The truth is, Mom I just don't like you.
April 5, 2015 10:54 AM   Subscribe

I need some advice and strategies on how to deal with my mother and survive seeing her without feeling like crap for a week afterwards.

I don’t like my mother. I have never had a close relationship with her and I have never really bonded with her. I have an early memory of being lost in an airport and being really scared so I asked the first lady I found if she would be my mom because I understood that I needed a mom but it really didn’t matter who my mom was. I feel like this kind of sums up how I feel about her. I grew up feeling a lot of shame and being mocked for things I did wrong or for making silly mistakes. She is inconsistent with me, sometimes she is sensitive and sometimes dismissive.

She says she’s supportive and proud of me and what not but I don’t FEEL like she actually is. It feels like she just says these things because that’s what she’s supposed to do. For example, years ago when I told her I was getting a divorce her first comment was “are you prepared to be alone for the rest of your life?” I have been vegetarian for over ten years, yet I always have to bring my own food if we are invited over for dinner. Even if we are getting together for my birthday.

I’m trying to see her less using Askme gems like “that won’t be possible” when I’m invited to something I don’t want to do. And it works like a charm! I feel like if I can see her every 2 or 3 months that would be ok. The thing is that sitting through dinner with her is still totally awful. She does most of the talking often cuts me off if I try to say something. We sometimes get into these conversations where I really want to tell her something and she cuts me off so I just talk louder, so she talks louder and neither of us is willing to stop. I know, not very mature. Even if she asks me a question she’ll immediately cut me off. Though she doesn’t often ask anything about my life.

I saw a counsellor twice recently (and will go back) about the increasing anxiety I have around dealing with my mother. (this came to a head when she had a minor stroke in the fall and I had to visit and take care of things for her for the week she was in the hospital— this was horrible because it really hit me that I have have to take care of this lady as she ages but I don’t even like her. I might as well be caring for a stranger next to me on the bus.) So now I’m experiencing a lot of anxiety like obsessively thinking about the problem, shortness of breath, short bouts of depression. I’m working on these things.

What I would like my fellow Mefites to help with is strategies for not getting worked up when she emails, when I turn down an invite to dinner and when I actually go to dinner. How do I not have crushing guilt over saying no to an invite? How do I make these dinners more bearable, pleasant and less terrifying for myself. How do I fake it? Is there something I could do in advance to make things better? I think I usually do a good job but sometimes I just fade out and get really quiet. Sometimes i’m feeling really angry and I struggle to hide it. How do I learn to ask questions and fake being interested? How do I handle it when she asks me a question and immediately interrupts me? What do I say? Do I just let her do this to get through the night more easily? What do I say if she shames or mocks me?
posted by sisforsock to Human Relations (29 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
You do not have to like your mother. You also do not have to take care of her. If she doesn't treat you with love and respect, she doesn't deserve to be in your life. Think of how glorious it would be to just say no, all the time, from now on. No to seeing her, no to talking to her, no to getting worked up over what she says. Let her recover from her stroke on her own. Let her hire someone to assist her. Block her number. Filter her emails. You are 100% able and capable of moving forward with your life without her. All of this anxiety?

What I would like my fellow Mefites to help with is strategies for not getting worked up when she emails, when I turn down an invite to dinner and when I actually go to dinner. How do I not have crushing guilt over saying no to an invite? How do I make these dinners more bearable, pleasant and less terrifying for myself. How do I fake it? Is there something I could do in advance to make things better? I think I usually do a good job but sometimes I just fade out and get really quiet. Sometimes i’m feeling really angry and I struggle to hide it. How do I learn to ask questions and fake being interested? How do I handle it when she asks me a question and immediately interrupts me? What do I say? Do I just let her do this to get through the night more easily? What do I say if she shames or mocks me?

This comes from being the child of a narcissistic, emotionally abusive parent. You deserve better. Cut her off. She's not worth any of this, and don't let any guilt try to convince you otherwise. You have NOTHING to feel guilty about in regards to her.
posted by Hermione Granger at 11:01 AM on April 5, 2015 [27 favorites]


What has helped for me is to limit my time and radically lower my expectations. I wish my mother were a certain way, but she's in her 60s, she has never been that way, and she never will. I don't try to confide in her, I don't tell her anything important (because she doesn't listen). I also don't put up with BS. If she's insistent on telling me I'm doing something wrong, I will end the conversation. ("Mom, I'm not going to discuss this, I'm an adult and I can make my own decisions.")

