#965: “My mom wants me to be her #1 sounding board and support system about her troubled marriage.”

Hi Captain,

I am an adult (early 30’s) child of two wonderful people who are going through some turbulence in their marriage–that thing of having an empty nest/rediscovering each other/discovering they have communication issues that have just been sitting there for 30+ years and are now blowing up. They’re going to get counseling, which hopefully is step one of getting this all resolved, but in the meantime, I need some advice about navigating things with my mom. We live in different parts of the country, but we are on very good terms with one another, and talk on the phone a couple of times a week.

The current problem I have is that my mom calls me to vent about how hurt and despairing she is about her marriage, how my dad unintentionally really got under her skin or triggered her PTSD (she grew up in an abusive home). I should clarify that neither she nor I think that my dad is abusive; he just sometimes doesn’t understand what’s wrong or how to fix it. He gets hurt that she’s mad at him for reasons he doesn’t understand, then she gets hurt that he doesn’t understand, which restarts the spiral, etc. etc. etc. And then I get to hear all about the fight and how upset she is. The fighting is not constant, but it cycles around from time to time, and when it happens, it’s pretty intense.

She has been talking to me about this stuff for years–starting from when I was honestly probably still too young to deal with it–and it is super, super hard for me. I love, like, and respect both of my parents, and it feels like a punch in the gut to hear about them hurting each other, especially because I know they both deeply love each other and are trying to do right by each other. I don’t want to deny my mom the basic emotional support that friends show each other when going through a rough time. But when she talks about her marriage, it’s so hard for me, because that’s my dad. I guess for this part I feel like I need to get better at either a) not getting so rocked when we talk about this, or b) asking my mom to leave me out of it in a way that won’t absolutely crush her–especially in light of the fact that it’s been going on so long.

So that’s the current problem; the potential future one is that my mom has floated the idea of leaving my dad if things don’t get better, and she would want to come move in with me. She is disabled–still pretty independent, but unable to work, and living on her own would be a real struggle. My other sibling is kinda flaking out on the world right now and is not an option; my mom’s side of the family is the reason she has PTSD and is therefore also not an option. And as much as I love (and like!) my mom, and as much as I’d love to live in the same state again, it hurts so much to think of her moving in with me because of leaving my dad. And it would substantially disrupt my life to accommodate her. It’s not completely unworkable–but man it would be hard. If my dad died–or abused her or cheated on her–I would take her in a heartbeat with no complaints and no hesitation. But knowing that she was staying with me because she and dad gave up on each other feels very different. I worry about what it would do to my relationship with my dad. I worry about what it would do for my financial and living situation. If she decides she would be happier living with me, well, maybe she’d be right–but I’m pretty sure I’d be less happy, and I’m not sure she’s done the math on that, and I’m not sure how to tell her without making her feel rejected.

They’re adults, and are not beholden to me, so I know that pulling a “think of your (grown) children” talk would be beyond inappropriate. But–it would directly affect me. And of course I want them to work it out. I can’t tell where healthy boundaries end and selfishness begins here for me.

I guess the biggest underlying struggle I have is that I am my mom’s closest friend, and the person she trusts most in the entire world. I know this because she has told me so, repeatedly–starting when I was probably a bit too young for that to be entirely cool. And as much as I am grateful that she believes I love her and like her, it kinda scares me to be the only one she really trusts. She’s recently been seeing a therapist (thank GOD–seriously, that took years to talk her into), so I am no longer the only person she talks to at all, but I’m still the one she trusts most.

Practically speaking, I am almost certainly her only option for somewhere else to live, and I’m not sure there’s much to be done about that. Emotionally speaking, I am the only one she’s fully willing to lean on–and I feel like that part is not quite so inevitable, and also not spectacularly healthy, but I don’t know how to fix it without being really devastating to her.

Again, I love and like my mom so, so much, and I’m willing to knuckle down and do the right thing even if it’s costly to me–but I also don’t want to be shouldering burdens that I shouldn’t be taking on.

Any advice/scripts are greatly appreciated.

Signed,
Boundary-Challenged Adult Daughter

Dear Boundary-Challenged,

It’s good when parents and their adult children have cordial and friendly relationships with each other, but whenever I hear “My daughter is my best friend” from a parent it gives me the same sketchy wary feeling as when an employer says “We’re like a family here!” or a romantic partner says “You’re the only person who can ever understand me.” Like, what is missing here that you’re projecting this whole other type of relationship onto what you have? Parents are not the same thing as friends. Whether the bond is strong and loving or not, there is too much primal history and power imbalance between parents and children to make “friendship” be the thing they have with each other. In this vein, it is really not cool to make your child the sounding board for marital woes and issues with the child’s other parent! It was super-NOT COOL of her to do that to you when you were a kid! Children are not here to soothe and repair their parents’ emotional landscapes!

So, you’re right, it’s time to get out of the middle of your parents’ marital crisis. Your scripts, when you choose to deploy them, are:

  • Mom, I know I’m changing the rules on you, but I need to set a boundary: I’m really uncomfortable with how much of our time we spend talking about Dad and I am going to start changing the subject when the topic comes up!
  • Mom, I’m sorry that things are so hard for you and Dad right now.” + [Subject Change]
  • “I don’t want to be your sounding board about Dad anymore.
  • Mom, that’s as much Dad-talk as I can handle today.
  • Mom, I would tell Dad the same thing if he wanted to talk to me about you: I am not the right person to process this with.

Recombine and repeat as necessary. Be gentle with her and yourself and give it time. This dynamic didn’t happen over night, and it will take multiple attempts to make the boundary stick on both sides. At the beginning, strive for 2-3 gentle subject changes and then, if the subject won’t stay changed, end the conversation for that day. Do your best to start again fresh the next time you talk to her; you don’t want to punish her for past failures to change the subject, you want to encourage and guide her toward a new normal.

If you’re not in the habit of maintaining boundaries with your mom, guess what, it’s really hard to get started. There is such a weight there, and it can’t be shed overnight. If she has a really painful reaction to being told “no,” it’s probably gonna hit you like a ton of bricks at first, and you’re gonna want to do anything to comfort her in that moment (shredding your fragile boundaries all to hell). Keep repeating this to yourself: The first time is the hardest time. Every time after that will be at least a touch easier, because you will have survived the first time and you know you will both survive the next time. Whatever you do, don’t neglect your own emotional support resources – Trusted friends as sounding boards, maybe a counselor of your own – as you learn to put this into practice.

When your mom brings up coming to live with you, this could be your script:

Mom, if you eventually decide that living away from Dad would make you happier, you should take steps to do that. But coming to live with me is not an option right now, and I need to tell you that so that you can explore all the options that might be open and make the best decision for yourself.

In a true emergency, you’d find a way to take her in. Absent that emergency, let’s interrogate the idea that you’re her only option. In case of a divorce, your mom’s housing situation and the splitting of financial assets would be a part of the negotiations between your parents. The solution the courts arrive at might not be ideal for her, but I don’t think think you have to accept your mother’s framing of this as your problem until a lot of stuff that is outside your control (and outside the realm of stuff you should have to control) is resolved. There are a lot of miles before that bridge needs crossed.

Sometimes good people who love each other can want and need really different stuff from a relationship. You don’t have to solve her marriage, her housing situation, or her feelings about having limits set in order to have and set those limits.

So, it’s okay to set a boundary for what you can handle and to redirect her toward someone who could actually help (like her counselor, who can help her sort through her history and the feelings she’s having)(who might also know a social worker)(who might be able to set her up with a stable housing situation or brainstorm other solutions).

She won’t like hearing “no” from you, it’s true. Her feelings will be hurt. But just like you are not solely responsible for her marriage, or her future housing situation, you aren’t solely responsible for how she handles disappointment or the steps she takes to find support and healing in the world. It’s part of the job of being a parent to set these kinds of boundaries and protect your kids from having to function as your emotional pillars. She grew up in an abusive home, true, and probably didn’t have good models for doing this, true, but she made a lot of choices to be a better parent to you than the ones she had and she has choices about what she does, here, too. If you say, “Mom, for my own sanity, I gotta set a limit on being the Secret Keeper Of The Order Of Your Marriage To My Other Parent,” her saying “I hear you, I’ll try to do better not to put you in the middle between me and Dad” is one of those choices. You’re not a bad daughter if you keep steering her toward that choice.

 

 

 

 

197 comments
  1. Lucy said:

    You may not need to do this (hopefully you will not need to do this) but you can always escalate the boundary-setting if the behaviour doesn’t stop. My mother used to use me as her go-to person for complaining about my dad (ughhhhh) and no amount of me saying “please don’t do this to me, it’s not appropriate and I don’t want to have to listen to it” actually worked. She’d always have a response like “but can’t I just finish what I’m saying?” or make out like I was being mean or rude for not wanting to listen to her endless bickering (knowing it would never actually get resolved between them because their 30+ year marriage was 100% founded on never resolving anything).

    In the end I had to set a firmer boundary, and started physically refusing to listen to it – either walking out of the room or hanging up the phone. She didn’t like it the first couple of times, but it definitely worked. Also since he died she has mostly switched to saying positive things about him, but the physical-boundary-enforcing continues to work for some of her other avenues of complaining.

  2. Diane said:

    My family also does this, so I definitely sympathize and I’ve been where you are. Like CA says, it takes a long (long!) time to enforce boundaries, but it can be done. I think I started saying “don’t put me in the middle” when I was a freshman in college and it finally sunk in shortly after I graduated (four years later). My mom still sometimes starts down the “talking about my dad” path and I have to steer the conversation in another direction, but time, distance, and reinforcement of boundaries have improved our relationship a lot. Don’t give up!

    • lizinthelibrary said:

      My parents do this and have since I was too young for it to be appropriate (not that it ever was). I finally started enforcing a boundary a few months ago (I’m 34 for reference but my parents just moved to live closer to me and I knew I had to enforce it). I am still having to enforce it a lot, but my parents are being (mostly) reasonable about it. My dad tends to start sentences with “I know you don’t want to hear me complain about your mother, but…” And I’ll actually interrupt him and say “that’s right I don’t, thanks for understanding!” He looks hurt each time, but I’m dealing. He is too. So is mom. I also pointed out to my mom that everytime we talk, she has a huge litany of complaints and I know that not everything in her life is all awful all the time. So she makes a point of telling me at least one thing that has happened to her that was good in each conversation.

      That sounds like huge progress. And it is! But it is also two steps forward, one step back, and constant continued boundary reinforcement. it’s exhausting. It’s less exhuasting than the last 20+ years of listening to them complain about each other was.

  3. CF6 said:

    Writing as another adult whose childhood was changed because her mother relied WAY too heavily on her as a “friend” and a “shoulder” and a “sounding board” because I was (am) “so good at it” –

    Set these boundaries now. I’m so sorry that you-the-child went through that, and I agree that a therapist might be a good addition to Team You. The boundaries might be painful, but they are not too late to set.

    I’ve heard that children should not have to deal with adult issues, and while that’s just a trifle too easy to say, it’s important for adults not to unnecessarily involve their children in their own emotional needs and situations. As that adult child, it can be very hard not to pick up that role of Chief Comforter and First Friend. Every time I set a boundary with my parents as an adult, I think of myself comforting the Child Who Was and protecting The Adult Who Is.

    Jedi Hugs

    • JenniferP said:

      You should be sorted now. 🙂

    • Thanksforallthefish said:

      Yes to this! I too was mom’s Chief Comforter and First Friend growing up as well as fixer of mom and sister fighting. Starting at 5. Nowadays I generally just don’t talk to my Mom.

      • What the fucking hell?????!! I’m so sorry she did that to you. That is NOT NORMAL.

      • tasia said:

        Oh man. I hear you. I am just coming out of the FOG*, so to speak, and finding the “raised by borderlines” reddit forum incredibly validating & helpful. OP, you might want to check it out. My mom was also my over sharingly over dependent best friend…until my world got smaller and smaller to accommodate her feeeeelings. Now? I miss that relationship & what i thought it was. It’s painful but I’m starting to find myself again and that’s better.

        • tasia said:

          Oops – FOG is Fear, Obligation, Guilt. My mom is the queen of those last two. “She (mom) can push your buttons so easily because she’s the one that installed them”.

        • Reddit’s Raised By Narcissists sub is also a very useful resource.

  4. Meg said:

    Captain has good advice, as always.

    As someone who used to be her mother’s best friend and her sounding board during a divorce – set the boundaries now. Don’t let her grow dependent on you. My mom relies on me too much because I took too long to set appropriate boundaries with her and because she has hardly anyone else to rely on. I love her, but I resent her so much. I hate it.

    My mom also overshared with me as a child. I always felt like I had to be an emotional support for her. So much of this letter resonates with me. I never, ever want to hurt my mom. At least partially because she trained me to think that was a terrible thing to do.

    It’s much harder to institute healthy boundaries once it’s gotten to a point where her conversation is always draining. Because at this point, I don’t really want to communicate honestly with her about what I’m feeling and what I want because what I want is a break. (I’m in therapy and discussing this on a regular basis.)

    Save your future relationship – start boundaries now.

  5. Clarry said:

    Something to add to the Captain’s advice. I’m not sure this applies to the LW; maybe I’m talking to my younger self, but since the sign-off is “Boundary Challenged Adult Daughter,” I’m going to suggest making sure the boundarylessness doesn’t go both ways. It did for me. I hated it when my mother overshared about her relationship with my father. I didn’t realize until I was going through old letters I’d written in my 20s (I’m now almost 60) that I’d been blithely oversharing too. In addition to shutting down any conversation where your mother talks to you more like she should to a friend (or therapist!), check that you also aren’t talking to her as you would to a friend

    • Clarry said:

      Note that when I did stop confiding in my mother, she pushed back. She was friendly about it, but she tried to wheedle information out of me. I think she started to notice how inappropriate it was for her to tell me all about her emotional life when I wasn’t telling her about mine. She was more comfortable (nevermind my discomfort–it was all about her) with the intimate stuff going both ways. That way she could tell herself that we really were just 2 girlfriends talking and giggling and venting to each other.

      And a word of optimism– If I could get out of from under the smother of my mother, I believe you can too.

      • kanel said:

        I stopped confiding in my mother when my fiancé was appalled at how much I’d share. I never thought about it being too much before. She still confides in me in an unhealthy way and I’m trying to set boundaries (so hard). I hadn’t really thought about the connection until I read your comment, so thank you!

        My mother still tries to wheedle information about everyone through other people. She’ll ask me about my sister and my sister about me. She’ll ask all her kids about our dad. Sometimes she’s quite manipulative about it, so you only realize afterwards that you shared something you didn’t feel comfortable sharing.

        • Clarry said:

          My mother’s main manipulative device (out of many) was (still is, though less so after boundaries) anxiety. I’d start with information that was appropriate, maybe something like “Boyfriend and I had a nice time at a party.” She’d come back with what sounded like genuine concern about Boyfriend mistreating me- she was just reading about boyfriends who dominate, drug or rape. It looks ridiculous as I write it, but she’d make it sound normal and conversational. I, knowing that dominating, drugging and raping are real, would seek to reassure her that (steady, kind) Boyfriend has never done anything of the sort. Instead of saying “oh, well” at her anxieties, I’d give an example of his kindness. Somehow this would give her fuel for more anxiety about how seemingly nice men can still rape. The next thing I’d know, I was spilling examples of our sex life in a (futile) effort to convince her that I’m fine and Boyfriend does not rape. I’d end up feeling exasperated, and for all I know, she’d end up all the more convinced that I was hiding something and she was only concerned about me and she’s glad we had this talk and isn’t it great that we’re so close. I even learned that “where on earth did you get that idea” was the wrong response to her little anxiety baits. She was only too glad to tell me.

          • Cora said:

            It isn’t nice, but you can turn that right back on her: “Yes, mother, I know about all of those bad things, so just trust my judgment. After all, you’re the one who raised me — so why is it so hard for you to accept that I have integrity?”

          • Clarry said:

            Cora said: “It isn’t nice, but you can turn that right back on her: “Yes, mother, I know about all of those bad things, so just trust my judgment. After all, you’re the one who raised me — so why is it so hard for you to accept that I have integrity?””

