Tag Archives: toxic mothers

New & Improved 20 Questions

29 Sep

646519fd86182814bdd38313fe33cb3fOne of the very first things I did when I started writing Toxic Mom Toolkit was to design a brief questionnaire to help me collect real stories of growing up with a super toxic mother. Many of the mini-memoir chapters in my book started with an email from someone brave enough to take the survey and then send it back to me.

Right now I am collecting surveys from men for a book crafted specifically for male survivors of toxic parenting and I still need more stories. But I was also recently reminded of how therapeutic it can be for people to fill these out — so I decided to mesh the original and the men’s survey and fine-tune the original 20 Questions and re-issue it. It is important to me to keep learning about our community and these questionnaires capture so many things that would never be included in a quick conversation, email or Facebook post.

If you would like to fill one out, I would love to read it.  They are for my eyes only and are confidential. If I decide I’d like to use yours to create a chapter for my new book for guys, I will ask your permission. As a writer, I need to know who you are really, but you can remain anonymous and we can change names, locations, etc. to protect the guilty parties.

So here is the 2016 edition of 20 Questions Every Adult Child of a Toxic Mom Should Ask Themselves:

20 Questions for Adult Children of Toxic Mothers

Your name:

Your age:

Contacts: Email & Phone:

Your location/Country & City:

Please email your completed survey to newsyrayne@gmail.com

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Your Story Matters!

  1. Tell us about you. What year where you born and where does your birth fit in among siblings? Please provide a basic description of your parents/family. Did your family grow through adoption or foster placement?
  2. Tell me the story of how your parents met.
  3. Tell me about each of your parent’s teen years and what their parents did for a living. Include any unusual relationships within the family that are pertinent to your family life today.
  4. Describe the arc of your academic and professional life to present. What is your current occupation? If you volunteer in your community, how often? Doing what?
  5. Describe the relationship with your mother in three segments: as a child, a teen and young adult.
  6. How old were you when you first realized your mother was different than other mothers?
  7. What is your biggest criticism of your mother?
  8. What would she criticize about you?
  9. Describe any significant periods of estrangement. How easy (or difficult) was it to limit (or cut off) contact?
  10. How has your relationship with your mother affected your relationships with others?
  11. How many friends can you really talk to about your mother?
  12. Describe your current family status. Do you have children? If not, why not?
  13. Tell me about your occupation, why you chose it. Tell me about your hobbies.
  14. How many siblings do you have? Are you close or estranged? Why?
  15. Describe your current relationship with your mother. Given your current levels of contact how are you viewed within your family?
  16. Have you ever talked to a therapist about your mother? Was it helpful?
  17. Moving forward, do you anticipate any changes in your view of your mother?
  18. Do you experience personal guilt, social guilt or remorse about decisions you’ve made regarding your mother?
  19. As your mother ages, do you see yourself having more or less contact? Why?
  20. Tell me what your ACES score is/just the number. Please make a note of your ACES score at the top of the first page. Here is a link to the test:   http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/03/02/387007941/take-the-ace-quiz-and-learn-what-it-does-and-doesnt-mean

Thank you!

 

 

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Toxic Mom Toolkit: The Key to Unlocking Family Secrets

30 Oct

de0abd008850fb6bb344a2d280c7997aIf you’re like me you probably have a manila file folder where you keep that one ultra-complete and detail-filled work resume. Maybe you applied for a government job and it required not only your jobs and titles, but your many home addresses, too.

Complete records of our comings and goings in life are hard to come by and if something happened to that record, piecing it back together would be a real chore. It has value as a personal document and that’s why I keep it in a safe place, where I can retrieve or refer to it when I need to. You probably have something like that too.

So, why wouldn’t you want to have a similar record of your mother’s life?

As a retired newspaper reporter, I value timelines. They turn confusing stories into understandable narratives. They illuminate twists and turns. And I feel strongly that any topic in which you are interested can be illuminated with a simple timeline.

Creating Family Timelines 

When I began working on Toxic Mom Toolkit, the first thing I did was create individual timelines for each of my mothers: my awful birth mother, my horrible adopted mother and my wonderful stepmother. Then I merged them to create my mother history.

The adult children of toxic mothers can learn a lot from family timelines. They help us fill in the holes of our family history and pathologies. If your maternal line has a distinct pattern of crazy women giving birth to sane women, wouldn’t you want to know into which generation you fall? Also, very often, toxic maternal behaviors are handed down like good silverware, starting with the great-grandmother who abandoned a daughter with her mother, who abandoned her daughter, and so on, and so on, right up to you.

Themes may emerge. It is not uncommon for maternal lines to have a history of calling their daughters liars, especially on the topic of sexual abuse. With the paternal line, a habit of skipping out after the baby comes can often be tracked back for multiple generations.

