing you have control over is how much contact you have with her. My advice, for what it's worth, is that you should have none.
posted by sugarfish at 5:11 PM on December 20, 2008 [16 favorites]

Best answer: You aren't really keeping in contact with her, and shes kind of estranged. I say leave things the way they are. Does your mother really deserve an explanation from you? I certainly don't think so. (Hello, she lied to you about the meds putting your daughters in danger!!) You are a good mother for preventing your daughters from getting to know Grandma, and you should just keep it that way. Either keep the communication level the same as it is now (short talks on the phone for certain occasions) or cut her off completely. When they grow up and demand to get to learn more about grandma, then that is a different issue..they'll be old enough to realize shes a little batty, and by then she'll hopefully be harmless to your daughters.
posted by guniang at 5:25 PM on December 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I completely disagree with BTGoG. I don't think you have problems, I think that you, like a whole lot of folks with rough backgrounds, have a very deep sense of compassion and forgiveness and a whole lot of self blame. I find myself in that camp too, but for completely different reasons.

Regardless, were it me I wouldn't even bother talking to her. I think you're right that she's BPD or bipolar or some fun combination, and because of that you MUSTN'T take anything personally or have ANY expectation of the keeping of promises or anything else that isn't me-me-me.

I think that you pretty much say what Etrigan said, but minus details. You have to be the one to initiate the call, you have to be the one to terminate it. You can be polite without being curt, do that. She has spent her life manipulating you, and she's going to continue to do so if you give her that power. Simply put, don't.

When your daughters are older, like...maybe...8ish or so I'd talk with them about the ways that people hurt each other and about how we generally do what we think is right. Then, later, 10ish or so, I'd tell them about her, WITHOUT DEMONIZING HER, simply telling them about her. Tell them that if they want to call her, they can...and then listen in on the phone the first couple times.

Or disregard that last paragraph. Simply cut her off. But, if you do that, I recommend that at some point you let your daughters know why without playing the bitch card.

One way or the other, I just wanted to say that I completely diagree w/ BTGoG.
posted by TomMelee at 5:37 PM on December 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

This is drama. Partially yours. It amazes me that you give this crackpot such consideration.

After the ill-conceived babysitting adventure the answer to "May I see your children?" is "Fuck you," and that's the end of it. But there's no need to even have the conversation. "Restraining order" is not a ridiculous idea here given theft and child neglect. Cut her loose.

It IS that cut and dried. If the worry is getting on with your brother and aunt, either they understand why you don't talk to her, or they don't understand, and then they're not worth talking to, either.

Perhaps counselling is in order -- for you, to sort out why you keep this woman in your life? Good luck.
posted by kmennie at 5:41 PM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sorry if I came on a bit strong.. Having problems isn't a fault. We all have problems, often arising out of very commendable feelings, that distort our judgement. This is nothing bad about you, just something to work on. This actually gives insight to the 'how' part of your post - part of the 'how' is to work through these feelings and try to identify any shame or guilt you have about contact and no contact, and find the origins of these and work through them. Once you've analysed where all the feelings are coming from and how they interact with your thoughts, you will gain more clarity in terms of what action to take and how to take it.

Again I sincerely apologise if I came on too strong.
posted by By The Grace of God at 5:44 PM on December 20, 2008

. . . it's easy to say she's a crazy motherfucker, how could you even *consider* talking to her, but it's not that cut and dried.

Actually, it is exactly that cut and dried. Your kids have no idea who your mom is - and considering how badly she treated them, you are very, very fortunate. Please take a look at why you keep going back for more abuse, and why you think it's ok for your kids to watch you accept it.

Your mom's mental illness doesn't excuse her behavior, nor does it obligate you to accept it. You're in a position to protect yourself and your family from further abuse- please do it.
posted by Space Kitty at 5:45 PM on December 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

If this were some random stranger who happened to act exactly like your mom, would you let her be part of your daughters' lives?
posted by adamrice at 5:46 PM on December 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

You cannot say 'no' to BDP. If you did explain to her why you were cutting her out of your life, she wouldn't get it anyway.

So I'd say no contact, certainly no 'chats' on the phone - these are just opportunities for her to further manipulate you. Maybe send her a Xmas card once a year.

It sounds harsh, but you really just need to cut her out of your life. And no feel guilty about doing so either.
posted by dydecker at 5:54 PM on December 20, 2008

It is your duty as a parent to keep that woman away from your family. I'm sorry you have to deal with this, but you no longer have the right to have put your desire to have a relationship with your mother ahead of your children. It isn't your fault, it is her illness. You have the responsiblity to keep yourself happy and healthy as well as the kids.

