Isn't this supposed to be the other way around?
April 23, 2016 12:33 PM   Subscribe

How do I come to accept that I don't have a mom?

My mom barely talks to me, shows little interest in emailing/skyping/getting in touch with me (we live in different cities). I have a toddler who is her first and only grandchild. She barely keeps in contact with me and it hurts. I don't know how I should respond. I've confronted her many times, but she never changes. She has selfish tendencies, so I guess it goes with the territory.

I see on real shows and stuff, daughters having close relationships with their mothers. They say things like "My mom is my best friend/the best/etc," and I have no idea what that's like.

I would like to know if anyone has any tips on not letting something like this hurt you. Like, how can I just accept that I don't have a mother that wants to be a close part of my and my daughter's lives? I often feel very sad and wish I had a "mommy." If anyone has any advice on how I can move past this, it would be really great.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Mrs. Straw has a developmentally disabled brother. Once, when her biological mom was doing yet some other wacky shenanigans I asked "Would you expect [developmentally disabled brother] to be able to react rationally in this situation?"

"Well, no"

"Consider why your mom may or may not be different."


I don't know if that helps, but consider viewing her in the light of having a developmental disability that prevents her from being able to maintain the sort of relationship you'd like to have with her. It's not that she's disinterested, it's that she's not capable of it.
posted by straw at 12:43 PM on April 23, 2016 [10 favorites]

I had a Mom; she was difficult, alcoholic, likely bipolar, could be very generous, could be mean as a snake. When I left college, I moved 1,000 miles away, didn't even have a phone for quite a while. That allowed me to get out from under the manipulation and control. I stopped participating in mindfuckery; took her years to recognize it, but we ended up having an okay relationship. I've learned of more since she died.

1. Be grateful for anything good. She raised you, find whatever you can to recognize that she did right.

2. Mourn. I had to realize I'd certainly never have the mom-daughter relationship I wanted, but could have some relationship, even if limited. That takes time to adapt to.

3 Find new people to love you. Your partner, child, friends, pet. You're lovable; she may not see just how lovable, but others do and will.

4. Live your life, be as good to her as you can be. You're teaching your child how to be a person of heart and compassion. Accept that she isn't who you wanted, and go forth and be who you want. That's far more important.
posted by theora55 at 12:47 PM on April 23, 2016 [16 favorites]

Just remember you are not alone - lots of people had / have sub-par relationships with their immediate family members. It's not all like you see on tv. Don't torture yourself thinking that it is.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:51 PM on April 23, 2016 [27 favorites]

Examples can teach us how to be and also how not to be. You have a daughter and the opportunity to forge a relationship with her that is entirely unlike what your mom stuck you with. Focus on the blessing of your daughter, and develop compassion for your mom - you're going to get a lot more joy from motherhood than she has.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:59 PM on April 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Be the mom that you always wanted her to be. It helps. I give my children everything that was never given to me and watch them flourish from it.

You aren't alone in this. I am a perfectly lovable person. People really care about me. But my relationship with my mom has always been painful. Now she throws all of her love and attention on my children, while still treating me as that thing. It's been very painful.
posted by myselfasme at 1:00 PM on April 23, 2016 [14 favorites]

A poster who wishes to remain anonymous says:
You don't know what she grew up with. I find it helps to view it as an outgrowth of bad things that happened long before I was ever born.

I know it is really hard to not take it personally when you are her child, but I learned to not take it personally by remembering that my mom grew up in a war zone and its aftermath. My childhood was better than hers and it is a credit to her that it was. But some things are incredibly hard to live down. The fact that I expected better for our relationship than she did really says something decent about my mother.

I get along better with my mom these days. But I spent a few years basically politely nodding and agreeing while I got obvious excuses for how she really wanted to talk to me, but, gosh, REASONS. I figured she needed her space. I let her have it while continuing to signal that I did want to talk to her.

These days, our phone calls are still short, but she is much more comfortable talking with me than she used to be.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:13 PM on April 23, 2016 [9 favorites]

I feel for you, truly.

Now that I'm an adult, my mom is making a dedicated effort to repair our relationship. But when I was growing up she was not unlike your mother: indifferent, emotionally detached, and too busy to bother with me. It hurt deeply and left me feeling abandoned and unloved. I was sickeningly jealous of my friends who had close bonds with their mothers and couldn't understand why I drew the short straw.

"I would like to know if anyone has any tips on not letting something like this hurt you."

