Tag Archives: Toxic Moms

Blogging 101: Who is Rayne Wolfe And Why Is She Blogging About Toxic Mothers?

6 Jan

cropped-4-up-on-2011-04-15-at-17-47-4.jpgToxicMomToolkit.com, the blog, was started in 2009 as I began to write my memoir, Toxic Mom Toolkit. I started the blog as a place to be found by others who also struggle with having super toxic mothers. I needed a place to ask questions, create community, and a platform to conduct Totally Unscientific Surveys, like how many others survived the wooden spoon. (No way! You too?)

 

With a lot of author friends, I knew that writing a book can be isolating. What started as a one- or two-year project grew into a three-year slog that taught me why so many writers drink. I put on weight. I chopped off my hair. I took four months to write two pages on sexual abuse. It was a laugh riot at my kitchen table in Petaluma, California, let me tell you.

 

By 2013, after a year of editing and listening to Test Readers, I decided to self-publish on Amazon. A very famous New York City agent, (who hadn’t spoken to her own mother for over 30 years) told me I’d be crazy not to. She pointed out that I had grown my own readers by letting people peek at the process through Facebook, Pinterest and this blog.

 

Along the way, I haven’t always been on track with blogging. Not that it’s hard for me; it’s just one extra thing. I was looking for a way to improve my attitude about blogging when WordPress.com offered an online course called Blogging 101. Lesson Number One? Introduce yourself.

 

Dec Jan 2011 roof bathroom dogs 317And since I’ve been blogging for a long time, that seemed sort silly until I remembered something I learned in the newsroom.

 

When assignments are being handed out, there is sometimes a real “groaner” story on an annual bake sale or the fire station blood drive, or deer hunting season. I forget the specific story, but I remember letting out a long groan once over a story like that. An editor took me aside.

 

“Write it for the person who moved here yesterday,” he said with a pat on my shoulder.

 

Newspapers cover small town parades, hunting season and blood drives every year and if you see it as a reporting opportunity instead of a drag, your story will be richer.  When I blog, I should always remember the new person who just Googled: “terrible mother” or ” toxic parent” while crying over the keyboard, who landed here.

 

So, if Blogging 101 said introduce yourself, I’m going to do that – and more. I’m also going to tell you what I’m working on (in addition to blogging) – next.

 

photoI am currently at work on a second book about going no contact. The working title is Toxic Mom Toolkit: The Final Plan. I’m guessing it will take about six months, which probably means at least a year and certainly another bad haircut just when it’s grown out long enough for a French twist. In the New Year I would also like to do some work to produce something for the sons of toxic mothers. Hint-hint: I’m looking for guys ready to tell their stories to me.

 

Through my blog I know that there are so many people out there just waiting for an opportunity to contribute to the collective knowledge on this topic. The first brave story contributors (all women) led the way, and I hope that the 7% of our male community feels ready to tell their stories this year.

 

And I’ll be blogging about it – more often that usual – so please sign up to get email notices when new blog posts go up.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

Don’t forget to Pack Your Paddle: 2015 Catamaran Writers Conference at Pebble Beach

11 Aug

stevensonschool9I have long adored Frances Lefkowitz, author of To Have Not, her memoir of growing up poor in 1970’s San Francisco. It’s a wonderful memoir and it rang particularly true for me, as I had walked the same foggy streets. In her book, Frances treats her mother sympathetically. It’s a book full of life lessons for everyone.

Recently, I noted that Frances would be one of the instructors at a writer’s gathering in Petaluma, where we both live. I went and was finally able to blather to her personally about how much I admire her as a writer. We spent some time in a circle of chairs with our knees bumping as the tiny group soaked up her wonderful (and generous) ideas on writing. In the days that followed I was emboldened to “like” her on Facebook.

So it’s all my fault that I’m now packing my paddle for the Catamaran Writer’s Conference at Pebble Beach, which kicks off this Wednesday.

Because when Frances posted on her Facebook page that there were still a few spots left at the gathering and that she’s be teaching, I decided to plunge in.

Hosted by the Catamaran literary journal, it is a gathering of amazing teachers, publishers, poets and writers all focused on a 4-day sleep-away camp focused on THE WORK. Held at the (very fancy private) Stevenson School, attendees will live in dorm rooms, (no fridges for beer; I asked) take classes, listen to lectures, and share their works in progress. I’m signed up to follow Frances around like a loyal little terrier, as a member of the non-fiction cohort. Each participant submitted up to 10 pages of work in progress.