It is too stressful for you, your children and your husband to have this woman in your lives.

Ignore her, or simply wish her well and move on with the rest of your life. Best wishes to you.
posted by Miastar at 5:59 PM on December 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

"I told her that this was her absolute last opportunity to redeem herself and that I would hold true to my word."

I think it's worth pointing out that you added that particular emphasis, and to an extent it seems like you're asking how to deal with the ramifications of going back on your word. Any rational person reading through that story believes what I believe, which is that your mother is going to try to insinuate herself further into your life again, and that if you allow her to do so she will end up doing some horrifying, outrageous thing again.

The first question that occurred to me when I read through this story is, does your husband know that you're back in touch with her mom? Because he's the person who you should be talking to about this, not a bunch of internet yahoos. I know that if I were your husband and I knew you were re-initiating a relationship with your mother after she had put my children's lives in danger I would have plenty to say about it.

Actually, now that I consider it, I think in the title of your question you pretty much answered yourself (just as you did in the one sentence in your story you elected to emphasize with italics). Look up there at the top of your browser window and ask yourself what you really need to do. You want to have a telephone relationship with your mom, I guess you can give it a try. If you stick to your guns (which quite obviously should mean that you allow her not contact with your family and no in-person contact at all) it might be sustainable, though obviously you will have to just tell her at some point that you aren't going to let her have any contact with your family because she has proven herself to be dangerously unreliable in that context. I suspect she will soon stop being so pleasant in this interaction, then you can start blocking her on your cell-phone too.
posted by nanojath at 6:03 PM on December 20, 2008

I understand your reluctance to cut your mom out of your life - I also have a mother that I would never leave alone with any of my (hypothetical) children. I think it's important to realize that we don't get to pick our families, and sometimes members of our family are not people that we would ever choose to let into our lives. Once you are an adult, however, you do get the choice - and once you have children, your choices are being made for them too.

If you won't do it for yourself, do it for them. Find a counselor who can help you understand the hold that your mother has over you - and help you find a way to let go for good.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 6:03 PM on December 20, 2008

You are the adult. She is the child. You are the adult. She is the child.

Repeat until you believe it.
posted by kindall at 6:26 PM on December 20, 2008

I don't want to open that door. I simply can't trust her.

Then why are you even talking to her over the phone? This woman drunkenly abused your children. And you're calling to thank her for a birthday card? And even *considering* giving her another chance to meet them?


Talking to her over the phone will just encourage her that there's hope you'll give her another chance. nanojath has it: the worst thing you can do with a drunken, dangerous person is make ultimatums and then not honor them. Tell her she has three years off with no contact whatsoever - including you calling to thank her for birthday cards over the phone, jeez - and then you'll reconsider annually after that.

Then don't reconsider. Ever.
posted by mediareport at 6:39 PM on December 20, 2008 [7 favorites]

...cards, flowers, whatever...
posted by mediareport at 6:40 PM on December 20, 2008

I told her that this was her absolute last opportunity to redeem herself and that I would hold true to my word

So, now you're up to the part where you follow through.

Cut her off.

Sorry it hurts.
posted by flabdablet at 6:45 PM on December 20, 2008 [10 favorites]

Speaking from experience.

Put the ball in your mother's court. "Mom, you wronged me and my siblings and family in deeply significant ways over many years. (you can cite specifics) Here is what you need to do if you want to have contact with me and our family. Acknowledge and apologize for the ways you have wronged us. Seek medical/psychiatric help. Have your treatment professional(s) contact me at least three times over a period of 2 years of treatment compliance, communicating your treatment, progress, and why they think contact with me and the children would be beneficial to us based on your progress/compliance. At that time, we will consider contact again."

If she does this, she can have contact, at your discretion. If she doesn't, it's her choice. The rest is covered by other posters.

This has been terrifically effective with my bipolar, narcissistic, abusive, sociopathic father. Not surprisingly, he has no desire to do any of the items required. So we have had no contact. The parameters for his having a relationship remain, however, and the ball is in his court. Meanwhile our family has been protected. In my case, because of my father's lack of respect for me, my husband offered to write the letter, with my approval of contents and agreement with the parameters. I have occasional word of him from the one (of 4) siblings who maintains contact. So I'm assured that if he really needs help I'll hear of it.
posted by mumstheword at 6:56 PM on December 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

I need to add that I had my father in my life very infrequently for 15 years after I left home, and he inevitably, on every occasion, was beyond inappropriate, abusive, manipulative, dishonest and disruptive; in short a very negative influence in our lives at every opportunity. So our decision was arrived at with a lot of experience of the alternative.
posted by mumstheword at 7:02 PM on December 20, 2008

Best answer: Yeah, I say no phone calls unless they're on your terms. No calling your cell any more.

