Caring for a Distant Parent: Tips from Daughters and Sons Whove Cared

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Even with my parents, few family members and me meeting with my therapists, very little change has happened. I regret not having the courage to live independently when I was young but I hope to move one day soon. I highly encourage single and especially married women to seek consultation with mental health professionals before and while having children. Especially when they were raised by mothers and parents who were abusive and unfit.

It is not easy to become parents. It is a lifelong commitment. It can be damaging for children when they are subjected to the same dysfunction and toxicity. My family dynamic between my mom and sister is very similar and unusual. I too have a complicated relationship with my mother, but at the end of the day, she is still my mother and I am here because of her.

I have two children of my own who I love deeply. But, my children know without a doubt that I love them unconditionally. I stand ready. With all that said, you can change the parenting cycle. You are not your mother. You can make the choice to parent differently. I understand deep wounds, but In making mistakes raising my own. I think maybe we all just do the best we can. Forgiveness is the gift you give yourself and grace is the gift you give to others. This was so well said….. Thank you for those words of grace and wisdom.

That has been quite an insight for me as a mother. Communication is key in the process of healing from those misunderstandings…. I have been so moved by this post and the incredibly rich comments people have contributed. My deep thanks to each of you who commented and shared vulnerably about such a tender part of life.

The post was timely and it struck a chord for a lot of women. It is an uncomfortable issue and not easy to talk about. Hi Joanna, I have to tell you something. I had a testy and distant relationship with my mum while growing up and there are just far too many hurtful memories for me to delve into. I started reading your blog way back as a young adult and now I am a mother of 2 little girls under 2.

You know who is the biggest influence in my mothering choices?

Impact of mental health problems on parenting

She is always so caring and kind to everyone. For teaching me how to be a mother. In my thirties, I married and I was out of her influence because my husband was fiercely protective of my feelings which she would thoughtlessly tread on. When it comes to my mother, distance is the best asset. We had a complicated relationship and I wished we could improve it. I had a feeling I just need to… improve, and then she would be happy with me. Improve my looks, my career, my relationships. By extension, I hoped my relationship with her would improve. I lost her less than a year ago to breast cancer.

But the worst happened. Our relationship caused me so much stress for years. But on the other, I miss my mom. Of course I do. I even miss her snarky and mean comments sometimes. I am so sorry for your loss. Just wanted you to know that your words meant something to me. This may be my favorite post ever on Cup if Jo. I, too, have a complicated relationship with my mother and it makes me terrified to have a daughter.

I would love to read more posts on mother daughter relationships! I would love to read more of these too, as I have a complicated relationship with my daughters as well. This is like a life line to me. I had a good childhood and a great mother. She was never a babysitting nanny.

Setting Consequences for Teenagers - Parenting Tips

But my kids are all teenagers now. Now I have free time. Suddenly my friends are her friends. She wants to wear same clothes as me. She goes to same gym same tennis club. She is a even a much better player than I. She is so popular I hate the way I am Known as her daughter only. People constantly group us together. I try to play tennis with other people but she comes in and sits beside us. There is no getting away from her. I explained I need a bit of space to play with others.

She agrees but she is still always hovering about. Please please can anyone help me and advise me I live in a small town. Thank you for the encouragement to soldier on and for putting it into such eloquent words!! I love my mother. I want the very best for her and this kind of love comes from somewhere really deep in my heart. However, my relationship with her has not always been so lovely. We are very different people and I think we grew apart over the years, even though we are still close to each other. My mother has a kind of bipolar way of loving: she can be very warm and motherly like a blanket on a cold night and also very cold and insensitive when you most need of comfort and hurt you with the smallest comment.

But adulthood brought me enlightment to see things in a lighter way. And even though my relationship with my mother is not perfect, I can see her and aknowledge from where she came and I can understand that what she is able to give me is the very best she can do. Mostly because she is still learning how to be a better mother. And I will always be willing to be her most dedicated student.

