What to do about my mom
June 2, 2018 6:34 AM   Subscribe

I've recently entered a whole new level of weird and awful with my mom and I'm feeling a bit lost on how to deal with it all. It's a long and ugly story but would appreciate insight from anyone who's dealt with potential estrangement from toxic parents and/or has thoughts on what comes next.

I typically only see her once a year or so, as she's in Florida and I'm in Pennsylvania. I visited her in April and it was a very weird and unpleasant visit, and very difficult for me to deal with emotionally. But we got through it and I've been about the normal level of communicative since then, which is to say, not terribly, but that's mostly the norm for us.

Due to being even busier in my day-to-day life than usual I hadn't responded to her most recent couple of texts this week (but had messaged her last week so it's not been an excessive period of time since she heard from me). On Wednesday she sent a single line message saying, "Gee, I won't bother you further... I get it." Between this (which I've declined to acknowledge so far) and the bad visit in April, I'm feeling like I'm at a bit of a crossroads in our relationship and not sure how to move forward.

Some relevant background details (sorry, this one's going to be long and there's some mildly transphobic and anti-Muslim stuff that's a relevant point later on, I'm sorry to say):

I'm 33, she's 61. I'm an only child, she's been through multiple divorces (including one in the past year) and is a child of alcoholics (my grandparents, who also helped her raise me; she was a single mom throughout my childhood and worked full-time+ to keep things afloat). Somehow I grew up to be a progressive, atheist, queer, poly kind of person and she is decidedly not; she's a retired RN, former military, pro-gun, church-attending, anti-Muslim, authoritarian, thinks that gay and trans people are mentally ill, etc. - you get the picture. We do not see eye to eye on much of anything beyond superficial topics that are less emotionally weighted.

Our relationship hasn't been super close since I was quite young; early on I developed the tendency to keep my thoughts and feelings to myself because they were typically not in line with her ideals or because I otherwise didn't feel comfortable sharing them based on the reaction I expected from her. I went through adolescence and young adulthood feeling as though I bottled up a lot of myself any time I interacted with her or the rest of my family.

I never learned how to stand up for something I believed in or make my point in the face of opposition - growing up if you didn't agree with her/my grandparents/whatever adult was in charge, you were wrong and that was it, suck it up. I internalized that early on and just decided not to bother, I suppose. I've never pretended to feel or believe something I didn't, but avoided topics where we disagreed and basically tried to only show sides of myself that wouldn't provoke criticism. I was never a rebellious kid but I've always had a lot of secrets, none of which were ever particularly dangerous.

When I was a senior in high school, she got a job in another state; my aunt moved in so that I could finish school in my hometown (a whole separate disaster I won't get into), but since then I haven't lived with her for any extended period of time (summers during college for a few years and that's it). While there are a couple times where she did contribute financially to my well-being in ways you might expect a parent to do (a portion of my student loans, a very small wedding, a set of tires when I bought a car but couldn't pass inspection), I've been pretty much financially and emotionally independent of her for more than half my life now.


Things had gone on fairly smoothly in the intervening years. For a while she mostly stayed out of contact and it didn't seem to be a problem as I was busy building my own life. She'd met and married a new guy, they moved around the country a fair few times, and we didn't see or talk to each other much. During this time she sustained a career-ending injury and has fought a number of health issues since then. She has managed to get on to antidepressants, quit smoking, and is mostly in okay health right now.

About five years back we started a new tradition; I was finally making enough money and had been at my job long enough that I could afford to travel and visit her. It became an annual thing where I would go south for about a week in the springtime to get away from the dreary skies of Pittsburgh, stay long enough to spend some time petting the cats, planting stuff, going to the beach, nothing too intense, and then I'd head back home before things got uncomfortable.

Last year she was in the middle of the end of her most recent marriage (which was not great & I helped finance lawyer fees to the tune of $3000 because she asked and I had it and I wanted to help) so I didn't make the trip, but later in the year she came to visit me. It was a little stressful and awkward having her in my space for a change, but it went okay. This year, she's moved in with a new guy, who's actually an old guy - they had hooked up back in her army reserve days but he was married at the time, and they'd managed to find each other over facebook and apparently the spark was still there. I'm happy she's happy, he remembers me from when I was a wee thing, great. I'm invited to come down this spring.

And that's when things got weird. Over the past few years I've really started putting my finger on a lot of the things that are messed up in my head that I can at least vaguely sort of trace back to parts of my childhood or things that she said to me that maybe weren't really normal for a mom to say or do. And while I've long since acknowledged to myself and my chosen family that I feel like I can only show small portions of myself around her, the older I get the more that starts to bug me.

So one of the first nights I'm there, we're sitting on the porch and talking, her new guy makes a comment that I can't keep my mouth shut on - he's still in the medical field and was talking about a trans patient but using the wrong pronouns. I make the attempt to suggest that maybe it would be nice to use the patient's correct pronouns and it devolves into a back-and-forth in which they are clearly correct because they are medical professionals and male is male and female is female and this person has male chromosomes and body parts so therefore... etc. You get the picture. It sucks and I'm still terrible at trying to stand up for what I believe in the face of people who I don't think I'll ever convincingly persuade to change their minds.

I start getting visibly upset and mom doesn't like that. She calls me out on avoiding these topics and getting emotional instead of discussing it and trying to get to a resolution and I say yeah, I don't like talking about this stuff because we're always going to disagree on it and it just makes everyone feel bad. I'm worked up at this point and manage to continue, telling her that a lot of the time I'm holding back because I don't want to deal with the unpleasantness and she says that she does the same (which - oh no, you don't get to spout your horrible bigoted thoughts 24/7 cry me a river but that's not the mental space that I'm in at the time). She says I don't have to do that and she loves me always no matter what, and I try to explain that that's not really the point, and on top of that it's not an easy thing to believe sometimes. That when she says stuff that I perceive as hateful and ignorant, it hurts me because it relates to who I am and what I believe (side note, she may have her suspicions but I have never come out to her in any sense as queer/poly/etc).

I explain that I believe in treating people the way *they* want to be treated, instead of judging them based on my own perspective and then treating them the way *I* think they should be treated - this turns out to be the linchpin in our fundamental disagreement on basically everything. In retrospect even attempting this conversation is utter madness but for some reason at the time I thought maybe I could somehow get through and actually change things for the better.

Not so.

We talk for a few more hours, well past the point of emotional and physical exhaustion. I am disoriented and worn out and honestly having trouble processing some of the things that are being said because I cannot comprehend how things work in her mind. It seems like no matter what point I try to make, she has a countering point that is superior due to her life experience and because her "truths" (beliefs) are founded on her religion. And I should respect that experience and give her some credit for knowing things because of that. She tells me that people of my generation were given permission to own our feelings, but instead they own us. That we are innocents who have been brainwashed by the democrats and other powers that be, and are sheep to be led to the slaughter. That her "reality" is superior to arguments that are only based in emotion. That she refuses to validate things that she sees as emotionally-based and wrong because that would be allowing the sick to dwell in their sickness instead of treating what she perceives as an illness to be cured.