Basically you have to believe that you are worth being treated a certain way, but also realizing that some people can't or don't want to treat you like you deserve. Instead of wishing and hoping and cajoling them into being that way, get your needs met elsewhere. Cultivate friends who listen and don't interrupt, who never shame or mock, etc.

More specifically:

I think I usually do a good job but sometimes I just fade out and get really quiet.

I daydream, she isn't listening to me anyway. I think she is lonely and wants my presence more than my actual company, if that makes sense. If it's practical, encourage your mom to get hobbies and make friends, this will take the pressure off of you.

Sometimes i’m feeling really angry and I struggle to hide it.

If something is eating at you, the only healthy choices are to express it or to remove yourself from the situation. I don't think you should have to hide your frustration. What is the worst that could happen? She gets more riled up? Then you leave. I am assuming you don't live together and I am assuming you are not in physical danger.

How do I learn to ask questions and fake being interested?

You could pretend you're an anthropologist studying the culture of frustrated old women. Or cultivate compassion that she is so maladjusted that the only way she knows how to cope is to lash out (this doesn't excuse her actions, just helps explain them).

How do I handle it when she asks me a question and immediately interrupts me? What do I say?

Either preemptively assume she will interrupt you and wait to answer until she's done talking, or speak a little louder and say "I am not done yet." If she still interrupts, then just go quiet and don't continue your answer.

What do I say if she shames or mocks me?

"I won't be talked to that way." Repeat ad infinitum.

This is hard and it takes practice and self-confidence. Likely that confidence has been worn down by years of emotional abuse/neglect by her. What is the absolute worst that could happen? She rejects you and stops speaking to you? That is on her, not you. You do not have to walk on eggshells around her; protecting her feelings helps no one. She has zero incentive to change since you are putting up with her crap. When you stop putting up with it, it's likely to get worse (google "extinction burst") but either it gets better after that, or you've severed contact, which is better for you in the long run.

Good luck - it's hard when you don't have the parent you wish you had.
posted by desjardins at 11:17 AM on April 5, 2015 [12 favorites]


I wanted to add that standing up for yourself - no matter how she reacts - will improve your self-confidence tenfold, and it will get easier and easier for you to handle her. Or easier to walk away, depending.
posted by desjardins at 11:20 AM on April 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


The thing I don't see here is how you're planning, or not planning, how interactions will go, and how simple planning and visualization can help re-frame encounters in a positive way. Getting a game plan together gives you confidence and disarms your mother of her greatest weapons.

For example, you don't like visiting your mother, because when you're in her house, XYZ things happen. Idea: Don't visit her in her house. Meet her at a restaurant that you choose. On neutral territory, you will not have all the normal environmental cues. And it's harder to shame someone in front of a friendly waitress.

It's the way I planned my wedding reception. I wanted to manage expectations and keep my family from getting out of hand. So I had it on a party boat. Why? Boat rides provide constant distraction -- the scenery is literally changing every second, you always have something to talk about that is not family bullshit. And guess what? Boat rides end. There's no way for it to drag on longer than it needs to. Show's over. Good night, everyone!

That may be an over-simplification, but don't miss the bigger point -- plan your encounters, don't let your mother dictate the rules of engagement.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:35 AM on April 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


You're doing well with your boundary markers! I wonder if she'll ever respect them though, it sounds like she just doesn't understand how her behavior affects others. Was she accustomed to being the center of attention when she was younger? Was she an overbearing mother? I suspect she was and never made the transition to letting her kid(s) grow into adults.

When she asks you a question and you know she's not going to listen, maybe say well you're not going to listen to me so why are you asking me this? Then watch her reaction. Do it over and over again, she *may* get the hint if it happens every time she asks you something. "Mom, you just asked me a question and talked over me again. Do you want me to answer it or should I stay quiet as you answer for me?"

