How to improve my relationship with my mom
December 28, 2014 11:23 AM   Subscribe

Since my parents divorced, my mom grew more distant from me (and my sibling), particularly when she met a new man, to whom she is now married. I don't know where to go from here to improve our relationship. My apologies in advance for the wall of text that is about to hit you.

Growing up my mom was very doting and as a teenager, I often pushed her away (typical teenager stuff). My dad initiated their divorce during my final year of university, and my mom had a mental breakdown from this (as she stated herself, it destroyed her identity as a mother and a wife). I know I hurt her by trying to remain neutral - at times she explicitly told me that I should be mad at my father for breaking up our family and it hurt her that I did not express any anger towards him. After college, I moved abroad and since then I see her about once a year.

A few years after the divorce she married a man and seems the happiest she's ever been, which of course I am glad about, but her relationship with me (and my sibling) has greatly deteriorated, particularly since she met her husband. She and I had a big argument when I came to see her a few years ago, and I feel like things have never recovered.

I was hurt by her behavior during this visit because she prioritized spending time with her boyfriend over spending time with me (even though I see her only once a year and was in to visit for only 5 days). For example, she wasn't even home when I arrived from the airport (she arrived four hours later because she was out with her boyfriend), she canceled dinner plans with me at the last minute because a night out with her boyfriend and his friends ran later than she thought it would, she didn't want to go out and spend time with just me because her boyfriend might miss her, etc. This was on top of her canceling a trip last minute we had planed together with my sibling earlier that year because her boyfriend wanted her to spend the holidays with him. When I expressed how these actions made me feel (like she doesn't really care about me), we got into a shouting match and she basically told me: "You live abroad, I barely see you so of course I am going to prioritize my relationship with X. Yes, I am being selfish but I deserve to finally be selfish for once."

Things have gotten better since then on the surface, but I feel like our relationship is completely artificial now. I am almost always the one to calls her (every two weeks). When I call, our conversations last normally about 5 minutes. I make an effort to try to ask about what is going on in her life and ask about how her husband is doing yet she hardly asks any questions about my life anymore. When I do visit her, I feel like I need to put up a wall so that her comments/actions don't hurt me. I used to be able to go for her for advice. Now if I go to her with a problem, she just says "Well, that sucks!" and moves the conversation along.

I don't want to continue on in this artificial relationship with my mom. I feel like I don't even know her anymore. I understand that as a teenager the relationship was probably a little one way and that may have hurt her, but I don't want it to be like that now that I am an adult; however, she seems to be shutting me out, and shutting down any opportunity of us forming a mom-daughter adult friendship. If it goes on like this, I feel I'll never have truly known my mother and I find that terribly sad.

What can I do to make our relationship better? (Or should I just accept this at the status quo?)
posted by Blissful to Human Relations (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Your mother doesn't seem interested in participating, and you cannot maintain both sides of a relationship yourself.

At best all you can do is meet her where she is. You could ask her whether she's interested in having a better relationship, and if she is you can ask her what that reasonably would look like to her. She may say no, and you may avoid asking the question because you think that her no is the worst thing that can happen, but I promise you that having an answer is better than repeatedly getting your hopes up and being disappointed over and over.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:39 AM on December 28, 2014 [12 favorites]

That's harsh. I think everyone has that one-way relationship when they are a teenager, and yet your mother seems unable to see this as a normal developmental stage and is instead holding it against you.

Perhaps writing a letter or email expressing all these emotions would be best? That way she can think about it and (hopefully) respond more thoughtfully.

Be very sure that you are prepared for her NOT to respond thoughtfully, though. She may be unable to move on from this.
posted by chainsofreedom at 11:46 AM on December 28, 2014 [8 favorites]

Ask for what you want, clearly and without bullshit/evading/subtlety. My father's behavior changed to a lesser degree after he remarried, and the only way I've been able to maintain communication is to clearly and unequivocally state what I want, since the man is awful at picking up on subtlety. He tends to default to prioritizing his wife's needs and including her in all things unless I very explicitly request something different. (IE: "Hey Dad, I'd really appreciate it if you and I could go get dinner at least once together, without Wife, while I'm home. I miss getting to talk to you about father/son stuff.") At first, I felt really awkward saying that sort of thing, but I've realized it's the only way I'll get what I want out of our time together, and I think he appreciates not having to play guess-the-intentions.
posted by Alterscape at 11:48 AM on December 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

If your mother is holding your teen years against you...she's more immature than you were then. Every teenager ever has shouting matches with parents. That's normal.

