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Should I be kind to my mother?(24 Posts)
Oh. Just writing the title has made me realise I should be. But it feels very difficult at the moment.
I am sorry - this is going to be a bit long to give the backstory.
Am mid 40s. Had therapy last year to deal with some stuff. Anxiety mostly. Some self esteem stuff. Am coming through the other side. (Therapy stopped but using the tools I gained, plus some other reading eg Inner Child book).
A lot of the stuff for me boils down to my parents. Mother was had a very, very short fuse - particularly wrt my sister. Many an afternoon after school (before Dad got home) would see a major shouting match, often with my mum then hitting (sometimes quite viciously) my sister. I was rarely shouted at as a) I was the golden child and b) I learned to be a people pleaser -I would do pretty much anything to stop my mum's rage - and in fact anything to try and prevent it/her turning on my sister. I grew up in a sometimes very fearful/anxious state. Ergo some
all of my issues. Therapy has helped me deal with this to a large degree.
My mum and dad's relationship also is quite argumentative/shouty. They have been married over 50 years and have just got set patterns of behaviour. Dad, is not shouty though he will stand his ground. Quite often just ignores any bickering/short fuse stuff from mum and it blows over. This ignoring can sometimes turn mum from slightly argumentative to clenched fists, barely suppressed fury. It is horrible. It reminds me of the build up to the attacks on my sister - although it does not get to that anymore. But no longer living in that atmosphere I now hate being around it. (DH and I discuss things like normal people. The odd raised voice but nothing like the red-faced rage mum has).
I understand why my mum is like she is. She had a crap emotionally abusive mother and her dad physically abused her mum until they divorced. Mum has very low self esteem, is very judgemental (like her mother - though god I sound it too at the moment) and probably emotionally just a child still.
We saw them a few weeks back. There was a incident when Mum did the rage thing (suppressed - but still clenched fist, red in the face). Have not seen this from her since the therapy finished. I felt horrible. (Christ she probably feels pretty shitty at the time too.) But it feels a bit like it has haunted me ever since. Keep getting flashbacks to how she looked. And what that would mean if I had still be a kid (impending fury/attack on sister). Kind of have shaken it off a bit.
But then we saw them yesterday as well. No rages from mum. All in all was a lovely, pleasant lunch with no issues. But I felt very detached and could not bring myself to emotionally engage with my mother. At one point though I looked over at her and she was sat at the dining room table on her own and I felt so sorry for her.
What my mother needs is to have lots of praise, and self-esteem building stuff. To be hugged as she probably wasn't as child. To feel cared for and appreciated. Dad is the most undemonstrative man you will ever meet. His actions show he cares for her (in his way) but he would never, ever, ever say anything positive or complimentary.
Anyway, the point to my post (sorry ). My mum needs a little girl cuddle and to be told she is great. Big huge spadefuls of it. But I don't want to do it. I don't. And I feel crap about it (crying as I type). I am not feeling particularly kindly towards her at the moment - more a bit numb after the behaviour a few weeks back. I want to detach a bit not get closer. But I just saw in her yesterday the little girl inside her just crying out for some affection.
i should be kind to her shouldn't I? Fuck, just suck it up and maybe try and give her some of that affection/validation she has needed had for 72 years. How do I do? Please can anyone advise or help me help her?
I think you are being as kind to her as you can be.
Sometimes you need to be kinder to yourself than others, and that's ok
Be kind to yourself, first and foremost. I've been through similar cycles with my own mother off and on through my life and all I can really say is that you have to do what's right for you. It isn't your job to parent her - your only 'parent duty' if you like is to parent your children, if you have any. It sounds like life is pretty tough for her, but she has to find a way to manage that herself, in the same way you would have to yourself if you had similar issues.
Apols for the armchair psychology, but it sounds like your default position as a child was to look after everyone to make sure things didn't spill over. That was a coping mechanism that you needed to develop to get through - but you don't need that now as you don't need her to survive. Be kind to her, yes, but you don't need to carry on parenting her
No it is not your job to parent her even now. You were her "golden child" when you were growing up within your dysfunctional family of origin and that role is also one not without price. You have also paid a high price here along with your sister who was the scapegoat for all her inherent ills.
