Eat, Pray, Cope: What Kind of Toxic Mom Do You Have?

23 Dec

How many conversations have you had with your family; how many books have you read; how many movies have you watched hoping for a few moments of enlightenment when it comes to dealing with your toxic mom?

As daughters of toxic mothers sometimes it feels like all we do is eat, pray and cope.

My dream of writing a book about surviving toxic moms will include plenty of stories on coping and directions to rich resources, like Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook. If you’re looking for help figuring out why your mom acts the way she does, I want to introduce you to a wonderful book.

Coping with your Difficult Older Parent: a Guide for Stressed-Out Children by social workers Grace Lebow and Barbara Kane (with Irwin Lebow) was published in 1999 by Quill (Harper Collins). This slim volume offers tons of information to help you decode your mother’s behavior. It also provides great information on warding off arguments, stress and guilt.

Not sure what “type” of difficult mom you’ve got?

The book includes a short multiple choice questionnaire. Maybe it’ll warm you up for my “Confessions of an Undutiful Daughter ” questionnaire found in my previous column “Got a Dream? Ask for Help.”

Here’s the link: Got A Dream? Ask For Help

And yes, I’m still collecting them; still want them.

Coping with your Difficult Older Parent ” was written by elder-care experts with the goal of educating the reader on typical problems and workable solutions. They stress kindness and communication but emphasize setting boundaries and taking care of oneself first in order to be there for a parent. They regularly recommend limiting contact, hiring helpers, making unpopular decisions (like taking dad’s car keys or moving mom into a retirement home) with step-by-step scenarios.

Instead of eating ice cream next time your toxic mom drives you to Crazy Town, try gobbling up the wisdom in these chapters.

I can’t say enough nice things about this smart book especially for those of you who would prefer to maintain some kind of relationship with a toxic mother. Here’s your guidebook.

The book commences with descriptions of basic types of difficult parents, which can help the daughters of toxic mothers get a handle on what they are dealing with. (Sometimes we are so close to our mothers we cannot see what kind of people they really are.)

The categories put forth by Lebow & Kane include:

The Dependent, The Black & White, The Negative, The Self-Centered/Vain, The Controller, The Self-Abusive/Depressed, The Fearful, and The Mourning parent.

Do you ever pray for wisdom when dealing with your mother?

How would you deal with The Dependent (or an insanely clinging and guilt inducing) mother?

Whatever you do…

  • “Don’t get angry and give your parent hell. It makes both of you feel worse and solves nothing.”
  • “Recognize that deep down your parent feels miserable. These feelings are what are at the root of difficult behaviors.”
  • “Don’t try to reason with your parent. Her behavior is not rational. Decide ahead of time what you can and cannot do.”

A lot of us with toxic mothers think of them as negative. Lebow and Kane say you can manage a black mood mama.

  • “Keep your visits with a negative parent short.”
  • “Avoid the trap of doing things with and for your parent that are most likely to bring out her negativity. Pick activities that are most pleasurable for her and for you.”
  • “Try to keep from becoming negative yourself. Negativity is contagious.”

This is the type of little self-help book that you can read in an evening or in a few minutes dig out the bits that apply to you. It’s obvious in every page that the authors know their stuff, want good outcomes for all parties and encourage readers to do the work they must to have the best family relationships possible.

Have you read a book that you can recommend to your fellow readers? That’s what the “comments” section is for. See it there? Down at the bottom? We’re all looking for answers so if you have a great book recommendation, please share.

One thing that really stuck with me while reading this book was Lebow and Kane’s theory that so many difficult parents are actually victims of their own limitations; a concept that might help you attain some level of sympathy for a toxic mother.

It could happen!

The authors acknowledge that many people have to face a simple truth:

“Giving up the hope that your parent will one day show you more acceptance and love is an extremely painful experience.”