Over the span of what is basically a continuation of this conversation over the next couple days I manage to provoke her into a very vocal and expletive-filled rage when I explain that the things she is saying about Muslim doctors (that they want to kill all non-Muslims and try to do so by withholding treatment from patients) come across as bigoted (are bigoted, but I'm trying to address things in a way that might possibly be productive - and failing). She asks me what I value and then gets angry when I try to explain what I believe and why (because it is, obviously, counter to her perspective). If I refuse to accept her perspective then I am disrespecting her, her knowledge, and her experience. She accuses me of wanting her validation of my feelings but says that I won't accept what she "knows." At this point she is quite angry and I am reeling because the fact that I won't just accept these horrible things she's saying as my own truth really seems to upset her.

Frequently I find myself trying to make a point (about people of my generation feeling obligated to go to college, as an example) and having her reply with something that isn't exactly relevant but she feels strongly about (she and other parents worked together when I was in high school to prevent the school system from having too much input into the types of career paths we might be guided towards). When I keep pushing back toward my original point and asking her not to change the subject, she turns it around on me and says, well, that's what you're doing to me by controlling the conversation and not letting me talk. This is a recurring thing - any time I have a criticism of her behavior it's immediately something that I'm doing to her too. I don't know if that's true or not and it's starting to feel a bit like gaslighting at that point so I try to avoid it.

The sickest thing is that by the end of two of these late night ordeals I am completely and mentally worn down, but she seems... hopeful? That we've reached some new level of understanding and communication. I go to bed and cry, feeling lonelier than I have in a long time. The next morning I take some time to write down some of what happened, which is a lot of what I included above, because I can already sense that my brain is kind of rejecting it all and I might not remember it later otherwise. I do a google search and find this page, which later led me to look a bit more into codependent habits - no surprise that I identify strongly with many of them myself, but that I see many of them in her as well.

So with that long story written down (and to be honest, now that it's all in front of me on the screen here I feel a little silly even feeling like I need to ask), and in light of her most recent childish outburst, I guess my question is... now what? I have to admit that even now, and even having shared this with people in my life who are close to me, I don't know how much of my narrative is too colored by my personal perceptions. Everything I have relayed here is what happened and I've made an effort to not to put too much of a personal filter on it, but I can't help but feeling like maybe I'm just missing something, a way things could have gone differently. So I guess I'm posting to get the opinion of strangers on the internet, to try and find people who aren't already explicitly on my side, who have some distance from this whole mess.

I haven't responded to that text message and she hasn't reached out again since then. She still technically owes me a couple hundred dollars from the divorce but it's mostly repaid and I have pre-dated checks from her for the rest of it, but wouldn't be hurting financially if I just tore them up and basically called it even (I'm concerned about repercussions of cashing/not cashing them if I decided to just cut off contact altogether). I'm an only child and she has a terrible history of relationships so there's no guarantee of who will be willing or able to take care of her as she ages. I don't feel like she's treating me well, but she *is* my mom. I'm struggling in general with situations where I'm not sure if what I want to do or what I think might be right for me personally is the (ethically? morally?) right thing to do and this feels like one of those, especially now. If it wasn't for that last text message I'd probably be content to continue on - I can manage occasional chats and one week a year for the sake of at least trying to have a relationship with the woman who raised me.

But really - is it worth it, at this point? Is there a way to come back from this or is everything basically over? What do you do when you're estranged from basically the last family tie you even bothered maintaining to begin with?
posted by miratime to Human Relations (36 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
As you stated, your mom had a rough childhood and life. She holds a lot of opinions and values that don't make sense to you. She's not in an emotionally healthy place and is likely never to be. She did her best for you because that's all she had, although it was clearly flawed.

I recommend the fake relationship. Text photos of things you care about. Call a couple times a month. Visit for 36 hours and talk about safe topics.

Everyone is flawed and our parent's issues impact ours deeply. Being authentically close with your mom doesn't seem like a good option, but I don't think you're in a no contact situation. So text her a picture of safe thing you care about. Maybe shoes.
posted by Kalmya at 6:47 AM on June 2, 2018 [50 favorites]

I have a narcissistic parent from whom I'm currently estranged. This rings a lot of bells for a similar experience. You might get some insight from reddit's raisedbynarcissists community: http://www.reddit.com/r/raisedbynarcissists
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:26 AM on June 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

Congratulations! Seriously, I think you are doing great. You don't have financial ties to speak of; you don't have a lot of third parties and your own actions have been pretty exemplary. For the future, I like Kalmya's advice very much but I wouldn't call it a fake relationship, just one with appropriate boundaries. Just ignore that latest blast and text her something next time you feel like it.
posted by BibiRose at 7:30 AM on June 2, 2018 [6 favorites]

Yeah this is tough, because you probably both now know all-too-clearly that there's no way to have the relationship with the other that you would have wanted. You can't share those important parts of your life & your identity that she won't be able to handle, and she doesn't have someone to whom she can pass on her accumulated experience or wisdom or whatever it is.

So, if you want to salvage something, you'll both need to actively choose to base a relationship on stuff that you don't diverge on. You can do your end of that, if you choose to. She'll have to do her end - no matter what you do, you won't be able to do that for her, or to force it.

You don't even need to announce that this is happening. Probably just ignore that text she sent. You can start off anew with the safe text about shoes, as per Kalmya's suggestion - or just a cute dog that you saw, or anything. Then see what happens from there.
posted by rd45 at 7:30 AM on June 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

In my liberal opinion, conservative people can be very hierarchical, so your mom is always going to think because she's above you in the parent to child hierarchy, she gets to tell you what to think. (It's there in the top and middle of your text, but I'm being lazy about quoting you back because it would take a lot of rereading.)

I also recommend the limited, fake or arms-length relationship. That means after you've rested up and aren't feeling bruised you have short phone conversations. If political topics come up you can say "I'm not going to talk about it" or "You know we can't agree on this topic." If she doesn't drop the disagreeable topic, then tell her "Gotta go". The point is to train her to stay away from contentious topics. (Getting her to listen respectfully and agree with you is beyond my scope.)

Don't visit next year. Either be vague, or if you think honesty won't blow up in your face you can tell her that you were miserable during the last visit due to the lengthy, uncompromising arguments.
posted by puddledork at 7:33 AM on June 2, 2018 [10 favorites]

But really - is it worth it, at this point? Is there a way to come back from this or is everything basically over? What do you do when you're estranged from basically the last family tie you even bothered maintaining to begin with?

We cannot decide the worth, only you can. Do you value it? Do you love your mom? Do you continue the relationship out of obligation or because you want to? You have to ask yourself the hard questions. It sounds to me like your relationship is toxic and not much else. She hates fundamentally everything you are and everything you believe in. I'm so sorry that you're going through this. No, there is no way to "come back" from this unless one of you/both of you change. Do you see that happening? The change is very likely never ever going to come from her end though, yeah? Are you willing to do all of the compromising? I mean...it sounds like you already are, and it's making you miserable. Is that correct....that you are the one doing all of the compromising, shutting up, standing down, holding things in, keeping quiet?