Here's the thing: I don't think you really *can* keep something like this from hurting you. Parental abandonment is hurtful, period, and I think you'd be better served by allowing yourself to mourn for the relationship you so wanted and never got to have. If it's within your means, talking to a therapist about it would be helpful.
posted by Penny Dreadful at 1:26 PM on April 23, 2016 [15 favorites]

For various reasons, I can never have more than a superficial relationship with my mom. It's not either of our faults; it's just the way it is. This is what helped me:

1. Therapy, and lots of it.

2. Creating a supportive family of choice around me. The blood of the covenant really is thicker than the water of the womb.

3. Letting go. After a point, you just can't let it eat at you any more if you want to keep your sanity.
posted by Tamanna at 1:42 PM on April 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Read books on emotional neglect and emotionally distant parents (to see you're not alone, to pinpoint the coping mechanisms you may not have, to see that there's another way to deal with it). Mourn the relationship you wish you had. Realize that your feelings of "if I just ____ my mother would give me the love/attention I need" are a survival mechanism child!you came up with and that, sadly, there is nothing you can do to activate your mother's mothering. Mourn the loss of those hopes and dreams.

Let yourself be sad and angry, let yourself feel cheated and disappointed; there's no shortcut for emotions, you can't get over things you haven't let yourself feel in their entirety. Treat your emotional response like you would your child's - with compassion, with understanding, with patience, with gentleness - because that's what it is, the emotional pain of a child who never got the parental validation you needed. Remember that emotions, however unpleasant, are temporary and they will pass.

The trick of acceptance is that you need to accept the whole truth - that your mother is who she is, that it hurts you deeply, that the only way she'll change is if she decides to change (something that you have no control over). Once you have the whole picture, you can decide what kind of relationship you want with her moving forward.
posted by buteo at 2:34 PM on April 23, 2016 [7 favorites]

My mom is not your mom, but my mom and I are definitely not and never will be best friends. I am often (though less often as I get older) saddened and frustrated by the limitations of our relationship.

Things that help:
1. Pull back a little. Instead of trying to elicit the response you want, try to just meet her where she is. If the best time you can have together is watching TV and not talking much, do that and accept it for what it is - and her for who she is.

2. Remember that she probably has a back story you know nothing about. Not sure how old she is, but it seems that women of a certain generation were programmed to not talk about difficult experiences and sometimes not to even acknowledge them to themselves. Perhaps your mom can't admit that certain things she did were not great parenting, because that would mean admitting that her mom was not a great parent to her and did not love her well.

2a. A condition such as Asperger's could also be in play. It could be that even if she wanted to she'd never be able to offer warmth and closeness.

3. Seek out other female friends who will fill "best friend" roles with you. If you are already feeling loved and supported by others in your life, it's less painful to miss that from a parent.

4. Take TV relationships with a grain of salt. Sure, some mothers and daughters are closer than others, but there's always something you don't know.
posted by bunderful at 2:37 PM on April 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

I read somewhere - and it's wise enough counsel that it was probably on AskMe - that everyone goes through life with something significant missing. It might be physical health, it might be mental health, it might be a significant other never found, or children never born, or financial security never attained, or a sibling who died young - or a loving relationship with a parent never experienced.

It just helps me sometimes to remember that, especially if I find myself comparing my lot with others' in a narrow, direct way that makes my own life feel lacking. Yes, I'm sad that I don't have children, but if you widen the lens, those parents I look at so enviously are almost certainly lacking something else that they would envy me for. It helps to disable the self-pity and sadness a little to remember that having an imperfect life is a very definition of humanity - it's just that the imperfections are very different for everyone, so direct comparisons over the one thing you really want (and don't have) are invidious and misleading.

(Which is not, of course, to diminish what you personally are missing. I'm sorry - it is sad.)
posted by penguin pie at 2:43 PM on April 23, 2016 [27 favorites]

Slightly different situation, but I just recently decided to opt out of having a mom because of similar behavior on her part. My brother has a mother, my grandparents (who I love dearly) have two daughters. I have a woman who I somehow fell out of speaking to.

Grieve your loss. It's not quite a death, but it is a passing. What you wanted, what media has shown you to expect, you're never going to have that.
posted by RainyJay at 2:44 PM on April 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

My mother is a sort of benignly awful person, and is one of those people for whom having children was bad for everyone.

I haven't spoken to her in 16 years. Just decided nope, I need no more of this nonsense in my life.

