Hi Mom.. I'd really prefer not to talk to you.
May 24, 2008 10:14 AM   Subscribe

How do I handle interactions with a parent in the present, when I still haven't been able to let go of anger from the past? It's my mother.. simply calling me every now and then to ask how I am doing, and yet when she comes up on my caller ID I usually have overwhelming feelings of dread, anger, and then guilt if I don't pick up the phone.

My mother and I don't get along so well. Things are civil at the moment but.. I guess on a deeper level they are poisonous. I certainly haven't resolved a lot of anger from the past, especially when I was young and still living at home. She has a mood disorder - definitely depression sometimes, but also prone to lashing out in rage and frustration, and seems to have a knack for saying the most hurtful things she possibly can at those moments. I grew up in constant fear of her unpredictable bad temper and fits of rage, and am still trying hard to stop being as critical of myself as she was of me. I know I haven't let it go and I'm not sure how, and I've had the same mood disorder myself since my teenage years - the time when she and my father were divorcing and she just dumped everything on me, guilt trips, anger, their baggage from the past. She doesn't have many friends and is miserable and pretty good at driving people away. I don't want to be like her but I'm afraid I could be, as I've learned pretty well how to be terribly unhappy and hard on myself.

Well over a decade later, I have this overwhelming anger when she calls me or sends me money (which I've asked her many times to stop doing) - a wish that she'd just leave me the hell alone, preferably for a couple of years. Even though at the moment she isn't treating me badly like she used to. But ever since I left home for college and the years in between, she'll call me to see how I am doing every week or so, and I just dread those calls and often don't take them, after which she'll complain to me the next time how long it's been since I've talked to her, and I never call her, etc. I would almost like to say, "get the hint, the reason I don't call is because I don't want to talk to you," but that seems awfully cruel. And of course I don't call - I don't want to talk to her - it always turns into this defensive, unpleasant thing for me because I'm usually not doing all that great, but if I am honest about this she'll harass me with constant worrying and more calls. I don't have to deal with her fits of rage and guilt trips any more, unless I happen to bring up anything from the past, of course. Oh, and yes, I've been to therapists and will go again. :)
posted by citron to Human Relations (27 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
"Sorry, I've been super busy." Really, just tell her how you're doing and say you've gotta go if the conversation starts turning south. If you want to avoid the guilt about not calling her, call her once in awhile or change your number.
posted by rhizome at 10:36 AM on May 24, 2008

Whatever happened in the past is not going to be resolved by you avoiding talking to your mom. Most of us have memories of bad parental behavior from our growing-up years. My dad sounds a bit like your mom - explosive temper at times, and we kids never knew what might set it off. Yes, I do have lingering "issues" all these years later as a result of whay my home environment was like, but I'm able to step back a bit now and look at my dad and realize that he didn't really "mean" anything by his outbursts - they were (and sometimes still are) a part of his personality, and nothing in this world is going to change him. Instead, I try to focus on his good qualities, and I talk to him and visit when I can. He's in his 80s and obviously won't be here forever, and I certainly don't want to feel pangs of guilt 20 years from now because my father went to his grave without having his only daughter speak to him after she moved away from home.

My advice, for what it's worth, is to pick up the phone when your mom calls. Try and keep the conversation topical (how you're both doing, the weather, the traffic on your way to work/school, how is her garden doing, etc) and avoid any sticky/possible painful topics. The more you do talk to her, the less she'll badger you, and you'll probably be able to keep the conversations short and light-hearted. Best of luck.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:36 AM on May 24, 2008 [4 favorites]

I agree with Oriole Adams. I had a similar relationship with my mum - possibly a bit worse, as she was seriously psychotic - I started talking to her in my late 20's as an adult to an adult. When you learn what demons drove her to behave the way she did, you understand her rage was never about you, and you possibly learn to forgive.