You place importance on being a good daughter and I really admire that about you. I don't know if she places as much importance on being a good mother but it does not appear to be the case.

I went no contact with my mother about 20 years ago and you know what? It was probably the best thing I've ever done for myself. I made myself a new family with other people and am so much happier now. Please think about giving yourself permission to go no contact if you need to. Put yourself first one time, and think about what YOU need. I understand that she is getting older and you feel obligated to be there for possible caregiving should the need arise, and that guilt/sense of obligation may be the thing that stops you from breaking ties. This is perfectly understandable, given that you value being a good daughter to your mother.

This is a recurring thing - any time I have a criticism of her behavior it's immediately something that I'm doing to her too.

This is a classic avoidance technique, deflecting any criticism back onto the person who voices it, to absolve yourself of any wrongdoing (because they were doing it first!). It's actually called deflection, and it is maddening.
posted by the webmistress at 7:36 AM on June 2, 2018 [11 favorites]

You might want to check out CoDA and/or ACA.

Good luck.
posted by windykites at 7:39 AM on June 2, 2018

I think you had a rough time, and she doesn't seem like she was that great as a mother, but to me, personally, this doesn't seem worth estrangement. I say that as someone who is estranged from family.

It does seem worth a lot of therapy and a lot of dealing with your responsibility as an adult to set boundaries, walk away from conversations, and similar.

I also think it is worth recognizing that you are not going to get your mother to agree with you, and that should be okay. I get that it's frustrating to censor yourself around her, but a lot of this is also you proactively wanting her to be a different person. I get that, but she is who she is.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 7:52 AM on June 2, 2018 [9 favorites]

You're hiding a looottt of your life from your mom. Honestly, I suspect that is a good decision. She sounds very Moral Authoritarian, and, uh, the bad side of the right wing in a lot of ways. I doubt that she is going to be very flexible or see other sides of issues, cause she's got Truth and everyone else has feeeelllliiinnngggsss.

Do you want to go no contact? Do you want to spill all the beans about poly/queer and deal with the potentially massive fallout and drama? Do you want to do an arm's length, superficial relationship? She's almost certainly not going to change. I'm getting older and grumpier, and much less willing to tiptoe around other people's issues with my life and beliefs. Don't provoke unnecessary fights, but don't tolerate being dumped on or belittling or even a relationship you don't want because of Obligation.

There is no perfect answer here. There are no magical words to make her more self aware or open/accepting. You have to set your own boundaries and limits, and enforce them. Do what makes you happy. Ignore guilt, especially guilt put upon you by others. Your mom just might not be a safe person for you. And that sucks. But you have to protect you, and your family of choice.

Therapy would probably also help, both with current issues and the behavior your moms, mm, inflexibility instilled.
posted by Jacen at 7:59 AM on June 2, 2018 [7 favorites]

I explain that I believe in treating people the way *they* want to be treated, instead of judging them based on my own perspective and then treating them the way *I* think they should be treated

Follow your own advice.

Your mother is 61 and her boyfriend is seemingly older. What do you gain from arguing with them about their politics or semantics, be it about things you hold dear? If you can’t let go of all the contempt for your mother and attempts to “fix” her, let go of the relationship.
posted by Kwadeng at 9:28 AM on June 2, 2018 [12 favorites]

As others have pointed out, there's no magic answer here, and you are doing well in this tough dynamic already.

I had a similarly difficult relationship with my mom and eventually got to the point where we maintained fairly superficial contact with many "no go" areas, and I simply did not share large parts of my life with her. I practiced a version of behaviour modification by not responding to passive-aggresive or manipulative messages like your mom's last one--rather, I just ignored them and communicated about some relatively safe topic whenever I felt like it. If she got out of hand when we were seeing each other face to face, I would get up and leave the room and then return with a new subject.

When she passed away a few years ago, I was glad that I had maintained that limited level of contact rather than cutting her off completely, even as I recognized that she was never going to change or be the parent I wanted her to be. To me, it sounds like it might be worth spending some time on accepting this reality, as you still seem to think you might be able to change her or persuade her to consider your point of view more.

At the end of the day, there's no right or wrong answer, but it's worth thinking about what will give you the most inner peace.
posted by rpfields at 9:30 AM on June 2, 2018 [7 favorites]

Let go and accept the fact that she isn't going to change for you. Her opinions aren't any of your business (and vice versa), and she may have her own reasons for putting up barriers. The more you fight, the tighter she is going to cling on to her beliefs.

She hasn't altered your thinking; so know you aren't going to do any better. It is not worth it.

There is a simple question: if your mother died tomorrow, how much guilt would you feel? Would you see ideological chasms as important -- or a waste of energy?

There are two ways you can take it: you can just keep tabs on her, and live your life away from her if it is more important to stay away from people who do not believe the things you believe. If she is of the same mind as well, then it's settled. No one gets any more upset. No one suffers another trauma. No one cries in their pillow at night because of a fresh wound irritating and reawakening the old ones.

If leaving things forever unresolved would haunt you, then you have some serious thinking and growing up to do -- do you two have things in common? Do you both, let's say, have strong ideas on animal welfare, poverty, or even movies, learning the same new thing, or travelling?

Find the common ground and then make the boundaries. Tell her that there are things the two of you will never see eye to eye -- but there are things you both have in common and perhaps that is where you two focus and rebuild a relationship around that. That way, you have no regrets -- and even if your mother rejects this, your conscience is clear. You rose above opinion and put family first.

You make a mutual safe space. You get to see another side of her that needs to come out -- and she sees another side of you.

But it all depends on what priorities you have, and the reality of the situation. Is it the fact you two can never validate the other's beliefs? Was she rejected in some traumatic way in the past that she now feels she has to shut people out by having antagonistic ideas? And how are you doing in that department yourself?

You have to weigh things carefully because you do not have to live with her -- but you always have to live with yourself and the consequences of the choices you make.

I am sorry you are going through this ordeal, but I hope you find your peace and your footing. Good luck.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 9:54 AM on June 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

I'm sorry you're struggling with this.

How functional are your relationships with other people? I ask because I know having a chronically difficult relationship with a parent can set you up for poor relationships with others in adulthood (um, or so I hear) and I would worry more about continuing your relationship with your mom as it is if you feel like these interactions are keeping you mired in patterns you need to unlearn.

If you just need a break I think it's okay to say that. (I think I would need a break after the conversation you describe. Hell, "conversation" is really too nice of a word. "Intensive seminar in browbeating" sounds closer.) Perhaps something like: "I'm not ignoring you, Mom, I've just been thinking a lot about the stuff we talked about when I visited last month and I need a little more time to process it on my own. I'll reach out when I'm ready to talk again." I feel like her response to that might give you some information about whether setting and policing boundaries will allow you to maintain limited contact like you'd been doing, or whether no contact is a better solution.

FWIW I have sometimes been pleasantly surprised by how well difficult people can respond to boundaries, when they are stated out loud.
posted by eirias at 10:05 AM on June 2, 2018 [5 favorites]

My sense is, you love your mom and she loves you. You guys have been supportive to each other, or at least you've been supportive to her, and aside from being opinionated, she hasn't done anything awful to you.