I don't see any need for restraining orders unless she takes to contacting you without your having been firm about it not being allowed.

I'd tell her exactly what you will permit. If she's well-behaved enough and can do Christmas/birthday cards only (whatever you tell her your limits are) for X number of years -- 'til your girls have good, healthy senses of selves and will find her behaviour as batty as you'd like to yourself, and thus won't be too affected by her -- then you may or may not want to reconsider. (Meantime, I like TomMelee's approach re: telling them gradually about her, without demonising her, as they become capable of understanding.) Maybe even tell her you've got this deadline in mind - "when the kids are teenagers" or whatever you decide - and that you might or might not be willing to reevaluate more significant (telephone) contact then if she can demonstrate improvement to you very consistently at that point. Tell her you have no intention of bringing up kids who think it's ok to behave as she has to you, so she knows if she wants to be a part of their lives, she's got this period of time to get her stuff together, get into therapy, work out what she did wrong and why it was wrong, and develop new more appropriate behaviours. Maybe she'll feel inspired to do something.

Of course, maybe she won't, too. It sounds like you don't think she will (which sounds reasonable) and that's maybe why you're not demanding that she improve in order to stay a part of your life. You've lowered your willingness to contact her in proportion to your lowered expectations of her (setting neither quite at zero, but fairly close) and that sounds reasonable enough without totally cutting her out, as long as you continue to recognise that balance and stick to it. Being firm about the terms with her may or may not cause her to respect it too; but committing to them firmly and repeating them often enough and seeing her break them (if she does) will only bring you closer to zero (ie cutting her out completely) if you start to feel it's warranted, so I don't think total estrangement is the only answer to your question now. That's not answering your actual question, but just chucking it out there along with the other responses.
posted by springbound at 7:15 PM on December 20, 2008

I'm sorry to hear about all of these difficulties. Reading your question, I can't help but wonder whether - although you ask how you can *convey* the message to your mother - what you really are wanting to know is how to *convince* her that you're right, or that you have a right to cut her off. I really believe that you're not going to convince her, or that she'll never admit that you're right (even if she knows it). So you'll have to be satisfied with the notion that you are making the best decision for yourself and your family. Best of luck.
posted by dreamphone at 7:20 PM on December 20, 2008

Divorce your mom.

You're deeply entrenched in her cycle of abuse: harm, apologies, harm, apologies. As a conscientious mother, you've an obligation to your children not to introduce them to this cycle.

Your mother will not be able to hear or understand rationale. Her mental illness makes her deaf to logic and causes her to externalize blame to others.

When she contacts you, be firm: "Mother, you need help. You must get counseling. Our family cannot interact with you until you have undergone intensive therapy. We wish you healing and strength."
posted by terranova at 7:22 PM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I like Mumstheword's advice. I agree keeping her away from your children. She has a mental illness and it is just not an option. At all.

Yet, she is your mother with a disease. I would think about maybe keeping a very distant phone relationship, but only when under a doctor's care.

If it was me, I think I would like to just have phone contact enough to support her in getting help, but distance myself from everything else.

Focus on your family with your husband, and maybe focus more on his extended family if you want your children to have that experience. But don't worry, your children can have an amazingly wonderful life without knowing her.

And if you need to cut her out completely, it is not a wrong choice at all. She put you through enough suffering.

(and don't believe a word she says again, get your info from her doctor, and if she refuses to help herself, you may have to let it go totally)
posted by Vaike at 7:25 PM on December 20, 2008

Best answer: I have a sister with BPD, so when you say "I know it's easy to say she's a crazy motherfucker, how could you even *consider* talking to her, but it's not that cut and dried,"...yeah, I get it.

You can let her know she's not welcome by saying, "You're my mother, I'm willing to talk to you on the phone, but if you show up here I'm calling the police." And then follow through if she shows up.

It's hard. Have you ever had counseling? I think this is one of those situations that triggers an intense opinion in just about anyone, so it might be nice to have someone impartial to just listen to you.
posted by christinetheslp at 7:27 PM on December 20, 2008

Response by poster: First, some clarifications. Yes, Mr. dancinglamb is very, very well aware of the story of my mother. He was aware of it before we got married, and he's aware of all the twists and turns of the saga as it's continued. In fact, he was mildly entertained by some of her stunts in the very beginning of our relationship (she tracked me down at his apt the first time I was there by calling all the people with his last name in the NYC area from her location in FL because she felt she needed to contact me regarding something).