If you can do that, you will unburden yourself of so much pain and anger and hate, that you will feel a tremendous sense of release. You will be doing yourself a favor. My siblings have not been able to do that, and they are still full of anger. It eats away at them and erodes all of their happiness. I feel sorry for them.
posted by clarkstonian at 11:00 AM on May 24, 2008

Compartmentalize. It sounds like (from your brief description, so apologies if I'm barking up the wrong tree) that she's trying to make up for lost time and be a "good mom" now. Try to deal with Present Tense Mom as if she's a different person than Childhood Mom -- as Oriole Adams advised, keep the conversation fairly light, superficial, and SHORT. Consider it practice for both of you.

And, of course, work through the Childhood Mom stuff in therapy.
posted by desuetude at 11:04 AM on May 24, 2008

I guess what you need to do would depend on-

- Is she still doing these hurtful things?
- In moments of clarity, does she feel bad for what she's done?

It's hard for parents to give up that their kids are adults and out on their own. So if your mom is feeling this and you push your independence, you might trigger an overreaction. Not saying it isn't your right to do so, but that you need to realize this might happen.

You can't punish your present selves for what happened in the past. If the relationship is normalizing, forgive her her failings and try to move on and build a new relationship. I mean, it's your mom. If she's trying, you should try to meet her halfway.

However, if she still is out of control, you still have to forgive her for her failings. And unfortunately, learn to take what she says as the nonsensical ravings of a lunatic mind, and not your mom.

Think about it selfishly- what will you feel better about on your deathbed? Successfully holding a grudge, or pride in having rebuilt a good relationship with your mom?
posted by gjc at 11:11 AM on May 24, 2008

Forgot to add- if she's still doing these hurtful things, make sure to develop the ability to "shift gears" with her. If you're having a normal conversation with "mom" and she turns into "mean mom", just say "Gotta go". And while this is easier said than done, don't let it bug you. Just as it's hard for parents to give up their view of their kids' lives as part of their own, it is equally hard for us to give up the conceit that our parents' lives revolve around us. I know I had that problem.
posted by gjc at 11:17 AM on May 24, 2008

Best answer: Keep in mind that this is not just you. You may be upset over past hurts, but it sounds like, from what you are reporting, that your mom hasn't really acknowledged that hurtful behavior and in fact may be continuing it. There was a good thread about being nicer to mom that has some good points about moving on and I commented in that thread about my own relationship with my Mom which has since gotten complicated by the fact that she has cancer. Color me conflicted and constantly guilty. I am so sorry for your situation. Here are a few things that helped me.

- it is okay to not want to talk to your Mom on the phone.
- if you do talk to her on the phone, it is okay to immediately end the conversation if she starts being mean to you
- if she wants to bring this up at a later date and hold it against you, it is again completely and totally okay for you to end that conversation.
- she will be mean and weird with you no matter whether you are perfect or imperfect, so don't try to be perfect, it doesn't help and makes you crazy.

That said

- You can't control her. She may send you money or call you til the end of time. She's erratic and irrational. Just like children of alcoholics [which, surprise, is my other parent!] you have to accept the things you can't change and work on what you can.
- it's okay to not like your Mom. Some people may be aghast at that. They are not your siblings and they do not understand. You do not have to make them understand, but don't let them make you feel guilty either.
- concentrate on what you can do. I have advice in that other thread, but a lot of it is about setting limits and not apologizing for them. People with irrational parents often have a hard time being okay with taking care of themselves because they've gotten a bag of hell for taking any time/energy for themselves in the face of their parent's unrelenting need for whatever.
- Now is the time for you to figure out what works for you, set up a plan and stick to it. You don't even have to tell your Mom about it except in the broadest of terms. "Mom, I don't want you giving me a hard time about how often we talk. This works for me and it's how its going to be. You can accept this or we can end this call" Sure it's a little control-freakish and patronizing but if your Mom was acting like a rational friendly or even familial person this would not be necessary.

