Toxic Mom Toolkit on Sunday Prayers of Focus

21 Jan

ff714f6d162d96e962ae3cb97d617ff2I have a Sunday routine: shower; sip iced coffee, church, brunch – and the big reward, movies. Today I’m looking forward to seeing the Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic, On the Basis of Sex – the 12:40 matinee. But I had a small revelation in church this morning that I wanted to take a few minutes to share.


As a lesson-based church, very often, our sermons are very familiar. Because I know the lessons well, and the accompanying bible stories, I allow my mind to wander. There is something very creative about a sunlit church sanctuary and a stubby yellow pencil in my hand making notes on the back of the solo sheet. (Our solo singer’s hymn lyrics are always printed on small slips of paper so we can read along.) In this peaceful environment I have outlined two books. I have created character timelines and storylines. I’ve named characters and assigned their identifying characteristics, often inspired by bible stories. I consider it a very fluid and Zen sort of zone. Today I was writing two lists while the lesson was being read aloud: A prayer list and a letter list.


Typically, I will keep this list in my purse or on my car dash for a couple of days. I use it to focus energy for good things to happen to people I know. This week, top of my list was my husband, who has an important interview next week. Then came our friends who are selling their house – prayers for the upcoming inspections. Trust me, I am nothing like the maid in The Help, who keeps a thick notebook for prayer lists. This is an occasional and very random effort on my part. But I figure, couldn’t hurt/might help.


A member of our church has been in the hospital, and so prayers for him and for my fellow church members. Sometimes I make a little notation on what the prayer should be for.


For our local Coast Guard employees, not being paid: community support.


For a lonely friend: that she feels loved.


For another friend who just moved to another state: That she finds her tribe.


I say prayers for my two books, in manuscript: That I finish the first and expand the second.  A quick prayer for the freshman congress members.  And a few notes on how much I love my town, my region.


I nearly filled the entire sheet and I read it once more and quietly put it in my purse.


And then it hit me. It never occurred to me to pray for myself. I even noted a scribble written with my eyes closed – pray for unknown ancestors. There was just enough space under my husband’s prominent line to add: Rayne – creative energy.  Rayne, age 7, peace.


And I wanted to share this with you on a day when you could block out a few minutes to pray for yourself. Pray for insight; or strength. Pray for humor. Just remember to put yourself on your list.



Toxic Mom Toolkit: Kathy Wants to Know

21 Sep


I get a lot of letters asking questions. First of all, a person, who is suffering, has to be pretty brave to ask the author of a book for advice. That’s what I always think. So, I do answer and I really try to offer something helpful.


Recently, I got a note from a Friend of Ours, Kathy. Here’s what Kathy wanted to know:




I’m curious how you got beyond your toxic mom symptoms?


I have C-PTSD from my childhood experiences and am looking for a counseling method that will ease the pain, symptoms, triggers, etc.


So, I’m looking for ideas, remedies, and a counseling method.


It’s been suggested that I do EMDR, but something is holding me back on that.


Any advice, suggestions, guidance will be greatly appreciated.



I have to confess, this note from Kathy, sort of threw me for a loop.


Whoever said I’d “gotten beyond my toxic mother symptoms?” was my first thought. Which I took to mean, that whatever trauma, whatever PTSD, whatever emotional hangovers I earned from my childhood, were all taken care of – erased – or healed.


I drove up to my cabin thinking about this the whole way. Had I really given the impression that I had it all together? That I am completely healed and have no TM problems? It seemed to me that I confessed regularly to being an odd duck, full of social ticks and issues. Maybe I laugh at myself too much over my fear of doorbells; my dread of all things social? Could it seem that I’m so over it?


The truth is, I have done my healing work sufficiently to be able to offer a vocabulary and storytelling to lead others who grew up with super toxic moms – towards healing. Not that I’m so healed. I suffer. I just choose to focus on my own healing work – and to rise above what happened. A big part of my healing work is waving my little lantern over my head, showing others the way.


Do I have all the answers? Nope.


But I do know that you are not alone in your experiences. I know that we can help each other. I know that storytelling is part of healing.


Do I still have C-PTSD? Yep.


Do I know exactly what you should do? Nope.


Am I more than what happened to me? Yep.



