My mother never recovered from divorce

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

My parents got divorced in 2004. My mother has never recovered, she has severe mood swings, i think she may be bipolar.
When I was six years old in 1998, my father moved our family to Germany because he was in the army. I had an amazing childhood. When I was twelve in 2004, my father had to go to Iraq. My mother thought it would be best if she moved my brother and I back to the U.S., where we would have family support. I was very depressed because my dad was my hero and I blamed my mom for everything that went wrong. I felt like no one understood me, mostly because we live in a very remote and rural part of the state. When my dad came back, he wanted a divorce from my mother. A few years earlier, my mother had to have surgery on her hip. my dad left her in the hospital and met a woman at a bar. They hooked up and my mom was devestated. But he promised he’d never do it again.

Well as it turns out, he was divorcing my mother for that same woman who had kept in contact with him throughout the years. My mom, even then, wanted him and would have taken him back. She was so depressed. She wouldn’t get out of her bed for days, all she did was eat. She is currently over 270 and she would be so beautiful if she could lose weight. We have moved to several states just trying to escape our problems. I’m getting ready to go to college and I got a scholarship to pay for my tuition but not my room and board so my mom said she’d move there with me. But for the past few years, she has literally acted fine one second and crazy the next. She gets mad over the tiniest things and then she blames my brother and I for making her feel worthless and miserable. Then the next morning she’ll say she’s sorry and she loves us soooo much. It it tearing my little brother to peices and I am so nervous sometimes that I can’t sit still.

I’ve tried to tell her that she needs some therapy and she just blows up. She’ll say ” Your just like your dad and you make me miserable, I know you hate me, I’m sorry I bend over backwards for you to have a good life, Etc…” She’s recently started calling me a b–, and I asked her why she would do that? She says she says it because that’s how I act? I am grouchy sometimes, I’m not perfect, no one is but I am so extremely stressed. My little brother is constantly getting stomach ulcers from stress. It’s making all of us physically ill. What should I do?
Thank you so much for you time!!!

A: I’m very, very sorry you and your family are going through such a hard time. I’m very glad you wrote. You are carrying far too heavy a load for a high school student. I can tell that you are very worried about your brother’s welfare as well as your own and your mom’s. You were right to ask for some help.

It sounds to me like your mother’s behavior may well be because she has been unable to fully grieve her marriage and move on. She is stuck in anger, sadness, and bitterness. Terrified that she is somehow at fault, she looks for someone else to blame. Then she comes to her senses and apologizes. I’m sure she does love you and your brother. But her distress is bigger than even her love for you. That gives us some idea of how big her pain is.

You mentioned that your family moved back to the states so you could have family support. Now is the time to ask for some. Do your relatives know how bad it is? Is there someone who can take on caring for your mother and brother so you can go off to college without them (and without feeling guilty)? Do relatives have other ways to provide you all with some practical and emotional assistance?

If you don’t have relatives you can confide in, I encourage you to enlist the help of your school counselor or some other adult you trust. You all could use some family therapy to help get the family back into balance. Your mother needs help. You and your brother shouldn’t be trying to hold the family together on your own. You all need support as you learn how to function as a family of 3. If your mom won’t go, do go yourself. A therapist will help you find resources for your family and will help you figure out what to do next. Look into whether you are covered by insurance. If not, ask your doctor or school counselor to help you find a free mental health clinic or program for teens.

In the meantime: If things get really tough and you need someone to talk to, the counselors at the Boys and Girls Town Hotline are available 24/7. The service is free. Their number is: 800-448-3000. Here’s the website.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 19 Apr 2011

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2011). My mother never recovered from divorce. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 27, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2011/04/19/my-mother-never-recovered-from-divorce/

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