Motherhood

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. A says...

    Thank you Cup of Jo for once again creating such an important and safe space on the internet. You guys really are the BEST.
    Like many commenters, I have a complicated relationship with my mother. Growing up, she was emotionally abusive to my brother and I. For me, most of these attacks centered around my weight and played a large role in me developing an eating disorder in my teens. I’ve worked hard to understand where she was coming from — she was abused as child (at least, I think — this has only ever come out when she was drunk and I’ve never gotten details), she had an arranged marriage to my father (they’ve since divorced), and was forced to move to this country due to circumstances beyond her control (civil war). But what’s been frustrating to me is she’s never worked through those issues — and because she didn’t, it impacted how she treated her children. To this day, my brother refuses to speak to her, which also adds to it. Now, I feel like I can’t abandon her because she is obviously deeply hurt by my brother abandoning her, but I know I’ll never get the kind of mothering I want and deserve from our relationship. I’ve tried to bring up these issues before and she consistently paints herself as the victim. For now, we live on opposite sides of the country and I see her about twice a year. She will never be my best friend, but ultimately I’m glad I have her in my life and I know she will support me in some ways. And I know what I don’t want to do as a mother.

  2. G says...

    Next up, lets discuss less than ideal relationships with sisters. There is so much pressure for sisters to be best friends, so many fantasies from girls without sisters. The truth is, those fantastic sister relationships from the movies are often just that, fiction. I have 3 sisters and have complicated relationships with each of them. I find it funny when women without sisters always say they wished they had had a sister growing up. It wasn’t the fairy tale they’re envisioning.

    • Kelsey says...

      I resonate so much with this experience and request. Thank you for sharing it!

    • Portia says...

      I hear you, G. I have 2 who are much older than me and thus they’ve been closer to surrogate mothers to me instead of sisters on equal footing. I’d always idol worshipped them growing up and we were additionally more closely bonded due to having to survive abusive parents; but lately one sister used such demeaning, condescending language while talking to me that it really threw me for a loop. She was mad at me for not doing something on time but really the sheer disrespect from her was so hurtful that I still haven’t recovered. What’s worse is that she felt perfectly justified in behaving that way to me. Thinking back I realized that she’d always condescended to me because she saw me as the clueless helpless little kid who never knew how to do anything etc, and while I was young I was impervious to that power imbalance. But now I’m well into my 40s and that dynamic just doesn’t apply anymore. By their own recognizance I’m an adult now and should be pulling my weight equally in family responsibilities instead of being cut slack by virtue of being younger, but they don’t seem capable of changing their behaviors to treat me as a full equal to reflect their words. Or rather this sister doesn’t seem to recognize that I’m a fully grown adult now despite paying lip service to it because she’s still stuck in her bossy, overbearing ways. She’s certainly never apologized for going nuclear on me. Going forward I don’t know what shape our relationship will take, but I do know that we won’t talk about it because that’s just not what we do. And even if I were to attempt it she’d just dismiss me instead of listening to my concerns. So yeah, sisters are complicated and I’m not sure if our relationship will ever be as close as it was. Or, more to the point, I’m honestly not even sure if it should.

    • Louise says...

      I have a sister who is 18 years older than me. I haven’t spoken to her in 11 years. She was never kind to me. My Mom always fawned over her,and to this day, even though my sister doesn’t speak to my Mom either, my Mom still talks about her like she’s a saint. I’m genuinely puzzled by sisters who get along. I am extremely grateful to have three women friends who I love dearly who are like my sisters, and ironically, they actually are literally sisters.

  3. Juliet says...

    Thank you for this post. It was exactly what I needed, when I needed it. I see bits and pieces of my own story in so many of yours, and it makes me feel less alone.

  4. Nina says...

    Every year I hate the buying of the Mother’s Day cards that are all “You shaped my life with your goodness” or “You were always there for me.” My mother seems to have an undiagnosed mental illness. My father says she was dx but as soon as a therapist does, she stops going because she only wants accolades and for people to tell her how everything bad in her life is the fault of someone else. It is impossible to buy a card that doesn’t offend her because it says nothing about her being amazing (since she isn’t) and doesn’t make me want to vomit because it’s a big fat lie. I also rarely buy “mother” birthday cards for the same reason. Just a generic, hope you have a great day is what works. The most horrifying experience was moving to help my older sister getting a divorce and realizing (now that I lived close by) that she was just like our mother and an alcoholic. The thing is – people like both of them. They are pretty. and when you don’t live with them, very nice, seemingly kind people. Living with them is a totally different story.

    • ANDREA says...

      That’s hard. I’m sorry.

      My Mom isn’t the same as yours, but I wish they would just have a Less Effusive section of cards for Moms. I have to hunt at least twice a year for a card that I can send in good conscience.

    • Kim says...

      I completely understand the greeting card challenge. My relationship with my mom isn’t terrible, but there was definitely room for improvement. I’ve taken to buying blank cards and filling them in with true statements that don’t feel like mistruths.

    • Sequoia says...

      I will always remember the year, on Mother’s Day because I again waited until the last minute, just me and young guy in the card aisle both reading all the cards and rolling our eyes and shaking our heads. He finally looked at me and said “Where’s the one that says ‘you’re cool, I guess’?” I remember thinking this guy knows my heart and we should be best friends and make the OK Moms card collection together. Alas I just laughed and nodded, its amazing to pick up that conversion here where the stakes are low for an introvert like me.

      After we’re done commiserating about our moms, how about a post about speaking up and making friends!!!

  5. P says...

    Oh gah. I have such immense anxiety from reading all of this. My mom was/is an alcoholic, my husband’s dad was bi-polar and absent from most of his life. We have two daughters and I often think that we bring so many deep issues along the way because of our past. I try to be so conscious of that fact, I know the relationships with our kids will ebb and flow but I really really hope they respect us and love us and I absolutely don’t want to be their friend but someone they look forward to spending time with. GULP.

    • Kirsten says...

      P, as the daughter of a mother who grew up in an alcoholic/bi-polar household, I think the fact that you recognize the deep impact your upbringing had on you is so huge and portends good things for your relationship with your kids. It took my mom until the end of my high school years to recognize the way her upbringing had impacted her/the way she interacted with me. After a lot of therapy and self-reflection/growth, she honestly became such a different person and we are very close now. You seem like you have a jump start on that. Sending good thoughts :)

  6. Kristina says...

    This post feels like the hug I’ve been looking for all week. I have a wonderful on-paper mother: present, very supportive, still married to my dad, unconditionally loving. But, yet. There are very large pieces of our relationship missing and she is not someone I can have an honest conversation with. It’s always been this way, but it has become noticeably worse in the last five to ten years since my life has taken on its own form and her parents and siblings have started to wither away.

    Many of the commenters here have similar stories about their mothers becoming different versions of themselves later in life. I would love to read a deeper post (or posts?) about why this is: is it generational? Really, we are one of the first generations that have been given permission to honestly discuss mothering and its difficulties. Perhaps years of bottling this up takes a toll. My mother stayed home with us as kids and I think that is a large part of her unhappiness, as she is now left to think about unfulfilled dreams and an undefined future. Today’s stay-at-home moms are encouraged to find balance, but my mom’s generation was told to build their lives solely around their kids. And then there’s menopause. Not to reduce very serious personality issues to “hormones,” but I do think there is a lot of misunderstanding about the dramatic changes that happen during this process and – like so many other women-specific issues – we just don’t talk about it enough, and probably don’t provide support or resources to those feeling a bit lost. I tend to forget that even though my mother is older, she is still very much evolving and dealing with her own issues and challenges. I’d love to understand those better so I can avoid repeating her patterns with my own daughter.

    • P says...

      Kristina-yes to all of this. I had a lot of pre-menopausal hormonal imbalance (due to thyroid cancer immediately postpartum) and my personality definitely changed. I am very short with my loved ones, including children, but I do try very hard to “catch” myself in those moments.
      And while your mom didn’t work, trust me, the act of “balance”, aka: having it all, also does a number on us women. I am expected to work, raise children, “keep” a house, cook, recycle, clothe everyone, do all the fun after-school activities (I mean, we can keep going, you get the picture)-all the while suppressing all my hormonal stuff as to not to harm my kids (in that “down the line, mentally explosive way).
      it is all extremely hard. I see you. but I also see your mom.

    • RS says...

      Kristina, I agree with everything you said 100%. And I would love to read a deeper post, or series of posts about this as well. Everything you said is also me, every single word.

    • diana k. says...

      My mom and I had a really stressful relationship growing up. Screaming, lying, arguing constantly over our completely different viewpoints. As a grown up now, she has chilled out so much! And now that I think about it, I have also chilled out so much. I think it’s because there’s now less pressure on our relationship. She doesn’t feel responsible for me and I don’t feel responsible for making her happy/proud/etc. She has much more time to live her own life, without worrying about kids, and she loves sharing the books she’s reading and her new friends at work and the people who piss her off in the grocery store, and I love listening to her personal life just flourish. I don’t know anyone else’s situation and if this is possible for all mothers/daughters, but I try to support her in the way that I would want to be supported and swallow any quick criticism and make an effort to bring fun and humor into our relationship.

    • Jeanne says...

      Kristina: You bring up a really interesting topic. In addition to being less balanced, I think in the past the benchmark for being a successful mother was purely based on the superficial appearance of the family. Kind of Leave it to Beaver style. Happy marriage. Homecooked dinner on the table every night. Clean cut boy scout, football player Son and his darling, bouncy, cheerleader sister. Mom in an apron and kitten heels. It was an image that expressed “we have our sh*t together and don’t you wish you were us”. I have so many friends with mothers (and fathers) that did not let them express any pain or unhappiness. There simply wasn’t any room for it, and as such, there were never any deep conversations. My best friend’s mother would actually say “We are all happy around here.” Today I think we do so much better. We are more willing to accept people who don’t fit into the expected mold anymore. Granted there are still cultures and religions that don’t allow room for that but as a whole, we are more forgiving. The perfect image social media platform has been problematic but there’s now a backlash for that thankfully.

    • A says...

      Diana’s response: “I try to support her in the way that I would want to be supported and swallow any quick criticism and make an effort to bring fun and humor into our relationship.” – My new mantra for my relationship with my own mother.

  7. Sarah says...

    This may be a bit off topic, but one of the reasons I’m 90% sure I don’t want children is because parents seem to count on their kids growing up to be exactly what they picture in their heads. Being a parent honestly looks selfish to me a lot of the time from that perspective. But that being said, I have friends who are WONDERFUL mothers and I just hope as their children get older and make their own choices, they practice as close to unconditional love as they can get.

    • Sequoia D says...

      As someone who was sure I wasn’t having kids until the day I found out I was pregnant (cleanse baby), the moment I knew I was going to be a mom I decided almost reflexively that I wasn’t going to imagine or fantasize about our future. Maybe this was easy because I hadn’t spent my life with such fantasies, I’m can be sure. My son can be or not be whatever suits him. It’s my job to guide him, teach him things, let him who I really am as a person, make him a feminist, love him in a way that allows him to roam the earth without fear and then set him. No expectations just love.

  8. Kim says...

    Genevieve, thank you for this:
    “I totally understand that’s so important to you; I just don’t feel the same.”
    Seems so simple but was a total revelation to me, so thank you. I related to your story so much and send you a big hug.

  9. Kate says...

    This post! My daughter has healed my relationship with my Mom immensely. Every time my Mom says something hurtful, instead of internalizing it and allowing it to define me, I use it to inform how I mother my daughter. This is how NOT to react to Sophie in this situation. And she is still little but we are so close already and all that love I wish my Mom would accept, I’ve given to my baby girl.

    • Sarah says...

      Kate, I feel the same way! Getting to experience a new mother-daughter relationship with my little girl has been so redemptive and healing.

    • Y says...

      Kate, I feel the same way and hope most of us know now what NOT to do. My daughter is now 15 and we are so open and loving to each other. It makes me sad for what I missed with my Mother, but so grateful for what I have accomplished with my daughter. When my daughter was about 6, she told me “Grandma says you are a better Mother than she was”. It was validation that she sees what she missed out on too.

  10. Victoria S says...

    I loved this piece so much. I always have a strained mothers day and a strained remaining 364 string of days with my mother. She had me in her forties, I was the result of an affair on both sides. To this day in my thirties I feel like walking rejection and she pretends there was no wrong doing. I loved reading that other people also have unique situations and it’s not always a Gilmore Girls representation of love and bonding. However I did name my daughter Lorelai. I choose to remain hopeful.

    • Michelle says...

      You are lovely, Victoria. xo.

    • Sarah says...

      Aww. Stay hopeful. You sound like a beautiful person. <3

    • Jane says...

      I would really welcome an article on adults that were born in different family circumstances. My daughter is now 1 and a half, but I had a very traumatic separation from my husband/partner of 11 years during pregnancy after discovering his affairs. My daughter’s relationship with him will always be ‘basic’. I spend a lot of time wondering how she might feel about processing this when she’s older. He life with me is beautiful and full of joy though. But I would love to hear some similar stories from grown women please x

  11. MK says...

    So heavy. Growing up, while my mom could be fun and was absolutely adored by all the neighborhood kids, she was often harsh, critical and cruel with us at home. She had exalted expectations and we were on constant eggshells living in fear of upsetting the home balance at all times. It was exhausting. I never doubted her love, but her own abusive upbringing prohibited her from showing it and led her to repeat ugliness from her own childhood. I know she is immensely proud of me and that she loves me to this day, but she is at the same time resentful and critical of all the goodness in my life (access to higher education, successful career, financial stability, household help, etc.) as if each milestone and achievement of mine were somehow a reflection of a missed opportunity or failure of hers. When I was younger, I was blown away by examples of wonderful mother-daughter relationships around me and so sad that I could not transform my own to match. The negativity continues, which I generally deflect unless in earshot of my own children (in which case we remove ourselves from the situation immediately). I have accepted that I am not responsible for her happiness or unhappiness. I can’t change the past, but I can try to do right by my own sweet kids by forging the open, loving, tell-me-everything relationship I wish I had had the opportunity to have.

    • Mara says...

      This is SO my situation too, MK, down to every cause of resentment! One of the bigger stands-outs is my mom being deeply resentful that I got to study abroad in Greece during college, because she and my dad were supposed to take a romantic trip there, but then she couldn’t because she found out she was pregnant with me. At the time, she went as far as trying to convince me to study in Paris but I was dead set on Greece, and did it… resulting in her giving zero support of any kind. Nevermind that for the decades after my sister and I were fully grown she could have gone to Greece with my dad anytime.

    • Jennifer says...

      MK, your story could have been my story. I often feel my mother begrudged me the opportunities/freedoms she never had, and even actively tried to take whatever she could from me. One example: Growing up, it was absolute hell just trying to get her permission to go hang out with friends, whether after school, at study groups, or god forbid parties. She’d subject me to the Spanish Inquisition and repeatedly demand to know why I HAD to go; couldn’t I not go instead; and on and on as though my simply wanting to leave the house somehow deprived her of something absolutely vital to her existence. And then if by some miracle I finagled permission to actually be free of her smothering presence for a few hours, when I got back she’d immediately put me to work mopping the floors, wiping all the windows in the house, washing the dishes by hand — whatever dreary chore she could think of to punish me with. It was like if she couldn’t stop me from enjoying myself she sure as heck could make my life utterly miserable afterwards. It was exhausting, infuriating and isolating, because as a consequence of that I didn’t have that many friends. It was only later in life that I realized that that’s actually one of the hallmarks of an abusive relationship — the abuser keeps you isolated and bereft of any kind of support network so that you’d have to depend on them and them alone, and that’s how they keep you under their control. The tragedy here is that the person who should’ve been my biggest supporter was instead my jailer and abuser.

  12. Frida Valencia says...

    Thank you for sharing…
    I am not alone.. sometimes I asked myself why can I have a normal relationship with my mother? I am her daughter and she is my mother but sometimes we feel we are strangers….. mom is a wonderful person with others but with me she is difference.. in my early 20th there was a time we didn’t spoke for 5 years… I wonder why she didn’t look for me… A few months we exchanged words, and I told that if I cause her so much pain I was willing stay away I wanted to see her happy.. I love mom but our relationship hurts me at time… now I am a mother and my son is my everything…

  13. M says...

    Needed this post for a long time. My mom put me on Weight Watchers when I was 16, and six months later started sending me to these very expensive microderm-abrasion treatments for my acne even though I told her specifically I didn’t want them. If I didn’t get an A in school, I was in for a difficult conversation. Oh, and my parents chose my college, too, and cancelled my applications to the other ones. I told them that summer before my semester, “This is the last decision you make for me. The rest are mine.”
    Our relationship now is cordial. I think my mom has re-evaluated her place in my life. She no longer tells me when she disapproves of my hair or makeup or weight. The fact that she prizes having a relationship with me over her personal feelings means a lot to me, because I know she doesn’t approve of many of my choices. I realize now, almost ten years later, that my mom did all these things out of a sincere but misguided love. I have a hard time faulting her for what she did out of such affection, even if they are still hard to process.

  14. Kristina says...

    for everyone who might be interested, this article helped me a lot:

    https://womboflight.com/when-shame-feels-mothering-the-tragedy-of-parentified-daughters

    My psychologist told me that much – that I have been parentified by my mother – 3 years ago as well, but I didn’t get it then. Now, about 2 weeks ago after just one more “you are ungratefull and I am dissapointed in you” brakedown something in me snapped and I started to see things clearly. My mom behaves as if I was her mom. Quite a tragedy actually for both of us. But at least now I know what is the problem, so I can start to heal. And most importantly not to repeat the same thing with my daughter. Because I know how to be a mom. Maybe not the best one, but at least a mom.

    • Neely says...

      Kristina – Thank you so much for sharing this article. I’m in tears reading it. I’ve been trying to understand the painful dynamic I have with my mother for so long and this article states it so clearly. It gives me hope that I can actually heal from this and that I won’t have to carry this burden forever. Thank you.

  15. Saoirse says...

    This is gold. Thank you. It is so good to see that I’m not the only one having a complicated relationship. My mom has been unhappy all her life. Unfulfilling job. Unfulfilling friendships. Health problems. Unfulfilling marriage. Neither of this is anybody’s fault, but it just means that growing up she wasn’t the happy/supporting mom I needed. She was there (unlike many others in this thread, so I could still count myself lucky), and she did support me in her own invisible, unhappy way. That was it. I love her and I have learned to understand her a bit, but I feel guilty that I don’t always “like” her. I don’t have the friendly relationship with my mom that everyone else seemed to have (until I read this post). I will never have it. Thank you for speaking out loud.

  16. Ali says...

    My Mum and I didn’t talk for four years. She and my Dad were using my grandmothers money (for which my Dad had power of attorney) for their own means – completely illegal. My sister and I were able to revoke their access to our grandmother’s money without getting them into trouble but to them it was an unforgivable act of betrayal. Four years later we were able to reconcile but I made it clear that we would have to just agree to disagree – I didn’t regret my decision and they still felt there was nothing wrong with what they did. Sometimes the shallow parts of the relationship make me sad, but on the whole I am so glad to have my Mum back in my life – I just have to remind myself she can’t be everything I want her to be, and that’s ok.

  17. H. says...

    THANK YOU. Mother-daughter stuff is so hard. I don’t understand people who say their mom is their best friend. My mom talks to me and my youngest sister (there are three of us girls; I’m the oldest, and my mom lives with the middle one who’s the only one with kids) like we were her best friends and I HATE IT. It’s like, get someone your own age! I don’t need a friend; I need a mother. I hate having to be the grown-up (which has been the case since I was 12 and her dad died; just always having to console her, and if I’m upset then it makes her more upset like “I just hate to see you suffering” so I absolutely dread having to share bad news). I know she’s trying, but I just have such a hard time with our relationship and dread visits (we live in different states) because I know she’ll be so clingy like I’M SO GLAD YOU’RE HERE and it makes me feel suffocated and desperate to just go back to my regular, distant life. I feel like such a jerk. (Plus at this point, I honestly just kind of resent her and am so uncomfortable about our relationship that if she ever does try to “mother” me I just scoff and reject it — like, nice try, too late, please don’t do that.)

    Needless to say, Mother’s Day is TOUGH. Especially every few years when my birthday falls on the holiday — Then I get the “I miss you” laid on extra heavy and just ruins the whole day.

    Plus I don’t have kids, and I’m not sure if I ever will (but honestly lately do feel like I’d like to be a parent), but I’m just so worried about repeating the cycle and having an equally bad relationship with any future kids of my own. So thinking about myself as a future mother just adds to the Mother’s Day awkwardness.

    • Bec B. says...

      I feel this so very much. Having to parent your parent is hard. We’re waiting for a relative to pass from a long illness, and I’m debating whether or not to fly back for the funeral because I dread my mom’s version of mourning. You’re drowning in your own loss, but feel like it would just be easier to give her your lifesaver so that you can have some peace. That’s what it feels like to me, at least. Sending you a big digital hug.

    • Charlotte says...

      This is everything I feel but never knew how to put into words. My mom doesn’t really “get” me and all of our conversations are one-sided because I am her support system (but she is not mine). Similar to you, I’m thinking about starting a family but feel anxious at the thought of my mom wanting to be more involved in my life, as well as to being a parent to a baby AND to her. Thank you for sharing a small part of an immense, complicated thing.

  18. Megan says...

    Whew, the timing of this post. I am 36+ weeks pregnant with a baby girl & terrified out of my mind because of the complexities of mother/daughter relationships. I have no good example to look to or to strive for. I have always envisioned myself as a boy mom, which feels so natural to me as i parent my 3 year old son. I feel mostly worse after reading this post & all the comments, but know most of that is fear that already exists within me being amplified by the real life experiences of other women.

    • Kay says...

      I know it’s easy for me to say “don’t”, but don’t do it.
      This “I have no good example to look to or to strive for” thinking is toxic and that is the last thing i want to hear from a soon to be beautiful mother/daughter bond. Pick up a book on the beauty in mother/daughter relationships. Maybe find a new blog? Look for the good. I have my own issues with my mamma, and i have the same worries, but i remind myself that this is the time to turn over a new page and become the example that i didn’t have growing up. You got this mamma!

      side note: Sometimes i ask my girl friends of their mother/daughter relationships and love making mental notes of “oh, my mom would never agree with this, but i 100% agree and will implement it in my own home.” Or even find ways to blend the two. This might not make any sense, but it works for me.

    • Kim says...

      I was scared, too, that my daughter would feel about me the way I feel about my mom….but believe me. YOU have control over this relationship and you can shape it to be WONDERFUL. I promise….having a daughter will be the most beautiful part of your life. The very fact that you are thinking about all of this means you will be amazing. You’ve got this!! XOXOXO

    • Michelle says...