EMDR? It helped me. I hope it helps you. Sometimes people are resistant to the very thing that will move them away from being stuck in their suffering. You have to ask yourself, if you are resistant without a clear objection, if you just want to stay in the suffering you know.


But suffering is like grief. It’s a journey. You’re not supposed to sit in it. I would say, try EMDR once and then think about it.  Then maybe go back for a second session. You control the process. You can start, stop, or rest. You can even heal. But healing rarely happens when we are frozen.


I hope this is helpful to Kathy and to you.






Toxic Mom Toolkit On Finding Common Ground

6 Jun

6794709c192ca56931b7fc339f512ec3How many times has a well meaning friend or colleague, after hearing a sliver of a story about your toxic mom, offered advice to find “common ground?”


The common ground comment is usually followed by comments like these:


“She’s the only mother you’ll ever have.”


“You’ll miss her when she’s gone.”


“You may regret cutting her off later.”


“Other people in your family can handle her, why can’t you?”


“Maybe if you tried harder?”


One of the quickest ways I know to nip this suggestion in the bud is to offer the suggestion that your friend replace ‘toxic mom’ with ‘boyfriend who beats me.’ This usually flummoxes them a bit. But it’s a valid suggestion. Your friend can’t quite imagine a mother starving her child, or abusing or neglecting her teen. Harder still to imagine a mother who uses a child for sexual predator bait (meaning, she’s tired of being raped or abused, so she lets you have that job for awhile), or a mother who steals your after school job money you’ve hidden, or even a mother who does all that – for years – and then one day kicks you out for, Oh, I don’t know, being too pretty, or smart, or ambitious.


But a friend can imagine a boyfriend or spouse abusing you. If you told your friend that story, you’d probably be offered a spare room, a spare car and lots and lots of help.


But if you are trapped by your toxic mother and confess to a close friend the depth of the situation, they might look at you like you’ve lost your mind. And the talk goes on. Your friend suggests that, yes, you may not like your mom’s parenting style, but certainly she wants what is best for you. Surely, there must be some common ground?


It’s sort of like when you go to the dentist and the dentist blames you for plaque like you’re the bad person, the non-flosser, the one who couldn’t manage your own mouth. Sometimes because of abuse or neglect you grow up without regular dental visits. Sometimes you are trained by your toxic mom to be afraid of medical professionals because, you know, they see things. So you don’t go to the dentist as often as other do. Dirty plaque – like dirty family secrets – builds up.


Sometimes friends with kinder families can’t imagine the cat-clawing-up-the-curtains fear that a terrible mother can inspire. They think finding common ground, as an adult is as easy as flossing. You just decide to do it and it all works out.


Your friend, this lucky person, has no reference for what you experienced – (maybe read some Dave Eggers?) – and the best you can offer them is to wait until they catch up. You could loan them your copy of Toxic Mom Toolkit. Remind them that many successful people rose above their rising, just like you are trying to do.


Maybe the two of you can try to understand each other’s point of view when it comes to family history, family dynamics, generational pathology and making peace with all that. That conversation might include the shocking news that yes; an abuser is an abuser, even if that abuser is your mom. Maybe the best common ground you can shoot for is creating common ground between two friends.