It sounds like your mother is very immature, and selfish. Now, I don't begrudge her happiness, but your relationship with your children should be important too.

She sounds like a person who views the world as the ultimate passive person. Everything is done to her, she has no self-determination at all. You abandoned her, you refused to take sides in something that was none of your business, and you had the temerity to grow up and become a person in your own right.

This is your mother, as she is. You can still love her and try to have a relationship with her, but you need to know what your boundaries are.

When you visited she didn't make room in her life for you at all. She punished you for even making the effort.

For now, stop investing so much in her. Don't call her, let her call you. Don't plan to visit her, unless she invites you, and even then, make it short.

I know it hurts, and you may want to discuss it with a therapist to help you process how the fracturing of this important relationship impacts your life.

You don't say much about your Mom, but she sounds similar to my mother, who is a narcissist. You may want to read up on it and see if it resonates.

Hang in there. You can have a relationship, it may not look like the relationship you want to have with your mom, but you don't have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:48 AM on December 28, 2014 [23 favorites]

For whatever reason, it sounds like your mother is not interested in spending time with you, and I don't know what you could do to change this.

Given that she only sees you once a year, you'd figure she would want to spend those five days prioritizing her relationship with you. She still has the other 360 days of the year to prioritize her relationship with her boyfriend/husband.

Not to mention that during those five days, if her husband was a stand-up guy, he'd say, "You only get to see your child once a year. Make the most of it. We can put our plans on hold during that time if it interferes with that." Or he'd plan things that all three of you could do together. My guess is that the husband is very needy and demands her full attention, and is probably manipulating your mother to boot. But there's not much you can do about this.

And regardless of what happened when you were in your teens, few mothers would hold a grudge against a child for doing typical teenager stuff, nor should she be trying to make you guilty for not hating your father enough. That's way out of line.

When people want to have a relationship with their children, they don't act like this. Unfortunately, this sounds like it's going to be the status quo.
posted by Leatherstocking at 11:51 AM on December 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

It sounds like she's still hurting from what she may have perceived as abandonment. The big talk you had didn't work, and she's demonstrating her priorities with her actions. I'm not sure another talk will make much of a difference right now.

I think if things are incrementally improving, even if it's on the surface for now, keep going with that, and be patient. Things may change with time.

(FWIW, this isn't the first time I've heard of mothers who've spent a lifetime martyring themselves getting angry about it in late mid-life, and misdirecting that anger. From what I've observed, it can pass, especially once grandbabies are in the mix and menopause is over [not to be that jerk, but it can play a role in heightening emotions].)
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:54 AM on December 28, 2014 [10 favorites]

Have you considered that your mother might not want a close relationship with you for whatever reason? There's an expectation that parents will always do everything they possibly can to be a part of their children's lives, but sometimes, people just don't get along. Genetics doesn't change that.

Ask for what you want, absolutely. But your mother gets to make the choices she wants to make, just like you do.
posted by Solomon at 11:55 AM on December 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I'm wondering if your mom has a lot of insecurities and if her identity is still connected to her husband. Especially a few years ago, when the relationship was newer, maybe she felt like she had to prioritize him or risk losing him (if only on a subconscious level). Also, maybe she takes you for granted: you're her only mother, and it doesn't occue to her she'd lose you. Or maybe she throws up some barriers because she doesn't want to get hurt by you. These are all guesses of course.

I think you could do a few things: first, before you go visit, ask her if it's a good time. (I learned this from my stepmom -- my dad would say I'm always welcome, but I also found out my dad would cancel existing plans if I went to visit, even though I could have visited at another time if he had suggested it.) Do you have much choice in when you visit? Are you visiting at the holidays? That's a complicated time, and maybe she'd rather you spent a long weekend there another time. But ask her first -- maybe there's a time when her husband will be out of town so it'd be easier for her to spend time with you then.

