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Please help me understand my toxic but well meaning mother

(13 Posts)
mixedupmuddledup Wed 07-Nov-12 09:10:21

I've n/c for this as too many real life details but they are very relevant. I'll try not to dripfeed but this could get long...

DM is becoming increasingly hard to deal with and I don't know what to do. She is kind, generous, proud of me and would do anything to help me. The flipside of that is that she is needy, demanding, attention seeking, very easily offended, tries to organise the lives of those around her to an uncomfortable degree, falls out with people with depressing regularity and can generally be quite difficult.

The background to this is that she had a difficult childhood (hints at abuse but I don't know the details) and an unhappy marriage to my father followed by a very abusive second marriage. She also lost a child - my sister who was killed in an accident aged 8.

I know someone can't be expected to be 'normal' after all of that and I try to take it into account as much as I can because I think it does explain a lot about how she is, but there are two things that I think and I just want to air them here as I can't do it in real life:

1 - How much can an unhappy past be expected to excuse unreasonable behaviour? Do you have to keep giving the person the benefit of the doubt because of what's happened to them or does there come a time when the past can't be blamed for the present?

2 - (and this one really gets me) ALL OF THOSE THINGS HAPPENED TO ME TOO! (Apart from the suspected abuse - my childhood was very happy until my sister died and my parents divorced). But I lost a sister and I lived in fear for the whole of my teenage years with an unpredictable and terrifying stepfather, a situation that I had no choice about. I sometimes wonder how life would have been different for me if those things hadn't happened - Would I have been more successful? Married someone different? And then I realise I am doing the same thing - blaming what's happened in my past for how things are now).

My maternal grandmother recently passed away which I am very sad about but it has also opened a can of worms in my head about my DM's relationship with her mother, my relationship with mine and also my relationship with my own daughter.

I don't want to repeat the mistakes of the past but I don't know why I feel so unable to pull my DM up on her (sometimes) unreasonable behaviour. I'm like this with other people sometimes as well - taking crap from friends rather than saying what I think - and I don't know why because I'm generally quite a confident person and have no trouble bollocking my poor DH on a regular basis. blush

I think part of it is the fact that DM claims I am the only person who's always been there for her 100% (little does she know) and that is such a weight on my shoulders - if the only person who has always supported you 'lets you down' - and I could do that in her eyes by making just the smallest 'mistake', something nobody else would bat an eyelid at - then what are you left with?

I am so scared of messing up my relationship with my DD as she gets older - it would be awful if she resented me the way I do my DM. I also know that the time will come when I have to care for my DM as she did hers and I'd like to do so with good grace and not be secretly fuming at her while maintaining a martyr-like outward appearance of a dutiful daughter (as DM did with hers).

I don't want this to affect my family - DH finds her very hard to deal with and although he has his faults too I can sympathise to some extent. Talking to her is not an option so I need to find a way of dealing with it in my own head so that doesn't happen.

CogitoErgoSometimes Wed 07-Nov-12 09:39:24

"How much can an unhappy past be expected to excuse unreasonable behaviour? "

Never. It can go a long way to explaining it but must never be treated as an excuse for it to continue. We are all free-thinking individuals and, even if we are guilty of bad habits or prejudices, we can all choose to be reasonable or unreasonable. As many people can say they had a terrible childhood and have gone on to do their best to be a great adult as those that say they had a terrible childhood which is why they have gone on to be a terrible adult....

"And then I realise I am doing the same thing - blaming what's happened in my past for how things are now"

Same comment as above. You can understand what happened to you. You can feel angry or resentful towards those that mistreated you. Past experiences can & do shape your view of life and future decisions. But you can ultimately choose whether to let the past dictate your future or whether you reject the past and determine your own future.

"I don't know why I feel so unable to pull my DM up on her (sometimes) unreasonable behaviour."

Because it's a bad habit learned from a very early age, that's all. Nice girls don't rock the boat. Nice girls smile and ignore rather than engage in conflict. Nice girls love their mother... You can take your DH to task because you know he's a reasonable person. Takes guts to pull the unreasonable person up the first time but, once you've done it, you'll find it gets easier with practice.

As for your own DC.... if you take the approach that they can tell you anything, that you will listen without judging, that you will only offer your opinion if asked, and that (very important) they are allowed to disagree with you.... then that's about as good as it gets.

HotDAMNlifeisgood Wed 07-Nov-12 13:43:05

I'd really recommend this book to you, muddle. It examines the interactions between multiple generations, and how to resolve those if they are problematic.

financialwizard Wed 07-Nov-12 14:12:10

You should post on the 'Stately home' thread. Honestly I did at the weekend, and my god I feel 1000 times better for it already. Just knowing you are not alone in having these feelings is good.

Attila pointed me in the direction of that thread. I thought I was the one being unreasonable, and whilst I am at the start of a long journey I am pretty sure I have been shown the path out of the black forest.

AttilaTheMeerkat Wed 07-Nov-12 14:31:25

Would second FinancialWizard's counsel re the Stately Homes thread on these pages. Do post there too, at the very least read what is written there.

Re your comment:-
"She is kind, generous, proud of me and would do anything to help me. The flipside of that is that she is needy, demanding, attention seeking, very easily offended, tries to organise the lives of those around her to an uncomfortable degree, falls out with people with depressing regularity and can generally be quite difficult".

I would argue that she is only kind when you are completely kow-towing to her demands and only "helps" you to give hereself more power and control. She is not a truly kind person at all.