Guest Post: Sunshine & Hurricanes

29 Dec
5f09dc2d13904c4be56ef074b682891dI always say, Toxic Mom Toolkit gets the best mail and over the holidays, this gem flew in over the transom. It’s from a Friend of Ours and she hopes that it helps someone.
Hi there –
One dark day I stumbled upon your facebook page.  Over time and in moments paralyzed by pain, I have found solace in the posts.   And recently, I began writing.  As the pages filled, the heaviness lifted.  This morning I woke up feeling compelled to share, in hopes it would help someone. I am certainly not a writer by trade and hope it isn’t too awful!
Thank you for helping me gain clarity.  Happy Holidays – Noel
If a father loves his daughter, he would do the best for his daughter.  
On the eve of my 34th birthday, I find my self conflicted.  Feeling both free and trapped.   I have fallen from years of searching for purpose.   As I sit here tonight reflecting,  I find clarity.  I wasn’t searching for purpose, I was begging to be found, to be heard, and to be seen.
As far back as I can remember, I have always wanted more.  It is almost as if I swallowed an orb on the edge of bursting.  My dreams were restricted by a conforming confidence.  Studies show fathers give little girls self-esteem.  Instead, my father’s strong display of disappointment, instilled a constant need to be perfect.  In result, restricted my individuality and thoughts.  My differences were seen as difficult.  I was the unruly child, needing further restriction.
December 24, 1983 at 6:18pm my parents brought me into this world of both endless opportunities and many walls still needing to be broken.  And on April 28, 2016, after 32 years, I lost the will to fight for my parents’ love.  I had learn to love myself in order to fly.
For years, I hid behind others opinions, convictions, and dreams.  So much, for a period of time, I questioned my existence.  My so-called friends would always joke about my disappearances.  How can people find one’s self-destruction funny? Actually, society pushes woman to be quiet.  The first and last time I spoke up about the fear and loneliness I felt at home the response dug deeper than the abuse.  The society rationalizes and arms abusers with excuses.  In the end, it further confined me and gave me the belief it was normal.  Was it me wanting too much love and attention? Wasn’t it normal to want supportive parents on the sidelines? Were little girls not supposed to dream?
Then, I fell in love with a man who saw into my soul and fed my dreams.   He opened my eyes to new experiences, which started feeding an unknown passion.  Without me noticing, he took an interest far beyond his own education.  Others only saw his signature gift of diamonds.  To me it wasn’t  the diamonds, it was the first time I saw someone seeing me.  On our first anniversary, I found a book from my favorite author inscribed with a statement of love.  He didn’t read, I actually never read at home.  In fact, my personal library was in the home we didn’t occupy.  I will never know the lengths he went to figure it out.  Those years spent with him, where filled with moments like those.  It was the first time a smile came from within.  Those memories will forever be my treasures.
To much dismay, love does not prevail illness. I hadn’t even recovered from a recent car accident and now this.   A darkness fell over me.   At the time, I was certain a love that great would never find a way back into my life.  My father ignored it all together, my mother took care of me.   I know sounds lovely right? However, my mother has never done anything without a self-serving reason.   One day I woke up, realized she was happy.  She found purpose in my weakness and happiness in saving me.  Who would want their daughter to go through this?  Mothers shouldn’t need tragedy to love daughters.
Over time, even though the pain faded, I felt underserving of another love as such.  For a while, the ending outshined the love once shared between us.  From this point forward, the relationship with my parents defined acceptable relationships for me.  My allowance and enablement of toxic relationships continued to grow.  One day, the cost of hiding my truth was far too great.  The energy to consistently act  for the benefit of others was exhausting.  I was tired of experiencing full blown panic attacks before heading to functions, to then immediately become undone as the car door shut.  I was falling apart, and my personal life was suffering greatly.
In hindsight, I allowed many opportunities to slip away and took for granted blessings so freely given by many.  I hastily decided to change my life.  Even though it was the right decision, many people, my so-called friends, were collateral damage to my wake-up call  – with my quick good byes.  Actually truth be told, it was more like, get out of my life! For a while it was lonely.  Weekends would come and I would sit home feeling sad and isolated for not being invited.  I had to keep reminding myself of the truth.  You hate drinking, being a target for jokes, the surface level conversation topics, staying up until 2-4am, being unable to drive home, etc.
I had the freedom to define my new life  and even though finding new friends with my interests wasn’t exactly easy.  Filling the gap for my family was far harder.  Not only did I find myself grieving, I had a sense of guilt, uneasy to shake.   Here I had two healthy, living parents, while others would do anything to have one day with their late parents.
I will never understand the difficulty to love a daughter.  I did everything asked of me.
– I went to school were my father dictated.  Even though my fathers’ money centric values limited my education and aspirations, I excelled far greater than asked.  Yet, still not worth a “I’m proud of you”.
– Sacrificing my own happiness and passion to focus on the career my father choose for me.
– I moved home, when my father beckoned on me to help care for my ailing grandfather.  I will never regret spending the time with my grandfather.  I just with it didn’t come with such pain.  My father dealt with his feelings by blaming everyone.  I listened to his hateful rants about everyone (even when it was about the people I loved and looked up too).  Even though an adult with a promising career, he would still scream in my face for hours even with company over – “You are trash, you are mother’s daughter, you will never  amount to anything without me….”.  I never knew what mood he would be in and like the wind, it could change suddenly.   With him, I reverted back to a child.
Not only was it never good enough, my father’s advice (mind you unsolicited and consistently pushed) and constant criticism stifled my voice.  I struggle daily to find my voice and lend  others the autonomy necessary for growth.
But, I was grateful it was never about being married and having children.  The idea of loving and trusting another human that much came with too much pain.  Until one day, my father’s heavy expectations changed.  My career was no longer meaningful without kids.  I was struck by the irony.  I had just put myself through grad school and had new found sense of confidence and passion for my career.
To the father in capable of listening, yes, I defied your advice to ‘keep my head down and mouth shut in Corporate America’.  Because you know what, I got something to say and fight for.  So guess what, I spoke up and one day I found myself at the table.  Meghan Markle’s call to open seats at the table a few years ago, did not fall on deaf ears.  As such, I am proud to be a woman and a feminist.
This year, I found comfort being the outlier.  I am finally free from judgment and the unrealistic need to be perfect.  The truth is I will always live life with a sense of loss and sadness.  The greatest part is the truth can be multi-dimensional.  Therefore, I am choosing authenticity, happiness, and gratitude.  I am also choosing forgiveness.
I may be sunshine mixed with a little hurricane.  I will never be perfect, but always genuine.  I am unapologetic about my passion and open heart, I would hate to lose the future.  I will put every effort into making dreams into plans.  I will harbor the courage to cover the earth, before it covers me.
So for my birthday this year all I want is to do is cultivate the ability in others to love and appreciate each other.  This world can easily fuel hate and war.   Daily pressures can easily blur your ability to ‘be in the moment’.   Don’t let differences seem impossible to overcome.  Encourage future generations.   Last but not least, to all the fathers and mothers out there – please love your children a little extra for me.

