Tag Archives: Coping with your difficult older parent

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.

Toxic Mom Toolkit: The Final Plan

26 Sep

photoI found the dove feather on the ground in front of my house. For a month or more it was in a cup holder in my car. I looked at it at stop lights and found it utterly calming.

Is it a coincidence that the calming feather was just the thing I needed when I decided today that I would move forward with a Toxic Mom Toolkit companion workbook focusing on going No Contact?

I have a habit of designing a book cover before I embark on a real writing project. I do it to focus. I do it for luck. I do it because other authors I admire say they do it. It is a way of making a writing project real.

I had been struggling with the possibility that I could write about going No Contact and possibly convince a reader that they “should” end their relationship with their mother. What bothered me was the thought that I could influence someone in a very personal decision that could be the best or worst decision of their life. Not to mention, it is a huge decision with lifelong repercussions.

Weighing those thoughts against the years-long pleas from readers of Toxic Mom Toolkit I came to understand that those who are going No Contact anyway could be helped by things I’ve learned and stories I’ve heard over many years. I do know some things you should ask yourself, some things you should brace yourself for, and some things you have to expect in response to ending your toxic mother/daughter/son relationship.

It’s tricky and I know a few tricks.

So, today is the official first day of writing Toxic Mom Toolkit: The Final Plan workbook. If you know me, you know I’m neck-deep in vintage decor. I grabbed some Anagram tiles from the 1920’s and centered the words on my marble coffee table. But it needed something; something else; something soft from nature.

The dove feather!

For me, the pale grey feather is a tangible reminder to be as kind as possible to everyone including toxic mothers. It is in extending kindness (and understanding) to people who hurt us that we rise above our painful histories. With 20 years of No Contact with the mother who raised me, I know how important kindness is, now that she has died. The kindness I’ve extended, the neutral state when we did speak, and the care I took to treat her as I would any other senior adult that I did not want in my life, was the key to my own peace.

I dropped the feather and captured an image that will be my light on the horizon as I continue to help others struggling with toxic mothers.

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Toxic Mom Toolkit: Learning to Listen

3 Jun

2f47959ee768d9be5c2be2cef5b7664dI was at a lovely Sunday afternoon engagement party in a garden and yes, I had a few beers, when two friends sat down at the shady table, one on each side.

First one and then the other started telling me how great Toxic Mom Toolkit was, how it helped them and will help so many people.

“Not only are you a good writer. Not only have you captured something that nobody else has. But you did it in such a way that it invites the reader who has spent a long time being hurt and confused to focus on what happened to them. Then you give them a path to a better way of living,” one friend said adding. “And that’s pretty amazing.

If you know me, you know I was slumped down in my chair with my hands over my face.

Com-pli-ments. They-kill-me.

If you’ve read my book, you know a fear or inability to accept compliments is a classic sign of someone raised by a drunk. Compliments fly when a drunk is getting his or her drunk on.  The flip side is being torn down in a drunken rage.

And despite all my work and thoughts and experience on growing up with a toxic parent and knowing I should listen with an open heart and take in some compliments for once, it nearly killed me to listen. Had I heard my step-father (who has been dead for eons) laughing his evil  crowing laugh, that wouldn’t have upset me. THAT would have felt normal to me.

3cc525fb05bfa957221cc2f5c4862a06My other friend, whose dog ate my book, but only the cover and first chapter that she had already read, pulled my hands away from my face and said, “I want you to HEAR this. Really HEAR this.”

“You’re a good writer but it takes a really special person who grew up in this sort of situation to go back and relive it and then put it all on a page for others. And what I loved about it was that some writers write up here…” she said holding her hand up high, communicating a level of intensity. “And other writers write down here,” she said holding her hand down low, indicating and sad and slow style of writing. “But you write the way life is, like waves. We go up and down and we want to ride it out with you. After your book, we are brave enough to ride it out ourselves.”

When you grew up with a toxic mother, compliments are really hard to hear. You’re waiting for the negative verbal slap or the other shoe to drop. But at some point you have to decide to sit up and warm up to others who are offering you encouragement for something that is a big, important part of your life.