My sense is that both of you got confused between the other person agreeing with you and them loving you. You can love someone whose opinions you don't agree with.

Where this breaks down is that you haven't come out to her, so at one level, the things she is saying give the impression that she fundamentally doesn't accept you. But I'm not sure she's been given the chance. I can imagine that this would make things super charged on your end. It might be worth coming out to her so that rather than having conversations about like Muslim doctors' treatment practices, you're talking about what really matters, which is that you yourself are queer and you want to know that she still loves and accepts you. I don't think it's anyone else's place to tell someone that they "should" come out to their parents, so if you don't want to, I trust your instincts, but I just wanted to note that it's maybe the elephant in the room, from your perspective, and it would understandably make all of this high-stakes and personal in a way she may not even realize.

I think some messages could be:
- sorry for not replying, but the conversations we had were so emotional that I'm still recovering.
- I love you even though I don't agree with you.
- (there are probably more, but this is a complicated thing, so I'd let your feelings evolve and wait for more clarity)

I know Metafilter and RBN often make it sound like cutting off one's parents is the "right" thing to do. I don't judge anyone who did that, at all. But in my experience, finding a way to weather pretty serious disagreements and even some intensely inappropriate behavior without cutting the person off entirely has allowed things to evolve to a much more comfortable place. Maybe just buckle in for some conflict without feeling like you have to find an answer or that you should be absolutist about it. Be gentle with her and you, even though things suck right now, and even while you work on standing strong upon your truth. A therapist could probably help with that a lotttt. Also, the books by Harriett Lerner like The Dance of Anger are all about how to stay in communication with someone while holding fast to a truth that they disagree with.

Good luck and I'm really sorry you're going through this.
posted by salvia at 10:06 AM on June 2, 2018 [12 favorites]

I just can't disagree strongly enough with the advice to maintain a "fake relationship" or otherwise keep things going with your mom Because Mom. I mean, it's possible that that IS what will be best for you, once you've really sat down and thought through what you need and want. But that's not the only possible right option, and I'd really like to express that if you decide that it's best for your mental health and wellbeing that you stay away completely - for the time being, for a certain amount of time, or for longer than that - then you are 100% in the right in doing so. Taking a break might not be a bad idea while you figure out what kind of relationship, if any, you would realistically be okay with having with her. Actually, therapy to help you figure this out might also not be a bad idea.

I'm not saying you SHOULD cut off contact - what you do here really is something only you can decide - but I also want to make sure you know it's okay if you do. You don't owe anybody access to you, and if it's unhealthy for you to go through the motions you have to in order to maintain the peace with your mom - if you get more hurt than good out of that - you're allowed to choose not to go through it. It's okay, it truly is.
posted by DingoMutt at 10:26 AM on June 2, 2018 [15 favorites]

hey, I am trans and I don't think I would have gone through all the emotional labor you did re: pronouns, so thanks for sticking up for us. Because he is a medical professional who apparently has direct contact with trans patients, you were absolutely correct to say something. Same with the nonsense about Muslim doctors. However, arguing from science isn't going to get you anywhere with an irrational person. They will never admit they're wrong.

It took me awhile to get through to my dad, and that was because he saw that I was happier as my true (male) self. All you can really do is plant seeds and hope they grow. "Huh, I've never been treated differently by Muslim doctors. My Muslim friend is very kind and I've never heard him say a bad word about non-Muslims." "Everyone supports my trans coworker by using her new name and she/her pronouns. She is great to work with."

You can do this each time the topic comes up, but in the absence of open hostility (e.g., you're out to dinner with mom and she berates a Spanish-speaking waitress), I would drop it after that. It sounds like it is affecting your own health, and you know what they say, you have to put on your own oxygen mask first. My mom is difficult for non-political reasons, and I hide a lot of stuff from her because I don't want her opinion on how I spend my money or whatever. It's a shame, but I don't need my parents to be confidants. That's why I have friends. As a fellow queer, I'm sure you have a chosen family as well. Lean on them.
posted by AFABulous at 10:26 AM on June 2, 2018 [10 favorites]

I don't think any of us here can make the judgement call as to whether no contact is the right path for you. However, I did want to suggest one possible path:

This doesn't have to be an all or nothing thing. You don't have to decide today that you will never ever speak to your mother again. If it feels right for you now, you can decide to take a step back from the relationship temporarily, and ignore her texts/screen her calls. Not forever necessarily, but at least for now, if you need some breathing room after your recent interactions. If you want and think it would go over okay, you could send a text along the lines of, "After the last visit, I just need a little space. Hope things are well with you," or whatever. Or you could just not respond at all.

Then you can see how you feel. Reassess after a couple months or a year. I think you'll probably either find yourself feeling so relieved that you'll want to continue to go no contact, or maybe you will have recovered enough that you are willing to go back to having some limited contact.

Whatever you ultimately decide, it sounds like you might benefit from taking some space for yourself, while you're still raw from the most recent interaction, but you don't have to feel like you're making a huge, life altering decision of permanently cutting off contact. Think of it as a sort of no contact trial run.

For what it's worth, I went through something sort of similar. I too am an only child, and I have essentially no contact with extended family. I still have contact with one parent, but I am currently estranged from my other parent. The reasons for estrangement were different. It's been a couple years, but I didn't wake up one day and decide never to speak with this parent again. There was one particular incident that was sort of a breaking point, but it was really a build up of everything that had happened, and I just couldn't deal anymore.

This parent also was never very good about reaching out, anyway (I live in a different part of the country), and I just haven't responded to the handful of texts over the last few years. Maybe one day I'll decide to reach out, who knows. There are times where I feel some guilt, but for the most part, it's just a huge relief. It's such a relief that I'm not sure if I could even force myself to reach out again. But I'm also not willing to say I'll never re-establish contact.
posted by litera scripta manet at 10:56 AM on June 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

You have put in a huge amount of effort here, as a Mom, thank you. That shows love, respect for what she's done for you, and I think you're tried to be very courteous and to listen to her. I had a conflicted relationship with my Mom, who was kind of a bitch a lot of the time, didn't particularly value me, resented having too many kids (I'm #5 of 6), was alcoholic and bipolar. Over time and with effort, we developed an okay relationship. Some of the problems in my emotional life are due to the circumstances of my childhood, but at some point, you deal with what you have.

Be yourself, your best self, around her. Are you out to her regarding sexual orientation and poly? She helped pay for a wedding, so maybe? If so, that's a big step for her. A lot of people have serious misunderstandings about trans-sexuality. This recent research got some press, and may be of interest to people who have trouble with the reality that people can be AMAB and genuinely identify as female, AFAB and genuinely identify as male, or have some other version of sexuality that may have biological underpinnings. (I'm not stating my beliefs, just trying to talk about how to approach people with different beliefs).

