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How Do I Handle Mother Who Left Us 35 Years Ago?

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I am 53 and one of 5 kids. Mother left Dad (us) in the ’80s for a woman in another State. She (they) eventually moved back but lived several hours away. We are only now realizing that many of our trials in life have been a result of her abandonment, lies, narcissism, and reluctance to acknowledge her hypochondria (which nearly frightened us to death as kids)or seek therapy for her own survivor’s guilt from when her own mother was killed by a drunk driver.

Her 5 siblings were taken to a veterans children’s home in 1933 and Mother was adopted by an aunt and her husband.She was rich, a prodigy at the best schools, and travelled. Her sibs were poor but a close, blue-collar family. She told us these things right before she took us to her dying birth father’s bed. She is unable to get along with people/cops/family and has been a combative recluse for the past 20 years.She can be majorly screaming crazy.

She left us.We have all tried to reach through to her sanity, emotions, and love but she speaks to us as though everything is always fine and even now her surprise trips to the ER continue. We have offered to have her move in.

She lived in a Catholic retirement home. Christian, she became a Catholic when we finally convinced Daddy to divorce her. Always punishing herself. She got in early because she could play the organ.

Here is my problem: She wanted this minimal relationship all these years, but with aging comes a need for increased contact. She’s still jerking us all around. She’s 85 and as healthy as can be.

I’ve coped with this by holiday visits, writing and calling rarely. Now I keep hearing people say to call her while she’s still with us. I cannot handle seeing her and it seems the guilt of not-seeing her is awful. It’s affecting my weight and activity level. Hasn’t she made her bed? I love her so. But I felt I accepted the loss of her 35 years ago and now I know if I try to connect again she will disappoint me tragically. It’s as she’s been dead already. Now that she’s elderly, I am crying for all that was already lost and it will renew when she actually dies this time. I don’t know if I can do that again.

How Do I Handle Mother Who Left Us 35 Years Ago?

Answered by on -


Although you say you accepted the loss 35 years ago, you continue to feel guilt about the lack of connection and anticipate renewed grief when your mother actually dies. This suggests to me that you are suffering from what is called “incomplete mourning.” Because the loss was from abandonment, not death, it may be that you didn’t get the support you needed at the time. You couldn’t quite move on all the way because you didn’t have the finality of death. Instead you were left with some flicker of hope that you’d finally get the mother you longed for and deserved.

You lost your mother in a very real way when you were only 18 and launching into adulthood. Research tends to overlook young adults who lose their moms, according to Taranjit (Tara) K. Bhatia, PsyD, a clinical psychologist who specializes in relationships, including mother-daughter bonds. Because they’re already adults, people assume these daughters don’t need maternal guidance. However, losing a mom has a powerful effect on young adult daughters. I imagine that you were angry, confused and sad. You might have even worried that you had done something wrong to cause it. You had a mother who was alive in the world who wasn’t really alive for you.

Well-intended people are suggesting you call her, which seems to be triggering the incomplete mourning. Those people don’t know your history. They are basing their suggestion on an assumption of a healthier relationship than you have ever had. They don’t understand that sometimes personal emotional health depends on separating from a toxic parent.

I see no reason for you to change your level of contact with her. Holiday visits and an occasional call acknowledge her, but maintain an appropriate boundary. There is no reason to think that increasing contact will get you the mother you always wanted. She isn’t likely to change at this point. You are likely to only re-experience the wounds of being left.

Instead, focus on accepting the positive “mothering” that comes from your friends and others who love you. Positive adult friendships include the nurturing and loving elements of mothering without the craziness your bio mother offers.

As for the people who are trying to give you advice: Thank them courteously for their concern and go your own way. They aren’t likely to understand your choice so there is no point in arguing with them. You don’t owe them an explanation. You certainly don’t need to follow their bad advice. Spend your time and energy with the people who count.

If you continue to be distressed, I encourage you to see a counselor to help you finish grieving the biological mother and to find the mothering you need in others.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

How Do I Handle Mother Who Left Us 35 Years Ago?

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2018). How Do I Handle Mother Who Left Us 35 Years Ago?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 23, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2018 (Originally: 20 Mar 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.