I am so sorry you are going through this. It's something I've been working on for years and even though it's a big headache, I feel like I'm finally making some headway, carving out space for myself, relying on friends and otehr family to support my decisions, and being happy with my life not being stuck in a spiral of recriminations and blame. I hope you can too and I wish you the best.
posted by jessamyn at 12:16 PM on May 24, 2008 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, all.. thinking all this over.. I much appreciate everyone's advice.. especially the comments that tell me to do something I don't want to do, which is often when I get the best advice. :)

Is she still doing these hurtful things?
Well, occasionally, if I'm not talkative or we happen to disagree about something she'll say things to provoke me, guilt trips by telling me I think my father is so great, a lot of "hoping" that nothing bad happens to me or I'm not unhappy or depressed, accusing me of being secretive, etc. So, yeah. I am weary of walking on eggshells, because if I don't tell her how I am (which is often unhappy, to be honest) I'm secretive, but if I do, she worries worries worries and I have to manage her worrying on top of whatever else is going on.
posted by citron at 12:18 PM on May 24, 2008

Response by poster: Just like children of alcoholics [which, surprise, is my other parent!]

Uh, yeah, I should have mentioned that. Mine too.
posted by citron at 12:20 PM on May 24, 2008

I have a similar relationship with my mom. She was pretty cruel and hard to those close to her, and I'm still extremely angry with her. I ended up not talking with either of my parents for a year. I didn't take their calls, and there was a point where I said, flat-out, that I wanted to cut off all contact with them.

It was remarkably therapeutic. I still need to hold my mom at arm's length, but I can talk to her mostly without the uncontrollable rage I felt whenever she called me. It allowed me time to get my head straight.

Time off can be helpful. Sure, in the future there may be a time when you can be OK talking with your mom. But that time won't come if she is constantly harassing you and you are putting yourself through a cycle of rage and guilt. Take the time you need, then start up contact again on your own terms.
posted by Anonymous at 12:22 PM on May 24, 2008

Uh, yeah, I should have mentioned that. Mine too.

Then I should probably mention that the stuff with your Dad is a part of this, at least it is in my family. My Mom put up with an incredible amount of bad-partner shit when she and my Dad were together. Because she is a person who tends to nurture these old hurts, they still feel alive and active to her, so much so that I can't really talk too much about my Dad, how he's doing or whatever if I'm going to say anything positive about him. I sympathize, but their bad relationship has nothing to do with me, especially not now. So, yeah, telling yourself things like this, or saying them to your Mom, is totally okay. I mean it's amazing really, they've been split up for over 25 years but she'll still slag on him as if that's at all appropriate at all, much less in a conversation with me. He and I are also a lot alike, much more than she and I are [though she's actually the nicer one, in terms of regular personality and kind-to-animals sort of stuff] and I think some of her spazzing out at me is kneejerk reactions to traits of his that set her off so many years ago.

You might find some help in the ACOA literature. I don't go to meetings or any of that stuff, not that keen on higher powers, but I find some of their online stuff useful, particularly this page. It's a little over the top in terms of "omg we are BROKEN" for my tastes, but that whole sort of Al-Anon thing of kids of dysfunctional families just guessing at what normal is resonated with me quite a lot. Part of working through that is finding people who you trust and care about how trust and care about you who are good for the "reality check" part of all of this. I'm lucky as hell to have a wonderful sister and good friends who I can talk to and be like "My Mom said this fucked up thing, that's fucked up, right?" and get feedback that is outside of the broken feedback loop that is interacting with either of my parents for normal parent-type stuff.
posted by jessamyn at 12:36 PM on May 24, 2008

This subject has come up before so I'll just link to my comment from then. And having just recently lost my dad, reading the comment over I can tell you that I stand behind that advice 100%. The I spent healing my relationships with my parents was a big gift I gave to them, to myself, and to everyone who will ever have to deal with me in my life, frankly. I'm not going to be taking out my daddy issues on anyone, I don't have any. I am actually happy when I think about my dad and cry a little... it's good to know that my heart is touched and to feel that I sincerely do miss him. I'm really in a good and peaceful place with it... I'll never see him again and I'm okay with it. I don't harbor an ounce of regret about our relationship, not a word unsaid, only good thoughts and warm feelings are left when I think about him and I can't TELL you how thankful I am for that. It could've been so painful... but IT'S NOT. I know he loved me very much and that I was a good daughter to him. He's gone and I can't control that but it's wonderful to realize that I'll be able to honor his memory until the day I die without ever needing to question anything. That my dad was proud of me, loved me, and that we were close friends in the end... it was spoken, it was proven, it's just fact. And I feel lucky and thankful for it.