When you see an email from her, play music you really like that calms you, every time, then follow your boundary script to respond or not respond as you feel is correct for you, not her. Only open her emails at specific times, you don't have to open, read and respond to them instantly. You're also not obligated to spend time w/her, and if she presses you, maybe you can tell her this, that it's her behavior that's keeping you away from her. Cite specific examples for her, no need to be mean but honest as to how her actions are keeping you apart.

If she hears you and makes an effort, compliment her on it to reinforce it. If she acts up, tell her that too.

I'm sorry you're going through this, I have a very narcissistic mother who basically forced me to separate from her as an adult due to her refusal to honor my boundaries. When it became too painful to see her or talk to her I had to walk away from her for my own mental health.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 11:45 AM on April 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


Create a game you can play in your head where you get points for every predictable mom-thing she does or says. Body-shaming? 10 points. Concern trolling? 10 points. Interrupting? 10 points. If there are things that affect you more than others, award extra points for those. Adding up the points will give you something to take your mind off how awful she is. Every 50 points or so, award yourself "prizes" for later: just little rewards to give yourself, like a glass of wine (if you drink) or a piece of chocolate or a bubble bath, or a purchase you've been considering making anyway. So eventually you'll be like "Yes! Awkward personal question followed by interruption! 100 POINTS and I get to watch THREE episodes of that show I like later on!"

More seriously, I find abstaining from caffeine and alcohol around family members to be a good thing. Caffeine in particular can make anxiety worse. Alcohol just magnifies whatever mood you're already in, so if you're already feeling nervous and unhappy alcohol will make it more intense and harder to shake off.

Depending on how you feel about medication, if the anxiety is really bad you might look into getting a prescription for low-dosage beta-blockers (Inderol and propranolol are the generics). Officially these are heart medications, but in low dosages they work well to control the physical symptoms of anxiety; performers take them, for example, and I've used them before auditions. (They're not tranquilisers like Xanax, and they're not addictive.) Beta-blockers might help you break the cycle of anxiety you seem to be experiencing.

Finally, it's likely that as your mother ages there will be more medical crises in the future. Do you have siblings, or aunts/uncles who could share the load so the burden of care doesn't fall on you alone? If so, maybe talking to them so you have a plan in place would be a good idea.

I wish you the best of luck in dealing with this.
posted by Pallas Athena at 11:53 AM on April 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


I don't think that mocking or shaming are appropriate or acceptable at all, but I also don't come from the school of "you don't owe your parents anything." I am a parent and parenting takes countless hours of hard work and sacrifice, and it isn't easy. Therefore I feel that parents deserve a chance to be in their children's lives. Based on strategies I've seen here on AskMe, I would suggest when you get together with her or talk to her, be prepared to set boundaries and stick to them - just the way she probably did with you when you were a child. For example, if she mocks or shames you "Mom, it's not acceptable to talk to me like that. When you mock me, it makes me feel bad. If you do it again, I'm leaving." If she interrupts you, I would sit in silence until she finishes whatever she's interrupting with, then say "Mom, it's rude to interrupt another person when they're speaking. When you interrupt me it makes me feel like you don't care what I have to say. If you do it again, I'm leaving." (if on the phone, substitute "I'll be hanging up" for "I'm leaving"). On preview, it would be similar to what RichardHenryYarbo is talking about.

If you set clear boundaries and stick to them, and she can't be trained to act like a decent human being, then it seems to me you'd be justified in pulling back to 'send a card for birthday and Christmas' status. You certainly don't deserve to be treated like that, no one does. But I advocate for giving her a chance.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:59 AM on April 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


Oh, and tell her the "Interrupting Cow" knock knock joke. Then subsequently when she interrupts you, you have the option of just saying "Mom... Interrupting Cow."

