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When mothers 'remove' themselves from your life.
January 27, 2018
11:25 am

You're obviously a very intelligent woman with insight into your painful situation, Tracey. You seem pretty sure that what precipitated your mother's withdrawal is the email. That puts you in a lot better position than people who have no idea what might have caused a loved one to 'remove' herself from your life. You are not at your wit's end wondering what might have happened. You've got a starting point, so with your intelligence and insight, you've got a lot of pluses.   

Of course you are not a bad person because your mother has pulled back. As you've explained it, you sent your mother an email discussing what you considered "misguided parental decisions" on her part, believing that her expressed desire over the years for "honest" communication meant it was safe to be "honest." So forgive yourself. You didn't do anything terrible.  

I don't know what the email said. You've indicated that you didn't tell label her with generalities, that you didn't say she was a "bad" parent. You laid out some "things you needed to get off your chest" and told her about "misguided parental decisions" she made that affected you. 

Your mother may not have been ready for the kind of "honest" feedback that you honestly thought she wanted, and, as you think, it was "too much" and "slowly and gently" would have been better. So you have an idea of what kind of approach to make, and that's another plus. 

You cannot remember a fight with your mother in your adult life before that, so for some 20 years, your mother probably figured that there were not problems in your relationship (you don't mention any), and certainly nothing that had been bothering you since your childhood.  If I'm reading your post correctly, and you two hadn't even been discussing your relationship, but a situation with your brother, your email may have hit her as a totally out-of-the-blue redefinition of a relationship that she that she thought she understood, and she had counted on that understanding of your relationship for forty years. 

Your mother was probably in her 60s at the time? Her 70s?  A point when people are often looking back, evaluating, and hoping they have lived good lives. 

You and your mother may be nothing alike. Or you may be a lot alike, and just as you are asking yourself "How bad a person must I be for my mother to disown me?" your mother may have read that email and asked "How bad a person must I be to have made 'misguided parental decisions' that my daughter has been holding against me for decades?"  You may have accidentally hit on something she has felt insecure about in her parenting.  

And at the same time, your brother (presumably her son?) was having some kind of problems?  Maybe a lot for her to take at once. 

If your mother felt hurt and "ambushed" by what you innocently wrote in the email, she may be too afraid of being hurt again to let herself get close to you. 

As mothers, we know that our kids' approval can mean a lot to our very definition of ourselves (probably to an excessive degree).  If, in 20 years, your teenagers suddenly piped up with a list of things they thought you'd done wrong, it might well throw you. 

Nobody here seems bad. It doesn't sound like she was awful to you when you were young and it sounds as if you are a caring daughter. Seems like a miscommunication. 

I'm very nervous about your therapist. Professionals are usually extremely reluctant to diagnose people they haven't evaluated or even met, and putting this label of "narcissist" on your mother is probably more harmful than helpful.  You indicate that "diagnosis" surprises you. You don't mention terrible things your mother did to you, and you seem to have turned out to be a caring person who works at having good relationships with others, like your brother and mother.  You don't sound like the child of a narcissist.  I think the narcissist label gets slung around way too easily, and personally I would be very careful about turning what seems like unfortunate miscommunications into psychopathology.  Your mother told she she would miss your husband and she continues to remember her grandchildren.  Narcissists usually don't do things like that; they just think of themselves.  

Operating on the premise that your mother is a vulnerable older woman who is so hurt that she has retreated too far in an effort to protect herself, if I were you, I would reassure myself I'm a good person dealing with a miscommunication situation and continue to reach out to your mother in a sympathetic way, just as you say in your post, "gently and slowly."  Don't ask for a get-together too quickly.  Send her a Valentine that says you love her and miss her. Remember her on Mother's Day.  Show her she can trust you.  A letter acknowledging and apologizing for the hurt you caused her with the email and thanking her for specific wonderful things she has done for you might help her.  I'm not saying that you are in the wrong.  I'm saying that you will probably have to take more than your share of responsibility for now to get your mother back into  your life.  Maybe she is overreacting, but her feelings of hurt/anger/distrust/guilt/whatever are her feelings.  If to any extent she is punishing you, why is that?  Because she's hurt.  It's the hurt that needs to be addressed.  

If communications from you remain upsetting to her, you may just have to accept her boundaries, out of love.  Because you love her, you don't want her to be afraid that every time she opens the mailbox there will be something that sets off difficult feelings for her.  At some point, talking through your childhood issues with someone else might be helpful.  I would recognize that it is now a minefield that might be too risky to go through with your mother. It would be normal for you to feel some anger toward your mother for cutting you off, and it would be good to talk that through with someone else.  I've been on both ends of long-term estrangement, and I know what an agony it can be.  I made a big mistake in focusing on the estrangements 24/7 and neglecting the loved ones around me.  I'm glad that you are not doing that, and have your husband and children to love and be loved by.  TAKE GOOD CARE OF YOURSELF.  I sure hope things work out for all of you, Tracey.  