I love this post. Mom of an incredible, strong willed, beautiful, intelligent sporty girl age 9. Battle of the wills, manipulative power trips between me and her. She is my first child and I love her to pieces but wow it is not a smooth parenting ride. He may pay back when he is a teen, who knows. This is me and my 9. Complete battle of wills where I truly struggle and fail often to be the adult and not be vindictive in response to what I see as manipulation and outright defiance.

It looks interesting, and like it might align with some of what is discussed in this post, and the comments. Thank you for sharing other mother-daughter relationships- it goes so far to normalize the many ways this familial bond can evolve between two people. My relationship with my mother is neutral, but nothing like the loving, best friend descriptions that are usually depicted.

Its isolating for me to constantly read about mothers and daughters who seem to have such a tight and magical connection. Same Melanie. I think I feel the loss all the more because I do have that with my own daughters and husband. I have so much jealousy for women who have close, loving mothers. And feel such a loss. Sasha L… I feel like I am in the same boat as you. My mother and I have never had a particularly warm or close relationship. Now I have two daughters age 3 and 3 mos and all the time I think about how I can change things with my own children.

Thank you so much for this post. I, too, have a complicated relationship with my mother. My mother attempted death by suicide right after I graduated from college and our relationship has never been the same since. We would talk on the phone all the time and I opened up to her about most intimate parts of my life.

Your Child's Vision

Our communication is much more surface-level these days. And I also tell my husband that I wish he would have truly known my mom before she became the person that she is today — the one who raised me and that I could always respect and relate to. I only hope I can better come to accept our relationship for what it is and we can learn to trust and accept one another again for who we are.

Mothers Day is always complicated for our household. My mother-in-law was mercurial at best, incredibly damaging and manipulative at worst and really despised me. She had my husband very young and was threatened by my not bending to her whims. He is an amazing, caring and resilient man. She is absolutely the best. I hope she makes good choices when she gets older but I will love her always no matter what.

Tears as I was reading. The tears have less to do with our own complications and much more to do with the weight of it all. Now more contemporaries and the high drama is gone but still no relationship cuts to the quick more and I am so aware of that with my own daughter. My mom was alway a full time stay at home mom and gave us such big and daily love. Without even verbalizing it I think I always assumed I would be the same.

When I went back to work full time I was so worried about what that version of motherhood would look like. A constant reminder of unconditional support and what that will mean for my own daughter. Yes giving babies up for adoption is always an option as well but for married women whose husbands wanted kids even though they were undecided or even opposed , that would likely not have been an available option for them. I agree, many mothers with children that are not their choice. And our country does such a shitty job of protecting mothers and children, of supporting them, especially WOC and poor women.

No paid parental leave. No national health insurance or paid child care. Thank you for posting this when you did, as I and clearly many others are just coming off a tough weekend of seeing others celebrating their lovely moms. My mom is a narcissist. Her love is conditional. Reading every single comment here over the past day has been empowering and heartwarming. I relate. We had a very strained and, on my end, extremely distrustful relationship as I was growing up.

It took a very long time I was 45! I can only change my own reactions to things, and my own perceptions of things. I am always jealous of women who write or talk about their positive, even friendly! I am working on that jealousy, but the pain of a mother who is physically present but emotionally abusive or absent is quite strong.

Thank you for sharing your story and words. My mother is a narcissist too. And so is this article. I live your life — except my mom has a victim complex — and came to some peace only recently — and I am 53 years old. I have resigned myself to the fact that I will respect my mom and be polite, but love? There are so many heartfelt stories here. As a teenager I was always honest with my mother letting her know where I was.

But I would never tell my father as he was a hard man. Onto my relationship with my daughters. We are all good friends and love each other dearly. My daughters are both in their 20s and I have to say I was an angry Mother when they were younger. It was a learnt action form my childhood.

Which I eventually broke hoping my daughters will be more patient and calmer than I ever was. A lesson learnt be all of us. I now teach them to be calm and always as happy as they can be as that is super important. We all try to learn from our mistakes. I have told my daughters in many levels I am sorry for the way I was and how proud I am of the beautiful loving caring ladies they are.

