Releasing the past in order to find myself

Friday, October 19, 2012

Who's your Mommy?

I had an interesting conversation with NM.   It was different.  I can't tell if it's because of my reactions or if she is changing somehow.  I'm leaning towards the former.

I have been avoiding phone conversations with my mother.  I find them draining.  I find them long on time and short on substance.  I never really told her I was avoiding phone calls with her.  I just kind of quit calling her.  I email and I text (although, more I respond to her) but, for months, the phone calls have just tapered off.   The weird thing is she quit calling me.  Like, at all.  My conclusion as to why was that she was angry or pissed off.  Or she thought in her own little weird way she was "getting even".  Well, if that's how she get's even, I'll take it.

So, I can't remember exactly how the conversation went (and really, I doubt anyone wants a damn transcript).  But here are the "highlights":

I called to tell her how my grandmother is doing.  She has texted asking.  And, in any other situation, I'd call my father and tell him if one of my grandparents wasn't doing well.  I've really resolved to behaving in ways that I want to, instead of how they want to control me.  It's working, for now.  Anyway, she brings up the topic of my sister.  Surprise.  She always has to bring her up.  She states that NSis is getting updates from my aunt (whom she hasn't talked to in a decade or more) because "your father isn't very forthcoming".  Um, lie?  I correct her.  Dad isn't forthcoming because when he tried to talk to my sister she was a hysterical banshee and was screaming at him.   He told her three times about grandma and she didn't hear him.   NSis told my mother that it was a fight and that they hung up on each other.  It's interesting to me how the truth gets warped.

During the course of the conversation, my mother tried repeatedly to say that my father hasn't supported my sister.  That NSis is angry right now.  She says this in a way that signals to me that she justifies my sister's behavior.  She tries to offer me her "wisdom" of how people store up anger and then it will break loose.  Really?  No, shit?  That's news to me.   But I remained calm.  Me.  I didn't take the bait.  I told her, repeatedly, that my father has offered my sister support.  HOW?!!?  She exclaims.  I calmly listed how.  I tell her that he has been there.  That NSis has refused to allow him to help.  That NSis is refusing everyone's help.  That I'm done chasing after NSis to offer her help.  That I think my father has done all he can.   "Well," she snipes, "he told her that he gave her money and what else does she want?!"  I said, he did give her money.  She snaps that NSis needs support.  I say, he's offered support, repeatedly.  He's offered to fly out there and help her and she continually refuses.  NM snorts that maybe dad needs to just get on the plane then and get out there.  I calmly, yes calmly, tell her that that's ridiculous.  Why  the hell would he get on a plane and go to someone who has repeatedly told him not to come?  NSis is not a child.   Then NM starts crying, saying how my dad had offered to help her with NSis.  How NSis was more than she should have to shoulder alone (haha, this one is rich, because it sounds nothing like my dad.  And it's somewhat sad that she still wants my dad to rescue her.  She has a husband).  I ignored this crying.  I find it childish and immature.  I repeat that Dad has offered NSis support, despite what NSis may have reported back to her.

NM tries more excuses for NSis.  She's broke and had a huge medical scare and stress.   She drinks too much.  She slips and says that the boyfriend needs to go and she hasn't figured out how to "get him out yet."  I repeat that that is not her responsibility.  That is not her right.  That NSis needs to do that on her own.   That she does not need to be involved in this.  NM again becomes upset that NSis will die at the hands of her boyfriend.  Well, yes, maybe so.  But I remind her that NSis needs to take care of that.  That we have been "helping" and "supporting" and "encouraging" NSis for 15 years, and here we are, right in the same damn place.  NM says she's trying to get NSis into counseling.  That she's talked at her until she's blue in the face.  I again, calmly, remind her that it is not her problem.  That NSis needs to take responsibility for her own life.