I would limit the time spent discussing different opinions. Lengthy arguments are exhausting and rarely productive. I got shut down recently by someone who didn't understand the point I wanted to make, and was unwilling to listen. I lost a lot of respect for that person, but I don't have the energy to do battle. One thing I did with my Mom was to use some teasing For real, you want to discuss politics with me when you know I'm a Social Democrat? Be careful, I might convert you.. And I always had a few emergency talking points ready, because when thing would get unpleasant, sometimes distraction is a great ploy.

One thing I learned as a parent is that beating the dead horse may be counterproductive. Some of the lessons I thought my son ignored got through; your Mom may be swayed more than she is able to admit.

You're doing fine. She sounds like she gets narky pretty fast, but my best advice there is to ignore it. You don't have to respond to an invitation to an argument. Text her with something about your day, or just check in How are the things I planted doing? that thing flowering yet? When things go in a bad direction, disengage or redirect.
posted by theora55 at 11:08 AM on June 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think that you know intellectually that you aren't going to change your mom's mind about any of these points of conflict, but the way you engage with her seems to indicate that some part of you believes that if you can just explain yourself well enough, she will agree with you. Essentially, you and your mom are the same this way. You each think that these endless discussions will result in something that makes both of you happy - again, that's an emotional belief, not your intellectual belief. So the challenge is to truly accept that you mom isn't going to change.

I have family members who believe that all doctors murder people because the doctors think it's time for the person to die, so I feel you (and my family members had examples of relatives that they believe were murdered this way). The only way to have relationships with these people, which I do want (or did - they're either dead or deeply into dementia) is to not try to have a discussion about these beliefs. That's it. That's the only way. I know that cutting off your mother starts to seem almost normal on MetaFilter after a while (and sometimes it is the best thing to do), but it's really rather extreme. And it seems like you and your mom do love each other. But these discussions aren't doing either of you any good. Imagine her telling her friends that she keeps trying to convince you - because she's as sure that she's right as you are.

So I think you need to stop having these discussions. That isn't going to be easy. But you can tell your mom that you love her and that you don't want to spend your precious time together arguing. Then do it. If she starts to tell you some horrible racist shit, say that you're not up to talk about it. And if she keeps it up, say you're going for a walk. Now I know some people who claim they don't want to discuss something, but then cut off discussion only after they've had their say. Don't do that. Think of some things to discuss that you don't argue about.

I explain that I believe in treating people the way *they* want to be treated, instead of judging them based on my own perspective and then treating them the way *I* think they should be treated

On Wednesday she sent a single line message saying, "Gee, I won't bother you further... I get it." Between this (which I've declined to acknowledge so far)

Echoing Kwadeng, follow your own advice. Text your mom. Tell her you're sorry, but you've been busy. Ignoring her is cruel. You aren't cruel.
posted by FencingGal at 12:15 PM on June 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have so much in common with your experience and feelings. I didn't feel very nurtured as a child. I wasn't heard and I wasn't validated. I'm over a decade older than you and was in a similar crisis at your age. Here's a rambling of what I've experienced and learned:

Your mom thinks she's right. You don't have to validate her and she doesn't have to validate you in order to get along. I know these kinds of relationships can be very tough --years ago my father said we should drop a nuke on Muslim countries. When you hear something like this from a close family member it shakes you up. It messes with your mind and you want to scream and cry and wonder how you're related to such a beast. It makes you furious. I've had several of these instances in my childhood and adulthood. I've had a dysfunctional upbringing and I've brought up all of the ways my parents have "failed me". I wish I wouldn't have said some of the things I did. It would have been better to discuss with a therapist or process some other way because usually greivances or not going to be met with love and understanding. Especially when they're accusatory and especially when you're an adult who is supposed to be over blaming.

People (even your mom) are going to get defensive when corrected. Ask yourself if it's worth it to go down that road. I encounter many bigoted, ill-informed people in my life and profession. I've learned that it's not my job to correct them. I can and will disagree. I will even say, NOT APPROPRIATE, but I don't tell them how to behave. Good rule of thumb in life is to not to tell other adults what to do or how to act. I'm sure you aren't explicitly demanding a person behave in a way to make you comfortable, but that may be what's going on here and that is codependency. Usually all ACoAs codependent (me) and have to always work on not reverting back to that controlling behavior. I'm not the codependent that loves another addict or tolerates mistreatment. I'm the codependent that feels like it's a reflection of me if my family member does poorly. It's a controlling, immature way of handling life and can make you miserable.

It sounds like your mom is behaving in a controlling ways and needs you to accept her beliefs in order to feel good about herself. It comes down to what you can control, and that's yourself. Cliche as it sounds, live your truth and your own life. Be kind and don't try to change anybody's mind.

If I refuse to accept her perspective then I am disrespecting her, her knowledge, and her experience. She accuses me of wanting her validation of my feelings but says that I won't accept what she "knows." At this point she is quite angry and I am reeling because the fact that I won't just accept these horrible things she's saying as my own truth really seems to upset her.

Yes, this is a vey codependent, egoic way of behaving. This doesn't mean you can't have a relationship with people who think they have all of the answers. Sure, you may not to hang around them all the time, but it doesn't have to be a cut-off.

When my dad said the thing about the nuke my sister and I both told him how insane and illogical that was. Like your mother, I'm a nurse ( a lot of ACoAs become nurses) and the Muslim doctor thing is crazy. I don't blame you for that one and for being angry and confused. This kind of thing may prevent you from being super close but it doesn't have to mean estrangement if you don't want to. She's blind and stuck in habits and ways of thinking like so many of us are. My dad is controlling in his own ways. He's not going to come out and tell us what to think and believe but he's fumed a lot of the time because when we disagree with one of his beliefs. He feels rejected as a person. We no longer discuss politics.

My dad and I are not very close but we're not estranged either. Estrangement, unless malignant narcissist or abusive, rarely makes life better in my opinion. If you're not in a healthy place you'll think about it a lot and feel bad and trapped even though they're not in your life. If your parent is trying to be civil and not abusive, I think it's healthy to try to keep the relationship cordial.

When you ignore your mom's texts she feels unloved and ignored. Her ACoA mind thinks she's being rejected. You also think you're being rejected and feel unloved by your mom. I cannot tell you how many times I have questioned if my parents loved me. Many times in adulthood I thought my parents were mad at me or didn't like me or love me anymore and would work myself up and the next thing you know, my mom calls and is laughing and we're having this lovely conversation. I think it's because I have had many times where I have disliked them. Most parents are going to love their kids. There is nothing you can do or say that will make them not love you. Parents are people too and they're crazy and have feelings.