The thing is, there's this bizarre concept that people owe their parents... something. No. You (and I and everyone else) were born without your permission. They decided to have you, they owe you. You've tried talking to her, nothing has changed. Try viewing her as someone who did something for you once, of no more or less import to your life than that dude who poured you coffee back in 2003.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:11 PM on April 23, 2016 [6 favorites]

A poster who wishes to remain anonymous says:
I never met my grandmother even though I was in high school when she died. She and my mother didn't have a close relationship at all. My mom once said to her, jokingly, "well, we [my mom and her siblings] always figured you just didn't like us," and my grandmother said "I didn't." She had no interest in meeting me. She'd call the house every so often, say "[mom's name], please" and that was the extent of our relationship (she once added "this is your grandmother," I said "I know," and I think those are the only words I ever said to her).

All of this is to say that I can relate, in a way, to the situation you're describing, although more from what your daughter's perspective might be. Years after my grandmother's death it's certainly clear that she just didn't like people and couldn't really have a close relationship with anyone. I don't know what the case is with everyone, but I can say that the TV depiction of "my mom is my best friend" is just something people want to see and hear, just like people want to see young people working part time jobs and living in spacious Manhattan apartments. It's not always realistic (even on reality TV).

Having grown up with this, I wish I had some kind of advice to offer, but this is all I've ever known. I can't be weighed down too much by what other people's lives look like from the outside because I've never gotten close to a family without becoming aware of where the hidden pain is. If nothing else I would say that what you're describing may not be nearly as abnormal as it feels. You're not alone, and as far as your daughter is concerned, it sounds like she does have someone who cares deeply for her.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:18 PM on April 23, 2016 [5 favorites]

Be the mom that you always wanted her to be.

Up to a point I'd agree with this. But I would also suggest that working out your unresolved issues with your mom, whether that is by improving the relationship now or mastering your negative feelings about it in therapy or through introspection, will help you be a better mom. Forgiveness and acceptance may not do anything for you, but my experience in life tells me that you achieving both to at least a surface level will do wonders for your child in the future -- and could be nearly as important has her having a relationship with her grandmother, at least if that isn't going to happen in any healthy way. We carry around a lot of unconscious struggle over these issues and kids pick that up.
posted by spitbull at 4:09 PM on April 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

It's actually harder to have a partial mom (like you do, like I do) than to have no mom at all, so give yourself a lot of credit for dealing with something that is really difficult. I have a mom who is a great person ... to other people, and she's weird with me. She and my sister have an ok relationship, she and I have one that is more distant, partly out of choice by me because she was neglectful and is really not always nice to me (as in sometimes mean, not "isn't nice always"). Anyhow, it's been a challenge for me because I see her out there in the world being pretty excellent but some of the things you'd want/need from a MOM as opposed to just "a person in the world" she's unreliable at. And it's hard to have a sometimes-mom because if you had no-mom-at-all you might find a way to sort of fill in that space with chosen family and other people.

What has helped for me

- Maintaining my own part of a relationship with her. I send her newsy emails, I send her occasional postcards, I make it clear that the door is open for pleasant exchanges. This costs me nothing, I have stopped expecting her to respond appropriately.
- Making more out of the rest of my family, I've connected with aunts and cousins in ways that just ... leave her out. Not in a bad way but in a "I am a grownup and I can have my own relationship with these people now" and so I do.
- Being very clear with myself that it's not me, it's her. I can maintain decent relationships with other people, even ones that require work. My mother has fraught relationships with anyone she is close to.
- Not be ashamed. Sometimes it doesn't happen that you have a mom. She occasionally talks shit about me and my sister to neighbors (in that "my kids never call me and don't care about what I'm doing" way which is untrue and unfair and just trying to concern troll about us to neighbors) which makes its way back to us and it's taken me a long time to be ... sorry for her that she needs to act that way and not sorry for ME that she needs to act that way.

And yes, not to be judgey but it might be worth having some therapy time to make sure you've worked out your mom-concerns (which are normal!) so that you're not recreating them accidentally with your own parenting.

Your mom has a problem and she is not a good parent to you. That can hurt, even when you're an adult and it's okay to feel bad about it. However, it's also worth accepting it and making that a fact about your life now and not one that will change. It's the hope that she might come around that is the killer and I think what is dawning on you is that's not going to happen. There are many ways to be human, even without a loving mother. I am sorry that's the way your situation turned out but there are ways through it.
posted by jessamyn at 4:12 PM on April 23, 2016 [10 favorites]

On Criminal Minds, one of the characters is trying to convince a son to see his formerly-alcoholic and long-absent father. The son argues that his dad didn't do anything for him.

The character responds that all of us get tools from our parents - tools that help us build a better life than they had. His dad wasn't perfect, but it was obvious that he had a hell of a toolkit for building a healthy family already, and he did owe some of that credit to his father.

