Tag Archives: bad mom

Paris Calling Toxic Mom Toolkit

20 Dec

135319163774557788_UXJANyPs_bOne night I was curled up on my couch with a book and my little old dog in my lap when my cell phone erupted.The caller I.D. simply gave what looked like 20 odd numbers in neon digits. Feeling brave I clicked through and man with a charming French accent explained that he was calling Rayne, the founder of Tox-eek Mom Tool-keet — from Paris.

“Really?” I gushed. (Really – does any other word inspire such awe as Paris?)

He was quite concerned about a younger sibling living in the United States. It seemed that their toxic mother created such severe drama that there was concern for the well being of his brother.

Of course, I was concerned too. Concerned he had my private cell phone number. I had to ask him where he got it.

“It’s there on your website, really. I didn’t do anything bad to find it, but if you go back into how you set up your page, it’s there,” he explained earnestly. He went on to say that he was so relieved to find something on the Internet that seemed to address the exact problem he was worried about. He calculated the difference between time zones and he crossed his fingers that I’d be home in the evening after dinner time.

“I watched the hours. I really hoped I could speak to you.”

Which got me thinking of how many thousands of newspaper articles I’ve written that included my desk number and, who knows, might have linked to my cell phone. Does it really matter?

We had a long chat. He was so grateful to just have a sounding board. I offered some suggestions and we collaboratively created a short list of helpful things that could be done immediately. Before I hung up I complimented him on the obvious love and concern he had for his brother. It was really sweet. I made him blush.

Regular followers of Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook know that I tend to post first thing in the morning before I head out for my day’s activities. Quite often, “friends” who can “see” I’m online send instant messages in the lower right hand corner of my computer screen. Usually, they are messages of thanks or updates on particular toxic mom situations. Sometimes they make me laugh. Sometimes they require that we chit-chat electronically back and forth for a few minutes. I’m always happy to make myself available that way.

People have asked me to Skype and that’s where I draw the line. Only because women of a certain age who look like me should never Skype unless they own a Judy Jetson mask.

89720217546707539_HEJuPPmo_bAs Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook recently topped 100,000 people reached per month I noticed a few more urgent requests for phone conversations. My attitude is if I have time and someone feels they are in crisis, I’m available as long as its on the caller’s bill. (The entire Toxic Mom Toolkit operating budget is skimmed off of my grocery budget and my husband expects beer.)

It seems more and more often the stars align for these long distance conversations and my phone rings in Northern California and I put down laundry I’m folding.

It doesn’t hurt that my journalism career taught me to shut up and listen. Or that I’ve collected hundreds of life stories and conducted years of interviews on the topic of surviving toxic moms. Five years as a law enforcement chaplain trained me to accept everyone without that impulse to fix anything. Like you even can. Listening. Hearing. Repeating. Agreeing. Suggesting. Offering similar tales from others. Encouraging. That, I can do.

One sunny morning there was a call from a young woman, very upset at the sudden realization that for her entire life her mother had made it her business to be cold and unkind – but only to her and only in private. She offered many examples and stressed that the worst venom was always delivered in private. How could a mother single out a child to abuse, she asked over and over. Could it possibly be true that her mother would never accept her in a loving manner no matter how many kind gestures the adult daughter offered? The telephone line hissed and crackled as we spoke and I stretched out on our guest bed, looking at the ceiling imagining the cell phone waves rising up out of my 1970’s ranch home to a space satellite and blinking back down into an ancient city built on the pearl trade and sustained in modern times by oil. Was I really helping someone in the Middle East? Yes, I was.

279152876872500112_HLBA4gWB_bThese calls boggle my mind.

How can one person at their kitchen table be able to calm and encourage someone half-way across the globe? I guess it helps if you are earnest and honest and can identify with all the confusion and hurt and sadness. That I am upbeat and encouraging makes others brave.

I know after we hang up, the callers go back to the Toxic Mom Toolkit Facebook page and they read, read, read. I see them lurking in the stats. A few from the island of Mauritius. That nice lady in northern England. My friends in southern Italy. The writer in Iceland. Every story of crisis and the lines of support from other people create a platform for examining their own mother/son/daughter relationships. Is the passive aggressive mother in the deep south so different from the angry alcoholic mother in Central America? Are personal boundaries as necessary in Peru as in Poland? Visitors from different continents and countries, speaking different languages, all wade in like gold miners swishing the stories around in a shallow pan looking for that nugget that will help them find peace, or at least a visit home without a screaming match.