            I suppose it’s possible that something like this worked with someone else’s boundaryless mother, but for my relationship with my mother, it just smacks of trying to reason with the unreasonable, like my mother’s suddenly going to realize that my logic is impeccable and that she was wrong all this time. It reminds me of all the other things I tried to turn her into the mother I wanted, needed, to have. I’d argue, cajole, reason, repeat, confide, explain, and she’d twist everything into another brand of her anxiety-fueled boundaryless crazy. I felt like a failure for not being good enough at reasoning with her to get her to trust my judgment and dial down her manipulation and anxiety. It took a lot of therapy for me to untangle the dynamic, but really, once I stopped trying to get her to do anything, the better things got.

      • Jill said:

        “the smother of my mother” is now a phrase I have committed to memory for later use. Such an appropriate description for so many of us!

      • Kitty said:

        I’ve stopped doing this too, realising I also over relied on my mother. But I don’t fully blame myself because I think she trained me to do that (even as she complained that I sent too many distressed messages about how miserable I was in my last job) and now whines that I never tell her anything. It’s partly to reinforce the ‘this is not an appropriate level of sharing to expect from an adult child’ and partly because whenever I do share things with her I feel like they become about her, like she needs to interrogate all this information about my life to live vicariously and manage things for me and butt in with unwanted advice etc until it doesn’t feel like my life is for me, but a performance or game for her.

        She also overshared during my childhood when my parents divorced and she was a single mother. And both of them would spew bitter insults and criticisms about the other in front of me which I believe irreparably damaged my relationship with both of them.

  6. Hey FYI if she talks about leaving your dad & you say supportive things abt that esp logistics bear in mind she may be reporting that back to him as proof he’s bad or you love her best or wev. Depending on your relationship if the two of them get on a more even keel she might also resent you for “trying to split them up.” Every family relationship is a little different but I’ve seen this dynamic play out a bunch of times, although I hope you all manage to miss it. Setting boundaries sounds like a really great idea though. It will be hard but good luck, you can do it. Please forgive typos as I’m on my phone.

    • JenniferP said:

      Ohhhhhh….good point.

      • *sigh* said:

        Really awesomely good point. My parents both overshare with me, and I’m still working on it, but one of the first big steps I took toward cutting that off was when my dad confided to me that “I know I embarrass you, and I’m the reason you don’t come over and see us anymore,” which was what my “wonderful” /sarcasm mother had been telling him all along when I tried to help her work out some stuff — that I was on HER side and loved HER best and all sorts of untrue things that he honestly believed. He looked so relieved when I told him that wasn’t the case…

        Unfortunately, then he started to assume that I was always on his side, for crying out loud.

        It’s all still a work in progress.

    • Not Australian said:

      “Depending on your relationship if the two of them get on a more even keel she might also resent you for “trying to split them up.”!

      This is the trap my sister fell into; after a tearful phone call from my aunt complaining about how unhappy she was with my uncle – who was, and still is, pretty irrational after a serious head injury – my sister told her there was always a place for her to live with her if she ever wanted to leave him. Somehow this got twisted into a story of her trying to split my aunt and uncle up, and since that time half of the family isn’t talking to the other half – all because of an innocent (if misguided) offer of help.

  7. ASJ said:

    One of my friends will frequently say that about her (high school aged) daughter – “she’s my best friend”. She’ll also tell me what a great kid her daughter is, while in the same breath complaining that the kid has zero appreciation for money, expects her parents to drop everything at her whim, and isn’t very respectful to her mother. Yet, because she’s a “great kid” and her mom’s “best friend”… well, I’m sure you see where the cycle is. Bottom line is, I cringe now when I hear parents say that.

    • Kat G., Ph.D. said:

      Are you my mom’s best friend, traveling to the future from ca. 2003? Because holy moly, you just perfectly described my relationship with my mother when I was in high school and college. I was her best friend, but then there was the time she walked 2 miles home in 20 degree weather (voluntarily! to make me feel guilty! #soadult #muchhealthy #wow) because she was mad that I didn’t use a deferential enough tone when asking her to please stop nagging me about my posture, because my IBS makes it painful to stand up totally straight when I’m having an attack.

      It took another 8 years, lots of therapy, and 3000 miles between us to extricate myself from that dynamic. It really sucked.

    • Mary said:

      >>the kid has zero appreciation for money, expects her parents to drop everything at her whim, and isn’t very respectful to her mother

      I mean, parents definitely have the right to get frustrated with and complain about their kids, but these all sound like very normal 15-year-old things and nothing that necessarily disqualifies her from being a great kid?

      • BarlowGirl said:

        They also sound like normal parent complaints that don’t disqualify a parent from thinking their child is great. “Teenager is teenager” seems like a bad reason to decide your child is terrible.

      • WT said:

        I think what ASJ was getting at is that the mom in this scenario is encouraging her daughter to view their relationship as a friendship– or, more informal and lacking the respect/authority/however you want to describe the dynamic in a standard parent-child relationship– and then getting snitty and resenting the daughter when she takes those cues and treats her mom as a friend instead of a parent. I don’t think it was meant to be a criticism of the daughter! However, yeah, those all sound like normal things in a parent’s relationship with a high school-aged kid to me, personally.

        • Commander Banana said:

          It’s really hard, and I think personally unfair to your kid, to treat them like your best friend one minute and then try to be an authority figure the next minute. You really can’t be both, it just doesn’t work.

          • WT said:

            Oh, for sure– when I said “those sound like normal things” I more meant “those sound like normal complaints that even a parent who DOESN’T have a weird best friend relationship with their high school-aged kid would have,” not that the weird best friend relationship itself is normal.

    • Commander Banana said:

      Oh my god, this – I recently ended a friendship with a woman who did something very similar with her daughter, who was young-college-age. She would complain to me about the (very annoying/disrespectful!) stuff her daughter did, like have sex with a succession of boyfriends in my friend’s bed while she was on vacation, stealing her stuff, running up massive bills while at a very expensive college, etc., which I personally found really appalling…and then expect us to do stuff like all go to a bar together because they’re “best friends.”

      Oh, and, any time my friend tried to be like “hey can you not have sex with strangers in my bed while I’m gone” or “hey, can you not steal my makeup/clothes/whatever,” her daughter would go into histrionics and do stuff like accusing her mother of being racist or “run away” to a friend’s house for a few days.

  8. I remember going on a spa break with my Mum and one day she just burst into tears that she feared my (abusive) Dad would take all her money and leave her homeless. I felt incredibly scared and out of my depth. They both burdened me with far too much too young.

    What helped was to redirect my Mum with encouragement that she was a courageous woman who *would* have the strength to see a financial planner and who *did* have friends her own age who cared about her. It didn’t cut down on the over sharing overnight but it helped focus us both on the concept of a support network that wasn’t just me. I was in therapy and I had a better handle on my Dad’s failings so Mum did all kinds of stuff she regrets (making me read the divorce petition, telling me things my Dad said that I was too young to remember) and she was looking for some validation that she wasn’t crazy and he was abusive. As his other victim, I was too vulnerable to validate her at the time. I was convinced I’d lose her as a Mum if I told her no?

    Our relationship has recovered from the angry/scary/tender boundary wrangling. She did get her own support network going and she is now happy, fulfilled and married to man far more loving than she could have dreamed of. She was just fine in the end. And she did all hat personal growth herself at a time of life where society tells fifty something women they will die alone in poverty if they divorce.

    One tactic to add to the Captains good advice is to emphasise that people who survive abusive families are already full of courage and resourcefulness that they may not give themselves credit for. You might say that you can support her in X ways while a wider support network can help too. That it would make you feel good to know she is surrounded by kind friends.

    One thing that works with my Mum is to pick a nice soothing thing to do during the week and talk about it on the phone. Like a yoga challenge on YouTube or sorting our closet or working on a hobby. That kind of ‘Yay, you went for a swim, I smashed that work project’ positivity helps.

    • kanel said:

      That positivity topic suggestion is great. I’ll try it with my mom. Thanks!

  9. chickia said:

    When I left for college (only child) I initially got a lot of “you wouldn’t believe what you mother did” and “your father xxx”. They seemed to be heading down the path of divorce to me, or just didn’t know how to relate to each other anymore. I don’t remember exactly what I said but it was something along the lines of: This is uncomfortable & unfair to me, you are putting me in the middle of your arguments, and you need to talk to each other and stop venting to me about each other. They worked through it (or at least stopped the snippy comments to me anyway, mostly) and they are still together . . . but your situation is way worse, both in the long term boundary violation going on, and the factor that she’s disabled and apparently unable to take care of herself (or you feel that she’s unable). I don’t have any advice better than CA, but I wish you the best of luck with dealing with it. You do need to remember that it’s not your problem to solve, and that you CAN set boundaries, even if it seems like the dynamic is already too set to change, you can! Also, if you start to refuse to talk to her about it (because you love them both is a great reason actually) she might be forced to talk to him and actually resolve it. If you are providing the outlet for her, then nothing is getting resolved.

  10. One of the things that concern me the most about this scenario (bear in mind I’m biased as hell because I have a terrible relationship with my mother and she behaves in much the same manner) is how everything could escalate if Mother did move. If Daughter is the main source of support now, and that’s heavy, how heavy would the load get if Daughter was the sole source because Mother is cut off through sheer distance from all her friends and relations?

    • CF6 said:

      That’s a REALLY good point. My husband and I have considered having my mother move closer to us for various reasons, and it often comes back to my/our being her only source of support if she moves. Nothankyouverymuch.

      • anon for this said:

        I also have a (divorced) mother that wants to move closer to me. She has always leaned heavily on me (only daughter) for support. I’m not sure how it’s going to play out, but I’ve been pushing her to take responsibility for finding a place to live and that’s helped my sanity a bit. (She likes to say sort-of-jokingly “just find me a place”.)

        That said, I 100% told her up front that she cannot live with my husband & me. It’s not something we could deal with. It was really hard, and at first I kept reminding her when she brought up “but it would work out so well if I could just live with you / stay with you for 4 months in the winter / etcetera” that it’s not an option – but eventually she did stop asking. I imagine with a mother with disabilities it may be even harder for you – but I agree with the Captain that beginning that boundary as soon as it comes up will help immensely.

  11. It has been two years since my husband’s mother died and he is just now realizing – or, better, getting angry about the fact that the way they treated him and each other was completely unhealthy and inappropriate. Leaving aside all the bitter, drunk fighting that his parents did with each other, the fact that he was his mother’s confidante was so, so wrong. He tells me that she would lock herself in the bathroom and call him when she was fighting with his dad. She would tell my husband he was her “only joy” and was the only person she could talk to. She threatened suicide when my husband told them we were going to Spain over Christmas instead of going to their house. Lovely, huh?

    One of the biggest arguments I have had with my husband was when he wanted me to be friends with his mother. That is, he wanted me to become an intimate confidante instead of a cordial person. I told him no way – that was not my role. I had already heard from my sister in law that MIL had told SIL that FIL forced MIL, who had COPD and used oxygen at night, to give him oral servicing. I had no wish to have that kind of conversation with my MIL.

    In comparison, my mom, when my dad died, confided in her friends (and with people at church who had gotten training about helping people with grief) about her grief. Yes, she shared her feelings with her children – we were all sad, but she did not call us every day to burden us with her feelings when we were trying to handle our own.

    What I am getting at, LW, is that it is perfectly OK for you to not want to have these conversations with your mom. I know it’s really, really hard to create and enforce a boundary, especially with someone you love. I hope you can make this story end the way you want it to.

    • storyranger said:

      I remembered reading that story on your blog and just feeling such incredible revulsion because NOTHING ABOUT THAT SITUATION IS OKAY. What MIL had happen to her was not okay, that MIL told this story to SIL in such graphic terms was not okay, that your husband wanted you to become this woman’s confidante was not okay.
      Your blog honestly helped me believe in life again because yes, my relationship with my parental units is fucked up, but wow it could be worse. LW, BOUNDARIES ARE OKAY!

  12. Katia said:

    My mom used to do this to me, though not to the same extent. We talked about it and she understood and has greatly cut down on it.

    Anyway, the main thing I started doing when my mom does have complaints about my dad being thoughtless or hurting her feelings was to TELL HER TO SPEAK UP! In the moment, or you can cool down and say something. He made a mean comment? Say “that was really hurtful and made me feel bad” … she didn’t do this before because my dad is sensitive about it, so it’s wholly to protect his ego so he doesn’t “feel bad” about making her feel bad. I think that is some practical advice you can offer your mom …”Mom, you are always coming to me with these things Dad did that made you feel bad, but the one you should be talking to is him.” or something. My mom was just used to letting things go but I think feels a lot better pointing out when he is being mean or whatever.

    (My dad is a wonderful father but he’s … picky about certain dumb things and kind of set in his ways).

  13. Anne Shirley said:

    Hi, LW, I understand your situation and I’m sorry you’re in it. CA’s advice it spot on.

    Not to put more burden on you, but in the interest of helping your mom AND yourself, is there anything you can do to encourage a proper outlet for her, whether that’s her therapist or perhaps building a friendship? With my mom, it was very helpful to cut her off and say “Mom, I think this is a good conversation to have with [friend’s name] or [counselor’s name].” It was a good signal for both of us that she was venting in the wrong channel, prevented me from having to be more blunt in “I don’t wanna hear this,” and gently reminded her that she DID have someone else to talk to.

    Good luck and I wish you the best!

    • Marthooh said:

      Yes, anything you can do to encourage her to build Team Mom! Can she do meetups, hobby groups, classes, etc.? Is she financially literate? Can she internet? The more she can take care of herself, or figure out where to find help locally, the better equipped she is for any outcome.

      • Temperance said:

        From the letter, it sounds like this woman really just leans on her daughter and doesn’t have many friends. Maybe it’s because I’m picturing my own mother, but if I encouraged her to do a meetup, she’d just whine that I didn’t love her enough to fulfill her social needs and then hate on the poor people who were unfortunate enough to do this.

    • TC said:

      I did try this with my mum — she and I never had a “best friends” relationship, so when she had breast cancer (she’s fine now), everything changed and she wanted to confide in me, especially while her and my dad worked through whatever problems it was causing for them. I told her “oh, you should try therapy,” or “have you called [best friend]?” and I remember one day, we were in the car going somewhere, and she said “Oh, but I’ve got you too! I don’t need therapy.” I ended up drastically reducing the amount of time I spent with her, knowing that she wasn’t likely to listen to me and that I simply didn’t have enough spoons to a) deal with her being sick, b) watch her increasingly erratic behaviour and c) be her sounding board.

      I kind of wish I’d had the captain’s scripts at the time, because they kind of reinforces the actual family dynamic, rather than the child telling the grown up to eat their vegetables and go to the doctor.

      • “Therapists are trained and have resources I don’t have, so they can help you better than I can.” (They also get paid to deal with this kind of thing and you don’t.)

  14. B. said:

    Oh, LW, that’s such a tough situation to be in! I’m sending you tons of jedi hugs, should you want them!

    I’d like to add my voice to the chorus of you not being your mom’s sole option, for housing or emotional support. Right now, the situation is untenable, because a) you need the space (phisical, emotional, and financial) to grow into your adult life, as an independent person from your mother; and b) she is hurting you by saying those things about your dad. Maybe she doesn’t mean to hurt you, but your hurt is real and valid and *important*. You don’t have to stay in the line of fire. You really, really don’t.

    Your mom needs to go make some friends, and I do mean this with the utmost kindness and respect, beause I *know* how hard it is for an older, disabled woman who has only been able to rely on her children for support to find and make new friends. But it is possible. She needs peers, people who she hasn’t raised and whose company she can enjoy. Much as you try, you cannot turn yourself into her whole support network. That’s not healthy for either of you.

    I actually asked the Captain once how I could build a Team My Mom for my mom, because she needed one. Her answer was really wise and kind: while I could be part of her Team Me, I couldn’t build one for her, because she had to do that for herself. How? By joining clubs or activities she enjoyed and meeting new people.

    Dear LW, it took me moving to a different effing country (and thus forcibly removing my everyday emotional support) for her to start actively looking for friends. Before that, I’d spent almost a year very kindly redirecting her oversharing (“I’m really sorry, mom, but I can’t help you process that right now. Maybe you could write about it?/Would you like a hug instead?” worked for us).
    Now, my mom is way happier than when she had only me as friendly support. But she had to do that work herself. You can steer her there, though.

    Good luck!

    • Stayce said:

      “She had to do that work herself”. Yepyepyep.