Also, it's ok to be direct and tell her that you'd like to spend some one-on-one time with her. You might not get it, though. My dad and stepmom have been married for 25 years, and it's really only the past few years that they're spending much social time apart. It hurts, and I'd like to see him more just us, but he's mostly happily married, and that's important, too. But maybe ask to arrange a specific kind of outing that the two of you would enjoy but isn't his thing so much. If you have a good relationship with him, you could try to arrange that with him, too.

Also, have you told her how you can tell she's happy now, and how glad you are to see it? I bet she'd like to hear that you value her happiness.

I agree with some others that she might not be super mature in her relationship with you. I also think you still value your relationship with her, and you're not ready to give up. It's been hard for me with my mom in the past few years -- even though she's mentally fine, she's had some rough emotional situations, and I'm figuring out that sometimes I have to be the bigger person and just not let it bother me. I know I've done things (inadvertently) to hurt her. I don't always know when I've done it, though, and sometimes I think she's willingly misinterpreting my actions, like she's super sensitive or looking to be hurt. But we can't really communicate about stuff like that, so I have to let it go.

I bet things will get better as your mom grows more comfortable in this relationship. Maybe see your stepdad as your ally. Try inviting him on sibling weekends, or plan the timing around him. Have the two of them visited you? Have you explicitly invited them?

Good luck. This stuff is hard, and it can be really hard to lose that place of feeling first with our parents.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:14 PM on December 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

It sounds like she feels that your father, you and your sibling betrayed and abandoned her after she was a doting mother who built her life around her family. Of course, her view is not necessarily 'the truth' of it, but she's decided to cut her losses, move on, and build her life around someone else now.

It's not the most impressive point of view and has led to bad behavior, but that's where she seems to be now. If she's uninterested in building a new relationship with you, I'm afraid there's not a lot you can do.
posted by quince at 12:21 PM on December 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

Keep in mind that her behavior may very well have ZERO to do with your teenage years, and you are assuming cause and effect when in reality your mother may just rely on men to provide her identity/security. I think you're assuming this is some kind of punishment when it may just be how your mother is.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:34 PM on December 28, 2014 [31 favorites]

It was not reasonable for her to expect you to take sides against your dad. If she is holding that against you, I don't know what you can do. You can't make her see things as you (and I) do.
posted by salvia at 1:31 PM on December 28, 2014

I would consider talking to her husband. Letting him know you miss your mom and ask if he has any suggestions. One, he might have some actual good input. Two, he will tell your mother and maybe it will seep in a little deeper with her. Three, it may serve as a hint to back off next time you visit and make mother-daughter time.
posted by 724A at 2:03 PM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

You live abroad, I barely see you so of course I am going to prioritize my relationship with X. Yes, I am being selfish but I deserve to finally be selfish for once."

I'm sorry to be the one who says this, but based on what you've written, from her perspective, this makes a lot of sense. It may not be flattering to her, but my take is that she feels she invested a lot of her life into raising you, and between your teen years, not taking her side in the divorce, and moving to another country - she hasn't received very much "return" on her investment. Pragmatically, it makes more sense (to her) to put time into her boyfriend - he's the person who's "been there" for her.

This doesn't mean there's no hope for the situation. But I think that fixing things might involve you putting a significant amount of effort into the relationship. For instance: she and her BF break up, and you drop everything to come back to America to be with her, possibly for an extended period of time. Even then, it's impossible to say if that would actually work. But I do sense that your mom views things in a very "transactional" manner, and that its going to take more than an apology and a weekly phone call to get to a close adult mother-child relationship.

I'm sorry. All I can think is that you need to think Long Term on this. Keep in touch. Pay attention. And if you see an opening (and you're willing to invest in what it will cost you), jump in and surprise her by being "there" for her.
posted by doctor tough love at 2:04 PM on December 28, 2014 [10 favorites]

I'm sorry to be the one who says this, but based on what you've written, from her perspective, this makes a lot of sense

I disagree that it makes sense. Nowhere is it written that you have to spend 365 days a year with your boyfriend to make a worthwhile investment. It does in fact sound like your mother gets her sense of identity from men, and as her daughter you will never measure up in that way. I speak from my own experience. Of course, every good daughter wants her mother to be happy and in a good relationship, but sorry, a good relationship is not one where you ignore your children when they're in the country. Your mother had children, expected them to have the maturity of exceptionally mature adults, and when she realized she couldn't get everything she wanted out of them, abandoned them and moved on. She is immature. You did nothing wrong and it's sad that she doesn't want a relationship with her children. She doesn't even call you? Sounds familiar to me, and like selfish, bad parent behavior. She's a bad mother. It doesn't mean you can't have a relationship, but you probably won't have one that satisfies you until you entirely let go.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:21 PM on December 28, 2014 [13 favorites]

