Tag Archives: toxic mom

Toxic Mom Toolkit: Coming to Terms

18 Mar

ILLWITNESS – noun

  1. A person who has personally been made ill by a toxic person and so can give a first-hand description of it.

I think about words more than most people. I used to work in a newsroom with a columnist who coined the term “bad hair day.” She told me that she couldn’t possibly have been the first person to use the term, but she was the first to put it in print. Whoever has the first byline using a new word gets bragging rights for the rest of their life. The first byline is cited in the dictionary and I think that’s pretty cool.

So, in the back of my mind, I’m always trying to think of a new term, description, or bit of slang that would earn me a place in the Oxford English dictionary. You’d think after all these years writing about toxic mothers that I’d have a ton of new words, terms, slang, but nope — my new word well has been dry.

Until today, when suddenly I understood what an illwitness was. (Spellcheck just underlined it in red, because it’s not a word – YET.

45f759c1df9fe20d19052f4aa59e062eWhen you are the adult child of a toxic mother you are the eyewitness to all the destruction, pain, and chaos that your mother created. As the adult child of a toxic mother you may have experienced migraine headaches, aches, pains, nausea, and several forms of chronic pain. The stress of abuse and neglect by a toxic mom could cause long-term post-traumatic stress or other problems that mean you will spend years in doctor and therapist offices. You may have been an eyewitness to your toxic mother’s behavior over the years. If you only see your toxic mother a few times a year and experience post-visit depression or a sort of body ache similar in length to the flu or a really bad hangover, not only are you an eyewitness, you may also be an illwitness.

Advertisements

Toxic Mom Toolkit on Holiday Grief: Wrap It Up

2 Dec

6ce69635b117aa3126a380c6757e240cI was talking to my friend, Vicki, about this weird sort of malaise, I’ve been feeling lately. At first it was hard to put my finger on the source of my sadness, but eventually I recognized it for what it was: grief.

At this time of year in the U.S. we are bombarded with television, film, magazine, and social media images of big happy families gathering to celebrate the holidays together. Everyone is hugging. Everyone is laughing. Everyone is getting along and thrilled to be together, it seems.

But what if you don’t have a huge, loving family? What if it’s just you, or just you and a very small circle of family and friends? What if your dog just died or someone you love is far away? I find myself further isolated from these images due to elder loss over the past few years. I was saying to my friend that I miss the fun of trying to find something really special for my stepmother Robbie. And I can cry when I think of the trouble she went to, to wrap up the craziest things for my husband and me, including the computer mouse with the tarantula frozen inside, or her constant additions to my fashion passion, anything cashmere.

For many reasons, including my husband being on cop call, we celebrated Thanksgiving solo this year. We created a fun day, starting with delivering pies to my husband’s law enforcement briefing room and then we took a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge on a breathtakingly beautiful day. I was actually taking the advice I often give to others; that when you are a little blue, stay busy and think of others.

I confessed to my friend on the phone that one of the things I’m really going to miss this year is literally just the fun of wrapping up presents. I’m really good at it and I enjoy it — maybe too much. I have so much wrapping paper stored in closets and crawl spaces, I could open a store. During the year I search for little vintage toppers and I have so much fun customizing the gift wrap.

fd1b0fcd976877d154d8cbe7e26515fdAnd what my friend said next, confirmed what I should already know; that talking about our negative feelings to others is an important part of overall mental health. First my friend, acknowledged the feelings I was expressing; then she told me that she sort of felt that way too. Then she made a suggestion. What if we set up a table downtown and wrapped presents for donations to our local animal shelter?

Instantly we swore a pact to do it! And now I’m excited about Christmas because I found a way to turn off sad feelings and turn on happy feelings. All we have to do is find a spot, pick a date and wrap up the holiday blues.

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.

Toxic Mom Toolkit Journal Project – Are you really my mother?

31 Mar

Toxic Mom Toolkit Journal Project – Are you my mother?

Remember that children’s book that had the little bird that fell from its nest walking around asking every animal “Are you my mother?”

