Toxic Mom Toolkit – Spitting Into the Wind

24 Mar

I have a very strange brag. It goes like this:

I am the only person I’ve ever met that has never looked into the eyes of another human being to whom I am related by blood.

And if you’ve read my book, Toxic MomToolkit, you know that because I was adopted and never had children that this is technically true. Although… I may have met one relative on my journey to Iowa. But I’m not sure. I can never be sure.

14b2b972a7e6e40806650e3d2e4ba11bAccording to my adoption records my birth mother and her parents are Norwegian. When I grew up and found my birth mother, the one thing that she was very cagey about was saying anything about my birth father. One time she said he was Finnish. Which, when you grow up in an agricultural area peopled by Scandinavians is plausible. But really, who is HALF Norwegian and HALF Finnish? People are all sorts of things that their grandparents and great-grandparents contributed to the gene pool.

For most of my life I’ve thought of myself as Scandinavian. My adopted mother was mostly Swedish and my adopted dad was German and English and they loved going to health spas in the Scandinavian mode with steam rooms and cold plunges and alder sapplings to beat your own back with to encourage blood flow. With straight teeth and good skin, I joke that my Viking genes have been good to me. So, am I Scandinavian? I think so.

But what if I’m not? What if I’m Irish, too? What if I’m Persian, too? Or Russian, too? Of course, the specifics, the national origin doesn’t matter so much. I already know I am a combination of things, like everyone else. What matters is knowing what everyone else takes for granted.

One of the most toxic things my birth mother ever did was to withhold half of the basic information on my nationality. I have to think that the reason she holds this information so close is because she knows I really desire to know. Is it a way for her to hurt me? Perhaps in her mind, I hurt her by being born, so this evens it out?

When I was a reporter and stories would come across the wires about DNA and proving if one person was related to another through genetic testing, I read every word. And as the cost of DNA testing fell, I always hoped that one day, I could swab my cheek and finally find out what I was.

My birthday was this February and my darling husband gave me a $99 Ancestry.com ancestry test kit. Others have warned me that you end only get a colorful pie chart that may include countries of origin, but it may also just say that you’re 85% Northern European with a few percent Hawaiian thrown in. Nevertheless, I was stoked.

And because life is not always fair, a few days after my birthday my husband and I had a BIG fight. The kind you may only have two or three times during an entire marriage. By the time I cracked the test kit case open I was feeling very low and unloved. Plus, I didn’t know who I was, I thought to myself for the millionth time, as I endeavored to create sufficient spit to fill a (seemingly bottomless) vial.

photoI had no idea how long it takes to fill a tube full of spit. I bet it took me twenty minutes.

I mailed the small box off and promptly made up with my husband, therefore regaining some sense of love and belonging. And it occurred to me that what I felt when I briefly felt unloved by my husband and then loved again might be akin to my desire to know my nationality. I have been born into a perpetual state of loss on this basic level of my identity. As everyone deserves to be appreciated and loved, everybody also should know where their people come from.

The turnaround takes 6 to 8 weeks, the pamphlet said.

Ten Weeks to Healing: Book Group Syllabus for “Toxic Mom Toolkit”

26 Feb

25051ff279428c49eea5b304698ea461If you would like to organize a book group to read and discuss Toxic Mom Toolkit have I got the syllabus for you!

In addition to a week-by-week reading plan, I am making myself available for one hour SKYPE conversations, booked in advance, at the half way point and/or conclusion, or both.

Using  Toxic Mom Toolkit to explore past trauma or continuing toxic family relations will be enhanced by a supportive circle of like-minded readers gathering in a warm and safe environment. The weekly reading schedule amount to about an hour per week and your group decides how often you meet.

This method slows down the intake of a lot of information that can trigger memories or feelings and gives each person time to work these feelings through. A group discussion also proves that – as much as it might feel like it – you are not the only one who experienced and survived these things.

Native Cover.4417111.inddYou can also request free red jelly bracelets for your reading group by emailing me at newsyrayne@gmail.com. Of course, how ever you run your group, I want to hear from you! Please encourage your readers to join Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook and to check out past blog posts at ToxicMomToolkit.com and short videos on YouTube.