NM also tries to throw in a few bones for herself.  How hard this is on an "old woman".  It's hard on us all, mom.  She tries the "I have it harder, I'm the mom."  She claims that she knows stories that would curl my hair (unlikely, because nothing surprises me with NSis.  And frankly, I've been able to disconnect emotionally from these things.  It sucks to hear, but it doesn't send me into a tailspin.  Maybe I'm cold to her.).  This is the one thing that almost gets me.   I really hate when she always tries to one up me.  She knows more.  She has been through more hell with NSis.  She's privy to more horror than me.  What do you want, a fucking medal?  Who's fault is that?  Should I feel grateful to her for that?   Is she doing ME some favor?  And, frankly, she doesn't know more.  And if she does, it's because she's got her nose right in the middle of shit she shouldn't.   Anyway, I take a few deep breathes and repeat, it's hard on all of us.  And you shouldn't have to be a part of that drama.  And you need to remove yourself and take care of yourself then.

I remind her that NSis's problems are out of our league to fix.  That NSis needs to take responsibility for her own life now.  That we can support her, but she needs to take the reigns.  NM chimes in with, yes, that's why I'm encouraging counseling!  I've told her it's nothing to be ashamed of!  Lots of people need help.  You shouldn't feel badly about it!  (I think, awesome, by sitting there and telling her it's nothing to be ashamed of, you are really saying it is something to be ashamed of.  That she's weak.  That other people would find it shameful.  Why can't she just say, "Counseling?  Great!  I've heard counseling can be wonderful."  Period.  It's almost like she doesn't want her to get counseling.  I've felt she's sent NSis some pretty mixed signals on this.)  NM throws that even SHE has gone to counseling.  While I do find this surprise, I let it go.  I am SO not interested in her counseling sessions.  And really, I can't help put see it as a ploy.  A way to say, "look, see how much work I do on myself?!"  Or, she's hoping that I'll ask her why.   She's already tried the "I'm so sad, depressed, stressed, lonely" about all this tact so many times in the conversation already.

The thing is, this conversation didn't seem so different from any other we've had.   Excuses for NSis, pleas for pity for her.  But the conversation didn't end up where it always does.  The drama never escalated.  I never felt angry or pissed off.  She never seemed hurt and sad and bitter.  Towards the end, she just got quiet and turned the subject to something else (not in an avoiding way, but in a, "well, seems like we've discussed this enough" way.)  It was weird.   When I got off the phone, I didn't feel anxious, or nervous, or amped up.  I didn't feel shaky.  I didn't feel stressed.  I felt like I'd defined my opinion pretty well.  I felt like I'd said what I felt, without telling too much, over sharing, or offering up more than I felt comfortable with.  I felt like I'd clearly defined for her how I was going to deal with my sister.  I felt I'd clearly stated that I wasn't going to listen to twisted defamation of my father.  He's not perfect, by any stretch, but I won't listen to lies.   When I got off the phone with her, I felt...CALM.  I moved on with my night.  Other than writing this post, I haven't really thought about it.   Maybe it'll bite me in the ass, but I think I'll still feel good about my side of the conversation.

There was only one part that bothered me.  At the end, my mother thanked me for my insights.  She thanked me for listening to her.  She thanked me for always "grounding her" and pulling her back from being swept away in the drama.  I believe she was sincere.  And that's what killed me.   I think I've finally concluded that, in my relationship with my mother, I am the mother.  She often has infantalized our relationship (when she's not lording over me.) expecting to be taken care of, and doted on, and adored.  But what I concluded here was different.  She looks to me for support.  She looks to me for guidance.  She looks to me to be her rock.  And that's sick.  And wrong.  I mean, any adult relationship should have some reciprocity.  But generally, a mother should be there to support her kid.  I should, in no way, ground her.  I should not be her therapist.  I should not have to be her safe place to fall.   And it's always been like this.  She's never been my mother like that.  She likes to pretend she is.  She likes to take on that roll, like a child playing dress up.  But I really feel that she has been denied her own mother due to narcissism.  She took on the roll of taking care of her brothers and sisters.  She play acted like their mother (which she really couldn't have done well, as she was a child herself at the time).  And now, she looks to me to fulfill that role that she wanted.  It makes me angry with her.  I feel it is unfair of her to demand I play this role.   It's one thing to act like a big child and expect me to take care of her, it's a whole other brand of weird to treat me like her mom.   Another little part of the puzzle clicked into place tonight.  And another little bit of hope that she'd ever, ever be what I needed her to be died (not that their was a lot left of that anyway.)  How can I ever expect her to be something that she clearly has NO idea how to be?