(Obviously whether this will work depends on your mother's sense of humour and on your relationship, so be your own judge of the situation.)
posted by Pallas Athena at 12:00 PM on April 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Separately, I've heard people describe a different strategy to deal with those who try to loudly talk over you. I hear that paradoxically, instead of trying to talk louder and louder as they do the same, it may work better to speak more quietly the louder they try to speak. But honestly, I think a sudden silence the instant she starts interrupting might be even better.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:01 PM on April 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


A constructive outlet for some of the feelings that you are experiencing may be to adopt more of a triage role for what will likely be ongoing health issues for your mother. For example, looking into what Medicare (or similar insurance) covers could help minimize the feeling that you must be the primary caretaker. Visiting nurses, pharmacies that deliver, in-home physical therapy, and services like Meals on Wheels - it may help you feel better to find the resources that can help monitor your mother's condition and provide professional care services.

I think a key thing is to continue cultivating your self-awareness about your limits and capabilities - if you go beyond those limits, you likely won't be doing anyone any favors. You sound like you are already making a lot of progress with this, so figuring out where alternative resources are could be an important part of that process. I'm hoping that it will become less terrifying to deal with your mother's behavior after you find realistic options that help limit your exposure to the behavior, especially on a long-term basis.

You may want to consider consulting with an Elder Law attorney, especially because if your mother continues to deteriorate, the emails you receive and your observations about her behavior may be evidence that can help you take action to protect her - some of what you describe could be signs of dementia, and while that may be helpful to recognize for your own emotional security, it may also make you feel like there is a need to become more of a caretaker. Information about finding an attorney is available of the Mefi Wiki Get A Lawyer page. An attorney who has experience with these issues may be able to provide some reassurance, ideas about community resources, and your potential options for making sure that you are not the only caretaker for your mother.
posted by Little Dawn at 12:02 PM on April 5, 2015


How do I handle it when she asks me a question and immediately interrupts me? What do I say?

"Mom, you just asked me a question. Are you still interested in an answer?"

"Mom, you asked me about xyz, I'm trying to tell you but if you're not interested, go ahead with your story."

"Mom, you asked me about xyz and now you're not giving me a chance to tell you."

What do I say if she shames or mocks me?

"That hurts my feelings."

"That's not a nice thing to say."

"Am I making you uncomfortable? Because you're mocking me."

It's hard but I think direct and honest language is best. There comes a time when you get too old to put up with bullshit. Sometimes our parents need to be reminded when they're behaving poorly.
posted by Fairchild at 12:05 PM on April 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


I don't know your mother, so I don't know why she says hurtful things to you. My mother does the same, sometimes, and what helped me is hanging out in reddit's Raised by Narcissists group. I'm not even saying your mother is a narcissist (I'm not sure mine is one, either), but it helps to read about other people dealing with their somewhat abusive parents.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 12:12 PM on April 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


it really hit me that I have have to take care of this lady as she ages

No you don't. You absolutely do not have to take care of her, now or later.

And you don't have to have dinner with her either.
posted by headnsouth at 12:18 PM on April 5, 2015 [19 favorites]


What has helped for me is to limit my time and radically lower my expectations. I wish my mother were a certain way, but she's in her 60s, she has never been that way, and she never will. I don't try to confide in her, I don't tell her anything important (because she doesn't listen). I also don't put up with BS. If she's insistent on telling me I'm doing something wrong, I will end the conversation. ("Mom, I'm not going to discuss this, I'm an adult and I can make my own decisions.")

This is my relationship with my mom. And it's SO weird because she has a totally different relationship with my sister. So it's sort of me, and it's sort of not. My sister has contentious fraught interactions with my mom that I am no longer willing to deal with because it's more worth it for her to sort of still imagine she has an involved non-narcissist parent. And it works for her. It would not work for me. So I gave up on having a mom but there is this weird slightly interesting older woman I have lunch with occasionally who is somehow related to me....

And that works. Setting up boundaries that are real. Don't want to have lunch with her? You never have to. Going to her house? Nope. You may not be able to make her act the way you'd like (realistically) but you are welcome to say "Hey mom I go over to your house and there isn't anything I can eat. So if you want to see me either we go out to a resturant or you come to my place" (Or something that's aceptable).

