Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sometimes Families Break Down

The Taboo Carnival
Welcome to the Taboo Carnival. Our topic this Summer is “My Parents Failed Me (A Little or a Lot)” This post was written for inclusion in the quarterly Taboo Carnival hosted by Momma Jorje and Hybrid Rasta Mama. This month our participants reflect on the parenting failures of their own parents or in themselves. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

Due to the personal and touchy nature of this carnival topic, I was happy to agree to host an anonymous guest post for today's carnival. While I did not write the post that appears below, I can relate to and empathize with the anonymous author's experience of having estranged family members. While I respect the author's wish for anonymity, part of me wishes I knew who had written this so I could give her a hug and let her know she's not alone. 


I was looking at pictures from my childhood recently. I could barely recognize my mom. I mean, yeah, she looked like my mom but I have no memory of who this smiling, happy looking woman is. My memory, and even my wedding photos, show an unhappy woman with lips pressed so tightly together that she looks bitter. And she is bitter, angry, sad, unhappy, frustrated, and running away from feelings.

Without being able to, or maybe willing to finally, tackle all those feelings she ends up lashing out. Unfortunately this often meant lashing out at me. As my dad sank deeper into alcoholism and my brother became an addict, I was the easy scapegoat because I was stable enough to take the emotional and verbal abuse.

It took me almost 30 years to realize that something wasn’t right in our family dynamic. I have my husband to thank because once he was around, I started to put the pieces together. After every family interaction he’d get a barrage of questions from me about what I thought/interpreted as happening and what he’d seen, versus what my mother was telling me I’d said or done.

I wasn’t crazy. I wasn’t misremembering. In fact, remembering was the only thing I had to hold onto in a sea that was constantly changing, as my mother reinvented what happened to match her emotions.

Just because my mom is an adult and is older than I am doesn’t mean that she has her life together. It doesn’t mean that she behaves like an adult or is wise. I’ve reflected a lot (and been through lots of therapy) and I’ve realized that most of the times when my mom is criticizing me she’s bringing up her own issues. Just because she wants me to “be nicer” doesn’t mean that I wasn’t being nice or need to be nicer, it just means that somehow the situation was a trigger for her.

I’m not mean spirited. I’m not deliberately hurtful. And just because my mother tells me that I am those things doesn’t make it true.

Once I realized that, and with my husband’s support, I was able to begin to detach from the toxic family dynamic. I was able to separate out the things that I and we cared about and the things that she wanted me to do.

If we’ve put thought into and tried to be thoughtful and considerate about a decision. If we’ve considered the things that we care about as well as how it impacts other people. If we are okay with the decision that we’ve made, then that’s all that can be asked of us. And it doesn’t matter if my mother doesn’t like or agree with that decision. I’m an adult and it’s okay for me to do things differently, as long as I’m comfortable with that.

For us, the year that we got married was the year that my family fell apart. My dad went to rehab, my brother went to rehab, my parents split up and then my dad chose to prioritize his relationship with my mother and they got back together. During a period when I should have been celebrating, I was instead the easy scape goat. Putting me down and lashing out at me became a way shift the focus, to build up my brother’s self-esteem, to dump the fear and anxiety.

And when everything went wrong with my family it made me realize something very important. I value myself enough to not be in that situation. For us at this point in time it means we have a boundary which is extremely limited contact with my mother.

It’s safer for me and for my relationship with my son. When we had him we had a long talk about my mother and about me and about what I was capable of dealing with. For us, the most important thing is our son and our relationship with him. When I’m dealing with my mom I’m stressed and tired and crying and it’s always so, so hard. If that energy is going to her then I don’t have it for my son. And when I’m stressed and tired and feel like I’m crazy all the time, I certainly have limited ability to be patient and loving and present. I can admit that about myself.

My mom didn’t like that I made the choice that my son was more important, but I think that’s what happens when your children have children. As the grandparent and as an adult, you have to learn to let go. To let your children be their own people.

My mom still hasn’t met my son. At my father’s prodding, I asked her if she’d like to. After weeks of back and forth she said that she’s too emotionally and physically exhausted to do so. She is, however, well enough to travel around the world almost monthly. It’s hurtful, but I think that she’s running away from her problems rather than facing them. And it makes me sad that she’s in so much pain.

When people hear that I’m estranged from my family, they offer sympathy for or encouragement to work through our problems. Here’s the sad truth. I miss the ideal of family. I miss the support that would make our lives so much easier. I’m sad that my son bears the brunt because he misses out. But just because I miss those things doesn’t mean it would ever happen – an ideal is not the same thing as our truth. Our truth is a mother who couldn’t smile at the camera during our wedding photos because she was so angry and sad and bitter. Our truth is a mother who has told my father that he can’t meet his grandson.

My relationship with my mom has made me do a lot of thinking about myself (and several years of therapy) and who I want to be as a both a person and a parent.

I want to open to growing and changing. I want to challenge myself. I want to be able to deal with the difficult parts of life and be ready to face them emotionally.

I want my son to see me be vulnerable. I want him to see me have the courage to face difficult and scary situations, because I want him to see me grow as a person. I want him to know that I’m not perfect and that I can apologize when I’m wrong. I want to have the strength to encourage and love my son even when he grows up and possibly away from our current little family, because it means that I’ve done my job as a parent.


Visit Momma Jorje and Hybrid Rasta Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Taboo Carnival! Enjoy the posts from this month’s Carnival participants!
  • I Am Not My Parents — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares a guest post from a mama whose tumultuous childhood witnessing the daily volitility of her parents' dysfunction empowers her to provide her children with the peaceful, respectful, non-voilent childhood she longed for.
  • Am I a Liar? — Jorje of Momma Jorje *really* didn't appreciate being considered a liar as a child. Click to read how this has affected her relationships.
  • Confessions of a "Latch Key Kid"... — Lois at The Myth of the Perfect Baby talks about being left alone after school as a young child and her thoughts on extended breastfeeding at the dinner table.
  • Sometimes Families Break Down — Joella at Fine and Fair shares a guest post about how a mama ended up being estranged from her family and what she hopes to do differently.


  1. You seem to have such a healthy perspective on things and SO good for you to cut ties when needed! I once explained to my mother that I couldn't manage to be friends with her and my husband at the same time - and that I HAD to choose my husband.

    (When I had complaints, she encouraged batmouthing him.) Imagine how thrilled she was when I announced our divorce. :P

    Still, you must do what is right for you & your family... which certainly does not have to include your parents! I am sad for your father... I don't suppose he could visit on his own.

    Thank you for sharing and for participating in our carnival!

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