      Hi Megan, I went through something similar to what you describe. I had a complicated relationship with my mom but was very close with my dad and brothers. I had a son first and assumed i’d always be a boy mom (truthfully, I was nervous to have a girl!). When I was pregnant with my second and we found out it was a girl, I was secretly anxious but literally the second I had her, and since, we have had a special connection. I really think the fact that you’re even nervous means you have NOTHING to be nervous about. Those who may not consider their impact on others are typically those who do harm, right? But also, we are not perfect. We all will make mistakes as moms, whether they are boys or girls, but you sound lovely. I have two girls now along with my boy and I can attest that I love love being a girl mom and look forward to being their champion as they grow. Good luck, you will love it!!! xoxo

    • Jeanne says...

      Megan: In reading these comments, it seems like a large part of the problems stem from the Mother’s expectation of what her ideal daughter should be/look/act like. There was another poster who surmised that there is love but the relationship did not have understanding of the daughter’s personality (and later friendship as an adult). These last two qualities seem to define what embodies the deep, joyous relationships we read about. So chuck your expectations out the window and love your daughter for who she is and what she is innately drawn to. She may be an introverted nerd, atheist, overweight, a lesbian, a sports phenom, a ballerina or any of the million options we have in the world. Just the fact that you’re self aware gives you a leg up. I actually have a very good relationship with my daughter and a slightly tougher one with my son. So there’s that. Off to take my own medicine haha.

  19. Heather says...

    Thanks for this. I identify with something from each woman’s story. My relationship with my mom is okay not great, and at 50, I’ve accepted that this is as good as it will get. My relationship with my mom is much better than hers was with her mother-my grandmother was an alcoholic and physically abusive. My mom grew up with some serious damage from that. I grew up with the fall out from that relationship and my parents divorce. However, I have a fourteen year old daughter and it is honestly my mission in life to make sure that our relationship is much better. I have female role models in my family and around me who have really positive relationships – I want that for us! Aside from being kind and trying to be compassionate when my teen is trying me -I think the biggest component is working on myself. Keeping myself happy and interested in my own life so I am not resentful or overbearing in my daughters. Dealing with own emotional garbage so that I don’t take it out on her or ask her to parent me. I saw several posts mentioning therapy-it really helped me in my late 20’s, I wish I could convince my mom to give it a try. I think it would help her to give up some toxic assumptions that don’t serve her well. Anyway-I’m committed to making this relationship with my daughter a better one and breaking the cycle.

  20. J says...

    I just wanted to leave a comment for everyone who says here that they feel afraid that they will somehow inevitably have a relationship with their daughters (or children of any gender) which is complicated in a way that has a negative impact on the child’s life – that is absolutely not true! It’s wonderful that so many people here are sharing their stories and finding understanding with others and I really hope it helps them, but it seems like most of the stories being shared are negative ones in a lot of ways. There are also many, many wonderful mother-daughter relationships in the world!
    My mom has a terrible relationship with her mother, and she has always expressed the desire to be absolutely nothing like her. My mother and I have had an amazing relationship since I can remember and it’s carried on into my adult life. Of course it’s complicated; all relationships are, but she is my absolute rock and best friend and adviser all in one (and me to her I hope!). I think this has taken a lot of work on her part, because in a lot of ways she IS like her mother – but the difference is that my mother is willing to acknowledge her problems and deal with them and grow, and be open and talk to me (and my dad and brother) about things, and that changes everything (and I’m so so grateful to her for that!).
    So if you’re one of those people worrying about their own parenting, just know that you CAN be better than your parents. It might take a lot of difficult self-reflection and work from you (and maybe even therapy), but just the fact that you’re concerned about what kind of parent you will be shows how much you care, and loving care is after all the most important bit of parenting :)

    • Megan says...

      Thank you for this ❤️

  21. GC says...

    There’s such an established narrative of women being complicated – including sister relationships, and mom relationships (which I can confirm is true, for myself!) but I wish the same focus was shared with men. To me, it perpetuates the idea that men are simple and women are complex. I think it’s that women in general are more comfortable dissecting their experiences, reflecting on their feelings, and talking about intimate issues, whereas men are not encouraged to do so as much. I wish I could read an article about men having complicated relationships with their moms. Not blaming CoJ here, more just wishing that instead of women being ‘complicated’, the overall narrative was that people, emotions, relationships – those are the things that are complicated. Men included.

  22. Niamh says...

    I appreciate the fact that Cup of Jo gives space to complicated parent-child relationships so much – it is not something that is often seen elsewhere in the media, and it is so important. Thank you! Another reason that Cup of Jo is the best

  23. Em says...

    As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised my mother is not the person I always thought she was. I held her in high regard, always wanted to protect her and have devoted a lot of my life to taking care of her. I have defended her from my siblings and father who have strained relationships with her. I never believed she would do anything to hurt me or our relationship. Then I found out she opened multiple credit cards in my name and put all of her bills in my name. It’s been a rude awakening and a big financial burden. But really it’s not about the money. If I knew my mom needed money, I would have happily given it to her. It’s the fact that she lied and did something she knew would harm me emotionally and financially. She knew. And she did it anyway. I still believe my mother loves me but it has really changed our relationship. I no longer feel obligated to keep in touch with her. I have slowly let go of the guilt I have for living so far away. And I’m starting to realise that all of the things she told me about raising me to be independent and capable on my own was actually her way to rationalise neglecting to take care of me. I became independent because she wasn’t there to take care of me, not because she raised me to be this way. I am proud of the strong woman I have become and even more proud that I can face and accept that my relationship with my mom is not perfect. We will never be best friends. And that’s okay.

    • MS says...

      EM — This so deeply resonates with me. I found out last summer that my mother did the same thing i.e. ruining my credit behind my back by taking out cards in my name. The betrayal has shaken me to the core. For over 20 years of my life, I held her to the HIGHEST possible regard, defended her in every situation, showered her with the unconditional love she never received, showed up as her best friend—I did everything I could to make her feel safe and loved. She has had a tough life, and I will always show her compassion, and maybe even forgiveness. But the trust that I thought was so pure, unconditional, and forever, is gone. And oh my god has it been painful. Thank you for sharing your story, and for so well capturing how I feel with your first line. Xo

  24. Olivia says...

    This post and all these comments mean so much to me.
    I have always dreamt of the perfect mother-daughter relationship, i remember hearing my friends in high school saying that their best friend was their mom, i was like “whaaat ??!”

    I have always had a complicated relationship with my mom and for so long, i thought this was temporary but today, things are still heavy between us even though I found a way to forgive her.

    My mom was raised by her grand mother after her mom ( a single 19 y/o in a very catholic household) met her future husband who asked her to marry him but didn’t want her child in the picture.
    Her childhood was filled with resentment, shape and financial struggle. When she met my dad at 20, she saw him as her hero. They quickly got married, bought a house and had a first child, my older brother. There was a lot of tension between them it those years, my mom recalls that my dad was not ready to be a dad and would often go out with his friends as he was still leaving his single life. She was very dependent of him : emotionally but also financially. After a few years, my dad said he was ready to have a daughter, however my mom was starting to ‘feel herself again’ after having raised my brother mostly on her own. She finally “caved” (she has been telling that story in those exact words for years in front of our family members) and unfortunately got pregnant very quickly (again, quoting).
    My mom saw her children and especially her new born baby as a burden. With my dad being away most of the time, she felt alone and put all her anger and frustration on me.
    She would scream for no reason and would tell me how “annoyed” she was whenever she had to drive me to a dance class or a friends house.
    Fast forward, I am teenager and things are escalating. I scream back, talk back and I don’t understand why she is so mean to me when my brother is put on a pedestal.
    For so long, i thought this would get better, that it was a phase.
    Now I understand that some pains are hard to erase, I understand that her life, her childhood was filled with so much sadness that sh
    I understand that she is human and doing her best.
    I understand she sees me as a mirror and as much as she admires my independence, my strong personality it is also a vision, a reminder of what she is not or what she wishes she could have been.
    I understand that she comes from a generation where therapy is seen as a weakness. If only therapy and platforms such as CoJ would have existed 50 years ago…maybe this would have helped so many women to express their pains and move forward..who knows ?
    It took a few years and many miles between us to finally be OK.
    I know we will never have this close bond I have always dreamt of but I love her for who she is and I know that deep down all this pain, her love for me is real too.

    • Kate says...

      Thank you for this comment. My mom is also of the generation who sees therapy, any kind of introspection, as a weakness or an indulgence. I wish she would change but in my 30s I’ve realised she won’t.

  25. Nina says...

    THANK YOU

  26. Kate says...

    18-year-old me needed this post so badly, but 28-year-old me appreciates it so much nonetheless. Thank you for this.

  27. Lauren says...

    I’m an atheist/agnostic who used to be very religious just like my family still is, and it’s refreshing to hear from someone who understands religion enough to know that ‘agreeing to disagree’ isn’t a reasonable expectation to have of Christians, any more than a Christian should expect me to just suddenly stop being pro-choice!

    Chances are that when we’re old, some of our own beliefs will horrify and offend young people – it’s good to think about how we’ll want to be treated: surely they shouldn’t assume that we will definitely change our minds to match theirs, and that we’re just slower to get there!

    • Agnes says...

      I’m a Christian and this statement, ‘it’s refreshing to hear from someone who understands religion enough to know that ‘agreeing to disagree’ isn’t a reasonable expectation to have of Christians’ couldn’t be further from the truth for me. I have family members of varying degrees of faith and none, and don’t expect others to agree with me at all. One’s relationship with God is very intimate, and even Christians will vary among each other in how they see things, and see God. Agreeing to disagree is pretty much a necessity in such a rich and intimate forum as faith. These types of judgements aren’t helpful.

    • Lauren says...

      What I meant when I wrote about “not being able to agree to disagree” was that yes, we can all be civil and respect everyone’s different viewpoints, it’s just that that usually isn’t a very deep level of relationship… When you share worldviews and beliefs and dreams with people, it allows things to go deeper: compare a Christian rejoicing to a Muslim that someone else has accepted Jesus into their heart. The Muslim can be glad that their friend is glad, and maybe also have an intellectual interest in the event, but that isn’t the same as two Christians rejoicing closely together over someone being saved, or striving together to be more like Jesus, and talking through all the tiny nuances of that, and so on. Myself, when I was a Christian I had such close relationships with other Christian family members, and now, of course we love each other, but we’re not on the same track anymore and if I think about it too much it makes me sad!

  28. Carmi says...

    This is my first response to Cup of JO. This is the most relevant topic I’ve ever read on this website and I think these mother-daughter issues are so prevalent but hidden behind hallmark cards and Facebook posts. And it probably crosses racial and socioeconomic lines and many other categories. I have had a lot guilt, anger and shame when it comes to my relationship with my own mother and it sort of got worse and also better on some aspects now that I’ve moved away and have become a mother myself. I feel like a lot needs to be brought out into the light to make these relationships heal; at least for one side if not both. I agree with other posters that there should be more topics and discussions like these. Thanks so much for these discussions for all the responses as well.

  29. I just found your blog today and can’t believe the timing. Frances story in particular really hit home for me.
    My mother and I have a very strained relationship. She’s an alcoholic on the verge of death. She is skin and bone, shakes none stop, has lost her mind and still doesn’t believe she has a problem. It’s been heartbreaking watching her deteriorate. Like Frances, we used to be best friends and do everything together. Losing that has been the hardest thing.
    She hasn’t gone to rehab because it’s a voluntary thing in South Africa and even if she would go she’d need to detox in hospital first which she refuses to do. I feel absolutely disgusting for wishing something like a fall on my mother but I feel that it now the only way to get her into rehab. We have tried everything…. I really mean that.
    I did love Frances story about trusting her mum with her kids… and I hope one day I can get there too as my partner and I are getting married and starting a family of our own next year. Wish me luck…

  30. cindy says...

    Wow. I want to add my thanks for this article and these stories. There are a lot of interesting things to read on the internet these days, but I lingered here this evening. Thank you to these ladies and the Cup of Jo team!

  31. Abby says...

    Is anyone else slightly anxious that their mom is going to read this post, find their comment (even if written anonymously, or under a pseudonym, or a first name only!), and then freak out because she’ll know it’s about her?

    …just me? (probably not just me.)

    It’s “fun” to find ways that this sort of upbringing still has you in its grasp sometimes, even well into adulthood.

    • M says...

      Not just you. I used an initial!

    • Flo says...

      Me! But I have so much to say about the subject…I fear I’m not ready yet, though. That’s why my heart goes out to all the commenters. I think each and everyone of you is admirable for your bravery and clarity. I wish the best of luck to those who ask for it and also patience, empathy, compassion and love. For ourselves and our mothers, most of whom grew up and were raised in darker times than these, emotionally and affectively speaking.

  32. KS says...

    Thank you for this. I feel like Genevieve wrote the details of my and my mother’s story. So much of this rings true to me, and it is heartbreaking. But ultimately we have to be true to ourselves, both for our own sake as well as for our children.

  33. I_Anon says...

    Thank you, CoJ! I have never posted a comment online before but this post finally compelled me given the comments around having a mother with mental illness (and honestly, this is the ONLY place I ever read comments – thank you for fostering such a supportive environment online – no small feat!).

    I grew up with a mentally ill mother (and sister – Bipolar and Borderline Personality) and “complicated” doesn’t even begin to describe our relationship. My mother passed away 8 years ago, and I surprised myself by crying on Mothers Day this year. I love her, but she also hurt me deeply while she was alive. She was both the strongest, most fearless, beautiful, and creative person I’ve ever known, while also being one of the the most manipulative, cruel, and explosive people I’ve ever known. Since she passed, I’ve had times where I miss her terribly and moments when I’m relieved she’s no longer here. I forgave her many years ago, and have accepted that the childhood I had (while traumatic and painful) also armed me with tremendous resilience and patience that have served me well into and through adulthood.

    If you’d consider it, I would love to read a post (and comments!) about having a family member (parent, sibling, child, etc.) with mental illness. Thank you for considering, and to the other readers who have been touched by mental illness in any part of their lives – you’re not alone! :>

  34. rachel simmons says...

    i dont want to sound selfish, but there is a bit of anticipation that comes with mothers day, and i had an awful mothers day. I was in tears by 930am. nothing, it was nothing what i expected it to be, and my 3 yr old daughter has the flu, on top of my disappointments….. i had to remind myself, today is no different than any other day, i still have to show up for my daughter and my marriage. I chose to be positive and love deeply. and i was blessed by that choice, just like i am every. other. day.

  35. Charli says...

    Oooof Frances. My heart goes out to you. My mother became an alcoholic about 8 years ago when I was 24 years old. Our relationship has fundamentally changed. The family I grew up with is not the family I now have. I knew I’d lose my mother eventually, but I didn’t think it would be like this. I grieve this loss every single day.

  36. Rachel says...

    Oh CoJ, I am sitting in bed absolutely bawling reading each and every comment. Never in my life have I ever EVER felt so validated, relieved and reassured. I have never met a single other women who has a strained relationship with her mom, and it has led to 33 years of pure loneliness. Just reading these other women’s stories was more cathartic and helpful than multiple years of therapy. I feel like I want to cry and hug you! Thank you, this post is more meaningful to me than you will ever know; it doesn’t take away the immense pain I feel from having an unloving mother, but it has made me realize that I am not alone. Thank you so much xoxo

    • Jeanne says...

      Oh Rachel. You are so so not alone. If anything, you can see from the HUGE number of posts (over 300 two days later!) that this is a more common issue than you might think. My guess is that there women around you who cloak their difficult relationships for various reasons (embarrassment, fear or shaming from others etc). If you’re feeling isolated take a look at https://www.reddit.com/r/raisedbynarcissists/. Your mother may have not been a narcissist but you may relate to the pain others experience. Hugs back to you xo

    • C says...

      YES! THIS! I always felt my friends had better mothers. What was so wrong with mine? Years of therapy later, I have come to realize she had narcissistic (has) personality disorder – where everything is reflected onto her daughters. A common theme is that sons have it easier than daughters in this situation – the mother doesn’t feel threatened. And it was so far beyond anything my friends would complain about – “Oh my mom is driving me crazy.” I would always think – Yes, mine too – but in a really harmful, emotionally draining, completely terrible way. I have come to accept that I will always have a hole where my “real mother” should have been.

  37. Bec B. says...

    I really appreciate this post. I have a really complicated relationship with my mom. I always felt like an inconvenience as a child, which was only driven home when my mom had a child with her second husband that she doted on. Her version of our childhoods is completely different than the one my older sibling and I remember. We both chose to live with our father full time in our teens. As an adult, I’ve had a strained relationship and have had to put up a lot of boundaries with the help of a therapist. She recently confronted me about why I hated her and what she did wrong as a parent, and it helped me realize that she has no self-awareness and that she will never change. I don’t like her but I don’t hate her, I need that space so I can have any sort of relationship with her. I feel sad for myself when I see close mother-daughter relationships because there are some days that I could really use a mom, especially now that I’m dealing with infertility. Sorry for such a long Debbie Downer comment! It felt good to get that off my chest, and no co-pay for a therapy appointment!

  38. M says...

    Love this topic. I couldn’t help but notice many comments referring to alcoholic/addict parents or mothers. Would love to see a post about dealing with a loved one with addiction & hear how other people deal with this daily. It’s not black & white, like the topic today and feel like I hardly read anything about it that doesn’t involve a “happy ending” just a thought!

    • Jill says...

      Agreed. I have two close friends with alcoholic mothers. I feel so terrible for them and wish more people talked about this.

    • Julia says...

      I second this so much – I have a brother who is an addict, and that has shaped my relationship to my mom and dad/changed our family dynamic as the years have gone on. I would be so interested to hear from others in the Cup of Jo community who have dealt with a loved one’s substance abuse issue.

    • SRP says...

      Same, same. Brother with mental illness and past history of addiction. It has fundamentally changed my family, my parents and my relationship to all of them. Still waiting for our happy ending – with full knowledge that will likely never happen. *hugs to all wading through this*

  39. Sarah says...

    I haven’t read through all of the comments, but most of what I’ve read so far just makes me feel sad. I have an 8 month old daughter and I love her so much it hurts. All I want is for her to feel loved by me and, as she grows older, I want her to always feel accepted by me and to know that she can be her true self around me. For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt judged by my own mom about different things and it really hurts. So much of what I’m reading makes me think it’s an impossible dream for her to feel unconditionally loved by me.

  40. Ashby says...

    It’s impossible to articulate how much I needed to read all of these stories. Thank you for this post.

  41. Lynn says...

    What I struggle to understand is why mother’s day has to be so *publicly* acknowledged. Social media yesterday was full of people effusively singing the praises of their mothers and wives. It strikes me (someone with a complicated relationship with her mom) as bragging, and insensitive to the minefield it creates. Mother’s day is a phone call, a gift in the mail, a hand written card, something personal. This thought really struck me when I saw Barack Obama’s post about Michelle. I wondered about the pressure he felt to post something. Did he think Michelle expected it? His followers expected it? Did he think it was weird to comply? Did he think about this angle at all?

    This thought bleeds well past mother’s day for me. Wishing happy birthday to your illiterate 2 year old on Facebook? Ok then. Am I bitter weirdo party of one?

    • Kelly says...

      not at all! i don’t really spend much time on social media but those kinds of posts drive me a bit crazy! bring back hand written cards where you tell your kids/spouse/whoever all your gushiest thoughts about them!

    • T says...

      My narsasisstic mother expects a social media post, so for me, it’s how I keep the peace. For that reason, I’ve never taken any of those posts at face value.

  42. Alex says...

    Wow, this was an intense read that brought up so many feelings about my own mother. My mom was a super mom when we were kids – I mean really incredible. She hand made every Halloween costume and chaperoned every field trip. She was calm and caring and taught me how to bake and type and craft things with my hands.
    Then my parents got divorced when I was in college. Classic empty nesters realizing they had nothing in common anymore now that the kids were gone. And my mother kind of lost it. Over the years i’ve Learned that she suffered depression and anxiety, panic attacks, alcoholism… even some neurological issues. And she kind of just gave up on life. Some of my biggest shame is that in my 20s rather than being there for her in this hard time, I instead got very mad at her for being weak and for failing to be the matriarch I expected her to be. Now as I approach 40 and have more sense and empathy I realize that she grew up in a time when women weren’t taught to be fully formed, independent people. Her family was all she had and she felt that she had lost us.
    Our relationship suffered for two decades, but it’s getting better. We’re starting to talk more again. She’s finally found a groove with friends and neighbors and has a social network. I’m a mom now too which I think has made me more empathetic. This shit is hard. Mother’s and daughters are complex for sure.

  43. Jennifer says...

    Sometimes I feel as if I have forgotten to turn my “mom switch” on. I’ll start talking and forget that my almost 6 year old is listening to EVERYTHING I am saying. I’ll suddenly look at her and realize I could be messing her up for life. I”m not talking about crazy things, but just things that perhaps I should phrase differently or rethink if it’s appropriate for a 6 year old. I also worry that I am complaining too much in front of my kids.
    I think we need a post about “Things to avoid doing if you want a good relationship with your kids when they grow up” ;)

    • Dominique says...

      I have a 6 year old too (who is honestly too smart for her own good and listens to everything as well), but I grew up in a super overprotective house. I hated when things were hidden from me and I found out later. It was so much harder and traumatic. I honestly think (and have read in some books, Nurture Shock, I think) that you should not worry too much about hiding things from your kids, but focus on teaching them how to deal with them. My husband had a rather hard conversation about his friends coming back from the Iraq war in front of her a couple weeks ago and afterwards we talked about it, answered her questions and worked to help her understand. We have encouraged her to ask questions about things she finds confusing or upsetting. We want her to come to us to understand the world. As far as complaining goes (I totally do that too), my husband often reminds me that we want our girls to know that they have agency in their own lives and so if I complain too much in front of them, I talk to them about the things I am going to do to start addressing the problem.

    • Jennifer says...

      Thanks Dominique! 👍🏼

      I grew up in a very open and honest family, sometimes too open and honest. I guess I need to find a happy medium with my kids. I feel my daughter is at an age right now where she is learning that the world is not all rainbows and sunshine. We homeschool and recently we discussed racism/civil rights movement and First Nations people (we’re Canadian). I could actually see her mind exploding from the realization that terrible things have happened to people. I also felt proud that she is becoming an informed person of this world. Someone who stands up and says “but that’s not right”. This parenting thing has been the wildest roller coaster! 😊
      All the love for all the parents of this planet, just trying to do their best! ❤️

  44. JenniferfromAustin says...

    This was a powerful and healing post and conversation. Reading it felt like a bit of medicine for my own difficulty and layers of sadness and a sense of emptiness that always accompanies Mother’s Day for me. I’m not sure what I appreciate more: the fact that Y’all (I’m a naturalized Texan!) chose this topic for your post or the leagues of stunning solidarity and empathy among this community of readers. Some of these comments of compassion and support have taken my breath away. So many kind, generous, and vulnerable humans. Thank you.