Seriously, if I can get to this place... it's not impossible. The odds were NOT in my favor. My family's freakin' nuts. And while I've been able to get to a good place with my parents, I find my sisters to be hopeless, unfortunately. Sometimes you just don't have enough to work with. That might be the case with your folks, but IT'S REALLY REALLY IMPORTANT TO TRY ANYHOW.

Also, I'll recommend these two books again. Because they really helped me to let go of stuff and not waste energy or emotion on things that aren't real or positive and that definitely won't help you grow into a happier person.

Good luck.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:44 PM on May 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

And by the way, my mom will probably pass this year. And I definitely feel the same about her. Like I said, don't give up. Dealing with parents is tough but it's worth it to get to the other side of your issues... just as a gift for yourself. And to your kids and significant others too.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:47 PM on May 24, 2008

When I 1st moved far away from my family, I didn't have a phone. For a year.

Recognize that she has a serious illness. It's okay to find a way to tell her she needs therapy & meds. Her life could be way better if her illness gets treatment. Compassion.

Don't take any crap. If she acts out, say "I don't want to spend time with you when you're unkind/yelling/delving into old crap." I never got really confrontational w/ my (bipolar, alcoholic) Mom, but I didn't take crap and was honest about it. Be positive when she does well. "I enjoyed talking with you today." Have a list, written or mental, of safe topics - the garden, the nutty neighbor's antics, the dog - so you don't veer into painful territory.

Call her 1st sometimes. That way you're not caught off guard and can call when you're calm.

It took many years for me to get beyond the worst of it. I did develop a relationship w/ my Mom, maybe not the relationship I wanted, but the best we could do. She died not long ago, and I am very happy that we had that relationship. I still had some serious processing to do, but I'm over the hardest part.
posted by theora55 at 12:57 PM on May 24, 2008

I disagree completely with Oriole Adams and all the others who say that this problem can't be resolved by avoiding your mother's phone calls. When I was reading your question, I felt as though I was reading a question I could have written myself a little more than a year ago about my father. How did I resolve it? By not talking to him for 10 months.

I gathered my strength and called my father one afternoon to tell him that I would not be able to talk to him for a while, because I needed to take some time to think about the past and work though some things. I didn't define "a while," and I didn't go into details about how he had hurt me or why I needed to cut him off. I didn't respond when he argued and yelled and pleaded. I just said, "I'm sorry, but this is what I need to do. I'll call you when I'm ready. Please don't call or write to me in the meantime unless it is an emergency." Then I hung up the phone.

It was one of the hardest things I've ever done. And he didn't understand. At first, he called me and kept writing to me. I listened to his messages just long enough to ascertain that no one was dying, and then deleted them. I did not open his letters. After about two months, it mostly stopped. My father called me on my birthday, and my aunt occasionally still asked me whether I would talk to him, but for the most part, I had peace.

That peace allowed me to relax for the first time in a long time, possibly for the first time in my entire life. I didn't have to worry about the next time my father was going to do something crazy to hurt my feelings or shake up my world. I focused on my job and my friends, and I was really happy.

For a few months, I hardly though about him at all. I felt a little guilty about that. But after about 6 months, I started thinking about him more, and I started thinking about him in more positive terms than I had in a very long time. I started to remember some of the good things he had done for me in my life, some times when we had fun together, and some ways in which he had supported me. My memories of him weren't clouded by him interrupting my life with his insanity in the present.

After 9 months, I started to notice parents and children reconciling everywhere: in movies, in books, among my friends. I'm sure it wasn't actually happening any more than usual, I was just noticing it more, because I was thinking about it myself. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but one day, spontaneously, without really running through all of the consequences in my head, I called my father. And I told him that I'd like to have lunch with him in the city where he lives.

I took a trip to his city, stayed with a friend, and had lunch with my dad. And the strange thing was that while I can't tell whether the 10 months changed him as a person, they changed the way he related to me. He was cautious and tentative, and he didn't say anything that made me mad. We ended up spending the entire afternoon together because I was actually having a good time at lunch. I think we had both changed. Even when he said something a little weird, I wasn't defensive or upset about it; I was able to let it roll off my back. I had a good time.

