Archive | October, 2015

Toxic Mom Toolkit: The Key to Unlocking Family Secrets

30 Oct

de0abd008850fb6bb344a2d280c7997aIf you’re like me you probably have a manila file folder where you keep that one ultra-complete and detail-filled work resume. Maybe you applied for a government job and it required not only your jobs and titles, but your many home addresses, too.

Complete records of our comings and goings in life are hard to come by and if something happened to that record, piecing it back together would be a real chore. It has value as a personal document and that’s why I keep it in a safe place, where I can retrieve or refer to it when I need to. You probably have something like that too.

So, why wouldn’t you want to have a similar record of your mother’s life?

As a retired newspaper reporter, I value timelines. They turn confusing stories into understandable narratives. They illuminate twists and turns. And I feel strongly that any topic in which you are interested can be illuminated with a simple timeline.

Creating Family Timelines 

When I began working on Toxic Mom Toolkit, the first thing I did was create individual timelines for each of my mothers: my awful birth mother, my horrible adopted mother and my wonderful stepmother. Then I merged them to create my mother history.

The adult children of toxic mothers can learn a lot from family timelines. They help us fill in the holes of our family history and pathologies. If your maternal line has a distinct pattern of crazy women giving birth to sane women, wouldn’t you want to know into which generation you fall? Also, very often, toxic maternal behaviors are handed down like good silverware, starting with the great-grandmother who abandoned a daughter with her mother, who abandoned her daughter, and so on, and so on, right up to you.

Themes may emerge. It is not uncommon for maternal lines to have a history of calling their daughters liars, especially on the topic of sexual abuse. With the paternal line, a habit of skipping out after the baby comes can often be tracked back for multiple generations.

Understanding why your mother behaves the way she does starts with an understanding of what happened to her in a step-by-step chronological order – in other words, with a timeline.

How to start?

First, pull your own legal documents and look at them like you’ve never seen them before. Review your own birth certificate and look at everything like Sherlock Holmes would. Who was the doctor? What city and county sealed the document? Look for the tiny boxes, where the mother indicates the order of her children. Where there children before you of which you were unaware, growing up? What are your mother’s parent’s legal names? Where did they live? What was the address that they took you home to? If you don’t have your own birth certificate, get it.

Public documents, which include birth certificates and marriage and divorce records, are a good place to continue your research. If you live near your mother, or where she grew up, you can go down to the Office of the Registrar in the city or county government center and request these documents for a low fee. They will include and confirm the name of her parents, if she had been married or had children previously and may refer you to divorce decrees, lawsuits, or family obituaries. You have a right to this material. If anyone asks, the simplest answer to why you need it is: family history.

Once you have confirmed your mother’s birthdate and birth city, you can move forward at your own pace, collecting information that may reveal unknown siblings (or siblings put up for adoption before you were born), and the identities of extended family.

Most people are born; go to grammar school, high school, a trade school or college. Follow that line. You can go to the high school and look at the yearbook for your mother’s class year. I don’t care how old she is, the school keeps them in the library.

A pregnancy lasts 39 weeks. Look at the marriage license and compare it to your own birth certificate. There is no shame in a quick marriage based on the blessing of a baby, but was this a pattern with your mother? Did she marry only to divorce quickly thereafter? Without judgment, you deserve to know the facts.

In general, most young women marry before 30; generally, they have jobs, careers, and may change marital partners along the way. By their 50’s, they are losing elder relatives and may benefit from wills or trusts (all public documents).

If your mother was born or lives in another country, you may be able to request documents, or you may need to talk to old friends of hers or elder relatives. You may never want to miss a family funeral again!

Creating a timeline overrides all the secrets your toxic mother had assumed she could enforce. And it’s an important part of taking ownership of your life story. It’s an important part of your own healing.

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Toxic Mom Toolkit on Boundaries: If Any Other Adult…

10 Oct

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If any other adult treated you the way your Toxic Mother treats you,

what would you do?

Think of the office colleague who rolls her eyes at your suggestions in meetings, but later re-presents them to praise from management — how do you behave socially with that person?

The gym rat who asks you about your weight and diet and then snickers a little when you say you are focusing on your overall health — how much interaction do you really want?

The ex-spouse or former in-laws who are tracking you for slip-ups, who are constantly checking with mutual friends to pick up any sort of dirt about your life – when do you need to spend time near or with them?