Second, in an attempt at being succinct, I wrote of the more psychotic aspects of my mother's personality. She does, in fact, have a normal side. And if an average person was to meet her, you'd probably find her quite charming and engaging.

See, therein lies the problem. She can be normal for very extended periods of time. And she tends to be that way on the phone (which is how our relationship exists 95% of the time since I tend to know this).

My contact with her has been very superficial, at best; basic updates, casual conversation. I don't ask about her life (because I really don't want to know), I tell her little anecdotes about the kids, what's been going on with my studies, etc. I have no intention of ever going to see her, or ever inviting her here. The calls last no more than ten minutes and are purely on my terms.

My question was specifically about being clear about her not having contact with my children. See, I spent a lot - and I mean a LOT - of time being really, really angry - furious, even, at her behaviour and myself for allowing the events of her last visit to occur. And the more I thought about it the more I came to realise that she has always been this way, and always will be. Nothing is going to change. Not now, and likely not ever.

So, I walked away. And my children have no idea who she is. In fact, my kids think that her sister (technically their great aunt) is their grandmother. They never see her either, because she's in FL, as well. And Mr. dancinglamb's family is a whole other ball of wax that is for another meta askme. Let it suffice to say that they're not really grandparents, either.

But I don't need to be mean and say to my mother, "you know what you crazy bitch, you can't talk to my kids because they don't know who you are."

That's not beneficial to anyone in this story. And that's why I'm asking this askme. All I want - instead of a pileon - are suggestions of how I can be nice about it. She might be a fucking loon, but she raised me to have manners and to be kind.
posted by dancinglamb at 7:32 PM on December 20, 2008

I think that you could maybe really focus on her having an illness. And find the compassion from that voice. And focus on the fact that she is a danger to your children, and find the compassion to support your children's safety from that voice. And, of course, compassion for yourself in getting relief from this stressful situation.

Put that all together, and you will be able to speak from your heart, believe it, and stay firm, because you know it is out of love for everyone involved.

I think if you speak from that place, you will find the right words to say. It is always what works for me. I have a hard time 'putting my foot down' when I need to, as the words and thoughts get jumbled up. But when I stop and reframe it in terms of love.

If your mother is aware that she has a problem, at least taps into that knowledge every once in awhile, maybe use that.

"Mom, I love you, I care about you, I want to see you healthy. But, as a mother myself, I need to put the needs of my children first, and it will only bring them difficulties to reintroduce you back into their life. I am sorry you don't agree with me, but my decision has been made. I will be glad to keep you informed of their lives, etc. etc."
posted by Vaike at 7:54 PM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

All I want - instead of a pileon - are suggestions of how I can be nice about it

"So, when am I going to see the kids again?"

"Mom, I'm sorry to have to say this, but you're not. Last time we went through this I told you that that was your absolute last opportunity to show me you could be a grandmother to my kids, and I meant it, and you let me down. I love you, Mom, but my kids come first. I wish it didn't have to be this way, but it does."
posted by flabdablet at 8:04 PM on December 20, 2008 [7 favorites]

Well, that's the problem dancinglamb. When you wrote that post, you were talking about a whole person. A person that has charms as well as faults, little idiosyncrasies, bouts of normal behavior, and tons of memories with you (good and bad). We don't see that person in your post. All we see is a collection of behaviors and facts (at least from your point of view). Any rational person is going to advise you not to have contact with your mother. It's hard to get past that.

But this is your relationship. I think you need to decide what the ground rules are (you keep in touch with her on the phone only, no contact in person, no kids, etc) and stick to them. Remember that you need to protect yourself (and your family) first. Don't put yourself in a situation where you're being harmed by a family relationship just because they're family. You can have very meaningful relationships with people other than your biological family, so don't let yourself use that as an excuse.

You said you want advice about how to tell your mother nicely that you never want her to see your children. There isn't any nice way to do that. I'm sorry. There are probably some ways that are less cruel than others, but it doesn't seem like you're actively trying to be cruel here, so I doubt it would be an issue. No matter what you say, if you say it out loud, it's going to hurt her. Even if she deserves it, even if she knows deep down it's the right thing for you to do, even if, even if. People with mental illnesses have feelings too. So my advice, if you want it, is not to say anything unless she asks you directly. If she asks you directly, she had better be prepared for the answer. And she may have a very bad reaction to your answer, but some things take precedence over your mother's feelings in this particular situation.
posted by theantikitty at 8:11 PM on December 20, 2008

Maybe send her a Xmas card once a year.