That was in February. We've talked about once a month since then. I'm planning to visit him at the end of the summer for a couple of days. It's still a little cautious between us, but he doesn't act nearly as crazy anymore. More importantly, he doesn't assume that I'm going to just take the crazy without doing anything about it, because he's seen me stand up for myself. I've asserted myself as an adult. And on my end, the time I took gave me perspective on our relationship. It allowed me to see him as not just this crazy, awful person who ruined parts of my life, but also as the father who did the best he could in helping to raise me despite being a little crazy. And I feel really good about that.

I'm not saying that cutting off contact will work as well for everyone as it did for me. And I don't think my dad and I will ever have the kind of close relationship that some parents and children share. But I just wanted to point out that, contrary to the opinions above, it is an option, and it can work. You shouldn't rule it out without considering it as at least a temporary option.
posted by decathecting at 1:25 PM on May 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

I didn't read the above responses.

I have the same issue with my mother. I quit contacting her for a long, long time. It felt great. I sent her money back, she was just using it to manipulate me.

You can also read Children of the Self Absorbed (I can't link it right now). It has exercises, visualizations, and lots of tips on how to prepare to talk to your mother. Whether or not she's "Self Absorbed", it's a great book for anyone with poisonous relationships with their parents.

Good luck.
posted by sondrialiac at 1:35 PM on May 24, 2008

Oh girl I feel the pain... I hated my mother for a long time, she was a bitch.... I came back from camp one summer and my room was filled with bird cages, I slept on the couch for a couple of years... She said she would call the child service people and send me away... tried to whip me one day and I grabbed a log off the firewood pile and threatened to smack her upside the head.

All of us left town as soon as we could. I ran so far away that I had a missing person file with the police.

20 years later... she's cool... maybe meds, maybe age, but she's gone from bitch to good mom. So give her a chance and wait a while, you might like her in a few years, She might need some meds, or it might just be a phase. With luck, you'll like her in 5 more years...
posted by zengargoyle at 1:46 PM on May 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I haven't spoken to my mother in 10 years. I've actually gotten past all the childhood stuff (and so I should, I'm 40 and haven't lived at home for more than half my life) because despite everything, I know she did the best she could.

Unfortunately, other things that made me angry at my mother were still there when I was 30. She's a racist and a sexist, she ignored one grandchild and spoiled another, and she was so hurtful one day, that I burst out with "just stay out of my life" without any intent. She's still manipulative and mean (two of my brothers visit her), and she won't allow me to reconcile with her, which I think I'm grateful for.

So I'm just saying, be prepared, if you cut her out of your life, not to be let back in. And yes, it's true, most people won't understand. They'll say, "but it's your mother", not knowing what it's like to be manipulated, and attacked and generally mistreated by the person who installed all your buttons. So my advice on that is just don't talk about it.
posted by b33j at 2:45 PM on May 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

In reading my comment over, you really should read the linked comment first. The rest of my comment won't make sense otherwise and will sound like I'm just saying "Give her a chance! It'll all work out! Everyone love eachother! Wheee!" And by no means is that where I'm coming from. I didn't speak to my parents for years, there was SERIOUS animosity in my heart for my parents. And frankly, for REALLY REALLY good reasons. My mom was a royal bitch. My dad was a bipolar alcoholic. Getting to where I am now took 41 years of effort to open up dialogue while still letting everyone know that I wasn't going to be manipulated or involved in their bullshit. By no means are these relationships ever simple. Especially since your parents put your buttons because they PUT them there.
posted by miss lynnster at 3:36 PM on May 24, 2008

I had a lot of hurt and anger with my parents, especially my mother, from my childhood; for years I turned it inward on myself and I was depressed. I thought something was wrong with me, that I was fundamentally defective. Slowly, as I got older and had kids of my own, I realized it wasn't me, it was my childhood - I realized how uncomfortable and sad I was about my parents and how they had treated me and sometimes still treated me, that my feelings of being defective came right from their criticism and distance. I thought about it and chewed it over for a long time and then I did one of the hardest things I ever had to do - I told my mother how I felt, how I'd always felt. I even made "talking points" so I could be sure I'd say what I needed to say to her. Well, she didn't really "get it", she was mad, she didn't talk to me for a little while, and then I got a sort of non-apology apology from her (and the biggest Xmas gift I'd ever received from my parents, heh).