    • AnonForThis said:

      I moved to a different continent, and my mother has eventually managed to guilt me into calling to be her support nearly every day, even when I don’t want to. (no, I’m not the LW) It was supposed to be for a limited time, but it’s become indefinite. Also she throws guilt trips and cries at me and tells me I’m ungrateful or hypocritical if I try to set any boundaries with her. Like not following her on Twitter, because apparently all adult daughters are best friends with their mothers according to her (NO. No-one I know wants their mothers to follow them on Twitter and vice versa). She’s also pulled the “you’re literally the only person in the world I can talk to” card, even though I know she has friends. I have made small progresses, but I still have this huge burden in spite of moving thousands of miles away. So the steering is definitely still necessary, even from a distance!

      • B. said:

        Ouch, I’m sorry you are having to go through that, even from a distance 😦 Many e-hugs if wanted!

      • sayevet said:

        This sounds so familiar! My mom liked to hear from me every day or two and it was TOO MUCH. When I tried to cut back to every three or four days, she would start every conversation with “It’s been so long!” or “I haven’t heard from you in ages!” I eventually had to tell her that her frequency preference created an obligation for me, and didn’t she want my attention to be given of my own free will? It was hard but that one got through to her and gave me some relief from that particular problem.

        • Risha (@rishabree) said:

          My mom kept escalating how often she called me and shrinking how long she gave me to return a call before panicking or leaving a message threatening to call the police for a welfare check. I eventually resorted to a flat, “No. There is literally no one in the world that I want to talk to every day.” It had the advantage of being completely true.

          Eventually I also had to declare that I won’t pick up the phone more often than once every few days even if she’s worried, and never during work hours. I still get snippy comments about all of it on a regular basis (and every month or so she “forgets” and tries to call during a weekday), but it’s entirely worth it.

      • Eek! That sounds really expensive. Maybe you can plead financial reasons/cell phone roaming charges as a way to get some distance between the two of you.

        • AnonForThis said:

          Nope, flat-rate. And if I weren’t in charge of calling, she’d be calling ME daily. This way around I at least can not call every single day.

      • attie said:

        I was in a similar situation when I first moved. I managed to quell it by making a big deal whenever my mom called during the week – making a lot of noise about having to go out of the shared office at work so as not to disturb colleagues (and by a lot of noise I mean stage-whispering into the phone and bumping into random things on my way out so she would be well aware of the inconvenience), sounding hassled and asking in a worried voice if anything is wrong, etc. (Implying that surely she would only call at such an inconvenient time if something was really wrong, right?) Made a big production of how I was dropping everything for her. Answered distractedly to everything non-emergency level. After five minutes, antsily declared I really have to go back to work now. Eventually my mom realized she wouldn’t get a pleasant emotional dumping experience and only calls on weekends now (and I’m working on getting her to call only once, and for less than 2h at a time. It’s slow going but progress. Last week she voluntarily hung up after 45 minutes!)

        But my mom was highly invested in my professional success, so that was a lever I could use to stem the tide. Otherwise it probably wouldn’t have worked.

        • crooked bird said:

          I just want to pause and appreciate what an excellent strategy this is. If I ever get an oversharing situation I will definitely use it!

    • Katie said:

      Plus, if you want to frame this in a helpy way (as a helpy person, I know that that’s sometimes more immediately convincing to my brain than the fact that I deserve boundaries), you setting boundaries will help her learn to exercise that muscle of finding a friend and support network.

      • B. said:

        Good call! That framing definitely helped 3-years-ago me! 🙂

    • CarpeFelis said:

      “an older, disabled woman who has only been able to rely on her children for support”

      This is exactly what LW’s smothering mom has trained her to think.

      The truth is more like “an older, disabled woman who has CHOSEN to rely only on her children for support”.

      • B. said:

        Um. Hey. That’s very out of line.

        I don’t know about the LW’s mom, but in our case, yeah, there was pretty much no other choice for about a decade. Fucked up as that was, it was also the best option for all of us.

        What I meant with the “hasn’t been able to (so far)” is that, in the LW’s case, that situation is no longer tenable and it needs to change. But sometimes, yeah, no one is training anyone and people are just trying to survive.

        Also, it can be fucking hard and daunting to make new friends when you’re older, a woman, disabled, and have no previous friends remaining. Society tells you you ought to have established friendships decades ago. So yeah, LW’s mom needs new friends, but finding them can be a lenghty and draining process.

        In short: you don’t know all truths. It’s hurtful to act like you do.

  15. accessdenied said:

    hoo boy. i’m in my early 20’s, with a sister also in her early 20’s and another sister who’s 16, and i can see this kind of situation with my parents–empty nest, discovering communication issues that have been languishing for decades because Think Of The Children, wildly oversharing mother–coming from a mile off.

    nothing gets my hackles up faster than a parent who repeatedly says that their kid is their “best friend” and “the person they trust most in the world”. no matter how old the kid is, that is an inappropriate thing to say & feel. you don’t stop being someone’s parent and start being adults on an equal emotional footing once your offspring crosses some arbitrary boundary of adulthood.

    LW, you said “it kinda scares me to be the only one she really trusts”–LISTEN TO THAT SCARED FEELING. that is your self-preservation instinct setting off an alarm bell that says EMOTIONAL BURNOUT AHEAD.

    nobody–friends, lovers, partners, CERTAINLY not parents/children–can be anyone else’s only pillar of support. there is no amount of love and affection and knuckling down that can make that situation happen. it just isn’t possible.

    you love and like your mom, and that’s a really good thing! but loving and liking someone does not have to include acting as their sole confidante/24hr venting receptacle/Feelings Manager. (and, frankly, it probably shouldn’t.)

    • Louise said:

      “You don’t stop being someone’s parent and start being adults on an equal emotional footing once your offspring crosses some arbitrary boundary of adulthood”

      So much this. I really wish I could get this printed on a very large poster and send it to my mother!

    • PandaGrrl said:

      nothing gets my hackles up faster than a parent who repeatedly says that their kid is their “best friend” and “the person they trust most in the world”. no matter how old the kid is, that is an inappropriate thing to say & feel. you don’t stop being someone’s parent and start being adults on an equal emotional footing once your offspring crosses some arbitrary boundary of adulthood.

      Augh, my insides were waving their arms and yelling THIIIISSSS. My mum is not even as bad as these mums (friends, I am so sorry), but I am feeling the pressure of my mum wanting to be closer than we are. My aunt (really my mum’s bff of nearly 30 years) passed away last summer and I KNOW she’s lonely. She doesn’t really have other friends. And we have a complicated history because my parents separated when I was 8 and I lived with my dad, and I stopped speaking to her for almost a decade. We reconnected as adults, so there is some lack of a parent/child relationship… but she’s still my mum, and I’m still her child, and we CANNOT have the same level of friendship as she had with my aunt. It distresses me a little bit (we have our difficulties but I don’t want to see her be sad and lonely!) but at the same time, I know we can’t do it. It’s not healthy, it’s not sustainable, I cannot be her friend in the way that she could be with someone who is Not Me.

      LW I wish you the best in setting these boundaries with your mum.

    • Kitty said:

      “you don’t stop being someone’s parent and start being adults on an equal emotional footing once your offspring crosses some arbitrary boundary of adulthood.”

      I have mixed feelings about this, because my own mother seems unable to recognise me as a fellow adult and equal, even at age 32. I think by this point she should not be still trying to be the ‘super adult’ or ‘parent in charge’ who still has authority and superiority over me. But at the same time she wants us to be super close, way closer than I want to be and even could possibly be with someone who is so controlling and incapable of taking responsibility for their own actions.

      Ugh, it feels like the worst of both worlds when she wants me to be her “friend” and be close, but somehow at the same time be under her authority as a less mature and capable person, almost like a child. Idek.

      • Redgirl said:

        As the parent of an 18-year-old and longtime stepparent to two grown women, I can say your relationship definitely changes, and you do have to treat your kids as adults who are capable of running their own lives (and recovering from their own mistakes). And you can expand what you talk about with them. You just can’t talk to them the way you talk to your best friend. I have my share of issues with their dad (who I recently left) but I don’t tell them details about that. I might talk to them pretty openly about sex, but I don’t go into details about my own sex life. And you still have to behave as a role model. Adult children can understand that you are flawed and you make mistakes, but you still have to try to model good adult behavior for them.

    • Commander Banana said:

      Yup – the whole “my kid is my best friend” thing is…really scary. I saw the dynamics of that up close recently and NO THANK YOU.

      I consider my dad my friend as well as my dad (I’m in my 30s) and I describe him to people as someone that I would like even if I weren’t related to them, but I didn’t really get to know him until I was an adult because he physically wasn’t around when I was a child or teenager (deployments) and I genuinely enjoy his company and spending time with him.

      That being said, he’s still my dad. I do dad/daughter stuff with him. I have best friends that I do best friend stuff with.

  16. Stayce said:

    Hugs if you want them LW. It sounds like you mom is dealing with a lot of big, scary questions about how she wants her life to look, and it must be very tempting for her to come up with a solution like moving in with you, her best friend/child/sounding board, as a kind of one-stop shop solution to the whole complicated thing and sidestep a lot of thorny questions she would need to figure out otherwise. Thing is, though, there are a whole host of options for her to get 1) a better support system and 2) a workable living arrangement should she need one other than leaning on you so much.
    It sounds like you are spending a lot of time on your side thinking and worrying about how this is playing out, and I like the Captain’s script for nipping this issue in the bud and taking this burden off your mind. If it helps, setting this boundary is also good for your mom because it gives her useful information she needs early to make good choices for herself. I had a similar conversation about having a family member move in with me a few years ago, and when I made it clear that I would have to make different budgeting/planning choices for them to stay with me, they opted not to. Later, I reached out to them proactively and said basically the Captain’s script. They have been able to find housing for themselves that meets their needs and it hasn’t come up again. Boundaries!

  17. Louise said:

    I feel your pain, so much.

    My mother did much the same to me, from when I was about 11, and my father got his first posting overseas (diplomat). There were three months before we were able to join him, and I was suddenly burdened with my mother’s feelings and thoughts on the whole matter…I was picked as the bearer of her feelings as the only girl. My two brothers were very lucky that my mother was/is so sexist when it comes to gender roles. It was very very inappropriate, and deeply unfair to me. The severe anxiety that I still suffer from was triggered, and after another 15 years, I was diagnosed as bipolar. My mother still cannot make the connection between the two…

    My parent’s marriage went tits up when I was just 21. My father had cheated on my mother for more or less the whole of the 23 years they had been married. But even so, I got the blame for their split, as my father had accepted a job away – after being unemployed for 6 months – but in my mother’s eyes, if he hadn’t had to pay for my wedding (I got married to the first proper boyfriend I had, I was so desperate to get away from them) he wouldn’t have taken the job. Absolute crap, of course. He left my mother for another woman 2 days after my wedding. I got back from honeymoon to all hell broken loose, and my mother ringing me up at 5am every morning and spending literally hours on the phone to me bad mouthing my father, telling me all the most intimate details of their marriage. I was too young and too shocked frankly to tell her to fuck off with it all. My own marriage was doomed from the start.

    My mother made myself and my two brothers so responsible for her happiness that she emotionally blackmailed all 3 of us into dropping all contact with my father. The stuff she came out with, looking back I still cannot believe…all about how she was always the better parent, how my father had never wanted children (true, but neither had she – the only reason I’m even here is that she is a practising Catholic), that my father had left us as well as her…all awful manipulative crap that worked very well on 3 young adults.

    She also tried to get me to agree to her living with me after I split from my husband…luckily by this time I’d developed a bit of a spine and was able to make it clear to her that just wasn’t going to happen. To make it crystal clear, I then moved to the other side of the world, purely to get away from her and her bitterness towards my father.

    27 years later and she’s still as angry, still blames anyone but herself – and still blames me, btw – for the end of her marriage. Her only defence to oversharing with her children is that ‘we are adults now, and we deserve to know the truth about our father’…but she cannot see that it is only her ‘truth’ we are hearing.

    The Captain has given you all the advice I wish I had had at the time. I was made to feel so responsible for her feelings, I heard stuff about their marriage that even as a 48 year old I should not have to be burdened with. Do not make the same mistakes I made.

    • mobuy said:

      I’m so sorry for everything you have gone through. Your mom sounds pretty boundary-less and there are definitely things you should keep from your kids.

      Your comment, though, makes it seem like there’s a lot of blaming going around. You accuse your mother of being the reason for your anxiety and bipolar disorder, losing contact with your father, as well as the end of your marriage. She may have been truly awful, but maybe she’s a convenient whipping boy for things that aren’t entirely her fault? Apologies if I’m overstepping.

      • B. said:

        Uh, wow. Wow.
        I’m gonna let Louise answer to that in whatever way she sees fit, but from here your comment sounds like you are, indeed, overstepping. Much.

      • Louise said:

        Thanks for your reply.

        1) Anxiety? Definitely to blame for that one. No 11 year old should have the burden of their parent’s success/failure of marriage landed on their shoulders. The bipolar? No, but my psychologist said my ‘erratic and traumatic’ (her words, not mine) childhood definitely didn’t help. I should have mentioned that I have recently being diagnosed with C-PTSD due to my childhood. There’s a lot I haven’t posted on here, but I was groomed by a 32 year old friend of my father’s when I was 12, and both my parents were too caught up in their own dramas for me to feel like I could approach them about it.

        2) Losing contact with my father? Definitely. To this day she says she will feel ‘completely betrayed’ if we have any contact with him. He tried to keep the communication open after he left my mother but I felt too guilty even to talk to him on the phone. Neither of my brothers have contact with him.

        3) My marriage? I only got married at just 21 as my mother told me that both her and my father would disown me if I lived with my then boyfriend (we’d been together 4 years at that point) or left home. Once again, I was too immature to call her out on her threats and too desperate to have a relationship with my parents. My mother had alienated her own large extended family years beforehand so I had no other family to turn to.

        The only ‘whipping boy’ here is myself. You have no idea what it is like to have your mother turn to you and tell you that she would still be married if it wasn’t for you. That having children ruined her life. When I was having chemo the last time I had cancer, my younger brother was asking me if it was painful…I said it was the most painful thing I’d ever gone through. My mother then piped up with ‘having children was the most painful thing I’ve ever gone through’…she actually compared giving birth to cancer treatment. Like my brother pointed out to her, it might have been painful but she was left with 3 healthy babies…the pain I was going through was for an illness that could have killled me. No fucking comparison.

      • JenniferP said:

        Dear Mobuy, Louise has already responded, but yeah, let’s believe people when they talk about their family stuff.

      • Temperance said:

        Um, yuck. This is not a constructive or useful comment, and it’s the kind of frankly ignorant BS that is often levied at the children of difficult or mentally ill parents.

        I have a mother with BPD, who engineered things since I was a child so that she would be our #1. She cut off relationships from older people at church and even a lot of our extended family. As an adult, she has told countless lies and caused drama with my in-laws and my sister’s in-laws, who she hates because we like them more than her. She has managed to turn the rest of the family against us, because, well, they’d rather be on her good side than not, so we were exiled unless we beg for forgiveness for not being “good” daughters.

        I have anxiety and so does my sister, who is the other all-bad. We were taught anxiety from childhood. I have strong memories of my mother screaming in my face that someone was going to assault me if they said hello, that all men just want to attack little girls, etc. I have a memory of me filling what I now call a go-bag because she was insisting that the public utility workers were going to hit a gas line and kill us all in our sleep, and we wouldn’t smell it, so I thought I should prepare to run. I was … 7?

        My husband, and my BIL, are constant targets of my mom’s rants and rages. If I didn’t cut her off, she would have tried to destroy my marriage more than she already did. She told everyone that I wasn’t ever going to get married, and that I was going to move back in with her and take care of her … after dating for nearly 10 years. Apparently, I’m ugly and unlovable, and Booth was using me for the constant easy sex and he was going to marry someone more appropriate.

        I really just hate the fuck out of everything you said and how nasty your comment was, and I hope that you really think before making an accusation like this in the future.

        • Louise said:

          I’d like to add that my mother still refuses to believe I’m bipolar, because it reflects badly on her. She actively tries to make me feel ashamed of it, and when I first started seeing a psychiatrist she was absolutely livid. I can still remember meeting her after my first session (and I’d spent the whole hour in tears) and all she cared about was whether I had (and I quote) ‘been bitching about her’… I had tried to kill myself less than a week previously.