Important: should you move in the future, get a post office box, and send the card with that return address.
posted by oaf at 8:13 PM on December 20, 2008

I understand why you don't want to cut her out of your life. Even after I cut my father from my life physically, I continued to have a phone relationship with him for years, knowing what the outcome would be, I still had to try. Maybe you'll come to the same conclusion, maybe you won't...but as long as YOU feel okay about the conversations with your mom, there is NO reason for you to stop the contact.

You may not be in control of your mother's behaviour, but you're in control of the situation....you choose to let her call you, and you can change your mind at any time. Doesn't answer your question but I just wanted to remind you, because I found that i felt entirely helpless in a similar situation, and I don't want you to feel that way.

As for your actual question...something to consider is perhaps putting a timeline on it, in hopes that she'll quit pressing for instant gratification. "Mom, you won't have any contact with the girls due to previous behaviours and incidents. When the girls reach legal age, they can make the decision as to whether they want to get to know you, but until then, I will not change my mind on this."
posted by kattyann at 8:18 PM on December 20, 2008

you can't cut her out, she's your mom. but you can make sure all interaction is on your own terms and is constructed in such a way to safeguard your children and yourself. i'd be very surprised if you aren't going down this exact path anyway and just letting off some steam here.
posted by Frasermoo at 8:49 PM on December 20, 2008

Nothing is going to change. Not now, and likely not ever.

Ok, so you agree she won't be seeing your children ever again. That's good. So all you want is suggestions about how you can "nicely" tell her that? Ok. The 2nd answer in this thread does that for you, esp. if you replace the last bit with mumstheword's later, excellent suggestion about putting the ball in her court and requiring notes from a professional therapist over a long period of time. Both of those were posted before your follow-up. Is there anything about those answers that's not satisfying?

I think what some of us are maybe reading into your question is a deeper issue, like a lack of comfort on your part saying even "nicely" that you won't be allowing her to see your children again. Hopefully, the strong answers here can help you find the strength to follow through with that.
posted by mediareport at 9:24 PM on December 20, 2008

"So, when am I going to see the kids again?"

"Mom, I'm sorry to have to say this, but you're not. Last time we went through this I told you that that was your absolute last opportunity to show me you could be a grandmother to my kids, and I meant it, and you let me down. I love you, Mom, but my kids come first. I wish it didn't have to be this way, but it does."
posted by flabdablet at 11:04 PM on December 20 [3 favorites +] [!]

What she said. Twice.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:10 PM on December 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I work with folks with personality disorders all the time, and it is hard precisely because, as you cited, many of them can seem so great, that you excuse the crazy for way longer than you should. And if it's hard when I'm a professional working with them, it's absolutely excruciating when it's your family. I think this description, heard from an ER doc once, sums it up the best: "When the walk into the ER and you know THEY are crazy, they're probably schizophrenic. When they walk in and you know YOU are crazy, they're borderline".

And here's another little vignette, that, for some reason, really helped me get it. A person with BPD is walking down the road and spies a pile of horse shit in the middle of the road. They look at it for awhile, walk all the way back home, get a shovel, walk alllllll the way back to the pile, shovel it up, and throw it up into the air so it falls on their own head. They then look around, all furious, and say "Who did that to me!!!!!'

I think some therapy for you would be a good thing. I don't think there's anything wrong with you-she's your mom, she did a mess of that job, and of course you have crazy mixed sad angry emotions about her. I like mumstheword's advice about some parameters for contact, whatever you decide you want contact to be, that make any contact completely dependent on her successful engagement in therapy and your ability to communicate with the therapist. I'm guessing she might also be bipolar...is that true? DBT has been shown to be sometimes successful for folks with BPD. I strongly suggest, though, that you not get dragged into helping her access therapy, figure out her options, etc, cause man, that's a hole with no botom.
posted by purenitrous at 10:13 PM on December 20, 2008 [5 favorites]

How terribly sad to read.

My advice would be to mirror what others have already said. Be polite but firm that she has burned every last bridge, the very last one being that she put your children's lives in danger. They are your family and exposing them to your mother is putting them back in the line of fire.

Just say "Sorry Mom but you are a danger to yourself, to me and to my family. I love you and I will always love you but I cannot, in good conscience, expose my children to you again. It pains me to do it but I have to think of what is best for them."