BTW you are truly under no obligation to look after your mother in her dotage, you owe this woman nothing really. You are likely in FOG as many adult children of toxic parents are ; FOG stands for fear, obligation, guilt. She gave birth to you certainly but she has failed you as a parent utterly since then. Many people too have difficult childhoods in which abuse does feature but not all such people by any means go onto emotionally abuse their own offspring.

Anniegetyourgun Wed 07-Nov-12 16:41:08

A child should never have to feel that a parent's love is conditional upon good behaviour. We may approve or disapprove of certain behaviours, but underneath it all we still love the child, and it would have to do something unconscionably awful to compromise that love. Of course we hope our children will grow up to support us as we have always supported them, but on a mutual basis. They do not owe us their whole attention, obedience and obeisance for ever just because we gave birth to them.

Mayisout Wed 07-Nov-12 17:26:05

I also know that the time will come when I have to care for my DM as she did hers and I'd like to do so with good grace and not be secretly fuming at her while maintaining a martyr-like outward appearance of a dutiful daughter (as DM did with hers

Well my DM (now passed on) didn't look after her mother, my MIL didn't look after her mother, both left it to another sister, but both expected to be 'looked after' when old. So there is no hard and fast rule there.

I have found that the elderlies become less confident as they age but also, like most people, choose the easy option. And that is - not to keep up friends, and make efforts to make new, and keep an interest in life and the home and make sure they can manage, rather, the opposite, and hand over everything, housekeeping, financial management, companionship, fun, entertainment to their DCs. Usually one DD. And thus the DD ends up with a remit impossible to fill (as life is not going to be always fun and entertaining when you are old and faculties fading) which ends with an annoyed and grudging DD (not surprisingly) and a lonely and disappointed elderly.

The point is to not get into the position of having to be everything to your aged relative and put in boundaries which leaves you with a life you enjoy, not a begrudged martyrdom, and encourage them to make the most of their time, though if they choose not to that isn't your fault.

Also old age lasts for many years now so don't step in to help before you have to or you end up in the predicament I describe above.

mixedupmuddledup Wed 07-Nov-12 21:42:15

Thanks for the replies, I may try posting about this on the Stately Homes thread but tbh I don't really see myself as having been badly treated as such. DM is a nice person underneath all the irritating behaviour, I just think she has forgotten how to be normal or to live without drama due to all that's gone on in her life. I don't think it's deliberate that she's so controlling, I honestly think she means well but another of her faults is a total inability to realise when she's going too far or offending someone.

That said, I still find her very difficult to deal with at times and while I can sympathise with the reasons behind her behaviour I am getting tired of using them as an excuse. But I think it's up to me to learn how to deal with it because I don't think she could change now if she wanted to.

HotDAMN I may give that book a go, it gets very good reviews although the idea of reading about this sort of thing doesn't fill me with joy!

HotDAMNlifeisgood Wed 07-Nov-12 22:13:35

Understandable.

But it is far better to tackle these issues and resolve them, than to let them fester and pass them on to yet another generation.

mixedupmuddledup Thu 08-Nov-12 08:54:05

That is what I am so terrified of doing - I can't bear the thought that DD would grow up resenting me and thinking I had 'issues'.

I am proud that I don't wallow in my past and that very few people know about what went on but I do sometimes think I deserve a bit more credit/acknowledgement of how I have handled what to me were very difficult situations. Trouble is, the only way to get that would be to play the victim card and I don't want to do that.

Anniegetyourgun Thu 08-Nov-12 09:03:46

Playing the victim card is what your mother does, ie using bad past experiences as an excuse to avoid responsibility in the present. If you have faced your troubles, fought and overcome them, that's not being a victim, and it is something to be proud of. It might make you boastful, depending on how you said it!

Go on, tell us about it, we'll give you due admiration smile

TheSkiingGardener Thu 08-Nov-12 09:04:40

I think your username says it all really. There is a huge web there of your stuff, her stuff and other people's stuff all mixed together and you've reached a pint where you want to make sense of it.

I'd recommend one of two things. Either find a counsellor that you can see occasionally to hae the sort of conversations you have started above, not CBT or anything like that but someone who will just help you explore it all. Or write a notebook filled with your thoughts an feelings about it all, I find writing things down really helps my head to unclog and be able to do a bit more sorting.

In terms of your DD, the very fact that you are asking this stuff is the surest sign that you won't pass your traumas down. Generational trauma goes on and on until someone does something about it.

Good luck.

drizzlecake Thu 08-Nov-12 16:16:08

I am proud that I don't wallow in my past and that very few people know about what went on
This sounds a bit like me, I was 'strong' and didn't discuss my past with anyone. In fact that was how I'd been brought up to behave, not talk about problems or things that are going on in your life. But that isn't really healthy.

If you are chatting with friends and a topic arises which rings bells for you you should (if you have come to terms with your past) be able to say 'oh, yeah, that was what it was like for me' without shame or too much distress. And you would be stating a fact, not you 'playing the victim'.
So the counselling as skiinggardener suggests would be a great help with straightening your beliefs out over this.

I just think she has forgotten how to be normal or to live without drama due to all that's gone on in her life

Your poor mother had a difficult life, losing a child must be terrible, and she hints at a troubled childhood but, that said, she stayed with two abusive husbands for many years.
And you feel you must support her because of the sad times she lived through? But you must see that some of that she could have resolved herself. Why did she stay with two abusive husbands? (no doubt she will come up a lst of reasons (excuses) why if you dared to ask).

Your DM is playing on her bad luck story, and saying things like you being the only one who was always there 100%- this is sneaky and is pulling on your guilt strings with full force, ie manipulating you.

Counselling is the way to go if you can find one. And advice from other MN boards.

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