While I totally sympathize with your situation and see a lot of my own situation in it, I am now at the point in my life where never in a million years would I stay in a house that was supposedly hosting MY birthday where there wasn't food I could eat. Fuck those people, that is just wrong and I'm sorry you had to deal with it. And the response to totally inappropriate behavior should be (in an ideal world where you haven't been groomed to put up with this sort of terrible bullshit) should be to just walk out. It sounds weird and extreme at some level (and sure your mom might have a cow) but it's also a reasonable response to being mistreated at this level.

So part of what helps is to have perspective: the way you are treated is not okay. It's fine to stick up for yourself and this means up to and including where you are blowing off your mother's feelings sometimes (because you should be equally as important as her if not sometimes more important) which means figuring out how

- to determine your own boundaries and communicate them
- to not make your emotions about the lousiness of the situation cause you to act out yourself (try to be the bigger person etc)
- be very very clear what you won't tolerate (shaming, mocking) and respond to it by completely not tolerating it (leaving, for example)

Be mindful of the things she is subtly having go "her way" because you're trying to be polite and/or are socialized to defer to her. Considering making things go more your way on the times you do decide to interact with her which, remind yourself, you are doing by choice. People say a lot of things about how families should behave and this is a lot easier to say if you're not in the middle of some mess like this. Best of luck, it gets better.
posted by jessamyn at 12:30 PM on April 5, 2015 [14 favorites]


I will chime in once more.

She says she’s supportive and proud of me and what not but I don’t FEEL like she actually is. It feels like she just says these things because that’s what she’s supposed to do.

The thing is, now that you're an adult, it's not necessary to seek or gain her approval. That's something that can be worked on with your therapist. She is who she is and may have not had support from her parents. It may be hard to say the right things or to behave in a supportive way when it's foreign to her.

My mom interrupts a lot too and can't wait to talk and can be very self-absorbed. I think for my mom, she wants to feel important. I don't think she had an opportunity in her childhood to be really heard, so when my sister and I are there, it's her opportunity to talk about what she wants to talk about without being shut down.
posted by Fairchild at 12:36 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I would only accept a dinner invitation if it's agreed beforehand that there will be food that's suitable for you to eat. Even if it's just separate dishes so you can eat the starchy and veggie dishes and leave the meat. That should be doable for anyone.

Inviting someone but refusing to cook for them is not really an invitation. It's also crazy unfriendly and unloving.
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:38 PM on April 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


You don't say that she's acting intentionally malicious; in fact, you note she's trying to say the right things even though you don't buy it. What helps me is to counsel myself that "she's doing the best she can, given her limitations as a person." Sometimes I add "and she can't exhibit [appropriate behavior x] due to [fundamental shortcoming y]" which helps me keep my expectations in check and go into anthropologist or compassionate care mode.
posted by carmicha at 1:18 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


You talked about not wanting to care for her as she ages and that it might as well be caring for a stranger on the bus, but your description of your mom is of someone who treats you worse than the average stranger would - refuses to accommodate your diet, shames you, mocks you, constantly interrupts you? She sounds like she has about the courtesy level of a street harasser, only she's actually forcing you to go on that unwanted date.

I feel like if I can see her every 2 or 3 months that would be ok.

You don't have to see her or interact with her ever, and you certainly don't have to do it more often than you actively want to. Perhaps it would be good to bring up with your counselor how often you WANT to see her, as opposed to just how often is tolerable?
posted by bile and syntax at 2:06 PM on April 5, 2015 [8 favorites]


You can also do a slow fade where you respond increasingly slowly to calls and emails until it's at a frequency you can tolerate. You'll get an OMG ARE YOU ALIVE?!?! voicemail somewhere in there. Text her back and say "yep, still alive, just busy with [thing], I'll call you later" and then wait another few days to call. Or text her again and tell her you're still busy but you're okay.

You should also become legitimately busy with things so you can be completely honest that you don't have time to visit more than every couple of months.
posted by desjardins at 3:14 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


sisforsock: "when I actually go to dinner."

Can you bring a friend, at least sometimes? I have a relative I won't deal with without a human buffer. My friends know I have a serious issue with this person, and they come make polite conversation for 90 minutes about their jobs, their kids, etc., and my relative isn't willing to be quite such a raving bitch to me in front of strangers, and I'm not left with the burden of carrying a conversation with someone who's just WAITING to attack me. (And when she decides to go on long soliloquies, at least my friend and I can roll our eyes at each other and share the pain.)