This year’s Mother’s Day might be a lot easier to navigate with the support of a group of people who have experienced similar things. If you start a group soon, you might be able to finish before Mother’s Day on May 11!

Toxic Mom Toolkit is available on Amazon.com as a paperback and a Kindle edition. Check out the Reader Reviews – all are 5-stars so far.

Toxic Mom Toolkit 10-week Book Group Syllabus

Week One: Chapters 1, 2, 3 and 4.

These chapters introduce you to the author and her unique perspective. She explains what happened to her and why she decided to write Toxic Mom Toolkit. This group also introduces the first “VOICE,” women who decided to share their stories to help other readers.

Week Two: Chapters 5, 6, 7 and 8.

These chapters introduce the topic of childhood neglect and emotional and physical abuse. A self-test, “Your mother might be toxic IF…” helps the reader gain perspective about her own mother and childhood experiences.

Week Three: Chapters 9, 10, 11 and 12.

This group of chapters explores the value in family history and digging into the past. Do you know very much about your mother’s relationship with her mother? Understanding the pathology of a maternal line can unlock the mystery of why your mother treats you the way she does.

Week Four: Chapters, 13, 14, 15 and 16.

Two VOICES chapters allow us to explore mixed messages we receive from toxic mothers and the isolation one can feel around holidays. The closing chapter on Adverse Childhood Experiences is a concrete way to objectively measure your childhood trauma.

Week Five: Chapters, 17, 18, 19 and 20.

These chapters cover early childhood trauma related to family “group think,” substance abuse, as well as sexual abuse. These are hard chapters, but they lead to the next group, which include amazing tales of rising above terrible childhoods.

Week Six: Chapters, 21, 22, 23 and 24.

I could use a laugh – how about you? Chapter 21 delivers a list of things we’ve been afraid to say out loud most of our lives. Go ahead, say a few out loud! We also cover why dreams of reconciliation, while tempting, rarely materialize. Closing with perhaps my favorite VOICE of the book, “The Path to Helping Others.” How can one mini-memoir hold so much pain yet offer so much hope?

Week Seven: Chapters 25, 26, 27, 28 and 29.

This group is a sort of meditation on why facing the darkest incidents n our past can light the way towards our peaceful future. How far would you be willing to travel to unravel the mystery of your family of origin?

Week Eight: Chapters 30, 31, 32 and 33.

The “disaster sequence” of toxic mom story-telling, these chapters show us that we can tell our stories without fear. We can still love and be loved after telling our truth.

Week Nine: Chapters, 34, 35, 36 and 37.

Finally “seeing’ the story of your life is part of healing. These chapters focus on endings and grief including grieving over a mother that never really existed. You can choose how to view the stories in your life.

Week Ten: Chapters 38, 39, 40 and 41.

            What a difference one loving adult can make in the life of a neglected or abused child! These chapters tell us more about two people we’ve been curious about: Rayne Wolfe’s father and stepmother. This group of chapters also covers the feelings that having our own children can trigger.

Additional Reading: Chapter 42, the author’s full questionnaire – All of the VOICES chapters filled out a questionnaire and this is the authors. As a closing exercise you might try to fill out your own questionnaire using all the questions in this final chapter.

When Mr. Right Comes With A Toxic Mom

19 Feb

Today’s post is from a Friend of ours, who just learned a hard lesson. Do you have a story you’d like to share on Toxic Mom Toolkit? We accept short essays (500 words max.) and will help you edit. Do you have a story about a toxic mom issue? Let’s hear it!

0785ca7c51fcb7585ee6e3e503d06043WHEN MR. RIGHT COMES WITH A TOXIC MOM

I can’t believe I didn’t see it sooner! I have a Toxic Mom so I’m usually on the lookout.

There were moments where I wondered, “Is she for real?” But I swept the concerns away so it wouldn’t threaten my relationship. Looking back, I think his mom fell in love with me long before he developed feelings for me. But it seemed the closer she and I got the further away he went.

At first her keen interest in me was flattering. She wanted to know everything about how we met. Peppered in between were questions about how her son felt and acted. I took it to mean she felt I was a worthy partner for her son. Then the interest turned into seeking information and violating his privacy. And though it felt wrong, I played right into it.

