Break With Toxic Mother and Daughter Relationships
If you’re fortunate to see when you have a choice and change your point of view, things are good. Just know that you will move on in your time.
This is the message I share with anyone who is in a toxic relationship with a parent.
It’s difficult to admit for me (because of how long it took), but I struggled for decades with a bad mother daughter relationship. As an adult, I understood it wasn’t healthy, and yet continued to try to resolve it and find peace with my genetic mother. But it just never happened.
In fact, the only sane solution for either of us was to cut all contact. But the answer didn’t come easily or fast for me. I hit points along the way where I felt both loss and responsibility and believed repair of our relationship was possible. I mean, this is my mother after all…right?!
As the milestones of my life came along, I assumed these would be times she would be proud of me and would want to celebrate. There was graduation from college, my marriage, the birth of our children and other adventures I’d report to her. We lived quite a distance apart geographically (and in spirit), so I’d send her emails, instead, with updates.
Each time she’d start with a single gush of praise, often painting an inaccurate view of my life, which I learned was a sign that the other shoe would fall. And inevitably, it would. Instead of kind words after that initial burst of congratulations, I’d later get venomous insults and tirades.
In what felt like a blink, a dark veil came down and she would use the information I’d shared as a weapon to vault insults. Then I’d feel the shame for having not learned from the past, and would wonder what was wrong with me for trying again.
Finally, in my mid-40s when she sent a final series of emails filled with a diatribe of ridicule about me, my spouse and children, I stepped away. It happened instantly, too. Like a seismic shift, there was no anger, just closure. I did not respond…ever. That was more than a decade ago.
A BETTER MODEL BY CHOICE
In the article “8 Toxic Things Mothers Do” by Peg Streep over at Psychology Today, she refers to this pattern of repeated efforts with an estranged mother into adulthood as fairly common, and terms it “going back to the well.” It often takes grown women several attempts to sever toxic mother contact before they realize the well is truly dry.
Of course, it makes sense that no matter how old we are, we may always look to our parents to be a source of love and support. As Streep explains, parents are the primary influencers for expectations of how intimate relationships are to function, and when that dynamic is distorted, it leaves a mark.
As I read through Streep’s article, I recognized some of the issues she described with my mother. Gaslighting was most prominent. When I resisted my mother’s version of the truth, she became tactically her strongest. She’d simply look me in the eye with calm and tell me that what I knew to be true wasn’t. The promise was never made. The words had never been spoken. The action had never taken place. It was a daunting weapon which, as a child, left me wondering what to believe I ever heard or saw.
I’m sure when I first became a mother that my target was just to be better than mine. With time I put the comparison aside and realized that I didn’t need to fear repeating the cycle. I simply couldn’t fathom doing anything other than to love my children, and therein was the difference.
Now, more than 30 years later, I realize I became the mother I always wanted. Nothing near perfect and perhaps not the mother my children always wanted, but my intentions to support and love them remain front and center.
YOU DESERVE GOOD MOTHERING—GO GET IT
Other relationships in my life helped show me new alternatives. Friendships, foster parents and my spouse all contributed to helping shape what care and love are meant to be. And ultimately, that mothering I didn’t get from my genetic mother—that pain—has subsided and been replaced with greater personal awareness. I think we can recognize and then better receive that “motherly love” in other relationships that matter to us. You deserve that much.
Today, I enjoy a wonderful relationship with both my grown children, which brings me delight and fulfillment. There are times it is not easy, but it’s always, always grounded in the fact that I’ll do whatever I can to love and support them. They deserve it, and I am there. Knowing that (and being that mother) means everything to me, and it’s healing.
There are times, even, when I look into the eyes of my daughter Alexandra, and I can’t help but look in her beautiful face and see my genetic mother’s eyes. But I take comfort. Brokenness can mend, futures can change, and we move forward from something harmful to something wonderful in its place—so long as we make a choice.
Like I said, if you have choices, life is good.
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