The group leader then posts all the submissions within each group, you know, so you can read everyone else’s stuff and they can read YOUR STUFF. That’s where it got scary for me, because it looks like a couple of my fellow writer’s are college professors and others have fabulous books I could never write and as I wonder how to sneak beer on campus, I also imagine them busy organizing Power Point presentations about their next opus to share during breaks.

So what am I working on?

I’m finally going to tackle a companion book to Toxic Mom Toolkit that lays out how to go No Contact. My submission to the Catamaran Conference was a Frankenstein-ing-ly-rough cut of a minor chapter entitled, Dead Toxic Mothers: Why Breaking Up Is So Hard To Do.

I feel like a buck-toothed 5th grader, deciding what dress to wear on the first day of 6th grade. I keep wondering what the other writers made of that chapter.  I also wonder if I’ve been terribly spoiled by the toxic mom community, who laugh at all my jokes and totally get the entire Toxic Mom vocabulary and viewpoint. Wish me luck!

4c0bff8f8f143979d5040ff3f46f5749

Mother’s Day Torture: Intensity & Duration

3 May

d4b8b64207ddace48a30acdf29ba53e8In the weeks leading up to Mother’s Day, the assault begins on tip-toes. You might notice the wall of cards go up at CVS. Suddenly, 1-800-Flowers is emailing you twice a day, hawking Mother’s Day deals. It can be like a mosquito in the room, the hum of nerves that build up around the big day. And whether you have limited contact, no contact, or some contact with lots of boundaries, the approach of Mother’s Day itself can be like an illness creeping into your bones to set up achy shop for a while.

Mother’s Day is a typical American-style holiday, trumped up by card and flower sellers, which relies heavily on manipulating consumers emotions to “remember Mom on her special day.”  But what if your mom wasn’t so special? What if your mother was a terrible mother — abusive, neglectful — and now that you’re an adult, she’s a person who has the power to hurt you with a few carefully chosen words? You may need a strategy to get through this Mother’s Day commercial-filled full-court press; the same way an alcoholic plans trips avoiding hotels with lobby bars.

Mother’s Day can be emotional. So you need to decide ahead of time if it’s going to be a long, sad slog or a few minutes of sadness with a quick recovery. It’s your choice.

Here are a few things you might want to avoid:

Television Commercials: Make the decision now to avoid Hallmark-style commercials about great mothers. There is a flower company video making the rounds that starts with a delivery person handing “mom” an iPad with a message from her soldier son stationed far away. It’s a total tear-jerker for people who have great moms and miss their moms on Mothers Day. But for the adult children of Toxic Moms, it’s doubly emotional and terribly sad to find yourself wiping your nose as the son turns into the driveway holding his mother’s flowers. This year, why not decide ahead of time to avoid these sorts of commercials? Mute or fast-forward and don’t feel guilty about it.

63f4cdda1c34d95d116714817478e606Movies: For me, it’s, I Remember Mamma, a saga about the sacrifices made by an immigrant Scandinavian mother for her children. For you, it might be Terms of Endearment or Steel Magnolias, or even August: Osage County. There will be a press of mother-themed movies from now until Mother’s Day and avoiding them is probably a good idea.

Facebook: I am really, honestly, happy for my friends who have great mothers and express their affection towards them on social media. But try not to focus on these too much, other than a quick “thumbs up.” It’s a fine line between appreciation and envy.  The moment you start comparing your friend’s great mom to your toxic mom, you are hurting yourself. You can choose not to.

Sunday Brunch: There is a huge social pressure to take your mom to brunch on Mother’s Day and restaurants ramp up with flower giveaways and free mimosas. And, you know, your work friends will be making elaborate plans and asking you about your plans to treat your mother. You are allowed to spend your Sunday any way you like. Decide ahead of time what you want to do like: exploring a hiking trail, volunteering, attending church, or getting started on Spring Cleaning. You can still have a mimosa. In fact, a pitcher of mimosas are a great way to start Spring Cleaning!

Five years into this Toxic Mom Toolkit experience, a great trend has emerged in our community around Mother’s Day and I wanted to be sure to share it with you. Don’t be afraid to express your appreciation and affection for the women (and men) in your life who have nurtured you, as a mother should. You can send mushy, loving, butterfly-covered cards and write notes to the people in your life who love you the way you truly are; who have encouraged you and helped you along the way. You can thank other adults for their ability to make you feel safe and appreciated. And, who knows, maybe one day there will be a Hallmark commercial about those kinds of relationships included in the pantheon of Mother’s Day tear-jerkers.

My Amazing Invisible Foster Mother

14 Dec

f38c7b29352a2b24fefd6c00cda3da23I woke up from a deep dead sleep, a crazy dream tumbling around my head.