I invented the mom I need. When I am really down I closes my eyes and imagine a giant mother who can hold me the way I hold my babies. She tells me everything I need to hear. It has been really wonderful. She loves me in the exact way I need, which is very different from the way my real mother is able to love me. I love this. Thank you for sharing. There is so much empowerment here and no victimhood. Do I even know myself as a mother or do I only know what I do not want to be and what I am striving for? Mothering is hard.

In a way, we are the living memories of our parents and all they wanted for us. I have been trying to set down all these expectations and really listen, really be aware and present and forgive as much as I apologize. Just a few simple words can bring such relief and healing. The need to be seen and acknowledged runs deep. Dear C, these words touched me very deeply. I know my mother gave me more than she ever got, especially in terms of love and energy and attention, but so many patterns from her not so happy childhood persisted and continue to persist. Whilst she has so much more patience and empathy today, what I see as breaches of trust and a complete lack of patience and time for me as a child continue to colour the way I perceive our relationship.

And the way that things always become centric to her and her positions even my wanting to have a child or adopting makes me so mistrustful that she has my best interests at heart. Or that she even really knows who I am. At the same time, I know she wants the best for me — its all so complicated. So thank you for sharing, I wish you strength and positivity in your journey. I came back today to read more comments because this post has really stuck with me over the last 24 hours. Cutoffs may be necessary in very abusive environments.

However, although they reduce emotional tension, the underlying problems remain and can affect all of your relationships. Some could eventually stay with their parents and enjoy it. When you visit, pay attention to unspoken rules and the boundary and communication patterns. Pay attention to the habits and defenses you use to manage anxiety.

You can leave, unlike when you were a child. Where active drug addiction and abuse are present, consider what boundaries you require in order to feel comfortable. Know your bottom line. Is it a one-day or one-hour visit or only a short phone call? Some adult children of addicted parents refuse to talk on the phone or be around them when their parents are drinking or using drugs. You may have siblings who pressure you to rescue a parent, or you may be tempted to do so.

Healing a relationship begins with you — your feelings and attitudes. Sometimes working on yourself is all it takes. Sometimes forgiveness is necessary, or a conversation is required. Adapted from Lancer, D. Lancer, D.

What Aging Parents Want From Their Adult Children - The Atlantic

I have to disagree. The only way I could heal was to cut them off. I don't need them in my life to forgive them and detach. Why on earth would I want to be in a relationship with toxic people? Sorry, but blood isn't enough. I have to disagree with the article and agree with Heather on the cut-offs. We didn't talk for 5 years- my decision. It was difficult, but during that time I was able to release so much anger and resentment and really detach and heal. It was the best thing I ever did. We now have had a relationship that I am happy with for the past 6 years, even if her former behavior were to return it would not trigger me the way it used to.

The control is no longer there and it made all the difference. Overall good article though. Thank you for sharing your success story. As I say, "Cutoffs may be necessary in very abusive environments. Forgiveness is for you. It does NOT mean forgetting. Please see my website blog on "The Challenge of Forgiveness.

As far as having a relationship, that really depends on the extent of the current abuse. Every situation is different. And it certainly can be helpful until a person can set firm boundaries with a parent. Discussing this and your options with a therapist can be beneficial. Oh, trust me I have forgiven for my own health, but I will never forget. I'm working on forgiving myself for allowing it to go on for so long.

I still have the question of WHY we abused kids should want a relationship with parents who do not have the capacity to respect us or care about how their behavior impacts us. I think the advice to pursue a relationship with them is dangerous. In my opinion, the onus is on them to decide that they care enough about us to try to repair the relationship. I'm done trying. It only hurts me. I'd rather find people who have the capacity to care and accept me and make them part of my new, real family. Today I am reading how to resolve this ongoing drama of a mother who was emotionally absent, verbally demeaning and now today still haunting me with guilt trips at I have taken a couple years away from her but she's begging me to not leave her while still making excuses for her behavior and "apologizing.

