Three Women Describe Their Complicated Mother/Daughter Relationships

Three Women Describe Their Complicated Mother/Daughter Relationships

Like a mother bird who pushes her squawky little teen-bird out of the nest so that it can learn to fly, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, in some way, all mother-daughter relationships are complicated…

Complicated does not inherently mean “bad.” It’s just that simultaneously, there are two different people (no matter how similar) with a lifetime’s worth of stuff between them, both trying to exist within the multifarious layers of their unique bond.

I spoke with three different women who identify their relationships with their mothers as complicated. Below are their stories.

Genevieve, 39, California

I would classify my relationship with my mom as being on the friendlier side of cordial. We hang out, have a lovely time together, but she wouldn’t be the first or maybe even the fifth person that I would call if I were having a hard time.

I had a really lovely childhood. My mom was home with all five of us kids, and she drove us to soccer practices and dance lessons. I remember sitting in the front seat and she would play the oldies station.

But as an adult, I left the religion that we had grown up in. To my mom, religion is one of the top priorities of her life, other than her family. Leaving the religion, and the community around it, was not just hurtful to my mom — she truly didn’t understand it: “This is such an incredible thing. This has brought me so much happiness.”

Overall, she was distraught. I feel like it broke my mom’s heart, and that’s… I don’t even know. It’s so sad. But I never did it to hurt her. I was just like, “This isn’t my thing.”

There were a couple of years where we couldn’t even talk about it. It was such a hot-button topic. I wanted to have a relationship with her, though, so for her birthday, I got us matching sets of stationery. I was like, “You write a letter to me, I’ll write a letter to you.” We ended up talking about everything — regular day-to-day stuff, as well as deeper issues that would be too hard to say in person. We did really well at writing those letters for about a year.

Finally, my mom and I had a big talk that was like one of those moments where you’re about to define-the-relationship with your boyfriend or break up. She was visiting us; we were in the car and she pulled over. She looked over at me, and the silence was so heavy. All the particles in the air came together. It was good. It was needed. We had been avoiding it for so long.

The end result was like, “We just see things differently and that’s okay.” But it does make me sad. It makes me feel like her love is conditional. If I were like, “Forget it. I’m coming back,” it would be like, “Oh, my gosh. Finally, our relationship can be 100%.”

She’s also referenced that talk a couple times, and it makes it clear that our communication is so bad. When she’s like, “Oh, remember what you said during that talk?” I’ll say, “That wasn’t what I was trying to say at all.” I feel like we’re speaking…not different languages, but maybe different dialects of that language. She’s speaking British English and I’m speaking American English, and there are just words that are not the same.

For a couple years now, we’ve had more of a “let’s just be friends” relationship. We avoid the deep stuff because it’s still raw. Neither of us are willing to concede our points, so we both try to keep up light conversation: “Here’s what we’re up to, here’s what the kids are doing.”

Now that I have three kids, I want them to feel like my love isn’t conditional, that I will always love them no matter what. I feel like it’s my duty to raise them with some kind of moral principle, but I wouldn’t expect them to do exactly what I did. Also, even though I feel differently about religion than my mom does, I now see the benefit of having something to cling to, that helps teach your kids. I do feel like I’m floating a little bit in that aspect, like I’m having to make this all up on my own.

When my mom says something I disagree with, I tell her, “I totally understand that’s so important to you; I just don’t feel the same.” I try to keep gratitude at the front. I feel like it was a gift to be raised with love and support, and to still have this person who wants a relationship, and that I want a relationship with her.

Frances, 32, Maryland

My mother is an alcoholic.

Growing up, my mom and I were close. She was funny and kind. We did so many things together. She was the CEO and founder of her business. My friends loved my mom, too. It wasn’t like she let us do wild things — she was just a smart, fun person to be around. My friends even called her for advice about difficult situations.

But my mom’s behavior started changing my freshman year of college. She seemed tired and depressed. She would curse at me. “Bitch” became a common word in our relationship. She’d tell my sister and me that we were ungrateful bitches.

My mom ended up going to rehab three times over the course of about four years, starting in 2009. Once was rehabilitation following a brain injury after a serious fall (she’d been drinking), which served as rehab because she wasn’t allowed to drink there. The other two times focused on her alcoholism. The last time she left rehab, she started drinking two weeks later. She’d get wasted at work; she’d drive home drunk from work; she could be erratic and cruel. I wanted so desperately to have our “normal” relationship back.

When I met my husband, and we got engaged, the first thing I said was, “How is this going to affect my mother?” She had never admitted that she was an alcoholic. That year of planning, she was still drinking, and 80% of the time she was her unpredictable, harsh alcoholic self. But 20% of the time — which was a lot more than before — she was actually her old self: supportive, helpful.

After we got married, we started spending more time together for holidays or family dinners on Sunday. And she was doing pretty well. She was still drinking, but it’s all relative. She wasn’t falling down drunk or passing out on the sofa.

Then, nine months later, I got pregnant. My husband and I looked at each other again like, “Will it send my mother off the rails?” I was always worried sick about her.

My husband and I both work full time, and both of the grandmas — my mom and my husband’s mom — said they wanted to watch our daughter one or two days a week, and could we mix daycare and them? We had a lot of family meetings about it. We knew it would be a huge savings, but my husband and I were honest: “Can we trust you with her?” We talked about it non-stop for the whole nine months I was pregnant. Finally, we all agreed to give it a try.

Flash forward: Our youngest daughter has just turned two, and our second daughter is about to turn one, and they still go to my parents’ once a week. It’s going really well. My mom is probably my kids’ favorite person in the world, and I think they really saved her by giving her something to live for. She still drinks, but she doesn’t drink when she’s watching them. And my dad’s there the whole time, too.

Our relationship will never be what it was before I went to college. She’s still someone I turn to for certain kinds of advice, like peripheral parenting stuff, but mostly, our relationship is transactional; we talk about my kids. She snaps very quickly. She has a lot of anger issues. And I would never call my mom after 5:00 p.m. because I know she’s going to be drinking.

Through all of this, I’ve realized that moms are human, too. Just because you become a mom doesn’t mean you’re transformed as a person. You just suddenly have much more responsibility.

I love my mom and want the best for her. But I wouldn’t describe her as a friend anymore. My old mom and I had a standing weekly dinner date, and we would go on girly trips together. Now we’d never do those things. I always say to my husband, “I wish you had gotten a chance to know my mom.” She was a really cool lady.

If you have a family member who is struggling with addiction, know that it’s not about you. If your family member is refusing help or is not getting better or is falling off the wagon, it’s not about you, it’s not your fault. It’s not a reflection of their love for you.

And to anyone with a difficult relationship with their mom: you’re not alone. There are so many people who do. You’re not alone, and you’re stronger than you think.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, click here, here and here for more resources.

Mathilda, 34, New York

My mother and I are extremely close, and she has a big heart, but we’ve argued about everything. We’ve argued about my hair or my choice of apartment — we once got into a huge argument about Christmas tree decorations. Mostly our arguments center around my life choices, and how I’m not living my life the way she wishes I were living it.

My career is amorphous. I write about style, food, travel; I art direct fashion shoots; I have television goals. That career nebulousness is unsettling for my mom. She wanted me to go to medical school or become a doctor, and doesn’t understand what I’m doing with my life. It’s an ongoing point of tension.

Another thing my mom and I argue about is how I dress. Whenever I go home to visit her in Ghana, particularly for a wedding or someone’s birthday, she says, “You can’t wear that. People are going to talk about you.” I’ve never understood her preoccupation with the judgements others would make of me (and by extension, of her) based on my clothes. I simply wear what brings me joy.