Callers may not always find exactly what they want in that moment but they do discover that they are not alone. They see that it took many, many people to create such a wealth of helpful information and resources and that they, too, can contribute. They gain perspective and start viewing their family story as a story. And then, if they are lucky, they decide to be the hero of that story.

Five Tips To Save Your Siblings From Your Toxic Mom

17 Nov

So many adult daughters of very toxic mothers struggle with the challenge of blocking or breaking contact with their mothers at the risk of losing contact with their younger siblings.

Yesterday, in the comments section of an earlier Toxic Mom Toolkit Post entitled “Ten Reasons Adult Daughters Stay Connected to Toxic Mothers” I told someone this:

You are not the first to face this problem. So many daughters of toxic mothers struggle to be good daughters and sisters. It’s just natural to want to help your family. Of course, you are concerned about your younger siblings and no doubt your Toxic Mom will use them as pawns to keep you close. If she sees you doing well she may say you cannot contact your siblings – another power play to hurt you.

May I suggest that you sit down with a piece of paper and make two columns: What will happen to my siblings if I stay & What will happen to my siblings if I go.

Can we really make such an important decision based on a comparative list? I think so.

What’s important is being honest with yourself about what you are deciding.

I told this poster: It doesn’t sound like you are running away from problems. You sound like you’ve given this good thought and you’re not being super emotional about it (although I know it must be so hard to think of leaving).

The best thing you can do for younger siblings is set an example of how an adult deals with difficult family members. You can leave your mother’s home and still stay connected to your siblings and support them by talking on the phone, making time for them for face-to-face time, encouraging them with school and other commitments.

Your siblings will see that it is possible to live without the mamma drama. If your side-by-side lists make you really afraid for your siblings, you might consider talking to their school counselors or arranging for them to have mentors at school or other support. They need to know that it’s not them, that it’s your mother who creates problems. They need a mature adult figure to look up to for strength. That’s what you can do for them as you start building an independent life. You will be in my thoughts. I’m proud of you for figuring this out at such a young age. Be Brave.

I loved her quickly posted response:

Thank you so much for your reply, I will sit down and construct two lists. I’ll find a way to contact my siblings when I leave, I just hope they won’t be turned against me and if they are (at least) they might understand why I left in the future.

I also suggested that this young woman put that list in an envelope, seal it, date it and keep it. If down the road a sibling accuses this person of just disappearing and leaving them in their mother’s clutches, at least this list can be spread out on the kitchen table. It might be the platform for a healing discussion.

If you must cut contact with your Toxic Mom how can you let your younger siblings know you are there for them?

  • Encourage and support their dreams.
  • Find ways to communicate your commitment to helping them. You could give them a special token, visit them at school or sports events, or mail “no reason” cards to express your love for them.
  • Plan face-to-face time. Show your kid sister how to try new make up at a department store. Buy tickets for a sports event for your brother. Or take them both to a free concert.
  • Special outings don’t have to be expensive. Visit a library or take them out for cocoa on a frosty day.
  • If your contact is limited, never miss an opportunity to express your love and support. Look into their eyes and tell them you know how hard it is and that you are there for them.

If you show your siblings that they matter and that they deserve to be happy that’s enough. They may not understand everything now but instilling confidence and showing them they are valued is what you can do for them now.

Toxic Mom Toolkit – The Book – Sneak Peek

8 Oct

Here is a sneak peek at a chapter from Toxic Mom Toolkit. The book is finished and I am beginning the process of figuring out how to get it published.

CALL OUT THE GURKHAS

Jen and I were having our monthly eggs Benedict brunch (my eggs hard as golf balls, hers not so much) when she asked me what I’d do if I won the lottery. The newspaper headlines were trumpeting a huge jackpot.

I happen to have given this a lot of thought. I’ve even written out my “to do” list, should my winning numbers come up. In previous daydreams I had concluded that it all comes down to world travel.

Say you win $100 million. First you pay your bills, and then you pay the bills of those you love. Then you buy a house or two and have some shared experiences with loved ones to recall with a sigh when you’re old and in a wheelchair. But after that shower of riches, it really boils down to the ability to go see whatever you want.

The Vatican on Easter Sunday? Amen. Front row seats at the Paris Opera, gazing at the shimmering Aurora Borealis in Norway  or the running of the bulls in Pamplona?

Easy-breezy-peezy – with millions.

Jen agreed I had a point. So where would I go with my Lotto winnings she wanted to know.