  45. VK says...

    Thank you for this post.

  46. Ellen says...

    This post has been very cathartic. Thank you, Cup of Jo team. My relationship with my mother is somewhere in the realm of Genevieve’s. My mother wants her world, including her family, to be pleasant and perfectly wrapped in a bow. But our lives have been messy and complex, and I feel they don’t fit in her box. My father passed away many years ago, and so I feel an extra pang of sadness every Mother’s Day when I realize our relationship will never quite what I crave.

    • Jackie says...

      I really appreciate this post. I also have a difficult relationship with my mother and mother’s day has been a difficult day for me for many years. Thank you Cup of Jo for thinking outside of the box on this post and acknowledging that many of us struggle with this holiday.

  47. Bec says...

    ‘I would never call my mom after 5:00 p.m. because I know she’s going to be drinking.’

    Oh god this is my life too.

    • Sarah says...

      Yes!

    • I can relate – but for me I can’t call my mother after 7am…. it’s that bad :(

      Jade

    • Carrie says...

      Mine as well.

    • Heather says...

      Same! For the last 20 years since I moved away, but I’ve never met anyone else who had the same experience. What a relief to see it in writing, thank you for sharing.

    • LM says...

      Same.

    • Same. My mom has done rehab twice. My mom is no longer an angry drunk but occasionally is. She was good around my boys when we went on date nights but our last date night she texted, ‘didn’t I leave a bottle of scotch here last time? Where is it?’ Date night fun killed. Once she goes from wine to scotch she is a stumbling drunk. My boys are 4&5 so older but still. They adore her. Thank you so so much for this post. It’s comforting to see someone else say, ‘I would never call my mom after 5pm.’

    • B. says...

      Me too. Never.

    • P says...

      Yup. Never met anyone who would understand. 5pm is the end of “mom” for me. Every single day. And when she calls after 5pm-I can never answer.

  48. Jodi says...

    For anyone who needs to hear this: it’s okay if you don’t have a good relationship with your mom. Or any relationship with your mom.

    My own mother is a twisted up person who has chosen not to work on her own stuff. As a result she created a twisted up relationship with both my sister and I that was full of lies and manipulation. Her final blow to me was an email filled with vitriol that I knew we would not recover from.

    Six years later I am at peace with it. In fact, happier because of it. She brought me into this world, but she doesn’t get to take me out.

    Believe in yourselves, ladies. If your own mother doesn’t see you for who you are, don’t doubt yourself. Look to the people who do see you, who love you and support you. That unconditional love we expect from our parents might be found elsewhere, and that’s okay. Love yourself, take care of yourself and protect yourself.

    Do I feel sad on Mother’s Day? Of course. That’s also okay.

    • Kika says...

      This was so deep to read . Thank you

    • Anon says...

      So true. It took me so long to realize that I didn’t need to be close to my mom, and that it was much healthier for me to give up on that ideal. Does it suck sometimes? Absolutely. But cutting off that relationship was one of the best things I ever did for myself.

    • Anna says...

      Thank you, I needed to hear this.

    • Sarah says...

      “She brought me into this world, but she doesn’t get to take me out.”

      Wow, that’s going to stick with me. Thank you.

  49. Kay says...

    Crying over here. This resonates so deeply with me, especially Genevieve’s experience. My parents are staunch Catholics from a country of staunch Catholics, and religion is just not for me. When my husband and I got engaged it all came to the surface when I explained my reasons for not wanting a church wedding, and my mother went into hysterics and said “I’ve failed as a mother”…this still hurts because I’m actually a really good person! We’re “friendly” now but never deep. Our conversation topics are limited to the weather, gardening, cooking, and my kids. I work in politics (which I love!) and can’t discuss any of my work with her because it can all lead to a confrontational topic and we’re just too exhausted after years of disagreements and miscommunication to go there. It sucks.

    • Sarah says...

      Wow Kay, me too. Hang in there and know you’re not alone!

    • Kay says...

      Thanks! You too Sarah xx

    • Amalia says...

      This.. is my relationship. It’s good to know it’s not unique but it also sucks to know someone else is going through this too. I’m sorry. But you’re not alone.

    • Lauren says...

      Kay- me too! THANKS for this post Cup of Jo and for all of these comments. It means so much.

    • Pamela says...

      That’s my story too. Staunch Catholic upbringing, Catholic schools, the whole nine yards. My mom’s best friend was a priest when I was growing up! When I made it clear I was no longer a believer it really limited our conversations. Weather, cooking, kids and movies are the main topics. It’s better than no communication, however. One of the tough parts is that my lack of beliefs has caused her to call into question her entire foundation and she resents me for it.

    • R says...

      same here – but with my mother in law. We just got married less than a year ago and the treatment of my husband and I because we didn’t get married in the Catholic Church is still pretty horrible. She’s called us evil, has told us to stay away from his siblings, and unfortunately her ideals have spread to other members of the family. Currently, we are on a break from the entire family. I actually have a great relationship with my own mom, and it pains me to know that my husband cannot have the same with his, because he is such a caring and loving person and has always stood up for everyone else in the family, regardless of their beliefs.

      On that note – would love to see more on relationships with MILs!

  50. Jas says...

    Thank you for this post – I grew up with a cruel, unreliable and selfish mother and always felt like the narrative of ‘mum as best friend and supporter’ was the only acceptable one. I do reflect on what her childhood must have been like but having kids of my own only made how she was/still is at times, even more unfathomable. But not everyone is maternal and she always told us having kids was the worst thing she did so it must have been hard for her. Anyways, thanks for offering new and diverse perspectives on this complex and evolving relationship!

    • Beth says...

      This post is amazing and I also had a Mom who drank, lied, manipulated, and played the victim. It wasn’t until my mid twenties when she did something that was truly horrific that I realized that all of my feelings of anger, sadness, and resentment towards her were justified. It was a real feeling of release after all of those years when I felt myself the bad daughter because I couldn’t support her and be what she needed me to be. Now, 15 years later, I count that moment as one of the most transformative of my life. Now our relationship is strained and distant, but I set the boundaries and I feel empowered. For anyone who feels guilt at how they feel towards their Mom, please cut yourself some slack! It is not your fault your Mom is the way she is!

  51. Zoe says...

    Mathilda’s comment (“Once I accepted that she doesn’t need to understand me for her to love me — I began to find some peace.”) is so relevant to what I’ve been going through with my mother-in-law. I often feel that she has no idea who I am, that she’s constructed an idea of who she thinks I am, but which bears little resemblance to who I am in reality.

    She tells me she loves me all the time, which is sweet, but I don’t feel that I can truly receive and internalize that love, as it’s not being directed to my true self.

    Perhaps Mathilda feels she can receive the love from her mother because of their shared history? Can someone who comes into your life as an adult really love you without understanding who you truly are? Or will it always be superficial, despite good-intentions?

    • Sara says...

      I feel like you took this right out of my life, Zoe – every bit of it. I’ve had the same relationship with my mother-in-law – she’ll tell me she loves me and in another moment, say or do something that is completely offensive and reveals she has no understanding of who I am. Ultimately it made me feel like I could never trust her or that she wasn’t being genuine.

      For years I kept expecting it to change and hoping for a deeper relationship, only to be disappointed and as a result, ended up keeping my guard up as well. It was a difficult relationship to navigate as I always felt I was holding myself back and that just isn’t natural to me – especially considering they are permanently part of your life.

      Over the last two years we went through a rough time as I basically brought up all our issues (most of which, she was unaware of and were just festering) – and now we’re working our way back to a good spot. It won’t ever be the relationship I had originally envisioned – we’re just different people with different histories – but I think we have a base level of understanding right now.

      And I’m really trying to lower my expectations, let go of some of the past hurts and basically stop trying to make sense out the disconnect between loving me and not getting me. Good luck!

    • Lauren says...

      Zoe, Sara, wow I could have written both of those posts; obviously we’re not alone!

      Zoe, I wonder the same thing about whether we can really know and love people in the same way if we don’t know their past. I was recently with my dad and something happened that most people wouldn’t find funny, but we did: being able to look over at someone and immediately share a knowing look, that is so precious! i know both of my parents have mentioned the same thing about their parents, and losing them: it’s amazing to know how many people are walking around with parts of themselves they can’t truly share with other people. But then there are always things that nobody see the same as we do, so (I’m laughing imagining dramatic sad music here) really, we’re all truly aloooone in this world! :)

  52. Jacqueline says...

    I’m so touched by this post and the many heartfelt comments. So much bravery and grace in sharing your stories. Thank you.

  53. C says...

    This post really hit home today after spending a great day yesterday with my mom.
    My mom is absolutely wonderful and I love her very much. She is the epitome of selfless, loving, caring- just all around great. She and my dad (who is also wonderful) have been married for 37 years, we had an amazing childhood and wanted for nothing. The thing is….
    As I get older, our political and religious views are SO NIGHT AND DAY, I feel like it drives a wedge between our relationship when it shouldn’t. When I come home to visit, we sit on the deck after dinner and get into it about politics and religion. They don’t understand (or care, for that matter) about out best friends who are gay women having a baby and don’t understand how and why we don’t go to church. They love Trump. They are so staunchly conservative it almost makes me question how similar can we be and how can we be so close when I oppose all of their views and beliefs and vice versa? It seems to only be getting more severe and obvious as they get older. I’m not even extremely liberal, in fact not at all, but it just makes me so angry and confused after a conversation with them about it, where they usually feel the same about me and wonder why they haven’t changed my mind yet. I know that it is something that I just have to accept, and I tell myself that it is just a generational thing, but it makes me feel not right. I worry what if one of our kids is gay, will they love them still? What if we had a pregnancy complication and had to terminate would they think I’m a baby killer? WHY DO THEY LIKE TRUMP!? I could go on and on.
    I guess the biggest take away is learning to evolve with the relationship as we get older and just accept them for their beliefs and learn to agree to disagree. I love my parents and I fear the day I lose them, but it is a really tough transition.

    • Kay says...

      I am in the same situation! It is so hard. I consider myself just slightly left of centrist in terms of politics, but my parents are so far right that we can really only have small talk sometimes. And they’re wonderful people but their politics are so judgmental and petty and selfish and there is such a disconnect. So you’re not alone in this C <3

    • Luciana says...

      I feel the same way! And now when we talk about regular day-to-day stuff (weather, work, the food I made) all I can think about it how we can only scratch the surface of a real conversation because anything else deeper will inevitably touch on religious and political values that we staunchly disagree on. My mom has dumped so much emotional drama on me about how being a stay at home mom prevented her from having a career and financial independence, so now she feels lonely and helpless. But if she doesn’t hold fast to her commitment to ‘family values’ (christian-conservative family values) then what was her life even for? It’s such a contradiction. My parents don’t support my decision to be a working mother, but I can’t bring myself to tell them that seeing my mom’s unhappiness as a result of 20+ years isolating herself from a life outside of her family is my GREATEST MOTIVATOR to keep my day job. She has no identify besides being a mother, and now that her children are grown and don’t need mothering… she feels like she has nothing. It breaks my heart, but can’t talk about it because we inevitably get into this political/religious space that creates so much frustration, conflict, and emotional exhaustion. Ugh.

    • D says...

      I’m right there with you too. I adore my mother and we are so, so close. She’s been incredible to me my entire life and she’s one of my best friends. She’s also very politically conservative and even believes in conspiracy theories. For years, she was convinced that there was no school shooting in which over 20 six year olds died. They were all crisis actors. And I can’t even fathom how anyone could view politics and the world to this extreme. But we just avoid talking politics and social issues and we remain close. Sometimes I don’t understand how we can have such vastly different views on things that matter, yet still be so close. How she can view social issues so harshly, yet be one of the kindest people I know. It’s an odd relationship shop in that regard, yet we are still so very close and she’s still very wonderful. So, I feel you. A lot.

    • Deborah says...

      Oh, the Trump love is tough for me too.

      My midwestern mom is wonderful: a counselor, an amazing wife and mother, a fantastic grandmother. I just try to deflect and avoid political conversations with her.

      I really do wonder if it’s a generational thing. I remember my parents gritting their teeth when my grandparents made racist statements. Statements that would have been perfectly fine when they were kids but are now verboten.

    • Lauren says...

      I relate to being the ‘liberal’ among a conservative family. It’s funny because maybe unlike you I DO understand being very religious and very right wing simply because I was, too, at one time. But I’m not sure that my sympathies make me much better off:

      If you’re very religious, your whole worldview is about how eternal things matter more than temporal things, and how we should be trying to do God’s will moment-to-moment in our lives, and how we need to let all of our hopes and feelings be used by God to His glory, and so on. I’m an atheist/agnostic now, so I can’t share in my family’s main goals, so all we really have to connect over are more superficial topics, and you can only talk about things like food and clothes for so long! I miss being close to them so much.

      With politics I have an easier time: despite strong feelings, none of us in our family is really politically active beyond voting, so I try to admit that we simply aren’t ‘major players’, and that how I act towards my family will probably have way more impact on ‘the world’ than my political beliefs ever will!

    • Your comment about the pregnancy termination really hit me… Earlier this year I decided to terminate a pregnancy and it was one of the hardest decisions I had to make.. yet it’s one of the many things I cannot ever breathe a word about it to my parents (I went through a deconversion a few years that has build a gradual rife between us)… it makes me sad that I have to carry a secret like this between us forever because I know they will not be able to step over the barrier of their beliefs to know who I really am and what is inside me.

    • C says...

      All of you ladies hit the nail on the head and I’m glad I’m not alone in this. It makes me sad and I really am grateful and do know that I have a wonderful mother (and father), but there will always be this “thing” between our relationship. On one hand they are so proud of me, my success with my career, my wonderful husband who they absolutely adore, but then I’ll be visiting and we watch the news and they make a joke pointed my way about the weather being so cold this year well into the spring, global warming must not be as real as the liberals want us all to believe. I’m not kidding.
      I just have to put my feelings and differences aside and love them for who they are, know that they grew up in a very different generation, and know that their religious beliefs really do drive their life.
      I honestly hate complaining because they are such good people, but it has had an impact of the depth of our relationship over the years.

    • Emma says...

      I feel similarly, but I haven’t been able to wade through this transition. I’m so sad and disappointed and angry at my parents’ worsening racist and sexist viewpoints that I have cut off contact. I can’t stomach having people who support Trump whole-heartedly be close to me. I’m working through this with my therapist, but the parents who raised me to love others and fight for the marginalized are not the people I see today.

  54. jane says...

    I have a narcissist mother. The healthy parts of her personality are exceptional – truly sweet and generous and kind and the dark parts are unspeakably horrible. It is dramatic. Growing up with that taught me to seek a strictly drama-free reality and to really believe in myself because she never would, or ever will. That has been the gift, the silver lining.

    That I know she is like this at least in part because she had a terrible childhood does help a great deal but certainly did not make it any easier. We’ve both decided to adopt and rely upon “chosen family” over our natural relationship. Something about direct family is too triggering for her and in a chosen family she is free be loved in a way she refuses to accept from her actual family. I want her to be happy so I feel ok about it because frankly I need to be away from her toxicity and this way we are both happy. It feels like the right thing.

    Blood is NOT everything it turns out. Being loved is much more important.

    • Jackie says...

      Jane, I also have a narcissistic mother and relate to so much of what you wrote.

    • Needed this today. My narcissist mother has been working overtime to convince my family I’m suffering from mental illness !! because I no longer wish to be in contact with her. She sends me harassing mail & stalks me on social media. I live in anxiety of when or how she’ll pop up and disrupt my life next.

      Helpful to hear from others who are not in contact, for the better.

  55. Jacklyn says...

    I am jealous of you Genevieve, I have a similar Mother and was raised in a religion I don’t identify with, except I have never left the religion because of my mother and not wanting to be disconnected from my family. Which is weird because I’m not even very close with my family, and particularly my mother. But it’s hard when I feel like I owe my parents something, because they were so good to me – not necessarily loving but good. So now I have chosen what initially felt like an easy lie – go to church every week and pretend like I care, for peace in my family. But now I have two young daughters and the lie feels compounded as now I have to pretend to be someone I’m not, somehow answer their questions in a way that aligns with what they hear at church and how we live at home. I just don’t know how much longer I have to put on this face – forever? I wish I could have been brave as a teenager or young adult and left. But I’ve always felt like what little love I got was conditional and some kind of anchor, and I could just never give that up. But am I hurting myself and my kids more than I am helping anyone else?

    • Iris says...

      Thank you for your comment. I am in the same boat and trying to find someone to talk to. I am “Mormon” but only believe in God and Jesus, and really not much else as far as saving ordinances and organized religion. I would like to have a church to go to but it seems all organized religions have something I don’t believe in….I have young children and want to be honest and open and live life with integrity.
      So, I teach them what I believe– it’s simple. I teach them what I believe is important and realize at their age I have a tremendous influence on them. Also, it is very difficult leaving a religion. My husband has never been religious so it’s also important to me we have family unity and I don’t want my children to worry that their dad needs to be baptized Mormon.

    • Jane says...

      I think you are very brave for asking these questions and even putting them out there.
      Maybe it could help if you ask yourself what kind of live you would wish your children. If in your “visions of their future” (inverted commas because it is their future, of course we as mothers don’t get to choose them, but you get the idea) you see them free from said church and free to go and do and love and believe whatever they choose (which I believe I read between the lines in your text, but I might be projecting), maybe it is time to act. I wish you all the strenghth you need to come to the right decision for you and them and then even more strenghth to carry it out.

    • Sarah says...

      Stop now! You have control over your life, and you can show your children what your mom wasn’t able to show you. Wishing you the best ❤️

    • Lisa says...

      I really empathize. I stayed in the church for YEARS because I worried so much about how my leaving would effect my mother. Sending a lot of love to you.

    • Elle says...

      I also grew up in a religion that I never identified with and made a clean break when I left for college. My mom loves me and tells me so, but I will always be a disappointment even though I have checked so many stereotypical boxes (masters degree, financially secure, healthy marriage, etc). There’s just nothing I can do to change that and it frustrates me that she refuses to admit this is the crux of why I don’t call more. It’s hard to have a meaningful relationship with someone who thinks you will be eternally damned you know? But I have a sister who stays in just to please my mother and she is miserable. So I know I have made the right choice.

  56. A says...

    My mom and I had a blow-out fight a couple of summers ago–I asked her for help (I was afraid I was making bad life decisions) and she called me ungrateful, selfish, that my husband would leave me, etc. It was the most painful conversation of my life. I have never had anyone speak to me in such a hurtful way, and the fact that it came from my mother made it even worse.

    I have forgiven her, but I will never, ever confide in her after that experience. The pain is so powerful that I will never put myself in that position again. Looking back on it, I think her reaction was fueled by jealousy. She had three children and made numerous sacrifices, but she also wanted everything, all the time. This is not possible. I have no children, by choice, because I know that I would not be a good parent. It’s the best decision for me.

  57. C says...

    I wonder how these issues our mothers face may be related to their own upbringings before second and third wave feminism? It seems to me that growing up in a society that didn’t value or respect women (publicly or privately) could have resulted in many women not developing healthy senses of self, strong relationships with others, or productive coping mechanisms, which in turn have created the complicated relationships many of us now face with our mothers.

    Does anyone else ever wonder about this? I’m hopeful that the continued empowerment of women helps us all become stronger as individuals and in turn have healthier relationships with our own children.

    • Kate says...

      ooooh, this is so interesting! I hope!

    • S says...

      Excellent point and I have absolutely wondered about this! There’s no question that my mother, who grew up in the 1940’s and 50’s had/has horrible self esteem which she displaced onto me through constant criticism. I wonder about the ways she felt marginalized as a woman growing up at that time and how that still effects her. The only way I was even partially able to stop this debilitating low self-worth cycle was through therapy and I am cautious about not repeating it with my own children. Thanks for pointing this out!

    • Anna says...

      I think this is so spot on. I think that many women were forced into lives that didn’t fulfil them because of a lack of education, money, and opportunities for women. Women were taught that their worth was tied directly to their children, something terribly destructive both for mothers and their families. I think that the way we’re taught to communicate as parents and children is so different, and women are able to pursue opportunities outside the home (obviously a lot more needs to change, but for many women in the US there are (thankfully!) more opportunities available).

      I’m part of a fb group for women and yesterday there were dozens of older women expressing their hurt about their children and grandchildren having failed to deliver the mother’s day celebrations these women wanted (but never communicated). It made me so, so sad that many women feel so unable to express their (very valid and legitimate) needs and expectations; they don’t have the relationships they want because they don’t feel free to communicate and expect their loved ones to intuit their most intimate needs. I hope that is changing now for the better.

    • RS says...

      Yes, I definitely wonder this all the time. I’m pretty sure that my own mother did not get to fulfill the life she wanted for herself (or maybe she wasn’t given the opportunity to figure out what she wanted), and I’m pretty sure it’s the same for my mother-in-law. Both got married right after college, had kids, quit jobs. Kids grew up, left home, and they are kind of empty shells. Kind-hearted, well-meaning empty shells, but it’s hard.

    • Angela says...

      Agree! Wow, now that’s something to explore!

    • Yes!!! My grandmother dealt with NONE of her issues, my mom started in therapy and dealt with her crap in her 40s and has said to me several times: you know so much more, you’re making better choices, have better boundaries than I did at your age. So I hope hope hope I am passing it on to my daughters. . .
      My mom and I have a really good relationship – we are frank with each other and she doesn’t pressure me even though we have different approaches to life. I’m so grateful.

    • R says...

      Hi C,
      Yes, I agree with this. I see some of these issues in my own mom and mother-in-law. Both of them grew up in households where women did not directly express their feelings and used passive-aggressive tactics to get what they wanted.
      They are both good moms and wonderful grandmas. It’s just a little rough when the control factor comes on strong. Also very difficult to constantly be trying to guess what someone else is thinking.

    • TT says...

      I fully agree! My mother has such a narrow view on what a “proper woman” should be. Almost misogynistic and I’m sure it has a lot to do with the time and religion she was raised in.

    • Mary says...

      I think it was also to do with having very limited work opportunities outside of the home in the not so distant past. It meant that power and control was wielded in different and sometimes very unhealthy ways at home by people who really weren’t suited to nurturing children and home-making. Of course, now that we as a society have so much more freedom to be as we really are, often live as adults far away from where we were brought up, are more concerned with individuality, au fait with psychology and have access to vast quantities of information regarding anything and everything, it means we can prosper in mind and matter.

    • Rox says...