Rightly or wrongly she got hurt by you when you. Not when you were a teenager, but when you were an adult at University and again when you moved to a different country. Why would she want to get closer to you or prioritize her relationship with you when you made it clear you didn't prioritize your relationship with her, which is how she would have percieved your not taking sides & your moving away. To her mind, again rightly or wrongly, you rejected her at a time when her life was falling apart so she got on with her life, and hell it would be would terribly mentally unhealthy for her to still be sitting in stasis waiting for your visits or phone calls.

After my father died, my mother lived with me for 6 years, we grew as close as any mother & daughter could. Seriously the old "we were each others best friends" cliche held for us. Then I moved to the US to be with my husband. My mother 100% supported me when I went, but she was sad & lonely too she had to make her own life with me gone, she couldn't sit in limbo waiting for me to decide to go back to visit. She is super close with my SIL now & they have the relationship we once had, and I couldn't be happier for either of them. It hurts when your parents make their life without you, but they are human beings too and have existences outside of us. It sucks for those of us that really want to remain close even at a long distance, but much like long distance romantic relationships it won't work if both sides aren't on board and you can't force the other person to keep up their end. Yes I miss my mother & the closeness we once had, but I also know that she couldn't sit around waiting for me.
posted by wwax at 2:22 PM on December 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm sorry you're going through this. But if you want to improve your relationship with your mother, I think you need to step back and consider her point of view with more compassion and understanding. Some of her behavior is not appropriate, but you're also expecting her to act a certain way (as your mother) rather than recognizing that she is an independent adult with needs and desires.

You seem to be forgetting that two important component of relationships are time and effort. A relationship where you only see someone once a year for a few days just isn't going to be that close in most cases. There just isn't enough time to build emotional closeness. So if you moved out of the country shortly after she went through a terrible time, it makes sense that she doesn't feel especially close to you - from her perspective, when the chips were down you let her deal with it alone. In contrast, a friend of mine put her career on hold for months to console her mother when my friend's father died. That's what close families do. I'm not saying that your mother's behavior is okay, but if you want to get close to her you have to start by thinking about what she experienced with some compassion. I also don't think you did anything wrong. If one of my parents had a breakdown when I was in my early 20s, I probably wouldn't have put my life on hold for them. But I also wouldn't expect to have a close relationship with them for that reason. Nowadays I would consider running home to care for one of them, and I would expect to have a closer relationship with them if I did that. By your own description, you seem to think that you can put in very little effort other than a biweekly phone call and an annual trip, and in return you'll get a close relationship with your mother just because she's your mother. That's really not how it works. Sadly, you may have to adjust your expectations somewhat unless you can see her more often, and on her terms.

My wife and I have good relationships with our parents but it requires lots of communication and lots of effort to go see them. It also requires that we schedule our visits around their convenience, and they in return schedule around our visits. Your mother canceling plans is inappropriate, but at the same time it sounds like you expect her to bring her life to a screeching halt because gosh - she's your mother! Well, she's also a human with a life, and she has a relationship with someone who is around all the time and presumably is her support network in ways you are not. Maintaining these relationships, even with parents, requires treating the other party as adults with lives and showing some mutual respect for each others' lives.

