Tag Archives: toxic parenting

Attack of the Toxic Mom Clones

6 May

1624a25b88cc825db4f642e6456b0562     I don’t know about you, but more often than I care to admit, I react to women of a certain age, who look a certain way, as if they were, in fact, my deceased mother.

I was in church today and half-way through the sermon I became focused on the sweater clad back of a lady I’d never seen before. From behind, from the shoulders up, she was a physical ringer for my mother. This woman was very thin with curly short red hair (gray at the temples) and she sat straight-backed throughout the hour. I couldn’t see anything else about her appearance, yet my brain dressed her in my mother’s polyester slacks and suntan L’Egg’s knee-highs with ballroom dance style open toe shoes. My mind raced. Certainly, she wore an elaborate jade and gold ring on one hand and a white gold and diamond Elgin watch on the other, even though that piece of heirloom jewelry my father had engraved “All my love on our 10th anniversary” in 1955, was actually on my own wrist.

If looks could kill that poor lady would have been found under a pew. This, while the sermon focused on not judging others, droned on.

I smiled.

Try as I might, I still have such fear in my bones that comes out irrationally.  These episodes remind me there is still work to do.

In my past, I’ve avoided friendships with older women who reminded me of my mother. I’ve avoided women who had red hair, or who played tennis, or who loved opera, because the associations with my own toxic mother just wore me down. I found it extremely difficult to trust older women most of my life. As I’ve matured, I’ve taught myself to tamp down those thoughts of imagined connectivity. I have to tell myself, no mad scientist cloned my toxic mother. Nobody dug her up and pulled out the stake. Nobody saved her DNA in order to replicate her particular case of Mad at the World. The truth is, the only person capable of cloning my mother is me. She may have been bad, but if she continues to bring the bad out in me, aren’t I sort of doing her job for her?

There are days when my brain clones my toxic mother to ride in the car with me and criticize my driving, parallel parking, clothes, weight and massive failures in life. A tiny version of her often hides in my purse, the wrong purse for my outfit – that makes me look cheap – to strike me with pangs of inadequacy as I walk into a nice restaurant.

Although my mother has been dead for five years, she planted and tended and watered so many fears and faith in my own shortcomings that her voice still hisses in my ear; her finger still pokes me in the back with the admonition to “show whatcha’ got.”  Those are the bad days.

The good days, like today, are when I see how her early negative imprinting still loops through my mind. I smile. I recognize that my mother only lives in my head and nowhere else and I choose not to listen. I turn the channel and pat myself on the back for rising above yet another attack of the Toxic Mom Clones.

Grand Theft Narrative: Why We Should Question what we’ve been told Our Whole Lives

6 Feb

10be255eb16b79de5274f67dd3f4e1edI was a baby left in a garbage can.  It happens every day, you know.

When I was a little girl, my brother told me that story as we lay under a rusty pick up truck at my dad’s lot. We used to go to the lot every weekend while my dad poured the foundations of his dream house by hand. In the summer, it was scorching hot on the half-acre cleared of shade trees. We were so little that we could lay under the running board with our chins resting on our stacked fists.

“They found you, you know, in a garbage can. And they asked me if we could keep you and I said yes, even though you were dirty,” he calmly told me.

I must have been four and my brother around nine. I remember my heart sinking, and then roaring back up to my throat. I scrambled up out from under the truck and ran to my busy father, elbow deep in quick dry cement.

“Was I borned in a garbage can?” I demanded to know as tears fell and my nose began to run.

My poor father. Can you imagine?

Like Bill Cosby navigating fatherhood he asked the dumbest question possible.

Who told you that?”

In short order he assembled my brother and I side by side and went over the story my brother had hatched. Keep in mind, my brother was in the car with my parents when they drove to Social Services to pick up their adoptive baby – me. Because they had promised my brother a dog, they made a big deal about asking if getting a baby instead of a dog – just for now – was okay with him. They convinced him it was his decision.  My brother knew I was adopted. He saw my parents sign the paperwork.

“Why would you tell your sister something so mean?” My father yelled. “You dumbbell, don’t you know you’re adopted too? Maybe you’re the one who was in a garbage can?”

That’s when my brother started bawling at the shock. Apparently he had never given a moment’s thought to his own origins. Our high-pitched wails and sniffles intermingled as we wiped our faces on our shirt hems. It must have been a long day for a dad in charge of two kids under ten.

Even though my dad nixed the garbage can story it stuck with me.

There have been years when it was part of my narrative. After I found my birth mother I realized it wasn’t factually true, but morally true. My birth mother literally cast me off and if she hadn’t had other options I could have very well been one of those babies left on a bus.