My parents were never married, and I think part of the reason our relationship is so complicated is because every time she looks at me, it reminds her of my father and their very painful history. (I don’t know the details of what transpired between my parents; she says it’s none of my business.) I think she takes out that frustration on me without even realizing it. When I was little and would visit my dad, she would say things like, “You can just stay there. Don’t come back.” And I was like, What kind of mother says that to her child?

Something that caused a lot of strife for me is that I never knew if she was genuinely incapable of understanding my point of view, or if she didn’t want to understand.

A quote by Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet helped me get through that piece of it: “Avoid providing material for the drama that is always stretched tight between parents and children; it uses up much of the children’s strength and wastes the love of the elders, which acts and warms even if it doesn’t comprehend. Don’t ask for advice from them and don’t expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is strength and blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”

I have always wanted so badly for my mother to understand the core of who I am. Once I accepted that she doesn’t need to understand me for her to love me — I began to find some peace.

When we’re arguing, I remind myself of everything that my mother has done for me. It’s a lot to go through within a split second, but I think the more you practice it, the more it becomes a conscious-unconsciousness. I’ve learned to just be like, “Arguing this point is pointless.” (And if I have to vent to someone later to get it off my chest, then I can.) The most important thing I remind myself of: arguing with her is not productive. It has taken me 34 years to understand how to apply diplomacy to our relationship: it’s not only about what to say, it is equally about when to let go of a point. As ridiculous as it sounds, I think I’ve been gifted with a more introspective sense than my mother, so I have also accepted that peace will not always come from meeting in the middle; sometimes the onus will lie more on me, than her, to accept or let go.

Mother/daughter relationships are definitely complicated. I mean, I love my mother to death. She’s the most important person in my life and my most profound support system, but good God: that woman has driven me through the wall and back.

Thank you so much for sharing your stories!

P.S. How to be a better listener, and happiness vs. wholeness.

(Illustration by Alessandra Olanow for Cup of Jo.)

  1. Karina says...

    I really really needed to hear this and absolutely loved the post and all of the comments.
    This has been so comforting and I think something that a lot of people needed to hear so thank you very much to everyone sharing

  2. C says...

    (sorry I accidentally posted this as a reply to another comment, please delete that one!!)

    My mother has been suffering from Pathological Jealousy / morbid delusional jealousy since as long as I can remember and it has impacted every part of my life. She has been diagnosed but as a Chinese woman she will never seek treatment and also will never divorce my dad due to the associated “family shame” it brings. Basically she truly believes that my father has been cheating on her or trying to have an affair with any woman that walks into the room, and will cite delusions that definitely didn’t happen (I.e. he ogled her, spoke to her with a sexual undertone etc). I’ve learned it does not matter the type of woman, just that it’s a woman, she has accused him of cheating on her with my best friend at 16 years old (which was super traumatic for me as I was banned from seeing her and also found ripped up photos of me and my friend under my bed), she also believed my dad was sleeping with HIS OWN SISTER / my auntie, so now I barely see that side of the family any more and cannot have a relationship with them without feeling like I’m betraying my mother even though they’re extremely lovely people. I witnessed this all through my formative years, the smack down arguments in public, the near car accidents driving back from any public event due to her screaming, my dad is also a small business owner and has basically stopped taking any kind of female client because she will fly into a rage if he so much as breathes in their direction. Oh and pair this with extreme judgements about how I’m not feminine enough, suggesting that I diet / modify my growing body, telling me that men will only value me for my body and nothing else. Cool cool cool yep that set me up for a lot of wonderful relationships with men and with my self image in my teens (not)

    The last straw was when I started dating my now husband and she became convinced that HE was cheating on me with one of my best friends, calling to tell me that she was looking at his car parked outside her house basically admitting to stalking my friend when he was right beside me, going into extreme hateful rage rants about my friend out of nowhere. Another friend I now even as an adult cannot publicly post photos of me hanging out with her without my mom TO THIS DAY calling me to “warn” me against. What’s funny though is I actually felt relieved that her anger was for once not directed at my dad, was happy that he got a break, isn’t that insane??

    Thank you CoJ for allowing me an outlet to post this, I honestly think it has benefitted me more than anyone who will read it but if anyone else has a parent like this, I’d love to know how you’re dealing with it now. I’m seeking counselling next week for the first time ever so it’s an exciting yet mysterious journey. Nowadays I keep my distance with my mom and try not to see her other than for logistical reasons, I always tell people that my family functions better this way, I still hear about the fights from my younger siblings who still live at home (don’t even get my started on how this has affected my Narcissist brother, the golden man child of my Chinese family) . There truly is power in distance and now I can be cordial and even friendly with her, give or take a few screaming matches every year or so, but I’ve pledged to work on myself now that I know I can’t control her reactions to me any longer.

  3. Cheyenne says...

    I would love to hear more of these stories. Women and their mothers, women and their fathers, men and their mothers, men and their fathers. All of it.

  4. Meg G says...

    I can relate so much with Genevieve! I too lost my faith in the religion I was raised in and it really impacted my relationship with my mom. My mom used to be my literal best friend that I would tell everything to. But, as I went through a faith transition, when I would try to talk about it with her, she would get very defensive and I would feel hurt and it just really made it hard to have an open, close relationship. She couldn’t totally understand me and she was so scared that my choices would destroy my life and make it so we couldn’t be together in heaven someday (what a sad thought for a mother to worry about!) Our relationship has definitely gotten better gradually through lots of conversations, and we’ve gotten better at knowing how to approach issues without hurting the other person, but it’s still not the same. HUGS Genevieve! My faith crisis was devastating, but navigating the relationships afterwards was the hardest part!

  5. DC says...

    These stories validate my difficult and strained relationship with my mother. One trigger for my mental health issues (aside from medical conditions that causes them) is my mother’s verbal and psychological abuse she inflicted on me since childhood. I cannot talk freely with family members, relatives and friends because of their judgement and harsh comments. I end up feeling guilty and ingrate. If one has not experienced what I went through, they will not fully understand. I can only discuss with comfort my cycle of issues with my therapist.
    As I assess my family history, dysfunction is heavily rooted in their own families with genetic predisposition on mental health diseases. A probable reason for my parent’s behavior especially my mother.
    My family issues has great impact on my mental and physical health, career and financial growth. More than half of my life, I have been in and out of hospitals and doctors which took a lot of money.
    I never got married and still lives with my parents, a tradition for single children in our culture and for the need for support when medical problems arise. However the cycle of family of origin issues continues. One day I will have to move to my own place for the sake of my mental health. Even with my parents, few family members and me meeting with my therapists, very little change has happened.
    I regret not having the courage to live independently when I was young but I hope to move one day soon.
    I highly encourage single and especially married women to seek consultation with mental health professionals before and while having children. Especially when they were raised by mothers and parents who were abusive and unfit. It is not easy to become parents. It is a lifelong commitment. It can be damaging for children when they are subjected to the same dysfunction and toxicity.

  6. e says...

    One of my favorite sayings is “If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother.”

  7. anonymous says...

    i have a very complicated relationship with my mother –
    she is so attentive to my older sister who is not married that she does not see me or my kids at all. she decided that since i have a husband and my sister doesnt that i dont need a mother and she can mother only one of us.
    since i got married and had kids, she would be around – only until my sister would call her/need her. soon enough – she would come less, every time we would tell her we are expecting another child – you could see her face cringe.
    today, we have no relationship with her at all. i have five beautiful kids, and every day i tell them i love them and that i will always be a mother to them no matter what.