I desperately wanted his family to like me. Nothing was private. Thoughts, feelings, phone calls, messages. She had to know everything that was going on.

She started making important decisions for me.

If I agreed with her we were happy and close. If I pushed back at all or disagreed she would withdraw from my life. Never an explanation. I was constantly told that I was a part of their pack yet I often felt left out. Direct questions about her hurtful behavior were met with rebuttals criticizing my sensitivity. I was told that I was imagining things. Since I’d grown up with a toxic mom I often thought, “Well. You ARE sensitive.” and I’d back down.

I started to catch on. I was in so much pain about it that I knew I had to change how much I shared with her. I’m pretty awful at doing boundaries or shutting my mouth. So it took some serious willpower! But the more I censored myself around her the less she interacted with me. The less she approved. I was less valuable to her when I didn’t divulge everything or do her bidding.

I suppose it was fitting that she was as involved in the breakup as she was in the relationship. I suppose I could thank her now.

After things were over, I realized that he wasn’t capable of loving me. That I had imagined so much based on how she described the many ways I changed his life for the better. HE never actually said those things to me.

I often addressed concerns with her. She would rationalize his behavior and what would have been red flags were pushed away.

Once it was over I could see if for what it was. And not only was my own toxic mom easier to handle, but I realized how much of my “love” was in my head. He’s got enough to deal with, he doesn’t need a relationship on top of the relationship with his mom. And I don’t need ANOTHER TM to disapprove of my life!

Judge, Jury and Toxic Grandparents

23 Jan


94175905bbf65c6a2a303aad37779156
Growing up with a super toxic mother is hard enough. But what many people who manage to disengage from the toxicity struggle with, down the adult road, is the relentless desire of toxic moms to be in their grandkids lives.

Of course, we want our children to know all of their relatives and to be part of a loving and nurturing extended family. But what if you know your own mother is toxic? What if you are sure she will emotionally or physically damage your child? What do you do?

On the Toxic Mom Toolkit Facebook page many posters write about severing contact all together and just enduring the never-ending pleas and threats from toxic moms hell-bent on playing granny. Many people have gone through the courts to acquire restraining orders to protect their children and peaceful family life. In some cases, it can be a terrible and extended emotional battle.

What would you do if your toxic mother decided to use the courts to gain access to your children? What can you do now to protect yourself against that possible future event? I asked my friend, The Lawyer, and here’s what she said:

“This is an issue that has long bothered me as there is an inherent bias in the system. If you are MARRIED, and choose no contact with the grandparents, then the court accepts the parental decision. If you are a SINGLE parent, then grandparents can petition for visitation and/or custodial time. BS, right?”

She went on to explain that the object of the law is to allow the child access to both sides of the family, which makes sense.

“Even if the (other parent)  is a loser, doesn’t mean the child shouldn’t know the whole family. If BOTH single bio/adoptive parents agree that grandparents should NOT have access, the court will listen. If they disagree is when it gets tricky…”

My friend says, even if you are single and not a mother today, it’s never to early to start documenting what your toxic mother does when she thinks nobody can see or hear her.

“As with any court action, documentation is almost EVERYTHING. The other thing that is crucial is PRESENTATION. If a client goes in insisting that their MIL is a crazy *itch who has a crazy kid and the client her(him) self is perfect, then the court will likely ignore the client. Alternatively, if the client goes in with documentation, acts calmly and reasonable, and laments that they wish their children could have two grandmas, realizes what the children miss out on, but can document ways in which that particular grandma is toxic, then the court is likely to listen and follow the client’s wishes.”

The grandparent rights movement is gaining strength and is popping up in several countries. Think about the energy your toxic mom has and think what she’d do with it if there was an actual court process that might help her WIN access to your child. That’s why today is a good day to start documenting her behavior.

Toxic Mom Toolkit: The Top Five Things You Should Track

1. Keep a small notebook in your purse or car and document each unwanted contact from your TM. Keep records like a scientist. A typical notation could be:   Sun. May 5, 4: 15 p.m. telephone call. Insists we come for dinner. Declined. Swearing. Threatens to call CPS.