The surprising thing was it didn't matter that it didn't resolve everything or, what? all of a sudden my mother totally understood and was sorry and everything was sunshine? or whatever one might imagine they'd like as an outcome to that. It was simply wonderful to have finally unburdened myself, and had the guts to air it, even if I didn't say every single thing I wanted to - even if she didn't absorb it the way I'd ideally would've wanted her to - it was like I mailed that box of hurt out of my life, signed, sealed, delivered. It healed so much for me. I said it, I stood up for it, she knew it, and what she did or didn't do with it at that point was whatever to me. It's had a huge effect on my life. My depression which had slowly been lessening by then, finally let go; I'm not afraid to speak my opinions, I don't constantly criticize myself or question myself anymore, I am able to shrug a lot more off. It was a huge defining turning point in my life.

So I guess I'd say, it could do a lot of good to just - not cruelly, but directly - have it out. Say it all, and if she doesn't call for a while - bonus, right?
posted by Melinika at 4:23 PM on May 24, 2008

I had the opposite experience from Oriole Adams. For about ten years, I only talked to my mother on holidays. It took about ten years for me to forgive her (and myself), but I needed the time off and I'm glad I took it. I did really have a moment in a therapist's office where I finally felt some compassion for her. I say if you don't want to talk to her, don't. Talk to her when you're ready.
posted by gt2 at 5:01 PM on May 24, 2008

Response by poster: Couple more things if anyone stops back..

1) thank you to all for replies!
2) I have told her many, many times that she needs to get treatment for depression; I have personally called her doctor and said, I know you can't tell me anything but I am telling you please try to get her some treatment for depression. She refuses.
3) Hmm.. as far as the linked comment on sitting down and getting to know her.. I feel as though I know way, way too much about her miserable past because she's dumped it on me for as long as I can remember, I've listened, I've given advice, I've offered to help.

I guess it's hard for me to view any interaction with her as anything other than being used.
posted by citron at 9:53 PM on May 24, 2008

It must be frustrating to watch her struggle with a treatable condition. It is also hurtful to feel like you're being used. At the same time, however, you can't change her; she is the only person who can do that.

Good luck, I hope whatever you try works for you.
posted by sondrialiac at 11:37 AM on May 25, 2008

Best answer: Hmm.. as far as the linked comment on sitting down and getting to know her.. I feel as though I know way, way too much about her miserable past because she's dumped it on me for as long as I can remember, I've listened, I've given advice, I've offered to help.

I had that with my mom too. I think what helped me was to stop trying to help or do anything but just accept that she is who she is and we all do the best we can with what we have to work with. Some people really are just troubled. And it's not our job to fix them, nor are their problems our fault. Taking our egos and emotions out of the situation it's the only way to get through. What helped me was viewing my mom kind of as the character in a book... something made her the way she is. I just kind of tried to detach myself instead of getting personally emotionally involved, and through that I found some peace and understanding. And once I found that for her, she ended up slowly changing. I think once I treated her differently, my detachment really helped her realize I was there for her but her games weren't going to work on me anymore. Eventually, as life makes it happen for all of us, I ended up being the parent and she became the child. What helped was that I chose to be a much kinder and more positive parent than she was, for my own sake more than anything.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:50 AM on May 25, 2008

Best answer: I feel for you, I really do. It's hard to "be cruel," as you think it might be, but you have to realize:

Your mental health is more important than anyone else's, even your mom's.

She might get offended. She will get offended. You can't control her reactions, you can only control your own. If seeing her on the caller ID or the check in the mail triggers these reactions in you, please, think about yourself before your mom. Don't worry about her feelings, she will find someone else to dump them onto, trust me. I know. She either doesn't care or isn't capable of caring about how you feel. What makes you think you deserve to be in fear of contact with someone toxic just because you are related to them? You don't deserve it and it's your right not to talk to them if you don't feel like it right now.