  1. Morning Jessie,
    You handled the conversation like an absolute pro. Truly. One thing I'll warn you about though, is this: your NM might have been sincere when she thanked you at that moment. But she isn't changing. I've been through this many dozens of times. My mother finally saying "thank you for putting up with me." "I'm sorry for all I've put you through." "There's a lot I can learn from you." And still she always devolves back. The latest, the plagiarism and then telling me I had "nothing to teach her about parenting or family" (after stealing my words and ideas for her self-help book about both those things). Do not trust this. She will come back to you with ways to test your new resolve. You surprised her. She didn't have a different gambit. But she'll find one again. The thing is, it cannot "bite you in the ass" because you did nothing wrong. But expect to be tested every time you set your own boundaries. They are cunning, these narcs, and your mother is a classic manipulator/triangulator. My two cents. But congratulations on your singular focus, clarity, and strength in that conversation.

    1. Thanks CS. I'm almost embarrassed to say, but I was quite proud of myself.
      I agree, it probably won't "bite me in the ass" directly, but I'm sure she'll figure out someway to twist it all around.
      And good call on not trusting the "thank you" crap. I used to buy this stuff and feel so important to my mother. But I've since learned, that it just continues to put me into a position of taking care of her. So, while I think that there is sincerity in it, I'm don't really feel value in it, because she's valuing me by putting me in a surrogate mother role. And I was not fooled at all that she is changing. She is, and always will be, the person I've realized she is.
      Thanks for your thoughts.

  2. Wow! This one hit home! I've known for a while that Nmother was the child and I the adult, even into her 80's, but the way you put it really resonated with me- she was playing dress up - all those children were little dolls - when a child hit the point of separating from her, she just had another one! And our job was to protect "poor Nmother" and bemoan her fate with her - all those children, poor woman! (It was rather ridiculous to expect children to bemoan their very exixtence, but that's was what was expected...) AACK! Thanks for this post - I can almost hear things clicking into place.

    1. Glad it resonated with you. I find it interesting how much layering there is to this child as adult paradigm.

  3. NM has told me she wished I was her mother and my oldest brother was her father. She'd have turned out much differently, she says. Well, no duh. No excuse. She's abdicating responsibility, again. You're right: You are not her mother and she's sick for trying to make you fill that role. She needs to go back to counseling. Good for you for staying calm and holding to your truths.

    1. Yeah, if she even really went to counseling. I have a suspicion that she went and told them how horrible me and my sister are for never loving/appreciating/protecting/supporting her. Same old crap. I've never seen her accept responsibility or want to change herself at all.
      The thing is, I don't get AT ALL the logic in thinking that your child could be your mother. Or even desiring that.

  4. You SHOULD be proud of yourself and how you handled your mother.

    And your insight into who is the mother in your relationship was spot on and fairly common with Nmothers.

    As others said above, though, don't expect your mother's dynamic with you to change even though it has on your side. She may even get angry at you for not maintaining the status quo despite that you are being mature and calm. Anything that isn't what the narcissist wants can trigger them into their devious, manipulating behavior, maybe especially if you inadvertently make her feel like a childish fool for not handling things as maturely as you. At least, that's been my experience. I hope for your sake that I'm wrong on this.

    But bravo to you, woman!

  5. Well done. The best choice I made for myself was the day I sat down with my parents and informed them that I was not taking care of mother. Of course, they denied everything. Now a request comes in an email from her I use 3Ds Delete, delete, delete. I remember as a child being told to take care of my mother. Irony, she is more than capable of taking care of herself.

    1. Ha, Ruth! My mother likes to profess how "strong" and "tough" she is. Seems to be like she should be better equipped to deal with all of the crap she heaps on me.