2. If your mother is ranting on the phone have your spouse, or friend, or someone you trust listen in on speaker mode. They can testify for you in court later. Record her rants if you can and save them.

3. If your mother comes to your home uninvited, ask her to leave. Document the visit in your notebook. If she won’t leave, call the cops. That will generate a police report, which you could present in court at a later date.

4. Maintain an electronic folder for your mother and keep all of her emails, IM’s, texts in one place.

5. If your mother goes to court to gain access to your children, hire a lawyer. Also immediately request a Domestic Violence worker to help you navigate the court process. Once your toxic mother starts using the courts, you will need to prepare a strong defense and hire people to push back.

Of course, you need to conduct yourself in a kind and calm manner. No matter what she says or does you cannot respond in kind. Don’t call back, don’t yell back, don’t talk back.

My final thought on this topic is that if you have a toxic mother or mother-in-law it is crucial for you and your spouse or former spouse to be on the same page on this topic. If you’ve struggled with maintaining a cordial relationship with your ex, consider building a bridge on the basis of protecting your child/children from a toxic grandparent. It could be the one thing you still agree on and it could be a beginning point for a happier co-parenting arrangement.

The Power of a Stranger’s Prayers

23 Dec

fc9362b98632056c567d6f85b5348d5dIn the weeks that followed my leaving my newspaper reporter job in 2009, I spent a lot of time at the movies.

Having practically grown up in neighborhood single screens in San Francisco, I always gravitated to red velvet chairs and dark theaters when life was a little overwhelming. I had left my job of a decade and I was toying with the idea of writing a book. As I often do, I tucked a notebook in my purse.

As a few other daytime movie fans chatted while waiting for the previews to commence, I grabbed my pen and pad and started to map out a book about surviving toxic moms. I had an idea of what stories from my life could serve as a foundation and I made a list of women I knew that I could interview on the topic.

At the other end of my row two grandmotherly women were chatting and laughing. One turned to me and asked if I was trying to get homework done before the show.

“Oh, no, I’m a writer and I’m thinking about a book I could write. I’m outlining it.”

“What would you write about?” a lady named Doris asked me.

“I know a lot about surviving toxic, terrible mothers. I think I’ll write a half memoir, half interviews with other resources, self-help kind of book,” I said.

Then they BOTH leaned towards me, and burst out laughing. One said she had the meanest mother ever – that SHE should write that book. The other said she would buy my book and would buy copies for some friends. I could see that they totally “got it.” They were the very first Toxic Mom Toolkit fans – before I even had a title, a blog or a Facebook page.

The lights dimmed and I tucked my notepad into my purse and enjoyed the movie. The theater filled up and I lost a line of sight to the encouraging senior ladies.

But as I was walking out after the movie, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Doris handing me a card with her name, address and phone number scribbled on the back.

“When you publish your book, please let me know so I can buy it. Good Luck!”

*  *  *

Two days ago, I received a huge box containing 50 copies of Toxic Mom Toolkit meant for family and friends. All of a sudden, I wanted to find Doris’ card from years ago. I kept it tucked into my computer case and often thought of her early encouragement. It was like her immediate buy-in opened a floodgate of encouragement at every step of the book writing effort.

I checked the address and realized that her home is about 10 minutes from my home, so I grabbed a warm scarf and my car keys and drove over.

Encouraging one encourages all.

Encouraging one encourages all.

When I rang the bell, the house erupted in small dog barkiness and I heard Doris shushing a pack of tiny terriers. I held the card up to the locked screen door with one hand and held my book and business card in the other hand.

“You gave me this card four years ago — in the movies. Do you remember?”

Did she remember?

“Oh, HONEY, you did it. Do you know that I’ve told that story about our meeting in the movies so many times and I’ve always prayed that you would get your book done. Look at that! Isn’t that amazing?” she said as she hugged me.

As I often do when overwhelmed by emotions, I fled at the first opportunity.

I drove away and no sooner had I turned the corner, she called me on my cell and asked me to come back and sign her book. While I was re-parking she went back in her house to get something for me.

“I volunteer at the school, so they include us in school pictures,” she explained as she handed me one of her photos as  a momento.

