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Thread: Is my relationship with mom toxic?

  1. #1
    SonicYouth
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    Is my relationship with mom toxic?

    Hi all, any time I turn up here I get really excellent advice (been lurking for years), so I thought I'd give it another shot. I first posted here many years ago in college when I was having troubles in my relationship with my girlfriend. Well, she is now my wife, we're 30, and we have a nearly 2-year-old daughter. This isn't about her. We couldn't be happier and more optimistic about our life together.

    This is about my mom, whom I love dearly, but I've found that I've been...just generally angry at her since our daughter was born. Some important background: my dad, her husband, died in 2012 when he was hit by a car. It was obviously a traumatic experience for everyone, and she is now dating a man 10 years older than her (he is 70+) whom she doesn't like all that much but doesn't really want to break up with either.

    On the surface, she is such a wonderful mother in so many ways, and genuinely IS and WAS a wonderful mother. This isn't about abuse in any way or anything salacious or violent. She read to me as a child, took me on nature walks, loved me deeply, cared for me with every ounce she had. She is intelligent, wise, and kind. But she is passive aggressive, deeply, incontrovertibly passive aggressive. She also has a nasty and unpredictable temper.

    My wife is in nursing school and I work full time (from home) so my mom watches our daughter a few times a week. This goes along with the passive aggressiveness. She acts like it's no big deal, like of COURSE she would love to watch her granddaughter, but she will make snide little side comments sometimes that are hard to even pinpoint because it is so passive aggressive. She'll say our daughter is being "terrible" or a "brat" right in front of her. She disagrees with how we keep her on a fairly tight routine as far as naps, meals, etc. She never YELLS at our daughter, but has occasionally lashed out at me in front of her.

    And this is dredging up all kinds of stuff from my childhood that I believe made me the way I am today. My parents fought a lot, and loudly, way more than I realize is normal being a grown, married man myself now. I have serious trouble dealing with stress. I see a psychiatrist for significant anxiety and I'm on two different drugs to control it. I can tick off my parents' biggest fights off the top of my head today. Almost no holiday or family dinner went past without a squabble. I can remember dozens of times standing between my parents begging them to stop fighting, and they still wouldn't. Even when they weren't fighting there was a tense silence, knowing an argument could break out at any moment. I often woke up to a door slamming, immediately going into fight or flight mode. Like I said, I think this directly contributed to my anxiety today.

    And my worst nightmare is for my daughter to suffer the same way I have. I know that my mother isn't raising her, but I can't stand it if there's even a hint of what I went through as a child. I don't want her to fear that the people she loves will suddenly morph into terrifying, angry beasts who can't be calmed. I've tried to take what I learned growing up and make myself a better parent based on it. When I have a disagreement with my wife, I always try and talk about it behind closed doors, like reasonable adults.

    What really got me upset and compelled me to post here tonight, though, was that I mentioned in passing to my mom that my wife might be getting a really good nursing job in a town about an hour and a half away from where we live now (my hometown). My mom IMMEDIATELY went to how it would affect her. Basically along the lines of, "Well, once your brother is done with school, I guess he'll move away and then my boyfriend will die and it will just be me. I mean, I value family, I think that's just as important as an 'opportunity' but some people are different, I guess. I can't drive to visit you, so I guess I'll see you like once a year. That's OK." And I immediately have to start consoling her by saying something like, "Well, it's not a guarantee that she'll get the job," essentially abetting my mom in rooting against my wife.

    This is a beautiful town with far better schools. It's an idyllic place to grow up. It would be a perfect place and opportunity for my wife to start her career. And all my mom can talk about is herself, immediately. And I feel bad for even posting this because in so many ways she is a great mom, but it goes right back to that nexus of guilt that I was raised with. She would never say it out loud, but I think she feels that I owe her in some way because she raised me. Yes, it's horrible that my dad died and it affected everyone deeply, but now that I have a wife and daughter they are my first priority. I can't let what happened stop my life. But then in the back of my mind, I still feel like I'm somehow abandoning my mother.

    Aren't there other parents that would privately maybe be a little sad but genuinely happy about their children growing up and moving on? This is the way I want to be, but I'm afraid I'll turn out like her, just because it's what I'm used to. And I can't have an open discussion with her about this, because she is about the most defensive person I've ever met. She'll just shut it down by saying "Well, I guess I'm horrible then." I just have to manage her feelings, kind of like she is a child. I hate to say my relationship with my mom is toxic, but I guess it is in a way. Does anyone have any similar experiences?