Sometimes, being the daughter of a toxic mom can make us feel a little bit like that fledgling bird. Some of us even wonder if we are our mother’s real daughters and begin searching for family secrets like adoption or cross-generational parenting.

When I was a private investigator researcher specializing in identifying the birth parents of adult adoptees it amazed me how many times a woman would discover something she felt all along: that her actual mother was her aunt or much older sister, or the family friend who stopped by every fifth Christmas.

One way to decide who your mother really is can be solved by asking yourself who really looked out for you when you were growing up. In the 20 Questions Every Daughter of a Toxic Mom Should Ask Herself blog post at 8womendream.com, I suggested that you sit down with a piece of paper and a pencil and try to write down three wonderful things your mother ever did for you.

Giving birth to you doesn’t count.

Can you think of one but not two? Can you only think of things that were really rooted in your mother’s image of you like paying for a good school or buying you designer clothes you didn’t really ask for or throwing an over the top wedding.

After compiling your list, turn that sheet of paper over.

Ask yourself: Who has done the nicest, the kindest things for me?

In my case, a boss I worked for cared for me like another daughter. He paid me well, he established a retirement fund and made me contribute to it even if he had to loan me the money to do it. He told me I was smart. He paid for my early writing classes. He told me to write because he could see I was a writer before I did.

My husband constantly does so many kind things for me from handling all the stressful stuff involved in staying solvent and keeping a peaceful home – to always texting me positive and encouraging messages and scheduling time to just talk and listen.

My friends, who know more about me than any member of my family ever did, have regularly checked on me as I went missing during the two years I worked on my book. The coffee dates, phone calls, emails and small treats that arrived in my mailbox have really encouraged me.

So, who is my mother – the one who nurtures me and wants the best for me? It was never my mother, the woman who raised me. My life has taught me that the people around me who possess those loving impulses to encourage me are mother enough.

Look at your list. Who really is your mother/encourager? Who has the power to sustain you when you are discouraged? Mother’s Day is coming on May 12th. I don’t think Hallmark makes a card for this: Happy Mother’s Day to You – Thank you for being like a mother to me. Or maybe they do? How many cards like that could you send out? Write about this in your journal. Explore the idea of mothering and how it applies to your life.

And report back!

Visit us on Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook for daily humor,

encouragement, support and positive images and ideas. 

Finding Comfort as a Daughter of a Toxic Mom

14 Jan

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

Question #2:  When you were a little girl how did you comfort yourself when you were sad or confused? How do you self-comfort yourself now that you’re an adult?

I used all the normal coping mechanisms that come naturally to kids and then some. I played games (board and street), organized strange kid clubs of short, intense duration, spied on adults, and made prank phone calls usually to teen-aged girls with crushes on my big brother. I’d tell them that he loved them setting who-knows-what into motion.

I spent entire days racing around on white roller skates with metal wheels that I wore down to tin foil on fire.

As a neglected and abused child it never occurred to me to speak to an adult about my home life.

Our childhood experiences echo through our adult lives. I still find it most difficult to ask for any sort of help.

When I was a young woman I used to just observe and compare: This is how this family does Thanksgiving, which is very different from what I remember. Hmmmmm….

I was secretive and ashamed about my unhealthy relationship with my mother. As I matured my odd, hurtful, intense ways of coping morphed into more open, sane – and even happy – forms of coping.

I’ve always had food issues. I was never fed properly, so I yearned for generous portions and forbidden foods. I am overweight mainly due to anxious eating and continue to work with a nutritionist to improve my food choices and eating habits.

As I’ve matured, I’ve coped with the lifelong fall-out of toxic parenting by speaking frankly about my experiences with my husband and close friends. I benefitted from time with a therapist. I was a newspaper reporter when I began writing about toxic moms and how to survive them.

I’m not dashing away from my problems like a confused child. I’ve chosen focus, frankness and a willingness to open my heart. I believe in embracing and owning my life story.

I still wait too long to ask for help or a hug, but I’m getting better. My life is a marathon, not a sprint. Along the way I hope by example I can help other children of toxic moms who choose to lead happy and sane lives.

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!