real life

'I'm breaking up with my mother.'

We’ve heard about breaking up with toxic friends or toxic partners. But what about if the toxic person is your mum?

After many, many years of soul-searching, I have decided to separate from my mother. The grief I have been experiencing is akin to going through a divorce (I have already been through one of those, so you’d think I’d be an expert by now).

Lorelai Gilmore has an extremely complicated relationship with her mother Emily (pictured).

It’s different to a divorce though. Even though I’m always connected to my ex-husband through our children, he came into my life when I was already an adult, so I think I was able to see more clearly why the relationship wasn’t working.

But when you’ve had a relationship with someone since birth, and that person is pretty good at convincing you nothing is wrong, it is harder to disentangle yourself.

Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it didn’t feel right. The years of passive-aggressive manipulation, the many ways my heart has been broken by her behavior – still I tried to keep the relationship going. After all, losing a parent is significant, and society tells us we should love our parents. It’s hard to go against all of that.

At some point in my late teens I realised my mother’s pattern was one of enmeshment. She was intrusive and demanding, and felt entitled to know everything about me. She wouldn’t let me live independently or have my own thoughts. I thought she meant well though, and felt guilty about abandoning her.

You’ve had a relationship with your mother since the moment you entered the world.

In the end, it was seeing the terrible effect on my children that persuaded me. Even with me as a buffer, my mother’s toxic behavior impacted them.

Throughout my marriage, my husband had complained of the way my mother treated me – undermining my parenting skills and making me generally more anxious than I needed to be. Always assuming the worst, her negativity spread throughout our little family unit like a virus.

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Her nasty comments stung when they touched my children – more than they had when they were directed at me. They started asking questions about why Gran said and did those things, and I didn’t have a straightforward answer. I started to realise I’d been feeling sorry for her, and that had stood in the way of me standing up for myself. But once my children were involved, my inner mama bear kicked in and I could stand for it no longer.

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Since relinquishing virtually all contact with my mother, I feel less anxious and more free to be me. I used to get a sick feeling in my stomach every time she came over, waiting for the criticism to start or the barbs to come out. I still feel bad, sad, even a bit guilty, but I know I have done the right thing. If a stranger on the street assaults you, you can go to police, file a report, and it’s easy to feel justifiably angry.

But what if that same person also showed you love and affection at varying times, and professed to love you more than anyone else in the world?

Abusive people are human beings like anyone, and they form attachments, people love them. I feel sorry for my mother, I know she had a hard life, and many of her behaviours are learned responses. She is lashing out from her own pain. But I no longer feel I have to accept the way she treats me. I’ve discovered that boundaries are a wonderful thing.

Who knows, maybe one day we will be able to have an amicable relationship, but I will no longer put up with being treated badly, so a lot of what happens next will be up to her.

If not now. when?

A friend advised me to write down everything I can think of that has happened, so that the next time I wonder whether it really could have been that bad, I can re-read my words and remember why I made this decision.

I know this is probably shocking to a lot of people. Many will think of their own relationships with their mothers, and ask, how can you do such a thing? How could it really be that bad?

She will portray me to her friends and others as simply ungrateful, a troubled person who is blaming her for the way my life is.

I’ve also had people say what if she gets old, dies, won’t you feel bad that you didn’t mend the rift? To that I say: it takes two. And a therapist once told me no one can tell you how to feel, you are entitled to your feelings, they are yours.

I haven’t abused my mother or rejected her, I’ve simply said: stop, enough is enough. I won’t continue to accept this. I’ll always grieve the relationship I wished I had, the mother I wished she was.

But I don’t apologise for standing up for myself and wanting a different life for my children.

Have you broken up with a parent, or do you think you need to?

This article was originally published over on Debrief Daily.

For more posts on motherhood and relationships, be sure to check out these:

To every mother of boys: you can count yourselves lucky…

Motherhood didn’t change everything about me. And that’s okay.

“How I learned to be a mother, without my mother.”

‘My mother was, and still is, a functioning alcoholic.’

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