January 16, 2018
8:16 am

Have you considered that your mother's actions or behavior might not be because YOU are the bad one, as you write? You take responsibility for your mom's actions but she doesn't take any responsibility for her own actions, see the irrationality in this? Cutting someone off, whether your child or your parent, is often a way to control and manipulate that person. The manipulator makes it seem that the person they are trying to control is "the bad one" but the reverse is actually true. Counseling to help you understand and cope with the toxic family dynamics could be very useful to you if your previous counseling did not do that. Instead of taking this as all your fault, learning to recognize the scapegoating and gaslighting techniques your mother seems to use, by what you have written. And the problem with narcissists is, that they don't take responsibility and can't ever be wrong so any email or letter or counseling with your mother is very likely going to point to your faults and your wrong doing rather than her taking responsibility. You didn't cause this and you can't cure this. Learning to detach and stop taking your mother's actions personally are the key. I recognize that my reply is harsher than Fred's but you said that your mother was diagnosed as a narcissist by your psychologist and that is a whole different ball game than just mean or critical. When dealing with something like this, our focus needs to be on ourselves and creating a good life, its not your fault and you can't fix your mama if this diagnosis is correct. Its more like protect yourself. Getting educated about narcissism will help you cope and gain emotional strength to move forward in your life. 

January 16, 2018
4:11 am

Good morning Tracey:

Ive read your post and hesitated to respond because my experience with my Mama is not real positive. However, from my limited Social Work career, people can change.  One of the hardest personalities to deal with cohesively is a narcissistic, punitive, matriarch with a "payback" agenda.  I can't decipher if the attention she is giving her grandchildren is genuine or another endeavour to dispense pain. My Mama was a mean, self absorbed woman. She never spent much time with me or my children. I never gave up. I loved my mean ass Mama and desperately yearned for her to be in my life. She died one cloudy, foggy morning. I have never regretted trying. My kids were little when she died.  Your mission has a little more sunlight than mine.  Have a talk with your kids. Ask them how do they feel about her "removing" you?  Find out if they have spoken to their grandmother about your mistreatment? I have a hunch that they don't like it. My kids were  elementary school students when they told me they were tired of grandmother talking bad about me. They refused to visit, and she still did not change. Perhaps writing one more letter to state amends, question what is the endgame, and express the pain that she is vindictively dispensing to you?   Maybe suggesting that some joint counseling sessions to salvage the one life you have together, might wake her up. Then just pray Tracey, knowing that you gave it your best shot. God will figure out a way to heal your family.

January 14, 2018
3:47 pm
Tracey Smith

I am a 47 yr old woman who is married (for 27yrs) with 2 teenage children. Nearly 5 years ago I wrote an email to my mother outlining some of the things during my childhood and life that I felt I needed to get off my chest - she had asked me multiple times in the past to be honest with her but I never did as I felt all it would do would make her feel bad....what was the point. I have no recollection of ever even having a real fight with my mother in my adult life but after I reached out to her for advice about my younger brother (I was concerned about where his life was heading) we had a few email exchanges that prompted me to perhaps let her know about my feelings and concerns about growing up. I do believe that my email was too much at once - I layed everything out on the table instead of perhaps going gently and slowly. I certainly regret my decision to send the email. I knew it would affect our relationship and I knew that some of the content would be upsetting but had no idea what would happen.

My mother and I have been estranged ever since. She said she no longer wanted me in her life and to never contact her again. She said that she would miss my husband and wouldnt forget my kids birthdays but that our relationship was immediately over! That was nearly 5 years ago. I recently sent her an email begging for her forgiveness and to please reconsider her decision - she sent me one sentence saying that she was not interested and to never contact her again.

My question is this....I can not understand how a mother could just cut her own child off so easily and quickly. I have seen and heard about parents that visit their children in jail after they have murdered people or tried to kill their own parents. I never once said that she was a bad person....she just made some misguided parental decisions that affected me. 

I cannot describe how it feels for your own mother to completely disown bad a person must I be for a mother to do that. I went to see a psychologist when this initially happened and she diagnosed my mother as a narcissist - I had never imagined that word describing my mother.

I would be more than happy for any advice from other people who are estranged from their mothers. Thanks in advance.

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