  8. JoLynn says...

    I too have a complicated relationship with my mother, but at the end of the day, she is still my mother and I am here because of her. I have two children of my own who I love deeply. I have made mistakes with both of them; lost my temper, been critical and have said things I shouldn’t. I regret it and wish I had made better choices, but I can’t change what has already happened. But, my children know without a doubt that I love them unconditionally. I love them enough to tell them the truth, even when it’s difficult, and they can count on me to be there whenever they need me. I stand ready.
    With all that said, you can change the parenting cycle. You are not your mother. You can make the choice to parent differently. I understand deep wounds, but In making
    mistakes raising my own. I think maybe we all just do the best we can. I’m not minimizing the hurt because it’s very real; I just think forgiveness and grace are equally important. Forgiveness is the gift you give yourself and grace is the gift you give to others.

  9. JoAnna says...

    I have been so moved by this post and the incredibly rich comments people have contributed. My deep thanks to each of you who commented and shared vulnerably about such a tender part of life.

    • DC says...

      The post was timely and it struck a chord for a lot of women. It is an uncomfortable issue and not easy to talk about.

  10. Nic says...

    Hi Joanna, I have to tell you something. I had a testy and distant relationship with my mum while growing up and there are just far too many hurtful memories for me to delve into. I started reading your blog way back as a young adult and now I am a mother of 2 little girls under 2. You know who is the biggest influence in my mothering choices? You. All these years I have read about how you bring up your kids and all your motherhood Monday pieces, and how to parent kindly and with love, and every time I am faced with a parenting choice or even in my littlest interactiond with my girls, I find myself falling back to something you’ve done or shared. And I’ve gotta tell you… In these 2 years, I have received so many compliments and praises on how I parent, from family members, relatives, friends and my daughter’s teachers. Her teacher told me “Your daughter has a heart of gold. She is always so caring and kind to everyone.” So I want to thank you. For teaching me how to be a mother.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, nic, i am tearing up at my desk! that means so much to me, i’m deeply touched. thank you so much for sharing that, and you sound like a beautiful, warm and loving parent to a wonderful little person. thank you so much.

  11. Cheryl says...

    #3 really strikes a chord with me, as my mother and I used to argue non stop and she criticizes everything from my clothing to my job, all while heaping on the guilt and how I reflect the way she looks to others. In my thirties, I married and I was out of her influence because my husband was fiercely protective of my feelings which she would thoughtlessly tread on. When I read about the personality of a narcissist, everything finally made sense, and I’ve healed so much. I have to keep my mom at a distance, but it’s cheerfully, for everyone’s sanity. She can’t have a close relationship with me but we have a careful friendship within the boundaries I feel protect me from her personality disorder.
    My brother, on the other hand, has never healed from our childhood and hasn’t permitted her to go near my nephews (they live in the same state and I moved away). When it comes to my mother, distance is the best asset.

  12. We had a complicated relationship and I wished we could improve it.
    I had a feeling I just need to… improve, and then she would be happy with me.
    Improve my looks, my career, my relationships. By extension, I hoped my relationship with her would improve.
    I lost her less than a year ago to breast cancer. It was discovered early and I didn’t even consider the possibility of it not being cured. But the worst happened.
    On one hand, honestly, it’s as if something heavy was lifted off me. Our relationship caused me so much stress for years.
    But on the other, I miss my mom. Of course I do. I’m 30, and sometimes I think of all the things and events in my future that she won’t witness. I almost cried because of that recently at my friend’s wedding. If I ever have children, she won’t be there to meet them. I will never be able to take her to a trip, something I’ve been wanting for a long time. I even miss her snarky and mean comments sometimes.

  13. Sarah says...

    This may be my favorite post ever on Cup if Jo. I, too, have a complicated relationship with my mother and it makes me terrified to have a daughter. I would love to read more posts on mother daughter relationships!

  14. I really appreciated when Mathilda said, “I think I’ve been gifted with a more introspective sense than my mother, so I have also accepted that peace will not always come from meeting in the middle; sometimes the onus will lie more on me, than her, to accept or let go.”

    In my heart I have known that this sentiment is true for my relationship with my mother, and I’ve been battling with the notion and whether or not it is fair. I realized that it doesn’t matter that it’s not fair, because if I want to maintain my relationship then this is what needs to be done. Thank you for the encouragement to soldier on and for putting it into such eloquent words!!

  15. Mariana says...

    I love my mother. I want the very best for her and this kind of love comes from somewhere really deep in my heart. However, my relationship with her has not always been so lovely. We are very different people and I think we grew apart over the years, even though we are still close to each other. My mother has a kind of bipolar way of loving: she can be very warm and motherly (like a blanket on a cold night) and also very cold and insensitive when you most need of comfort and hurt you with the smallest comment. But adulthood brought me enlightment to see things in a lighter way. And even though my relationship with my mother is not perfect, I can see her and aknowledge from where she came and I can understand that what she is able to give me is the very best she can do. Mostly because she is still learning how to be a better mother. And I will always be willing to be her most dedicated student.

  16. Thivia says...

    I love this post. It’s real and un-hallmark, which is also how life happens to be. 5 stars!

  17. Mom of an incredible, strong willed, beautiful, intelligent sporty girl age 9.75 and the last two years not easy. Battle of the wills, manipulative power trips between me and her. She is my first child and I love her to pieces but wow it is not a smooth parenting ride. I am hoping teen years will be easier 😄meanwhile me and her younger brother… So smooth and easy it is scary. He may pay back when he is a teen, who knows. Xx

    • Hannah says...

      This is me and my 9.5 yo stepdaughter! Complete battle of wills where I truly struggle (and fail often) to be the adult and not be vindictive in response to what I see as manipulation and outright defiance. I googled “how to deal with a controlling child” and came up with a lot of great articles. I’m glad to hear there are other parents struggling with girls this age! I always try to tell her, “I respect and admire that you go your own way and don’t just follow people blindly, but that makes you so hard to parent”. LOL! But I actually think saying those words to her was super impactful because it let her know that I’m a human whose doing my best and I’m not trying to change who she is—I just need her to brush her teeth!

  18. RS says...

    I just saw an excerpt from a book called IT NEVER ENDS: MOTHERING MIDDLE-AGED DAUGHTERS by Nan Fink Gefen. It looks interesting, and like it might align with some of what is discussed in this post, and the comments.

  19. Thank you for sharing other mother-daughter relationships- it goes so far to normalize the many ways this familial bond can evolve between two people. My relationship with my mother is neutral, but nothing like the loving, best friend descriptions that are usually depicted. Its isolating for me to constantly read about mothers and daughters who seem to have such a tight and magical connection. I’ve often felt like a failure since I am not able to have that with my own mother. Presenting other versions of this story is so important and I’m grateful to see you leading this charge. xoxo.

    • Sasha L says...

      Same Melanie. It’s hard not to feel left out, and a loss. I’ve never had a warm, close relationship with either of my parents. I think I feel the loss all the more because I do have that with my own daughters and husband. On an intellectual level I understand why my mom is how she is, and I have great empathy for her, but I also have so much sadness that she’s never comforting or even seems to understand me (or tries to). I have so much jealousy for women who have close, loving mothers. I was a birth doula for many years and I’d see these grandmothers be so incredibly loving to their daughters, when they needed it most ……. And feel such a loss.