      I think this is definitely the case with most mothers. Their own upbringings and how they were treated gets passed down to their children as this is what they know and what they’ve learnt from those before them whether it be positive or negative. But on the flip side without sounding too harsh, I don’t think that it should be seen as an acceptable reason or excuse to justify their behavior and that daughters or sons should be treated badly because their mother had a horrible upbringing. I think it should be up to the daughters or sons like us who have been affected to take note and make a change for our future not necessarily blaming our mothers but definitely acknowledging that our suffering and pain is not okay. I don’t know if anyone here has heard of Bethany Webster and The Mother Wound but this is kind of what she talks about in her work, pretty much that how your mother raised you is part of your genetic blue print or make up and the mother wound manifests itself in all aspects of your life until you heal it and move forward.
      I’d just like to thank everyone for sharing their stories, it really helps xxx

    • Kiana says...

      C, I know for a fact that had it been socially acceptable for my mom to not have kids in the early eighties, she wouldn’t have. She felt pressure from her family and society to become a mother when she knew she could never love us the way we deserved. She told me all this when I moved away from home. I believe her. I also think she may have been sexually abused as a child but she will never talk about it and is from a culture that doesn’t believe in therapy. She never even wants to tell people that my sister and I are in therapy for fear it would make her look bad and us.

    • Kelly says...

      yes!!! My mom acts like a self-absorbed seventeen year old a lot of the time…because in the time and place she grew up, ‘nice girls lived at home until they got married.’ And she got married young and I think in many ways just kind of stopped maturing. She was not empowered by those around her to be self-sufficient and has had zero interest in pushing herself in that direction!

  58. Sneakysnap says...

    Thank you so much for the post. I have often wanted to ask if Cup of Jo could cover mother-daughter relationships in a way that helps people who are ashamed or embarrassed that they do not have ideal relationships, to know that they are not alone. Becoming a mother had the opposite effect on me than for many other friends. For me, it highlighted all the ways in which my mother failed to be generous, warm, and forgiving. Becoming a mother brought me a fresh wave of grief. I realized how much she went against basic instincts to be a harsh, critical, self-centered mother. And her judgments and criticisms of how I was raising my babies pushed us further apart. When I tried to describe this to friends, I found that many could not understand. That their mothers were so helpful and supportive. As if the transition to motherhood was not hard enough, I found myself experiencing a kind of lonely, disenfranchised grief. It helps to hear the complexities that other women face in their relationships. To know that they are also learning to set boundaries and figuring out new relationships with their mothers. To them and all the other women in similar situations, I’m humbled, honored, and inspired by their works in progress.

    • RB says...

      Oh my goodness, this is me exactly. Becoming a mom two years ago made it even more clear what a selfish, unkind mother I had raising me. It’s horrifying to think of raising my own daughter that way, and makes me feel extraordinarily lonely when none of my friends can even remotely relate. My biggest fear is becoming like her as a mom, and I have to work at it every day. My therapist says that self realization and reflection is the first step, so I have to trust that I will be better than her.

    • Sarah says...

      I relate so much to this. My first year as a mom was when I finally confronted and mourned the fact that I didn’t have a nurturing mother myself.

    • C says...

      I felt a terrible anger toward my mom throughout my pregnancy and the first few years of my child’s life. Until the pregnancy I had only been fiercely protective of my mother, who has been demonized by my father and sibling. Something cracked when I got pregnant, and I got so mad about the ways she hadn’t responded to my needs. She doesn’t like negative emotions, or emotions at all really, and didn’t really allow me to have them. She got so depressed or tired or something when I reached adolescence that she kind of stopped taking care of me. Those things have really taken a toll. There are many wonderful things about her too, but I’m still processing that great wave of anger that only recently came bursting through. I worry a lot that I will accidentally let my own child down, and that she’ll be angry at me like this someday.

  59. G says...

    My relationship with my (foster) mum is akin to how Mathilda describes hers. But as to its future, I identify more with how Genevieve & Frances, with their reluctant acceptance that things will be never be what they hoped for.

    Allow me to get this off, something I never said before, out loud, to anyone : I realise that I could never love my mother. Not as a person, not even as the person who raised me. I choose to have her stay with me, with my kids, simply out of gratitude for all that she did. But I have let go of the idea that I love her, that I do it other for reasons beyond returning the ‘favour’ of she raising me. I try to keep that at the forefront of my mind as I now try to not win arguments, let hurtful things pass unresolved, not to be too reactive when she does the same emotional abusive things to my kids as she did to me. It took me a long time to get here. It took a lot of time, it took a lot of pain, & hurt that I think only some of you in this community might get.

    Thank you for this…. this opportunity to just say it out.

    • Shannon says...

      G- I get it. I totally get it. I don’t love my mother and that fact actually makes me cry because I feel cheated. I suspect my mom is on the Autism spectrum (as several other of my family members are) and this is not to say that those with Spectrum disorder cannot love- I very much know they can- but it’s to say that without a diagnosis or any kind of intervention/support, her parenting was far from enough for her neurotypical child. It has required so much work for me to make sense of this strange dynamic I grew up in and understand why there’s a hole where I see love between others. For many years I thought there was a problem with me. But my love for my daughter and for my partner and friends (and lots of therapy!) has allowed me to feel much more at ease with this truth. And for several reasons, 2 years ago, I decided it was healthiest for me to maintain only a very limited relationship with her. I feel so much calmer since. So, G, you’re not alone.

    • JenniferFromAustin says...

      Shannon– I’m floored by the similarity in our experience. Thank you for sharing. I feel less alone. And G– I second what Shannon said, you definitely aren’t alone in your experience. So glad you allowed yourself to share.

    • Mary says...

      Hi G, I’m sending you a hug. My own parents were abusive towards me and now I don’t have any contact with them. It was a long drawn out process of recovery and it would have been substantially less if I hadn’t felt so much guilt and shame for walking away. I felt an enormous urge to change my relationship with them on turning thirty. I wanted children and felt I hadn’t yet managed to be an adult with my own relationship with my parents so wondered how I could parent children. My boundaries were shot, I felt rage whenever I thought of my mother holding my baby and I was terrified I would become the mother I was mothered by. Now, I feel at peace. The price of my health and well-being was something I thought a price worth paying for contact with my parents. I can’t believe I thought that way now. I’m hoping to be brave enough to have my own children soon. I will be a perfectly imperfect mother of course but I feel sure now I will not be dysfunctional. My boundaries and priorities are clear to me. I am respectful of myself now and so know I am worthy of a happy life, one free of dysfunction. I’ve broken the chain of pain. My children will not suffer the same fate. I see you and your children too as people worthy of respect. I’m going to go a bit tough love here. I apologise in advance because I don’t mean to be mean. But – non-reaction is still a reaction. What are you saying about yourself when you choose to not react to behaviour you describe as emotionally abusive? Would you tolerate that behaviour in someone else? What are you teaching your children? You are worthy of so much more and so are your children. And deep inside you know it. I know it. Sending you all love. 💖

  60. Laura says...

    Thank you, these stories and comments are therapeutic!

    This article comes at good timing! Though my relationship with my mom has its own set of complications, after a painful mother’s day breakfast with the in-laws yesterday, it was the very similar and yet, so very different complicated relationship with my mother-in-law that had me up last night googling, “how to set boundaries with your in-laws,” “what to do when your mother-in-law hates you,” “can I end my relationship with my mother-in-law,” etc… I really couldn’t find any great advice on the subject (everything was weirdly generic) and was thinking this morning, I wish Cup of Jo had a conversation about the complex relationship between mother-in-law and daughter in-law. So, I guess what I am saying/asking is… would you consider doing a similar post highlighting a few women’s stories about their relationship with their mother-in-laws?

    I know there is a lot to be said on the subject, as it is a complaint I hear from friends and other moms, oh so often. And I sure have some stories to tell! I feel like tension is expected with your mother-in-law, but perhaps not!? I would love to hear how other women handle and manage their relationship with their spouses’ mother.

    • Cami says...

      I have done that same google! I would love a post like this.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      great idea, laura! we will work on this — thank you!

    • Alexa says...

      YES. I would love to read a similar post about the mother-in-law relationship, in light of this very topic featured here….my complicated relationship with my own mom lead to my high hopes for how my relationship with my MIL might be, and it is taking daily, intentional work to lower my expectations. It’s really disappointing. Sometimes it feels like loss.

    • Julia says...

      Yes, I second this! This post was very cathartic. I’ve got a wonderful relationship with own my mother but my relationship with my mother-in-law is fraught with mean comments, gaslighting and passive aggressive behavior. A friend once told me that she reminds herself that her MIL raised her husband, so her MIL can’t be all bad. I try repeating that to myself when things are particularly tense.

      Also, I’m raising two boys and it occurs to me that one day I may be someone’s mother-in-law. Yikes! I’d love to hear how other women navigate this kind of relationship.

    • Sal says...

      Hi Laura,
      I have the same feelings towards my mother in law. Over the past year I have started to distance myself which isn’t easy when you have kids and sometimes may need her to help out. I make my own plans when she invites our family over for holidays and so my husband and kids just go. My relationship with her is transactional and doesn’t go far beyond the common pleasantries. I’ve been married to her son for 15 years but it’s been a bumpy road with her and at some point I had to ask myself if the energy on my part was worth my time. I don’t believe it is…

    • Jenni says...

      YES. I am raising three boys and talk with my friends often about their relationships (or lack thereof) with their mother-in-laws, as my husband’s mom died before I could meet her. I will likely be the mother-in-law to three different people, and really have no great models of good relationships.

    • Kate says...

      Yes! Mother in law relationships are so complex for so many “standard” reasons, and then to put extra pressure on an often-already-tenuous relationship…it’s tough! I’d love to read about that. My husband and I moved across the country several months ago to help my MIL through an illness, and I have such mixed feelings toward her (largely based on how she treats/treated my husband), and our lives have been SO altered since we moved, it’s been difficult emotionally to navigate her care…

    • JB says...

      Ditto ditto ditto. I don’t have the answers. I hate that I have a “typical” MIL/DIL relationship (as the DIL) – always complaining about her slights against me, our strained time together, her nagging comments, her neediness, but at the same time every time I try to go in with a new approach or attitude, I quickly revert the second I cross the threshhold! Advice appreciated for our chosen family, too.

    • Lisa says...

      Yes. Please do this post.

    • kath says...

      Sal, I feel so similarly to you. I’m lucky (so far) in that my in-laws don’t live too close, so we don’t have to interact on a regular basis. (Though they and my husband both keep hinting about how great a move closer would be. Ugh.) I appreciate your sentiment about whether the relationship was worth your energy. It’s exhausting! I’m getting there after 15+ years. We get along on a basic level, but we’ll never be close. It’s further complicated b/c it seems like she’s looking for an opening to squeeze into our lives more, so I feel like I have to keep her at arm’s length: be friendly, but not too friendly. (Don’t be so welcoming that they want to move here! Which then makes me feel horrible…)

      I’m curious: how does your husband feel about your relationship to his mother? Is he okay when you don’t join the family for holiday activities?Does it make your relationship with him more tense?

      Regarding my father-in-law, whom I just don’t enjoy being around, my mother said recently “You just don’t like him. You’re never going to. That’s okay.” Maybe that’s a mantra that more of us just have to accept.

    • Erin says...

      Yes! And maybe even what to do about in-laws after a divorce with kids.

  61. Lisa says...

    I feel like that first story could have been written by me. I grew up in a very devout Mormon family and when I left the religion my relationship with my mother took a big hit. It has been a few years and it is still very hard.

    • Hillary says...

      I know how hard this is. I have lived it myself (my parents eventually left and all was forgiven but it was many years) and have watched many friends live through it too. Hugs to you.

    • Lisa says...

      Thanks, Hillary! Hugs to you, too!

  62. Annie says...

    Reading this today reminds me of a line from (I THINK) the adaptation of Jane Austen’s Love and Friendship — “We breed our worst critics.” I remember hearing that line in the cinema, and thinking YES! I have a deeply fraught relationship with my own mother, who was (and is) often wonderful, but often verbally abusive and an outrageous spanker. But she had an abusive childhood herself, far worse than mine, so it’s complicated. I know I am a much worse critic of her than others (including my dad) because she was MY mother and MY mother should have done better.

  63. G says...

    Maybe my favorite Cup of Jo post ever.

    Thank you for sharing the stories of those of us who have broken or complicated relationships with mothers. Mother’s Day has become my least favorite holiday for that reason. On the surface, my mother has never done anything to hurt me (addiction, abuse, etc) and she is well-loved by everyone who knows her, but last year, I finally accepted how broken our relationship is. There is so much hidden shame and sadness in that dichotomy–like I am an ungrateful, wretched daughter. It makes me think of a Toni Morrison quote from her novel Beloved: “…and right then a forest sprang up between them; tactless and quiet.” The rest of my life will be learning to accept the forest between us and try to move on.

    • A says...

      Ditto x

    • Anu says...

      This is exactly how my relationship with my mom is! Everyone thinks she’s amazing but she isn’t THEIR mom, so they don’t know what kind of a mother she is. For years I’ve wondered if I was the horrible one, if I was being overly dramatic or expecting too much, till i realised that these were all her voice in my head. I’m now at a place where I do the basic mom-daughter stuff but I would not go to her with any major life stuff. Its harder since my father is also a pretty bad parent but its all made me stronger, more self-reliant and aware of who I truly want to be as a person.
      Hugs to you!

  64. S says...

    CoJ, thank you so much for this post. The stories in the post and the stories that commenters shared are so illuminating.

    My relationship with my mother is fraught. Every year when I try to pick out a card at a department store, it’s almost comical how hugely off the mark the messages inside are.

    I feel guilt and shame for not loving my mother as she is. Growing up, she was verbally and physically abusive and struggled with bulimia. My father left her when I was young and I don’t think she’s ever gotten over it. I’ve been in therapy for YEARS, but I still find it hard to have compassion for her. She has since recovered from her eating disorder and remarried. Along with these changes, she’s embraced a very encompassing religion and is anti-choice. I wish she could see the world the way that I see it. A world in which women deserve proper healthcare and have the right to make their own decisions for their bodies. I wish she could accept that different people practice spirituality in various ways and that I don’t have to believe in her god. I also wish I could accept her as she is — she’s happier now than when I was young and i’m genuinely glad for her. I’m proud that she’s recovered and that she can live a more normal life. But honestly, my greatest fear is becoming anything like her. Then and now.

    • Amanda says...

      Oh geez, I remember the struggle of finding mother’s day cards too. Like, trying to find one that’s not all “best mom ever” or “thanks for all your support” because those weren’t true. Your last sentence rings true for me too. I’m sorry for all you’ve been through and hope you find some peace.

  65. Ivy says...

    Articles like this will keep me coming back continuously to Cup of Jo.

    I, too, am struggling with defining my relationship with my mother. My parents divorced when I was 13 and I ended up becoming an emotional backbone for my mom. I have an older brother and younger sister, who I’m sure have listened to their share of stories from her, but I’ve had to be a counselor more times than I can count.

    Most recently, her husband said he wanted a divorce. As you can imagine, it was a devastating blow to her psyche. While this was happening, she told me every detail and swore me to secrecy – I couldn’t tell my boyfriend or my siblings what was going on. Now they’re working through it, but I still feel physically rocked from this particular instance of counseling I had to provide. Part of me feels lucky that she considers me wise and insightful, the other part of me would rather not hear about the detrimental effects my stepdad’s medication has had on their sex life.

    Anywho, though I wouldn’t say I connect strongly with any of the stories shared here, I can fully comprehend what it’s like to have a complicated relationship with a mother. I promise myself I will be better once it’s my time to mother, but can anyone really say only beautiful things about their mom and not recognize some of the damage she’s left behind? I hope so.

  66. Elizabeth F. says...

    Thank you for this post. I struggle so much with my mom. She’s extremely sensitive to anything she perceives as criticism– even gently disagreeing with her on any topic or saying she hurt my feelings. But, when it comes to my side, she’s extremely critical and finds a reason to nitpick about everything, right down to what I eat for breakfast. It feels impossible to talk to her about our relationship since she holds a grudge for so long. I’m in my early 30’s and I hear relatively often about things I said when I was 13. I wish I could tell my mom about my breakfast without preparing for her judgment. Instead, I ask her questions about her life and expect for her to pay little to no attention about mine. It can be really lonely.

    • Neely says...

      Thank you for sharing this. I have a similar dynamic with my mom. It’s really hard. :(

    • Alison says...

      Omg. Thanks for sharing and putting into words what I have never been able to. This is my mom to a T. You are right, it is an incredibly lonely place to be, especially when you compare your relationship to that of your friends and their moms.

    • frances says...

      Also my mom. I’m so glad to know i’m not alone. My guilty secret is that mom passed away last month, and while I’m sad, i’m also…. relieved. Free. I Free of judgement, criticism, doubt, regret, and all the little tinges of terrible self hating that she sparked in me. I thought that I was doing okay with handling her criticism but now I know I was only coping. I pray I do not do that to my children.

    • Chantel says...

      So, so hard. Your mom sounds exactly like mine. My mom has borderline personality disorder (high functioning so doesn’t fit the reckless criteria but fits all the rest). Something you may want to read up on? It’s nice to finally have a name for my moms dysfunction even if she’ll never be aware of it. Big hugs to you!! And a whole lot of compassion for growing up with a mom like that.

    • RS says...

      This is my mother in many respects, and I really struggle with our relationship also.

    • Maggie says...

      You just described my mom! It is lonely. Thank you for putting that out there.

  67. Tamara P. says...

    It took me a long time to recognize that emotionally abusive people play the victim to garner sympathy and that refusing healthy boundaries is a sign of control, not concern or love. My mother was emotionally abusive in many ways, including intentionally forming a wedge between me and my sister by telling my sister I was better than her (and frankly treating me better) and telling me that my sister was jealous of me/hated me, she for years underfed us/severely restricted our diets (we think she has an eating disorder called orthorexia), essentially abandoned us after my parent’s divorce, demonized my rock-solid, always there for us dad (she would tell us our dad didn’t really love us, etc., horrible things to hear as a child), and for that matter spoke negatively about nearly everyone in her life. She constantly talked about herself as a victim and saw herself as a “free spirit” to justify her never being there after the divorce. She cut me out of her life 5 years ago (via email!) when I had a child because I would not conform to her extreme “food rules” for feeding her. She did the same to my sister. The happy ending is that, with therapy, I processed the pain and damage of having a “toxic parent,” and now feel immense relief and clarity. It’s like a lightness exists in my soul where I did not realize such a poisonous heaviness had previously existed. My sister and I are now really close. And I have such a wonderful little sweet child who I work hard on parenting with thoughtfulness, love, acceptance, and security (and abundant family dinners!).

    • Inga says...

      I cannot thank you enough for posting this. There is something similar in my family and reading your story made it easier to find some peace with my own situation. Wherever you are, much love and continued healing to you.

    • Amanda says...

      Oh wow, my mom did so many of the same things it’s like they were reading the same emotional abuse instruction book. I’m glad you’ve found some clarity in therapy and have re-established relationship with your sister. I’m working on doing similar.

    • Elle says...

      This really resonated. Thank you for sharing this and especially the encouraging vision of your child. My toxic (narcissistic?) mom has made me really nervous about becoming a mother myself and so stories like this mean a lot.

  68. Silver says...

    I have rarely read a more beautiful blog post – each entry was absolutely touching. Thank you

  69. Sarah says...

    “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.”

    This line really struck me. Thank you.

    • Holly says...

      Same. Helped me feel empathy for my mum and myself as a mum.

    • Smd says...

      Same. It’s how I feel as a mother right now.

  70. Anna says...

    I also really appreciate this post. There are so many complexities to parent relationships. I find it completely impossible to explain my relationship (or non-relationship) with my mother to anyone without receiving a lot of questioning or judgement, so I often find myself just breezing over it with an explanation that she lives across the country. The reality is that I spent most of my 20s simultaneously mourning her and spinning my wheels trying to help her as she became increasingly mentally unstable and chronically homeless in a way that no amount of intervention could help. Now, in my mid-30s, for my own well-being, I’ve established strict boundaries so I can just get on with my own life. It’s a weight that doesn’t go away though.

  71. Jeanne says...

    Thank you so much CoJ for this ever so timely post. I’m just adding my experiences so that others also don’t feel so alone. I grew up with a narcissist/borderline mother. Particularly, Mother’s Day was the most stressful holiday because no present ever represented my appreciation for her sacrifice well enough. Too expensive and I was financially irresponsible. Too small and I was cheap and ungrateful. It ALWAYS ended up with the same pattern. Pouting. Crying. Slamming the door and locking herself in her room all day. Then the silent treatment for three days afterwards. As a young child, holding my construction paper Mother’s Day gift, this was very traumatic. I was just thankful it didn’t devolve into the physical abuse that regularly occurred. Today she laments that I’m so removed from her and wonders why I don’t give her anything other than maybe a plant (flowers to her are wasteful).

    Thank you for bringing together those who suffer and not shaming us for our painful relationships with our mothers.

    • p.k. says...

      I have never read an account so similar to my own, and it is a huge comfort. I used to twist myself in knots making elaborate mothers’ day brunches, trying to find the exact perfect gift – and the silent treatment, etc. that came if I gave something handmade or gave a gift without a card (as a child!) was horrific. Jeanne – thank you for sharing your story.

      Wishing you endless self-love and healing <3

    • sarah says...

      it made me cry because I AM that mother! I copied the comment and put it in my journal to remind myself that in several years that could be my daughter leaving the exact same comment…

    • Jeanne says...

      PK: I can’t tell you how much YOUR reply is of great comfort to me! I used to do the same things as you too!! My goodness, the resonance. Thank so you much for the reminder to have self love and self care. Both are extremely difficult when one has had a lifetime of being toxically critiqued and gaslighted. Internet hugs to you. xo

    • Jeanne says...

      Sarah: That took so much BRAVERY to admit that. I want to commend you for that. The huge difference between you and my mother is that you have recognized two big things: That you are responsible for behaving that way. 2. That you want to change. Children desperately want a good relationship with their mothers. Even as an adult, I wish so badly that I could love and be friends with my mother. It’s not too late to repair it. Apologizing to your child with absolutely no excuses helps immensely. My guess is that there is something that makes you feel unappreciated. A good therapist can identify that and make things easier. As PK said so beautifully….endless self love and healing to you. xo

    • M says...

      There wasn’t physical abuse in my relationship with my mom, but oh my gosh the silent treatment! I was an only, and she was divorced, so it made me feel so helpless and alone. I vowed never to do that to my children and, if I ever felt myself wanting to walk away from them in anger, I always made myself stay. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • I just read Motherland by Elissa Altman, which is a memoir about having a mother with narcissistic personality disorder. It is so good, and demonstrates that struggle between wanting to have a relationship with this person that is your mother, and knowing that it’s not great for your mental health to have that relationship. Narcissistic mother or not, I think a lot of women can relate to that internal struggle when it comes to parent relationships.