Sometimes when I can't get a friend to go with, I have come down with a fake illness. Because I just can't even.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:45 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


To answer a few questions...
I am an only child, if I cut her off there is no one to take care of her. I don't know that I can do that. Having said that, if I do a thought experiment (as Hermione Granger suggested) and Think of how glorious it would be to just say no, all the time, from now on. It makes me feel like a weight has lifted. Yet I'm too scared and guilt ridden to do it.

Perhaps I have over stated things. It's not like I'm being bombarded with the shaming, it happens every two or three visits and it's one off hand comment. The interrupting and not asking about my life is constant. She is a nice enough person, she has lots of friends who (strangely to me) like her.

Another problem I face is that I don't usually notice the shaming comments until I go home and reflect on the evening and realize what she said and I just nodded. So I would like to learn to catch it as it happens because I am very ready to call her out on it.

You guys are amazing! These answers are super helpful. Thank you so much.
posted by sisforsock at 4:06 PM on April 5, 2015


So you're saying you don't like your mom, but it sounds to me that you do love her, or want to, and you really want her approval. That's a normal thing, to want your parent to be proud. It sounds like you might not get this in the way you want, though, and that's hard.

But, what if you decide that, when she says she's proud, you simply believe her? What if you accept this as truth?

One thing I've realized about my mom as I've gotten older: in a weird way, she sometimes is looking for approval from me. I don't think she'd ever say that or admit it, but when she chatters on, sometimes I think it's because she needs me to somehow acknowledge what's going on with her.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:22 PM on April 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


This may sound flip but I think there may be a grain of help in it. At the least it will provide another point of view to help map out the territory. So, here goes:

Your mother wasn't trained very well. Was she? I don't know whether you have brothers or sisters but somebody wasn't doing their job. If you were going it alone you have some catching up to do.

Did you see that cat video that was getting passed around earlier this week? The one about cats training their humans to be useful? The type of patience and persistence that desjardins and Fairchild were mentioning is the key. I have seen it work. Never as well as you want it to but well enough that the sufferer began to feel empowered and much better about themselves. But it takes a year or two for some particularly poor learners (clueless dolts who should have been forced to take a remedial parenting class as soon as the problem became apparent).

Good luck. I honestly wish you the best.
posted by cleroy at 4:48 PM on April 5, 2015


if you go beyond those limits, you likely won't be doing anyone any favors.

Since my colloquial language muddles what I was trying to say, I'm going to try to clarify the point, which is that from my view, "know your limits" is a requirement for effective assistance. When trying to help someone, if you try to do more than you are able to do, this tends to backfire and doesn't actually help the person in need of assistance.

Your question does seem to ask about how to maintain a reasonable relationship with your mother - my first comment is essentially a suggestion to try to find ways to fortify your boundaries and make it easier to decline invitations to do more than you are comfortable with.
posted by Little Dawn at 4:59 PM on April 5, 2015


"this came to a head when she had a minor stroke in the fall and I had to visit and take care of things for her for the week she was in the hospital— this was horrible because it really hit me that I have have to take care of this lady as she ages"

Wrong. Nope. OP, you do not "HAVE TO" do anything for her. Nobody is "owed" the privilege of being cared for in their old age. I don't mean to sound harsh, but you are living under a seriously false belief about this. I understand this is not what you want to hear at all. You are CHOOSING to assign yourself the role of her go-to emergency caretaker, and yet you are using "I had to" language. No. Would she have been irrevocably harmed if you had not stepped in when she was in the hospital? Give that some thought.

This: "I am an only child, if I cut her off there is no one to take care of her."

Does not agree with this: "She is a nice enough person, she has lots of friends who (strangely to me) like her."
posted by hush at 6:10 PM on April 5, 2015 [8 favorites]


My two cents:

When she asks a question, ask her what she thinks the answer is.

There comes a time when you have to defend your inner child from the Momster if you have one. My kids told me I gave my mom too much power. They were right, and eventually she deflated to a person with full blown Alzheimer's and dementia, all that raging, and control, had to do with her realization of decline. I did take care of her for a long time, and it didn't have to be that way, but I was the only sibling who would, or could help her.