  20. Lindsey says...

    Thank you so much for this post. I, too, have a complicated relationship with my mother. I can relate most to Frances’ story. My mother attempted death by suicide right after I graduated from college and our relationship has never been the same since. I also believe she suffers from addiction – at the time she was taking a lot of pills and dealing with depression and anxiety (she can prescribe drugs and was self-medicating) and now I do believe she’s drug free but has substituted Rx drugs with alcohol. She still maintains a good job and is what I call a “functional alcoholic”. We’ve never been able to communicate the way we used to though, which I feel is on me just as much as it’s on her. And as much as it pains me to admit it, I hold a pretty high bar for people in my life and I think I simply expect too much out of her and there’s a part of me that resents what she did, or at least tried to do. Although we’ve both changed a lot over the years, to me she feels like a totally different person than she used to be. We would talk on the phone all the time and I opened up to her about most intimate parts of my life. Now, she’s no where near the first person I would tell those things to or go to for advice, if she’s even someone I would lean on at all. Our communication is much more surface-level these days. And I also tell my husband that I wish he would have truly known my mom before she became the person that she is today – the one who raised me and that I could always respect and relate to. I still love her but it’s simply not the same and I fear never will be. I only hope I can better come to accept our relationship for what it is and we can learn to trust and accept one another again for who we are.

  21. Tricia says...

    Mothers Day is always complicated for our household. That notion of a mother’s love being conditional is something I’m sadly familiar with from my own mom. I thought that when I had a child of my own I would understand the decisions my parents made, but I’m more confused than ever. How you can have a tiny person that you’re responsible for and behave so selfishly is beyond my comprehension.

    My mother-in-law was mercurial at best, incredibly damaging and manipulative at worst and really despised me. She had my husband very young and was threatened by my not bending to her whims. I never wanted to get in the way, she was my husband’s mom after all and he shouldn’t be forced to choose between people but she backed him into a corner and he didn’t choose her. She refused to allow him into her life, talked poorly of him to his family and they didn’t allow him back to see her until she was in a coma from her suffering from breast cancer. She woke up from the coma on Mother’s Day and died three days later. He is an amazing, caring and resilient man.

    We’re just doing our best to be the parents we never had for our seven year old daughter. She is absolutely the best. I hope she makes good choices when she gets older but I will love her always no matter what.

  22. Margaret says...

    Think I’ve been waiting all week to read these knowing they would be heavy. Tears as I was reading. I have a wonderful loving relationship with my mom but of course it’s not without its complications and miscommunications (oh the miscommunications!). The tears have less to do with our own complications and much more to do with the weight of it all. What my relationship with her has meant to me and my sister: the dramatic high school fights over double ear piercings, the college years when she knew I was making choices she wouldn’t agree with, the era of parenting and marriage and home ownership and the loss of her mother. Now more contemporaries and the high drama is gone but still no relationship cuts to the quick more and I am so aware of that with my own daughter. My mom was alway a full time stay at home mom and gave us such big and daily love. Without even verbalizing it I think I always assumed I would be the same. When I went back to work full time I was so worried about what that version of motherhood would look like. And if I’m being honest, what would she think? She quietly surprised me with a pair of earrings and a note that essentially said, “How lucky they are to have you!” I look at it every day. A constant reminder of unconditional support and what that will mean for my own daughter.

  23. Amellie says...

    I’m not American, but I just read the news of Alabama’s Senate passing restrictive anti-abortion laws and I have to wonder — how many women could have been pressured into motherhood because there was no easy access to either Planned Parenthood or abortion clinics? I understand that it’s a really hot-button topic but I’ve always found it saddening that something as basic as a woman’s right to make decisions for her own body and sexual and reproductive health can be so politicized. (It’s basically the same in my home country, along with a hefty dose of religious hysteria added to the mix.) Is it possible that in that way some (not all, of course) women who found themselves in difficult positions following unexpected pregnancies may then have had no choice but to follow through with the pregnancy and then inadvertently became the difficult/complicated/downright bad Mothers so many readers (including myself) have found ourselves grappling with all our lives? Yes giving babies up for adoption is always an option as well but for married women whose husbands wanted kids even though they were undecided (or even opposed), that would likely not have been an available option for them. Thoughts?

    • Sasha L says...

      I agree, many mothers with children that are not their choice. It’s incredibly sad and the heart of many relationship issues I think. In our country it’s barely acceptable to not want children, but completely demonized to admit you have them but didn’t want them. Or that motherhood hasn’t been happy for you. And our country does such a shitty job of protecting mothers and children, of supporting them, especially WOC and poor women. No paid parental leave. No national health insurance or paid child care. Our health care system doesn’t even do a good job of keeping us safe. Yet, as mothers we are supposed to love every minute, always put our children’s and family’s needs ahead of our own. It’s a wonder any of us do an adequate job as mothers given our conditions and the unrealistic idealization of motherhood.

  24. sal says...

    Thank you for posting this when you did, as I (and clearly many others) are just coming off a tough weekend of seeing others celebrating their lovely moms. I’m grateful for the different pov on this site since every time Jo posts about her nurturing mother it brings up major pangs of grief in me — not knocking those posts, just sad I don’t have a mom like that. My mom is a narcissist. She did her best and lived through an abusive childhood herself but I have separated myself more and more from her over the past 15 yrs or so and now that I finally don’t live near her in the past few months I feel so much lighter and more free. Her energy has dragged me down so much my whole life and now that I’m way into adulthood I just want to be away from it entirely, which of course makes me feel both sad and guilty. But I can feel in my body what’s best for me. It’s very tough to recognize these things when the manipulation and control is masked with “love.” and “good intentions.” My mom only cares about what is best for her. I am still trying to accept I don’t have a mother anymore but I have known for several years that I don’t miss her one bit. Her love is conditional. These things take a long time to come to light, in my experience, but I’m so glad to be a grown up who can get away from toxicity. Reading every single comment here over the past day has been empowering and heartwarming.

    • Anon says...

      I relate. It’s a tough thing for me too to accept the grief of realizing I’ll never feel unconditional love from her because she’s refused to acknowledge/seek the help she needs to recover from her own trauma.

  25. Christina says...

    My mom has Narcissistic Personality Disorder and is quite elderly (87), so she needs help, but says she doesn’t, and then tells me what I’m doing wrong or that I’m bossy or no fun and then flips and says how much she loves me, and then bad mouths me to a friend or my brother and then lies or keeps secrets or does something sneaky…etc etc.
    We had a very strained and, on my end, extremely distrustful relationship as I was growing up. She just wasn’t nurturing or there for me in the way I needed, and I think I recognized that she was ‘off’ for a long time which affected how I behaved towards her. It took a very long time (I was 45!) until I learned about NPD and what it looks like, and when I did start reading and educating myself about it I felt like a thousand light bulbs were going on, illuminating the struggles and heartbreak I had throughout my life and the choices and decisions I make as an adult. On Mother’s Day I went to brunch with her at her retirement community, and at one point she turned to the woman next to her and said,”My kids don’t talk to me. Look at Christina, she’s talking to everyone at the table but me!” These little untrue comments are constant, and so I am always in the process of reminding myself that I don’t have to react, that talking about my feelings with my mom will NOT give me the results I seek, and that she is mentally ill and will not change.
    I can only change my own reactions to things, and my own perceptions of things. I am always jealous of women who write or talk about their positive, even friendly (!), relationships with their mothers. I am working on that jealousy, but the pain of a mother who is physically present but emotionally abusive or absent is quite strong.

    • Sharon says...

      Thank you for sharing your story and words. My mother is a narcissist too. I just realized it last year and I’m still trying to figure out where we go next. There’s so much pain, isolation, and confusion as I sift through our relationship then and now. As a young mother I’m often at a loss because I don’t feel like I have a role model. But I have a great therapist, I really love the book “Will I ever be good enough: healing the daughters of narcissistic mothers” by Dr. McBride, and I’m trying to be patient as I figure out how to interact with her now. I know she loves me but she’s so painful to spend time with, so hurtful, and never supportive. Anyways, it’s helpful to hear others experiences.

    • Sherrie says...