Toxic Mom Toolkit Goes to the Movies – Blade Runner 2049 Through the Lens of Toxic Mothering

27 Oct





What does it mean to be human?


That is the question Blade Runner 2049 poses to the viewer. Manufactured replica humans versus naturally born humans are presented as two very different things; the trump card being a real human is born with a soul, has a childhood and along with that growing up phase, treasured memories. Replicants are produced as slaves to society with imbedded memories that seem real, while real humans with true childhoods are represented as having more depth and choices – and a soul. Or do they?


It didn’t happen instantly, but along the line, from my seat, the Ryan Gosling replicant versus human storyline blurred into my experience with unwanted, unplanned, unloved children, versus, those lucky people whose families planned for them, wanted them and treasured them. In other words, my split worldview of unloved versus loved.


In the film society had divided itself into slave and free in order to colonize other worlds and rebuild the original ruined one. That required massive numbers of compliant, law-abiding slaves. My internal debate as a movie-goer was who to root for, the replicant who had to process human feelings just like everyone else, who was capable of loving and being loved, or the master/or superior rank of real humans, whose task was to keep order?


Sitting next to me, my husband viewed the film as simply a free man versus slave story, with slavery essentially just being a state of mind. In the film, any slave that tried to pass as human faced a death sentence – or “retirement” by a Blade Runner from the LAPD. Ryan Gosling as a Blade Runner was emotionally flat, and job focused. But during private moments, we saw his human side.


The story delivered a challenge: What if a manufactured replicant somehow gave birth to a baby? So what is that baby? A replicant or a human? A half-replicant, half-human? Or is that baby the line being erased between two classes of humans? A point of no return and societal chaos?


I think sometimes adult children of unloving or toxic parents can feel a little bit like the replicant character in Blade Runner 2049. You exist, but due to childhood trauma or neglect, you have lots of memory gaps. You treasure a few happy memories but know you should have more or you may not even trust your own memories – that you had a sweet experience worth remembering. We are human beings with souls, but there can be an emotional flatness that comes with understanding that many of us were viewed as burdens or even curses to our mothers/parents. Many of us become people pleasers (doing our jobs), we can have a flat effect emotionally, and we may have trouble asking for help, or connecting with others. We know we are different in some ways and strive to fit in with others whom we view as better or luckier than us because of their loving family relationships.


And yet, many of us managed to bloom as adults, creating strong bonds within our own family and social structures. Sometimes we are so good at appearing human that people are shocked when they learn of our origins. Some of us don’t talk about our backgrounds, except for a few trusted confidants. Talking about our stories often feels dangerous, as if we are exposing ourselves, as “less than” people.