          My psychologist (whose opinion I trust far more than some random on an internet forum) tells me I don’t blame my mother enough, and I’ve let her get away with far too much shit over the years.

          • Cora said:

            My GOD, Louise, I’m sorry. Of course you trust a trained, certified professional over internet strangers. Is there a way to cut Toxic Mom out of your life, or is that not a good idea right now?

          • Louise said:

            Thanks Cora. I live 17 thousand miles away from my mother, have done for the last 23 years and have only seen her twice for about a month at a time during that whole period….I exercise very limited contact, usually only speak to her on the phone every couple of months. I get a lot of flak from well meaning friends and loved ones about it all but for my own mental health it has to be this way.

            Apologies to LW for somewhat taking over this thread, but this is a hot button subject for me. I’d really hate to see anyone go through the horrible stress and upset myself and my two brothers did.

          • sayevet said:

            Wow, the narcissism of refusing to believe your child’s truth because of the way it reflects on you

            I feel you on this, Louise. You’re not alone and you can process this as often and as long as you need ❤

          • I went to a therapist a few times after I moved out for college, and made the mistake of telling my parents. My mother immediately demanded to know “what lies I had been telling” the counselor.

            The counselor, btw, listened to me talk for a bit my very first visit and then said “I don’t think there’s much wrong with you, but your parents are a piece of work.”

          • ashbet said:

            Out of nesting, sorry!

            @sayevet — “Wow, the narcissism of refusing to believe your child’s truth because of the way it reflects on you”

            My (narcissistic, likely NPD) mother still refuses to believe that my daughter and I have a *genetic disorder*, because she thinks it reflects badly on her.

            (We inherited it from my father/paternal grandmother, but since the disease manifests differently in males vs. females, she uses my dead father’s comparatively-better level of health in his lifetime to attempt to de-legitimize our diagnosed medical condition.)

            My daughter and I refer to her attitude as “My loins would not birth monsters!”

            Needless to say, we are not close to my mother, and VIGOROUSLY enforce our boundaries with her!

          • Temperance said:

            Oh Louise, I’m so, so sorry to hear that. My sister went through something like this with our mother, too, when we were teens. My sis has anxiety and OCD, and my mother was humiliated that my sister needed mental health help and kept accusing my poor sister of “lying” about abuse to her therapist.

            I don’t know your mom, obvs, but you have been trained your whole life to put her first. I agree with your psychologist.

        • Aris Merquoni said:

          I just want to throw in some love for non-abusive mentally ill parents. I know you didn’t mean to lump all parents with mental illness in with abusers. Even folks whose mental illness makes it difficult to parent can be responsible for their own feelings.

          (Abuse can be shaped by mental illness, but mental illness doesn’t cause abusiveness.)

          But yes, that was a nasty comment. We can blame abusers for being abusive. It’s not an abused child’s responsibility to not suffer, it’s a parent’s responsibility to not be abusive.

          • Temperance said:

            So, I’m trying to be gentle, because I don’t want to contribute to stigma, but I really hate comments like this. I don’t need to be educated on how “abuse can be shaped by mental illness, but mental illness doesn’t cause abusiveness”, and even if I did … I don’t agree with this. A parent who can’t control their emotions and flies off the handle at the slightest provocation because of mental illness is abusive, and the mental illness is the reason. (That’s one example.) A parent who stays up all night, and wakes her kid up at 3 AM to share her paranoid delusions is abusive, and it’s because of her mental illness. (That’s another example.) A parent who tearfully cries and begs her kid not to walk around the block because she might get attacked by a man is abusive, even though it’s the anxiety talking. (Yet another example.) I could keep going with more examples from my own life, and will if asked, but I hope you get my point.

            There’s no reason to respond to people discussing their mentally ill parents, and how horrible it was, with a comment throwing love to “non-abusive” mentally ill parents. Whenever I talk about what happened, and mention her mental health issues, someone instantly minimizes, because a.) she couldn’t help herself, b.) she was “sick” and it’s not abuse if you’re mentally ill, c.) someone starts talking about the importance of not saying anything negative because of “stigma”, or d.) some combination of the above 3.

            I think that there are plenty of people who manage their mental health issues so as not to impact their children negatively, and I am sure that those people understand that when other abuse victims talk freely about the chaotic circumstances of their childhood, it’s about a certain subgroup of people with mental health issues who take no responsibility for themselves or their children. My sister is one of them – she fights to make sure that her anxiety and OCD don’t harm her kids, and I can guarantee that she would be annoyed by someone making sure to give a shout-out to mentally ill parents who are nice.

          • Temperence, just wanted to send you some love and say I also understand. Someone in my life who abused me for years (cut out of my life now but only about a decade late) had a mental illness that I won’t disclose here because I don’t want to contribute to stigma. They were diagnosed once they reached adulthood, and when they told me the diagnosis I looked up the symptoms of the disorder and…there’s no other way to say it. I saw those symptoms in their abusive treatment of me. I really, really want some clarity, some separation between an ok way to treat someone and the symptoms of a mental illness that are very hard to control. I would love that more than anything, but none of the resources I’ve looked at have given me that separation. I told myself that it wasn’t fair that this person had such an uphill battle to be nice to me because of their condition, so really the whole thing was kind of on me, as the person without the condition…that was a cycle of badness I’m still in but I may take many years to recover from, let alone the abuse itself which went on, on and off, for 13 years.

            I DON’T want to contribute to stigma! And I hope any replies this comment generates will see that! But I am DAMAGED by this person’s abuse of me. I think I’ve stopped actively shifting the blame away from my abuser but it’s so hard to reconcile my efforts to be as anti-ableist as possible with my experiences. Saying stuff like ‘maybe there is not always a clear divide between the illness and the abuse’ is seen as an attack and not as a contribution to a nuanced and difficult issue. I think some discussions need to stay away from absolutes. For example, the recent letter about caregiving. I think discussions where both caregivers and people needing care (although you can be both at the same time) are present need to have a tonne of nuance and understanding, and people taking great care to avoid their experiences colouring other people’s unrelated experience.

      • bat lord said:

        mobuy, you’re out of line. Generally around here we assume that folks are the authorities on their lives and experiences. I’m surprised that you thought this comment was in any way appropriate.

  18. Cora said:

    Joining the chorus of women whose mother totally overshared when I was a child, and made me her in-house psychiatrist. I still remember, when I was a junior in high school, drawing a cartoon of myself as a stick figure caught under by a giant rock labeled “GUILT”.

    I want to highlight a point CA made: your mom’s feelings will be hurt. It sucks. You don’t want to hurt her, so much so that you’re letting her hurt you. It’s so hard, but you have to prepare yourself for her being hurt.

    Sometimes you can alleviate that hurt by reminding her that you’re your own person. That helped with me, when I told my mom that I loved her and cared about her and was very sorry that people in her life had not been nice to her; but right now I had a career, husband, child, health issues and demons of my own to solve It stopped her right in her tracks. I think she just hadn’t realized that I was no longer fourteen and dependent, but rather a grown adult, with adult problems like hers.

    I hate this, but you can’t let your fear of hurting her keep you from protecting yourself. She’s just going to have to be hurt, until she isn’t anymore.

    • Louise said:

      You were lucky it worked with your mother…I tried that with mine and it ended up with her telling me another wildly inappropriate thing. So a sort of ‘my problems are worse than your problems’ response. No empathy for me at all. Never tried it again. No matter what I’ve been through (cancer twice, serious mental illness etc) my mother has had it/still has it far worse. The constant oneupmanship is depressing.

      • girl in the stix said:

        Oh, yes. The Olympics of Suffering. My mother survived a concentration camp in WWII (not in Europe, in China). So nothing, nothing nothing that happened to me and my two sisters counted. Father dying, abusive asshole stepfather, poverty, being dragged all over the country (so no support group of relatives or school teachers or friends)–never could compete with being in a concentration camp. So we could never be depressed or unhappy or terrified, because after all, it wasn’t a concentration camp. Not that she didn’t suffer–she and her family were refugees after the war and there was long-term emotional and physical damage they all lived with. But because she suffered so terribly, none of our very real physical and emotional mistreatment mattered.

        And yes, because she suffered social anxiety (many times she said she was proud of not having any friends), we became her confidants, at very early ages.

      • Temperance said:

        I would assume that you’re my sister, but I only have one brother. My mother does the same thing. I had a serious illness last year, and wouldn’t let my husband or friends or MIL say anything to her (and my husband told his mother, in no uncertain terms, that she could visit us in the hospital ONLY if she didn’t mention it to my mother). Like, I was in the ICU, and my first thought was that I should keep my mother out of there so she doesn’t piss off my doctors and nurses and husband while also acting like SHE is the star victim in the show.

        I’ve never forgiven her for making everything about her, TBH. I’ll never, ever forget how she decided to tell everyone in our family and my in-laws that I didn’t “invite” her to my law school graduation when the actual truth is that she was informed of the time, date, and place, but I refused to drive her stupid ass there. She expected to be treated like the honored guest at my graduation, when I have friends whose extremely elderly grandparents managed to fly and take the train.

      • Cora said:

        Jesus. Ever just told her, “Fine, you win” and walked away?

  19. Lucille B. said:

    So much of this letter resonates with me, and my relationship with my mom. I am struggling with setting up boundaries just now, in my early 30s, that I should have set up years ago. I know it is going to be incredibly difficult, but it will be better for everyone in the end (and hopefully keep her from following us when we move states in a few years). Just know that you aren’t alone.

  20. B. said:

    Re: the housing situation. It’s true that the issue is miles away, so please delete if inappropriate, but just in case it will give the LW peace of mind:

    When it got to the point that various elderly relatives of mine couldn’t fend for themselves or needed help around the house, my family considered various options, which were:
    – Hiring in-house help 24/7 (two or three people per house, so they could take turns and rest)
    – Hiring in-house help part-time, ranging from a couple hours each day to a couple times a week (turns out there’s a Government service in my country that provides that for free, or for very cheap, when the dependent person can’t afford it).
    – Moving to a home for the elderly (option discarded by the elderly in question)
    – Moving in with relatives (option discarded by the relatives in question).

    So, LW, you really are not the only option for providing your mom with affordable and safe housing. I’m sure there are more options out there, and about 68% sure that where you live there’s some kind of social program or NGO to help with the costs. If researching that helps soothe your fears/guilt, you might want to look into it. But since it might be a better idea to gain distance from this situation, since it is really your mom who should be doing all this work, you can also just keep it as an useful reminder in the back of your mind.

    For what is worth, I know first-hand of people who each have taken the four options I listed. All were satisfied with the kind of care they were receiving, even if it was not their first choice, and that has a lot to do with them and their families respectfully negotiating the different options, in the cases where their families were involved, or with them arriving by themselves to the decision to be cared for in that particular way.

    • Cyberwulf said:

      I was going to suggest this too. LW, you can certainly look into all of this just for your own peace of mind, and it’s no harm to do it anyway because your parents are going to get older and older.

      Some people have this thing about paying strangers to look after one’s parents – “oh, precious daughter can’t be bothered to look after her own mother” – but the truth is that cleaning up after and caring for someone is Work. My very elderly grandfather has a home help because he can’t do for himself any more and because my mother and aunts have jobs and their own houses to clean and literally couldn’t manage cleaning their father’s house too. Now family visits are pleasant occasions for everyone involved, instead of frantic cleaning punctuated by bitter mutterings about the relatives who aren’t helping out.

  21. tuxbox said:

    reading this helps me a lot. My parents have a very turbulent marriage, they should have divorced 20 years ago, but they didn’t, and I hate saying it, but it’s too late to divorce now… that ship has sailed. I mean, they *could* now, but the ramifications of it would be far more devastating: the finances and property are far too enmeshed, they uprooted and moved away from all their family/friends to be closer to my sister and her husband, there’s grandkids (from my sister), neither of them work anymore. If there was anything super seriously abusive going on, I’d be behind them separating, but if anything, it’s a nasty cycle between the two of them… my mom’s pretty terrible to my dad, who’s got the emotional intelligence of a kumquat. As a result, he’s verbally nasty back to her, and it goes back and forth in a vicious circle. They’re both older and set in their ways. She wants him to change and be more mature and emotionally there for her, but he’s 70 years old, he’s never going to and I don’t understand why she can’t get that through her head. I have some sympathy for the situation but after 20 years of listening to the neverending cycle, it’s kind of worn itself out.

    My mom has a habit of ranting to me about how awful my father’s being when it’s on a downward slope of bad with them. It makes me *hugely* uncomfortable because while I know my dad can be a royal idiot at times, I know that he’s reacting a lot to how she’s treating him. *He* doesn’t realize this though because, see above: kumquat. I don’t want to hear how he’s being mean, snarky, rude, disrespectful to her… because I know that ultimately she’s doing the same to him (she used to do the same to me when I was around more, which is why I moved far, far away).

    It’s definitely happens less and less as I’ve cut down the conversations with her and she’s become more distracted with the grandkids, but I think I’ll be filing these scripts away in case she ramps up the complaints again in the future. I don’t want to be on the receiving end of them. My dad’s a good man, he’s never hit any of us, and he’s done his best with the limitations he’s had from his upbringing, education, and generation. I can’t expect much more out of him. I’d say the same out of my mom, except she tries to act like she’s much more educated and advanced, so at least I have grounds to call her on it.

    • randomcheeses said:

      Um.

      I don’t want to sound accusatory but your phrasing ‘a good man, he’s never hit any of us’ seriously bothers me. Like, not hitting your spouse and children does not automatically mean someone is a good person. Not hitting people is basic decency, not something you get cookies for. You’re (general you) not supposed to hit people. Not hitting people is the bare minimum. And yet so, so many women in awful abusive situations have had their suffering dismissed and their safety threatened because when they try to look for support the response they get is “what do you mean he’s abusive, he’s never hit you”.

      Men should not be praised for not hitting people and they shouldn’t be judged as ‘good’ because they don’t.

      • tuxbox said:

        Yes, I’m aware that people should be held to a standard of basic decency of “not hitting people”. My point, which I was trying to get out, yet apparently not wording well enough, is that my dad isn’t a horrible, abusive, nasty man that treats my mother like garbage. He’s guilty of lacking in the emotional maturity department, being somewhat stunted in his ability to communicate how he feels, and is a stereotypical grumpy old man. He does his best to show he loves his family in his limited way that he knows how because he really just doesn’t know better and he’s not going to learn or get better and I’ve figured this out a long time ago… it’s part of his upbringing, his education (or lack thereof), his generation, and his age. He’s the type of man that if you treat him with respect he’s respectful in return.

        My mother, on the other hand, can be very demanding, petty, and hold a grudge like it’s no one’s business. She tries to better herself by reading self-help books and educating herself and becoming enlightened and thinks that because she’s read and studied psychology books (on her own), she understands people. And she thinks she can change my father to be more than he is. Except she demands and orders him around. When she wants to do something and he expresses concern or says no, she does it anyway and argues “he never let me do things before so why do I have to listen to him now that I won’t let him control me?” Except we’re talking about things that occurred 40 years ago and she’s been doing this for 30 years now. She’s stomped him into submission at this point and I’m loathe to label his behaviour snarky, disrespectful attitude towards her as abusive because, as I mentioned, it’s a circular vicious cycle that’s been going on for 40+ years at this point with neither of them treating each other with a modicum of respect.

        So, does that elaboration help explain why I put in “he never hit us” to explain why I think my father isn’t an abusive man or would you like poke at more of my comment instead of one more line instead of just taking it at its face value? I’m not trying to defend “not hitting people” as some sort of trophy but c’mon, I didn’t want to get into a huge explanation of what else went into it besides that, it was one bit in a larger comment. 😐

        • Temperance said:

          Your mother sounds exhausting. I mean, instead of ASKING your dad for permission to do something, or trying to apparently manipulate with trickery from one of her self-help books, why doesn’t she just say “I’m doing X”. Is it because she wants the attention and the fight that will come with saying no?

          • tuxbox said:

            It’s a combination of wanting his input because she wants to give the impression that it’s a joint decision and she has him on board with it, and then also a way to spread the blame if it’s a bad decision, so she can say that it wasn’t solely her fault if he agreed to it.