“Oh, I wouldn’t go anywhere, that’s for normal people. What I’d do is build a small suite onto our house and hire a Gurkha houseman,” I said. “I’ve wanted a Gurkha houseman in a white jacket all my life.”

Nepalese Gurkha’s have fought alongside the British for hundreds of years and are considered among the bravest and most loyal fighting men on earth. When they retire from military service many work as bodyguards or house managers to those with security concerns, I explained as I tested the denseness of my egg yolk.

Jen’s eyes bugged out.

As a fellow undutiful daughter she knew that any story blurted out like that certainly had something to do with my toxic mother.

She grabbed the edge of the marble café table and said, “Tell!”

*  *  *

When I was little and the doorbell rang at our San Francisco flat my mother would grab me from behind – one arm around my tiny waist and the other over my mouth – and clutch me to her own chest, dragging me backwards to the hall coat closet.

She’d inch deeper into the space quieter than a cat to hunch in a corner behind the second-hand vacuum cleaner.

Is there anything worse than seeing nothing when your eyes are wide open in fear? With our faces smushed against musty woolen coats we’d wait until the coast was clear.

Yeah, I know. Who’s mother does this even once?

As an adult I can guess she was afraid of something.

Was the rent overdue? Was my mother avoiding man complications?  Was it the truant officer?

I’ll never know for sure.

But I do know for the little kid who still resides in my brain: Nothing is scarier than a doorbell.

Not too long after I confessed my closet story to Jen, The Mister and I bought our current house. Married for eight years, it wasn’t until we moved into the new house that my husband realized I avoided answering the door. He asked me why. (Dang, he’s so logical!)

Learning that I was carrying around my mother’s inexplicable fear of door bells he devised a regime of nearly constant random doorbell ringing and timed me on my responses. He briefed and encouraged neighbors and friends to pop in as often as possible.

What started as a two- to three-minute ordeal of looking out windows, through peepholes and smelling the crack for danger was whittled down to one super charged moment of dread as I flung open our front door expecting to be impaled with a rusty pitchfork. Yes, he successfully desensitized me but truth be told, I’d still pay someone to greet visitors.

Lotto gods willing, some day I’ll hire my own Gurkha.

You never know, one day it could be my birth mother on my stoop and I’ll be glad there’s a hired killer in my employ between us.

Toxic Mom Toolkit: Thoughts While Editing – Time is Short

27 Jun

I always wanted to write a book. In grade school I carried around small leather-bound classics hoping I’d impress my teachers and schoolmates. I wanted them to think that I understood Dickens and Twain when I was EIGHT.

I could always imagine my name on a best-seller list. But for writing what?

It was brave of me to leave my newspaper job to write this book. As I dedicated myself to the writing effort, blogging about it and building an online community, I learned to truly trust my husband, the universe, and myself. It was one of the most difficult and ultimately rewarding journeys of my adult life.

Accepting that I was simply doing what was right for me was a huge leap of faith. At each transition the next step rose up to meet me. Choosing to forget about what others thought was crucial for me. It was very hard.

Of course, I had doubts all the way through. I remember wondering what former colleagues and co-workers thought. To some, I was weird enough to begin with. Were they poking fun at my efforts? Was I too obsessed with my childhood? Was I propping myself as an expert on a non-topic? Was I inventing a passion to have something to do? The chatter raged in my brain. But eventually, it died down allowing space for quiet contemplation.

I remembered, time is so short.

I travelled back in time and studied my life, the life of my parents and relations and I wrote it all down.  I remembered how I earned my courage. I was ready to tell readers about it.

That I signed up with 8WomenDream.com and wrote my little heart out on the topic of toxic moms for an entire year is pretty astounding to me now. I found my focus early on and I trusted that readers got it. At Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook we grew from the 30 or so “likes” I needed to start my stats to nearly 60,000 people reached around the world each month.

As I got to know my followers in the U.S., Australia, Japan, the Middle East and Europe, I began to think of my book as a wonderful life form that needed me as its midwife. On days when it was too hard I worked anyway on blind faith. If I had to tell myself I could have chocolate after writing a chapter, that was okay. I’m sure plenty of surgeons imagine cocktails or golf or other rewards waiting for them when the nurses take over the suturing.

As I racked up chapters, I taught myself to embrace the work joyfully even if I’d rather be doing anything else.