I thanked her again for encouraging me and told her that her prayer must be powerful. I suggested she keep praying for as many people as she can. We both got a little choked up.

* * *

“Wow, that felt good,” I said to myself as I drove back home.

Wow. That felt good.

From Zero to Book Published: 8 Women Dream Style

13 Dec
How many times...

How many times…

In 2009, I was a reporter working for a New York Times regional newspaper in Northern California’s Wine Country. With ten years of daily newsgathering under my belt, I had survived multiple rounds of brutal lay-offs and the stress was getting to me.  

I thought it might be time to take a break before I broke.

With my husband’s support, I left my job to write my memoir about growing up with three mothers: two very toxic, and one wonderful stepmother. I had a notion that I knew a lot about resilience and I could help others. I had also been collecting women’s stories for years, focusing on how they survived their own very toxic mothers.

I was aware that I should build a platform to support my book writing and research led me to 8 Women Dream and Lord-have-mercy they were coincidentally looking for a new blogger to join their slate of online dreamers. I slaved over my presentation; agonized over my story and plans — and dreams!

And after a considered vetting process I was turned down with apologies and encouragement to try again.

The Universe Gives You What You Need When You Need It

It was the most important turn down of my life. I believed what they said: That they loved my project. That they wished me well. That they wanted me to apply again.

That “rejection” fueled my early work. Not in an I’ll-show-them sort of way, but more in a Wait-till-they-see-this! way. I created a Toxic Mom Toolkit Facebook page, which I grew from 35 friends to currently over 250,000 visitors per month.

By the time it was possible to apply to be on 8 Women Dream again, I had much more to talk about and was deep into the creative process. Finally accepted as a member of 8 Women Dream, I wrote about my dream of publishing my first book.

From the platform of 8 Women Dream I found and interviewed hundreds of women from all over the world. I curated extensive Toxic Mom Toolkit questionnaires developing them into a wide range of mini-memoirs. Every person I spoke to increased and informed my work and made it richer. I realized that writing my own memoir was nice, but what would be epic would be to marry my story with a rainbow of stories, each illustrating a different type of toxic mom. And, after my year at 8 Women Dream was up, I was fueled to tackle the hard work of editing, polishing and publishing my manuscript.

Women had trusted me with their stories and told me amazing things; things they had never told another living soul. They laughed and cried with me. They also encouraged me.  I remember one lady in particular saying that each morning while she was driving she prayed for my book. For three years of writing, which included many challenges, the idea of a lady on the freeway praying for my book, kept me focused.

Starting from a broken place, with lots of help, I am now healed and an author. Along the way I’ve learned that it is in sharing our stories that we heal others.

001a4bc0827030842a71f9f2c6ec3568In a few weeks, Toxic Mom Toolkit will be published on Amazon.com, thanks in large part to the energy and encouragement I received from everyone at 8 Women Dream and all the people I met during my online tenure.

What I find very poignant is that my book owes so much to 8 Women Dream – literally. It seemed that as each obstacle arose – one of my friends from 8 Women Dream popped up with offers of help and encouragement. I have blogging colleagues Iman Woods to thank for creating a killer book cover and Remi Gervais to thank for taking my “sane and approachable” head shot.

It would have been great to write my memoir. But I’m so glad I opened myself up to the energy and creativity of the 8 Women Dream community. When readers hold a copy of Toxic Mom Toolkit in their hands, they may not know the story behind it. But we will. We will.

Mercy Girl: 40 Years Later

14 Oct

photoI survived my 40th high school reunion yesterday without embarrassing myself too much or giving in to the group surge of “Let’s only talk about funny-fun stuff we did!”  It was the very first invitation I had received from the school where I spent three anxious years during pretty much the worst years of my life.

I arrived as a sophomore, which was rare for a class that had bonded as little girls at Catholic grammar schools spread out all over San Francisco.

While I was away at summer camp, My Toxic Mom had thrown out all my clothes hanging in my closet, replacing them with two red-white-and-blue plaid skirts, four white Peter Pan collar style shirts, a few pairs of knee socks and one scratchy wool sweater. That’s how I knew she had enrolled me at Mercy.