I’m not sure why I never thought about her before. After all, I had preserved the crumbled paperwork from my adopted mothers underwear drawer, with scribbled notes on feeding and weight; likes and dislikes. I knew that from birth until I was three-weeks-old, I was in someone’s care. But it wasn’t until this dream about my foster mother, who I couldn’t possibly have any memory of, that I considered the input of a caring stranger and how that might have contributed to how I am emotionally wired today.

Growing up, I never knew what exactly was wrong with my home life, yet I always felt deeply that something was very wrong. How can that be? How can a child with no perspective or life experience, living a very cloistered life, know that their mother is not quite what a mother should be?

Is it possible that a kind woman, willing to take unwanted children into her home for the few weeks it took for legal paperwork to be drawn up, home visits to be scheduled, cribs to be bought and assembled, could imprint an infant with selfless, pure love?  So much so, that the child would be able to feel it in her bones when someone else was unloving?

My foster mother’s inked notes included instructions on every single like and dislike, gathered by close observations. In those days, in addition to daily baths, a common thought and practice was that infants benefitted from daily sun “baths.” She wrote: “Sally is happiest when her skin is warm. She relaxes completely if you smooth her eyebrows.”

Goxwa paintingsI’ll always wonder if the woman who took me for those three weeks had a spirit that was so kind and loving that she gave me a standard to know – deep in my bones – when my adopted mother was cruel, neglectful. Was it her loving spirit, like a dove cooing in the distance, that kept me calm and centered during most of my childhood?

People are often fascinated that I have three mothers: my birth, adoptive and step-mother and are curious about what I learned from each woman. But maybe those facts need to be edited to include my foster mother.

The dream I had about her reminds me that in my life, I have had many mothers including numerous spiritual mothers. It is an interesting thought that an anonymous woman, willing to take in a baby for a short time, possibly imprinted that child with a gold standard for loving treatment.

I suspect her contribution was indeed great.

50 Years Later; An Apology to Mrs. Long.

15 Jul

2d02738ee9a2e4341513fffcd31d8487For such a long time I thought I hated Mrs. Long. Who did she think she was anyway? Mrs. Long was a neighbor of ours. She had two daughters near my age and we used to play dolls at her house if it was cold or rainy. The Longs were very nice, balanced people. So kind and calm, their house always felt a little bit like walking into a church.

There was no yelling at the Longs. No meanness. No tears.

I was about 8 years old when one day, our morning playtime extended into the noon hour and Mrs. Long asked me to stay for lunch. As her daughters washed their hands at the sink (standing on a child’s step stool) I sat at their formica kitchen table picking at a placemat, hungry for lunch.

Mrs. Long took my hand and asked me to please come into the hallway bathroom with her. As she helped me up onto a little step stool in front of the sink and turned on the hot and cold taps, checking the temperature with her hand, she began speaking to me in a low, very kind voice. She was cradling me in her arms and speaking very softly into my ear.

Let me help you wash your hands, dear. We’ll wait until the water is just right and then we’ll take this bar of soap and we will make it spin in your hands… See how you can make it go over and over? Let’s drop the soap while you put your hands under the water and then let’s do it again,” she said.

My hands must have been very dirty. My fingernails were usually black under the edges.

After we washed and dried our hands, she put a little hand lotion on the tops of my hands and she showed me how to cup my hands and pass them over each other in a way that smoothed the lotion around my skin surface.

Instead of melting into this kindness, my dander was rising the entire time. I distinctly remember thinking, “Who does she think she is, showing me how to wash my hands? My MOTHER has shown me how to wash my hands…”

And my mother had, but she rarely enforced hand washing before meals as a ritual habit. I never took any pleasure from removing dirt and sitting down to the table with clean hands.

After that day I never liked Mrs. Long. When she came over for bridge or parties I avoided and ignored her. I felt she thought she was better than my mother.

Mrs. Long was a soft-spoken, very kind lady, who decided to take a few minutes to show a scruffy neighborhood kid how people live. She included me in her family’s day and exhibited only loving kindness towards me.

Of course, she pissed me off.

Fast forward to my time as a police chaplain. One of the things they teach you when you go out on a death call is to say your goodbyes and then wash your hands at the kitchen sink as a ritual cleansing of the event. As you roll your hands in soapy suds and rinse them under the water you think, I am done here. And you pat your hands dry and you leave. It is a wonderful ritual that is very freeing.

Lately, so often when I wash my hands I am reminded of that day with Mrs. Long and I smile. It is the perfect example of how something seen through child’s eyes is very difficult to re-see as an adult.

I’m so sorry that I didn’t understand Mrs. Long’s kind heart at the time. I certainly do now.

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.