  2. #2
    gebaird
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    The good news is that you are aware your mom's behavior isn't okay. That awareness will, I think, help you avoiding adopting her dysfunctional patterns and being a passive-aggressive parent.

    The bad news is that she isn't going to change. So you need to figure out how to create and enforce boundaries. I think it would be unwise to go to extremes in this case -- completely withdraw from her or always do whatever she wants. Your wife and your child come first; mommy dearest is a peripheral interest. There will be times like today when you'll feel the need to go along with her selfish delusions just to keep the peace, but it certainly doesn't mean you can't live where you want to live or do what you want to do. She's responsible for her behavior and you're responsible for your actions & reactions. Control them as well as you can, and be sure to thank your mother for the time she invests watching your daughter while your wife is in school.

  3. #3
    catfeeder
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    To combat the martyr routine, pay Mom for the babysitting: on a specific day each week, and as close as possible to the going rate. If she balks at that, don't waver. She can do anything she wants with the money, including setting up an account for baby, but you'll have a check in an envelope out on your kitchen counter every week, and she needs to take it.

    If she still argues, tell her straight out: "Mom, we appreciate you. I know the larger part of you wants to help us and help baby, but sometimes you take on a negative tone with me about it. Paying you equalizes this arrangement." If she responds with the "I'm so horrible" comment, tell her, "No, but comments like that are horrible--so let's set and keep a positive tone for the baby and for one another."

    Adopt that as your mantra. Every time Mom launches into negativity, hold up your finger and say, "Mom. Let's set and keep a positive tone for the baby and for one another."

    Develop a Plan B for a babysitter. This will prevent you from being held hostage at the mercy of Mom's tirades. You'll have a legitimate alternative in place should Mom refuse to cooperate. Then you can reach for it after the reminder, "Mom, I've asked you to keep the tone positive in our home." If she argues, you respond, "If you're unwilling to do as I've asked, then our babysitting agreement is not going to work out." Move the baby out of the room, and let the chips fall. "Mom, I'm not going to raise baby in a hostile home with fighting. I want you to think about this, and you can let me know whether you're willing to follow our house rules about that, or not." Then kiss her as you escort her out.

    As for future talk, skip it. While we're conditioned to believe that we 'should' confide all news to our parents, that's simply not true. As we mature outside of our parents' home, we're supposed to learn to adopt discretion based on our observations. It makes no sense to give Mom advanced notice of anything that will set off an onslaught of complaints and manipulation. Go about your business, and if anything happens to cause a change, cross that bridge when you get there, and only discuss with Mom AFTER your plans are in place, and when change is imminent--not months in advance.

    Bottom line: if every time you press button A, B pops up, and you hate B, then stop pressing button A.

    It's not an all-or-nothing deal, it's about addressing incidents as they occur with reasonable requests and negotiations. You can also bribe Mom. Offer her something of value to her: invitations to meals, an event, a nice scarf or jewelry--you know her best--in exchange for 'a personal favor' to change something you don't like. We can talk more about this technique if you're interested.

    Head high.

  4. #4
    Wiseman2
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    Sorry to hear this. yes move. It's the best thing for your family. Some distance will be good for everyone, most of all you and your wife.

    Hope this helps:
    [Register to see the link]
    Quote Originally Posted by SonicYouth [Register to see the link]
    What really got me upset and compelled me to post here tonight, though, was that I mentioned in passing to my mom that my wife might be getting a really good nursing job in a town about an hour and a half away from where we live now (my hometown). My mom IMMEDIATELY went to how it would affect her. This is a beautiful town with far better schools. It's an idyllic place to grow up. It would be a perfect place and opportunity for my wife to start her career. And all my mom can talk about is herself, immediately.

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  6. #5
    abitbroken
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    Your daughter won't go through the same thing because your mom doesn't have your father to have fights with in front of her. If she says your daughter is being bratty - well that's not the worst thing that can happen. At any date, I suggest that when you do move - an hour and a half is not really far - that you plan dinners midway in the middle with mom, etc, once a week. And when the witching hour comes when she starts complaining to you - then you realize the time and don't have time to stay for dessert.

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