      GENIUS! And so is this article. I live your life – except my mom has a victim complex – and came to some peace only recently – and I am 53 years old. It took that long to learn to “NOT REACT” – my 51 year old beloved sister still does – and suffers the consequences. I have resigned myself to the fact that I will respect my mom and be polite, but love? That really isn’t part of the equation…..

  26. Wow!!
    There are so many heartfelt stories here. My relationship has been great with my mum, although as with any relationship there are total downtime’s and blissful up times.
    As a teenager I was always honest with my mother letting her know where I was.
    But I would never tell my father as he was a hard man.

    Onto my relationship with my daughters. We are all good friends and love each other dearly. My daughters are both in their 20s and I have to say I was an angry Mother when they were younger. It was a learnt action form my childhood.

    Which I eventually broke hoping my daughters will be more
    patient and calmer than I ever was.

    A lesson learnt be all of us.
    I now teach them to be calm and always as happy as they can be as that is super important.

    I know my girls will be amazing parents and for that I am grateful in every way.

    We all try to learn from our mistakes. I have told my daughters in many levels I am sorry for the way I was and how proud I am of the beautiful loving caring ladies they are.

    We all have lessons to learn form everyday instances. Life is about choices.

  27. Anonymous2 says...

    I invented the mom I need. When I am really down I closes my eyes and imagine a giant mother who can hold me the way I hold my babies. She tells me everything I need to hear. It has been really wonderful. She loves me in the exact way I need, which is very different from the way my real mother is able to love me.

    I just thought about doing the same for my dad. (Mind explosion.)

    • Mary says...

      I love this. Thank you for sharing. There is so much empowerment here (and no victimhood). You’ve inspired me. x

  28. C says...

    I am the first generation born in this country and truly that is the beginning of many ways in which a mother/daughter relationship can be difficult. Only recently have I realized that not only did my mother want more for me then she had as a child she also most likely thought (and was) she was indeed being “better” then her own mother/parents. This realization has really struck me as I too believe and work hard to be a wonderful mother and think I am doing “better”. Am I? Or am I so anxiously focused on Not being my mother and being “better” in most ways that I am missing the present moment and giving less of myself in the process? Do I even know myself as a mother or do I only know what I do not want to be and what I am striving for? Mothering is hard. In a way, we are the living memories of our parents and all they wanted for us.
    I have been trying to set down all these expectations and really listen, really be aware and present and forgive as much as I apologize.
    In a recent talk w/ a friend she mentioned how she had read and then heard in a seminar that apologizing to your children can rewire their brains. I’m not even looking it up because I know that if my mother ever apologized to me my life would indeed change. Just a few simple words can bring such relief and healing. The need to be seen and acknowledged runs deep.

    • vm says...

      Dear C, these words touched me very deeply. Especially “a few simple words can bring such relief and healing—the need to be seen and acknowledged runs deep”. I have a close yet distant relationship with my own mother, whilst I grew up in my home country (India), so many of the things you’ve mentioned resonate. I know my mother gave me more than she ever got, especially in terms of love and energy and attention, but so many patterns from her not so happy childhood persisted (and continue to persist). Whilst she has so much more patience and empathy today, what I see as breaches of trust and a complete lack of patience and time for me as a child continue to colour the way I perceive our relationship. And the way that things always become centric to her and her positions (even my wanting to have a child or adopting) makes me so mistrustful that she has my best interests at heart. Or that she even really knows who I am. At the same time, I know she wants the best for me — its all so complicated. I don’t really know how to better this—or what I really want. And many times I think I’m an ungrateful child for thinking this at all, this conversation is one I only have in silence with myself. So thank you for sharing, I wish you strength and positivity in your journey.

  29. JenniferFromAustin says...

    I came back today to read more comments because this post has really stuck with me over the last 24 hours. The comments reinforce my belief that we’re all starving for real, messy, non-curated conversations about real sh*t. The collective exhale of “thank god I’m not alone” and ” I can’t believe someone else has had my experience” shows us how important it is to tell the truth of our experiences, because when we do, we don’t just heal ourselves, we can light the spark of healing in someone else and so on and so on. Holding you all in the light.

    • Saira says...

      I did the exact same thing, and reacted in the exact same way. Telling the truth about our experiences is so important for ourselves.

  30. Twyla says...

    For everyone who has issues with their Mother – I highly recommend reading Toxic Parents by Susan Forward. It was invaluable in helping me to understand why my mom does what she does, and gave me tools to respond in a way that I wouldn’t regret later. I always envied women who said their mom was their idol and best friend, I never knew what that was like. My mom didn’t know how to be a loving mom, and acted more like a jealous older sister. There was a lot of manipulation, guilt and shame in our home growing up, but thankfully we live in a world that provides a lot room for dialogue and awareness about those types of family situations. Thank God for self-help books and therapy!!

  31. Mara says...

    I wonder how many women have chosen not to have children because of how they were treated by their mothers, and fearful of turning into the same person with their children. It was painfully obvious that my mom had children because that was the norm back then. I wryly joke with my husband that my dad wanted 4 children, my mom wanted 0, and they compromised with 2! Growing up, she picked my sister to be her favorite and they did best-friend type activities like makeup shopping and going to the movies. I am a chip off the old block and have my mom’s side’s anxiety and depression…and after years of therapy, I now see that back then, my mom recognized in me many traits of her own, traits that she disliked (such as the mood disorder); my sister was popular, easy-going, stunningly beautiful, the exact opposite of me. My mom loved me, but purely as an extension of herself — I had to be what she’d envisioned as her First Born, and when I wasn’t, home life was hellish. As a child and teen I heard my fair share of stories of what she had to give up after I was born (an amazing career, exotic travel, etc). Parents can really mess up their kids. I’ve never felt the urge to be a mother, but a big part of me wonders how I’d be if I grew up with unconditional love and acceptance from my mother.

    • vm says...

      Dear Mara, parts of your story sound so familiar and for similar reasons, I’ve didnt feel the urge to be a mother in my early 30s, as so many friends around me did. Now that I’m 37, I really want to explore whether I don’t want children or if its other factors like my mother not wanting children that colour my decision. I wish you healing and peace, thank you for sharing.

    • Kiersten says...

      I’m so sorry to hear what you went through, Mara. Rejection by one’s own parents is a special kind of painful, more so when it’s because you remind them of themselves. May I offer a small suggestion? It might help to try to reframe the way you think about your sister — I don’t know you but I’m very sure that you ascribe all the positive traits you listed to her because that’s what your mother conditioned you to think over the years, because that’s what she valued. (And not because you yourself aren’t gorgeous or pretty — forgive the cliche but beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all.) Also you may not be everything your sister is but that doesn’t mean you don’t have value or worth just because you’re different from her. And if your mom (the one that you resemble most closely) doesn’t value you, then really she’s just saying she doesn’t think much of herself, isn’t it? Sometimes it can be hard to see through our parents’ prejudices/worldviews and recognize them as uniquely theirs and not necessarily yours, due to the years and years of internalizing their very biased messages.

      All of which to say, I see you, I hear you, and I empathize.

  32. Anon says...

    “I wish you had gotten a chance to know my mom.”

    I tell my husband this all the time. My mom has been a drug addict for 20+ years and in the last 10 or so has suffered from schizophrenia. I had a rough childhood. When anything good or bad happens in my life it doesn’t even cross my mind to call her. Still, I wish he could meet the person she used to be.

    • Lindsay says...

      This. This is exactly what I try to explain to my husband and family. I’m a good mother (I hope!) because of my mother and how great she was to me as a child, but unfortunately I don’t even know if she’s alive or dead anymore because of her extreme schizophrenia.