Your parents had their whole lives to make a difference when it came to you and they have both failed you abjectly. Your dad is really her hatchet man here and he has acted both out of self preservation and want of a quiet life. He failed to protect you as children from her excesses of behaviour. He cannot be at all relied upon.
I would read up further on narcissistic family structures and see how much of that resonates with your own experiences. Her rages also made me think that you grew up within such a structure.
But I felt very detached and could not bring myself to emotionally engage with my mother.
that's because you are protecting yourself. Legitimately so.
Sometimes people have terribly, terribly sad and damaging childhoods and they just cannot quite recover. It sounds like she did her best but that she is a child, as you've said, and a very scary one at times when you were small and she was bringing you up.
There's a very good chance that however much of a hug you gave her, however much love, that it will never be enough for her because she has the pattern of what, 50 - 60 years of this behaviour. Those patterns sink in and become deeply entrenched and usually (not quite always) they are impossible to change after a certain point.
from what you say, I think you can be kind. You aren't her mother and can't ever be one to her; wrong relationship between you. But you can see her, appreciate the good sides, act with love and kindness when you see her, but keep that slight emotional detachment. You'll probably manage to cope with her a lot better than if you were fully emotionally open to her, because that is incredibly draining. protection through detachment might mean that you can actually give her more than if you weren't detached. Love-with-detachment is probably what she needs more than anything else actually.
If she does the rage-thing when your children (if you have any) are around though, it might be an idea to make your excuses and leave. You are used to it, they aren't and well, you were scared of her. So will they be. Clench-fisteded rage isnt normal.
Thank you for the advice and thoughts.
I am pretty sure it is all a protection of self thing. Which makes me feel bad as it feels very me me me.
My sister and I have come to terms with our forced-upon roles of scapegoat and golden child. Needless to say she has had counselling too. I think we both acknowledge it was pretty shit for both of us. More so for her - but she very wonderfully said that it can also be pretty horrendous witnessing such stuff and trying/failing to stop it. I am several years younger than sister too. She and I do not discuss it in any great depth now - it doesn't help anything. But we are there for each other and I think our love is stronger now.
I do have children. One of the things that drove me to counselling was them. I feared my anxiety was driving me to repeat some of my mother's behaviour. Certain triggers would make me anxious and then shouty. I didn't get to the rage element that my mother did - but I did begin to have alarm bells ringing. I am still learning that probably quite a lot of parents shout. And that is OK. But I am dealing with my anxiety. I am aware of the damage parents can do. And I am, I hope, parenting very differently. And have an amazing DH supporting me.
OnceAMeer your comment that Clench-fisteded rage isnt normal made me cry. I am not sure why. I think it is because, as in my OP, I cannot stop the flashbacks I am having to one particular incident when my mother was hitting (beating?) my sister. Maybe I should call it beating?
My mother has not done the rage thing really in front of my children until the thing a few weeks ago. DH and I had a casual but serious chat (iyswim - just at the breakfast table but v earnest) that that kind of behaviour and relationship was not normal or acceptable. That Nonna and Gramps just had a relationship that was different. I also said that if they (my DC) ever felt uncomfortable about any of their interactions they could talk to me about it.
If mum does it again I will leave the room with DC. And say something to mum. Or should I say something now?
Love-with-detachment I think this is what I may try and aim for.
My struggle at the moment is trying to find the love. Any love. God isn't that a truly awful and dreadful thing to say about your own mother? Aren't you supposed to love them come-what-may. At the moment I am really, really finding it hard. With the flashbacks I think everything is too raw.
You have an amazing amount of self awareness, I can't offer any advice, but well done for breaking the cycle.
I can relate to a lot of what you've written. My mom has a temper that will just flare up out of nowhere, she will scream and shout and say cruel things to anyone in her path, and then the next morning, or even an hour later, we're all suppose to smile and pretend it never happened. If anyone dares still be upset it triggers a new and bigger outburst. I do think she's probably repeating patterns she learned from childhood but FFS she is almost 70 years old. As far as I'm concerned she is a grown woman and she needs to exercise a bit of self-control, if not for herself than for her loved ones
--and any unlucky guests who happen to witness the madness.--
I think it's big of you to feel pity and compassion for your mom, and I could probably use a bit more for mine. She really is lovely in many other ways. But the fact is that it's not your job. And even more than that, it's probably not in your control. Even if you can see clearly what she is craving, that doesn't mean that giving it to her would change her behavior. Habits like this are deeply ingrained, even more so as a person ages. Your father could become the warmest most loving person on earth and at this point it probably wouldn't change anything.