Acknowledge that you're probably more emotionally mature, but that doesn't mean that you can't have a relationship (if you want to) and will continue learning and growing. Years ago when I told my friend she and her immediate family didn't have to tolerate her mom's crazy bullshit (critical, complaining), my friend responded with: "My mom needs our love." I thought that was the most beautiful, most adult, and graceful thing and taught me a few things about my own maturity or lack thereof.
posted by loveandhappiness at 12:20 PM on June 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

If you think about cutting her off and your brain goes "oh no I don't want that" then that's another thing, but look, this just sounds exhausting to me, and my mother was exhausting in very similar ways, and I don't regret giving it up. If you actually love your actual mom, great, find ways to deal with the bits of her that are difficult. But if you're just in love with the fantasy of a mom that is never going to actually happen, sometimes it's easier to just grieve that and move on. Either you care about the person she is and you want that person in your life, or you don't; there's no relevance here for the person you wish she was or the mom you think you should have had, the same as in any other kind of personal relationship. And it's okay if the real person is not someone you actually find tolerable.
posted by Sequence at 12:31 PM on June 2, 2018 [6 favorites]

Could it be that you're creating some of the unnecessary awkwardness with your mom by hiding so much of your true self and life from her, presenting these things in an avoidant way as your opinions and beliefs instead, and your mom is calling you out on that?

It's entirely possible that she either knows or suspects a lot of what you're hiding from her, and is bringing up "controversial" topics so that you'll come out to her and be authentic with her, so she can get to know the real You, her child. She makes statements like, she'll always love you no matter what, and you yourself admit that she likely has her suspicions anyways.

"She accuses me of wanting her validation of my feelings but says that I won't accept what she "knows." "..

Honestly, this looks like you're both passive aggressive in the extreme. She may be indirectly confronting you to the extreme in an attempt for you, on any level whatsoever, say THIS IS WHO I AM vs. this is what I feel.

As another poster said, you're not even giving her a chance to accept you or love you unconditionally as a parent. You're even considering cutting contact so you can further avoid doing this, and that seems to be on the extreme end of avoidance.

Maybe she seems hopeful after these conversations because she is at least getting a better idea of who you are from them, and you feel beat down because you're making her drag tiny bits of it here and there, out of you in a painstaking way.

Another thing we so often forget as we become adults ourselves, is that our parents are still our parents. As much as you keep secret from your mom (in fear of.. rejection?), You likely don't realize that your mom has kept probably most of her own issues/traumas/experiences from you, keeping in line with appropriate parent/child boundaries. If you practice compassion and consideration towards her with this in mind, it is very possible that she will do the same.

It's completely unfair to cut a parent out of your life under the *assumption* that they won't accept you, before actually giving them an opportunity to do so imho. If you're at the point of considering that, what do you have to lose anyways?

As for the texting, people of that generation don't really "get" texting.... can you instead possibly communicate to your mom that you don't use texting to communicate, and instead schedule a regular date/time for a phone call of however many minutes you are comfortable and then when time is up, find a concrete/indisputable excuse to end the conversation.

It sounds like maybe your mom has found that conflict is the only way to make or have any connection to or with you. It's not ideal or healthy, but neither is how your extreme avoidant issues are wearing on you emotionally, mentally and physically. Or you faulting your avoidance on your own sensitivity towards anything that's different from you.
posted by OnefortheLast at 12:50 PM on June 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Even if you DO stay in contact with her, you'll have to grieve the mom she was never able to be.

If you decide to keep in contact -- and it's optional! I'm nearly 50 and you would not believe how much bullshit is actually optional! -- then you'll need some strategies to maintain sanity. It just sounds like a lousy situation and not your fault.

Things that have worked for me are:
* lowered expectations
* just state facts
* wait it out

First of all, lowered expectations. She is not going to get it, and there is no combination of words that is going to make her, for example, see Muslims and trans people as full humans. That sucks, but it's reality. Whenever I find myself struggling to find the right combination of words to change something, I stop and think "Am I trying to cast a magic spell?" That's what it is when a perfect combination of words changes reality - it's a magic spell. And yes, sometimes powerful words DO change reality, but it's rare and special and the people who do it get Pulitzer prizes. It's not something you should expect of yourself every time you set foot in Florida. Not gonna happen. Release yourself from that and it takes a lot of pressure off.

Just state facts. The great thing to remember here is that your feelings are facts. It's a fact that you feel a certain way. It's non-negotiable. So you might say "It just breaks my heart to think of a trans kid sitting in a doctor's office being told that their conception of themselves is a mental illness." Your mom will counter with all the reasons she thinks you're wrong, but all you have to say in response is, "Yeah, well, it just breaks my heart." "Maybe I'm wrong, but it makes me sad." You can do that all day!

There's something wonderfully healing about just stating your feelings. "That makes me feel sad." "Ooh, that's stressing me out. I have a little bit of a stomachache." It's healing because you probably haven't had a lot of practice doing it. She will certainly try to get you sidetracked into a debate, but you don't have to join every argument you are invited to. You can agree to disagree about the DSM-IV. Your job is just to state your reality, not change hers or justify yours, just state it. It is a way of parenting yourself. It helps you learn to identify your own feelings and by saying them out loud you are valuing them.

Finally, wait it out. She is in her 60's which means she's still in her prime. There will come a point in about 20 years when you look at her and suddenly she seems so much frailer than she ever did before. Honestly, if she drinks too much that time may come much sooner. It's hard to explain but there is something that changes in the dynamic of the relationship in later years.

If you want to stay in contact, I think you can do it but definitely take care of yourself. Harriet Lerner's book The Dance of Intimacy was very helpful for me in learning how to do this.
posted by selfmedicating at 1:27 PM on June 2, 2018 [6 favorites]

It's completely unfair to cut a parent out of your life under the *assumption* that they won't accept you, before actually giving them an opportunity to do so imho.

I disagree. If a person has repeatedly expressed an opinion, and defended it despite being carefully disagreed with, then they have responsibility for that opinion. You don't get a get-out-of-jail-free card for bigotry just because you never realized it might cost you something, or because you never realized people you think of as actual human beings are in that category. Now, under most circumstances, it wouldn't be reasonable to think that a person might not accept you if they found out that, oh, you believe in universal healthcare and they don't, but when it comes to something as fundamental to one's identity as being queer or trans, yes, that is a reasonable conclusion and the bigoted person has forfeited any right to the vulnerability and intimacy involved in disclosure to them. (For a trans person in particular, such disclosure might be actually life-threatening.)

OP, this doesn't mean you have to cut your parent off. Just to say that you have freedom of choice here. You can do anything that makes you happier. It doesn't sound to me (from this one post, of course) like you truly want to be estranged, but at the same time you're clinging to the idea that there's a path forward where your mom stops saying hateful things. You simply can't push a button and make that happen. I will say--my mom was never a hateful homophobe, but she is a Christian in a denomination that for much of my life was still grappling with gay rights, and so she felt some things were formally sinful even though she would never have, e.g., rejected an LGB person socially. I am a boringly straight person, but, because she wasn't really up on my dating life for a while and I wasn't visibly partnered (and also because I always took a strong stance on these issues with her in conversation), she started to think that maybe I was a lesbian. That (plus changes in her denomination's approach) cracked open that tension between her genuinely kind and loving real-life behavior and her formal theology and really led to a change in her thinking altogether, so that she is now crazy progressive in her attitudes, especially for a woman in her 70s. (It also led to an absolutely hilarious set of conversations in which she intimated that she "would still love me, no matter what," etc. and I had no idea what was going on for ages.) So I'm not saying you're utterly doomed to fight, that coming out to her would necessarily have terrible repercussions, etc. Just that you can't make your decisions in the hopes that your mom will change. You need to assume that she won't, and decide what you can take from her on that basis.
posted by praemunire at 2:14 PM on June 2, 2018 [6 favorites]

If a person has repeatedly expressed an opinion, and defended it despite being carefully disagreed with, then they have responsibility for that opinion. You don't get a get-out-of-jail-free card for bigotry just because you never realized it might cost you something, or because you never realized people you think of as actual human beings are in that category

Ideally sure, but its not an ideal world. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to realize that they know and love someone who lives against their prejudiced beliefs, which were based on some "other people" type disconnected concept, to accept a new belief and change their view fully.
In additon, it was her husband arguing about pronouns, not his mother herself.
It is possible the OP's mother is passively agreeing with her husband in his presence, but doesn't herself personally share those beliefs?