As the popcorn in my bag got lower and lower, I debated what qualities make us human and how much of my own life has been about choosing to live as fully as humanly possible. As the film concluded I was reminded that there are qualities that confirm our humanness, such as the ability to love and be loved, to consider the feelings of others, and to make sacrifices for a good cause. To be truly human is to assume that every living thing also possesses a soul, an inner life, and to treat others with kindness and respect regardless of origins.



911! – Who Do You Call When Your Mom is Toxic?

4 Sep

Recently, a Friend of Ours wrote this about going No Contact with her toxic parents on a Toxic Mom Toolkit post on Facebook:


“I literally have no one. I wonder what will happen to me if I have a health emergency. Trust me, I was alone with both of them any way, they wouldn’t help if I was on fire but it’s so definite now.”


I think this is a thought that has crossed the mind of just about every adult child of a super toxic mom or toxic dad or toxic family. Yes, what if you suddenly have a gall bladder attack, or a heart attack or a very bad accident? Who will be there for you at the hospital? Who will come to you? Drive you? Sit with you? Comfort you?


For a lot of us at Toxic Mom Toolkit, we already know, it’s not going to be our awful mothers. Of course, if she can make your crisis about her – about how she dropped everything for you, causing scenes, fighting with other relatives and hospital staff – then it might be worth the trouble.


But think about the conditioning behind this “Who will come when I’m sick?” scenario. Who came when you were little? There was ONLY your mom, so her coming, staying, being there for you had a huge impact. It would be so sad without her, you think, or scary, or you’d be ashamed to cry or have mobility issues in front of strangers, you think.


But now that you are not a child, and maybe you are low contact or no contact with your mom, it might have occurred to you that you will probably survive anything the world can throw at you. Even without your mother.


As a former police chaplain, I’ve seen it in action. A call comes into 911 and the dispatcher sends cops and medical to a person in crisis; the EMT’s run towards you; an ambulance waits. None of the first responders ask about your mother. You get to the hospital and nurses and doctors and X-ray people assess your condition. They might ask about your insurance, but they don’t really care about whether or not your mom is coming.


While you are navigating the Emergency Room you may be able to place a call, or you may be unconscious or not thinking clearly. It is actually the stuff of movies and television that wonderful people come running while you are in the ER. It doesn’t really happen as often as you think it does – unless you’re a cop or firefighter. Then you’ve got a lobby full of people worrying for you.


After you’ve been treated, given pain meds, put in a bed with cool sheets, someone will ask if they can telephone someone for you. Of course, you’ll be tired and maybe a little drugged up, and, yes, it would be nice to have someone come and hold your hand, console you; someone to see what you need in the hours or days to come. And you know what? Anyone you call will probably come – if not that day, then in the morning. You don’t have to call your mother if you don’t want to.


There are Visiting Nurses who can help you get back home and supervise your care. Yes, it costs money, but no Visiting Nurse ever told a patient they had only themselves to blame for their situation or that they looked like hell without makeup.


You really could call a friend from work or church or the gym. They’ll come. And when they get there they will be kind.


Or you can call your overly dramatic mother.


Any time anyone has called me, I pack a little bag with sweats, cotton underwear, socks, hand cream, a toothbrush, bobby pins and a hair scrunchy. (My girlfriends know that The Wolfes ARE the folks you call on your worst day, even if it’s 3:30 a.m.) If I’m your friend and you call me when you are in trouble, I’ll come and I’ll drive you home and I’ll clean your kitchen and make sure you have some easy to prep soup and orange juice and I’ll put the phone by your bed and fluff your pillows and tell you, you’re going to be fine. Just rest, and let me take care of things for a day or two.


Or you can call your cold-hearted mother, so you can be hurt, drugged up and forced to listen to her go on an on about your lousy housekeeping.


You may feel ashamed that there is no one “close” to call. Like, the nurses will judge you if your mother doesn’t come. But you know what nurses know? They know that families come in many forms. They’ve witnessed toxic visitors making everything worse. They are happy to ban upsetting visitors for you, because it keeps your blood pressure down. They totally get it. So, if the only person you can think to call is that older lady from yoga class that you had coffee with a couple of times – CALL her and be humble in your human need for comfort from a kind person.


I once had a girlfriend call me out of the blue and beg me to drive her to Kaiser to get a shot in the butt for a migraine headache. She was in so much pain, she couldn’t drive herself and we had to stop twice for her to open the door and barf. We still laugh about it. Facing a crisis with a friend is how friendships go deeper.