Instead of engaging wth her, observe her until you can look through time, understand the damage, and disengage the parts of you that still need her. You can only help her if you are unattached. Narcissists are very hard to deal with, epecially if they are the same sex parent, you are supposed to be able to mirror with them, but you don't want to. The older they get the more projection they engage in until the relationship is just all them, and their fantasies of you as a reflection of their dream state. If she fills you with anxiety, it might be you know a lot more about her illness subliminally than you consciously accept. Vanish for a while, tell her things like, "When people grow up, they often only see family no more than once a year, at reunions." Practice monosyllabic replies, oh, sure, no. She is only in her sixties. Statistically she has twenty more years to have whatever relationship you allow. Best to you, take care, you are worth it. Sorting this stuff out is difficult, if you can derive no good from the relationship, then leave it.
posted by Oyéah at 10:08 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


You are wise to consider that someday you will be responsible for her in old age. I wonder how many of the people saying that you don't have to take care of your mother are aware of filial responsibility laws. They exist in 29 states. So unless you are (or she is) wealthy enough to pay for someone else to deal with her 24/7, yes, you DO have to take care of your elderly mother.

And seriously, people, how do you picture this playing out? "Yes, she's my mother, and I don't care that she's living in a cardboard box under a bridge." I agree that you shouldn't have to, but unless you've been completely estranged (no visits, no calls, no letters, no contact) for years, it's pretty hard to pull off the "Not my problem" escape, even if you felt utterly no familial duty and could live with yourself. I know I couldn't.

I am currently the caregiver of my 96-year-old demented mother. When I was 22 I moved across the country to get away from her. She is a narcissist and an emotional bully.

It took me years to learn to throw up healthy boundaries and train her out of some of
her more egregious behavior ("Mom, I don't pay for a phone so you can call me up and yell/criticize/complain/guilt me, so either we can talk about something else or I will hang up.") Boundaries and distance made it possible to deal with her on my own terms, and kept the abuse to a bearable level. This worked for decades.

But then both of my brothers died, leaving me the only child. Then her husband died. Then my stepsister refused to have anything more to do with her. So like it or not, I had to move her to live near me, and I am her caregiver, and I hate it. Her dementia makes her incapable of learning boundaries. Luckily I don't have to answer the phone (yay for caller ID!) and I only have to see her once a week.

But I don't want to make you dread a future that may not be yours to bear. I just want you to know you're not alone, and I know how hard it is when it seems everyone else gets unconditional love from their mothers, and you get nothing but pain.

My advice is to detach from her and set up boundaries now while you still can. Train her to understand that the only times she gets to see or talk to you are when she is kind and supporting. Reward her for good behavior, and remove yourself, or your attention, when she behaves poorly.

Someday you may be forced to care for her, but for now create the boundaries that will allow you to enjoy your freedom. It will help to keep her expectations low, and your emotional distance intact, if the time does come.
posted by caryatid at 11:50 AM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Slight tangent, but i'm currently reading The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit, wherein she talks a lot about navigating a pretty shitty relationship with her mother and then having to care for her.

It's a really good read, more for perspective and kinship than real strategy.
posted by amandabee at 3:33 PM on April 6, 2015


IANYL. Nothing here is legal advice and I am not advising you in any capacity.

Yes, if you like, you may go ahead right now and cut your mother out of your life. On these facts, the chance of you being on the hook for her financially is close to zero. I'll note that you're getting some rather confused responses here (i.e. "filial responsibility laws exist in 29 states. So unless you are (or she is) wealthy enough to pay for someone else to deal with her 24/7, yes, you DO have to take care of your elderly mother" is Completely False.) That being said, one should never take legal advice from internet strangers. You can consult an Elder Law attorney in your state who will reassure you that support laws are rarely enforced in situations like yours, especially where 1) you are not trying to take or hide any of your parent's assets, and 2) you don't reside in PA, ND, or SD.

Again, not legal advice and I am not your lawyer.
posted by hush at 4:14 AM on April 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


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