Understanding why your mother behaves the way she does starts with an understanding of what happened to her in a step-by-step chronological order – in other words, with a timeline.

How to start?

First, pull your own legal documents and look at them like you’ve never seen them before. Review your own birth certificate and look at everything like Sherlock Holmes would. Who was the doctor? What city and county sealed the document? Look for the tiny boxes, where the mother indicates the order of her children. Where there children before you of which you were unaware, growing up? What are your mother’s parent’s legal names? Where did they live? What was the address that they took you home to? If you don’t have your own birth certificate, get it.

Public documents, which include birth certificates and marriage and divorce records, are a good place to continue your research. If you live near your mother, or where she grew up, you can go down to the Office of the Registrar in the city or county government center and request these documents for a low fee. They will include and confirm the name of her parents, if she had been married or had children previously and may refer you to divorce decrees, lawsuits, or family obituaries. You have a right to this material. If anyone asks, the simplest answer to why you need it is: family history.

Once you have confirmed your mother’s birthdate and birth city, you can move forward at your own pace, collecting information that may reveal unknown siblings (or siblings put up for adoption before you were born), and the identities of extended family.

Most people are born; go to grammar school, high school, a trade school or college. Follow that line. You can go to the high school and look at the yearbook for your mother’s class year. I don’t care how old she is, the school keeps them in the library.

A pregnancy lasts 39 weeks. Look at the marriage license and compare it to your own birth certificate. There is no shame in a quick marriage based on the blessing of a baby, but was this a pattern with your mother? Did she marry only to divorce quickly thereafter? Without judgment, you deserve to know the facts.

In general, most young women marry before 30; generally, they have jobs, careers, and may change marital partners along the way. By their 50’s, they are losing elder relatives and may benefit from wills or trusts (all public documents).

If your mother was born or lives in another country, you may be able to request documents, or you may need to talk to old friends of hers or elder relatives. You may never want to miss a family funeral again!

Creating a timeline overrides all the secrets your toxic mother had assumed she could enforce. And it’s an important part of taking ownership of your life story. It’s an important part of your own healing.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: Especially With a Dead Toxic Mother

4 Aug

797734b77a8d26ebe0685a1afbf3414aMy toxic mother died in April 2009. By August, I had left a good newspaper job to write Toxic Mom Toolkit, which I published in December of 2013. I have since watched a global support community spring up around my memoir. It has been a continuous learning curve for me. Along the way I shared my experiences including how to go No Contact with a toxic mom. I’ve always warned that it is not a step to be taken lightly and I’ve mostly recommended taking it a day, a week, a month, and a year at a time. There is no formula for going No Contact; no right or wrong way. Because each relationship is so complicated, the process of breaking away is an individual and unique event.

Walking away from a toxic mother can be incredibly painful. But here’s what I’ve learned lately: breaking it off with a deceased toxic mother can be just as difficult.

My multi-decade disconnect from my living Toxic Mother was totally organic. I just felt that I would die (or my soul would die) if I kept in contact with her. I made it up as I went along.  I don’t recommend totally winging it like I did.

Today, when asked, I suggest that people sit down and make some notes, some lists, to pre-plan how to handle typical life events. Ask yourself: If a grandparent dies will you go to the funeral? When a baby is born, will you notify your mother? Family relations are complex and sometimes your fear of your toxic mother is tempered with love for your father, siblings or love for a related community. Some decisions are not absolute. You can grant yourself flexibility. You can allow yourself to keep an open mind. Variables are part of the calculus of No Contact.

While I was writing my memoir, I realized there was still work to do. I needed to stop listening to my deceased toxic mother.

If your deceased mother is still a source of sadness, fear, instability, emotional limitations, phobias, shame, self-loathing, self-medicating, over or under eating, isolation, or grief, consider this: Dead People are only as powerful as you allow them to be.

When it comes to your deceased mother’s voice, I’ve decided the main survival skill is to replace a negative with a positive.

When you hear your mother’s negative voice you can:

  • Take a moment to understand that her voice is nothing more than lingering trauma, which you are working on to overcome.
  • Tell her (out loud) she is wrong and to be quiet. (Don’t worry. Other drivers will think you are on speakerphone.)
  • Write down the words you hear and decide if those words are true or not. Many times, labels from childhood are completely false and meaningless, yet they haunt us.
  • Reach for the Happy List you created, which includes all those things of which you are most proud. For example: If you have a good job, have put your kids through college, volunteer, help your neighbors, or bake great brownies, put it on your list. Keep your list in your purse or on your phone, where it is easy to see. Feel free to include things that simply please you and make you happy in the doing, like: I keep the hummingbird feeders clean and always say a blessing for young mothers pushing strollers. (I also bless men with trucks, checking their tie-downs on the side of the road.) Simply wishing others well probably puts you WAY ahead of your Toxic Mother. Relish what makes you a nice person and refer to it whenever your thoughts turn to your experiences as the adult child of a toxic parent.
  • Call a friend and express positive thoughts, even if it’s just checking in. Develop a habit of being a good listener and be a supportive friend.
  • Turn to a favorite activity, hobby or method of self-care. Instead of listening to negative thoughts, (and granting them power), decide to walk your dog instead, do an art project, clean or organize something, or even take a short nap or bath. Keep something you enjoy, like a special tube of hand lotion nearby to moisturize your hands for a few minutes. Grant yourself a few minutes in a bookstore. Listen to a positive or funny Podcast.

You have worked too hard to build a happy and peaceful life despite all the negativity associated with growing up with a toxic mom. Each time you hear your deceased mother’s voice and substitute a positive experience for old negative thoughts, tell yourself, I deserve to be treated lovingly and with respect.

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.

Start the Presses!

2 Aug

recite-31416--1810382206-1qccpnfI have been having so much fun with a new website called http://www.recitethis.com.

It’s a very simple, FREE method for creating, crisp, clean, poster-style images, perfect for getting the word out about Toxic Mom Toolkit.

recite-16792--1807316811-9nn439I also think when things look more professional, people looking for help, take us more seriously.

recite-16792--1806477120-fcgf7wSo, take a look at these and tell me what you think. What should we do next? Do you have a favorite line or sentence from Toxic Mom Toolkit that I should use? Let me know.

recite-23943--1807432334-16re802

Toxic Mom Toolkit: Twelve, Going on Thirteen.

2 Aug

6d9e34b64a486c17f4090868e51d5a90I remember exactly the moment it first happened to me.

I was 12, going on 13. I had left the dinky grammar school and all the friends I’d known since Tiny Tots and I was in a huge San Francisco junior high and I didn’t know anyone. I got lost a lot, shaming myself by walking into the wrong classrooms and slinking out again.

Somehow I made two nice friends who lived within a block of each other in Sea Cliff, one of the oldest, richest and prettiest neighborhoods in the city. I could walk to their houses from the flat my parents rented until they divorced, which had happened as I changed schools.

We three girls were at one of the girl’s homes and we were reading an older sisters stack of 17 magazines. It was a lazy Sunday and the mother had served us a plate homemade donuts with powdered sugar on top. We flipped pages lazily, commenting on eye make-up and skirt lengths. I was also peeking through my own eyelashes at this HOUSE with Oriental carpets and needlepoint pillows and everything clean and lusciously decorated.

I wish I could find this magazine and the article that my friends were so intrigued by to see it with my adult eyes. It was a profile of twin sisters who lived in Marin County. The largest photograph was of one of them doing yoga on an outdoor deck with a rug on the planks providing a colorful backdrop to her pose. Both sisters were tall and slim with long brunette ponytails. Both were into ballet.

“That’s not for me,” I thought instantly slamming closed a million doors in my future life because of the underlying thought that I wasn’t the type of girl who got to do that. No shady decks, no yoga poses, no pink ballet slippers and healthy fruit drinks to make my skin glow.

That life? That perfect, investing in yourself because you deserve it, kind of life? My friends could have that life, but not me. I was a little nobody kid. My parents weren’t much. My mother was sort of nuts. My father had just left us and I wasn’t getting ballet lessons or time at beauty salons or even a tiny bottle of seashell pink nail polish.

It didn’t help that I had been watching a bunch of “back-door romance” movies in which a slatternly girl from a poor family conducts a secret love affair with a young doctor or lawyer, but only in the shadows. She is always dropped for a “good girl” from a “good family.” I was fascinated that there were girls that boys were ashamed to be seen with and I thought I would probably be one of those girls.

These types of thoughts that we think when we are young, with little perspective or life experience, seep into our bones. They are a slow-leak raft that never quite gets us to shore. That image of the pretty girl on the leafy Marin County deck still flashes in my brain unbidden at least once a week. I have fought back against that image and the wrong thinking it inspired that limited my view of my world for so long.

Every time we bought a house, I thought I wouldn’t “get” it. That I wouldn’t find the car I wanted, or if I did it would be quickly dented. I developed a cute mania for “little” things, anything reproduced in a smaller than actual size. Collecting tiny objects fit into my thesis of not deserving wonderful things.

The thought that I was somehow “less than” because of everything that happened to me as a child has been vanquished. But like a monster that arises every full moon, I am never truly free of niggling doubts about what I get to do, have, experience. It is therapeutic to understand it. Too bad understanding it doesn’t end it.

If I’m very lucky, in the writing it down, this will be the last time I think of it.

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?