    • Heather says...

      Jeanine, I posted above but-yes, we also dealt with that every holiday. My sister and I “ruined” the day with something or the other that kids do that resulted in my mom in her room, refusing to come out. It took me a long time and some distance to stop walking on eggshells with everyone. And it makes expressing my own needs incredibly hard. Hugs.

  72. Amanda says...

    It’s such a relief reading these comments – same same but different. All relationships are complicated but I’ve always felt stricken not to have that special Mom-Daughter connection. My mom is not even in the top 10 people I would want in a crisis, particularly emotional. She is incapable of not making it about herself – she’s not a bad person, just entirely self absorbed and my father is chief cheerleader. (I often feel more resentment towards him for enabling her.) My daughter is crazy about her, which has definitely helped our relationship but … my mother is getting older and I genuinely don’t know how I’ll feel when she dies. I feel our relationship is well-intentioned but superficial and I’m so sad for me (us both) that the thought of her being gone isn’t completely devastating. Morbid, I know. Any thoughts?

    • T says...

      I have similar feelings about my parents. I, too, resent my father for enabling my mother. I didn’t talk to my mother for about a year and life felt… peaceful. I gradually let her back into my life so she could know my children. Now, I intentionally keep our relationship pretty superficial (and sometimes wish I had continued the silence). Well-meaning friends and family urge me to “try harder” on my relationship with her as we get older, but therapy helped me come to terms with the fact that we will never have that mother-daughter relationship that others have.

    • TC says...

      I feel pretty much the same way, except flip the mom and the dad. I can’t help but think sometimes that my relationship with my mom will be so much better once my dad passes away, and then of course I feel huge guilt for thinking that. Hugs to you and thanks for sharing.

    • RB says...

      I feel the same way. I’ve never told anyone this, not even my therapist, but I know I will be relieved when my mom dies. It makes me feel like the worst, most horrible person to think such a thing, but only then will I truly feel the weight lifted from her abusive nature. Sending love xo

    • Ann says...

      No thoughts, just know I feel the same. I look forward to the relief too! But mourn the lost opportunity.

    • Sarah says...

      This is something I think about all the time. When my mother dies, my grief will be about the reality that the relationship I always longed for will never exist. It won’t actually be about her. It’s tragic and haunts me.

  73. GJ says...

    My mom is the reason I desperately wanted a boy, because I could not imagine how to forge a good relationship with a daughter. That makes me very, very sad.

    And, although I am VERY grateful to *never* have had any stigma about C-sections (you’re a mom! i’m a mom! we’re all “REAL” moms, regardless of how baby got out!! that includes surrogate moms, adoptive moms, etc etc etc!!), since my mom had all 3 of us by c-section… I feel I also got a weird stigma about “natural birth” b/c she also told us how much cuter we all were when we came out and how she was up and walking around so much quicker and how it was much nicer/less dirty than vaginal?? like, i had my son months and months ago now and I’m still unpacking all these weird issues from having had him vaginally that i’m like crying in the mother’s room at work at least once a week, or having panic attacks on the road or at home from thinking about my, honestly, relatively benign & easy (just long) childbirth experience. obviously I would go through it all over again 100x over to have my son, but I’m seriously considering therapy to “get over” this natural thing that other people tell me i should have found beautiful and empowering…I’ll think I’m getting over it on my own and then someone at work asks when I’m having my next one and I have to go hide. And then that gets topped off by her crossing so many boundaries when i’m 6 weeks postpartum and she’s asking if my husband and i have had sex yet and then when i said what, no, of course not, she goes in about how we shouldn’t turn into “roommates” with one another, which … what?! this from the same woman who never gave me a sex talk!!

    just. sigh.

    sorry about this vent of a comment, HA, i didn’t actually intend for that… I really love this whole community. thanks for being the best corner of the internet.

    • Silver says...

      I am sure you have got this under control if you listen to your own voice, and turn her down a bit (ok a fair bit!).

    • R.M. says...

      GJ- I would just like to encourage you to consider therapy. Sometimes it is just so helpful to get the perspective of someone removed from the situation who also has the training to discuss coping skills and boundary setting with you. Wishing you the best!

  74. Erin says...

    This is particularly beautiful content. Thank you, cup of jo team. In many ways this blog has been the nurturing and life advice I have always wanted from a mother. Xo

  75. Rachel says...

    Definitely needed to read this. Like Frances, my mother struggles with addiction too. I have to remind myself almost every day that her refusal to get help isn’t a reflection of me or her love for me. Thank you for the reminder.

  76. Mary says...

    Thank you for this article. I like that’s it’s a more nuanced take on motherhood than sometimes stems from the celebration of mother’s around mothers’ day. A day that seems to beatify selflessness and presume all mothers are nurturing and caring. That reality is not only untrue, it’s damaging. First of all being selfless is unnatural and unhealthy. You can only love someone in a positive way when your own cup is full. Selfless people do not ever have full cups. Secondly, being a mother or indeed female does not predispose you to being nurturing or caring.

    I now have no relationship with my mother. I don’t miss her even slightly. I understand that probably sounds brutal but I feel calm now inside writing those words. I wasn’t this way till the last couple of years. In fact this was the first Mother’s Day I didn’t feel emotional in a long time. It was just another day. I’ve come a long way, thank goodness. I’d love if the next step of my journey meant I felt courageous enough to have my own children. I’ve been too terrified I’d turn out like my own mother to venture into motherhood myself.

    I appreciate the good I experienced from having my parents and after a looooooooooong period of recovery I’ve learnt to not only not think about the bad (for many years I thought analysing what happened would help me, it just made me worse), I’ve let it go. I think the reason I don’t feel anything now about either of my parents (I’m estranged from my father too) is because deep down I didn’t like them. I remember saying to my then boyfriend, now husband years ago, that I don’t think I’d be friends with them if I didn’t have them as parents. It seemed such a shameful thing to admit way back then, and I wouldn’t say it out loud to anyone except my husband and therapist even now.

    It was my whole utterly screwy concept of love that kept me around for far too long. I thought I owed them something. I thought unconditional love meant putting up with all their crap and loving them anyway. Now I know better. I know now that love has a million and more different meanings to people, some of them very unhealthy. It took years of unravelling for me but now I’m coming to a place where I truly understand my worth, that I cherish being loved and adored in return and don’t feel emotional or guilty for not having contact with my family.

    I hope that in the not too distant future being estranged from your mother/parents will be like getting a divorce from a spouse. That used to be utterly controversial in the 1950’s. Now, it’s just something you know many people go through, only to thrive afterwards. Not that you’d want to go through it necessarily, just that it’s a good thing that it exists. Unfortunately there’s still so much stigma around this area, which adds hugely to the difficulty in recovering.

    There should be no shame in walking away from relationships that can’t adapt into healthy versions, where everyone stands to prosper. I thought sacrificing my own health and well-being for a relationship with my parents was a good thing not so long ago. Now, I love myself enough to know better. I’m proud of who I’ve become, even if it means it took walking away from my parents to do it. Loving from a distance is how I do it now.

    Thank you mum and dad for all that you’ve taught me. All the good, and everything I’d never want to be myself. When you know what you don’t want, you know what you do. That’s what I’m concentrating on these days. What I *do* want. Life can be so good when we learn to let it. I’m glad I’ve eventually learnt to thrive. 💖

    • Amy says...

      Oh Mary, how I resonate with this. While I am still working through the thriving part, I know I will get there eventually. I too am estranged from both my parents. One with borderline personality and a narcissistic, the other a narcissistic and religious fanatic whose “love” for me is totally dependent on my membership in his church. No thanks.
      I feel a weight has been lifted from not having them in my lives. Both are extremely manipulative. I can’t help feel sad sometimes that I didn’t even get one decent parent though.
      To help get over that, I’m trying to be the best mom I can to my children. Goodness I’m far from nailing it, but I love them so much and am trying.

    • Mary says...

      I’m sure you’re a wonderful parent Amy. Even on a bad day, It’s got to be an improvement on what you experienced growing up eh! Haha. And you’re right. You will get to a place of thriving. Just keep on looking for the good now and thank goodness we have grown up and were able to leave. Nobody is a perfect mother but we can be good ones I’m sure. I’ll settle for that. I’m sure you will too. Lots of love to you. You sound like such a special person. x

    • Mary says...

      Ps ditto the narcissistic personality…

  77. Emily says...

    For those with complicated negative relationships with their mothers, I find the Holistic psychologist did some great work on Instagram over the past few days. Worth checking out: @the.holistic.psychologist

    One of the things I liked that she said was “We honor our mothers by releasing ourselves from her inherited pain.”

    xo

    • Mary says...

      Oh that’s a good quote! Thank you for sharing Emily. I’m going to look now. x

    • TB says...

      Wow, that quote hit me right in the heart. Thank you so very much!

  78. t says...

    It makes me sad to think that when my daughter grows up she will have her own version of a complicated relationship with her mother… me!

    Right now she is six and we have a wonderful relationship but I as the author notes “all mother-daughter relationships are complicated.”

    • Sarah says...

      I was thinking the same thing, T. In 20 years will all of us Cup of Jo readers be back here talking about “how all relationships with daughters are complicated”? Yes. Because both people, mother and daughter alike, are just…people. Flawed, wonderful, surprising people.

      I loved this line: ” 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.”

      We can forgive our mothers, and ourselves, by realizing we are all people and are all trying our best to be our truest selves and our best version for those around us., even if we shore up as flawed and complicated. We have such high expectations of our mothers and our daughters in our society. It’s so hard to love people for the whole, individual person that they are.

      Before she is a mother or a daughter, she is a just a person. A person who is trying her best.

    • Jeannie says...

      I’ve heard “mother-daughter relationships are complicated” a few different times since I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, and sometimes feel the same way as “T”… it makes me sad to think my daughter will have a complicated mother-daughter relationship.

      Lately though, I find the comment annoying. Yes, mother-daughter relationships can be complicated. ALL relationships can be complicated. Mother-son relationships can be complicated, mother-father relationships… it feels like when we say “mother-daughter relationships are complicated” we’re saying all female-female relationships are complicated and it’s distinctly a failure by females.

      I kinda wish people would just stop saying “mother-daughter relationships are complicated”.

    • Erin says...

      I don’t think it’s the case that all mother-daughter relationships are complicated. I have a great relationship with my mom — hard at times, sure, because life is hard, but I really value her and feel valued by her. She’s been good at giving me space to make my own choices and live my own life, while still showing up and loving and supporting me.

      The most important thing my mom taught me is that no other person will ever be a “perfect” support for me. Rather, it’s healthy and normal for the match between people in friendships, family relationships, romantic partnerships, etc. to have some mismatch in it. You can be yourself, have needs and set boundaries, be what Mom has always called “friends in spots,” and not beat yourself up about it. By the same token, she has never expected me to meet her every need or expectation, nor has she offered herself to meet *my* every need, even though she is very loving and supportive.

      I hope to be able to pass the same wisdom on to my own kids, and hope they’ll always have the (uncomplicated!) sense that I’m in their corner, while believing in their ability to grow into who they really are.

    • Rebecca says...

      I’m 36 and I have a wonderful relationship with my mom. It’s not perfect but it’s pretty great and she really is my best friend and tied with my husband for who I would call first in a crisis. She had a very complicated and difficult relationship with her own mother and she made a point of doing things differently with me and my brother. Just to give you all hope for the future! Uncomplicated mother daughter relationships can and do exist!

    • Caitlin says...

      My mom has a very complicated relationship with her mother (my grandma), and has managed to cultivate strong, supportive, healthy relationships with me and my two sisters. It is possible! She is definitely (aside from my husband) the most supportive and generous person in my life, and I am so thankful for her.

      On the other hand, we fought like crazy when I was growing up… but I think that is the case for many parents and (stubborn) children!

    • Nath says...

      Thanks for writing this Jeannie, I totally agree with you and really wonder why the focus on daughters only. It is not the first time reading CoJ that I feel there is an implicit message of “having boys is better than having girls”, because boys will always love their mama and girls will become their rival or something! This BS still in 2019, come on!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Oh my gosh! I don’t think having boys is better than having girls at all! I’m so sorry if it ever comes across that way. I would honestly LOVE to have a girl and Alex and I thought for a long time whether we should try for one.

      This post actually came after literally hundreds of requests from readers. Since our site is written by and for women, we think about women’s relationships overall — so in this case, adult women with their mothers vs adult men with their mothers.

      As for adult relationships, as a mother of two boys, I’ve heard SO OFTEN and from so many people that I should enjoy my boys now (“enough for a lifetime”) because they won’t stay in close touch as adults. I’ve heard the expression “you have a son til he’s 18, you have a daughter for a lifetime.” Breaks my heart and I just hope it’s not true!

    • Christy says...

      Erin, your comments about “friends in spots” and every match having a little bit of mismatch are so eye opening!

  79. Mackenzie says...

    Needed to read this. My mom is mentally ill and an alcoholic and drug addict. Not on the streets, but in a housewife-y kind of way. It’s sad and exhausting. Needless to say, Mother’s Day is tough and I often feel isolated as I scroll through Instagram, seeing a flood of sweet posts about moms. I love those stories too, but it’s nice to feel like I’m not the only one who struggles with mom stuff. Thank you for this inclusive post.

    • Sam says...

      Mackenzie, I see you. Same issues, same sentiment, just with my dad and Father’s Day.

    • Lauren E. says...

      My husband is in your boat, and I try very hard to support him on these days. It’s like a mirror being held up to your own situation. Sending you all the virtual support.

  80. Mullica says...

    Thank you, for sharing these stories. It’s really hard when Mother’s Day comes around and all I see on social media is everyone sharing how cool or loving or amazing their mom is. I do love my mom but she isn’t the first person I’d come running to with a problem and it was nice to hear that I’m not alone.

    • Abby says...

      One note, and reading the comments, I’m sure that I’m not alone here: some of us HAVE to fete our mothers online on Mother’s Day or we’d hear more abuse from them about it.

      In my own situation, I know that I have to send a present/card for her birthday (which is not a big deal in itself) AND that whatever I say in the card will be shared verbatim with all of her hundreds of FB friends, in an attempt to either one-up them or to just keep up the illusion that she, the ideal mother, raised such a perfect daughter.

    • l says...

      Yes, same. I posted this to another comment below but: Honestly, I posted a picture of us and pretended like everything is wonderful because now, with social media, there’s another way we (my brother and I) are able to let her down. She sees everyone elses’ posts and gets jealous/hurt if we don’t do the same. It’s kind of the worst, because it’s a lose – lose. I sympathize with everyone who gets annoyed/hurt by seeing all the posts, but I have to do it too because I prioritize not hurting her feelings, even though I don’t really want do/

  81. CL says...

    Thank you so much for this. It was much needed. I myself have had a rocky relationship with my mother. And Mother’s Day has been hard because I think we would both like to have a better relationship but our relationship has a lot of baggage and like others we speak different languages. But as I try to have a family of my own I wonder, how do I prevent this from happening with my own kids? Why – after having poor relationships with our own moms – do we still decide to try to have kids? I am so worried my relationship with my own child will turn out as poorly as my relationship with my own parents. I wish there was a formula for a successful mother-child relationship. I often wonder for those mothers and daughters that get along splendidly, why? Why did it work for them? How do I learn from those successful relationships? Thank you for this post. Made me feel less alone.

    • t says...

      CL I had/have this very same fear. I don’t have the solution but in my case I just try to be the mother I wish I had had. Of course, my kids are going to grow up and if they have kids they are probably going to try to be the parents THEY wished they had had. It really is such a complicated relationship.

    • Emily says...

      I had this long held worry after having children. I found a wonderful therapist who taught me that people either repair or repeat their childhoods and the patterns they witnessed that possibly damaged them. Not everyone grew up in damaged homes but many. Through the repair, you can bring deep healing to your child self while also healing your current/future family and relationships. I have found this the single most incredible part in mothering-that I have the power to repair what harmed me, establish a new pattern w/ my child and partner, and change the path forward for myself. xo

    • Sarah says...

      I think that would be a cool post—how to strengthen mother/daughter bonds by age. From the point of psychology—what does your daughter need from me at age 0-2, 3-5, 6-9, etc, etc.

      Of course, there’s no “one size fits all” approach, but I’m sure that healthy relationships have certain things in common at certain stages of development. ❤️

    • Sarah says...

      Emily, your post is so encouraging. <3

      There is so much fear and anguish in many of these comments; daughters who have been hurt by their mothers, and mothers who don't want to pass trauma onto their children.

      You are not your mother. You are allowed to make mistakes.

    • E says...

      CL – thank you for your comment and your honesty. It must be so difficult (on Mothers Day and everyday) to shoulder these concerns about perpetuating your parent-child relationship issues with your own children.

      For what it is worth, my mother was very likely in your shoes when my sister and I were young. Her mother (my grandmother) was emotionally, physically, and sexually abusive. It is a wonder to me that she and her siblings survived their childhoods, let alone the fact that most of them thrived; though they are still processing the impacts of that abusive in their mid 60s/early 70s.

      Fast forward a generation, and my sister and I (in our 30s now) have a loving mother with whom, though not always sunshine and daisies, we both have a deep and mutually supportive relationship. She loves us unconditionally, has supported us in our ambitions, been at the sports games and the weddings and now the births of her grandchildren, despite the pain and strife inflicted upon her by her own mother. Inter-generational trauma is real, but your past with your mother does not have to define your relationship with your children. You sound like a wonderful, thoughtful and caring mother who, despite your family history, has started a new and unsullied branch. Here’s to you, and Happy Mothers Day!

  82. Neely says...

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I have a very difficult relationship with my mom and just had a tough exchange with her over the weekend. These stories help reassure me that I’m not alone.

  83. Caraque says...

    I feel one of the roles parents have is to empower their kids, accompany them, show them the way and encourage them to find their own. My mother always got me to do what she wanted with fear, threaths and angry shouting – or flately ignoring me. Whenever I wanted to rise, experiment, do anything differently than what she was used to, I was coldly told to “stay in my place” and “be a good girl”. Later on, she did everything she could to sabotage the relationship I had with my boyfriend of almost 9 years. She’s always made me feel like a useless, ugly and stupid object gathering dust in the corner of a shelf and that you can’t throw away because some old auntie gave it to you… We definitely don’t get along, although everything is cordial on the surface.

  84. This is my favorite Cup of Jo post ever. (And I have lots and lots of favorites to make this kind of declaration.)

    I’m actually in therapy right now trying to unpack my own complicated relationship with my mother and how it is affecting my identity as a mother myself. I just had my second daughter in January, and the pressure of having TWO daughters ignited past pain and self-doubt about my broken mothering journey. I’m scared I will be like her. (Aren’t we all?)

    My mother has a long history of mental health problems, and her personality disorder is the biggest challenge to our relationship. She developed disordered social behaviors to survive her abusive childhood, and those quirks hardened into serious pathologies during the last 20 years of her toxic marriage to my dad.

    I remember us having a decent relationship in high school. We went to the movies together. I noticed some strange behavior at times, but I loved her. Our relationship changed when my husband and I got engaged. That’s when she started viewing me as a threat for attention and power within the family dynamic. She became jealous and critical, lashing out at me viciously when she wanted attention or felt insecure.

    As I stepped into my own womanhood and became increasingly emotionally mature, she continued to decline. She became even sicker when an iPhone entered her life. Texting gave her the ability to send long soliloquies ranting and raving to her family, or “setting the record straight” about the ways we had undermined and slighted her during our seemingly uneventful family get-together. She also joined Facebook, which began her fascinating with controlling perceptions. We’d suffer through a truly hellish family dinner of my parents bitterly screaming at each other, and my mom would post a photo from the event painting us as the perfect family. My brother and I had to block her on Facebook because she flew into rage storms any time she saw us having fun with friends, feeling she should be invited to every single thing we do. My dad finally left, and she entrenched further into her bitter victimhood.

    She has said things to me that no mother should ever say to a child, like when she told my husband that he can’t see me for the monster that I am because he’s sleeping with me and I’m sexually manipulating him. She threatened to kidnap my daughter once when she was off her meds. She calls me a “cold-hearted sociopath” when I try to set any sort of boundary.

    For years, I agonized over these interactions. I would sob hysterically, genuinely stung by her words. I would text my best friends, analyzing her every word. Finally, my best friend gently told me, “Lauren, would it help you to try to see your mother as just a person who is hurting? You seem to place so much emphasis on ‘how could MY MOTHER do this to me?’ And when you do that, you’re placing the weight of all the hopes and dreams you’d have for an ideal mother-daughter relationship onto these arguments. You’re imagining some fictional perfect mother saying these hurtful things. But that’s not the situation. She is broken. What she is saying isn’t real. And you need to stop believing it.”

    Since then, I just try to find empathy for my mother as the tortured person she is. I just can’t take her seriously. She has eroded any foundation of real love that I had for her, I’m sad to say. She is very damaged and refuses to do any work in therapy to get better. She is incapable of accepting responsibility for wrongdoing–ever.

    I really do believe that these experiences will make me a BETTER mother to my two daughters. I know I will never, ever make them feel the way my mother has made me feel. Our mothers are the first example we ever see of how to be a woman, and I’ve had to do a lot of work to rewrite the disordered example my mother gave me. And the new woman I’ve built is someone I’m really proud of. I hope my daughters are, too.

    • Kristen says...

      Lauren – thanks for writing this, it resonates so strongly with me as I have a similar story. Motherhood triggered a lot of the same things for me and ultimately pushed me to therapy – which helped tremendously. I hope it does the same for you.
      xoxo

    • M says...

      Thank you for this. Your experience is very similar to mine. I am now estranged from my mom and raising three daughters of my own. I see you and I feel you.

    • A says...

      Lauren – your story sounds so very close to my own! My mother and I had a great relationship until I moved out of the house and in with my now-husband. In the last 11 years, we have had countless ups and downs, from not speaking for years at a time, to dinners and meet-ups that seem almost normal. There is an abundant history of mental health issues in our family, and although undiagnosed, I believe she is suffering from one (or many). I, too, have had a long road towards trying to understand this woman who seems so far from the mother that raised me. And for the longest time, I felt like I was alone in a sea of daughters who had amazing, healthy relationships with their moms. It wasn’t until I finally found a sympathetic co-worker that I realized I wasn’t the only one struggling.

      I truly believe these experiences WILL make you a better mother, and I’d bet everything you will make your daughters proud :) Hugs to you.

    • S says...