2 Responses to “Eat, Pray, Cope: What Kind of Toxic Mom Do You Have?”

  1. d.m.o. March 5, 2012 at 5:42 am #

    I can read these books only for so long, then I have to get away from them for a bit. I think confronting too many intense emotions gets too much. So it’s taking me awhile to get through this (and other) books in dealing with the TM. So my advice is to take them in one bite at a time and digest it at your own speed.

    I abandoned prayer and religion long ago. I prayed for resolutions or at least the strength to deal with the problems and all I ended up with was no change or more troubles. So, if prayer works for you, great. If it doesn’t, don’t beat yourself down over the fact it doesn’t help you. Keep searching.

    Yes, “Giving up the hope that your parent will one day show you more acceptance and love is an extremely painful experience.” So true and wise. Once you realize that, you can begin to move on. If only I had the wisdom to realize this long, long ago…

  2. d.m.o. March 5, 2012 at 6:45 am #

    Be prepared for consequences when attempting some of the advice you come across in dealing with those Toxic Mothers: I’d like to relate an experience I had with my TM when attempting to cut a visit short around 7 years ago which was typical of the shrapnel involved with setting boundaries with her. I had written it down because it was so ridiculous, I wanted it for reference later (for analysis? enlightenment? venting purposes? all of the above?)

    I worked long days at a job I really didn’t like so I was drained by the weekend. Saturdays I needed for chores and errands: laundry, cleaning, store, paying bills, etc. so Sundays, my TM insisted I spend with her. I acquiesced partly because my dad and brother had died, so I was the only nearby relative left. I couldn’t handle a whole day with her plus I wanted time to do some art (which is really what I wanted to do full time), so I spent my Sunday evenings there having dinner with her and leaving around 11 p.m. I was so burned out on her TMness and everything in general, I decided to cut my evening “short” and leave at 10 p.m. instead of 11. My hope was to start leaving a little earlier each week despite knowing this would be a challenge.

    Around 9:30 p.m. I announced I was going to be leaving earlier because I was tired and had a lot to do at home. My TM gave me 3rd degree hell about leaving a little earlier. I realize now that actually spending less time with her wasn’t the real issue. It was the fact I had made the decision to cut the visit short and that initiative to change something she had dictated is what threw her into a tizzy.

    She demanded to know exactly what it was that I needed to do that was “so important.” She literally demanded an itemized list, which I dutifully (um, stupidly) did.When I mentioned paperwork, she demanded more details. “What paperwork?!” (medical prescription claims, etc.) That didn’t satisfy her. She exclaimed “Well, this is pretty early. You NEVER leave this early.” Let me remind you, it’s almost 10 p.m. at this point.

    She starts with her bag of tricks and uses all the stall tactics she can come up with: Finding notes with news info she had jotted down, old papers she’d run across, reading letters she had gotten (that she had read to me before), coupons that she thought I could use. When I edge towards the door, I tell her I have to get going and she yells, “ALL RIGHT!!!” and takes the dog’s leash out of my hands and walks my dog… past my car! She continues to walk the dog and again I have to remind her I have to leave. She takes her time coming back to the car, letting my dog sniff everything and stalling for more time. She tries to distract me by pointing out the plants at the apartment complex, and stories about the neighbors. Again I remind her I have to go. Then she resorts to talking to the dog to get across her anger at me. “Why does your mommy have to leave so early? What does she have to do that’s so important?! This is too early, isn’t it!”

    I go to kiss mother on the cheek goodbye and she quickly turns her head away to avoid the kiss. I get in the car to drive away and she’s still not done with the zingers. She tells me there will probably be more traffic on the road what with leaving SO EARLY.”

    After I get home, I call her to let her know I arrived safely. She finishes with, “Well, I bet there was a lot more traffic out there with leaving so early.” I said it was the usual amount of traffic.

    Many years ago I told my mother that it was a miracle I was as sane as I was. She laughed it off. She either didn’t realize I wasn’t joking or didn’t want to admit it.

    Thank you for listening to another crazy TM experience in my life.

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