It might feel scary, but it could all turn out to be for the good.


Or you could call your toxic mother. Your choice.






Toxic Mom Toolkit on the Art of Lies

22 Feb

I’m reading Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolks, The Body Keeps the Score, and wow, is it an eye opener!  I’m having lightbulb moments in every chapter. It’s SO interesting to me that I’m furiously skipping whole big swaths of info on soldiers with PTSD (I can go back) and brain chemistry (I can go back) and just following his trail of crumbs on why I have so often felt lost and frozen.

It also got me thinking a lot about how we accept lies – really, really OLD lies about who we are and how we are. So I’m taking a rainy afternoon to create a little art journal to document the lies I’ve been carrying around. Lies like: I’m bad at math. I AM bad at arithmetic and I know why. My brain was too busy in third grade trying to survive my embattled home life that I had no room for memorizing my times tables. I have however, managed to make a good living (since I was 17) and save a decent amount and create financial security. (So, no, you’re wrong mother, I’m not bad at math.)

If you’ve read or are reading my book, Toxic Mom Toolkit, you know that you’re allowed to do creative things to process your feelings about growing up with a super toxic mom. I think combining scientific reading with art journaling will be transformative. And I wanted to mention it to you in case you have been looking for a creative way to process your feelings, too. 34ba5db3b512b172222c4865bce4080a



Toxic Mom Toolkit on Grief: A Passage or a Prison?

10 Feb

A dear church friend of mine died this past weekend and I’m grieving. She was a Sunday school teacher for many years. She loved to sing and taught so many children their hymns. All the children, teens, even the kids away at college, were devastated by the news of her passing. I find my eyes filling up with tears while I’m driving. I have to grab a tissue 20 times a day. For the past few days, any thought of my church family carries a sad weight. And yet, I know that in a few weeks or months, I will reflect on her life and think only good thoughts. Her memory will very likely inspire me to do more for our church and I’m sure there will be many times that I quietly, anonymously do things at church in her memory. Grief is a sad dark tunnel, but eventually you walk out into the sunshine again.

As children, our goldfish introduce us to grief. A few hours or days of remembering our pet naturally morphs into appreciation for all animals and our role in caring for them. If we forgot to feed our fish, we may suffer longer. But if a good old fish turned up floating, it was simply sad. We get through it.

And then our hearts are broken in puppy love, re-introducing grief. Perhaps one of our grandparents passes. Then a beloved teacher is suddenly swept away and our families and friends talk about loss and grief and introduce the idea of respecting each person’s unique life and our personal timetables for grief.

In adulthood, the loss of a child or a spouse or sibling is a great grief and the sympathy we receive never seems to outlast our grief. But there is an understanding that even in the worst grief, there is a turning point. Even a widow is allowed her long grieving and then we are happy for her should she remarry and rebuild a happy life.

And yet, for the adult children of toxic mothers, the grief over existing with an unloving mother is indefinite. As long as your toxic mother is living, you can feel that you are in a state of perpetual grief. When she is cruel to you, you may experience periods of deep, low-functioning grief. Or your mother grief may feel more like a low-grade flu that never ends. Grief often includes a feeling that you need to stop in your tracks; that you shouldn’t make plans; shouldn’t plan fun things. It can become a foundational feeling of great sadness that keeps you from feeling you deserve happy plans, fun trips or get-togethers with friends.

That’s why it’s important to ask yourself: When do I decide to trade in grief — over my childhood, over the stress of my current relationship with my mother, over the pervasive feeling of being cheated of a mother’s love — for hope? When do I leave my sad, dark mindset and walk into the sunshine of living my life?

If a Sunday School student had come to my late friend and expressed deep grief, she may have pointed to Matthew 5:4, Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Are you ready to consider comforting yourself regarding your toxic mom? Is your grief about your toxic mom a passage or a prison? Could you imagine the luxury of giving up your toxic mom grief?

New & Improved 20 Questions

29 Sep

646519fd86182814bdd38313fe33cb3fOne of the very first things I did when I started writing Toxic Mom Toolkit was to design a brief questionnaire to help me collect real stories of growing up with a super toxic mother. Many of the mini-memoir chapters in my book started with an email from someone brave enough to take the survey and then send it back to me.