All of which I heard. I promise, I heard it.

 

 

 

Judge, Jury and Toxic Grandparents

23 Jan


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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.

Toxic Mom Toolkit Road Map

22 Jun

Did you ever manage to avoid doing something so needed, so logical, so obvious for a long, long, looooooooong time and then one day you realize, hey I need to do that?  Well, that just happened to me.

73c2c5c188380db1718b1cf3745cc640In June 2010 I launched my Toxic Mom Toolkit book writing effort and along the way I posted little videos on YouTube, created this blog and started a long learning period in my life, where the Toxic Mom Toolkit community educated me. I’ve been very attentive to visitors telling them where they can find resources individually and then it hit me like a V-8 commercial that I should put up a post that puts everything a newbie should check out all in one place.

I know. I crack myself up too.

Toxic Mom Toolkit was founded by me and I’m a real person: Rayne Wolfe. I’m a journalist who quit my job to write my first book Toxic Mom Toolkit, which is entering the Amazon.com publishing maze. I wrote it at my kitchen table and thats where I’m sitting when I communicate with you. And yes, we should have a book soon.

The Toxic Mom Toolkit Community resides at Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook, where we currently reach over 190,000 each month. (May I brad a little? We started with 30 people!) It is a place to get support and share experiences. It’s where our cumulative wisdom resides. The ground rules are few: Be kind, be positive, be supportive. You can vent, but try not to swear. You can post too, but please make it a positive or illustrative post.

Toxic Mom Toolkit on YouTube includes about half a dozen short videos including the Welcome Message and another popular message on Embracing Change.

579320_388462684522492_1860430887_nToxic Mom Toolkit red jelly bracelets are free to anyone who emails me at newsyrayne@gmail.com and gives me a street mailing address. I’ll send them anywhere in the world, promise. They have two messages imprinted on opposite sides: “It’s not you. It’s her” and  “Toxic Mom Toolkit. Did I mention they are FREE and that I’ve already mailed out over 600 to five continents?

When you have a toxic mother or toxic parent, it can be a lonely road. This community is here to let you know that you are far from alone.

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.

Misery Defined: Toxic Mom Toolkit’s Top Five Tips for Surviving Seeing Your Mother after 20 Years of No Contact

19 Sep

If you are planning an oft-delayed trip to see your mother after a long no contact period, remember – it’s never what you worry about.

If you have had little or no contact with your Toxic Mother for five, ten, fifteen or twenty years, keep it simple. Just expect to be surprised.

Are you the same person you were last time you saw your mother? Probably not. So, expect your mom to be changed in some ways too. She may still be an irrational hater, an under-miner, a conspirator focused on annoying or hurting you, but her skills will have become rusty without you around to practice on.  In fact, she may no longer be able to upset you as she has in the past.

What would happen if you arrived at this dreaded meeting a whole, calm, optimistic and ready-to-laugh adult? What if this time she didn’t see the child-based fear in your eyes? What if at the first hint of old hurtful patterns you said to her, “You know what? I’ve got other things I’d rather do than go over ancient history” and you left her there with her mouth open to enjoy a matinée movie instead? So what if you flew two thousand miles to see your mother one last time and when she turned impossible you switched gears and turned the vacation into an antiquing trip instead?

Would anyone really blame you?

Here are my Top Five Tips for surviving a long-delayed Toxic Mom visit:

  1. Bring or enlist an old friend to be at your side. Toxic Mother’s hate outsiders, also known as “witnesses.”
  2. Plan to do something your mother loves even if you loathe it. Then pat yourself on the back and reward yourself with a massage, or some other treat, when you get home.
  3. Have a short list of other people or places nearby to visit.
  4. Have a short list of pleasant activities to transition to should you need to cut your visit short.
  5. Plan all mother/daughter meetings and activities in public spaces. Cops swear by it.

I hope this is helpful to you. If you have a specific challenge feel free to post questions at Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook. But please post carefully on this “open” forum. If you don’t want everyone knowing your TM business feel free to create an alter persona or e-mail me directly at newsyrayne@gmail.com. I answer every email.