            Sometimes she does just say she’s going to go ahead and do X though, but then it leads to a fight, so she’ll ask as a way to waylay the fight, thinking that if she asks, they won’t fight about it… but they usually do, because his answer is “why are you asking, you’ll go ahead and do it even if I say no”, which she’ll do anyway. Because she does. I mean… why ask if you’re going to do it? It’s kind of… dumb. She’ll ask my sister and I our opinions on things too and we’ll tell her that it’s not a good idea and give her reasons, or we’ll give her a way to temper it into a better plan that’ll make my dad less upset about it, and she’ll take that and run with it after changing it into a *horrid* plan.

            (She wanted to buy something *really expensive* and came to us with this idea and asked us about it, because she knew it would be a fight with my dad about it. My sister and I said “why not start putting money away for a down payment over the summer, then at the end of the summer go to him and say ‘look, I have all this put away for this big thing I’d like to get for us, why don’t we go put a down payment on it to get it for next summer?'” and she thought that was a great idea. Next week, she pops out of the blue to all of us “So I put a down payment on this thing yesterday and we’re going to get it next summer!” …… What…. that wasn’t what we said, holy shit. Of course my dad lost his mind because it was a *huge* financial investment and he didn’t want it, but it was too late to back out of and it wound up being a big mistake that cost them thousands of dollars 5 years later.)

          • Temperance said:

            Ooh, I totally get this. I hate manipulative people and manipulation in general, and it sounds like her self-help/psychology “education” has led her to this point. It’s genius if you think about it. She’s never responsible for her own failures, because you agreed to it, or led her to it.

            With people like her, the only way to win is not to engage. I would just keep demurring whenever she does this nonsense.

        • B. said:

          With all respect to you and your family, tuxbox, I also don’t like the “he’s a good man because he never hit his family” concept at all. That’s not because your dad is or isn’t abusive (no one here except for you gets to be the judge of that): it’s because saying that makes all other kinds of abuse invisible and, like randomcheeses pointed out, that way of thinking has a negative impact on the victims of all other kinds of abuse.

          I don’t mean to censure you or to invalidate your story (which is valid, important and true). Just, please, be aware that that phrasing is problematic and can feel hurtful or dismissive, though it looks like you didn’t intend it to be.

          That said, I’m very sorry you and your familiy are having to go through that. I’d like to offer jedi hugs if welcome.

          • tuxbox said:

            Jedi hugs are always welcome and I can see how my phrasing was problematic, and I apologize for it coming out that way. I just wanted to emphasize that in the context of my family dynamic, I’m aware that a lot of behaviours my father displays could be seen as abusive, but they really need to be taken in the whole context. There’s a lot from my childhood that stands out to me while growing up and remembering my father as a gentle man that never ever raised a hand to anyone was one of those things, which is why I mentioned it and why it really stands out to me in the context of abuse. I know that abuse can take many many forms (a lot of the abusive relationships I was in never involved physical abuse at all, in fact, it was super rare, which is why I had a hard time identifying them as abusive so often). The one single time my mom called me up claiming that she was afraid my father was going to hit her, the first thing out of my mouth was “what the hell did you do??” Yes, I know that’s really victim-blamey, but once I found out the whole context of it, oh man. She’d spent hours berating and yelling and harassing and belittling him and pushing every single button he had until he finally clenched his fists. He didn’t raise them, he didn’t threaten… all he did was clench his fists (those were her exact words to me). I just couldn’t understand why she had to push him so much though to push him to that edge where he almost lost his temper like that because it wasn’t something he’d ever done. :/ Why he didn’t get up and leave either baffled me. It was not either of their shining moments and also where I realized I needed her to *stop calling and telling me what’s wrong with your marriage and how terrible my father is*. She was really trying to set my sister and I up to pick sides at the time from what I can tell, looking back on it. That might’ve been the time I told her that if it was that terrible, divorce him and get it over with. And she just… didn’t.

            I don’t think she’d be happy living alone. She needs someone to order around. Unfortunately, I don’t think my dad knows how to live on his own either, so they’re kind of stuck in this vicious toxic circle where it’s ok sometimes, not ok other times. They’re on an ok cycle right now, at least I haven’t been getting phone calls about how awful he’s being lately. *knock on wood*

          • randomcheeses said:

            Thank you, this is what I was trying to express. I think my original comment came off a little judgy and I regret that. Unfortunately when I see that phrase I tend to see red due to personal reasons and I don’t always re-read my comment before I hit post

          • tuxbox said:

            Threading fell off somewhere so this is in response to randomcheeses, I apologize too if I came off a bit knee-jerkish defensive… I see how my wording could be construed as trying to pass off as “if it’s not physical, then it’s not abuse”. I wasn’t trying to imply that in the least. I think I did get a bit defensive in my response back because I feel that I’ve been defending my father against my mother for so long at this point. :/ Their relationship is a hot steaming mess and I’m tired of being the one she talks to about it, because at the same time I don’t see my father as the significant bad player in this. I think they do both have blame in it, but having had to deal with my mother more and been on the receiving end of her manipulations and justifications, and worked through my own abusive and healthy relationships, I’ve been able to step back and identify who’s holding more power in their relationship and I genuinely see my father as more of the victim in the whole thing. As such, I definitely reacted more defensively because of that, so apologies for responding as such!

          • B. said:

            Thank you for your answers, tuxbox, all cleared up now 🙂

            No wonder you want to defend your dad! Losing your temper in self-defence after putting up with a barrage of verbal and emotional attacks is not abusive! Men can be the victims in an abusive relationship, too, and their female partners can be their abusers. No matter how much society doesn’t like to acknowledge that.

            I hope your boundaries about not wanting to hear your mom say mean things about your dad will hold fast against any and all encroaching attempts. You deserve that peace. *jedi hugs*

      • hhhhhh said:

        tbh it sounds like they’re both equally as bad but the mum gets the actual blame because she…pretends to be smart? I don’t understand that either, the mum isn’t hitting and ‘doesn’t understand’ yet isn’t getting the same pass.

        • Virtue said:

          She’s also manipulating him in order to get him to blow up — or at least that’s what I read into it. I understand, actually– my dad is a good provider, but he also has the emotional intelligence of a brick. He just doesn’t understand why a fight with a friend would hurt, or why there are different kinds of friendships, or a host of other things that seem really simple and understandable to me. I’m reading (and guessing, tuxbox, correct me if I’m wrong) that what’s happening is that the wife in question is using her higher EI to run rings around him and make him look like a bully.

          Kind of like when a kid who’s physically coordinated teases a kid who isn’t, and the one who isn’t coordinated looks that much clumsier, if that helps explain it?

          • tuxbox said:

            YES. This is exactly it. I’m aware that I’m not explaining it well. My dad is a very simple man and really… if you push his buttons, it’s really not hard to manipulate him, while my mother *knows* how to push them. She has the ability to push them and also the capability to understand what she’s doing while he has no idea that’s what she’s doing, so he just responds by being an asshole (because when it comes down to it, he *is* being an ass… I’m not denying that part, he can be an absolute wank when he wants to be). So he acts like a jerk because she’s been horrible to him. As a result of his behaviour, she feels justified in treating him like dirt. He feels like dirt and pushed around, he lashes out and acts like an ass. He doesn’t have the emotional intelligence to even be *aware* of what she’s doing, so he just reacts to it. She gets mad because she wants him to be aware and grow up and be more “adult” and gets frustrated when he doesn’t, ring a round the rosy, etc, it’s been going on for *40 bloody years*.

            It’s a generational, regional, age, host of other things. Yes, I’m aware that there’s a lot of things that go into abuse and what does and doesn’t constitute abuse and that “not hitting someone” isn’t just the bar for it. As mentioned in my original comment, I think my parents should have been divorced 20 years ago, their marriage is a disaster, they’ve been torturing each other for at least the past 20 years and at one point I *told* my mother to leave him because she was complaining to me so much (which is why I originally posted to this thread, it resonated so much with me about how I really need the scripts to set boundaries because I love my father despite all his faults… I hate how my mother has treated him over the years, she’s done some pretty terrible things to him, and I think he has to her, but I think it’s been a mutually destructive relationship with more of the blame on her because she holds more power and intelligence/maturity than he does). Unfortunately I just think that right now, them leaving each other isn’t an option anymore because they’re both so co-dependent on each other *and* the mess of a marriage they have that it’s no longer feasible.

        • Temperance said:

          Eh, I get where tuxbox is coming from. It sounds like her mother is very sneaky and manipulative, and considers herself to be very educated on the subject of psychology. She probably uses her “education” to try and trick her husband and kids into doing what she wants, or, worse, to set it up so she gets the angry reaction she wanted and then gets to feel vindicated. There’s a certain type of awful person who is able to engineer just about any situation.

          IDK, I have a really manipulative parent, so I get it. My dad isn’t warm and fuzzy – I actually don’t like him very much, TBH – but my mother is the one who pushes all my buttons and I think her dishonesty, negativity, and manipulation make her a far worse person.

          • tuxbox said:

            She’s very good at playing the victim. Very, very good. I’ve spent years resetting boundaries with her and only moving miles away and changing countries have I been able to get some sort of boundary set up with her that’s even remotely reasonable, and even that still gets pushed. Back in November, she read something I’d posted on Facebook, got herself worked up about it over the course of several days, and when I finally talked to her, she blew up at me because I “didn’t go to her when I was upset about something”. I was utterly floored that she’d spent days building up in her head something that absolutely meant nothing.. and when I pointed out to her that I went to her *first* about something I was really upset about a few months before, she actually didn’t remember the conversation. At all. One of the most heartbreaking, healing conversations of my life…. and she didn’t remember any of it. She actually gaslit me and asked me if I was misremembering or had dreamt it. I was *so pissed off*.

            So yeah, this is why I have a very hard time buying into her accusations when she claims that she feels emotionally abused by my father at times. I know he talks pretty crappy to her, but I also know how she talks to him in return, I’ve witnessed their relationship for years. I apologize if my phrasing in my initial post came off as trying to pass off as “not hitting someone” as a pass for other abusive relationships and a way for people to ignore other abuses, I never meant for it to come across like that, it just got lost in translation while trying to explain the boundary pushing with a mother who uses children as a sounding board for a troubled marriage in relation to the original posting, and also elaborating that while I know my father isn’t perfect and he can be pretty crappy to my mom in a lot of ways, he’s not abusive… both my parents are pretty terrible to each other and I think it’s a direct action/reaction to how they treat each other, with my mother holding most of the power in it.

  22. The mother is responsible for making her own friends. She can go online and make new connections even if she is mobility-impaired. It’s not her daughter’s job to find playdates for a grown woman.

  23. thisgenlioness said:

    Oh man, this hits close to home. My mother definitely treats me as a friend and shares a lot emotionally, and it has gotten worse lately because, for a number of reasons, most of her close friendships fell apart. I’m doing much better with the boundary setting, but I have no clue how to encourage her to find new friends so that she will have a support network.

  24. I meant to say “if she has the privileges of internet access and computer literacy” before my second sentence. Please excuse me.

  25. Amy said:

    1) You are not your mom’s best friend. You are her child. That is a different relationship than a friend. Of course you want your relationship with your parents to be friendly and loving and supportive, but it is still a parent-child relationship, because that is what you are to each other. It is okay to set reasonable boundaries for a parent-child relationship. You can insist on recognizing that even if your mom would rather ignore that reality.

    2) It is absolutely within your rights to decide you’re not going to listen to your mom talk about how your dad is upsetting her. Your mom is your mom, yes, but your dad is your dad! It’s not reasonable to force you into a position where you’re being tugged both ways. I understand being afraid to cut off support, but your mom has a therapist, and I’m sure she has the ability to develop closer friendships if she decides it’s important for her to do so. It’s just easier for her to decide not to right now, because trust is hard and you’re giving her all the benefits anyways. It’s OK for you to say “Mom, you need to talk with someone else about this, because Dad is my dad just as much as you’re my mom, and I’m not OK with being put in the middle of you guys like this.”

    3) It’s OK to tell your mom that she can’t move in with you. Even if you would take your mom in in an emergency, it doesn’t sound like this is an emergency. She does have other options: She and your dad can work their stuff out and stay married, they can get divorced and arrange financial stuff in the divorce settlement so they’ll both be OK, they can get divorced and she can move somewhere that she can afford to live by herself (does she have income from disability? if not, should she apply?), she can look for support from other friends or social services (her not wanting to trust or rely on others is her thing to deal with, not an emergency for you to handle). All you need to say is, “I love you, mom, but moving in together isn’t an option right now. Please plan on making your own living arrangements.” She might try to argue (“But you have a guest room! But I’ll find an apartment for us and handle moving and all that! But why not?” etc.). Just keep repeating “I love you, but It’s just not an option for me right now.”

    4) As far as boundaries go: No, you can’t tell your parents that they have to fix their marriage instead of getting divorced–that’s not reasonable, it’s their decision to make. Same goes for the ‘Think of the children’ thing, your instincts are right on that. But yes, you can set reasonable boundaries. You can tell them that whatever decision they make is theirs to handle, and you can’t manage their emotions/relationship or their finances/living arrangements for them. You can say “I hope you guys can work things out, but I’ll love both of you no matter what.” You can refuse to listen to them disparage each other.

  26. LadyDi said:

    I think it is a form of parenting negligence/at times abuse to groom a daughter or son to be your best friend. Children should not be given that kind of burden or role in their parent’s lives. It is so unfair and sets a child up to feel responsible for his/her parent’s happiness and wellbeing as this LW does. Further, it creates so many problems when this LW marries or is in a relationship as 3rd wheel mom will be right there in the mix demanding her daughter’s time and attention. I experienced so much of this dealing with my MIL who groomed my DH to be her best friend. It has taken him years to remove himself from this role by establishing very firm boundaries with his mom, none of which she understands as often times these people are very damaged due to their own unresolved issues from childhood. My MILwas also the source of a lot of stress in our marriage as she competed for her son’s time and attention and resented me for taking her “best friend” away.

    I agree with Captain’s advice about establishing boundaries. LW, do not, and I repeat do not allow this woman to move in with you. This will be the beginning of the end of a mentally healthy life for you. You are not responsible for your mom. She is responsible for herself. Her lack of personal responsibility and your willingness to rescue her as you’ve been groomed to do, is at the heart of this issue. Read about the Karpman Drama Triangle for more insight on these dynamics and how to stop rescuing your mom so she can begin to take responsibility for herself.

    Also know that when you are establishing boundaries with your mom, there is a 100% chance she will not respond kindly to it. Know that this is part of the process and is a sign that growth is in place that will eventually put you in a much healthier place.

    • B. said:

      I want to highlight everything in this comment in pretty neon colours.

    • been there said:

      thank you for pointing out that what the parent is doing is neglect and abusive, and that it is a form of grooming. There’s a reason it’s also called emotional incest, though I personally don’t use that term and don’t think it’s the most useful. that’s why it’s a red flag to hear a parent say their kid is their “best friend.”

      i think there’s some confusion in this thread about that issue. because I do think some people can become friends with their parents as adults; but what we’re talking about — and what the LW describes — began as a parent behaving highly inappropriately with a child. But what happens is that most of the time we don’t understand any of this *until* we’re adults, and we first complain about things happening in our adult relationship with our parent — but all of this started when we were children and has just continued into adulthood.

      and while parents *just beginning to* confide inappropriate things with their adult children when they are adults is definitely a boundary issue, what the LW describes is a whole other animal, because it has had an impact on her from a young age. there’s an enormous difference between those two situations.

      and honestly discussing it as a matter of whether or not adults can be friends with their parents — as happened further down the thread — is basically irrelevant at best and at worst minimizes and erases someone’s abusive childhood experience.

    • Old Dan Tucker said:

      Karpman Drama Triangle! ❤ Yessssss

  27. Temperance said:

    LW, my mother also parentified me, and would complain to me, regularly, about my dad. My mom has some mental health issues that make her very difficult to deal with, so I’m not going to say that I like her and love her, but otherwise, I can relate to you.

    You don’t have an obligation to let her live with you and depend on you. Not knowing the nature of her disability, I will say that caregiving can really suck, and caregiving because there’s no one else to do it and your mother has decided to make it your responsibility, sucks even more. Don’t let her move in with you, or you will have a serious impediment on future friendships and romantic relationships. Your mom sounds super needy even though she’s far away (talking several times per week on the phone), and I fear that, if she’s with you, she’ll take over your whole life.

    • Cora said:

      “Parentified”, very useful term. I still sometimes look back on my ten years, amazed that my mother and I basically switched roles for that whole decade.