  33. Christine says...

    My mom was really strict when we were growing up but as a new mom myself, I totally respect the fact that all moms have different parenting styles and that *most* moms parent the way that they do out of love. My mom and I have a good relationship but I feel like I’ve always wanted more. I think it is so important to find out what your child’s love language is and parent in a way specific to that love language. As a new mom, I am committed to… almost obsessed with wanting to ensure that my daughter and I have a wonderful relationship and that she never feels like our relationship is lacking in any way. I can’t wait to figure out her love language and parent her in a way where she feels loved all the time, no matter what. I love her so much.

  34. Louise says...

    My Mom is a very kind person, but since my father died a few years ago, our relationship has changed. She’s become a very anxious, sad, unreasonable person. Our roles have reversed and I often find myself in the parent role of trying to soothe or reason with her. That’s particularly hard because I have two small children of my own. I have to listen to all of her depressed thoughts on the phone, but if I’m anything less than sunshine, she tells me she spent all night worrying about me. It’s exhausting. Especially since she won’t take any of my advice of getting a therapist, traveling, meeting up with friends, etc. She just seems to want to mope and make me feel guilty.

    • Christy says...

      My husband is going through this with his father right now, and it’s so difficult. If there’s any way you can get other family members or friends of your mother to help you get her into therapy, that would be such a huge help and relief to you. It is so heavy to have to carry that by yourself, and it’s not your job. Wishing you the best.

    • dpmitten says...

      This is 100% me. You are not alone. WHen you lose one parent, you sometimes feel like you lose two.

    • H. says...

      Louise, I’m so sorry you’re going through this. My mom is also very anxious and depressed, and she doesn’t have any friends so she just calls my one sister and me to talk about things. (And same thing — She won’t try to make friends because she acts too busy, since she helps my other sister with her two sons, and is very socially anxious.) And she also does the worrying thing if I share something bad, and says things like “I wish I saw you more” and gets very emotional at the end of a visit, which makes is really hard for me to WANT to spend time with her; I already am trying to think of ways to get out of visiting for the holidays, and wish I could talk to her less than the once a week we’re at now (and that makes me feel even worse, like what kind of monster dreads talking to their mom, when she hasn’t actually done anything WRONG and clearly needs support??). I definitely understand feeling guilty. It’s really rough. Sending you hugs.

  35. Anna says...

    Sorry if someone has posted something similar, I haven’t read the comments yet, but Joanna, I would love to read more about your relationship with your mother growing up. What did she do to raise such a great daughter who clearly still adores her mom? You just seem to have such a wonderful enviable bond that’s lasted right through your adulthood – I feel like we could all learn a lot from Jean about how to foster positive and meaningful relationships with our daughters as they grow up. I have a 3 year old and a 5 month old and often wonder what Jean would do in some of my tough parenting situations!

    This was a great article anyway – thanks. Elizabeth Gilbert posted something on Instagram on US Mother’s Day this weekend about having mercy on our mothers instead of judging them too harshly and I think this really rings true.

    • K says...

      Yes! I saw that as well (Elizabeth Gilbert’s post) and it really spoke to me. My mom was a great mother in so many ways. She put us first and told us, everyday, she loved us. The anger I held on to was that she was just a human trying to figure it all out too (she made mistakes in terms of exposing me to bad people, abusive behavior, but now I see she was living in her own battles. She was a young mother, but she was a loving mother). I’m so grateful now, that I’ve realized that. We’re so different—she’s religious, I’m not (vocally), she’s social and outgoing (I’m only that way when I’m in comfortable small groups)…. but just a few weekends ago we were talking about the life work of creating our own happiness everyday. She’s newly engaged, I’m in an 11 year relationship. I’m very happy, she’s struggling. It was a moment of just helping each other figure this out, talking it through, the love of the past present, resentment released. It’s a funny world.

  36. I. says...

    This is wonderful. One of the reader comments right at the top was that she had a fine relationship with her mom: she enjoyed her company and depended on her little emotionally. This is true for me as well, but the trouble is that I think my mom resents me for not being more (totally?) emotionally dependent on her. Like one of the three posters, I’d agree that she’s not the first person I’d talk to in times of trouble. It’s navigating that resentment that is so hard; and what’s harder is that while my mom claims that she’s a very open person, she actually much prefers to leave a lot of things unsaid. So communicating is hard.

    • BT says...

      Oh my, yes!! This is exactly me too. My sister is sooo emotionally dependent on my mom and not in a healthy way, and I am not. I feel her resentment for this often but too many times she has either used my feeling against me or twisted them around so much to make her the victim that I just try not to engage at all anymore. Thank you for your comment it really helped me!

  37. sarah redmond says...

    I”m currently a mom…i had a strained, complicated relationship with my mother and grandmother. I’ve worked hard to break the cycle of emotional abuse that i received. I think I’m a good mom…but my relationship with my oldest daughter (13) has always been rough. I feel so disconnected, I don’t understand her. It kills my heart as she is mine. Any advice, encouragement ? How can I truly love her, teacher her about forgiveness and all the things I’ve worked so hard on and still protect my heart when she lashes out at me. When we just can never get on the same page. It hurts all the time. We also have 2 others that i’m very connected with. I”m sure she can feel that sometimes. Being a mom is hard…being a mom with baggage, deep hurts is so hard.

    • Caitlin says...

      I’m a teacher (not a mom), but hope I can offer some insight from my perspective. I’ve witnessed many types of parenting styles and parent/child dynamics and have yet to see a family where there is complete understanding and harmony between all members…I think this is simply a function of being human! With that said, I also feel like there are so many seasons in a child’s life (in all of our lives, of course, but I see the most dramatic changes with young people). The season of disconnect with your eldest might feel never-ending, but it is always possible that a new season is coming. It sounds like you are working diligently to not repeat the traumas and patterns of the past, and that in and of itself is major! You’re doing a good job, Mama. <3

  38. Julia says...

    Wow, what an amazing post and group of readers! I grieve for all of the sad stories and cheer on everyone doing so well. My relationship with my mother is fine – I depend on her very little, especially emotionally, but I enjoy her company now and appreciate all the things she does and has done over the years to try and show how she cares. Finding other women – friends, mentors, mother-figures, role models – to support me has been one of the most powerfully positive forces in my life. I hope to help my children cultivate these types of relationships as well as I think that having many adults in your life as a child and as you grow is a beautiful thing. I feel like my relationship with my parents is very important, but it is also not the ultimate for me, for which I am grateful.

  39. txilibrin says...

    This touched home. I have the theory that not everyone should have kids. I also have the theory that there are two type of parents, those who love their kids more than their partners, and those that love their partners more than their kids.
    With this, let’s dive into my relationship with my mom (if anyone is interested). She is my mom and will always be, but I’d never ever call her for help or to cry on the phone so she can comfort me. Why? Because I never had that relationship. I don’t know what moms are supposed to help you with, or how. My mom wasn’t meant to have kids, and never really taught me I could rely on her, or I could count with her. So I never did, and now i don’t need her.
    She is selfish, like really selfish. She sees her own reality. She loved my father more (which I’m totally OK with!). Once they divorced, she kept saying that I was the only person I had left in the world. So for me, it was impossible to bond with her at that point, and never made myself available for her (I know, not a good kid either).
    My father ended up passing away from lung cancer, and her words to me where two sentences that will live with me my entire life and won’t let me ever forgive her. 1) You should have told me he was sick, so I could talk to my lawyer about the $$$ I need to get from the State once he passes away. 2) It is a relief for me that he passed away, I’m no longer afraid of running into him.
    Like, what mom ever says that to a 27 year old that just lost his dad?

    Now we live 7h apart taking a transoceanic flight, so we don’t even talk on the phone, we just text once in a while, when I send her photos of her grandson.