I'm sorry if this is a little harsh, I don't mean to say that this is your fault or you did anything wrong. Lots of teens push parents away; it was completely inappropriate for her to want you to be angry at your father; and her canceling plans and trips is unfair. But I think you need to reconsider how you conceive of your relationship with your mother and how you understand her actions. You say the relationship was "a little one way", which seems like an understatement if you're worried it was so bad she was holding it against you. You expect her to forgive you for pushing her away as a teenager so you can be close again. Well, I don't recall really pushing my parents away, but even then after my teen years I didn't get close to my parents again until I made a concerted, years-long effort to connect with them, complete with calling at least weekly, taking a real interest in what they are up to, and seeing them more than once a year at times that are good for them. Getting close again is not automatic, it takes effort from both parties, and to some degree reconnecting with parents is like maintaining any friendship. It requires time, effort, and meeting them where they are instead of expecting them to come to you. Even more than that, you're concerned that she is mad about your actions as a teen, and you are completely overlooking that she endured a major trauma of divorce, and shortly after you largely disappeared from her life. You weren't wrong to do that, but moving away had consequences and a less-close relationship is one of them. The same is true of me living far from my parents. Motive, she shouldn't have asked you to be mad at your father, but is it possible she just wanted to feel supported and you couldn't find an appropriate alternate way to show some support? If you want a close relationship, she needs to see you as a loving and supportive child. Have you ever given her a reason to see you as a loving and supportive child? I didn't see even a single instance in your post that would engender those feelings.

Finally, about this: "Yes, I am being selfish but I deserve to finally be selfish for once." This makes SO MUCH SENSE if read compassionately. It sounds like she was wrapped up in being a wife and mother for many years, and then she had her world shattered and received very little in return for all that effort she put in. Having gone through that, she had realized that maybe it's time to prioritize her own happiness, which is a completely fine and appropriate thing to do. It's not selfish at all, despite her phrasing.

Maybe the others are right and she's a narcissist and there's no way to repair this relationship. But that's not what I'm reading. I'm reading a story of a woman who put others first, underwent an emotional trauma, saw her child move far away, and is now finding happiness again. Based on that story, her priorities make a lot of sense, even if she is expressing her priorities very poorly. I think understanding where she's coming from is the first step to a closer relationship.
posted by Tehhund at 3:24 PM on December 28, 2014 [17 favorites]

Best answer: Your mother's demand that you side with her was completely out of line, no matter your age. (Badmouthing your minor children's other parent during or post divorce is considered emotional abuse and can get a judge ticked off enough to change custody or visitation away from the badmouthing parent.)

What her behavior demonstrates is an inability on her part to see what life looks like through your eyes. She isn't functioning with an ability to empathize with you, with how bad it would feel to be made to understand that one parent's love was dependent on the (in this case adult) child disowning or siding against the other parent. You were absolutely correct to stay neutral and she was wildly incorrect to even hint that you ought not. In other words, this is a textbook narcissist move.

Narcissistic parents often have a very difficult time with normal adolescent behavior as well. It's very distressing to see social acceptance granted to the way you wish to behave when you are thwarted! No parents enjoy teen tantrums, but narcissists cannot forgive them. So there's another red flag for narcissism.

Plenty of families are able to maintain close ties with far flung members, and plenty of remarried mothers are able to balance their adult children's visits with their everyday lives.

I am so sorry you are having to live with this treatment. Please don't pay any mind to the suggestions that it's your fault or that it's normal behavior. It's not and it's not.

I'm afraid the only thing you can do to make your relationship better is to lower your expectations. Just go in to visits with her expecting to have to entertain yourself more than not. Instead of calling her and trying to push through a phone conversation where you're the only one trying to keep it up, just send her a postcard every few weeks. Find good, close friends and create your own supportive and loving family. Basically, as sad as it sounds, give up the expectation that she will be able to be there for you in a normal mom/adult daughter way.

And, I'm also sorry to say, you may get a tantrum of 'abandonment' fueled rage when you do pull back. Not responding to others' needs is fine for a narcissist, but suddenly getting the message that you're not needed ... whole other ball of wax.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 6:03 PM on December 28, 2014 [8 favorites]

It seems like your mother has a very specific idea of what 'family' is and what identity she has in one. She identifies strongly with things like 'wife and mother' and when the divorce happened she felt she lost her family along with that. Not only because she was no longer a wife, but also because she felt that perhaps you were siding with her ex instead of her which probably made her feel like her identity as 'mother' was also stripped.

Her boyfriend/husband was offering her the chance at the identity of partner/wife again and perhaps in her mind she didn't see why she should risk losing that to someone who (in her mind) participated in stripping her of that precious identity in the first place. She may even find you a bit of a threat to her losing her identity again in some way.