      Unrelated: are you also Temperance on AAM? Because I’m Tangerina Warbleworth over there.

      • Temperance said:

        I am! I was also Temperance on xojane.com when the site was active.

        Your user ID is one of my favorites, btw.

  28. TO_Ont said:

    There are different kinds of friends. My parents are definitely my friends, but that doesn’t mean they gripe about their marriage to me. But then, the majority of my non-family friends don’t involve me in their marriages either, especially if I’m friends with both of them, but more often than not even when I’m not. And I have many things I wouldn’t share with most of my friends, either.

    Being friends doesn’t mean never having personal boundaries. It doesn’t mean being totally dependent on someone, either.

    So I disagree very much that an adult can’t be friends with their parents – to me it’s one of the nice things about growing up, that that begins to be possible.

    But then I also find the definition of friends than is being used here to be quite very specific, and not reallt matching my own experience.

    To me this is more about boundaries within a friendship and different kinds of friendship….

    The end point is the same though, I guess. It’s OK and good and advisable to tell your mom you’re not willing to hear her talk about her conflict with you dad.

    • Aris Merquoni said:

      I think it’s just clear that a friendship with a parent is going to have an existing power difference and history that makes it very different than a friendship between equals. Making friends with your old teachers or your old boss is similar. You don’t have the same power difference hanging over you any more, but that power difference was an important part of your life and the formation of your relationship, so it’s never going to be free of that.

      I can be friends with my mom and my dad in some ways, but in some ways we’re not able to swap hopes and fears about the future or gossip about our relationships in ways that would be appropriate with my peers. But I can’t do that with all my peer friends, either! But you can turn one kind of peer friendship into another, where you can’t really do that with a parent friendship.

      I like the disambiguation of not using the same word for my peer friendships as my relationship with my parents (which is quite friendly), myself. But needing appropriate boundaries in all friendships (and all relationships) is definitely a must!

    • Helbling said:

      I think problems arise when it’s an expected thing, at least in my experience. Many of my husband’s issues with his mum have arisen because she was best friends with her mum, and when she died, mil expected husband to step up and become her best friend in turn. That he didn’t want to combined with her belief that there are only two ways to live your life (doing exactly as she says or you may as well exclude her entirely) was what led to most of her really nasty behaviour. In some places, being your mum’s best friend (mostly for daughters, but sometimes sons) does seem to be a cultural expectation, and it’s that that I really wish would die. I have a best friend, and I have a mum. They are different people. I wish this was seen as the norm and healthy, rather than unfortunate and disappointing, by those cultures. I feel it would help a lot.

    • CarpeFelis said:

      What you’re talking about is a friendship, but what’s going on with LW and her mother is not, even though that’s what they think it is. It’s emotional hostage-taking, turning LW into her mother’s emotional dumping ground. It’s abuse, not a friendship.

      • TO_Ont said:

        Yes, they aren’t actually friends. Calling someone a friend doesn’t make it so.

  29. onyx said:

    I’m 30 and my parents are divorcing after 34 years of marriage, so your letter resonates with me. My mother is leaving because of his emotional and verbal abuse. I also was in the role of marriage counselor for a lot of my teenage and early adult life. I put a stop to it around 5 years ago, finally. Since then, I’ve gotten a lot of perspective. How much it was normalized for me, how messed up it is in reality.

    You are not selfish for wanting emotional (and physical!) boundaries with your mother. You are not ungrateful or betraying her trust or leaving her out in the cold. Because you are her CHILD. Not her friend. Not her therapist. NOT HER PEER. This is key.

    Yes, as people in our 30’s we are adults. But we cannot, and should not, be expected to deal with the baggage of a relationship that has been going on longer than we’ve been alive. From a simple life experience standpoint, we are incapable of understanding our parent’s relationship. We cannot comprehend the history they have, how deep and complicated it is. And we certainly should not be expected to! Parents pushing these things onto their adult children is a kind of emotional abuse in itself sometimes, and it is not okay.

    Your mother is in therapy. Good. She needs to start directing these crisis conversations/FEELINGSdumps at her therapist. That is literally what she is paying the therapist for. She should also find a group therapy place (or just a group of any sort) where she can interact with women who are her peers. Where her age, her life experience will be understood in a way people can actually help. She needs to find other age-appropriate adults to be friends with. She’s not going to do any of that unless you put some boundaries in place. She sounds completely emotionally dependent on you right now. That’s really unhealthy for her, but more importantly it’s unhealthy for YOU. It’s stressing you out, it makes you uncomfortable, it makes you feel guilt-tripped into considering things that shouldn’t even be up for discussion (i.e. moving in with you. Think she’d ever leave? I sure don’t.). You can’t handle this without making her feel rejected and hurting her feelings, because you’re in this passive always-listening role right now and any boundaries you put up will disrupt that. But those boundaries need to go up. Otherwise, nothing will change.

    I hope things work out for you. ❤

    • quill2006 said:

      This! Here’s a good script:
      Mom complains about Dad.
      “Have you told your therapist how you feel about this?” “Have you discussed this with your therapist?” “I don’t have any ideas on how to help you deal with that. Have you tried calling your therapist?”

      As someone who’s currently going through marriage counseling (so far, things are improving!) I can tell you that our therapist’s question to both of us when we raise an issue in therapy is to listen to the story and then ask if the upset party has explained to the other how they feel about that. So maybe another script could be, “You should tell Dad how that’s making you feel.”

    • Helbling said:

      I will disagree on one aspect, which is that as an adult, you are absolutely the peer of other adults, including your parents and other grown up family members.

      Sorry, I totally understand and actually agree with the point that you’re making, but my mil, who my husband has currently taken time away from for the same sort of over enmeshment that the op talks about, was very fond of saying (or screaming, I’ll be honest, she screamed it more than she said it) that he wasn’t her peer, he was her child, and therefore, he should be doing what she said when it came to buying/decorating/furnishing a home, what to name or how to raise our children, and all sorts of other lovely (not) oversteps.

      To which our answer is, and will remain, he absolutely IS her peer, for all that he is also her child, and therefore he (and we) absolutely can and will make decisions about our own lives without allowing her to dictate them. Same for everyone else.

      • BarlowGirl said:

        This is a good point. You might not be their friend, and there’s still a power imbalance, but you do deserve to be treated as a peer as an adult.

      • onyx said:

        Very true, but I was not suggesting that adult children are unequal to their parents. I do not mean “peer” as in “equal”, I mean it in “person who has similar life experience”, which is never the case with an adult child & parent. Adult children are still adults and parents do not have the right to treat them disrespectfully or throw around that “you’re my child!” manipulation card. But that is neither here nor there re: the LW’s particular situation.

  30. Shiara said:

    One thing that might be worth thinking about is what to replace your Mom’s discussions of your Dad and her troubles with. If she’s used to unloading all of this on you, it might be difficult for both of you to find something to make the subject change to. Finding an activity that you can do together at a distance (like watching the same show, either while talking, or before talking, or reading a certain number of pages of a book, or promising to do one interesting activity and then telling each other the results) might be a useful way to both give you an easy topic of mutual conversation that isn’t your dad, and make it clear that the new boundaries you are drawing up are not a rjeection of her or spending time with her, they are just a rejection of that one topic.

    Possibly that’s not something that’ll be an issue, but I thought I’d bring it up.

  31. Thanksforallthefish said:

    Captain nails it as usual. I just want to say I found it rather comforting to discover I’m not alone by a long shot. – Signed, another former mother’s best friend

  32. LW you could be me 30 years ago. Parents not on good terms, mother dealing with a progressive illness, only daughter and Mom’s best friend and confident… Also, anytime I tried to disagree or set a boundary I was “just like your father” which is still the worst insult she can throw at me.

    I second everything CA said. Print her reply out and post it somewhere so you can reread it.

    In my case, the complaints about dad slowed way down when he died. Then mom proceeded to get sicker and sicker while begging me to shoot her rather than putting her in a nursing home. So eventually we moved in together and I was her only caregiver (while working 55 hours a week.)
    The only respite was when she’d get sicker and need hospitalization for a few days. Eventually I was so tired and stressed and it was becoming apparent that she couldn’t stay home by herself while I worked. We managed to get her into an adult day care, which she absolutely hated; found ways to convince the people there that she was sick and needed to go home… Eventually found a way to afford a caregiver for her so I could go to work and rest and for a few extra hours at least so I could run to the grocery store or go to a play or movie with friends. And that’s where we are now. I’m 56 and she’s 78 and for all of her chronic, progressive illness, she’ll probably outlive me.

    I love my Mom. We have a decent relationship, but, I’ve been her parent for at least 25 years and it’s hard. Find an assisted living community, a live in caregiver or something like that if your Mom comes to need that kind of situation. I think Parents and Kids can make a success of living together if everyone has a good awareness of boundaries, but it doesn’t sound like that’s your situation.

    Warm Jedi Hugs, if you want them.

  33. efmather2006 said:

    LW, I’m about 10 years older than you, and I’m also bad at boundary setting with my mom. To her credit, she had good boundaries about my dad/her own life, and she’s been really generous to her 3 children. However, my dad died about 10 years ago and all that started to change. I became the “best friend, ” her favorite. I was flattered by this because we’d had a difficult relationship when I was a child.

    Fast forward to now, and she’s now in bad health, wants to live in a rural area without being able to drive, and at Christmas went through a period where she couldn’t get up and down without help. Even with hiring household help, she didn’t want me or my brother to leave, even to get groceries, even with somebody else there, and wanted 2 people helping her with, say, showering. She also demanded that I not share any of her financial picture with my sister and BIL, beause they haven’t paid enough attention to her (I.e .sometimes
    they would visit BIL’s family for the holidays ).

    So there I was, not being able to sleep because my mom’s anxiety would wake her up at night, barely being able to leave the house, being pretty isolated from other people since even the nearest grocery store is a 20 minute drive. And I finally got how huge a job taking care of her later on will be, between her finances, home help, and a 2400 square foot house and land to look after, and how she’s subtly manipulated and driven wedges between her 3 children so that I can carry that burden myself. I realize my mom’s anxiety is real, and she is sad and angry that her later life didn’t work out the way she wanted, but pretending she’s Lady Mary Crawley isn’t doing her or us any favors. It’s about what’s possible, now, rather than what she wants from us.

    • efmather2006 said:

      Wanted to add: our situations are clearly a little different, but don’t let “best friend” become “someone who never says no,” or “someone who can fix everything.” I’ve started pretty small, by deflecting when she wants to me to fix my siblings, for example. I also talk to her much less often and more selectively. Try small things to start.

      • Buni said:

        THIIIIIIIS. I have Best Friend(s), and I say No to them, I call them on their shit and I can give them a sliding-scale-of-metaphorical slap upside the head when necessary. I can do all this BECAUSE we are Best Friends. I have always hated the trope of ‘If you are my BFF you must support my every single decision / whim / vagary.”.

        No. If I’m your best friend then we’re close enough to survive one of us calling BS on the other.

  34. lisakoby said:

    LW: You can start small with the boundaries. It can be as simple as setting something that you articulate to yourself if you don’t feel ready to deploy the Captain approved scripts eg: I’m giving mom 10 minutes today. Set a timer and then low and behold you have to go after 10 minutes and then let her calls go to voice mail until tomorrow.

    “Sorry mom – I’m really busy today, can’t talk long” to prep her so that when you get off, she’s not surprised. (She won’t be happy, but she won’t be surprised).

    Once you feel stronger about setting little limits in a non-confrontational way, it may be easier to have some bigger conversations, deploy the Captain’s scripts.

    Also, set up something to help you get through the extinction burst – the receiver of the boundary usually doubles down to try to bring you back into line. Set up some soothing strategies for yourself ahead of time. Tea, your favourite show, a great book you can lose yourself in, time with friends. This way when you next talk to your mother you’ll have something to talk about that isn’t how she’s going to move in with you.

    This will result (hopefully) in her having more resources, a bigger Team Mom and a better time of it as she’ll be forced to develop more supports.

    Jedi hugs to you and good luck.

  35. bostoncandy said:

    I have a manipulative narcissist mom. I’ve mentioned this before, I think.
    My best script for when she wants me to do something inappropriate, or doesn’t want to get help with something, is “You deserve more than I can do for you around this.” She loves to hear this and almost always agrees.

    • sayevet said:

      That is a wonderful script!

      • bostoncandy said:

        Thank you. It has been tested in the fire. Sigh.

    • Yolanda B. Cool said:

      Holy crap, that’s amazing, and I’m totally borrowing it. Thank you for sharing.

  36. wagtail said:

    Wow, what cultural differences! I moved to Canada two years ago, the average Canadian is weirded out that I call my mother almost everyday because I just love to speak with her. After my spouse, my mother is definitely my best friend. I don’t feel her emotional openness is in any way abusive. Her mother was her own best friend (to her other children too). In my culture kids just actually do become friends with their parents if all goes well. I cannot possibly imagine comparing my mother with my former boss or teacher.

    Boundary issues there are, in the OP, but the response that friendship with your parents is impossible is just alien to me.

    • sayevet said:

      I understand that you have a different experience, but if you read all of the other experiences on this page you’ll see that some parent-child relationships are not healthy or stable enough to transition into any form of friendship. I think this expression of “impossibility” is more about removing the *expectation* from either side that it can, should, or will happen. Your situation appears to be exceptional, and I’m so happy for you that this is the case 🙂

    • JenniferP said:

      The key here is that you don’t feel burdened by this much contact, and it doesn’t sound like your mom is oversharing things about your dad with you or making you responsible for her happiness. Other people have different relationships with their folks???

      • wagtail said:

        I just re-read my comment and think it’s pretty clear I understand my relationship is not everyone’s, in fact the whole thing is surprise at just how different relationships and their expectations can get. I am responding to the notion of impossibility which is stressed in the response. It may well be impossible for some people, and/or inadvisable. But it’s not impossible, it’s the norm in my community for one. You wrote “there is too much primal history and power imbalance between parents and children to make “friendship” be the thing they have with each other.” Not always and not everywhere is that so.

        • Temperance said:

          Sure, but it’s not super helpful to comment things about silly Canadians or silly Americans and our individualistic way of life when someone has an issue with a parent and needs to limit contact and/or set boundaries.

          • bat lord said:

            +1

          • BarlowGirl said:

            It might just be because I live in a fairly immigrant-heavy place, but also assuming “Canada” is a monolith culture (or America!) seems a little… not so cool? There are a great deal of ways of living and cultures in Canada.

          • Nanani said:

            Thiiis

            Speaking as a Canadian, this isn’t so much a nationality/culture difference as a thing that varies widely among families.

            To add to the sample: My sister is like wagtail and calls our mom nearly every day to catch up on everything (it helps that sister works in the same field mom retired from) whereas I do not desire that level of contact at all and will catch up with mom when I see her in person (which is once to a couple times a week now that I live nearby, sometimes a lot less when I get busy).

          • TO_Ont said:

            I think it was the captain’s response that inspired some reactions, since it does rather seem to be saying that parent-child friendships are by definition, by their very existence, at best extremely suspicious and almost surely unhealthy and even abusive, not just ones with actual children involved or actual signs of uhealthy dynamics. Presumably not her intent, presumably she just wanted to point out that the particular dynamic in the letter (the inappropriate relationship with a child, the oversharing and overdependence and guilting in the presence) was very harmful and sadly not uncommon.

    • TO_Ont said:

      Agreed. Friendship with your parents is neither impossible nor inevitable. It depends on both your personalities, your history, the circumstances, etc. Some people are friends with their parents, some have great relationships that they just wouldn’t use the term ‘friend’ to describe, some have cooler relationships, and some are all kinds of things in between. And there are very real (aka healthy) friendships and there are also unhealthy relationships where ‘friends’ is more an aspiration or a tool of manipulation than a reality.

      It sounds like this particular relationship isn’t healthy as it now stands, but whether it can eventually be turned into a real friendship (i.e., with real respect and boundaries and other friends etc) or whether it would be better to pull back and not try to be friends, I guess the LW will have to figure out with time.

      • been there said:

        look, parentification is really not as simple as “being friends with your parent” and I hope people can stop using that framing, because it minimizes what the LW is describing happened and is happening to her. it’s just that “my kid/parent is my best friend” is one of the red flags in cases of parentification. doesn’t mean that people without this form of abuse in their lives can’t be friends with their parents *as adults*. Emphasis on the adulthood. The problem with parentification is the parent sets their kid up as their best friend/surrogate spouse WHEN THE KID IS A CHILD. But people usually only start pushing back as adults, so the discussion focuses on the adult relationship when the underlying dynamic has been their since childhood.