The very last bits included stories of sexual abuse. Feeling sickened I stalled and stalled and stalled, not wanting to welcome my own abuser back into my head. I was cranky and tired and a pain to live with. An emotional war raged in my head. I dreaded and resented having to revisit these events, yet I had to. I had kicked these stories out of my head long ago and even a brief visit made me dizzy with sadness.

My husband complained about my attitude.

“I’m walking around with my abuser in my head right now so you’ll just have to forgive me,” I told him.

“Don’t think about it,” he suggested.

“The problem is, I can’t kick him out again until I write the whole story and I can’t decide how much of the story I can live with out in the world. How much? How much? How deep? It’s a struggle,” I replied.

Our eyes met. Enough said.

I married a man who expects great things from me. Sometimes I can do things to impress him that I can’t do for myself. That I finished this book is in great part due to his complete faith that I would.

As I edit and shape and clean up I’m realizing that his book taught me to value my dreams, make room for them, and commit time and energy to them without apologies. Time is so short.

TOXIC MOM TOOLKIT: WHEN FOUR ACES IS A LOSING HAND

1 Jun

If you follow my Toxic Mom Toolkit Facebook page you know that I have finished the first draft of my book and that I’m editing chapters. I was thinking how valuable this chapter is and thought I’d put it up here. I hope this is helpful to you.

 TOXIC MOM TOOLKIT:

        ACES – Adverse Childhood Experiences

 

I’m not a scientist, nor will I ever play one on T.V.

In fact, I am SO not a scientist for many reasons including extreme medical squeamishness and an empty folder in my brain where my multiplication tables should reside. But I’ve long thought I should have some scientific perspective to help illuminate the fallout from toxic mothering or some really smart analysis of how children are negatively affected.

How do people sort out how much their toxic mothers negatively affect their adult lives?

Ask the universe and it will come to you.

I met a new friend for coffee. This man happens to be a saintly sort, the director of a very interesting and progressive homeless shelter in the town where I live. A former attorney, he comes across as part professor, part priest, all compassionate caring. Which, couldn’t be more different than my first impression of “looks good on the outside” but “emotionally limping” on the inside.

I decided not to hold his brains and confidence against him. Maybe I could learn something.

He’s the one that introduced me to the exact information I sought in the form of a Kaiser Hospital study in which patients were asked a series of questions for a project that focused on Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACES.

In a nutshell, the study focuses on how the number of ACES one experiences in youth can be a point of calibration to predict emotional problems that could be serious in adulthood. My friend values the study as a way to look at the causes of homelessness, which is often the result of emotional turmoil or hopelessness. Sessions for homeless clients that utilize this measuring tool are taking place at my local shelter and the feedback has been positive.

I, on the other hand, immediately valued the scientific study of taking a person’s life story and pulling out the ACES as a way of exploring what daughters of toxic mother’s experience. I like that by clicking off a page of questions a person could really see objectively that damage was indeed inflicted.

I ran straight home and found the study online and the questionnaire and found that I scored 5 on this test. I knew from my coffee chat that anything over a four ACES was considered the tipping point for bad things including a high risk for becoming homeless.

You can find even more information about this study at: http://www.seclinicatcots.org/page12/page12.html

ACES QUESTIONAIRE

Prior to your 18th birthday:

1. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often

Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you?

                                    or

Act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?

Yes   No

If yes enter 1     ________

2. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often

Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you?

                                    or

Ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?

Yes   No

If yes enter 1     ________

3. Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever

Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way?

                                    or

Attempt or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you?

Yes   No

If yes enter 1     ________

4. Did you often or very often feel that …

No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special?

                                    or

Your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other?

Yes   No

If yes enter 1     ________

5. Did you often or very often feel that …

You didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you?

                                    or

Your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?

Yes   No

If yes enter 1     ________

6. Was a biological parent ever lost to you through divorced, abandonment, or other reason ?

Yes   No

If yes enter 1     ________

 

7. Was your mother or stepmother:
            Often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her?

or

Sometimes, often, or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard?

                                    or

Ever repeatedly hit over at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife?

Yes   No

If yes enter 1     ________

8. Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic or who used street drugs?

Yes   No

If yes enter 1     ________

9. Was a household member depressed or mentally ill or did a household member attempt suicide?

Yes   No

If yes enter 1     ________

10. Did a household member go to prison?

Yes   No

If yes enter 1     ________

             Now add up your “Yes” answers:   _______   This is your ACE Score

Someone who scored an 8 on this quiz filled out one of my questionnaires. Her story is included in my book Toxic Mom Toolkit.