I find that comforting to think of the toolkit we have, regardless of the mistakes our parents made/make. Maybe you will find it comforting as well.
posted by guster4lovers at 4:15 PM on April 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've seen that "my mom is my best friend" thing on TV, too, but that's the only place I've seen it. I don't doubt that it happens sometimes, but it is not the default or necessarily the ideal to be best friends with your mom.

My relationship with my mom has been weird at times. I haven't always kept in touch with her regularly, or vice versa, and there have been times she has been distant, unsupportive, and even kind of mean. But that is because she is a human being, not just "a mom."

Whether she always said and did the right things or not, she sacrificed a lot for her kids. She quit her job, she stopped traveling and having adventures and doing things just for herself, and just stayed home taking care of children. Of course she was sometimes frustrated and even a little resentful. And of course once we grew up and moved out on our own, she got back to it and started living life for herself again. I don't resent that. I'm glad she got the chance to do it.

We have a lot of outsized expectations for mothers that we don't for fathers. We just ha-ha it off when Dad fucks off to his workshop when family comes to visit, pops into a phone call to say Hi and OK Bye, and when Mom signs his name for him on greeting cards and things. Why do mothers have to do so much more to qualify for their title?

I mean, is your mom worse than that? Would you be so disappointed in her if she were your dad?

I don't know the answers to those questions, of course, and maybe the answers to both are yes. But they're worth considering, I think, if you haven't.

And I have to say this: Don't go around telling people you don't have a mom just because your mom isn't the type of mother you want her to be. I know some people, including one I'm married to, whose moms died when they were really young. They don't have moms. You do.
posted by ernielundquist at 5:45 PM on April 23, 2016 [6 favorites]

And I have to say this: Don't go around telling people you don't have a mom just because your mom isn't the type of mother you want her to be. I know some people, including one I'm married to, whose moms died when they were really young. They don't have moms. You do.

oh, say whatever you want. i had a shitty mother and now she's dead and if she were still alive i wouldn't necessarily "have a mother," i'd have MY mother, and those things are not the same. i do not have a mother, and i also didn't have one. "the type of mother i didn't want her to be" was, um, abusive. this is not about counting your blessings, sorry.

please don't tell other what they can "go around saying" about their own lives, especially when you do so on presumptive behalf of others.
posted by listen, lady at 7:04 PM on April 23, 2016 [24 favorites]

“If your parents disapprove of you and are cunning with their disapproval, there will never come a new dawn when you can become convinced of your own value. There is no fixing a damaged childhood. The best you can hope for is to make the sucker float.”

Is one of my favorite lines in The Prince Of Tides by Pat Conroy. It used to comfort me, knowing other people went through being rejected and mistreated by their parents. I wasn't completely alone.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:19 PM on April 23, 2016 [8 favorites]

I can never remember where I came across this, but it was some therapist saying, "The world would be a better place if more children would just tell their parents to go to hell". Not a real tv trope, I know.
posted by Chitownfats at 1:12 AM on April 24, 2016 [5 favorites]

I see on real shows and stuff, daughters having close relationships with their mothers. They say things like "My mom is my best friend/the best/etc," and I have no idea what that's like.

In addition to all of the above excellent advice, I would just like to point out that while the world is big, so this is true for a lot of people, it's still an edge case. Most autonomous adults do not have relationships with their parents where their mothers are their best friends, nor is that necessarily a healthy dynamic.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:24 AM on April 24, 2016 [4 favorites]

You come over here and sit on the couch beside me. I've said it before - some people just don't get nice mothers.

I'm an only child, and trying to be a good mother to my only child daughter. I've tried to make it better between me and my mother for my daughter's sake, but all that's happened is that she's grown up to have an discordant relationship with my mother for her own reasons.

There is so much good advice above: the need for some mourning, the fact that the mother as best friend relationship "As Seen on TV" is a bit of a trope... But I'll add that there are a few things you can try that have made me feel better:

1. Speak your truth. It's not shameful to say to people in your life, when they make a statement that assumes that good relationships with parents are the norm, something short and revealing such as "We are not close" or "We have a fraught relationship" or "We have a low-contact relationship." You'll find other people in your life who won't pour salt in this wound, and you'll have a way to warn off those who will - and well, a sorrow shared is a sorrow halved. Every time you say it, it just becomes another fact of your life, or at least it has for me. I hate my glass stovetop. My dog needs her toenails trimmed. My mom would rather be at the OTB than spend time with her granddaughter (unless her granddaughter wants to come to the OTB to be shown of, then ignored.) My sweaters are pilly and need shaving.