And then the hard part will be sticking to it.

Good luck.
posted by fenriq at 10:14 PM on December 20, 2008

Best answer: I like the Ms. Manners approach--"sorry, that's not possible." Repeat as necessary. Don't give a reason or any hint that you might change your mind in the future; if you do, you'll just encourage her. I don't really think that at this point that it will be a genuine mystery to her why you don't want her talking to your kids. And obviously this approach has got to be polite because it is sanctioned by Miss Manners.
posted by phoenixy at 10:36 PM on December 20, 2008 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Holy fucking shit dancinglamb. I totally feel your pain. My mother called during my teenage years to drunkenly insist that she was on her way to come kill me. That was the straw that finished our relationship, and it's been almost 11 years since I last saw or spoke to her.

Does it hurt? You bet your ass it hurts every day that I don't have a mom.

But she isn't playing these bullshit games in my life either, and that is what soothes every nagging doubt that maybe, if I called her one more time, she would get it together for me.

And I don't have kids. I remember how hard it was to follow through on this decision, feeling like maybe she would get herself in line for me. But her history strongly suggests that she won't.

So, as others have said, more eloquently than I can: You stop answering the phone. You throw the cards away without opening the envelopes, and you enjoy the flowers but throw away the card they came with. You do not call to say thank you. You do not ask her for favors, and you do not ever suggest that she is "missing" from your life.

And this is also to second that your remaining family either understands and respects this decision you have made, or they don't. I don't speak to the members of my family that insisted that my mother needed "another chance." My safety is worth more than her hurt feelings. Her continued disregard for my safety through my childhood is one of the most painful things I endure. I would not for a moment want to consider that my children could find themselves in her path.
posted by bilabial at 2:31 AM on December 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Do you think it's kind to her to continue the conversations when she can hear the kids in the background, and is hearing anecdotes about the kids who don't know who she is?

(serious question - it very may well be something your mother can tolerate - a lot of people would have trouble with it, though).
posted by By The Grace of God at 3:40 AM on December 21, 2008

Sorry, dancinglamb, but there really is no nice way to tell someone that you don't want them to have contact with your kids because they've put them in harm's way. That's just one of those things that you can't say without a whole mess of hurt being involved - on your part for having to say it, and on their part for hearing it.

You're trying to get through this without your heart aching (and your phone exploding from the call barrage from your mom). I can't help you with the first. The fact that you feel regret and pain at having to do this says a lot about you as a caring, considerate person whose family is important to her. That's a good way to be. It's a shame that your mom isn't able to be part of that. Thing is, though, it's her choice.

I think you need to figure out what you're hoping will change. She won't change. She might get treatment. She might not. You can't control that, and you can't even anticipate how she might change once she gets treatment. Or how long that treatment will take.

It sounds like she gets in touch when it suits her. She calls you most of the time, yes? Just stop initiating contact. When she does get in touch, be friendly, but tell her that no, she can't talk to or see the kids. When she asks why, send her a letter or an email to explain. Don't get into it with her on the phone or in person, unless you're in a therapists office together.

It's damage limitation to put it in writing. First, it keeps you from having to repeat yourself over and over again, in conversations that will be highly charged and full of a lot of spiteful comments on her part. Second, it is something you can read when you start second guessing yourself. Third, if she starts family drama by claiming you've been cruel and awful to her, you have a hard copy of what you actually said.

I know it hurts. And it's hard to possibly shut a door on a relationship with your mother. Do you think that perhaps you're also finding the idea of shutting that door is kind of a final admission that she is not, and possibly won't be, the mother you need?

You can sort out your feelings about your mom in your own time. For now, you have to stop the damage to your girls.
posted by Grrlscout at 4:26 AM on December 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Having gone through a huge disappointment with my own father my only advice is for you to stop a minute and mourn the loss of your mother. I am not a shrink. And what I'm suggesting is based on my own path and experience.

For years I wanted my father to be different. And I gave him many chances to do so. It took me forever accept that he was who he was and that I needed (for my own sanity) to accept him as he was. It wasn't/isn't easy (and he's been dead almost 9 years now). The fact that you've given your mother so many chances with predictable results tells me you may not be at this point yet.

It's incredibly sad when you can realize this truth. And that's why I suggested you need to grieve the loss of your mother. It's a very deep loss but one you probably have carried with you for years and years.

I look to my wife and children as examples of how far I've come to overcome the childhood I was dealt. I'm far from perfect but at the very foundation is the fact that I'm aware of all of this and have become mindful of how I raise my children. And that's what separates me from my father.