Politics in general are a good topic to avoid discussing or debating with anyone in your life who doesn't share yours.

It's even possible the mother has some valid concerns about the OP based upon their avoidant tendencies and secrecy, that they are actively living in a state of denial or repression about themselves, and is trying to get them to come out and confront/accept themselves vs. their opinions/beliefs? I don't accept that a mother of a single child does not "know" who her child really is. Like who knows what the underlying case really is here, but making assumptions about meanings and jumping to extreme actions based upon those conclusions, as in actively cutting contact with a parent based upon those Or cutting out anyone who's opinion/beliefs differ in any way whatsoever, seems every bit as prejudiced to me.
As I mentioned, parents don't generally actively dump on their kids with their own personal inner conflicts, or with things about themselves that they generally only share with close ones. Sure OP, if you come out to your mom (maybe best not with her husband present), and she then still expressed prejudice, then by all rights and means, feel free to eliminate any such person from yoir8 life as you see fit.
Ie. I didn't feel it was appropriate to openly share or discuss my own sexual or orientation or personal gender identity with my child until they were experiencing their own challenges with this and came to me with them, demonstrating their own openness, ability and maturity to handle the subject matter. Even then, I only shared what would be helpful to them in relation to their own challenges. My children aren't my partners, best friends or therapists, and will not be even as adults; they will always be my children. It would not be my place to dump my own issues in their lap at any time during their lives, my job is to accept them for who they are, accept what they choose to share with me, and best provide guidance or advice as it's called for, within appropriate parent/child roles. The first time they did this was likely immeasurably scary for them, but each time they did, and were accepted, they trusted me more and now they are at a point where they feel entirely safe and comfortable coming to me with their Real Selves.
posted by OnefortheLast at 2:46 PM on June 2, 2018

To be blunt: Why bother? You can't safely be your queer self around her. And she sounds exhausting as hell (her preferred topic of conversation is Muslim doctors killing their patients?)
posted by kingdead at 3:08 PM on June 2, 2018 [6 favorites]

I would guess that your mom has a lot of negative feelings about not having a better relationship with her daughter, but she lacks the empathy and self-awareness to actually help create that better relationship. That's unlikely to change.

I feel strongly there's no right answer here, except to mourn the relationship you can't have with your mother. At the very least you can practice setting clear boundaries so that you stop having these awful interactions, and consider therapy.

You could always go nuclear and come out to her about the parts of your identity she'd find unsavory (preferably in some safe way, like a letter). It's unlikely to fundamentally change your mother's views, but it might give you the sense of being seen and heard that you're craving. But if your spider sense tells you this would be distressing and pointless, that's okay too.
posted by toastedcheese at 3:52 PM on June 2, 2018

One last point: testing, or assuming, your mothers reception/reaction/opinions/beliefs towards these issues by presenting them out of context, ie. A political debate, group topic, or even by hypothetical examples, does not necessarily give you an accurate answer that you can assume for her. For example, some people are openly, politically, ethically, religiously etc. pro-life for other "general" people, but to apply that to themselves personally either theoretically or when actually personally challenged with experiencing the situation, they may not actually share those beliefs, or they may be able to at the same time, be pro-choice when it comes to themselves, or be in full support of a friends or partners pro-choice stance, while still holding
posted by OnefortheLast at 4:14 PM on June 2, 2018

Ideally sure, but its not an ideal world. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to realize that they know and love someone who lives against their prejudiced beliefs, which were based on some "other people" type disconnected concept, to accept a new belief and change their view fully.

Maybe (though that already suggests a person who lacks empathy, imagination, and basic morality). But just because that might happen doesn't mean anyone owes them that chance. You say hateful things about people, the fact that those people no longer trust or like or want to be around you is just a natural and entirely predictable consequence. You get to live in the filth you spewed, and no one has to come into the muck to try to coax you out of it.

OP says specifically that her mom "thinks that gay and trans people are mentally ill." If that's enough for her, it's enough. Choosing to cultivate a more narrow relationship with her mom would be reasonable. But so would walking away.
posted by praemunire at 4:20 PM on June 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

Family should treat you better than random strangers. Name five valuable things that you get from your relationship with your mom.
posted by medusa at 5:01 PM on June 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

I have so many thoughts about this post that I'm going to do numbers instead of trying to make a cohesive paragraph.

1) I relate to so much of your childhood and general relationship description, I feel like I know you. Memail me anytime, for real.

2) The mother-daughter relationship is extremely pedestal-ized in American culture. Multiply this for only children and single mothers. You are aware of the cultural boatload of guilt and obligation you're feeling (and experiencing in this thread) for breaking the norms of that relationship. It's expected that mothers and daughters will mutually provide a ton of emotional support to each other. There are some REALLY baked-in gendered ideas about womanhood and motherhood. From the recent Mother's day commercial-fest, I'm sure you're aware that our culture has a very hard time understanding that some women do NOT feel like their mothers were endless fonts of love and support. It's especially taboo for women to decide that their relationship with their mother is simply too painful, even if you love her, especially if you love her. It's okay to say "I love you and that's why it hurts too much to let you near me." It's also okay to say "I know you love me but you aren't good for me."

3) Most of us daughters struggle with wanting to find some objective point at which we can say "this is For Real abusive or worth going no-contact over". That point will be different for everyone. The hardest thing you may have to do is learn that wherever your point is, someone out there will still be saying "but it's your mooooom." This is a point only you get to define for yourself. Other people's points will be before or after yours.

4) As a gay liberal daughter (again, seriously back to #1) it's COMPLETELY OKAY to feel like even if your mother was able to accept YOU, even if you could avoid talking about Muslims forever... you still know who she is and you're not able to put up a fake facade and act like this is fine. It takes a TON of emotional work and control and a piece of your own soul to make yourself small enough and acceptable enough to be 'the good daughter'. It's okay if it takes too much of you. You do not owe it to her to make yourself small enough to fit in her world.

5) A lot of advice for adult children dealing with their parents boils down to "they're just like that." That's who she is, so step around the land mines. You know what? It's okay if you need a temporary or permanent break from feeling out all the land mines just to have a conversation. Your mother clearly didn't expend the same energy on considering that you were clearly uncomfortable talking about Muslims, so maybe let's avoid that land mine. As you say, you wended through the land mines for hours and days. Have you ever gotten the freedom to "just be like that"?