      • Commander Banana said:

        I don’t want to pile on, and your relationship with your parents sounds lovely.

        I would dearly love to have a close friendship with my mother. That is not possible for us because of who she is and how she treats me. It would be damaging and unhealthy for me to try. I have a relationship with her that works FOR ME and is healthy FOR ME because I have learned to enforce healthy boundaries with her.

        I…do not really understand how you can say that your relationship with your parents is “the norm” where you live, unless you have an intimate knowledge of the inner workings of all parent/child relationships in your community.

  37. Rhoda said:

    Try to convince your mother to see a psychologist. It sounds as though she never really dealt with the childhood abuse in an appropriate way. Using you as a sounding board isn’t healthy for either of you.

    • Rhoda said:

      Oops, just realize that she’s already seeing a therapist. Perhaps she needs a different therapist.

  38. Saucy Minx said:

    Your mother should make her own living arrangements if she elects to leave your dad. If she were to be living in your home that would mean you had “chosen sides” w/ her & not your dad, & it would make it really hard to visit or talk to your dad freely. Maintaining your neutral status & your freedom to make your own choices is vital.

  39. But knowing that she was staying with me because she and dad gave up on each other feels very different.

    That line jumps out at me, specifically the “gave up on each other” bit. That phrasing often — not always, but often — goes with a conscious or unconscious attitude of “I will be the judge of whether this couple’s reasons for splitting up are ‘good enough’, and right now I don’t think they are.”

    Passing judgment on the reasons for divorce is way, way beyond the responsibility of a child, even a grown child. I know it has to be hard, and the way your mom is trying to involve you, it can be very tempting to see yourself as a major player. But in the end, a breakup is between the people who are actually taking part in that relationship, and not between the children, other relatives, or friends.

    Please try to trust your mom that if she decides to leave your dad, that she is doing so as the result of a lot of agonized reflection and effort, and not for the lack of trying harder.

    Maybe something like “I love you both so much, and it’s very hard to watch you struggling like this. I’m too close to be able to help directly. This sounds like something to write down to discuss with [your therapist/the marriage counselor].”

    You are well within your rights to insist on a fair chance to maintain a good relationship with them both, but you don’t get to determine the outcome of their marriage. Right now your mom’s excessive confiding in you is affecting the relationship with her, and the relationship with your dad.

    • I don’t think it’s fair to assume that LW was passing judgment with that line; it sounds to me like they’re saying it’s a much more emotionally-loaded situation for them than if her mother was living with her for other reasons. I think that’s understandable. By moving out of the shared house and in with LW, the mother is placing LW in the situation of feeling like she’s being directly involved in her parents’ choice to separate. By saying “yes” or “no” to her mom, she’s possibly affecting the outcome of her parents’ marriage and that’s hard. I can’t know LW’s mind, but I think that taking a kinder view of those words is probably best.

      • I did not mean to imply that the LW was consciously and deliberately passing judgment, and I’m sorry that I phrased it that way.

        It’s absolutely an emotionally loaded situation, and the LW has said that having her mother come live with her would be logistically and financially difficult. And it’s awkward and hurtful to tell someone in need “I can help you, but it hurts me and/or will come with conditions.”

        But the LW does sound very invested in keeping her parents together, in a way that I read as going beyond “this would be hard for me if it happens.” The LW’s investment does come with an awareness of limits; she has said that she wouldn’t expect her mother to stay in the marriage if her father had cheated or otherwise been abusive.

        “Giving up on the relationship” is a dogwhistle for a starting assumption that existing relationships are always worth keeping except in cases of active malfeasance. It’s a sibling of “Just give [him] a[nother] chance”, and both are used by well-meaning friends to encourage women to stay in relationships where they are abjectly miserable. The relationship is prioritized over the woman’s happiness and well-being, and that’s not okay.

        I used to be a person who would go “But why would they break up? They seemed so happy together!” and was otherwise very invested in helping keep the couples in my friends groups together. That wasn’t a good place for me to be, and it led to me enabling some really unhealthy dynamics. Some of my friends used those lines on me, when I was getting ready to end a relationship where I was fundamentally incompatible with the other person. I stayed longer, and that made it harder to break up than it otherwise would have been. It was nobody’s fault, and we should have released each other sooner.

        I haven’t flipped over into becoming the first person to suggest DTMFA, but I’m a lot more open to actually listening to my friends than I was, and to encourage them in the direction of choices that will make them healthier and happier. But I try to go in knowing that sometimes the best thing for both people is to break up, even when nobody is really doing anything wrong.

  40. vortexae said:

    I wonder whether the LW’s mother is, on some level, using housing-by-daughter logistics as “permission” to go ahead with the divorce? Like, as long as she doesn’t know where she’d live after leaving LW’s father, she’s hesitant to go through with it or at least more willing to try to save the marriage; but if she can feel like her future housing situation is safely resolved, then she’s free to maybe just skip the marriage counseling entirely and move forward with the divorce.

    Which is not to say one way or another whether the divorce should happen. I’m only speculating about (some of) the (possible) thought processes behind trying to get LW to commit to taking her in.

    In any case, the decision about the divorce needs to be made based on what’s right for her, not based on whether LW can be guilt-bludgeoned into being her future housemate. (And LW certainly doesn’t need to be guilt-bludgeoned with “By refusing to take me into your home, you’re forcing me to stay in a failing marriage!”)

  41. been there said:

    I had a reaction to reading Captain Awkward’s suggested scripts and after some contemplation over why that was, thought this realization might be useful to share with the letter writer: the act of setting boundaries with your mother may be deeply emotionally triggering to you.

    First, I just want to honor what a big step you’ve taken in seeking advice, to even start to push back on your mom’s behavior and prioritize your needs over hers. To say hey, this isn’t right for me. Because the dynamic of parentification makes that point extremely difficult to reach in the first place.

    Captain Awkward linked to a definition of parentification and I’d encourage you to do some reading, and if you are able to get a therapist who is familiar. Because in my experience even beginning to set boundaries with my parent was very emotionally complicated. There are a ton of layers to why but at the core, it’s because setting boundaries with my mother felt like a repetition of the very dynamic I was trying to get away from.

    Setting boundaries in a relationship with a history of parentification may feel like just another example of parenting your parent. So you may react with a lot of difficult emotions, possibly even rage and resentment that you have to do this in the first place.

    And as Captain said, your mom may react badly to your setting boundaries. One element that I experienced with my mother was that in true role-reversal fashion, she reacted to me setting boundaries as if I was *her* abusive parent. And that, again, was triggering to me.

    In the act of setting boundaries with your mom, boundaries that will be vital to your own mental health, you may feel like you’re forced to repeat the childhood dynamic where you are put in the position of parenting your parent. There’s no way to get away from that unless you want to cut off all contact, but it’s something about the act of setting boundaries it took me a long time to understand. Setting boundaries may eventually feel liberating, but at first it may also be very triggering and dredge up stuff from childhood you didn’t even know was there. And I think this is something that is often underdiscussed. You may have a lot of confusing and painful reactions to even trying to set boundaries, because having to do so may be *repeating how you were abused* in many aspects.

    And because parentification specifically conditions you to take responsibility for your parent’s emotional needs, to prioritize them above your own, their reaction to you setting boundaries may be hard for you to handle. Especially if they react as if *they* are *your* hurt child, needing you to comfort and reassure *them.* Which, of course, is exactly the core dynamic you’re trying to escape.

    One last observation from experience: your mom may never understand the boundaries you are setting. For a long time I thought if I could get mine to understand why I needed them, she’d respect them because she understood that not respecting them was hurting me. But that has never happened. I know she loves me but I’m not sure she’s capable of understanding how she’s harmed me. And it took me an even longer time to understand that it doesn’t matter if she never understands, as long as she adheres to the boundaries I’m comfortable with. You may never get an acknowledgment of how your mom’s behavior impacts you, but you may be able to have a decent relationship with her on your terms.

    • Emma9 said:

      Your last paragraph resonated so much. My relationship with my mother is deeply unhealthy in various ways, and what you’re saying there, in a nutshell, was about the greatest realization that’s ever happened to my mental health. I can’t change the person she is, and frankly have gone past the point of caring enough even to want to; giving up on attaining that ‘…my god, this is how you’ve been feeling? This is what I’ve done to you?’ moment and focusing my energy on making her stop specific behaviors that are harmful to me was a really good battle to pick.

      • been there said:

        yeah, i really wish i’d had some of the Captain’s great scripts 15 years ago when my reactions were basically take it and take it until I blew up at her. Which was not the most constructive way of dealing. I read a lot about parentification but it was all kinda clinical stuff, not a lot of practical solutions for the person actually dealing with it. Therapy helped but I never had a therapist who was great at scripts, to be honest. I had to muddle through it on my own. But it really helps just to have people tell you that you don’t even need a “rational” reason not to want to talk about something with someone – you get to have boundaries! and you don’t have to explain or justify them to anyone! and you don’t have to make them understand and accept them first!

    • AnonForThis said:

      OMG, yes, I had forgotten, my mother also called me abusive when I started saying I didn’t have the can needed for certain topics.

      • been there said:

        my mom never came out in so many words, but all of her reactions are like she’s a puppy i just kicked. Or she’ll say things like she doesn’t understand all my new “rules” and feels like she’ll be punished if she does/says something “wrong” even though I’ve completely articulated exactly what i want/need from her and what I dont’ want to talk about with her and why. Once she said that if the spear i thrust into her chest helps me feel better it was worth it, or something like that, and I think she really meant it.

        Other times she will drop the subject I’ve put out of bounds the first time I call her on it in a conversation, only to somehow work her way back to it. Or we’ll start talking about something unrelated and suddenly we’re there again. One of her go-to phrases was “i don’t think i should have to walk on eggshells around you” and framing me as reactive/oversensitive and avoidant. So that I’m the problem, my boundaries are pathological.

        There’s a whole host of various manipulations she’s used over the years, and I know 100% she’s not aware they’re manipulative. She’s not someone who retaliates or anything like alot of the parents I’ve read about in this thread, but man. It can be a lot to deal with.

        The last several years have been a lot better, but it’s taken almost 20 years of (sometimes messy awful) work to get there.

        • Thanksforallthefish said:

          Oh God yes to this. This is all resonating with me on a special level. My mom doesn’t understand all my “rules” either and does things to my sister like….pouts and mutters “you think!” when my sister gets upset with her for putting my sister’s cast iron pan in the soapy water after she explicitly said don’t put cast iron in soapy water.

          She also does this sort of aggressive boundary honoring for me since I intermittently don’t talk to her so that when I’m on the phone and say “well I have to go soon” she just says “bye” and hangs up instantly….which I’m fine with but every time it feels a bit…petulant? Either way it does get me what I want which is lovely short phone conversations that never reach the politics or religion section.

          • Jen said:

            I keep wondering if I have siblings I don’t know about. Mine went on full-on projection mode when I started enforcing boundaries. So much so that she tried torpedoing just about every relationship (personal, romantic, professional) she could. I haven’t spoken to her in about 10 years (for that and many, many other reasons), and she’s still telling the rest of the family how abusive I am.

    • Meg said:

      As someone who talks to her therapist regularly about the issues she has with her mom parentifying her, your comment helped to clarify some feelings I’m struggling with. I’m resenting any contact right now because I know I’ll have to do emotional labor. And if I try to set boundaries, that’s yet more emotional labor. Thank you – you’ve helped and given me something to think about.

      • been there said:

        I’m glad it helped. I wasn’t ever able to articulate this aspect until that comment! I still struggle with it, to be honest, but at least now I know what it is.

    • Orange Ala said:

      Thank you for your comments in this thread. I am dealing with this with my own mom, realizing how much she has groomed me to be her confidante and therapist. What you’ve managed to articulate here I think is part of why I have been mostly just avoiding my mom since realizing the full extent of the problems–I just can’t deal with the emotional work required, and reading the comments here has been pretty triggering with all the emotional caretaking being suggested upthread.

      All I want to do is scream at my mom and rage, but it has been so deeply instilled in me to be my mom’s emotional caretaker that it is very difficult for me to express any disapproval towards her. And it is hard not to give in to the instinct to comfort my mom after she freaks out at boundaries or disapproval from me.

    • Thanksforallthefish said:

      Thank you

    • Old Dan Tucker said:

      This comment is bringing a storm of twos and twos together in my head like lightning. Thank you.

  42. LadyDi said:

    This is so good and was at the heart of the issue with my DH and his mom when he began to set boundaries with her. Such great insight and advice.

  43. Anon said:

    My mom didn’t start over sharing until I was an adult and it was nothing I wanted to know. I eventually, after several years, just started saying “I’m not the appropriate person for this conversation” every time she’d overshare. The message seems to have finally sunk in.

  44. JMouse said:

    A number of comments have mentioned the possibility of your own emotional burn out, when trying to deal with all your mother’s emotional workload (including fearing for the future) and I’d like to add my vote here for being aware of your own self care.

    I have been there. After my father died, I took on the heavy lifting for my mum. She needed help and I was speed dial 1. And for 18 months I supported and listened, I took the late calls when the internet wasn’t working and she was hysterical, I paid the bills and gave encouragements and was her replacement for the husband she had loved and lost.

    Only I also had a life…a new job, an unemployed, depressed husband, and my own searing and deep grief for my beloved father. And it got to the point where I COULD. NOT. DEAL any longer. And I dropped the rope. Suddenly and without warning.

    You know you have reached the end of your ability to cope when you tell your Mum that you can’t look something up for her. I mean, she asked me to look something up and I hesitated and she said “Is that too much to ask?” and you know what – it was too much to ask. And I remember that moment clearly, with both relief and shame that I refused to even do a Google search for her that day. I was done.

    It did hurt her. But I could no longer carry her hurt. And bless my Mum because after a further conversation about my own reality, she stopped calling for me to hold her hand to cross the street and decided to cross on her own, leaving me that small space to find my own breath and work through my own grief. And I had that conversation with her again last month, when she asked me to give more than I could to my sibling. Her gift? Does not come with my time.

    That lack of self care, that constant outflow of care to someone who was bottomless pit of need, has damaged me. LW…please take this (astonishingly long) anecdote and learn from a really big mistake that I made…don’t let her need drown you. Err on the side of selfishness. Think of it as a gift to you both, you’ll have your oxygen mask on – meaning you can breathe through trying to help her locate her mask.

  45. Elektra said:

    Ah man. This brought a lot of feelings and memories flooding back.

    I remember going into my parents’ room when they were in the middle of a screaming match because mum was threatening to leave him, and leave her children, and have nothing further to do with any of us. Since I was scared my mum was going to abandon me, I offered myself up as a kind of mediator, trying to defuse the situation and broker peace. I think I was twelve.

    Probably the most abusive part of that whole situation is that instead of recognising how messed up it was to use a kid as a marriage counselor, they both accepted my offer, and I spent more than an hour talking through the intimate details of their marriage problems with them. I remember feeling proud of myself for being so ‘mature’ and able to handle things other people my age couldn’t. I also felt proud when I’d physically position myself in between my dad and youngest sister so he couldn’t assault her.

    ANYWAY. LW, you are super, mega, totally 100% not obliged to sit in a front-row seat to watch your parents’ marriage problems. That is not on you. I’m in the same age bracket as you and I know it can feel like by our early 30s, we should be ‘ready’ for these sorts of conversations, but it’s not true, particularly when we’re dealing with the after-effects of a lifetime of boundary violations and oversharing by our parents.

    It sounds like your mom is actually leaning on you more in the way a child leans on a parent, in terms of wanting soothing and material security, maybe because she’s still dealing with the fallout of her own abusive childhood. Now that she’s started seeing a therapist, consider a script like: “Mom, you probably don’t realise, but it makes me really upset to her about the problems you’re having with Dad. I think it would be better if you talked about this with [therapist] instead”.

    If she’s anything like my mum, she’ll try and guilt or shame you, because she doesn’t want to face up to how inappropriate her behaviour is. But don’t give in to those tactics and stick to your guns, eventually her behaviour will change. It will never be perfect, but it will get better. Big hugs from someone who’s been there and best of luck to you in your journey.