This is so hard and yet dealing with this is probably one of the most important life events you will ever have to deal with. Important to you and important to you husband and children. I really don't think I have to tell you that your mother has tormented you enough.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 5:34 AM on December 21, 2008

Best answer: I've just reread your response up above, dancinglamb, and would like to add a couple things. I don't think you need to be "nice" about telling your mother she will not have contact with your children. I think you need to be "clear." And, as you know, she will not accept this easily or graciously. In similar situations with my father I've simply had to repeat what I've said in a calm manner and often then said that I must go. It's hard to hang up if you have any expectation or desire that they respond to you in an open and honest way.

The fact that your mother has acted "normal" at times is not a mitigating circumstance. The fact that she swings so much is the critical point. She is not normal. Her mood swings are the disease. And, given what you've said above, she cannot be trusted to tell the truth. I wouldn't give her the benefit of my doubt. There are too many past examples that prove what a hole that is. Your responsibility is to not repeat the past by your actions.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 5:49 AM on December 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It seems to me that no matter what explanation you give your mother, she will just keep trying to get back into your life and your children's lives. So rather than agonizing over the right words to choose, just keep refusing to let her into your children's lives in any substantial way. Don't let her into your home. Don't invite her to events such as dance recitals or graduations. If you want to be nice you can keep in touch with her via occasional phone conversations and send her Christmas cards and pictures of your daughters. But don't do more than that until your children are grown.
posted by orange swan at 7:00 AM on December 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry you're trying to deal with this; the adult parent-child relationship can be complex enough anyway, without adding dysfunction on top of it. Please do take care of yourself through all this, too-- for your sake, and your family's sake.

I'm sure your mom loves you and your kids, but it isn't a safe or a healthy love. Just because people love us, doesn't mean they're good for us.

Her illness is not her fault, but it isn't yours, either, and it certainly isn't your kids'. As you said, your mother threw away her absolute last opportunity to redeem herself; that also isn't your fault. Due to her illnesses, it may not be her fault, either; but again as you've said, your priority has to be, not what she wants, but what your kids need-- and that's safety.
posted by ElaineMc at 7:43 AM on December 21, 2008

Tough situation. I'm not going to repeat what's been said but I I wonder if it's ultimately counterproductive to tell her anything about the children at all. I realize it would be hard to not talk about your kids to your mom ever. But that doesn't seem like a bad idea in this situation.
posted by 6550 at 10:43 AM on December 21, 2008

One last thing I can't see mentioned above:

It seems like your mother's done the most damage when she either offers or is called upon to help you out in times of stress, panic, or inconvenience.

I think you'd be well justified in cutting her off completely, but if you do choose to allow her some limited access to your family in the future, you need to work out some contingency plans with your husband so that she's never again called upon in times of stress or emergency. You ought to set up arrangements with friends and/or other family members, so that even if you were both in full-body plaster casts in hospital, everyone is clear that she's off the friggin' phone tree.
posted by hot soup girl at 12:08 PM on December 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Restraining order, restraining order, restraining order!
posted by Jacqueline at 4:11 PM on December 21, 2008

My contact with her has been very superficial, at best; The calls last no more than ten minutes and are purely on my terms.

So, I walked away. And my children have no idea who she is.

You haven't really "walked away" and it is going to be very confusing to your children when they are old enough to realize that YOU have a relationship with their grandmother but they can't. You should make a decision about what is best for the entire family and all operate accordingly, you are in a new family now.
posted by MiffyCLB at 7:05 PM on December 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

You've already answered your own question.

Phrase it in current terms if you have to: You had your last opportunity to redeem yourself with the kids, and now I must hold true to my words.

One more thing, don't apologize...No "I'm sorry it has to be this way." Instead use something true..."I'm disappointed, too". Just stay clear and calm and you'll be fine.