So all you can really do is figure out how to protect yourself and your family from the unpleasantness you have suffered from your mom. I am working on these things myself so I can't really help you, but I do know you are not responsible for fixing your mom, even if you could. Good luck. Mom stuff is hard!
Aren't you supposed to love them come-what-may.
Nope. That unconditional love is reserved for your children. It is not your responsibility to "love her better". She is an adult and still in a position of emotional power over you. She has chosen to take out her own misery on her children and is still doing so now. You are a better person and a better parent than her and you have no obligation to try to fix her.
Aren't you supposed to love them come-what-may.
No. If you want to go by the Bible, it says honour thy father and mother; that means you treat them with respect, but actually when you think about it ... it doesn't necessarily mean love. And no parent is entitled to consume their shic
Also, if you don't -feel- love, that's okay. Sometimes the best you can do is act with love; to be kind, but to keep firm boundaries up. You perceptively identified her as a child inside. Especially with adult children you need to keep the boundaries up; you don't let them walk over you, you insist on a basic respect and basic two - way interaction. Same as with anyone. It may feel like Me Me Me, but it's not .... and you are entitled to take care of yourself. Just not at the expense of other people. It's always a balancing act, but your needs weigh in the scale too.
About the balled-fists thing, maybe the best thing is to say immediately after the next incident, but out of earshot of the children "Mum, if you're that angry please put it on one side while the children are there. I don't want them seeing that. If they do, I'll have to take them out while you feel that strongly".
She will probably hate it, but it is necessary. If she kicks off and storms, remember: she's an adult child. You might flashback to childhood feelings (as I did recently in another context, ugh) but you need to stand on your ground on this for your children's sake. Can you arrange with yoru DP that he will back you up during this convo?
As chipped said, you've an amazing self awareness.
to consure their children* sorry. Some parents (some people!) suck you dry. We're pre-programmed to love our parents. If we don't, there is usually a very good reason .... they gave us no love / nurturing. Or the 'love' came at such a high price that emotionally we shut down, just to survive.
You're doing an awful lot of soul searching and spending time and effort thinking about how best to work within this dynamic.
What is your mother doing? How is she trying to change herself? How is she protecting her family from the effects of inter generational abuse?
"Mum, if you're that angry please put it on one side while the children are there. I don't want them seeing that. If they do, I'll have to take them out while you feel that strongly".
This is perfect, thank you OnceaMeer DH totally behind me on this. Tbh I think he is marvellous in supporting me in how I am dealing with this. I think if i wanted to go NC (I don't) he would back me and even possibly be a bit relieved as he knows seeing her (especially the last few years) churns stuff up for me.
<sigh> They fuck you up your mum and dad.
Oh and thank you for the help and support.
And I think the self-awareness comes about from a fierce, desperate need not to turn into my mother, the counselling and a childhood of learning to read hidden feelings and emotions pretty accurately so I could ward off the anger. I managed to be very adept at the right joke, the right friendly nudge, the right smile to diffuse mum's anger - to make her smile rather than rage. It was just if she was too far gone or I didn't get there in time that it would descend into...well hell.
Fuck. It is not my fault though is it?
A lot of what you have written here resonates with me. My mother is passive aggressive to the extreme and what ruined my childhood is continuing to this day. My father enables this by allowing her to 'get away with it' but after her last episode of ignoring me (and therefore my DC's) for 2 months due to a perceived argument with my father I have had enough. I am seriously considering going NC as I don't think she can, or will change. for you OP
'My struggle at the moment is trying to find the love. Any love. God isn't that a truly awful and dreadful thing to say about your own mother? Aren't you supposed to love them come-what-may.'
NOPE. Love and respect is earned, not expected. I came to that realisation when I was around 16. My mother neither showed me any love or respect growing up, so why and I expected to love and respect her?
My mum is similar to yours, she had an indifferent father, who doted on his son. She favours her sons while is nasty to me, the girl. Her mum was a bit of a basket case from what I have been told and certainly never stood up for her children. The theory is she is jealous of me, so takes all the chances she can get to be nasty.
