Tag Archives: siblings

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.

 

 

 

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Toxic Mom Toolkit: You Can Laugh or You Can Cry

24 Mar

As part of the Toxic Mom Toolkit Journal Project the next question is:

When you were little what did you think was the funniest thing? What made you laugh until your stomach hurt?

My dad, the beatnik printer, used to always say with a gleam in his eye,

“You can laugh or you can cry.”

When I would take a hard fall on skates and run to him weeping and showing off a fresh scrape he had this act, this routine, that would always leave me dissolved in giggles.

“You FELL? Where? Show me where you’re hurt!” he’d say breathlessly.

He’d scan my arms and legs with his huge hands, squeezing and waving my little limbs, asking me if this or that was broken; could I still feel it?  After he determined that I wasn’t actually broken he’d demand that I take him back outside to the sidewalk in front of our house and show him the precise, exact inch of sidewalk where I landed. He was worried that if I hit it that hard I might have left a crack and the Crack Police would come and write him a ticket – which cost money.

We’d get down on our hands and knees and touching the concrete with our fingers, feel around for fissures.

My dad would point to a little normal city street crack and demand to know if I had broken the sidewalk, right there.  Maybe we could ‘pin it’ on the little neighbor kid down the block.

“His dad’s a car mechanic. He can afford to pay the Crack Police fines. Not me! Not this week!” my dad would exclaim dramatically.

The routine went on and on until our giggles attracted a little knot of neighborhood kids to help us study the cracks in the sidewalk in front of our house. My father wasn’t worried about little hairline cracks, but big divots that collected dirt and allowed weeds to grow – that would be trouble.

My father had a knack for turning childhood upsets into funny adventures. When the gold fish died we held a New Orleans funeral for it, opening umbrellas in the house and parading down the hall behind him holding the fish bowl up high then pouring it dramatically into a flushing toilet. Then we’d all applaud poor dead Leon on his way to Ocean Heaven.

My dad and I wondered aloud what flowers said to each other and why birds liked to steal penny nails. We gave inanimate objects names in order to talk about them more. We talked and giggled and used our imaginations. Kids cry. But when my dad was involved, tears quickly turned into laughter.  We learned that bad things happen, but if you let the bad go, it’s natural to find something funny about it. Laughing is a choice, a habit. It’s a gift from my father for which I am eternally grateful.

When you were little what did you think was the funniest thing? What made you laugh until your stomach hurt?

Toxic Mom Toolkit Journal Project: Question #5 – Riding Shotgun

3 Feb

As part of our ongoing journal project, here is our next question.

Question #5

You’re in the car with your mom and ahead of you is an all-day road trip. What would you like to tell your mom about during that long, long drive? What would you like to hear from your mom? What would you say if you knew it was the very last time you’d speak to her?

A big part of the frustration with having a toxic mom is always feeling verbally shut down. As we mature, we test the waters by asking questions or demanding answers with mixed results.

If you have a family history filled with secrets, no doubt you have many questions only parents or grandparents can answer. And it’s not enough to ask. A direct question can be deflected, ignored or twisted into an emotional bat, which will be promptly swung in your direction.

Is anything more slippery than a toxic mom?

Are toxic moms the ninjas of none’ya business?

But what if you knew you had six or more hours locked into a rental car with your mother? What if life forced you two into red Buick and set you on a flat dull road? What if you had ALL DAY to sort it out; to ask questions; to listen and take mental notes? What if you COULD call bulls–t on her?

What if you could do all that with the knowledge that it was the very last day you could ask any and all questions that weigh heavily on your heart?

What would you ask?

What would you finally tell her?

And when you arrived at your destination and parted company do you think you would feel sad or satisfied as she shrunk smaller and smaller in your rearview mirror?

Toxic Mom Toolkit: Who Stood Up For You?

28 Jan

As part of our ongoing journal project, here is our next question.

Question #4

Looking back at your childhood, who in your extended family could have helped you?

Why do you think they did or didn’t?

They say children survive abuse and neglect because they have no perspective.

If you were abused or neglected or treated badly as a child, certainly, some adult in your family circle — a neighbor, or a teacher — must have suspected.  So, why didn’t anyone call bull-dinky on your mother? Or call CPS?

My early childhood was fine, considering we were poor, my parents didn’t get along and we were nearly always unsupervised. But I don’t think that was much different for most kids in the ‘60’s.

I can think of a neighbor (several, actually), and a grandmother who indicated through their actions that they didn’t think my mother was taking care of me very well.

What did they do?

One neighbor included me in many activities with her kids and always invited me to their country cabin for the weekend, the site of many happy memories. Other block moms doled out Band-Aids and hugs.

My grandmother, my father’s mother, did a few things equal to pointing to her own eyes with two fingers and then turning your hand to point at someone else’s eyes — as if to communicate “I see what you’re doing.” My grandmother was no dummy. My grandmother knew my mother had bad tendencies. (My parents had lived with my grandparents when they were new marrieds.) My grandmother even went so far as to kidnap me one afternoon to see if anyone would notice. They didn’t.

Factoring in “the times,” I’m grateful that even a few people put themselves in uncomfortable situations with my mother with my welfare in mind. Could they have done more?

I don’t think so.  There was no family farm to send me to for a summer. No one  we knew “did” boarding school because no one could afford it. At that time you didn’t butt in. I think you just tried to be nice to the kid if you could.

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.”

Amen!