Obviously your mother has some deep seeded issues surrounding this. It's never a good thing when we identify with roles in society rather than with who we really are inside, but most people are guilty of it. Some have it worse than others though. I don't believe in relationships where one person is doing all the leg work. Since your mother is not putting forth any effort into your relationship I would say that it's healthier for you just to let the relationship go. Don't call her anymore. Don't write. I don't mean hate her or shut her out; just don't try so hard. She might end up calling you after she doesn't hear from you for a long time and if that happens maybe it's because she had the chance to realize her real feelings for you....Or maybe she won't do that. Another possibility is that, you get married, have babies and those babies offer your mother the identity of "grandmother" and suddenly she'll want to be in your life again to fulfill that.... Or maybe that won't happen. Either way, I think it would be good for you to consider not trying to make the relationship better. Don't try so hard, because that never works. A relationship is TWO people and for it to work both have to try a little. If she's not willing to put forth the minimum of effort than save your energy for the family and people in your life that are willing to. You can't change someone else's behavior for them. All you can do is change your own reaction to their behavior.
posted by rancher at 6:35 PM on December 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I don't get why comments are placing the blame on the OP. If OP were saying "why is my mom cold toward me? I've never done anything to her," and if the mom's behavior was a consistent communication of boundaries or a responsible statement of her feelings, then I might agree, "hmm, consider examining your own behavior."

But it seems to be the opposite: OP is reasonably self-questioning and sensitive to how her actions impact her mom already, and meanwhile, mom seems to be acting out. Despite this, OP has been trying to build a relationship -- she's placing the calls, she's asking her mom about her mom's life, she's making international trips, she's dissecting their history to see what went wrong, she's asking MetaFilter how to improve it.

Meanwhile, the mom canceled an entire trip, repeatedly flaked on plans, and doesn't keep phone conversations going. Is the mom sitting at home wondering whether her statements (trying to alienate OP from her dad) and behavior (repeatedly flaking out) caused whatever aspects of OP's behavior bothered her? I doubt it.

So I don't agree with comments suggesting that you should take even more responsibility / blame and try to become even more perfect, OP. Your mom's relationship with your sister has greatly diminished, too -- another clue that this is primarily not your fault.

Beyond "don't blame yourself," I'm sad to say I really don't know what to tell you, OP. Maybe she just needs to get over her resentment that you didn't meet her (IMO unreasonable) expectations, and with time she'll soften and shift? We have limited information about your mom, but what you fear -- "I feel I'll never have truly known my mother and I find that terribly sad" -- is a typical thing for people with narcissistic parents to feel, so books along those lines might be useful for you regardless of your mom's personality. What you're seeing now could also be valuable information in coming to know your mother fully, including her weaknesses. I'd probably invest more into the relationships that feel mutual while trying to leave the door open with her to the extent that you can.
posted by salvia at 8:44 PM on December 28, 2014 [18 favorites]

I must say I also don't understand the blame on the OP. It's not like you just showed up at her place without warning during the holidays. You obviously planned it in advance together, including a trip with her and your sister. If this hadn't been the case or if- say mom had told you in advance that she was planning to spend the holidays with her boyfriend instead, then it would be easier to give her the benefit of the doubt. But what she did was make plans with you and your sister, invited you over for the holidays and then when you actually showed up she dropped a bomb on you; decided not to bother with you as well as cancel any activities you had planned together to spend it with someone else instead. This is passive aggressive to the extreme in my view and there's no excuse for this. In fact it makes me wonder if she planned it this way to get back at you in some way. It does seem to me like she has some deep seeded issues here, but like I said, you can't change another person's behavior... you can only change your reaction to their behavior. So maybe it's time to accept that she has issues and that you can't have the relationship you want to have without power games? The energy you expend on trying to get your mother to care might be better spent on someone who does.
posted by rancher at 10:03 PM on December 28, 2014 [8 favorites]

Sorry to hear you are going through this. I think divorce is tough for everyone involved and for someone whose identity revolves around being a wife and mother, I think it can be incredibly tough when those identities are torn down. I think its also tough for the kids when they are caught in the parents' tug-of-war of getting love and understanding from their own, because the kids are in the awkward position of having to choose which person to go with based on hearsay, and one party often ends up feeling abandoned. In this case, your mom.