So yes, I feel sorry for her, but no, i don't feel any obligation to try and 'fix her' it would be impossible. she is not a 6 year old needing love and a cuddle. She is a 70 something grown woman who has a very clear idea in her mind of how she wants to be treated. if you deviate from that you are yelled at. If you come close to that, she changes the requirements without telling you and screams at you.
you are not dealing with a little girl. Your job is to look after you own children, protect them from her... and consider non contact.
I am keeping my child well away from my mum.
I think the self-awareness comes about from a fierce, desperate need not to turn into my mother
<recognises this> it's hard isn't it. Though it's a rocket up the bum to keep motivating you to do better!
No, it's not your fault at all. Not one bit.
Have you ever read toxic Parents by Susan Forward? it might be quite revealing.
Also, online diagnosis is a wildly inaccurate art, but might it be just possible your mother has some traits of BPD? (Borderline Personality / Emotionally Unstable Disorder). Not sayin' she has it, just wondering if it's a possibility. If she does then there's quite a bit of info about how to deal with someone with BPD. this is a good start, though for some reason the actual frontpage isn't working right now. The rest is.
Thank you everyone .
Have been spending the last couple of days reflecting on this and yes, almost- love with detachment is going to have to be what happens going forward. Maybe the love will return - a bit - when the rawness of the rage thing goes away again.
Once thank you for the link bout the BPD parent. It actually rings far more bells that the NPD (which is what most people seem to have had rough parenting because of). The stuff I have read about NPD never quite fitted. It is possible there are bits of both. Which human really fits neatly into a box?
Had a mad shouty moment this evening - DCs madly arguing who was sitting where at teatime and they knew we had to just get on and eat to get to an after-school club. Big shout of "I don't care where you sit, just stop bickering and sit down". Each time I resort to shouting it does make me feels horrifically guilty afterwards - and worry hugely that this is just the step before my mother and I am not much different. I just have to hope that my fear of being my mother will be the one thing that means I do not turn into her.
Anyway. I shall keep on keeping on. I shall not try to fix my mother but be kind, caring and respectful of her age. I shall pull her up if she does the rage thing again. I shall keep myself protected a little from being too close.
Thank you again.
Just a brief update. I spoke to my mother yesterday. Just a during one of our once a weeks phone calls. In amongst the rest of the chat I said something along the lines that Once suggested - that I could not help but notice the occassion she was very angry during our last visit and that although it maybe "normal" for her and my dad's relationship, and was my normal whilst I was growing up - that is is not really normal - and certainly not for me, my DC and my DH. I said that I appreciated that at the time she left the room - but if a similar occasion were to occur, just to make her aware I would take the children away from it. She apologised
with various excuses as to why she had kicked off. I was gentle and kind - but firm. I also said for her to think about if having us to stay is a bit much for her and dad. (We always pitch in and help but she does tend to over-hostess/wear herself out if not reigned back - regardless of what we say or do). If we need to reconsider/do day trips instead of overnight visits then we are happy to do so.
I feel so much better (as well of proud of myself - and brave which is a bit silly really) for having said it. I have stated that her normal is not normal and as such I do not want my family to have to experience it.
I have left the past (mostly bar the small reference to it) in the past. No blame. Just stated my position. Go Me!
Thank you everyone for helping me see this clearly.
My mum needs a little girl cuddle and to be told she is great. Big huge spadefuls of it. But I don't want to do it.
And you can't. Nobody can do that, but her own parents when she actually was a little girl, or, now that she is grown, herself.
YOU cannot be the substitute parent. No-one else can either.
In the same way as you went to therapy to work on the issues you were left with, she needs to do her own work on herself. (If she wants to. She probably doesn't, and would need to make that choice for herself anyway.)
I'm sure you've seen examples of people who endlessly seek validation from others. No matter how much they receive, it's never enough. Because it can't be, coming from any external source.
So you can have compassion for your mother. You can even treat her with compassion. But you cannot fill that gaping hole inside her, because it's simply not in anyone's power but her.
nobody that sounds really positive.
If she -does- kick off, then you will need to keep to your word, in a quiet and non-confrontational way. I used to quietly slip out of the room and if she challenged it, say that I'd come back when she was calmer. It's more difficult with children, but same principle.
If (if) she does have BPD traits, then essentially she is still very young in some ways. Setting boundaries and keeping to them is the best way of handling it. Other than that, Ricecrispies is spot on.
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