Tag Archives: toxic parenting

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.

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 – Spitting Into the Wind

24 Mar

I have a very strange brag. It goes like this:

I am the only person I’ve ever met that has never looked into the eyes of another human being to whom I am related by blood.

And if you’ve read my book, Toxic MomToolkit, you know that because I was adopted and never had children that this is technically true. Although… I may have met one relative on my journey to Iowa. But I’m not sure. I can never be sure.

14b2b972a7e6e40806650e3d2e4ba11bAccording to my adoption records my birth mother and her parents are Norwegian. When I grew up and found my birth mother, the one thing that she was very cagey about was saying anything about my birth father. One time she said he was Finnish. Which, when you grow up in an agricultural area peopled by Scandinavians is plausible. But really, who is HALF Norwegian and HALF Finnish? People are all sorts of things that their grandparents and great-grandparents contributed to the gene pool.

For most of my life I’ve thought of myself as Scandinavian. My adopted mother was mostly Swedish and my adopted dad was German and English and they loved going to health spas in the Scandinavian mode with steam rooms and cold plunges and alder sapplings to beat your own back with to encourage blood flow. With straight teeth and good skin, I joke that my Viking genes have been good to me. So, am I Scandinavian? I think so.

But what if I’m not? What if I’m Irish, too? What if I’m Persian, too? Or Russian, too? Of course, the specifics, the national origin doesn’t matter so much. I already know I am a combination of things, like everyone else. What matters is knowing what everyone else takes for granted.

One of the most toxic things my birth mother ever did was to withhold half of the basic information on my nationality. I have to think that the reason she holds this information so close is because she knows I really desire to know. Is it a way for her to hurt me? Perhaps in her mind, I hurt her by being born, so this evens it out?

When I was a reporter and stories would come across the wires about DNA and proving if one person was related to another through genetic testing, I read every word. And as the cost of DNA testing fell, I always hoped that one day, I could swab my cheek and finally find out what I was.

My birthday was this February and my darling husband gave me a $99 Ancestry.com ancestry test kit. Others have warned me that you end only get a colorful pie chart that may include countries of origin, but it may also just say that you’re 85% Northern European with a few percent Hawaiian thrown in. Nevertheless, I was stoked.

And because life is not always fair, a few days after my birthday my husband and I had a BIG fight. The kind you may only have two or three times during an entire marriage. By the time I cracked the test kit case open I was feeling very low and unloved. Plus, I didn’t know who I was, I thought to myself for the millionth time, as I endeavored to create sufficient spit to fill a (seemingly bottomless) vial.

photoI had no idea how long it takes to fill a tube full of spit. I bet it took me twenty minutes.

I mailed the small box off and promptly made up with my husband, therefore regaining some sense of love and belonging. And it occurred to me that what I felt when I briefly felt unloved by my husband and then loved again might be akin to my desire to know my nationality. I have been born into a perpetual state of loss on this basic level of my identity. As everyone deserves to be appreciated and loved, everybody also should know where their people come from.

The turnaround takes 6 to 8 weeks, the pamphlet said.

Judge, Jury and Toxic Grandparents

23 Jan


94175905bbf65c6a2a303aad37779156
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.

From Zero to Book Published: 8 Women Dream Style

13 Dec
How many times...

How many times…

In 2009, I was a reporter working for a New York Times regional newspaper in Northern California’s Wine Country. With ten years of daily newsgathering under my belt, I had survived multiple rounds of brutal lay-offs and the stress was getting to me.  

I thought it might be time to take a break before I broke.

With my husband’s support, I left my job to write my memoir about growing up with three mothers: two very toxic, and one wonderful stepmother. I had a notion that I knew a lot about resilience and I could help others. I had also been collecting women’s stories for years, focusing on how they survived their own very toxic mothers.

I was aware that I should build a platform to support my book writing and research led me to 8 Women Dream and Lord-have-mercy they were coincidentally looking for a new blogger to join their slate of online dreamers. I slaved over my presentation; agonized over my story and plans — and dreams!

