Toxic Mom

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Dear Robin,

I really enjoy your column, and regularly find myself guffawing aloud at your oft- ribald repartee. Imagine my glee at your response to my problem…

Two words: toxic mother. Over my nearly two decades of marriage, I have been able to institute a greater than 1500 mile buffer between our home and hers. To be honest, while it may sound callous to some, I often wish she were not a part of my life -the problem is… grandchildren.

My issues with her are mine, and when it is healthy, I will not interfere with her communications with my children. When her comments cross a line, however , I will not waste a second calling out her oblique unkindness. Needless to say, the obligatory yearly visits are often difficult at best, with her frequent requests, manipulations and passive- aggressive comments rapidly taking their toll, to the point where I can barely stand to interact with her, and count down the days or hours until she leaves.

I have tried putting her up in a nice hotel nearby, which, of course ended up being insufficient. At this point I don’t even want her here. I vacillate between wanting to tell her exactly how I feel ( enumerating examples of her self-centered & manipulative behaviors over the years) and knowing that it would only result in yet another tearful deflection of her own culpability ( been there, done that). The end result is repeatedly very, very unpleasant because of my inevitable resentment, which accompanies the visit every.damn.time ( also known as Einstein’s definition of insanity).

Summer visit time is inexorably rolling down the track toward me, and I feel like Nell. Please, be my Dudley Doright ( no kisses, just untie me, for god’s sake).

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Signed,
The End of the Rope

Dear End of Rope:

Fear not, for Dudley is here to save the day!  Readers, Astrid and I had a virtual cocktail yesterday in our respective towns while we texted back and forth regarding the specifics of her mom’s bad behavior.

Virtual cocktail hour is becoming a thing for me lately since I became so busy planning my eventual takeover of the airwaves.  Please text or email to schedule a party.

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Astrid’s upbringing was not ideal.  Her father was an alcoholic who died 12 years ago from liver disease.  She has three children (16 year old daughter and 13 year old twin boys) and while Astrid’s daughter isn’t crazy about Grandma, the boys are more ambivalent at this point.

Astrid, I am feeling especially charitable this morning so I am going to give you two options: the first is a bit more forgiving towards your mom than it probably should be, the second is my usual more brutally practical advice.  Two choices for the price of one: isn’t this fun?

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(no pressure there, huh?)

Option 1: Forgive, Forget and The Last Chance Dance

After everything you told me about your mom it is hard for me to even put this out there, but I am trying to be a more compassionate person (for marketing purposes, not because I really am) so here goes nothing…

Call your mom to discuss her upcoming visit.  I know you’ve done this already, but humor me.  Be prepared with a list of specific examples of her unkind and manipulative behavior – you certainly have plenty to choose from.  Tell her you need this to stop or you won’t be able to host her any longer.  Share your hurt with her and your family’s confusion over the things she says and does.

Do not engage her in an argument over the facts because that is pointless.  Instead, tell her this is how you, your husband and kids feel and your feelings are not up for debate.  Assuming she still wants to visit and agrees to not be so nasty, let her come.

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But this is her last chance, do you hear me?  If your toxic mama is so set in her ways that she can’t respect your family’s feelings and just be nice, this should be her last visit.  In fact, I’d encourage you to boot her at the first sign of awfulness.

Option 2: Hell to the No, You Ain’t Coming:

Utilize the communication method illustrated in Option 1 but instead of giving your mom one last chance, tell her you are not up for it this year and possibly next because you need a break from the negative feelings associated with her visits.  Give yourself the opportunity to enjoy your family without your mom’s baggage and see if your words resonate with her.

She may take a hard look at her past behavior and initiate a further conversation with you about how to change things so she can enjoy what time she has left with her children and grandchildren.

Warning: this is probably wishful thinking.

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Your mom is 78 years old and unlikely to change.  She put up with your alcoholic father all those years even as his bad behavior tore your family apart.  She pits her kids and grandkids against one another like they are little gladiators in her own personal Colosseum.

In other words, and I’m sorry to be so blunt, but she’s a stubborn old bitch of a leopard so I wouldn’t get your hopes up about changing her spots.  Maybe you can make her into a pair of boots instead?

You, Astrid, are a grown woman with a lovely family.  Part of being a good wife and mom is protecting your family from destructive influences and it sounds like your mother qualifies as such.  Part of being an adult is the right to choose who you do and don’t associate with, regardless of sanguinity.

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Though I understand your concern about your kids knowing their grandmother and keeping your own issues separate from those relationships, I can’t help but wonder: why?  Perhaps you should consider whether you might be doing your children a favor by not subjecting them to your mom.

You mentioned Dudley Do-Right and Nell which was funny yet poignant, because you are no Nell.  You have the ability to untie yourself from the track and walk away unscathed.  The question is, do you have the courage to do so?  I think you do.

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There you go, Astrid.  Be open and honest in either case and if you get a lot of defensive and unreasonable blowback from Mommy Dearest, you can ignore it and her until she comes to her senses or she is dead and no longer a pain in your ass.  I really hope you follow up with me and let me know what happens, OK?

-Robin