E-Publishing Loves Daughter Memoirs

25 Mar

I just finished reading Cris Beam’s short memoir Mother/Stranger about growing up with a mother so mentally ill that she told her family that her daughter was dead, when, in fact, she had just moved away for her own safety.

Beam is a creative writing professor at Columbia University who also wrote Transparent, a nonfiction book that covers seven years in the lives of four transgender teenagers, which won the Lambda Literary Award in 2008.

Mother/Stranger is one of several very short memoirs I’ve recently downloaded as Kindle reader editions. These books can run from free to 99-cents and are often less than $10. There are a ton of new biographies and memoirs written by first effort authors who have struggled with toxic mothers.

One of my other favorites is by June Cross entitled Secret Daughter: A Mixed Race Daughter and the Mother who gave her away.  When her white aspiring actress mother has a love affair with a black comedian, she first intends to keep her baby – – if it can pass for white.

But this was the 1950’s and soon, June Cross is placed with a loving black couple living in Atlantic City. Her story of bouncing back and forth between the east coast where education and hard work are valued to summers in Hollywood where all that matters is the next fun party is fascinating particularly because she loves her mother and the “Aunt” who raised her, but struggles with literally being a secret.

Cross graduates from an Ivy League school and eventually becomes a producer for the television news show Frontline. It is in telling her own story of creating a documentary about her unique experiences that she shines.

I always say that you shouldn’t be afraid of your own story and that if you have to go out and interview relatives – do it! Cross shows us how to conduct an interview, when she finally asks her own mother all of the questions that have tortured her for her entire life. I was on the edge of my seat.

I asked for a Kindle reader this Christmas and received a Kindle Fire. Having had a library card since I was six-years-old and being the type of person who visits my local branch twice a week at least, I thought I’d mainly use it to download big, long, challenging reads. But what I’ve discovered is that e-publishing is making available so many little books written by real people and at such a low-cost, instantly via Amazon.com and other providers, that I’m reading like a maniac.

These earnest little books that can be read in one setting are often less than 100 pages and feel like meeting someone on a plane or a bus. We have a tendency to tell strangers so much more than we would ever tell our own social circle, don’t we?  These books feel like a whispered conversation. Almost like we’ve found an abandoned diary and are turning pages quickly for fear its owner will return and snatch it from our hands.

The other great thing about Kindle reading is that you can highlight lines and create a treasure trove of nuggets. I was highlighting a lot of Beam’s book Mother/Stranger. For example:

“I remembered the way my mother had told her family that I was dead and wondered if they ever believed it. I thought how strange it was to be a ghost: solid enough for everyone’s projections to land and stick but too ephemeral to fight back.”

Beam has great insights into what a child must suffer through having a mother with mental illness. She also reserves great sympathy for her mother.

“After therapy or years of a safe and protected life, a person can suddenly give language to what was once only a sensory terror. That’s what happened with my mom.”

She also has a great way of looking at the big picture, at one point writing that “estrangement runs in our family.”

Whether you use a library card, a laptop, or a Kindle reader be sure to explore these new memoirs that might help you to better understand your own experience. Check out the online book descriptions and be sure to skip down to the reader reviews that often refer to additional books.

Have you read a good memoir lately? Please tell us about it in the comments section below

Happy Reading!

Toxic Mom Toolkit Journal Project: Who Called the Police?

10 Mar

Most kids fantasize about the day someone finally punishes their parents for all the hurts, slights and times they had to eat their vegetables. But daughters of toxic moms can experience a life long struggle with the idea that perhaps someone should have called the authorities about a terrible home life, neglect or abuse.

So take a deep breath and transport yourself back to that time when your mom was at her worst. She is grabbing the wooden spoon and you are bracing yourself when – WAIT! There’s a sharp series of knocks at the door.

Imagine opening that door and seeing a special police force created solely to bust Toxic Moms. What would the police  say to your mom and what would she say back?

With your child’s eyes survey your childhood home. What would the police notice and question?  Would your mother confess or be defiant?  Would she try to escape? If she were arrested and led off in handcuffs what would be the last thing she would say to you as she was led away? What would you say back, knowing that the police would protect you?

This journal assignment is sort of like writing a small play. The great thing about creating a play is you can choose your characters, move them around and make them say or do anything you want. So what do you want to cover? What do you need to explore? What history needs to be rewritten by the adult you?

Don’t be afraid. It’s just pencil on paper you can erase or toss. But you just might discover that in reenacting and controlling the scene and dialog you are freeing yourself from old ghosts.  Or at least I hope so.