    • B. said:

      You should have never been put in that position, Elektra. Never. But stepping up to defend your family was a very brave thing to do, specially as a kid, so I don’t think it’s strange that younger you felt pride about that. Acts of bravery in incredibly messed-up situations can still be something to be proud of, if you want to.

    • Thanksforallthefish said:

      Seconding you should have never had to do that. My situation wasn’t quite the same but I remember being the one to try and mediate between my older sister and my mom fighting starting when I was maybe 5 and feeling that was my job, and of course my “fix” was “no mom, sister doesn’t actually mean it when she says she hates you” lol….my sister meant it 100%

    • Commander Banana said:

      Yeah, my family wasn’t that volatile, but I definitely got shoved into the role of peacemaker as a child. I remember my dad coming home from a deployment and mom had adopted several (as in, more than 10) dogs in his absence and not told him. He left to go sleep in his office, and she sent me running after him to do…something? I had literally no idea what was going on. I think I was like 10 or 11.

      I have a bipolar older sibling who is really unpredictable, so as the marginally-okay one (I just have chronic depression) I was always the emotional barometer of the family, trying to keep stuff peaceful between everyone else.

      Now when I’m around my parents and that dynamic starts to repeat I just leave. I also don’t spend time with/speak to my sibling anymore, and I try to spend as much time with my parents one-on-one than with the two of them together.

  46. selva_oscura said:

    Long-time lurker emerging out of the shadows here. LW, you have my utmost sympathies. I, too, was a smothered daughter. My mother overshared big-time about my dad from when I was about 10, and it was awful. I got to hear all about her affairs, how useless my dad was in bed (yep, really…), how she should have married so-and-so instead – things that a child should not be hearing! It may not surprise you to learn that I developed some rather horrible mental health issues in adolescence (my mom reacted as if these problems had fallen from the sky and continued to insist there were No Problems even after things had escalated to the social services-intervention and hospitalization stage).

    Fast forward many years. My dad died a while ago now – but she STILL tries to criticize him! I have set boundaries. Mom visits in order to see my daughter, and that is all. It is very hard not to pick up the phone and overshare, though – after all, us boundary-challenged daughters are groomed to be Mom’s BFF… But no matter how tough it is, I feel you really must try to break the dynamic. My mom has long-term health issues and moved to a small town where she knew nobody at first, so I’m not underestimating how hard it might be for your mom to make friends and build her own social life.

    I have a friend who has a similar if not identical (s)mother, and LW, please consider the following: if your mom moves in with you, or even ‘just’ continues to rely on your for all her friendship and support needs, what will happen if you start a relationship (or your existing one becomes more serious)? Or you have kids? What if you/your partner/kids get sick or have some other major life-changing event? Is mom always going to have to take precedent? Do you want her tagging along on every single vacation you have, for the rest of her time on this mortal coil? Will she cause problems between you and your partner if she isn’t your number one priority? LW, I have seen this hideous scenario unfold with my friend’s mom. Like you, friend basically likes her mom, and will not set boundaries. At all. Ever. She sees it as disloyal and feels guilty. Even when friend’s gf was seriously and permanently injured in an accident, mother had to be the priority. I’m not saying your mom is that level of awful, but I really think you need to set boundaries sooner rather than later. Wishing you all the best.

  47. Felix Felicis said:

    Under no circumstances let your mother move in with you**. If just the thought of it is giving you nightmares, that is not a good sign. If your mother is bad at making friends, and expecting you to be her Life-Raft-For-Everything when she’s coming out of a difficult marriage and you are both likely to be emotional over it… it just sounds like living together at that point would be a hothouse situation that would be terrible for both of you.

    There’s a real chance that all the unhealthy patterns she learned to use with your dad (and child-you) (and you learned from your parents) along with your mother’s disability/dependence on you and your exhaustion/need for her love & approval, will combine together through parentification, transference, co-dependancy and enmeshment until you both end up emotionally abusing each other.

    A script I used with my Mum went something like this (I’d vary it a bit, to make it fit the convo we were having):
    Mum: “complain, whine, moan, criticise Dad”
    Me: “I love you. I love Dad. I’m not going to choose between you/get involved/referee your arguments/pick one of you over the other/agree that Dad’s horrible. It’s unfair of you to ask me to do that.”
    Mum: “I’m not …/I would never ….”
    Me: “Great! What about that [Subject Change]…”

    With a variant of emotional blackmail, like this:
    Mum: “Don’t you love me?/You don’t love me!/If you loved me, you would…”
    Me: “I love you, I love Dad, I’m still not talking about this/picking sides. And if you loved me, you wouldn’t ask me to. [& Subject Change]”
    Mum: “Of course I love you/care about you! I’m not a monster! etc”
    Me: “Great! Prove it – [Immediate, unsubtle Subject Change]”

    I would give her only one or two chances, and of that didn’t work, then I would hang up. And unplug the landline, or block her number on my mobile, and go and do something either angry and energetic, or relaxing and calming. There was a lot of sulking, and it never entirely stopped (I had to hang up and hide about once or twice a month?) but it did calm down a lot. And we had better conversations after that.

    This may be personal, but I was happy to talk about practicalities of divorce/separation that did not involve (a) criticising Dad or (b) living with me. So, for me, “have you set up your own bank account?/Found a lawyer?/Booked some property viewings?/Interviewed care companies?/Job interviews?” were all topics I was happy to talk about. (YMMV, and that’s okay!)

    **If you are eventually able to reach a point where the therapy you’re both going through has helped, the divorce(?) is settled and you’ve both come to terms with it, your Mum is coming from a place of strength and independence, and you have a respectful, adult relationship, AND *both of you* *want* to live together for good, healthy reasons… then, you might be able to live together. I’m all for close families – when that is healthy. Otherwise, boundaries and distance are your friends!

    As a woman with a low-level disability, in terms of long-term resilience, I always advocate for people with disabilities to learn to live alone (wherever possible, and with the support they need) because managing your own life independently is a huge boost to your self-esteem and your confidence.

  48. *offers jedi hugs to the lw and everyone else sharing similar life experiences*
    Are you all me? No, because my mum died recently and she stopped doing this to me and started on my siblings after I moved out (without permission!) and turned down dozens of repeated offers to move back every time I got more ill and disabled. I went from best friend / confidante / marriage counsellor / therapist to black sheep and problem child in less than three years (after more than a decade in the first role). It was painful all round and I still feel guilty about the consequences for my siblings – of choices that my mum made. She didn’t have a to use any of her kids this way and she could have made friends her own age or got counselling or resolved problems she had with other adults *with them* not her kid.
    I left so I could survive.

    Other topic: disability
    I’m too physically and mentally ill and disabled to look after myself so have been for many years. This does not mean that I have only “live with a partner” and “live with my parent/sibling/similar” as options!
    In fact, I lived for 5 years on my own (sometimes with and sometimes without housemates who didn’t contribute to my care needs). LW, your mum might say that she’s only two options – live with you or with your dad. She might believe it too. But it’s just not true. I have high care needs and I get paid carers in *even though I live with my boyfriend* because care is work and I don’t want to be work for someone I love.

    • GreyjoyGardens said:

      That’s a really good point – there are options other than family if LW’s mom needs outside care. In the US, cities and counties have a “Department of Aging,” otherwise known as “Department of Aging and Disability” or “Aging and Adult Services.” They are local to an area – city or county, depending on population – though state government websites often have clearinghouse pages that can direct one to more information. Depending on where the LW lives (city, country) there will be some sort of aging services/disability services in her area she can contact for assistance.

      When my dad needed care I was able to get help from a hospital caseworker referred by his neurologist. Most primary care physicians can also make a referral to a medical social worker, who can then help LW get services for Mom. Depending on privacy regulations, Mom might have to be the one to do the asking (I had Dad’s healthcare power of attorney so I was able to make the request). But the non-family care assistance options *are* there. If Mom feels she simply cannot live with Dad anymore, she doesn’t have to move in with Daughter or go homeless.

    • B. said:

      I think your comment is great and very useful, specially the part about disability. Thank you for sharing it!

  49. If your mom truly doesn’t have any other friends around and she is willing to interact on any level with the Christian Church, you should have her look into a Stephens Minister. They’re basically trained volunteers that help people through crisis situations by just being there. Kind of like emotional support on request. That could help fill the hole that your (completely legit) boundary setting might create.

  50. lalouve said:

    My mother keeps trying to tell me about my father’s infidelities, and I keep changing the subject. At least now that he’s dead she can’t do it in front of him – I find it incredibly inappropriate as a subject of discussion between parent and child. She wants sympathy (not just for this) and I keep thinking ‘if you wanted me to be sympathetic about your troubles you should have raised me differently.’
    I am currently being the good daughter – visiting, bringing flowers, etc. – but I can do that without engaging emotionally. It took a lot of learning.

    • Louise said:

      Oh boy do I get that feeling! My mother, as well as being a raging narcissist, is also perma-victim…all she wants in life is for people to feel sorry for her. But she has zero ability to show any empathy for anyone else…I’ve come to the conclusion that it is because she genuinely just doesn’t have any. I’m nearly 49 now, and all of a sudden I’ve become a lot more emotional, and caring about everything – no doubt the menopause isn’t long off now. It saddens me to look back at my 20s and 30s and know how cold I was with so many people who just didn’t deserve it…but I was raised that way.

      My favourite saying now when I think of my mother is ‘you reap what you sow’…

  51. nottakennotavailable said:

    Ye gads. LW, you sound like me from a parallel universe in which my mother is still alive and never got separated (later divorced) from my father. I never needed to have the tough conversations with her re: “can you please stop taking potshots at Dad behind his back in my presence” and also “aw hell NO you are not moving in with me,” but if she *had* lived long enough for those conversations to have been necessary, well…they would have been necessary.

    Which is to say that I’m afraid I don’t have much useful advice to add on to the Captain’s and commentariat’s, but as someone who also didn’t really need to know about the numerous ways in which my dad totally sucked as a husband (to my mom – my stepmom, whom I like, seems to like him just fine!) and also couldn’t do much more than laugh uncomfortably when she talked about how I was going to be rich and successful enough to support both her and me in the same house one day, I feel ya.

  52. V for Valski said:

    “Sibling is flaking out on the world right now and is not an option” I wonder if that’s their coping strategy or just a plan to pass the buck? It set my teeth on edge as its the pattern of my sibs and hits close to home for me. I was abused and have spent decades being discarded. Now people are ill and expecting me to drop everything, maintain all my bills while I come two states over to,them to “help” for free- while also letting me know I’m disinherited.

    I’ve decided to treat it as a mildly intriguing behavioral case study, which I observe at a distance from time to time as I update my notes.

    • Thanksforallthefish said:

      I think you’re response is perfect. My situation is likely not nearly as dire but my sister and I have reached a state where I observe safely from a distance at my mother’s NEEDS and my sister tries to hop to each one and spends hours on the phone with her and has told me about that day in the future when WE will take care of mom and every time mom comes to visit (despite being able to afford a hotel) stays in my sister’s cramped apartment that can’t fit her and drives her nuts.

      I am content to be the Bad Daughter when the time comes.

  53. Commander Banana said:

    Yup, this. I wouldn’t say my mom is one of the moms who thinks we should be friends (seen that happen with friends, don’t want to be around it – sure, drink with your underage daughter! Buy her smokes! Do coke with her! Share boyfriends! What could possible go wrong??!) but she definitely has a habit of complaining about my dad.

    It kind of peaked when I was high school when she would literally follow me around the house complaining about him, and if I asked her to stop she’d get all sad and say she didn’t have anyone else she could talk to.

    1. That was true, she doesn’t have friends
    2. That is sad and must be hard
    3. I am still not obligated to listen

    I have a number of bland scripts that I use now and she knows that I won’t engage with her, but it took a while (mine are “well, you married him” “well, he’s been that way for X years” “well, he was like that when you met” “you should consider talking to someone like a counselor about that”) and that generally shuts her up, because all of those are true.

    • Thanksforallthefish said:

      “Share boyfriends?” wow….

      • Commander Banana said:

        Yeahhhh, it’s gross. There’s a whole lotta backstory that is not relevant to this thread (well, actually, it kind of is? She had gone through a bad/unexpected divorce and the boundaries between her and her daughter were…really unhealthy in the aftermath. There was a lot of drinking/some drugs involved, and she got involved with a much younger man, who then…got involved with her daughter. Boundaries! We need them!). I think it was more that she wanted to be 19 again, not that she wanted to be the cool mom.

        Anyway, I ended the friendship because 1. that is gross and 2. she also wanted me to be friends with her daughter, which I’m not interested in (we’re far enough in part in age that I felt it was weird/I just didn’t want to be friends with her daughter).

        As the Captain mentioned earlier, bad/unhealthy stuff happens when you don’t have appropriate boundaries in relationships! All relationships! Boundaries are good! Learn healthy ones and enforce them!

        • Thanksforallthefish said:

          ooph sounds like a good friendship to African Violet. Hopefully the friend eventually re-calibrated and recovered but also massive side-eye to the dude. Boundaries are awesome!

  54. Checkers said:

    This is a hard, personal topic for me. All I can say is that you Can Take This Seriously. I always felt like, since my mom didn’t hit or yell, I wasn’t abused. Other people had it worse. But this kind of emotional abuse is incredibly damaging and subtle. You’re not overreacting. These intense feelings are valid. I think that’s why these kind of cases seem to come to a head later in life. The head fuck is such that you don’t realize it until years later. Words like parentification, grooming, enmeshment, and emotional incest mean something. It’s ugly to look at. Taking this shit seriously meant I had to change my narrative about my childhood and recategorize an emotionally intimate, foundational relationship in my life as dangerous to me.

    The problem with trying to hold these type of people accountable to anything is that they are very hurt from childhood, and hurt in such a way that they cannot understand their behavior as hurtful. How do you react to someone who genuinely does not understand why they’re doing something wrong, and who experiences rejection the way a child does? It leaves people surrounding them with very shitty options. For me, and I’m not saying this is you or your mother’s situation, it helped to realize that and to place it into a psychological construct (in my mother’s case, Borderline Personality disorder).

    You have to choose yourself. YOU ARE WORTH IT. And you have to choose yourself even if it breaks her (it probably won’t though, seriously). Defend yourself! And if you can’t do it for yourself, do it for the child that you were/still are.

    Suggestions from my experience: Work on building her a Team You.
    + Trying to deal with physical details to improve her life and support her with, as opposed to emotional, makes us both feel like I’m contributing, supporting and paying attention to her. And then I re-direct EVERYTHING in conversations to the establishment of Team You.
    + Therapy is essential and so so helpful. “Wow Mom that sounds tough. You should definitely talk to your therapist next week about it. He’s an expert in this type of thing and could help you more than me.”
    + Arranged doctors for her physical and mental problems and encouraged her to find an accountant.

    Conversation techniques: Validate and Distract
    + Find one topic that always makes her feel soothed (cat or cooking for example) and return to that when she starts to get upset.
    + “Oh hey look over there!” also know as SHINEY, is a great tactic. It’s like changing the subject + distraction.
    + I prepare topics about my life that aren’t personal, i.e. I went to this movie and did the laundry. What are your laundry techniques Mom?
    + For Dad issues, I just stop talking. She can go on but I try to say as little as possible. “Wow that’s really hard. I hope it gets better.” Repeat over and over. At the first opportunity (He doesn’t do the laundry. SHINEY! Tell me about your laundry techniques Mom!)
    + I try to ask for her help on minor things I know how to do with low stakes. Take command of the conversation preemptively (Argh my shirt has a stain. What laundry techniques should I use?)
    + I repeat I love you when I don’t know what to say

    Good luck my friend. While I can’t promise peace, you can learn to feel sturdy in yourself, and to come to terms with the way things played out, for both of you, through no fault of your own.

  55. emmych said:

    Captain already said it, but as someone who has seen the mother/child confidante close up (my mother and grandmother), it bears repeating: your parents are not your friends, they are your parents. Even when you are an adult. I am an adult, i am at home right now visiting my mother because my dad is out of town and she’s lonely: she is still not my friend, she is my parent. It’s different, the relationship is different, the only time the balance should hella shift is when your parent is elderly and needs care. Before that? NOPE.

    Sorry you’re goin’ through this, LW, since like…even if these were just close friends, you have intimate ties to both and it hurts to hear about their troubles in this much detail.

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