2. Look for the other Moms in your life. Mothering isn't necessarily about the person you're born (or in my case, adopted) to - it's about who does what you need that's motherly. So, my friend's mom who showed by example what higher education for women can do, especially later in life, was another mother to me. My friend's mom, who took me to the hospital when I was in danger of going into toxic shock from a stuck sponge, mothered me - when my own mom had just told me that I shouldn't do anything until I got married. The teacher who showed me how to use tampons, because my mom said those were for married ladies) was a mother to me. My first female employer who taught me how to work hard and support myself was mothering me. The vet that patched my cat's eye up and gave me a big hug? He was motherly. And lately, the lovely woman at my work who is a great sounding board and is patch-working in her retirement years is fantastic with motherly advice - advice her daughters won't listen to. As she's a former English Teacher and also part-time tutor, I'm now hiring her to tutor my daughter in part for school -- but also as a life coach and to have her around as the kind of wise, spiritual and grandmotherly figure we both need in our lives. My daughter runs down the street to visit our neigbhour, and spends time with the epitome of a good-natured sweet old lady who doesn't say one word about her navy blue hair, acne or clothing choices. And my friends all mother each other. We take each others' kids, drop soup and cookies off as needed, and share wisdom from experience and stories and humor. And yes, I'm sad, because it would be nice if my mom did more for me - but it would be nice if I had wavy hair and were a size six again too. Which brings me to:

3. Find something to tell yourself that makes it understandable. I agree with the above answers that you can't know her growing-up experience, or that it may be something on the spectrum, or what have you. I have determined, as an adult, that my mother has lower than average intelligence for one thing, was probably sexually abused by the same relative that abused me and just as I can be a prickly person, so is she - but mainly, she is a human and has entirely different preferences. So my being smart scared her since she couldn't help me. She didn't encourage higher learning, couldn't/didn't want to discuss books with me, and hated/hates movies she doesn't understand. Fine - that's a HUGE disappointment. But now she's just someone I'd never be friends with anyway now - why should I expect more just because she's my mom? Which brings me to:

4. There is no one right way to mother. Having a mother who is nice and friendly and bonds with you is because that's a combination of nature, and also choice. It's not in my mother's nature or experience to do that, and it's not her choice to raise a best friend. And frankly, as much as I love my daughter - it's not my choice either. We have a good companionship. We love each other fiercely. We try to be good to each other - but that's because that's the kind of human beings we are. Example: Just the other night, she felt I should let her put her freezing cold feet on me "because I'm her mother and that's love" - and I felt I should give her a hug, but that she should respect my boundaries. She's 12. I was almost asleep, and that was a rude awakening. Telling her tiredly but firmly and politely to put the socks I work to buy her on, or flip on the fireplace and warm them, or have a warm bath, or do any amount of self-caring she needed, because it's also important for her to be a considerate responsible, independent person who can soothe herself, is also loving her and mothering her. Which brings me to:

5. Just because she is not the mother you want doesn't mean she isn't a person whose wishes and needs are to be respected, and a person with her own life. Oh my goodness, I love my child. And now she is 12! She can stay at home for a bit. She can feed and clean and care for herself quit a lot. In fact, all she wants from me these days is money, rides, and affection (only when she wants it.) I am back to a full-time job! I am able to read for hours again! I can do almost everything I did before I had her again, my time is only a little constrained. I wouldn't change a thing for the time I devoted to her -- but I am also looking forward to a time when I can work even more, travel without planning a family-friendly vacation and when I can admire the life she's built for herself and the person she's become. And vice versa. Your mom is DONE. My mom is done. Some day you and I will be done with the daily mommy business. I'm sorry it didn't work out and ours don't like us or mommying all that much, but they have to live without us in between the times we call on them. So I am grateful that my mom has her own life, independent of meand that her demands on me are minimal. I am loving having my space. Which brings me to:

6. Be careful what you wish for. With a best friend comes ups and downs, and drama, and sickness and health and all the no-fun stuff. And the all stuff you hated as a kid, but now have eyes to see how even more injust, or petty, or ignorant it is. You might be missing the sunshiney times - but do you really want to know about your mother's every little bit of life now? Do you have it in you to pick her up if things get really, really bad? Will she never do those things that hurt you when she was around? One of the things that pushed me away was my mom telling me stuff that I thought was over-sharing. I had to cover some of their huge money losses at seventeen years old. And I had to be nice to the person that hit me. It is a fine line to walk, this being a friend to your mom business. I'm a far happier person without it. I think you could be too, if you look at the big picture - instead of the one on the TV screen or the lenses of others' relationships.
posted by peagood at 1:25 PM on April 24, 2016 [7 favorites]

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