Right now I am collecting surveys from men for a book crafted specifically for male survivors of toxic parenting and I still need more stories. But I was also recently reminded of how therapeutic it can be for people to fill these out — so I decided to mesh the original and the men’s survey and fine-tune the original 20 Questions and re-issue it. It is important to me to keep learning about our community and these questionnaires capture so many things that would never be included in a quick conversation, email or Facebook post.

If you would like to fill one out, I would love to read it.  They are for my eyes only and are confidential. If I decide I’d like to use yours to create a chapter for my new book for guys, I will ask your permission. As a writer, I need to know who you are really, but you can remain anonymous and we can change names, locations, etc. to protect the guilty parties.

So here is the 2016 edition of 20 Questions Every Adult Child of a Toxic Mom Should Ask Themselves:

20 Questions for Adult Children of Toxic Mothers

Your name:

Your age:

Contacts: Email & Phone:

Your location/Country & City:

Please email your completed survey to


Your Story Matters!

  1. Tell us about you. What year where you born and where does your birth fit in among siblings? Please provide a basic description of your parents/family. Did your family grow through adoption or foster placement?
  2. Tell me the story of how your parents met.
  3. Tell me about each of your parent’s teen years and what their parents did for a living. Include any unusual relationships within the family that are pertinent to your family life today.
  4. Describe the arc of your academic and professional life to present. What is your current occupation? If you volunteer in your community, how often? Doing what?
  5. Describe the relationship with your mother in three segments: as a child, a teen and young adult.
  6. How old were you when you first realized your mother was different than other mothers?
  7. What is your biggest criticism of your mother?
  8. What would she criticize about you?
  9. Describe any significant periods of estrangement. How easy (or difficult) was it to limit (or cut off) contact?
  10. How has your relationship with your mother affected your relationships with others?
  11. How many friends can you really talk to about your mother?
  12. Describe your current family status. Do you have children? If not, why not?
  13. Tell me about your occupation, why you chose it. Tell me about your hobbies.
  14. How many siblings do you have? Are you close or estranged? Why?
  15. Describe your current relationship with your mother. Given your current levels of contact how are you viewed within your family?
  16. Have you ever talked to a therapist about your mother? Was it helpful?
  17. Moving forward, do you anticipate any changes in your view of your mother?
  18. Do you experience personal guilt, social guilt or remorse about decisions you’ve made regarding your mother?
  19. As your mother ages, do you see yourself having more or less contact? Why?
  20. Tell me what your ACES score is/just the number. Please make a note of your ACES score at the top of the first page. Here is a link to the test:

Thank you!



Toxic Mom Toolkit Crowns “Uninvited” by Lysa TerKeurst

24 Sep

205876Yes, Lysa TerKeurst is a New York Times best-selling author and President of Proverbs 31 Ministries, and she’s funny, but I like her and her new book, “Uninvited” anyway. Her latest book, written from her sticky kitchen table in North Carolina, focuses on that particularly odd – hard to put your finger on – feeling of being less than, left out and lonely.

Not that she doesn’t have some fun with it.

Yes, she wants to be a bigger person about those feelings but sometimes she will admit her jealousy of the other author chosen over her for conferences. That the other author has a thigh gap on her book jacket cover and Lysa’s own shots are always of her sideways… well… maybe that’s just a coincidence. Her most successful way out of the crummy feeling pit she often works up a sweat digging, is through careful study of the Bible. Won’t work for every reader – I confess to flapping past earnest pages of verse – but there were moments when her broken heart fit perfectly into a line from Psalms and my eyes teared up with recognition.

Her strongest chapters focus on recognizing, and therefore, not letting one past rejection bleed into the rest of your life. Sounds easy, but I hungrily read that material several times.

This is a very personal book. Many authors attempt to “talk” to the reader, but TerKeurst speaks to you WHILE holding your hand AND straightening your hair out of your eyes AND finishes up with a too-long hug. By the end of the book it all feels very natural. I’m pretty sure that if I met her at a conference — me standing alone in one corner — and her standing alone in the other – I might actually end up going over and inviting her to an empty table where we could both make jokes about who is the dorkiest loner.

I’m happy to award this book a Toxic Mom Toolkit crown. I hope the people who would be helped by this book, find this book. You can find it on Amazon, in print, Kindle and audio editions.