Dear Carolyn: No one in my family, including myself, wants to spend time with my mom.
She can be really toxic. She has hurt me all my life, and, really, everyone I love. I stopped asking my husband and kids to go with me a while ago. In fact, I limited my children’s exposure to her when they were growing up, but they still have scars from stuff she did or said when they were young adults; it’s difficult to be prepared for the truly awful stuff she says and does, even when warned your whole life.
Even though I know all this and I’m normally pretty pragmatic, I am finding it tough to just cut my mom off. We’ve had so many conversations over the years about the things she says and does, but she is never going to change because she just doesn’t get it. It’s almost like punishing a fish for bad behavior. She never accepts accountability for anything, and never sees the damage. She says and does petty, horrible things in irritation, then just shakes it off, accusing others of being too sensitive.
I really am the last one. If I don’t go see her, she will truly be alone.
We are talking about moving away. We would be across the country near my husband’s family, who are just wonderful. Sweet, loving and supportive. I’m so conflicted. On one hand I’d be free at last! But she’ll be bitter and all alone, and it pains me because, in spite of everything, this damaged woman is my mom and I do love her.
Maybe I just need permission from an objective third party. I’m almost 60. Will I ever have peace? – Conflicted in California
How’s this for a reason: You’ve lived near your mom all this time, and you’re almost 60, and presumably your husband is roughly your age – so when does he get to be on the same side of the country as his people?
You’d owe him this even if your local family were also “just wonderful. Sweet, loving and supportive.” It’s his turn.
I understand and appreciate that you don’t want to leave your mom alone for what is likely to be the end of her life. But her being a human gantlet so painful that no one except you is willing to run it actually makes the case for moving even stronger. Your husband and kids may have mostly avoided your mom, but as witnesses to your suffering, they suffered. They didn’t avoid her harm.
So take care of them now. Give them the gift of proximity to people they want nearby.
And feed this logic to your pragmatic side. Is it enough?
Note that I’m pushing the rationale that it’s good for your family, vs. good for you: I’ve calculated that you’ll see self-care as a priority you can’t justify.
And that’s not only a byproduct of parental toxicity, but it’s also a great argument for taking this conversation to an excellent and compassionate therapist. You are worth caring for, you are worth saving, you are worth letting off this hook.
Living far from an aging relative is not a novelty. People manage to stay involved, so you can, too.
So … I almost never do this: Please, just go.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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