Troubled Relationship with My Mother

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I have never been close to my mother. While I didn’t have the worst childhood I prefer not to think about it. All I really remember is my parents constant fighting. My mother throwing a knife at my father that almost hit me, her threatening to kill herself, her constant insults about how I have no common sense and how I can never do anything right. All I wanted to do is rebel. I became pregnant at 17 by my first love who I secretly eloped with at 18 for fear of being a single parent. That relationship quickly went south but became my mother’s constant ammunition for her claims of my stupidity.

I lived with my parents while raising my child and ran daycare from my home to help with the cost. My father surprised me with a car which I never got to drive very often because she would throw tantrums if I didn’t escort her everywhere because of her “anxiety”. I used some of my money to send myself to a community college (I took classes from home) which she would constantly say was me proving that I have no common sense because I would never use it. She even became angry once and caused a fight that lasted for days when she wanted me take her off and I told her no because I had a test to take. When I started trying to set boundaries because of her trying to parent my daughter she blamed it on my boyfriend’s influence (now husband) and tried to kick me out (my father resisted) and said she would dance on my grave. Our fighting became a daily occurrence and if we weren’t fighting we were not speaking.

When my husband and I decided to get married he wanted me to move in with him. At the time he lived 2 hours away. Since my parents were moving at the same time we ultimately decided to rent the upstairs apartment in their new home so I could stay close to help my mother with her problems. Besides anxiety she has suffered from depression and even paranoid schizophrenia for a while after my child was born. I help her with everyday things like paying her bills online and going with her whenever she has doctor appointments. We had already decided that I would stay home with my child since her severe ADHD makes it difficult for others to watch her. My husband took a job and quickly moved in. That job fell through and it took him almost a year to find another. Due to the circumstances we were not paying rent at the time.

We are now married and paying rent but driving a vehicle that my parents gave us a while ago that they no longer wanted. We didn’t bother putting it in our name because we plan on purchasing another soon. My mother uses all of this to say that we are ungrateful for everything they have done for us whenever I try to draw the line on something. She can be extremely overbearing and no matter how much I tell her that my husband and I are family now and we make plans she will still get angry if we don’t drop things to accommodated her.

She has alienated both me and my brother because of the way she talks about us and acts. She truly believes she does nothing wrong. I have tried talking to her and she claims she just tells the truth and she knows it’s not her because my brother used to say I was a snob (as a child because I was extremely shy) and my father agrees with her (if he doesn’t she says that he always takes my side instead of his own wife). All of the problems have to be my fault. She makes everyone think I exaggerate all of this. Two weeks before my wedding I put on about 15 pounds due to stress of a custody battle I was going through. She decided to take a picture of me while I was hunched over petting a dog then tries to shove the camera in my face saying “Look, I want to show you how HUGE you’ve gotten.” Later that day I was still very angry and humiliated and as soon as I got an attitude with her she turned to my father and said “Look how she’s attacking me. I didn’t do anything. Look! I just mentioned she put on a little weight. Don’t attack me anymore”.

Just today I rode with her to the doctors and over lunch we stumbled on a topic that made me correct her and say that my husband is not stupid. She said he always does stupid things, she has never met anyone like him, and he has no common sense when it comes to everyday things. Then she doesn’t understand why I could possibly be mad at her. I am so tired of defending my daughter, myself, and my husband. We will be renting from them for another year until we save up to buy a house so it’s not like we can just pick up and move. It’s also extremely confusing because she can be the most giving person one minute and next she’s doing something conniving or talking about you like trash.

To make matters worse, I’ve started to see a little of my mother in me. I’ve thrown things at my husband and said horrible things to him that no one deserves to hear. It’s something I deal with whenever I become the least bit angry with him. I feel the need to always be right or I’m too embarrassed to discuss simple things with him. These are things I’ve have never experienced before. I’m searching for ways to deal with my mother and the effects that her and my childhood are having on my marriage.

A: You have been in this situation far too long. Although you see how toxic it is for you and your own little family, you stay. I know that it may seem to only make financial sense to continue renting from your folks but I think your mental health and the future of your marriage is more important than buying a house right now. You’re only 25. You have plenty of time to be homeowners. I suggest you talk to your husband about finding a place to rent for just the three of you. You and your husband and daughter need time and the peace to learn how to be your own kind of family.

It sounds to me like your mother has very low self-esteem and manages her considerable anxiety by being in control. She cuts people down because she can’t find a way to pick herself up. Her emotional abuse has gone on so long that, as much as you don’t like it, you seem to accept it. Yes, you owe your folks something for providing you with a home and car when you were a young mother. But respect and gratitude do not require you to be manipulated and hurt.

I’m concerned that you continue to fight with her. Fights imply to the opponent that you might be convinced to see it their way. Fights have winners and losers. Your mom is invested in winning. You seem to think that yelling and carrying on might change her mind. It won’t. It just fuels her anger and makes you miserable. It also keeps you passionately engaged with her. You would be far more effective if you just calmly said something like, “I’m an adult now and adults don’t talk to each other like that. When you want to discuss something with me without insults and guilt trips, I’d be happy to do so.” Then go about your business. As for taking her places, I suggest you set up a weekly meeting to determine where she needs to go and when and what you can reasonably do. Involve your father in these discussions so that he might take on some of the transportation issues.

Finally, your mother needs treatment. You don’t have the training or skills to do that for her. Nor should you. Talk to your dad about getting her into therapy to deal with her anxiety in a productive way. You might benefit from some therapy as well. When the abnormal goes on so long that it feels painful but normal, it is difficult for people to see the situation clearly and to make change. A therapist would give you practical suggestions for managing your mom as well as much needed support in making changes.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 27 Jun 2011

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2011). Troubled Relationship with My Mother. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2011/06/27/troubled-relationship-with-my-mother/