Immediately exempted from attending chapel or other religious events, I was told to read in the library. And because no one ever said I couldn’t, I started reading whatever I wanted. I would lay on the carpet several hours a day and read biographies mostly, searching for lives that mirrored mine in some way.

My home life was so chaotic and unbearable that I had trouble focusing on any organized study effort. I had no understanding of cycles of a school year, that study led to quizzes and semesters meant finals. Every day was a distinct event, unconnected to the previous day or creating a path to other days. Quite frankly, because I was living in a terror-driven home, each morning I arrived at school I took a deep breath of relief that I had survived the night.

I was that kid that sat in the back, looking out the window. My low grades reflecting my state of mind. I can see how some teachers could write me off.

I had very few friends then, none of which I had kept up with. So, imagine my surprise when a woman sidled up to me like a former con I had served time with. She spoke out of the side of her mouth, telling me quickly who else might show and that she had saved some seats for us — in the back.

We were all wearing name tags with our enlarged senior photos. While we bought drinks to get through the lunch I stared at hers. I knew who she was, but didn’t really remember her very well. But she remembered me. At one point she said that she always thought that I had a hard time in school.

“Well, yah. But I had a terrible home life. I really wish I had embraced school more, but I just wasn’t able to. All the girls seemed so connected and I wasn’t part of that,” I said with a smile.

“I think you alluded to your home life once, but I had no idea it was really that rough,” she said.

“Well, kids get through it because they have no perspective. They have nothing to compare it to. It’s a blessing really,” I replied.

We kept talking about our lives now and the things that we’re passionate about and we ran into a couple of other girls who used to be part of the little group of misfits that sat on the lawn to smoke and trade stories about boys and bands and stealing our parents cars. Two of our group had babies early. I realized while we were talking that most of the girls I knew then were outsiders, one way or the other.  They had a common history of showing up randomly, looking lost, being brought into the circle, and then either leaving school suddenly, or drifting off like I did. I had forgotten that we’d flirted with guys in motorcycle gangs, that we used to hitchhike in our uniforms, that we rolled our skirts up so high the hems sat rigidly atop the seats of chairs.

All around us at the reunion, gaggles of women in groups of five or six or seven, linked their arms and bodies together and jumped up and down squealing with delight at simply being in each other’s company.  We sure didn’t. The noise and energy got to be too much for me so I walked down to the girls bathroom, the scene of so much former teen drama. The expression of reunion happiness was nauseating me.

I managed to get through a very nice chicken salad lunch with warm (cat-piss) chardonnay and a PowerPoint “in memoria” presentation of about a dozen girls in our class of 223 that have died. Then there was another show of snapshots of all the fun our class had at school plays, dances, and ski trips that I never attended. I wondered if I had been capable of signing up and showing up could I have changed my high school experience?  Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a certain sister (not a sister anymore, I heard) who once told me that I should set my sights on a career in retail. She was sure I could get a job at The Emporium Dept. store.

I went to the bathroom again.

photoAs I stood there combing my hair I was composing the hallway speech I would give to the sister informing her of everything I had accomplished in my life despite never being helped or supported or even seen  in any way. It took me awhile, but I found my life path and had built a grand life — she needed to know.

The group photo was scheduled for a few minutes hence and several women were fixing their faces. One said she couldn’t take the NOISE in that room and I agreed. As she opened the door, she turned to ask me “Are you going back in?”

“I’m not really sure I can.” I said with a smile.

But I did head back to the assembly room just as everyone was heading out double doors to the front of the school to have a professional photograph taken on risers under the school banner.

I took a few steps to join the group but stopped short. I realized that nobody needed to hear my speech, least of all the person who had never really seen me in the first place.

“I can’t do this.” I said to myself. “And I don’t have to.”

It wasn’t until I was outside near my car that it suddenly hit me that, because of the way I had parked,  I literally had to drive past the entire class of 1973 posing in the blustery cold. Everybody – or nobody – would see me leaving and I didn’t much care.

I was meeting my husband in North Beach to listen to live jazz at the Savoy Tivoli. It was our anniversary and after dinner we’d go to see Sam Shepherd’s “Buried Child” at the Magic Theater. I had faced the past and that was enough. It was time to get back to the best years of my life.

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