And after a considered vetting process I was turned down with apologies and encouragement to try again.

The Universe Gives You What You Need When You Need It

It was the most important turn down of my life. I believed what they said: That they loved my project. That they wished me well. That they wanted me to apply again.

That “rejection” fueled my early work. Not in an I’ll-show-them sort of way, but more in a Wait-till-they-see-this! way. I created a Toxic Mom Toolkit Facebook page, which I grew from 35 friends to currently over 250,000 visitors per month.

By the time it was possible to apply to be on 8 Women Dream again, I had much more to talk about and was deep into the creative process. Finally accepted as a member of 8 Women Dream, I wrote about my dream of publishing my first book.

From the platform of 8 Women Dream I found and interviewed hundreds of women from all over the world. I curated extensive Toxic Mom Toolkit questionnaires developing them into a wide range of mini-memoirs. Every person I spoke to increased and informed my work and made it richer. I realized that writing my own memoir was nice, but what would be epic would be to marry my story with a rainbow of stories, each illustrating a different type of toxic mom. And, after my year at 8 Women Dream was up, I was fueled to tackle the hard work of editing, polishing and publishing my manuscript.

Women had trusted me with their stories and told me amazing things; things they had never told another living soul. They laughed and cried with me. They also encouraged me.  I remember one lady in particular saying that each morning while she was driving she prayed for my book. For three years of writing, which included many challenges, the idea of a lady on the freeway praying for my book, kept me focused.

Starting from a broken place, with lots of help, I am now healed and an author. Along the way I’ve learned that it is in sharing our stories that we heal others.

001a4bc0827030842a71f9f2c6ec3568In a few weeks, Toxic Mom Toolkit will be published on Amazon.com, thanks in large part to the energy and encouragement I received from everyone at 8 Women Dream and all the people I met during my online tenure.

What I find very poignant is that my book owes so much to 8 Women Dream – literally. It seemed that as each obstacle arose – one of my friends from 8 Women Dream popped up with offers of help and encouragement. I have blogging colleagues Iman Woods to thank for creating a killer book cover and Remi Gervais to thank for taking my “sane and approachable” head shot.

It would have been great to write my memoir. But I’m so glad I opened myself up to the energy and creativity of the 8 Women Dream community. When readers hold a copy of Toxic Mom Toolkit in their hands, they may not know the story behind it. But we will. We will.

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.

The Happiness Plan for Adult Children of Toxic Parents

19 May

649b484de9e3863bdeb5ed543f6b7120I receive a lot of nice mail. But, I can’t remember a more interesting or thought-provoking message in a long time.

A Friend of Ours wrote:

Hi Rayne,

We spoke about 1.5 yrs. ago by telephone. I was a complete disaster on the phone so angered and teared up barely being able to focus whilst speaking with you. Since that time I had allowed the toxic and abusive relationship to continue until recently when my Mother created another ‘fairy-tale’ to which she fabricated stories to a family court that I absconded my child from her Father in Australia over five years ago.

Of course this story she told was simply nothing more than a story to which I, as with my ex-husband, was able to quickly clarify and provide evidence that no such thing had occurred. So without further ado my heart and mind quickly went into estrangement mode and stronger than ever before.

The only way I can describe to you in a metaphor about how this time it is for sure, is it is kind’a like getting really mad at yourself that you have made a huge mess in the kitchen and all of a sudden you start tearing through your kitchen doing what I call ‘Gorilla Cleaning’ to get through it all quickly and if anyone there is to witness this ‘Gorilla Cleaning’ they sure do know that you mean business and they wouldn’t dare stand in the way of your mission… of your Pinesol!

So now that you know I mean business I need your insight on how I might be able to structure a successful estrangement. Maybe it is my intense need to always have a plan or a map but I feel like I need a game plan of sorts. I can’t find a book or site on the web to help me and this is why I suggested that perhaps you could write a book on it?

