“Honor thy father and mother,” (Exodus 20:12).
But what do you do if your mother (or father) aren’t honorable. What if your mother is hateful, narcissistic, negative, toxic, vengeful, bitter, or plays favorites endlessly?
This question has been thrown around a lot during my life; not because I have a mother that fits the description above, but because my mother’s mother does. Her words cut, and her actions are habitually even more painful.
The conclusion I have come to over the years is that by not wishing her ill or talking bad about her to others we ARE honoring her. By simply removing her presence from our lives is self-preservation.
My mother has struggled with this for decades. She would generally leave Christmas get togethers with family feeling suicidal. My dad, sister and I put our feet (collective) down one year when I was at university and said we would not go again, and neither would she. And we haven’t.
As Mother’s Day approaches and I am trying to think of what to write for today post before the holiday my heart got heavy with the thought that Mother’s Day is vastly different for my mom than it is for me and my sister. Aside from the fact that my sister and I do not have children (Benchley excluded) so we do not experience the sandwich of Mother’s Day that our mom and many others do too – by this I mean you HAVE a mother so you celebrate Mother’s Day for her, but you also ARE a mother…
Mother’s Day can be painful for women for various reasons: your mother is no longer with you, you never knew your mother, your child/ren are in heaven, you won’t ever be a mother yourself… My heart goes out to you all.
Today I have suggestions to help those out there who are like my mom, those who struggle with an emotionally abusive mother:
- Limit the Time You Spend With Her
This advice goes for all toxic people in your life. Take a break. Take a step back. Don’t put yourself in a position to feel degraded, deflated and depressed if you don’t HAVE TO.
- Remain Confident in Yourself When You Have to Associate With Her
Don’t let her harsh words or venomous tone eat away at your confidence in your own self-worth. Mentally call out her lies about you and remain confident that there is more to you than she sees or knows.
- Set Boundaries and Stand Up For Yourself (and Family)
“Do no harm, but take no shit.” I believe the best course of action when you have been attacked (verbally or emotionally) is simply to walk away. Remove yourself from the situation. I know it sounds simple…but I also know it can be a difficult action to choose and follow through on when you are emotionally curled up in the fetal position – and often starting to let the attacks sink in, questioning or even believing they are true. Trust me, what she says says more about her than it does about you.
- Do Your Best Not to Escalate Bad Situations.
Try your best not to react. Don’t take the bait. Often that alone can take the wind out of their sails. Sometimes they just want to see you crack and the most powerful reaction is to not give them that satisfaction or power. Show they hold no power over you – that you put no stock in their estimation. “Stay in your own lane.”
- Remember You Are NOT Responsible For Her, Nor Can You Change Her
Personal change is just that…personal. The thing about toxic people is that they generally don’t even realize they are toxic. They are mired in their own negativity and hatred of the world and themselves they don’t have time for that kind of introspection. You can’t change her, you can only change yourself. “You do you.”
- Don’t Feel Guilty For Protecting Yourself and Your Family
If you have a family or children that are also impacted by encounters with her, it is your duty as a mother to protect them. Don’t feel guilty for limiting time with her if she plays favorites with your kids’ cousins and leaves your children out in the cold or if she says snide things or calls you or your children names. Your duty as a mother is to protect your children. Period. End of story.
- Remind Yourself of Who You Really Are
Take a personal inventory. Not of your achievements, this is not an exercise to stroke your ego or make you feel morally superior. Reflect on YOUR character. Are you kind? Are you caring? Are you good? Do you take care of your family? Do you take responsibility for your actions? Do you look for the bright side and silver linings? This ought to help. If you see things in yourself that you don’t like, or things that remind you too much of someone else (not in a good way) only you have the power to change that. Only you can keep it from becoming a cycle.
Lastly, and not to get preachy,
8. Also Remind Yourself of Who God Says You Are:
You are beautiful – Psalm 45:11
You are chosen – John 15:16
You are unique – Psalm 139:13
You are loved – Jeremiah 31:3
You are special – Ephesians 2:10
You are cared for – Ephesians 3:17-19
You are lovely – Daniel 12:3
You are strong – Psalm 18:35
You are precious – 1 Corinthians 6:20
You are forgiven – Psalm 103:12
You are protected – Psalm 121:3
You are family – Ephesians 2:19
“You are mine.” – Isaiah 43:1
I talked to my mom about my thoughts for this post and I asked her to write a little something to close out this entry. I asked her: What would you tell yourself about your relationship with your mother if you could go back forty years? Here is her reply:
Mother child relationships change over time, and yet they don’t. Here are a few tips I would give myself if I could go back 40 years.
- She has favorites. Nothing will change that, so quit trying. Find your place in your own life and live it to the fullest.
- She is critical. That is unlikely to change. Straighten your shoulders, smile, and say “Yes mother.” While she won’t like that either, it isn’t worth the stress and trauma of starting an argument about it – you will lose, and crying gives you a headache.
- She DOES love you. No matter how it feels, in her own way, she does love you.
- Never talk to your mom when you are mad at your significant other. She’ll never forget it, even if you do.
- Don’t tell her you are tired. You will get the mother equivalent of the walking to school in the snow, uphill both ways speech. (We do have some modern conveniences like microwaves, air fryers, robo-vacs and such.)
- Be better. Be a better mom yourself. Make a very strong effort to treat your children differently than you feel you were/are treated. It can be an exhausting effort, but in the long run, you and your family will be happier. You will have broken the cycle and your children will be better spouses and parents.