      I’m sorry for what you’ve been though, Lauren. A few things you said about her behaviour and especially the way she acts the victim very much reminded me of my father in law. My husband’s therapist has helped him understand his father’s actions are narcissistic. It might be of some interest to you to look further into narcissistic personality disorder. It’s painful, but it might offer you some answers.

    • Anonymous says...

      Lauren, I scrolled through the comments on this post in hope that someone would have a story similar to the one I have with my own mother (who has an untreated personality disorder). Thank you to you, and to your wise best friend – I never knew that I needed to hear that advice, “What she is saying isn’t real. And you need to stop believing it,” until I read it just now. Thank you, THANK YOU.

    • Courtney says...

      Someone just told me, “Hurt people, hurt people.” So true. Another one from Brene Brown is, “Its easier to cause pain than feel pain.” Both have helped me in the past week when I think about my relationships that cause me so much pain.

    • Anon says...

      Lauren, I totally feel you. My mother has an untreated personality disorder. One of her Facebook rants was the final push I needed to start therapy and I’ve never looked back.

    • Beautiful. Relatable. I see myself (& my mom, God bless her) in this. Thank you for sharing–you’re doing the work & it shows.

      Wishing you healing <3

  85. Anna says...

    First of all, thank to CoJ for this post. I remember commenting a while back asking if there could be a future post about the complicated relationships of mothers and daughters, with many others chiming in on the request, and am so glad to see this post, and read these stories, and I wish I could leave a comment on what all the commenters have said. It is so painful to have a fraught relationship with your mom, and sadly all the love from siblings, aunts, other family members, friends, significant others, can never quite fill that void; you can only try to understand it and make peace with it.

    I remember it wasn’t until I was in middle school when I realized that being best friends with your mom, or at least thinking of your mom as the ultimate source of comfort, was the norm. It blew my mind. I grew up thinking that being scared of your mom, making sure you always say the right thing in front of her, and trying to constantly win her approval/affection was the norm. I thought not wanting to be alone in a car or a room with her, because you felt awkward and didn’t know what to say, was the norm. I thought checking to see if Mom was in a good or bad mood before sitting down to dinner, so that you know how to act during the meal, was the norm. It broke my heart that I was “supposed” to adore my mom, because growing up most of what I felt was resentment.

    My mom isn’t an alcoholic and she wasn’t abusive. She provided for us in every tangible way a mother should. I love her so much, I admire so much about her, I’m protective of her, and yet I wish I could scream and rail away at her and make her see all the emotional damage she has inflicted on me. I carry so much resentment towards her, and then feel immense guilt at resenting her, when I know there are parents who have done much worse to their children. I oscillate between resenting her and resenting myself for resenting her.

    “‘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.’ … 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.”

    Thank you, Mathilda, for sharing those words.

    • jenna says...

      “I oscillate between resenting her and resenting myself for resenting her.” I very much relate to this. Thank you for sharing.

  86. charlotte says...

    i’ve been thinking about this article all morning. thank you for creating it. i always feel guilty complaining about my mom. overall she is a good mother. she isn’t abusive, she doesn’t have an addiction, she isn’t a narcissist. she shows love. we don’t argue, but we’re also not friends.

    after becoming a mother, it’s something i’ve thought a lot about. what went wrong? i think she was too controlling. she watched our every move and wouldn’t be happy if we went against her wishes/ways (even if there was nothing wrong with what we were doing). i would get in a ridiculous amount of trouble for leaving clothes on the floor. she created a lot of guilt. she was also very passive aggressive when she didn’t like something, and would never just say it outright.

    she would get frustrated that we wouldn’t talk to her, but when we tried she wouldn’t actually listen. she would just find the first available time to chime in with her own anecdote and would miss the point of what we were trying to say. or she would try to fix the problem without realizing we just wanted empathy. she would then repeat anything we said- ANYTHING- to all her friends/relatives as if our inner workings were entertainment for others. even last year, when i told her i was pregnant (super early) and said specifically not to tell anyone, she told a friend of hers THE SAME DAY. this kind of behavior throughout my life made me not trust her enough to confide in her or ask advice. she is also very religious, so we have differing views on a lot of the deeper subjects (and she is unwilling to consider anothers’ view).

    i’ve decided with my daughter that building trust and privacy is a priority. i also want to build a friendship with her. i’m not sure what to do with my mom in the mean time. i’ve been holding her at arms length for a long time and as much as i’d love a close relationship, i can’t change her personality to be the kind of friend i need.

  87. Sara says...

    I am the eldest of three and after my parents divorce I had to look after a lot things. I love my mother but find the line between when I am looking after her and when she is looking after me very confusing. Her mother was not interested in being a parent so I think part of what plays out between my mother and I is an earlier history. It is so hard to untangle the past and present in families, which complications arise in our lifetimes and which we were born into.

  88. Moriah says...

    Thank you so much for this illuminating article. My mother became a completely different person five years ago after telling me that she “No longer wanted to be a wife or a mother” and that our family was holding her back. Mother’s Day is the most painful day of the year for me, and I always avoid social media that day because I feel the void of a mother figure in my life. When asking people about their parents, it’s always good to proceed with caution because they are such complicated relationships. I hope that we can all break the negative patterns we saw our parents demonstrate, while giving them grace for trying their best.

  89. Ash says...

    I am so glad you posted this. One way I try to make piece with my mom is to think of her as filling the role of a nice aunt or more distant relative. She checks in weekly, sends emails and from time to time will send a gift, sort of the ideal aunt-niece situation. She wouldn’t prioritize my kids or family over her routine or sacrifice her time or emotional energy the way I think a good mom would. But you wouldn’t really expect that from a more distant relative. I think you have to accept what the relationship is and what the person is able to give you. It still hurts not to have a real “mom” in my life though.

  90. L says...

    I agree that all daughter / mother relationships are complicated, and I can related to Genevieve’s story. I had always had a great relationship with my mom, and I would never have thought that it would be different. But without going into details, when I got to a point in my life when I really needed her, she pulled out. We did not agree on how to handle a difficult situation and instead of helping me when I needed it the most, she stopped visiting, called less often, and gave me the one advice I did not want (leaving my husband). It was also a time when I had two young children (incl a Newborn), and It was so hard to suddenly feel like I was totally on my own, that she was not going to be there for me no matter what. This was a few years ago, and now things are better and we are almost back to where we used to be, except deep down, something feels broken. And BTW, at that same time I was so grateful to have supporting girlfriends :)

  91. Inch says...

    I also really appreciated this post. As another intentionally childless woman whose mother has passed away, this year’s Mother’s Day was really hard for me. I absolutely adored my mother, who was beautiful and graceful and charming — all things her clumsy, chubby, bespectacled daughter was not. I also had a privileged childhood devoid of abuse that allowed me to be open-hearted in a way that she, who overcame poverty and abuse, could only consider naive at best or dangerous at worst. The truth is, we had very little in common and I concluded at around age 12 that while she loved me (which I never once doubted) she didn’t really like me. I believed that for the rest of her life. She was a mother who unfailingly said “I love you too,” but never once said “I love you.” I always had this hope that somehow we would overcome her reserve, and my resentment of her reserve, and come to a place of true understanding where we did not just love each other from a distance but could enjoy each other’s company up close. And then she died, and I realized with a shock that whatever she had given me — however little, however much — was all I would ever have pf her. Our relationship is now fixed like a photograph and it will never be anything more that what it was. Five years on, that remains the hardest thing about losing her, that lost potential for both of us to be better to each other than we were.

    • Gwennan says...

      Inch, thank you so much for sharing. I am very moved by what you have written, for many reasons…Sending you love x.

    • S says...

      Wow, that was very beautifully said. I’m sorry.

    • Emily says...

      Wow. I love how you conveyed that. My heart aches for you

  92. S says...

    Thank you for this. Although my mother is not an obvious alcoholic by society’s standards, I have always dealt with the same thing described here : knowing I couldn’t call her past a certain hour if I wanted to speak to her sober. As a young child I also played the role of parent, putting her to bed after she passed out on the couch. After she divorced my father I was never taken into consideration in any major life decision, and my feelings were not relevant because I was just a child.

    Whenever I see people make Mother’s Day posts beaming about “the best mother in the world”, it seems so alien to me. I could never write such a post.

  93. Jess says...

    I’m really grateful for articles like this. Mother’s Day is hard for me because even though I spend the day with my mom and family, I have a lot of resentment and anger towards my mom. She’s a narcissist, unbelievably controlling, and emotionally manipulative and abusive to me. She ruined my life.

    • Jeanne says...

      I used to get shingles several times a year due to the stress and worry of having to spend time with my narcissist/borderline mother. The constant criticism was so hard to cope with (not to mention the physical child abuse). I know you know what I’m talking about. I recently cut off contact with her. It’s not been easy as she lives only a couple blocks away. But I only communicate via text and voicemail now. I didn’t realize how much unhappiness I was carrying because of my relationship with her until I stopped. Now I no longer get shingles and no longer stress over a unpredictable, toxic relationship. I wish you the best.

  94. josephine says...

    This is so timely with Mother’s Day just yesterday in the U.S. (and elsewhere). I am now parenting a daughter who started out as my son. I was always nervous to have a girl, and my first child is a boy. Our second child was born with a boy’s body, but has made it increasingly clear in her four and half short years of life, that she is truly a girl. Now I am faced with not just the typically “complicated” mother-daughter relationship I feared, but an extra layer of complexity that I am learning each day to see as a true blessing. What a gift to parent the same child through two different genders!

    • Julie says...

      What a lovely comment. My best to you and your daughter.

  95. Kim says...

    Mother’s Day has always been tense for me. My mother and I have a strained relationship, at best. I won’t get into the gritty details, but as so many have said before, it truly is like mourning. I mourn the mother I should have. I mourn the time before the point of no return when her abusive behavior became too much for me to continue the relationship in the way I would like to.

  96. Charlotte says...

    Mothers Day always brings up feelings of awkwardness, sadness and guilt. My mom has borderline personality disorder. It took me 34 years to figure out why a relationship with my mom was so difficult, unpredictable and at times volatile. The conditional love, the emotional abuse, all disguised in “loving” terms was enough to make you feel like you were going crazy. Childhood was so tough and, although moving out of my family home and living in my own has been a huge help, it’s really hard continuing to navigate a relationship with my mom. I can’t lie that I am a bit envious of women who speak about their moms in glowing terms. It’s beautiful! But it makes me sad too.

  97. Jen says...

    My mom was emotionally abusive growing up. My dad left her for another woman and I didn’t automatically hate him, which made her furious and jealous of our continued relationship. I never understood the way she treated me, and she’d always tell me that I’d understand when I was a parent. But now that I’m a parent to three beautiful children of my own, I understand her even less. Last year she told me that she knows she was a bad mom, but she wants to be a really good grandma. Do I expect her to follow through, control her temper, and actually be a good grandma? No. But I’m willing to let her try.

    • Amy says...

      Jen, my mother is the same way. She actually sent me to move with my dad when I was 13 because she was so angry that I didn’t hate his girlfriend (now my stepmother for the past 26 years). My mom is a loving grandma to my sons and I try to accept it. But I can never fully trust or forget the hateful things she said to me for living my dad and my stepmother. I was always painted as the bad daughter by my mother : on my wedding day for not including her in the mother of the bride rituals or for not having her at the hospital when my children were born. However as a mother myself now it is even more unclear to me on how she could have met me go and abandoned me as a teenager. I will never force my sons to choose between their dad and me. The irony is that my stepmom has showed me unconditional love and has mothered me far more than my biological mother ever did.

    • Jen says...

      Thanks for replying Amy. I completely relate to your feelings, and have had similar experiences where my mom is completely bewildered why she was left out of normal experiences (like the hospital). I’m so glad you had your stepmom – I had an older lady at church who really took me under her wing. We both deserved better, but I firmly believe we’ll both BE the mothers we wanted. Hugs xo

  98. Alyssa says...

    Grateful to read these stories today.

    I’m blessed with a wonderful relationship with my mom. She and I travel together a lot and people are always saying “wow, you guys are so lucky to have this relationship.” For her and I, it is just how we’ve always been and it’s hard for us to know why it’s special. But reading these stories sheds light on how special it truly is.

    As always, thanks for educating me on my blind spots.

  99. Lisa says...

    My mom (and dad) were both alcoholics while I was growing up and my mom didn’t seek help until I was in my late 20s. I had a few good foundational years but the majority of my upbringing was horribly stressful and dark. Our relationship has improved over the years, but it will forever be marred by my early years. Though I knew that my parents’ problems were not my fault, it took many, many years to get over the anger and resentment of my childhood. I never agreed with the saying that “they’re doing the best they can” because I never thought their best was good enough, but now I understand and realize that they were doing the best they could at the time for the mental state they were in. As a child of alcoholics, you have to develop a strong sense of self preservation and be willing to walk away from these relationships in order to save yourself. Don’t feel guilty. Don’t feel like you can help the situation. Don’t blame yourself. Do what you need to do to become a productive member of society and become self reliant. Do you come out emotionally unscathed? No, but you come out being able to handle almost anything life throws at you and if you work at it, you will always land on your own two feet. Use the hurtful, terrible experience to strengthen your resolve to not repeat the patterns of your parents. It can be an incredible learning experience. Just because someone is family doesn’t mean you owe them anything. But you owe it to yourself to be your own advocate and realize that you can do better than your parents. For any young person going through this right now, know that it can get better if you help yourself. Take advantage of opportunities you have to finish school and find mentors that have your best interest at heart. You can find parental figures in many places that aren’t in your house. Look to people you admire for advice and don’t sell yourself short or consider your situation doomed. With darkness comes the light. Just be patient and work towards positive goals.

    • Amber says...

      Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m currently working on determining boundaries in the relationship I have with my biological mother, and finding the balance between letting her have a relationship with my own daughter, and at the same time, protecting my daughter from the things that hurt me as a child.

  100. liz says...

    unclear if this is a good thing or bad thing, but I relate to all three of these stories. thanks for sharing. definitely packed a punch (in a good, human way)

  101. Mallory says...

    Thank you for sharing the more difficult side of mother/daughter relationships. So often, I feel alone in my own relationship with my mother. I was expecting to relate fully to one of these stories, and while I found something relatable in all three, my relationship with my mom is fully it’s own, with it’s own history, it’s own present, and it’s own future. I have come to be okay with the (lack of) relationship we have… the hard part is helping her get to the same point.

  102. Anonymous says...

    I am learning this lesson too. You are not alone. I’m sure a lot of people can relate!

  103. Kelly says...

    such a good (if awkward and painful) topic! My mom is terribly immature and self absorbed. After going through years of infertility I finally shared with her that we were attempting IVF. Her first words out of her mouth were, “Oh i’m so glad you told me, my friends have been asking when you were going to have kids.”

    Exhibit A, why I didn’t tell her earlier in my journey. Also, exhibit A of unhelpful things to say to someone going through infertility. She shared many times while I continued on my journey that she resented getting together with friends who talked about their grandkids all the time…I think she felt it was bonding for us to both be made miserable by the infertility experience, but truly, it was not!

    She also is a serious hypochondriac and worrier. She is a walking catalogue of freakish health conditions and People She Knows who have suffered from them. Once, my husband and I stood observing a large branch that had fallen in the street in front of my mom’s house. “Good thing no one was standing under that,” I joked. “Don’t laugh!” said my mom, who proceeded to tell us about not one but two people she knew who had been killed by tree branches falling on them.

    Sigh. I mostly just try to find the humor in it all, but do get jealous hearing about ladies who consider their moms great friends and sources of support.

    • Andrea says...

      A little off topic, but I wish women would stop wielding grandchildren like weapons. Honestly, I see this ALL THE TIME with women my Mom’s age. Like the more you have, the better a mom you were. Or the more you can brag about them the more value your own life has. It’s geriatric hazing.

      I agree that you Mom was really tone deaf, but I also see so much peer pressure among women concerning grandchildren.

    • Katie says...

      I’m sorry, I can tell you don’t have a great relationship with your mother, and she does sound self-absorbed, but I have to share.
      While my children were standing right beside me, a tree branch fell on me. I think it would have put my children in the hospital if I hadn’t been standing there. It felt like someone swung a bat at my head. It was only a little taller than I was and about a 4 inch diameter, so not very large really. We had just walked to that area too. I check tree branches all the time now since we spend so much time outside.
      Anyway, not to doubt your relationship with your mother! I’m just a little crazy about tree branches now and wanted to share.

    • Olivia says...

      My mother is very similar in that all conversations/her replies come from the viewpoint of someone who is self absorbed, and utterly clueless about how to put herself in someone else’s shoes. She, however, is MORE than happy to drone on about her own problems. I don’t think I can recall a conversation I’ve had with her that hasn’t started out with her mentioning a recent ailment, like an awful headache or diarrhea. Always. I could never pinpoint why it was so incredibly annoying, he sues she does have (very well controlled) MS and I felt I was being insensitive…but now I’ve realized.

      Furthermore, her reactions to situations is totally self absorbed. My grandmother recently died very quickly of leukemia. My mother went to a Thanksgiving party instead of meeting me at the hospital with her an hour away. When I texted her and told her nana was sick and going to a step-down unit, she said “oh my god, I don’t want to loose my mommy and best friend!” And “should I come up there?!” Yes, you idiot. You should be here. Your 27 year old daughter is here with your suffering mother, alone.

      It was 10:30 PM. She slept instead. I drove home alone at 2:30, 11 weeks pregnant. For this and many other reasons, I don’t speak to her anymore.

  104. Elly says...

    I can relate to Genevieve very much. My mom raised me and my sibling as Jehovah’s Witnesses, and while my experience in the religion was nothing like a lot of other people’s experiences as it was mainly positive, I chose to leave the community when I was 17 years old. My brother followed my suit when he was 16 years old. My mom (and extended family) is still very much involved as a Witness and can sometimes cause a rift in our relationship. It hasn’t made a severe impact where our relationship is strained but enough so that we disagree on many fundamental things (moving in with my boyfriend before marriage, not being religious or spiritual any longer, practicing holidays that I didn’t practice growing up) which cause me to completely avoid certain topics to avoid conflict.

    Sometimes it really is about ‘keeping gratitude at the front’ and sometimes it’s enough.

    • Liz says...

      OMG Elly. The whole time as I was reading Genevieve’s experience I was thinking “she must have been raised as a JW.” Wonder if that’s the case.
      I was also raised as one by my mother and finally left five years ago, even though I had been mentally out for much longer.

      I was never disfellowhiped, so I haven’t been shunned, but there’s definitely an enormous wall between us and a whole lot of mixed feelings that range from love and compassion in trying to understand that she was doing the best she could for her children, to just outright anger and resentment. So Mother’s Day and pretty much any family-centered holiday are always so tough.

      I’m happy for her because her religion is a place that seems to bring fulfillment to her life, but it makes me incredibly sad that she won’t even have my and my fiance over to her house or come to ours because we’re unmarried and living together, yet she always has her fellow JWs over or will attend any of their social gatherings/celebrations. As I get older I just feel this sense or urgency in feeling that the time I may have left with her is so precious that why are we wasting it like this? Genevive’s comment of “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%.” is so spot-on for me.

      I have many thoughts on this, but don’t want to ramble. It’s just nice to feel like you’re not the only one dealing with something similar.

    • anon says...

      I have the same experience.

      It seems hard to swallow a lot of my life and personality in order to have an infrequent and superficial surface level relationship with my mother. I feel like she doesn’t really know me or anything about my life. It’s sad but I feel lucky that she still even talks to me as I know that is not the case for many others.

      I know in my heart that my mom loves me but its still very uncomfortable not to be able to share anything real about my life with her.

      It is challenging to go through life entirely without a mother to talk to about problems and help guide you through life. It helps to know you’re not alone, but stings when you see other so close.

  105. SP says...

    I really appreciate – and needed – a different perspective that is more similar to my own, making me feel like less of a failure for not posting a sappy Instagram post (but CHEERS to all those there are!). Thank you for your impeccable timing and heartfelt look at how complicated these relationships can be.

    • Mimi says...

      Thank you for your comment, I find Instagram very confusing during the last two days :).

  106. Meg says...

    Thank you for this post! I’ve been realizing lately that a big part of the pain I suffer around my relationship with my mother (and father) is due to my expectations of what I think their love and parenting SHOULD have felt like – unconditional, warm, welcoming, child- (instead of self-) centered, etc. And that those expectations are largely created by society, and Hallmark, and social media. Reading these actual real stories of more complicated relationships reminds me that i’m not alone, expectations are often manufactured, and I need to let go of them and see the best in what I DID get. And fulfill my remaining needs elsewhere.

    • Katie says...

      Thank you. This is great insight. Who decided what parental relationships should function like? Are we not all individuals with unique personalities who will parent according to our particular strengths and weaknesses. A dear friend once told me that the only duty of a parent is to make sure their child KNOWS they are loved. So past all the muck and complications of personalities and and mistake and life messes if we KNOW underneath all that that we are loved by our parents then they succeeded.

      This doesn’t excuse abuse of any kind. But for me it excuses our personality faults and mistakes and lifes big messes.

  107. Denise says...

    My relationship with my Mom is very like Genevieve & her mom. I decided to get out of religion and my familial relationships will never be open again unless I go back to their religion. I love my Mom & she loves me but we will only ever be polite to each other and we never discuss important things.

  108. Lauren says...

    What a thoughtful piece to post today, and such empathetic personal stories. Thank you CoJ for featuring this, and thank you to the writers for sharing :) AND, thank you to all the other commenters who are sharing their experiences.

    I’m 34, and my relationship with my mother has never been easy or tender, and it’s difficult to frame my thoughts about her.

    For example: she harangued me about my weight as an adolescent and teen; I developed an eating disorder that she then shamed me for. At her retirement party, she pulled me aside to tell me the shoes I wore prevented her from enjoying herself, and why was I out to embarrass her? (They were aging faux leather flats from Target, nothing incredible about them.) When I didn’t get into medical school she told me she wasn’t surprised, and why did I even try? When my older sister called her, having a breakdown over caring for her jaundiced, colicky newborn while suffering through an eye infection that almost left her blind in one eye, begging for help (they live 10 min apart), our mom didn’t lift a finger.

    BUT… She raised my sister mostly as a single mother, and worked hard so that she wanted for nothing. She was there when I got fired from an internship, when I was in a bad car accident.

    Post-therapy, I’m okay keeping up a relationship that’s somewhat distant. It took years of building up my self-esteem to feel that I’m lovable the way I am, and the more time I spend with her, the harder it is to keep that up.