It hurts to have a breakdown with my mother but not sure I want to return.


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  • Do you still think it has been beneficial to cut-off? There's been lots of opinions here on the benefits or not of cut-offs. It's unlikely a parent would change unless she he got some therapy, but the same might apply to the child.

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    I don't know whether it's helped you to become more confident and stronger. By learning to set boundaries, however, you can change the drama and limit the time you interact. Your leverage is that she wants to talk to you. But you need emotionally detach and to learn to educate her that certain comments, etc. Hopefully, she'll begrudgingly modify her behavior. It may not work, but others have had success by putting into practice the strategies in my ebook, "Dealing with a Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People".

    Hi Pam, I think you might be asking someone else, but I wanted to chime in. I cut off my mom for 5 years. The only contact I made during those years was sending her a card when her dad died. It was excruciatingly painful, especially the first 1. It allowed me to let go of tons of anger, resentment and so on. Thank you, Molly. I decided to give it a chance so we gathered for Christmas at my sisters neutral ground. So far, so good. It was a constant hurt to me. Glad you were able to make a shift. Now you have an opportunity to work on your triggers how your mother pushes your buttons in therapy , heal them, and be clear about your boundaries with her on what you'll accept or not if she wants to see you.

    This can all be done in a very loving way, with practice. It will empower you to not feel like a guilty victim any longer! I agree with Heather. There are situations where you have tried everything with your parent s and the continued damage is too great. Moving on with your life knowing you have tried is so much healthier than continuing to drown in an unhealthy relationship. Fui descobrindo o quanto permiti a maldade, revestida de um grande amor. Tipo: bate e assopra. The reason? Too Simple I'm sorry, but this is going to come back to haunt the kids who cut off their parents.

    Yes, you need to take care of yourself and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. But the parent-child relationship is deep and important. All relationships are complicated. Children abandoning their parents is narcissistic and cruel. Figure out how to work it out, don't just walk away. I'm shocked to find this article in a publication like "Psychology Today".

    Many of Us Estranged Children have been through all kinds of therapy etc. We were being raised by damaged people. Estranged Parents cling to their victim-hood when their child ren estrange because they are, in a way, a victim. Clearly to treat their child the way my 'parents' treated Me, they were not given proper tools to do the job of being a Parent. WE were the child in the relationship with no way to escape. And as for Me being a kid?

    Those of us who choose to break ties do it out of self-preservation, not spite. It takes two to tango, and they were the ones who chose to start the dance. Remember that. A little surprised at your take, since most of the commenters criticized the article because it says "cut-offs" don't heal, and instead recommends setting boundaries. Every situation and parent is different. I wasn't very clear in my comment. I was not bothered by the article as much as by the comments to the article. The parent-child relationship is important to the psyche. Perhaps the most important of our lives.

    Parents, in most cases, are doing the best they can. They are not perfect. Cheering on the advice that I read in the comments of the article to adult children "cutting off" their parents strikes me as drastic and wrong.


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    Relationships are complicated. Relationships are important. Yes, boundaries are necessary. But in most cases completely cutting off a parent is cruel, and more about establishing power over the parent than protecting oneself. I get it that adult children are wounded. We all are wounded. Adult children who "cut off" their parents will never get to the forgiveness they need by ending the relationship. And they will pass on the spirit of revenge to future generations. Another case in point: My friend Julia and I recently met at a local museum.

    Over lunch, we caught up on family news—kids, grandkids. She took out an iPhone to show me pictures. I asked about her daughter, who had recently moved back to the East Coast from Chicago. Julia sighed. I have some idea of what she means. My husband and I have taken to checking the due dates of groceries prior to a visit from any of our three sons. Ten years ago, I probably would have joined in the fun. A week later, I found myself discussing the same thing with Elinor, another friend of mine. We had been talking about a number of recently aired tributes to Frank Sinatra when we blocked on the name of another singer of that era.

    Running through the alphabet often works for me. Triumphantly, Elinor came up with the right answer: Mel Torme. She was relieved. Has she talked to them about her feelings?