    I might had made no sense at all, but when I think about her, alllll this stuff comes to my mind. All tangled together. There is no way of untangling it for me.

    Not having had a mom role in my life makes my question my ability of being a good mom to my kids. It really really makes me sad, and I hope I don’t repeat her errors.

    • Cassie says...

      I’m so sorry you had to go through that Txilibrin. If it helps at all, I can relate. This reminds me of the time my mother packed her bags and was leaving the house after a huge, knockdown drag-out fight with my father when I was 6. When I asked her where she was going, she said “I’m going to kill myself!” and then just left even though 6-year-old me was utterly distraught and bawling my eyes out. Who says that to their 6-year-old child?!?!?? I don’t care how upset she might have been after the fight with her husband, it’s just not right. After that statement, she might as well have followed through with her own threat because she effectively rendered herself dead to me from that moment onwards.

    • april says...

      That sounds hard but it sounds like you’re finding your way to some sort of peace with it. Peace to you, stranger.

    • Liv says...

      thanks for sharing your heart. That is a lot of heavy stuff to carry on your shoulders. It sounds like thoughts about your mother and your relationship have brought up some really painful memories and current feelings of being an inadequate mother. I think the fact that you are just opening yourself up to processing this means a lot and shows that you care about your relationship to your children. I want to encourage you to keep grappling with these thoughts and talk about them. There is no shame in talking to someone about your familial relationships – in fact these three stories show just how freeing it is to share. You are not alone.

    • Ann says...


      I feel like I just read my story. My mother walked out on the family when I was 7 (my little sister was 4 and my older sister was 8) and never returned. I don’t have a relationship with her at all. She lives 13 hrs transoceanic flight away. My Dad died of gastric cancer two years ago and she flew back to the States in hopes of getting some of his estate. It broke my heart when she admitted why she had returned. We had a fight that gutted me. She told me my boys would never love me fully and she was right to leave us three girls. I haven’t spoken to her since that argument. I grieve for my Dad every single day. He raised the 3 of us and took on the role of Mom and Dad. His last year of life was excruciating and I’m haunted by it. It’s shameful to admit but I don’t think I’ll grieve for my Mother when she passes away. I am at a point where she’s sort of a distant memory. I longed for a Mom all my life but now I’ve come to terms with the fact I will never have her. It’s hard navigating motherhood without having a reference point or a Mom figure. I read up on parenting books, intently watch Mom friends as they mother and come to this space to soak up all the good bits Joanna, her team and this community share. For that I’m eternally grateful.

    • JoLynn says...

      I hope you will consider forgiving your Mom. Forgiveness is the gift you give yourself and removes the weight from around your own heart. It can be very difficult to forgive, but it can be very freeing if you can.❤️

  40. jane says...

    I posted earlier about my challenging mother without reading through the comments and now I see there are so many others with similar issues.

    While my mother’s mother had zero community and even less personal knowledge of how to deal with her very difficult life as a German, post WWII, cultural pressure even as an American in the empathy-free zone of the American government was and IS – to this day – brutal. Her story is so fascinating that I want to write a screenplay about it, (don’t have a clue where to begin, not being a writer by profession – suggestions?).

    Growing up in the 80’s I remember how much emphasis US government placed on “family values” without any ACTUAL support for the women who were pressured to generate and maintain those families in an era where men were unaccountable for nearly any responsibility. Thinking of France’s national neonatal system among others. But I’m preaching to the choir here.

    What I wanted to be sure to say is that we can only imagine the PRESSURE US mothers after the 60’s through to present have experienced in trying to figure out if when and how to have children in a post modern world, with no financial support or recognition of the value bringing children into an economy offers, AND the deeply mixed message that strongly encouraged family while being aggressively anti-family in practice. Compare to France’s national neonatal system among others. But I’m preaching to the choir here.
    Add whatever disfunction they grew up with and it seems vital to cut our mother’s major slack – because who? could? thrive in the toxic culture they dealt with? Compassion and understanding are vital not only for personal healing, imo, but as well as they lessen the blame for our mother’s and I would like to highlight that as a path through to forgiveness. But that said, do not stay in toxic family relationships – a toxic family is NOT better than nothing if it denies your own well-being and that’s a fact. Sometimes you have to divorce your family and find chosen family. No shame. It is Courage.

    • jane says...

      Wow – I made several cut and paste edits while writing the above that the comment form did not register and now my comment looks like a crazy person wrote it.

  41. Sara says...

    I am so grateful for that Rainer Maria Rilke quote, Mathilda. Thank you for providing a wonderful way for me to see my own complicated relationship with my Mom in a new light.
    Wow, CoJ, the depth of your daily content just always blows me away. Thank you thank you.

  42. Kay says...

    Tbh, I dislike my mother. Like utterly, completely and totally dislike her, to the point where I don’t even want any kind of relationship with her. She is just so FAKE. And narcissistic, and selfish, and shallow, and cruel, and — there’s no other way to put it — dumb as rocks. Growing up, I’d regularly come home from school to find broken plates etc on the floor because she would always clash/fight with my dad but because she could never win the arguments, she’d storm off to her sister’s house and get her to teach her underhanded tricks on how to one-up my dad and manipulate us kids to get him to do what she wanted. (Rinse and repeat even though every time it’s the same outcome — the very definition of stupidity.) She’d choose the nights before our major school exams to pick fights with my dad and deliberately SHAKE ALL US KIDS awake in our beds to bear some kind of twisted witness to her tantrums, because she knew my dad cared about our education and depriving us of sleep would negatively impact our grades. (Of course she didn’t give a damn that this approach might ruin our futures in the long run if we flunked the exams, so long as she got what SHE wanted in the short term — attention and whatever validation she could wring out of us.) She’d guilt us kids repeatedly by saying the only reason she was staying with my dad was because of us kids, yet later when she had the chance to divorce him and have us kids take care of her instead, she threw that offer back in our faces and willingly CHOSE to stay with the man who wanted to divorce her, an act that highlighted the depths of her duplicitousness and manipulativeness. (So much for only staying with him because of us kids!) She would paint herself as an absolute saint to the neighborhood aunties — cooking, baking etc for every random stranger at the expense of, and to the detriment of, her own family, who were left without dinner at home while she cooked up a storm for other people’s families out of our household budget — so that when she’d whine about how badly my dad treated her, everyone would take her side and cluck “oh poor you!” ad nauseam. She’d run off every weekend to live it up with her sisters, leaving underaged me alone in the house without supervision or meals, all while screaming instructions on how to do her chores at me all the way out the door. It frustrated and enraged me then, and still disgusts me to this day because she still has not learned anything, has no self-awareness, and for damn sure no sense of responsibility for her terrible marriage being at least half her own doing (my dad was no peach either but the 2 of them together objectively made things 1000% worse). Every holiday season she bleats at me to come home and visit and she’ll cook for me and why don’t we ever spend time together, etc, with zero understanding of how her behavior has driven me so far away that there’s no coming back from it. It is the single biggest reason I chose not to have any kids, because as much as I despise the way she treated me, I am singularly terrified of even remotely turning into her and potentially subjecting any kid of mine to the same kind of terrible attitude. I have never felt the urge to celebrate Mother’s Day in any way with her because as far as I’m concerned she was an awful mother and worse person — a realization made more horrible because her actions were deliberate and intentional, as opposed to those made by someone under the influence of substances like alcohol or drugs. Nowadays I celebrate MD with my MIL, who in the few short years I’ve known her has been more of a mother to me than my own ever was.

    • Carrie says...

      You deserved a better mother. I hear you and relate more than I wish.

    • Kay says...

      Thank you so much, Carrie. Your words brought me no small measure of comfort.