I'm sorry this is how it went for you. It does suck.
posted by agentwills at 12:41 PM on December 22, 2008

my sister didn't invite my mom (and subsequently me) to the birth of her first child because of my mom's borderline behavior, but when she had unexplained seizures in the days following we both flew out to see her. the result was the most uncomfortable argument i've ever experienced and she and i flew home early. my sister and i, a year or so later after her behavior escalated to dangerous extremes, both gave her an ultimatum. we said she could be in our lives on our terms, which for me meant no talking on the phone but gifts in the mail and occasional (only sane ones got responses) emails. my sister talked to her more on the phone, but her phases of lunacy grew to the point of landing herself in the hospital every couple of months. it was very hard not to feel guilty, that our refusal to communicate was making her this way, but somehow we stuck to our guns. she ended up in rehab and reassessed her life. now she lives right down the street from me and my sister and she has a steady job (a first since i was about 11) and keeps her crazy in check.

we know she'll always be crazy underneath it all, but as long as she's able to control it around us and my nephew, we're okay with it. there's a crazy scare every now and then, but so far so good. it's nice to be able to have holidays together again.

my advice is to talk to your brother. might sound like a cliche but it was much more powerful when my sister and i both insisted. if your mom is anything like mine she may very well be subtly using your brother against you. if it happened to me, it could happen to you :(

good luck and DO NOT feel guilty. seriously.
posted by big open mouth at 7:23 PM on December 27, 2008

Response by poster: Well, here's an update and, I guess, an admission on my part that the Mefites were pretty much on point this time around.

I got requests from my Mother with regard to what my girls wanted for Christmas. Since they don't know who the hell she is, I basically pawned the question off by saying that they have all they need and she should save her money, yada, yada, yada (since she is habitually unable to keep a job it would be to her benefit anyway). She kept calling my cell, and I knew it was about the same topic of conversation, so I didn't answer it. She started leaving messages about gift cards to Build-A- Bear. I didn't want to address the subject again, so I sent an email pretty much reiterating that they didn't need anything, that we were trying to teach them about how there are other kids that don't get stuff at Christmas and how they need to be grateful for all that they have already, etc. She didn't respond to the email (which I sent about four-five days before Christmas), so I took it to be a sign that she a) was annoyed or b) didn't read it. Whatever. I sent it. Not my problem if she didn't check her mail.

And of course, all that was discussed in this thread has been weighing very heavily on my head. So I didn't call her on Christmas. I did talk to my brother around 6-7pm that night and happened to ask him whether he'd spoken to her. Turns out he hadn't either. I knew right off the bat she'd be pissed that her two 'ungrateful and thoughtless' children blew her off. I still didn't call. And I didn't call the day after due to one of my kids being sick and other stuff going on in the house.

Well, I did call her cell on Friday when I had to run an errand and was alone in the car. She let it ring through to voice mail, and I intentionally didn't leave a message. She called back immediately and proceeded to go into a tirade about how (as predicted) I was cruel and thoughtless, etc. etc. I told her, nope, I didn't call her on Christmas, and I didn't call her the next day. But I was calling her that day and if this was the way she chose to react that I wasn't going to listen to it, nor was I going to tolerate her behaviour toward me. Further I told her that I thought it through and decided that I just wasn't going to involve myself with her again, that I was walking away and that I was done. Period. And I hung up the phone.

I was foolish to think that I could maintain some sort of quasi-relationship with her at an arm's length. But she's made my decision much easier for me. Not any less painful, but easier. You know, I was talking to a very good friend of mine about this entire clusterfuck. And I think the bottom line is that I miss and resent not having a mother. I don't miss having HER as a mother, but just having one and all that represents. It all just really sucks, doesn't it?

So, now I need to figure out how to get Sprint to block her number from my cell...
posted by dancinglamb at 7:35 PM on December 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think you've answered your own question with the update above but I have to say: Get out while you're still ahead. Simply cut her off and leave it at that. When your girls are old enough (i.e. self-sufficient,) sit them down and explain to them the situation. If they want to have a relationship with her, they can contact your brother and track her down.

I haven't dealt with anything as toxic as you, but I can relate in a small way. My parents are generally good people who also happen to have a "interesting" side that I prefer my daughter not see and/or take seriously. In some areas there is a vast gulf between us in areas of politics, ethics and of course ... the habitually verbal abusing. The Mrs. and I have gone to great lengths keep a small, tight group of friends and other family members around that our daughter can trust and depend on for things. We have made it clear in no uncertain terms that our words and our words alone are right. If we're not around, one of her "Uncles/Aunts" is next best thing. Failing that, the nearest cop or teacher, but that's it.

She's old enough now to get it and she'll understand even more as she grows older.

Sounds like you have a good thing with your husband and kids ... one person, parent or not, isn't worth ruining it for.
posted by damiano99 at 8:08 PM on December 29, 2008

You've done a strong, brave thing, and I really am sorry it hurts.

Hugs. Stay strong. Stay brave.
posted by flabdablet at 5:32 AM on December 30, 2008

This might help.
posted by flabdablet at 5:44 AM on December 30, 2008

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