I think you should give it time. Right now it sounds like she is trying to rebuild her life and no one ever said that rebuilding is never messy when you're an adult (especially if you've gone through marriage and divorce). Its like putting together a jigsaw puzzle and finding there are other pieces from another puzzle that needs to go in. And these things don't happen quickly - they can seem to go glacially to those outside of the process. So contacting her doesn't even have to be a phone call each week for five minutes - if you want you can send her emails every now and then updating her about your life or send her things you think might interest the both of you (travel abroad? maybe send a neat postcard of some cool place or a shell or some small neat thing). She may not respond right away - over time though, things may improve when she's settled into her new phase in life. Good luck.
posted by skippingcharades at 10:37 PM on December 28, 2014

Best answer: I could have written this myself, down to the cancelled plans and living abroad (though I was younger when my parents split, and my mother moved away). This year has been particularly challenging, and this is what I've learned.

Once you're an adult, you're in charge of your own emotional well-being. You have to ask for what you need. Your mother did — she needs close ties with a romantic partner, and, at this time in her life, she needs to be selfish. Fair enough.

I don't know about you, but what I need is emotional security, the knowledge that the people I'm close to won't hurt me, and stability. Because of this, I'm not in touch with my mom right now. It's terribly painful, but it's just safer for me, at the moment, to take a step back. One day, I hope, we'll be able to have a healthy relationship, but not right now.

It sounds to me like taking a step back might be beneficial to you, too.
posted by third word on a random page at 11:02 PM on December 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: It is possible that the OP's mother would not be holding a grudge if the OP had sided with her against her father during the divorce.

It is also possible that the OP's mother would have fallen out with her for some other reason even if the OP had sided with her against her father during the divorce, and in that case the OP would be estranged from both parents.

In neither case is it fair for the OP's mom to expect her children to take sides against their other parent, nor is it fair to say "maybe if you had met this unreasonable and inappropriate demand your mother would like you now". It's just straight-up wrong to do certain things or to expect others to do them, and we can't pretend that it's possible or worthwhile to buy approval by doing the wrong thing therefore when we don't get approval we have only ourselves to blame.

All this happened during the OP's final year in college. The OP moved abroad after college when, theoretically, she could have stayed home to comfort her mother. The last year of college, and the first year of establishing a fully independent life and career, are extremely precarious and if things don't go right during those years you can be paying for the damage for decades (ask me how I know).

What would we have said to the OP if she'd come to us and said, I have this chance to go abroad and get my life sorted out but I feel like I should stay home and take care of my mother who just divorced my father and blames me for not siding with him? We would have said: your mother is trying to manipulate you into sacrificing your own life and staying tied to her. Go abroad, let this adult fend for herself, and get therapy to figure out why you are so reprehensibly codependent as to have even asked this question in the first place. Shame on you.

There are always ways the OP could have been more perfect, but there is no way to navigate through life and make the perfect irreproachable choices every time that continue to be perfect and irreproachable in hindsight. It's not good enough to say, well, OP, you ruined your relationship with your mother by getting it wrong when you were younger and you should've done it differently, sucks to be you. By definition, a parent is supposed to be more mature than their child and even if the OP's mom did have legitimate reason to be hurt in the past, it doesn't say anything good about her that she is continuing to rebuff the OP's efforts to build bridges now. Unless the OP did a bunch of stuff she's not telling us about, like burn down the family home and kill her mother's cat, this is just not how you expect a mother to behave.

OP, I think your mother probably is one of those who gets her identity from her husband and I also think that by asking this question you're showing that you're more mature and reflective than she probably is. Some people just never quite grow up and I think your mother might just be one of these. If you're mother isn't responsive to your efforts then all you can do is take a step back, and I think maybe lower your expectations of her. I don't think she's mature enough to be the mother you imagine she could be right now.
posted by tel3path at 5:26 AM on December 29, 2014 [16 favorites]

It sounds like in some way she went from putting her entire identity into being a mother and wife... to putting her entire identity into being a new wife.

One thing you might try is during one of your bi-weekly calls (good idea! keep doing it unless it makes you feel worse!) is to say something like, "I'd like to get to know you better now that we're both adults - is there another way you'd like to communicate?" Or, if that seems too straightforward, try suggesting things like on-line scrabble or other games you could by turns and maybe sometimes chat in a little, or video calls or something that might help rebuild ties.
posted by ldthomps at 9:48 AM on December 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

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