If another adult treated you in such a way that you sought private psychological therapy to recover your emotional equilibrium and sense of personal power — would you still take their calls?

A reasonable person would consider limiting contact with anyone who demonstrates that they don’t value you as a person. If they have undermined, lied, cheated, spread gossip or have generally tried to hurt you, chances are you’d think, “I really need to limit my contact with him/her.”

On a personal, romantic or family level, another adult who lied, cheated, and gossiped about you wouldn’t be surprised if you needed a break from the drama, or even decided to break it off completely.

If the neighbors called the cops, because you were suffering as a victim of domestic violence, the doctors, cops, and counselors you met would give you tons of information on hotlines, therapists and safe houses. They would support you in making a break while protecting your children.

And yet, when your own mother is hurtful, vindictive, manipulative, a liar, thief, or creator of super high drama and emotional chaos, to the point of you questioning your own sanity, value and future, there is often a thoughtful period of wondering what to do about it.

If we reach out to friends who don’t know our mothers very well, there can be an unspoken assumption that underneath all the bad behavior, our mothers truly love us. To someone who has never witnessed the wrath of a toxic mother, the handholding often includes suggestions of talking it out or forgiving her.

Often, there is a prolonged period of investigation trying to figure out if our mother’s behavior can be linked to her own childhood. We wonder if they have suffered trauma, have emotional or mental issues. Could her own health or use of medications be making her behave so badly, even and up to causing many sleepless nights wondering if there is an unknowable period of time when others are just allowed to behave badly?

Could her cruelty towards you just be a SIDE ISSUE related to her:

Recent divorce;

Job stress;

Money issues;

Loss of a loved one;

Fears over aging;

Caring for an aging parent;

Caring for children or grandchildren;

Loneliness;

Drug use; or

Religious beliefs?

A great deal of time can be wasted trying to sort the why of it out. Sometimes it’s safer to wait and wonder, instead of protecting yourself.

It’s funny what happens when you change your perspective.

c2e26070c580a328b02de6ee9228f064Let’s say, your toxic mother drove to your house when you weren’t there and left you a gift, a seasonal potted plant, on the front porch. While she was there, she went through the mail sitting in your mailbox, circled the house looking in all the windows, and tried all exterior doors and sliders to see if maybe one was open.

She might have looked through a window to check and see if your sink was clean or your carpets were vacuumed. Maybe she sat on your stoop or patio furniture for a while, smoking, and left a few butts on the ground. Or perhaps she spoke to your neighbors, asking them what time you left and when might you be home again?

Let’s say all that happened one day, but instead of your mother, let’s say a co-worker did that. Or the lady from the gym. How would you feel about it then?

And let’s take it a step further.

What if someone did all that and your home security caught it all on video. Or your neighbors told you they watched it and thought about calling the police, but didn’t want to get involved or get someone you knew in trouble.

You get home and learn of this visit, discover the potted plant, sweep up the cigarette butts off the patio and you don’t like it, but really, is it a big deal? Maybe it’s not such a big deal of your mom did that? But it would be a little creepy if a co-worker or gym friend or neighbor did that.

Then you notice that your home phone has recorded messages. What if there were more than ten multiple angry messages asking where you where, when would you be home and why you hadn’t made time to thank the visitor for the lovely plant?

In an angrier and angrier voice the person describes how he/she went to a store, picked out a plant, drove it over to your house, was concerned that you weren’t home, couldn’t get into your home and had to sit outside (in the cold) and now, you haven’t even found a minute to call and thank them?

* * *

Why make excuses when your toxic mother does stuff like that?

If any other adult did something like that, you’d probably tell them off, warn them if they ever did something like that again, you’ll call the police and then have no qualms about following through, wouldn’t you?

So why does your mother get a pass, year after year? If any other adult treated you that way, you wouldn’t waste any time agonizing over what was going on in their life, in their head, you’d just figure out how to keep them away from them.

And one last thing.

What if while you were gone and your toxic mom was snooping around your house, your 11-year-old daughter was upstairs doing her homework with ear buds in her ears? What would you tell your daughter to do if she called and said Granny was outside, knocking on the kitchen window?

The next time your Toxic Mom invades your space without warning and says or does things that are hurtful, upsetting or frightening, ask yourself, if any other adult acted this way, what would I do?

Then do that.