Runaway Mom is Back in Town

Dear Robin:

My parents divorced when I was 8 and my sister was 6, at which time my mother decided being a mom wasn’t for her. She moved to Europe and remarried and my father raised us.  It wasn’t easy for him to do it all on his own but he did.

Fast forward 23 years: I have seen my mother less than a half-dozen times since she left.  My sister won’t see her at all. I am getting married in August and she emailed me to tell me not only is she coming to the wedding but that she is getting divorced from her 4th husband (long story so don’t ask) and moving back to town.

She now wants, according to her, the “mother-daughter relationship that we should have had.”

I grew up with no mother (my dad never remarried and died last year) and suddenly she wants me back in her life.  She arrives next month and wants me to help her find an apartment and move her into it.  I want to tell her to go to hell. My fiancé thinks I should give her another chance. What’s your opinion?

Angry Daughter

Dear Angry Daughter:

I am so sorry you lost your father.  I know you loved him very much and admired him for stepping up and being a single dad during a very difficult time.

My deepest condolences as well for the loss of your mother.  Because that’s how it felt, right?  Like she died?

But now it’s Easter, Jerry Springer-style, and she’s risen from the dead and that’s confusing for you.  It’s confusing for me too, because this is one of those situations when giving advice is difficult due to the fact I don’t live in your brain. I’m sure it’s a lovely place to reside, but I am stuck in my own.

You and I had a series of chats about this subject over the past few weeks, leaving me even more conflicted because there are two distinct ways I want to tell you to go here and each are polar opposites of the other.

Option #1: Tell Her to Fuck Off (or in a nicer parlance: stay away)

Option #1 is my immediate visceral reaction to your scenario and is borne from the additional facts you shared with me in our texts: your mom did not come home for your high school or college graduations, visited you only when her parents died and she had to come back to town, and you saw her when you went to Europe after high school and during college.

In other words: this woman has made almost no effort to see her kids in almost a quarter century.  She has abdicated her right to call herself a mother and pushing into your life is insensitive, tone-deaf, and betrays a lack of understanding of basic human behavior.

Not only that, but before she even gets here she is making demands upon you to help her with her move.  If I were in her position I’d be bending over backward to make gentle overtures and win you back, not asking you to be my real estate agent and sherpa.

It’s shocking she’s been divorced four times, I tell ya.  Shocking!  

By the way, I’d love to hear from her so please ask her to drop me a line.  Getting married after three divorces shows an astounding triumph of optimism over experience: something I could use a little of right now as I try to make it in the rough-and-tumble world of advice blogging.

You made it this far without a mother and you don’t need her now or ever.  Reuniting with a woman so selfish, self-centered and unloving could unleash a storm that will capsize your little boat of happiness.

Option #1 advice:

Tell your “mother” that you are not interested in establishing a relationship with her and that your decision is based upon self-preservation and a keen memory.  Be firm and don’t let her back into your life because I suspect this will not end well for you.

Option #2: Empathy, Forgiveness and Moving On

Our text exchange gave me some pretty relevant information about your mother, who was orphaned at the age of 6 and raised by an unloving aunt and uncle.  She escaped their home by marrying your father (who was 26) at 18 and had you at 19 and your sister shortly thereafter.

Your dad was a good dad but you admit he was not a good husband and had several affairs before she finally gave up and divorced him.  She was unemployed and moved to Europe when she got a job (that was only supposed to last 6 months) at magazine in London through a friend who worked there. 

However, she excelled at the magazine and was promoted to a permanent job.  Over the years she worked her way up to an executive position and has become a very succesful woman.

I hate it when inconvenient facts muddy the waters, don’t you?  

While I think what she did was very, very wrong, I also understand why she did it.  She was still a child when she had children and acted as one by running away when circumstances became unbearable.  Her multiple marriages indicate not only an exaggerated sense of optimism but also that she is a broken little girl looking for someone to put her back together.

My hunch is her return signals she realizes she is the only person who can put herself back together, and part of that project involves trying to be a mother to the children she abandoned.  

You also told me you and your fiancé plan to start a family as soon as possible, a fact you shared with your mother before she made her decision to return.  Coincidence?  Maybe.  Or maybe she wants a do-over: a chance to be a wonderful and present grandmother to your children in apology for her failures as a parent to you and your sister.

Option #2 advice:

Give her a chance.  

Let her in, but do it slowly.  Give her a chance to explain herself.  If she never tries to address her absence in your life, you are dealing with someone who doesn’t want a deep relationship with you and you should act accordingly.  But if she does, listen to her, spend some time with her, and see if you have it in you to forgive your mom. 

I like this option because it also involves an element of Option #1.  Nothing says “fuck you” as well as undeserved kindness. 

As for helping her move, that’s a no, but I’d give that advice to anyone.  After a certain age, one does not ask others to help them move, nor does one agree to help others move.  It’s part of growing up for Christ’s sake (unless you own a truck, in which case you are fair game).

So, Angry Daughter, what say you?  Which Option do you choose?

Anger is a hell of an emotion to carry around, you know.  Whatever you decide regarding spending time with this woman, you need to let that anger go.  It’s time.  

When your first child is born you will have the gift of motherhood and the opportunity to give your son or daughter all the love you missed in your life, and unresolved anger has no place in that cocoon of warmth and happiness and maternal bliss.



(Aren’t I good mom?)





This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Kathy

    So, mom lost all benefit of the doubt, when she made no specific effort to reconnect over the last quarter-century. That she wants “help” moving back suggests at best, she has not overcome her arrested maturity–for whatever reason. So, if daughter is motivated by a second chance at experiencing a mother-daughter relationship, BEWARE. not gonna happen. If she feels like she “should” give her a chance at being a mom, and has it tied up in a notion of forgiveness–what happens if mom hasn’t changed? Ready for chronic forgiveness?

  2. The Pale Scot

    Option #1 is the way to go. While it’d be nice to think “Or maybe she wants a do-over” It’s far more likely she looking for a caretaker* as she approaches the final stretch. Really, the time to reconnect was when the OP was a teenager, “Hey, OP, PLEASE come to Europe for a visit”. Instead, she’s not just coming back to the states, she has decided to move in right down the road, AND invite herself to your wedding. She couldn’t be bothered to even send a birthday card for christ’s sake, but she’s thinking she should be allowed to plug herself into your life.

    “Her multiple marriages indicate not only an exaggerated sense of optimism”

    Or as my sister described one of her friends, “she chews them up and spits them out”

    * Not as a 24/7 aide, but as all of us of a certain age are experiencing, the older gen needs help understanding all that mail etc.

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