    • Dianna says...

      Please know you are not alone with the feelings you have towards your mother. I too dislike my mother and finally was able to admit that freely in therapy and not feel guilty about it for the first time a few months ago. I’m glad you have a MIL who you can have that type of mothering relationship with in your life.

    • Jessie says...

      You are not alone! I relate so much. Is it possible your mom has Borderline Personality Disorder (or some sort of personality disorder?). I believe mine does. It explains a lot. It can be difficult and lonely when you don’t have a good mom because when you talk about it, sometimes people act like “how could you say that, she’s your mom!”. They don’t get it. Some people simply cannot imagine having lousy parents. It’s like wanting a great dane but having to accept that you have a poodle instead. So sorry. I see you.

    • Kay says...

      Thank you, Dianna, for your kind words. I’m glad you’ve been able to let go of the guilt over your feelings about your mother. I’ve never been able to talk about my mother with other people because they just wouldn’t be able to understand. They can’t fathom that there are parents out there (short of outright abusive monsters) whose every action and word come from a place of pure self-interest, who stop at nothing to get their own way even if it means harming their own kids. Growing up I resented friends whose parents had their best interests at heart, because I knew it was something I didn’t and would never have. I’ve made my peace with that I guess but I do still wonder sometimes what my life would have been like with a truly supportive and loving parent (just one would do!).

    • Kay says...

      Oh my goodness Jessie, I had *just* posted that comment when yours popped up! I’ve literally had ppl say that exact line to me. But I no longer feel the need to justify my feelings to anybody, now I just keep it to myself because no one can really understand (except for this forum, ha). It just is what it is. As for my mother possibly suffering from a personality disorder of some sort, I can’t speak to that as I’m not qualified to make even an armchair diagnosis. And frankly there have been so many other unforgivable things she’s said and done over the years that ascribing any of it to any kind of mental illness would just be letting her off the hook and playing into her established pattern of gaslighting everyone to avoid responsibility for her words and deeds. Believe me, she could have stopped herself at many points along the way. To her it was simply more enjoyable and validating to continue playing the martyr.

  43. Riley says...

    Wow, that first one. I feel seen!

  44. Jessica says...

    I would’ve loved the mothers of these women to also write about the relationship, to hear their perspective of the same situation. The mother/daughter relationship is so nuanced, and often just comes down to differences in perspective. It’s helpful to hear both sides to make sense of things – name it to tame it! And name it from both sides.

    My relationship with my mother can also be challenging. And now that I am a mom, I’m so interested to hear how my kids will interpret my own actions and intentions.

    • Colleen says...

      I agree with this 💯. And often think how my own children will understand our relationship. There are so many things from my childhood and relationship with my mother that have only been understood with time and experience. And my relationship with my mother at 34 is so drastically different than it was at 24. I imagine it continues this way for the rest of our lives.

    • Emma says...

      While this may ring true with certain mother/daughter relationships not so for some of us whose mothers are mentally ill. Getting my mother’s perspective means hearing a version that is gas lit. So so hard to deal with.

    • Jessica, YES!

      I have read through the comments and felt all the broken hearts and struggles. I had a very abusive mother, she was mentally ill and never treated medically until very near her death at 64. I was her verbal & physical punching bag for most of my life.

      I tried every trick to be the best mother I could be to my own 3 kids 2 of which are daughters. Just last weekend, our middle daughter got married. The whole weekend was painful (I have always thought we were so close) but I drove back home to Montana crying and mourning something I cannot describe. I can’t describe it.

      Being a mother is so challenging. I don’t think there is any other job that is so deeply important or so easily criticized. What I thought I was doing right….may have been interpreted as toxic or overbearing. I KNOW I MADE mom mistakes! I have confessed and asked for forgiveness a million times for any shortcomings…

      Still, this relationship can be so painful. Even when it was a good one.

      I wonder the same, what would many of the accused moms say about their side of the relationship. There is no manual for being a mama and oftentimes, no help from anyone to lead you into success.

      This is such a heavy subject. Love to you daughters that still hurt. :(

  45. Stefanie says...

    I’m 34, my mom is 71, and I’m worried about early signs of dementia and/or alzheimers. Basically I’ve noticed she often isn’t listening to me. She is always looking at her phone (she’s worse than a high schooler that way). Sometimes I notice a very specific pause after I’ve said something, after which she changes the subject to something about her. This seems to happen after I’ve shared something personal, and it’s like she doesn’t know what to do with it? I’ve gotten mad and called her out on not listening. “Can you repeat what I just said?” And she can’t.
    When I’m feeling more charitable I suspect early dementia, but then that just makes me sad. Like her window to truly know me is closing, and I’m trying to be open, but she can’t or isn’t interested in knowing me in that way. I thought becoming a mother myself would give us something new to connect over, but she seems to recall so little from her early years mothering, and have so little emotion attached to it. Maybe I will, too, in thirty years.

    • jane says...

      Science is very close to curing Alzheimers. This is just one of many articles.

      For what it’s worth, even though I am interested in science, I lean heavily towards holistic health and it seems obvious that dehydration is a major factor in brain degeneration for the elderly. I’d love to see a study on how hydration – like drinking the litre of water or veg juice per day we all should, and supplementing with healthy fats and lecithin – would make on people with dementia/alzheimers. It’s very common for the elderly to not drink ANY water.

      Anyway I hope you don’t take her loss of interest too personally. You have your relationship with your child to focus on and every possibility exists for a loving relationship there.

    • Jo Kelly says...

      Hi Stefanie – I just had to respond, in case you’re still reading these comments… to share a bit of our story. My mother began to slip into dementia in her early 70’s. One of the big signs for her, other than obvious forgetfulness, was that she laughed at everything, and became more “giddy”. My husband would say “it’s almost like your mom is drunk!”… which she definitely wasn’t. The ups and downs are too numerous to mention here but looking back, several things stand out – especially things we didn’t do very well as a family. Get medical and professional guidance. And please go along or have another sibling go along if at all possible. The family of the one with dementia needs a lot of understanding and care too! My dad was in denial that my mom had dementia for so long and was insulted at the conversation (not uncommon)… and, instead becoming part of the solution, my sisters & I (all grown with families) let ourselves become separated from them/ and worst of all, from helping her when it mattered. She eventually was admitted to a long term care home (at the young age of 75) where she was beautifully cared for for almost 10 years until she passed. We did visit her, but it took a long time for the complex rift between my dad and all of us to heal (for some it still hasn’t). Though we lose our loved ones to dementia long before they pass away, there is still something so precious about that time with them. My mom was gentle and quiet in her new/old skin… staring at me with pure kind eyes… I often felt she knew exactly who I was and everything about our history… it was just trapped so far inside her, she couldn’t express it any more. I was gratefully at her side when she died… finally able to be free from her illness. I know her spirit lingers and I’m grateful for what I gained in those bittersweet years. I truly hope you are able to find assistance Stefanie – and take steps to understanding in the years that lie ahead. Your mom will always be just that: your mom. Thank you for sharing your story here. xx Jo

  46. Jamie Howe says...

    Thank you for the post – this is a great topic. I just had a bit of a scuffle with my mom a couple of weeks ago that opened some old wounds. She had more than her fair share of disappointments in life, and all of her hopes and happiness are pinned on me. Often though I have been the parent and holding her up at different points in time, which has left its mark on the woman I have become (some good, some not so good). At 69 she has started therapy at my urging to unpack some of her childhood and hopefully discover self love. Having someone always in my corner rooting for me, showing me unconditional love, boosting me up is such a gift. It can be complicated at times, but is rooted in love, and there is more good than bad to be sure. Thanks again for going deep and sharing perspectives.