6) A lot of people also say "just don't talk about politics etc". This can work for some people but I know and seems like you know it's not that easy and it requires the strength to actually get up, walk out, drive away, fly home after the first "I don't want to talk about trans people anymore". It's okay to decide you're not willing to spend your precious vacation time with your hind-brain constantly scanning for impending fight or flight.

7) A small point, but no, it's not cruel or inappropriate to not respond to someone who is contacting you in a passive aggressive and inappropriate way. They can consider that their tone has not gotten the result they wanted. You might respond and say "I don't appreciate this type of communication", or you might let silence speak. As with all the above... you do not owe your good will and your emotional energy to people who can't reasonably communicate that they've missed hearing from you. (Can you imagine her response if you'd sent that kind of text? Would she have just let it go? Why does she get to treat you poorly with no consequences?)

8) You may decide it's worth trying, but if you don't want to: you don't owe it to anyone to be someone's litmus test on whether they accept poly or queer people. You do not have to bare yourself and beg to be found worthy and deal with any of the fallout if you're not. (My own family accepts and loves my gay self and my gay wife on the surface, and they still use gay slurs about other people. Sometimes accepting you, the token gay they know, it's still not enough.)

9) Either choice, the choice to cut off or reduce most communication, or the choice to keep an arms length, cutesy, surface level relationship...they both take something from you. Everyone's choice will be different about what they value or what they're willing to sacrifice. But I think often it's represented as if the surface-level relationship, by virtue of being "any relationship", doesn't take as much of a chunk of your soul as if you just stopped talking to YOUR MOTHER. But for a lot of us it hurts equally to talk to her or not talk to her. The choice of which hurt is easier for you to bear will be different for everyone.
posted by nakedmolerats at 6:53 PM on June 2, 2018 [22 favorites]

I have had a relationship similar to yours with my own mother. For several years now Ive been attempting to practice the limited contact, superficial relationship thing. Let me tell you, this only works if the other person is also on board with it. When my mom is in the mood to pick a fight, the only thing that works is getting the hell out of her reach. I'm on my very last revision of the superficial relationship. If this one doesn't work, Im out. Right now I will only physically see my mom in public places where she will police her own behavior (she always wants to look like the perfect family so she wont pull any crap if there are witnesses). I do not call or text her but I will sometimes answer her calls and keep our conversations very short. I do not tell her anything about my personal relationships, beliefs, etc. We can talk about pets or the weather. Thats it. I am 50. Ive been trying to maintain a semblence of connection with her for decades, its down to this, after all that time and heart ache. Looking back I think it would have been less damaging to just cut her off a long time ago.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 10:23 AM on June 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

some people are openly, politically, ethically, religiously etc. pro-life for other "general" people, but to apply that to themselves personally either theoretically or when actually personally challenged with experiencing the situation, they may not actually share those beliefs, or they may be able to at the same time, be pro-choice when it comes to themselves, or be in full support of a friends or partners pro-choice stance, while still holding

Where I come from, we call those people hypocrites, and they are particularly exhausting to deal with. They also tend to be the same type of people who hold racist beliefs and then say to POC they know personally, "oh but you're not like that so you are OK.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 12:22 PM on June 3, 2018 [6 favorites]

From how you put it, it sounds like she gave raising you her best shot, and I mean it did produce an open minded, non bigoted, compassionate person (you) so I think that's worth keeping some level of contact, but maybe eliminate, cut down on, or shorten in person visits?

I think you could go one of 2 ways with the relationship - "fake" relationship as the first poster puts it - light chat, easy agreeable topics like weather. This saves you from confrontation.

Or you could just be yourself and let your mom figure out her own problems with it. This sort of requires a lot of confidence and the ability to not engage in some stupid arguements you know she will not let you win, but then the ball is in your mom's court to either accept you to keep the relationship or stop contact with you because she'd rather keep her dumb beliefs.

Don't let things she says bother you too much, especially if she tries to pull some "truth" or "morality" type bull. Consider the source, this is a woman who obviously doesn't put too much stake in wedding vows so things that are normally given hefty consideration only get that from her when it suits herself.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:23 AM on June 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Your history sounds remarkably similar to mine, even down to the borrowing money. I always hoped that eventually we would "grow out" of our difficulties and have the kind of mother/daughter relationship that I craved. I finally came to realize that my mother was emotionally abusive, a kind of abuse that is hard to quantify because it leaves no visible marks. After having the same conversation with my parent 1,000s of times and never finding a resolution, I finally decided to stop trying and to start worrying about my own well-being. I've been no-contact for two years now. I have never been happier.

As a previous commenter suggested, I eventually asked myself what I was getting form the relationship compared to the amount of work I was putting into trying to keep the peace. The answer was that I honestly wasn't getting ANYTHING. No emotional support, nothing. That's what gave me the clarity to cut off contact.

In my case, my parent has Borderline Personality Disorder, which often co-presents with Codependency. My parent sees/saw her children as extensions of herself. When I grew up enough to have my own personality and values (i.e. became a young adult), that's when our problems started — because I began to assert my own identity independent from hers. This is SUPER common in personality disorders.

While I was trying to figure things out, I read a lot of the Raised by Bordelrines subreddit and also the website Out of the Fog — "fog" standing for fear, obligation and guilt. In both of those forums there are people with varying degrees of contact with their parents, and lots of tips on how to maintain minimal contact, cut off contact altogether, or protect yourself when you need to interact with your abuser.

Best of luck on figuring out what's right for you.
posted by Brittanie at 4:57 AM on June 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

As I get older, I'm really starting to gain an appreciation for what it means to be raised by an emotionally abusive parent. How incredibly hurtful that experience is. This part:

"...early on I developed the tendency to keep my thoughts and feelings to myself because they were typically not in line with her ideals or because I otherwise didn't feel comfortable sharing them based on the reaction I expected from her. I went through adolescence and young adulthood feeling as though I bottled up a lot of myself any time I interacted with her or the rest of my family."

...is ultimately both horrific, and incredibly common among emotionally abused children. I'm sorry that happened to you. Elderly parents like yours (and mine), put a gauntlet down in front of us. Be who I want you to be. Sometimes they extend that to the world at large, sometimes only to their children. Regardless, even they can sense when you give them a false self, and it's also unthinkable to them that you'd ever arrive at the conclusion that since there's no space allowed for the real you in their lives, there's no reason for you to stay involved.

So what to do, going forward? Be who *you* want to be. Elderly parents get to come along for the ride, or they don't - but that's their choice. More importantly, allow the people in your life to be who they're going to be. Because that wasn't given to you, because you were forced to be small to fit into their expectations, it's even more important that you afford and in fact encourage others to be fully themselves.

Especially children. I'll be honest here - it never even occurred to me that there was seriously something wrong with my own mother until I had a child. "Doing the best they could" becomes mostly bullshit, then - because now you know. You are free. Go out into the world and be yourself, for yourself - and enable that for others, too.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 2:34 PM on June 5, 2018 [7 favorites]

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