  109. Mouse says...

    I don’t mean at all to discount any of the commenters or the essay by Amelia, but I would love to have a fraught relationship with my mother, and I’m sure I would have if she hadn’t died when I was 12. I was just beginning to be a teenager and we were fighting all the time. But now, after 47 years without a mother, I sometimes long for that complicated bond with all its pain and frustration. (I do have a stepmother and that is HUGELY complicated, but not the same thing, although Mother’s Day is always tense because of her insecurity) I let go of things easily, I don’t engage well in difficult relationships of any kind. It seems to me that the mother/daughter bond influences and teaches many ways to be, consciously and un-. I often feel myself outside of most women, not quite really female. I don’t know if that is just me, or part of the loss of the mother relationship. And I have never had children myself, perhaps another echo of this loss.

    Mothers are the primal relationship and their presence or absence affects us in deep ways…..

    • Abigail says...

      Not going to go into too much detail, but wanting to offer my own perspective:

      This line of yours really struck me. “I often feel myself outside of most women, not quite really female. I don’t know if that is just me, or part of the loss of the mother relationship. ”

      The thing is, my mother is still alive, our relationship is complicated but loving (over religion, much like the first essay). But she was an outstanding mother of a small child. (Mother of an adult, not so much.)

      I feel like this all the time. Things other women just ‘get’ completely pass me by. I don’t think this has anything to do with a lack of connection with my mother when I was growing up – by all accounts, my childhood was pretty close to idyllic. But once I hit my teen years, I always felt a little bit outside the group, and it’s a feeling that still impacts me today. I think it’s just the way some people are wired.

    • Hana says...

      Wishing your mom were here when she’s left this world, and wishing your mother were here when she’s still here is so painfully different. The difference is too painful to describe, too hurtful to admit that it’s a reality that you can’t take a break from.

  110. Ella says...

    I was raised by two abusive parents: my mom was very emotionally abusive and manipulate. Some of that was a result of her own stress from also being abused by my father, and some of it was who she is. Now that I’m an adult who is not dependent on her for care I’ve been able to soften my view a bit. I always say as a woman I understand that you can’t judge someone who is being abused. Woman to woman I am at peace with her. But as a child, she should have protected us and gotten us out of that house. I can’t forgive her as a daughter but I can do it as a woman, so our relationship is woman to woman. I don’t think of her as a mom per se, and I don’t expect any mom things from her (she still isn’t really capable of them). She’s more like an aunt, but that distinction has allowed us to have a relationship and I’m grateful for it. I have three kids and I am very cautious about watching her around them. I know that her tendency still leans towards meanness and it’s something I watch for and am prepared to handle, because I won’t let that near my kids.

    There are some wonderful resources for healing out there that have helped me tremendously to not pass on the ugly patterns of my relationship to my daughters. Western society has hung onto this idea of tense mother daughter relationships, but other cultures don’t have that same anger as generally as we do. We don’t have to have hard relationships with our moms, we’ve just been programmed to (speaking to non abusive, run of the mill tension). The Awakened Family is an amazing amazing book and Sil Reynolds of Mothering and Daughtering is also the greatest resource. It’s possible for all of us to move forward, regardless of what kind of moms we had.

    • Kiana says...

      Ella, I think we maybe grew up in similar households. My mother was fine when I was young and my parents were happy, but as financial strain, different cultures/cultural expectations, and the stress of raising four kids without help caused stride between them, they became miserable parents. They were mean and sarcastic to us, they fought constantly sometimes getting physical, and they pit us against the other parent constantly. Now that I’m a mom in a loving relationship with a spouse who respects me and treats me well and earning a salary which allows me to stay at home with our kids, I can forgive both my parents somewhat. They were really young, they were broke, they didn’t know how this country worked and they never should have ended up together. My mom told me once that she wished she never had kids, because she’d have never married my father. Hearing her say that stung so bad (I was 13 when she told me that) but now that I’m older, I understand. She felt trapped and so did he. And they each became the worst version of themselves. Now that they’re divorced, I can see the people they really are and I can forgive them. But a lot of that pain will never go away.

  111. S says...

    I loved this article. I feel very seen. I felt so relieved when I found out I was having each of my boys. I hesitate to have more children because I feel nervous for having a daughter. My relationship with my mom is so so complicated and it scares me to think about having another female family relationship. It is silly because I know I’d love to have a girl once she arrived but I think I’d be a nervous wreck the entire pregnancy.

    • A says...

      S, I felt the same way (but in my case, it was because I have a complicated relationship with my sister). When I was first pregnant I was so relieved to learn I was having a boy, and I cried (not from joy) in the doctor’s office 3 years later when I learned I was having a girl. My daughter is 2.5 years old now and she is the most wonderful girl I could ever dream of mothering. Being her mother, and seeing her beautiful relationship with her big brother, has been a powerful healing experience for me. The way I now think of it is that I really didn’t want to have “a” girl, but what I couldn’t have known was that I was going to get “this” girl.

    • Amy Harleman says...

      I just wanted to reply to you because SAME! It’s not something I’ve discussed with anyone but my husband, but the relief at having two boys was so huge.

  112. Abby says...

    Thank you for this. I am lucky to have a great relationship with my own kids and husband, but a very very complicated one with my mom.

    I’d say it’s fraught, but I think that she’d say it’s ideal, because I do the bulk of the work to manage her emotions and make sure she never gets too agitated with our relationship. It took a lot of work in my adult relationships for me to see that, and then becoming a mom really crystallized for me that I had to do the emotional work of being my mom’s mom for years.

    I know lots of people say that when they become parents, they really empathize more with their own parents, but I had the opposite experience. When I became a parent, I mourned even more keenly the early loss of security and freedom in my own childhood — things my mom couldn’t give me, and that I want so fervently to give to my own children.

    Thank you for this, and looks like I’m going to be reading some Rilke soon!

    • Meg says...

      I had the same experience when I became a parent! Suddenly I realized the ways my parents had let me down, and the losses I had suffered, and how desperately I wanted to do better by my own kids! I’m still trying, and often feel at a loss with only examples of what not to do. But better to be conscious and aware then carry on poor patterns (is what I tell myself)!

    • Holly says...

      Abby, I totally empathize with you on this. It sounds so much like my own experience. And it’s so tough when you realize that if you are going to be a good parent to your own children, you are going to have to work extra hard, sometimes moment-to-moment, because you have no handbook. You are carving out an unfamiliar path. I wish you all the best in nurturing your own little ones. Here’s hoping we can maintain honest, open connection with our children.

    • Margaret says...

      Abby, I really connected to much of your comment. After having a child, who is now 11, I saw the ways my mother had treated us through the lens of my new life as a mother and my relationship with my son. This has made me all that much more careful, thoughtful, and intentional with my child to create for him the loving, secure home I did not have.

    • Amber says...

      I literally remember laying in the hospital bed with my newborn daughter and even though that afternoon is in bits and pieces in my memory (we had a C section), one of the distinct memories I had was, ‘if they loved me this much, why couldn’t they have done a better job?’

    • Abby says...

      Love to you all, and Amber, you made me tear up! <3

  113. Elizabeth says...

    These were wonderful to read. I empathize so much with these women, especially with Genevieve. Honestly, my story is basically exactly her’s. My mom and I have a strained relationship because I no longer practice the religion I was raised in. I’m 32 now, and it’s been this way basically since I started college. I minored in Women’s Studies, and that sent my mom into a spiral. In her evangelical conservative mind, anything related to progressive views or politics is suspect. As I went through my twenties, I began to deconstruct my Southern Baptist faith, leading to where I am today. All I’ve told her is that I’m no longer invested in “organized religion”, though the truth is that I’m an atheist. I know enough to know that she won’t ever really be able to understand that, which is why I don’t make it explicit.

    I imagine there are plenty of people out there who will relate to the experience of having a strained parental relationship due to religious views (or lack of). The Millennials have left organized religion in droves, and the number of people who identity “none” for their religious beliefs is the fastest growing (non)faith-based demographic in the country.

    It’s unique in the pressures it puts on a relationship, I think. When one side is convinced that they are the keepers of divine truth, it’s quite difficult to find a “common ground.” When your mom is convinced that you’re going to spend all eternity suffering the torments of hell because of your rejection of the faith–and I mean she really BELIEVES this, as do so many–it’s hard to get her to just “agree to disagree.”

    I’ve come to accept that this will be my life until one of us is dead. That’s a grim thought, I know. But when you’re dealing with religious fundamentalists, they aren’t going to yield and they aren’t going to get up. It’s exhausting.

    Best of luck to you, Genevieve, and to anyone else out there in a contentious relationship with fundamentalist parents.

    • Jane says...

      So true! I have also found – with my parents in law, thankfully, my own parents are the best people I know – that the really really religious always think they are right and have truth on their side. Even when they do or say things that are clearly morally (or lawfully!) WRONG, my parents in law are still convinced they are doing the right thing and God is with them because they believe it to be so. Sometimes I wish I believed there was a God just to see the look on their faces when they had to face him/her and had to justify all the things they did in his/her name…
      Anyway, there is no arguing with people who believe they are – through some divine intervention – right by default..

  114. Amelia says...

    Follow up to my earlier effusive post – would LOVE a post like this one about different, complicated relationships with Mothers-in-law!!! Have LOVED this post, the beautiful one about being a step-mothers, and that would be a wonderful addition to a series of sorts. I have a complicated relationship with my mother-in-law, my mother did with her’s, my sister-in-law has such a hard relationship with my mother… sheesh it is so hard for some reason!
    Thank you so much again for all your amazing work.

    • lkb says...

      I’m with you about the MIL post. It’s so hard to manage the mixing of totally different family styles. I think a lot of the problems stem from where our relationship started. I hadn’t figured out who I was yet (I was only 21) or where my relationship with my now-husband stood. It always felt like his parents were still trying to really “parent” him when they visited. I felt displaced and resented their role, and I’m sure my MIL felt the same way. And we’ve never really recovered. We get along okay, but I dread the visits and just endure them, trying to politely bow out of activities as much as I can. (Having kids has helped a lot–so much distraction!).

    • Lisa says...

      Yes. This.

    • Paz says...

      That is a great idea — I second that!

    • anonymous says...

      I would also appreciate this. My mother in law passed away 2 years ago after a long, drawn out, multifaceted illness that frankly had not one single name, but was a compounded circumstance of conditions and refusal to take care of herself. She was at the beginning of it when I met my now husband, at the turning point when we got married, and then it was all downhill from there for 3 yrs. It almost ruined my marriage, she was difficult and then downright abusive for the entire time we knew each other, so I have these really negative sentiments that I only really bring up in therapy for fear of being considered heartless. I’m lucky to have a good relationship with my own mom, but it’s been a weird journey – on a good day I don’t think about her/feel like the stereotypical crap daughter in law and on a bad day I’m glad she’s gone/feel terrible for feeling this way/want to live my life so no one is glad I’m gone.

    • Maria says...

      Like LKB I am polite to my MIL but she drives me crazy. I was only 17 when I met my husband, and he only 19. And she never really managed to make the switch over to a grown up relation with any of her sons. She continues to talk only about at what time we were home, if we eat enough, buying us food and acting like she actually saved us buy buying a loaf of bread when they come to visit. We see them maybe 10 times in a year and still she acts like she is saving us from starvation… We are now 40 with three kids and quite demanding jobs.

  115. Anna says...

    I have grown up to love and understand my mom more and more. Growing up, I expected her to know how to do everything “right” but I now realize she was learning and growing too, along the way, just as I was.

  116. M says...

    Ah that second one got me right in the feels. My mom and I were super close growing up, and she was always a casual drinker. A few years ago, she became more depressed and drinking a lot more. I feel like I totally lost my mom and best friend, since her depression makes her not want to call or go to lunch or anything. We’ve had situations with our nieces where she was drinking around them and became angry/passed out/ etc., which means she’s not allowed to be alone with our daughter. It makes me so sad and I wish our family would be enough to make her seek help and get better. It’s nice to see others having the same struggle and feelings.

    Also, becoming a mother has totally made me realize that parents are just humans doing the best they can. I’m not sure why that was such a revolution, but it was!

  117. Jo says...

    “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.” This mindset resonates so much with me, and has brought me so much peace in not just my relationship with my mom, but in my adult life over all. One example that comes to mind is my close friend who always wants our family get-togethers at her house. My husband is always saying, “Why are we going there again when it’s clearly our turn to have her family here?” My answer is that, for some reason, that semblance of control is important to her and I actually enjoy going there. Why make the situation complicated in the name of fairness? As a daughter, mother, wife, teacher and friend, there are of course some hills I’m willing to die on- but I try to choose them wisely. I’ve found (and hopefully given) a lot of peace and grace in giving in.

    Thanks, Mathilda, for sharing your story and putting it into words!

  118. Amelia says...

    THANK YOU. This is such an amazing post. Yesterday social media felt filled with either “My mom is my best friend! I’m so lucky!” or “My mom and I are totally estranged – don’t talk to me about mother’s day.” No shade to sharing either of those responses to mother’s day, but there is so, so, so much in between that of course social media is not conducive to expressing.
    This is beautiful and important.

    • l says...

      Honestly, I posted a picture of us and pretended like everything is wonderful because now, with social media, there’s another way we (my brother and I) are able to let her down. She sees everyone elses’ posts and gets jealous/hurt if we don’t do the same. It’s kind of the worst, because it’s a lose – lose. I sympathize with everyone who gets annoyed/hurt by seeing all the posts, but I have to do it too because I prioritize not hurting her feelings, even though I don’t really want do/

  119. JC says...

    Thank you for recognizing this. Mothers are human after all, so no two relationships are the same. And not all daughter-mother relationships are the typical “best friends” seen in commercials. My mother is a narcissist. It took me as an adult to recognize and come to terms with this, and to walk away from her behavior in order to save my sanity. It’s been a difficult and hard road, but it is one that led me to strive to be a better mother to my daughter. Thank you for recognizing mother-daughter relationships are varied and complicated.

  120. MA says...

    Wow. Genevieve’s story resonates so strongly with my own experiences. The same thing happened to me: I left religion, my parents view it as their biggest failure. We can’t relate at all and it’s hard, especially as they get older and medical issues loom larger. I love my parents, but it feels like we are on different ships in the same ocean.

    Thanks for posting this today.

  121. Bri Jackson says...

    There’s really only one word to describe my relationship with my mother: friction. I don’t think we will ever be friends. Friendship requires shared interests and hobbies, like minds. The mother-daughter relationship is primal. Sometimes, all we talk about is my and my children’s health and the weather, because those are the major factors in my life right now. I’d never call my BFF just to tell her every hour that the baby was up last night and for how long and what her poop looked like. But I call my mom for that reason alone. She will talk baby poop and analyze sleepless baby nights with me forever.

  122. Erin says...

    Thank you for this. I have an extremely complicated relationship with my mother who is chronically depressed, angry & disappointed and refuses to seek mental help. The older she gets, the worse her guilt trips get since I refuse to join her in misery. After an entire lifetime of this I’m at a breaking point. It’s heartbreaking and draining and every holiday is so painful for my sister and I. The only positive thing to come out of our situation is that I’m very mindful of how I treat my own children and of the vibe in our house.
    Cup of Jo team, I would love to read a piece about recovering from narcissistic abuse. Narcissists are everywhere and their behaviors are so damaging. Whether it’s an ex partner, boss, parent etc. most people have someone in their life that they need some healing from.

    • Sarah says...

      Erin, I relate. My mother also struggles with depression (and suicide attempts) and has refused to get help. Since I am the oldest child of my siblings, I had to deal with it and it was very difficult for me. I have since gone to therapy and learned that the healthiest thing for me was to distance her from my life. You can only take care of others so much, especially when it’s unwanted. This may be an unpopular opinion, but the distance can be very healing and relieving to live without that constant source of pain present.

    • Becca says...

      Me too Erin, and it sucks so bad. I am so resentful of how my Mom won’t get help, essentially dictating that my family of origin’s life will be negative, sad, and depressed. All I can think is, how selfish. As a mother of two girls I also am so mindful of the vibe in our house! Its funny to read that, because it’s so important to me too but maybe easy to miss if it wasn’t something you struggled with? My kids will NOT wonder if they are the reason Mom is always unhappy, they will NOT be afraid that I will only love them if they are miserable too, they will NOT learn to manage someone else’s feelings in front of their own. Those are damaging lessons, especially for women, and I wish I had a different experience, plain and simple. Sending you happiness, you have always deserved it <3

    • Maria says...

      Please, CoJ, a piece about recovering from narcissistic abuse! I grew up emotionally manipulated by my mother, who groomed me as an extension of herself–someone to manage her emotions, someone to provide her unconditional love and care that she lacked from her mother and her husband (ie my father, who is an alcoholic). Only after a few years living thousands of miles away from home did I begin to see that we had a toxic relationship. I always thought we were best friends, and I just wanted to make her proud. The abusive cycle, though, continued for me as I sought approval from an immensely narcissistic and abusive (woman) boss. She ripped away any self confidence, any identity, any sense of worthiness that I had worked so hard to nurture during college. It took me three years, but I finally cut her out of my life (saving my life) and moved across the globe to begin to align with myself again <3

  123. Lauren E. says...

    I’m tearing up now reading these and thinking about my mom.

    My parents visited my husband and I this past weekend and in one particularly wine-fueled moment she said something about how our city life wasn’t conducive to raising children and when we did decide to have kids we’d have to start making huge sacrifices. A few years ago that would’ve devastated me, made me second guess all the choices I’ve had to make and all the accomplishments I’m not so proud of. But this weekend – maybe I just turned a personal corner or something – I realized I’m happy with myself and where I’m at. I’m confident in what I can offer a child just as I am, and I realized maybe my mom is insecure about all the things she felt like she HAD to give up when she had kids. I feel like at 34 years old I’m finally starting to see that her opinions are just that: opinions. They’re not guidelines for my life.

    • Sarah says...

      Sending you a virtual hug and high-five, Lauren! I’m at that corner myself as the daughter of a very critical and opinionated mother. It is so hard to shake the feeling of disappointing your mother, but once you do (or once I have), I feel a renewed burst of enthusiasm that I’m beginning to know who I am and define myself in ways outside of the mother-daughter relationship.

  124. DDS says...

    Frances’ story really resonates with me- but my mother was an alcoholic growing up. She has since stopped drinking and gotten her life in order, but an entire childhood of neglect and emotional abuse is very hard to get over. Now I’m jealous of the relationship my mom has with her grandkids- why couldn’t she have been that kind of parent to my sisters and I? So mostly, mother’s day is a painful reminder of the relationship that I always wanted with my mother, but that will never be a reality. In my thirties and it’s still a very raw wound.

  125. Sara says...

    Thanks for this today. As a Mom, wife and daughter yesterday was so challenging. Hugs to all the Mama’s out there!

  126. Kara says...

    My mother is a narcissist and I have only just now, at 32, started to realize the extent of it. My father was abusive in a much more straightforward way- cruelty and yelling. My mother’s bad behavior is much more subtle, manipulative and confusing. When you have two abusive parents, a common coping mechanism for a child is to make the less scary one into the savior parent. That was my mother, and that’s why it took me so long to see it. It helps that my husband sees her so clearly and can articulate why her behavior is hurtful. Another part of it was having a child myself and something in my deep, animal brain saying, “I don’t want her around my child, even though I can’t articulate why.” I did end up calling her yesterday, which felt better than not calling, but the whole thing is a long, tricky slog. I don’t even know what the top of this hill looks like. Thanks for this post, and these comments.

    • M says...

      Wow, I could have written your exact comment. Seeing someone else have the same experience and coping mechanism is so validating – thank you!!

    • Anonymous says...

      Just came here to say YES to your whole comment. Also, I literally never thought about the coping mechanism of making one parent of two abusive parents the savior parent, but that explains so much. Thank you for that.

      I sent my mom a short email yesterday which felt like a nice compromise between doing nothing and talking to her on the phone.

  127. Lynn says...

    Thanks for this refreshing, timely read after a day of saccharine over-shares on social media of friends’ moms from decades ago, and friends’ new babies they are now parents of. As someone who is struggling with not wanting to have kids (it’s not an easy choice to recognize or admit you don’t want kids in a world that celebrates women having them) and who has a friendly but distant relationship with her own mother, by the end of yesterday I was just beat down.

    • Jen says...

      same… I didn’t realize how strained and dysfunctional my relationship with my mother was until I started therapy this year… yesterday felt different than other years.

    • Denise says...

      Lynn, you are awesome. Thank you for not wanting kids! I, too, don’t want kids and it’s the very best choice for me but people just do not get it. Let’s go forth and enjoy the heck out of our life decisions.

    • Lauren says...

      Lynn, I share all the feels you describe here. <3 And I used to think that it would be easy to ignore the voices that judge you negatively for being a woman who decides not to have children, but I'm discovering it's a lot tougher than I expected. Love to you.

    • Abigail says...

      Just wanted to send all you child-free-by-choice ladies some love. It’s a hard world out there that says women are supposed to have children.

      You do you. Go out and live your best life!

    • Laura says...

      THIS. My thoughts exactly about choosing not to have children. You’re definitely not alone.

    • Bliss says...

      Hear you on this. I, too, felt “beat down” by the end of Mother’s Day as viewed through the Instagram prism. (And I have two kids and was, myself, celebrated roundly). With my own mother, it’s “complicated.” Next year, I plan to avoid social media all together around this time!

    • Julie says...

      I just scrolled through hundreds of (fantastic!) comments hoping to find someone in a similar boat as me, so thank you for writing this! I am STRUGGLING with feeling like I don’t want children, when I always thought I would, and am now at the age that the decision must come sooner than later. And it’s hard!

      On top of that, while I have a really wonderful relationship with my mom, this issue is a wedge. She cannot fathom that I may not have children, and she refuses to even acknowledge that’s an option. The pressure makes me hold back from sharing with her, which is causing distance I could never have imagined in our relationship. Coupled with how she is acting as a first-time grandmother to my brother’s new baby, oof. That grandmother pride often seems like a competition.

      Mother’s Day was just awkward, as I read through all the social posts and then felt guilty for my resentful feelings toward all the mothers my age posting about their babies.

  128. Khyati says...

    Reading this just reassures me that I am not the only one who has mixed emotions and that it is a 100% ok. Thank you ladies for sharing your stories.

  129. Anonymous says...

    Thank you so much for this post. I HATE Mother’s Day and the level of expectations around it. I told my family I just want a nice normal day, no presents, no fussing. And that’s what I got. It was perfect. But as a result, there was a very insulted MIL. I’m trying to learn that it is not my responsibility or emotional work to nurture my husband’s relationships, but the societal and familial push back on that notion is pretty intense!

    • V says...

      I relate to this SO much!

    • Anonymous says...

      I have finally figured out how I can personally participate in Mother’s Day as a 30-year-old daughter with a tough relationship with her mother. I felt good about it this year.