Take care of yourself before you worry about "being cruel" to mom. If she were a healthy person, she would want what's best for you, not herself. Don't answer the phone, give the money to charity if it bothers you, let a friend listen to the messages. Write her a letter and burn it. Write 10, or 100 letters and burn them. Sending them will not do any good because she will not change. You cannot fix her, you can only work on yourself. I know.

Did you ever stop to think that she is being cruel to you and you put up with it, and she doesn't worry about being cruel to you? What's wrong with this picture?

Train yourself not to pick up the phone each time she calls. Let it go to voicemail. Let her call 3 times before you call her back. Put on your best voice and say, "everything's fine!" and don't give out any detailed info. When it gets awkward, say, "oh, I have to go to the bathroom now, gotta let ya go!" If she tries to keep you talking, "gee, really gotta go, ate some beans last night, talk to ya later, okay?" and hang up the phone.

Third time she calls, you will be right in the middle of scrubbing the sink, washing your blinds, running out to the store, eating supper, dying your hair, about to watch your favorite TV show, off to dinner with friends, etc.

If she starts in on the bad stuff, say, "I am not going to listen to that stuff, if you keep talking about it, I will hang up." Then hang up when she does. Yes, you will have to be a jerk for a while and say "Mom, I don't want to hear it." If she doesn't get the message, you go back to not answering the phone.

It may hurt, it may bring on feelings of guilt, but it will ultimately bring many peaceful days into your life. After a while, you will begin to feel like you deserve a good life without this negative drain on you (or the constant fear thereof, which is often worse than the reality). You can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family. Choose to have good friends and healthy relationships. Giving birth to you doesn't mean she gets to hold you in emotional blackmail servitude the rest of your life. {{{hugs}}}
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:53 PM on May 25, 2008

So I've kinda skimmed some of the above posts, and I guess it's helped me a bit to know that so many people deal with this issue. lol. I also had/have a strained relationship with my mom. I live several hours away from her at this point, so it's been a bit easier to distance myself from the whole situation. I worry about it sometimes, however... Because even though I've kinda buried it all... I know that it's all still there right under the surface. When I am left alone with thoughts about my childhood and my mom... or when I read a post like this and am forced to think about it... I get incredibly emotional.

Personally, I know that I need to do something about it... For myself and for my own sanity... But I am afraid to step on toes. I am afraid to drudge up the past, and I am afraid to tell my mom how much she hurt me when I was growing up. I think the problem with that view is that I will never be able to get past my own issues unless I make some waves.

So the advice in all of this... I know what I NEED to do to be okay... YOU also know what you need to do. It's just a matter of convincing ourselves to actually do it.

If you don't want to talk to her... don't. Tell her that you've been thinking a lot about your relationship with her, past and present... and that while she may not like to hear it, she wasn't the best parent to you growing up. Tell her you need some time to just live your life and that her presence is hindering your ability to deal with the emotions you are feeling. Write her a letter if it helps. Tell her that you'll be in touch with her when you're ready, and that you would appreciate it if she would just give you some space... Outline the "rules" and tell her that if she does not respect the rules, it will just take longer for you to work things out in your own head. Be firm. Stick up for yourself.

May I also recommend that you stay in touch with your other family members and let them know you are still alive and well and whatnot. News will get back to her, and hopefully she won't have any excuse to "check up on you" just to "make sure you're okay"... Good luck.
posted by Mookbear at 8:36 AM on May 26, 2008

Even if she isn't a great parent, that doesn't mean she doesn't worry if she doesn't hear from you. And being worried/panicky makes many people say ill-considered things. So I second the advice to answer the phone or call her back *very briefly* within a day or two.

Another option is email, if she uses it. I haven't had a relationship with my father for 7 years but until recently had to communicate with him occasionally about health insurance. I was able to simply ignore his requests for my address or to see me (which would have been very difficult on the phone) while reassuring him that I was fine and asking for necessary information.
posted by ecsh at 8:45 AM on May 26, 2008

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