For me, I simply cannot see myself sitting in a therapists office reciting my last 39 years of crap delivered by my Mother – I don’t want to talk about it anymore – I would like an actual Toolkit of Complete Estrangement.

I want to learn how to be REALLY happy and create more moments and loving opportunities with the abundance of friends I have because I know I don’t know how to do this all that great because I have never been taught. I do not have any other Family other than my Mother and a few distant cousins, aunts, and uncles so my estrangements make it pretty easy. I really need to find a supportive and humorous way to walk towards the future I see now that sadly I never saw before.

My only fear is that I will not know how to just be happy, Rayne, and that is such a crazy thought to get your head around unless you lived it yourself. 

0df2a3e3c3e819f3b804a305cf75c4a2Anyway, I have posted an ad on Kijiji today seeking a psychotherapist to assist me in creating a network of women that share in Mother estrangement; members will want to define their ‘happiness map’ after estrangement. I have a vision that the psychotherapist could guide and facilitate a positive approach for a group of women to create their own ‘Toxic Mom Toolkit’ so that each and every woman in the group can define boundaries, goals, and finally create what they deem to be their successful happiness destination. This is all I feel I can do until you’ve published your book Rayne 😉 lol Here is the ad link…. maybe you could share it on the FB page?

http://london.kijiji.ca/c-community-activities-groups-Support-Group-for-Daughters-Estranged-willingly-from-Mothers-W0QQAdIdZ485398538

I love following your page but admittedly I have done so in privacy not wanting to broadcast it to my friends and associates… this has started change for me though 🙂

Thanks Rayne!

*     *     *

 Wow! That’s quite a communication! My first reaction is that I’m flattered that Toxic Mom Toolkit has been a part of this person’s personal journey and that since cutting contact with her toxic mom she is glad of it and doing well.

My second reaction? WOW! Does she really need such an elaborate system and network to feel confident in that decision to cut off contact with a truly toxic mother? Well, apparently, Our Friend does, and so I support her 100% in seeking what she needs to stick to her plan. I also applaud her for putting herself out there and welcoming others to create a safe environment for mutual support.

I kind of chalk this up to how sometimes we need a lot of structure to follow our bliss and other times we just GO. It’s sort of like leaving home, embarking on your life journey. Sometimes, you are so done that you buy the ticket, call the taxi and get on the boat and you never look back. Other times, you have to take a bus ride around the block, but come back home. You might have to practice longer and longer trips until you get your emotional feet under you.

My goal in founding Toxic Mom Toolkit and writing my book was to tell my story and gather others and present them with an open heart and let readers sort out what they can use. I tend to be an either/or type of personality. I CAN walk out and never look back. But I understand that every person’s situation is unique and each person must navigate the waters only they truly know.

317181e6155a7322320318d9c334c88cOur Friend wonders if she can be happy and have friends and a normal life?

My feeling is that you get out of life what you put into it. I also know the cringing self-defeating impulses that can limit adult children of toxic moms, who may have suffered abuse or neglect and have a hard time trusting others.

I love her idea of calling this journey a Happiness Map. All I can say is do what makes you happy and while you’re doing it, look up and see who else is happy doing what you like. Smile at them. Offer to help them or ask them for help. Suggest coffee or just a five-minute break and discuss your mutual passions. Friendships are built one smile, one conversation, at a time.

I was always taught by my father that love is reflected in love and took that to mean that kind relations will grow, but you have to be kind first. You have to get the ball rolling. Little by little, your social circle will expand and you will be leading a life that is lighter and happier. And for the people you know who are struggling with Toxic Mom issues, you will be a shining light.

While a group led by a therapist may be helpful I think that should only be a small part of your efforts to live life to the fullest.

1efd518489872782aa82ced329ce0a99So, what do I think is the perfect formula for No Contact? I think the formula’s solution is simply personal peace and how you get there is your job to figure out.

I hope that people find strength in knowing that they are not alone and that there is respect and mutual support available 24/7 at Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook and that our YouTube videos and the blog might also be helpful.

And always know – It’s not you. It’s her.