      Then on Sunday morning my husband’s parents and sister dropped by on their way through town. We welcomed them, and when I said “happy Mother’s Day” to my mother-in-law and sister-in-law it fell completely flat because we hadn’t done anything extra for them. The way you phrased that it’s not my job to “nurture my husband’s relationships,” just eradicated any last guilt I had over not thinking to remind him. I love the way you put it so clearly!

    • Anonymous says...

      I am learning this lesson too. You are not alone. I’m sure a lot of people can relate!

    • Ali says...

      Wow you are so right! I’d never thought about it that way but feel like a huge weight has just lifted off me!

    • Katie says...

      “it is not my responsibility or emotional work to nurture my husband’s relationships, but the societal and familial push back on that notion is pretty intense”

      T H I S ! Thank you, so much yes. COJ team could you do an article about how to manage complicated in-law relationships?

  130. Wink says...

    Frances’ story closely mirrors my own. It was both a pain and a comfort to read, to hear someone articulate so clearly an experience so near to my own experience. For years, I could not call after seven, knowing that by then my mother would have been mixing wine and vodka after two solid hours of drinking and drink until black-out some nights. So many circular, pointless arguments were had with me trying to reason with her when she was past reason, only for her not to remember in the morning. All the milestones too–both happy and sad, that my mother was too gone to remember me telling her about. (She forgot that I had a miscarriage! That hurt terribly.) All this is to say, I know this pain so well, so deeply, and commiserate with anyone going through it. I also want to offer this ray of hope: after nearly 50 years of heavy drinking, mother stopped last year, cold turkey, after an episode of amnesia that frightened her to the point of quitting. Our relationship in the past year is the best it’s been since I was young. We can talk until late in the night and she is her old, clear-headed, warm-hearted person again. All this is to say, it is never too late for them to quit or for your relationship to be restored. I am grateful this is our story, and I know it could change at any moment. I am thankful for the now. Solidarity to all.

  131. B says...

    I’m afraid to label my mother as an alcoholic when I know that’s what it is but a small voice inside says “what if she is not, is that fair to label her?” Labels are powerful.
    I’m a former substance counselor. It’s hard to accept it so close to home.
    We have no relationship as of 2 plus years ago. It was necessary to cut her out of my life. Many years of negative talk, threatening to leave, threatening to take everything a way. But she couldn’t really. She just made you feel like she could. All this while I was a child. No better as an adult. Leaving my mother behind meant leaving my dad behind and that is the relationship I mourn. But I know he understands why.

  132. Alyssa says...

    I really appreciated this post! My mother has Borderline Personality Disorder (Think: “I hate you. Don’t leave me”) and Mother’s Day is so painful. I always wonder, “How could you resent your own children? How could you give birth to your daughter and then let her birthday pass without a word?” My sister and I have taken it upon ourselves to “mother” each other and our siblings. It’s the most beautiful, resilient love.

    • TC says...

      My MIL also has BPD and my husband struggles a lot with the holiday as well. It was only in the past couple years that he realized this is what was going on with his mom, but it’s given us a lot of clarity to step back from what she says and does and start creating boundaries (like, she can never stay in our house again and we will never stay in hers). I’m so glad you and your siblings have each other.

    • Katrina says...

      Both my parents “forgot” my birthday last year. Just didn’t mention it.

    • Emily says...

      Further proof that no all mothers are made so by the act of giving birth. Sending love to you and your sister, and your selfless picking up of responsibilities that you did not choose

    • M says...

      Yes I am living this, Alyssa. At 41 years old and a mother of 3 daughters, my best move is to mother myself.

    • Jennifer says...

      My daughter has Borderline Personality Disorder and I can relate to how draining that can be. She didn’t call me for Mother’s Day this year for the first time and it broke my heart. I would love an opposite post to this one – for mothers that have a complicated relationship with their daughters.

  133. Lisa says...

    Yay! Amelia!

    My mom and I have a complicated relationship as well, which is hard, because I’ve seen some friends with their mothers, where the relationship is so easy and they can be friends, where that’s not possible with mine.
    When I fell pregnant with my first, I kind of wanted a girl, but was actually relieved to have a boy. It was a relationship that started completely without baggage – just this happy mutual admiration romance. Then I fell pregnant with my daughter (we found out second time around), and it felt more loaded. Kind of fortunately I read the book “I’m supposed to protect you from all of this” when I was pregnant, which is a biography of the mother – daughter relationships in one family, some toxic and some very happy. It made me focus on trying to not have expectations for my daughter, to just give her the space to be. I developed PND and PNA after she was born (for various reasons), and one of the lessons from that is that I strongly suspect (there’s a lot of family history) that my mother has depression that was never treated. It helps to view her through that lense – she can be incredibly self involved, which is hard as her child; I often had to mother her when I was younger and I still can’t share problems with her because she’ll turn the conversation to issues she’s having.
    She is great in many ways – accepting of me in ways that are surprising given her personality and she’s a fantastic grandma. I just wish she’d get the help she needs, but she refuses

  134. Michelle says...

    My relationship with my mom (and dad) is so complicated by religion. I, too, left the faith that they and my entire extended family believe and the church that they all attend several times a week. We’ve finally reached a place of mutual acceptance but definitely not understanding. The rift it has caused between us definitely contributed to my rejection of religion altogether.

  135. Amanda says...

    I appreciate this a lot. My mom is severely mentally ill and has also been abusive for much of my life. I was raised by my dad but still tried to maintain a relationship with her for various reasons – because she was sometimes the supportive mom I needed, because I was worried that she would end up homeless, because of guilt. I finally cut her off a few years ago when her mental instability caused her to lash out in ways that I was no longer willing to deal with. I hope that she’s doing okay, though I’m not in a place where I can maintain a relationship with her anymore.

    • Rhoda says...

      Wow I feel like I could have written that! Amazing that people have such similar stories and yet family issues can be so isolating.

  136. SaraL says...

    I have a cordial and distant relationship with my mother even though we live 20 minutes apart. The root causes are many and varied and my attempts to resolve them have been insufficient. I don’t really have it in me to continue.

    That being said, as the mom to a singleton — a now 13YO girl — it breaks my heart to think that someday we won’t be close. I know that’s not a given (there ARE daughters who are truly close to the moms, right?) but I think about it (and worry about it) often.

    • AB says...

      Just a note of hope (and forgive the saccharine, I promise I could write 50K words on complicated relationships with fathers) — My mom and I were always cordial but distant, as you say, in my childhood. In adulthood and especially now that I’m a mother, she is the most important person in my life outside of my husband and kids. She is an enormous part of our lives, my kids are the joy of her life, and I am thankful every single day that we get to go through this together. I wish you and your daughter the same.

    • Abbie says...

      Yes! As a woman I was shocked to learn that there are daughters who don’t adore their mother the way I do mine. My father is the one with whom my relationship is complicated so there are definitely mother/daughter relationships that are joyful and drama free (as best as any relationship can be)

    • RS says...

      Saral, just writing to tell you that you aren’t alone. My feelings about my mother, and my daughter, are somewhat identical. Sending you love.

    • KC says...

      Obviously, you can’t control how close/not you are with your daughter, *but* I will say that, as a kid, being loved, understood, and being liked (three separate things!) were huge with my relationships with adults. Maybe you can’t hit all three even partially (there are very very few people who hit all three for me even partially), but you can *try* on all three and it seems like that might improve odds?

      (I’d differentiate them as “being loved” = someone wanting what they think is best for *you* even if they’re frankly wrong about what’s best for you, someone being willing to potentially sacrifice something they want for your good; “being understood” = someone grasping why you do things and what you value [agreement on it is awesome, but even just “oh, okay, yes, I still disagree with you but I see why you think that” is golden]; “being liked” = being enjoyed! someone being proud of things you’ve done or who you are [and not just because it reflects positively on them]. I don’t think we can fully force-summon any of these, but we can have a go at it, and we can have a go at communicating it.)(if you can remember being a teen and young adult, revise/add. I am now working on loving, understanding, and liking my mom; progress is slow, but… hopefully worthwhile?)

  137. Katie says...

    This was such a unique and comforting read, despite the subject matter. And I’m SO pumped to see Amelia here! Miss her on manrepeller.com

  138. M2 says...

    I don’t mean to judge but I would be so so careful (and probably never) allow my children alone with an alcoholic grandparent or even with their spouse also present. It isn’t worth it to save the money to maybe have something horrible happen. I had a very dear friend who had a similar situation and allowed her mother to watch her children with the grandfather also there. He wasn’t always there and wanted to protect his wife. It did not go well and one of their children ended up in the hospital and almost died. It may seem like she doesn’t drink when she watches your kids but you can’t be certain she won’t, it is a disease. It isn’t worth the risk in my opinion. Have fun events with them where you can also be present. You don’t want your kids to one day ask you why you put them in that situation.

    For more context I grew up with a single mom (my dad died) and she was so desperate for help she allowed me to be at my grandparents (dad’s parents) one day a week and some sleepovers. These people should not have been watching children but from the outside it seemed great. It wasn’t. It is hard for such small children to verbalize stuff especially when they get candy or toys or have so much fun. It also is difficult when you see how it helps your parent. You don’t want to make their life more difficult. Looking back, I wish my mother put my safety in front of her and my grandparents feelings. I am an adult now and don’t think I’ll ever really forgive my mom for doing that even though she thought it was the right thing to do. Also, when I was young these people were my “favorite people in the world” and I thought everything was normal and aokay until I got older. Then when I started telling people no one believed me because they were my favorite people! I had such a great time when I was there! A 2 year old and one year old can’t tell you if something is amiss and I doubt your dad will tell you in fear they will loose visitation of the grandkids.

    Always pick your kids, over your parents over your spouse if their safety is at risk. Don’t put your kids at risk it isn’t worth it. I am sorry but Frances’ statement just makes me so sad and brings up wounds. I know you think you are doing the right thing but maybe rethink it.

    • Olivia says...

      Tooooooootally agree. Someone you can’t call after 5 because they are reliably intoxicated is not someone you want around your kids without you there, period – especially because anyone who is married to them, as hard as they may be trying, are enabling this toxic behavior to some degree.

      I say this as a niece of an alcoholic whose husband tried to hold it all together, albeit poorly. My cousin probably allowed her kids alone with them once for 15 minutes. It seemed like her mom was halfway keeping it together. Fast forward to last month; she was found minimally responsive in her own filth, septic, didn’t recognize my cousin. She’s 52, been in the hospital for a month, has manifested signs of alcohol-related dementia, and is awaiting long term placement at a nursing home. It’s insane. We never TRULY knew how just how much she was drinking or how bad it had gotten.

    • M says...

      Same here. I was watched by my alcoholic grandmother from 0-5 while my mom went to school and my older siblings were in school. She adored me, and I adored her, but the fully stacked bar, frequent trips to liquor stores (I remember proudly knowing which mini mixer bottle was her favorite), yellow solo cups stashed throughout her house, and slurred/slaphappy read alouds stay in my memory now as an adult. I wish my mom had protected me.

  139. E says...

    Needed to read this (in fact, I think I’ve requested this article from Joanna before!)

    My relationship with my mom is also complex. After digging into some Brene Brown stuff I’m hoping to be able to honestly say that she’s trying her best. But she’s controlling, her life is ruled by anxiety (she refuses help), and if I’m honest I’ve never felt seen or really *known* by her. My therapist has helped me to identify that I never had a voice in my family growing up, and still don’t, even as an adult.

    Because she’s anxious whenever I would do things I felt were brave or I was proud of, she was so shaming (i.e. studying abroad and she’d try to talk me out of it, telling me she had a bad feeling, something bad would definitely happen).

    It seems like such a small thing but I remember crying after opening Christmas presents because I would think, “after all this time, how can my mom honestly think this is for me?” Of course the material stuff didn’t matter, it just highlighted our distance.

    Now that I’m a mom, I have a bit more empathy, just knowing how hard things can be and how much of your family of origin issues flow through things. But I’m also a believer that it’s *my* responsibility to work on those things, and I refuse to pass on the negativity and controlling nature I had growing up — I want my daughter to feel seen, known and loved.

    It’s hard to be an adult daughter sometimes and pause and look around and see where things have settled. Like one of the writers, my mom is probably below number 10 on the list of people I’d call — I’m sure she knows that and I’m sure it’s sad for her too.

    • MayBell says...

      Wow I felt like I wrote this. I still feel like I’m 16 again when I talk to my mom. She’s told me, “I’m glad you’re going to therapy because that’s the only way we’re going to get past our issues!” She’s not in therapy, saying “and what is it that therapy would fix with me?”

      It’s so hard! I’m reading Brene Brown too, I love it! Solidarity in vulnerability!!

    • E says...

      Maybell, I won’t even admit to my mom that I’m in therapy b/c she’d be so worried like “FOR WHAT?”

      I had a mentor once say that when we go back to our childhood homes (physically, or even get together with our families) we often revert back to our 15-year-old selves. I’ve been very aware to not give into that, but it’s hard when your family automatically treats you like it.

      One small example — my mom wanted to buy my daughter some baby clothes and we were shopping together so I could “pick them out.” But she kept saying, “no, babies don’t wear leggings, not that, not that.” I mentioned it in passing and my therapist got SO worked up. She looked straight at me and said “It’s YOUR baby — you get to choose. Don’t let your mother take that away from you.”

  140. Jessica says...

    I hope Frances has attended Al-Anon. My heart breaks for her, and for what her children will surely witness if they continue to be around an addict who is not in recovery in any way. My mother-in-law is a drug addict, and I can never allow her to be alone with my child. It simply isn’t safe. You can never trust an addict to not use – and you can never trust an enabler to be their keeper and keep your children safe. I know this works for her – but she should seriously consider all the pain you have inherited from her addiction, and how your children, by being alone with her, will surely also begin to notice and feel pain from it.

    • E says...

      I also have a family situation that involves an alcoholic. I am glad being around Frances’ children seems to be a positive factor for her mother, but there was a situation in my family where the adult was drunk while watching the child and because of that I don’t think I could ever let them be around my own child when the time comes. At this moment I don’t even really want to have a relationship with this person and that’s a difficult thing to say out loud.

  141. Sheila Mary says...

    This post was a gift today.

    I don’t feel much love for my mother (or father) and feel guilt about that regularly. Yesterday I called my mom for Mother’s Day (she’s across the country) and she said a good friend of mine here (the same age as my mom) had written her a note wishing her Happy Mother’s Day, and saying she must have been a good mom to raise a special daughter like me. I thought of it later and how my mom didn’t say “I agree, you are special” or anything like that. She’s very minimal with her compliments. Normally it would make me so sad and angry all at once that she’s not there sensitive, emotional mother I want her to be. But I have this lovely friend, a wonderful woman in my life, whose compliments and love I can accept. I’m still young, and adjusting to being my own person without my parents’ influence. But this was a great lesson to recognize that I no longer have to expect my parents to be EVERYTHING for me: my support system can come from friends, my love can come from my partner, but strong-willed advice about education or finance… that I can get from my parents.

  142. Isabel says...

    It is so comforting to know I am not alone.

    I just emerged from challenging (Mother’s day!) weekend where my 12-year old daughter criticized, complained, and lashed out at everything I would do or say. No matter what it is (I found and bought her the leggings she was wanted!) is met with negativity. She later apologizes, but I am consumed with sadness and rage, and feel like a total failure. My youngest daughter, who is 7, picks up on this and sometimes treats me the same way.

    My son, who is in the middle, and shares none of these tendencies, apologizes for his sisters and feels the weight for my happiness on his shoulders, which is something I try to avoid at all costs, reassuring him that girls and moms have rough patches and it’s totally normal.

    I came into work this morning broken, sad, but also relieved to know that I have a few hours where I can think about other things.

    I love my family and my kids. And we are close, but sometimes it’s just too much. Thanks for this. I needed it.

    • Maria says...

      Your comment reminds me of a recent Janet Lansbury podcast. It pertains to a five year old saying hurtful things to her mom but despite the age difference, it might be worth a listen. Daughters can really give their moms the worst of themselves sometimes….

    • Stacy says...

      Oh you sweet mom….go easy on yourself. I work with adolescent girls and talk through the challenges with moms all the time. 12 year old girls are often in such a struggle. Fast to anger and slow to love. So much of their emotions are extremes. You are the anchor – neither fun nor thrilling. But your unconditional love is so necessary now. Holding you and your children in the light as you journey forward. Unconditional love is a powerful tool.

    • Emma says...

      Same – my 3yo started yelling “get away from me”. Normally, I’m impervious to kid tantrums, but combined with just having a 2nd baby and feeling so unspecial (especially on Mother’s Day), I ended up crying in the bathroom several times yesterday. Moms generally just do the best the can, and often fail… and you just hope you are raising decent humans that won’t also hate you later on.

    • AP says...

      Something about your comment struck me. I am not sure that I lashed out at EVERYTHING my mom did when I was a 12 year old but I definitely know that I was very hard to live with, until about age 24 when my major depressive disorder was diagnosed and finally treated (I’m 37 now). My depression manifests in meanness and anger. My mom always blames herself for not seeing it. Not to say that your daughter is afflicted with this, but it may not hurt to look into it quietly.

    • Sheila Mary says...

      Isabel, I’m certain you’re not alone.
      I’m feel so much shame now for lashing out at my mother when I was young. I did it constantly, because school and my family and figuring out my identity was excruciating. No excuse, but I didn’t know what I was feeling, and so I expelled angst at a mother who, likewise, yelled when she felt frustrated.
      I’m working on it now. Children are just that — children — for so much longer than our society expects of them. Your daughters will discover themselves and other ways to express their feelings. And you can gently offer suggestions, if they’ll accept that from you :)

    • Kari T. says...

      Hi Isabel, I am 36 now and still have a very clear memory of being a 12 year old girl. It is such a hard time, puberty and hormones and that strange transition from child to young adult. I just wanted to say it may all seem so very personal right now but so much of your daughters energy is likely focused inwards. I know saying “don’t take it personally” is easier said than done but it may make a good personal mantra for this trying time in both of your lives. Oh, and I did grow out of it ha, there is light ahead I promise.

    • Courtney C says...

      You said: ‘I came into work this morning broken, sad, but also relieved to know that I have a few hours where I can think about other things.’
      I had the exact same feeling this morning as my husband left to take our son to daycare. Solidarity!

    • Nadine says...

      Isabel, thank you for trusting us with this. I have a 15yo daughter who talks a lot, sometimes listens – but mostly goes with what her friends say. I definitely don’t pick out clothes for her! I felt bad yesterday because her birthday is coming up & found out the one thing she said wanted (to get highlights) wasn’t the only thing she wanted. Or that she wasn’t expecting that to be the only thing from us. The dinner party we’re providing for her & her friends must not be what she’d call a gift. So much comes down to the difference in how we perceive things. I try to remind myself she has a lot of changing to do as she grows up. Hang in there!

    • Hilary says...

      Isabel- that sounds so hard! My little one can’t talk yet, so I haven’t dealt with that from a parenting perspective. I can say, though, that I’m a middle school teacher and this time is SO difficult for kids. They often can’t verbalize their emotions and don’t know why they feel how they feel (If you haven’t seen Inside Out, now’s a good time!) They lash out with people like their mom because they know their parents will always love them. Your kids would likely NOT act that way to teachers/coaches/peers/etc. Remember, it’s just a phase. While this season must feel endless when you’re in the middle, this too shall pass.

  143. Molly says...

    This is…so good and necessary. My mom is my best friend but our relationship is the most complicated and precarious of any of my relationships. It helps to know I’m not alone! Thanks for this!

  144. Kel says...

    Being a mom is so hard. The children you bear define you by the role, and those children are vitally important to you, but then you only raise them for a small percentage of your life. And also then they leave. It’s so difficult to figure out how to be an individual human being, pour the best you have into your offspring, and still be the safe space your children are looking for, which often has nothing to do with what you initially thought you could give to them.

  145. TS says...

    “… 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.”

    This. is. spot. on. My mom loves me, and i know she wants the best for me, but she doesn’t understand my life choices/career/choice of partner – so there’s just many topics we never talk about. And maybe that’s ok. For years i didn’t understand how she could wish me happiness and yet not see that she played a (negative) role in that – but perhaps we are all just more complicated than that and capable of holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. She disapproves but she loves me. and so it is.

    • MLA says...

      The very same thing struck me as I read this. (And, I’ll echo the thanks for this piece — it couldn’t have been more timely.) It’s only now, in my mid-50s, that I have come to the same conclusion as TS. It has taken a very long time to understand that we are all so very complicated and we can somehow continue and exist within these conflicting expressions of love.

  146. Michaela says...

    Thank you for this. My relationship with my mother became complicated as I entered adulthood and my parents divorced. It’s important to remember moms are just people.

    P.S. I totally read “below are their stories” in the Law & Order voice. “These are their stories. Dun dun.”

  147. Kate says...

    I really appreciate reading this today! Yesterday (Mother’s Day) was so complicated for me– it seemed like everybody was posting something on social media about Mother’s Day, and I was feeling ALL OF THE FEELINGS.

    I’m a mom to a wonderful 4 year old daughter that I adore, but at the end of the day, I have a crazy job that means that most of her parent time is with her dad. On one hand, it’s such a privilege for us to have– she has a wonderful dad and gets to spend time with him; I have a job that brings us financial security and she gets to grow up with a powerful role model. And yet, I feel every business trip and every late night at the office like a knife. I want to be there so badly– but I also don’t. I want the other things too.

    Just to complicate things, my relationship with my own mum is complicated; the last thing I needed yesterday was a message on Facebook wondering why my sister had posted a glowing Mothers’ day message and I hadn’t. It’s nothing personal, I wanted to scream — I’m just busy FEELING over here!

    • Eileen says...

      I totally feel the same way about children, work, and parenting. Conflicted…

  148. Sarah says...

    Thank you – I needed to read this.

  149. MP says...

    Frances, I had no idea that your story is exactly what I needed to read today. I am in the midst of planning my wedding and my future husband and I hope to try for kids soon after. My mom’s alcoholism is an ever-constant source of stress in all this. Figuring out how to maintain a relationship with her, how to handle it if she’s drunk at my wedding, and how to ever trust her with my future children feels downright impossible some days. I so WANT to be able to put trust in her and enjoy this time with her, but the reality is that she is not predictably herself. I, too, wish my fiancé could have met her. I wish I could know her again.

  150. Silvina says...

    My relationship with my mom is almost identical to Mathilda and her mom.

    • Nadege says...

      Mine is Genevieve and her mom. Wow. So helpful to know I’m not alone in this complexity.

    • Grace says...

      Mine too…this is so liberating to read. Thank you.

    • M says...

      Not having a good relationship with my mother and father, i can feel really lonely sometimes. I feel comfort in reading these words of other women, as if the pain is shared somehow. Thank you so much for this.

    • Jennifer says...

      Yep—I could have written Genevieve’s too. Same. (And I’m also 39 and in California?).