6a28470ea2baaec4e9ae3f1c2df6a767The thing about family narratives, the stories we hear, the stories we repeat, the stories we whisper, is that they can tie us up, control us, lower our standards or goals and keep us from exploring the world around us. As daughters of Toxic Moms at some point we need to use our adult brains and look back at stories we’ve accepted at face value our entire lives.

We have to ask ourselves:

Is this true?

If it wasn’t true, why would someone say it?

Why was this particular thing promoted?

In the questionnaires I receive from Toxic Mom Toolkit visitors, there are usually stories about being told we aren’t smart, or pretty, or capable. We won’t amount to anything. Nobody will ever love us. Our only job is to prop up or take care of our toxic moms.

When we don’t go back and review the things we were told about ourselves as children with our adult brains we are risking accepting false information that can limit our whole lives.

A challenging exercise is to make lists of what your mother, father, grandparents, siblings, aunts/uncles, cousins and close family friends told us about our skills, talents and potential. Cross out the things that are not true or that you don’t want to be true. Then go out there and prove them wrong.

These stories are not life sentences. You can rewrite your narrative.

I have a dear friend who was told by his mother from the time he was a little boy that he was lousy at sports. So lousy, that he risked hurting himself or others if he even attempted any sort of organized sport. If he pushed to participate in things like a class ski trip, he got less than no support. He was the kid in wet jeans with chattering teeth because his mother wouldn’t buy him equipment “for just one trip.”

His father also told him that he couldn’t do anything that required using mechanics tools.

Turns out as an adult he realized that his mother’s storyline about his inability to even catch a ball started around the time that the child asked if he could join Little League. He remembers one practice where all the other kids parents came to cheer their children on. At the end of the game, families drove off together for pizza. He was the last kid there waiting for hours until his mother finally arrived. The truth of the matter was that she didn’t want to be on the hook for ball games and snacks and schedules and driving and dropping off and picking up. And so my friend was told he was bad at sports. To this day she still claims he didn’t want to play sports.

Why was he bad at anything requiring tools? I think it’s because his dad was a luxury car mechanic and wanted to be the only one capable of repairing cars. He wasn’t willing to teach, so he ridiculed.

Luckily for my friend, as an adult he started trying things he thought he might enjoy. At his gym he’s a great racquetball player and enjoys being part of a league. He loved Bruce Lee and started studying martial arts. He’s so accomplished now that he teaches kids on Saturday mornings. His students love him.

What do his parents think of all his successes at work, sports, with friends and clubs, and his endless creativity? They’re sort of amazed. They didn’t know he had it in him.

But he does. And that’s what matters.

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 SYNONYM FOR LOVE: BACON

22 Jul

I was sitting on a café patio with a good friend. We were enjoying iced teas on a hot day. This friend has been super supportive of my Toxic Mom Toolkit work and has had periods in her life when she felt her own mom was toxic.

The good news for my friend is that lately she has been able to enjoy time with her mother. That has happened because my friend set up some boundaries and has learned to say “No” to her mother. She’s been amazed at how quickly her mother has adjusted to her wishes. She’s very grateful that there are nice telephone conversations and pleasant outings now with her mom.

As I was listening to my friend the best analogy for this lack of true love feeling so many daughters of toxic moms experience, which can include feelings of confusion, yearning, and pain – suddenly, hit me.

It’s like this:

You are invited to a famous fancy country club. They have all these signature dishes and drinks. Let’s say, this club invented the Bloody Mary cocktail. So, you’re thinking everything I order here is going to be fantastic: over the top.  Sort of like mother’s love, which is unconditional and all encompassing.

You take your seat at a table overlooking a sweeping bright green lawn. The birds are chirping softly. Silverware being used at other tables creates a soft sonata of happy clinks. You decide to order the famous club sandwich and the Bloody Mary. You envision perfectly toasted thin sliced bread with lettuce, turkey, bacon and just the right slather of freshly made lemon mayonnaise. Your order arrives on a gleaming gold-rimmed plate and a chilled glass placed beside it. As you adjust your napkin under your chin you notice there’s not really a lot of bacon.

Wait a minute. There’s NO bacon.

You look up and check other diner’s dishes and you see other people with the club sandwich have so much perfectly crispy bacon on their sandwiches that they are breaking off long pieces and using the stiff slices to stir their Bloody Mary’s! What is in your Bloody Mary glass? A used popsicle stick.

You politely call the waiter over and point out that the kitchen forgot your bacon. And you need a proper Bloody Mary, please. He smiles and informs you that there was no mistake. YOU don’t get bacon on your sandwich.YOU don’t get a bacon swizzle stick for your Bloody Mary.

“Get it? A Toxic Mom that withholds love or is cruel or whatever is like a club sandwich without bacon. It’s a total gyp,” I said to my friend. “And it doesn’t happen to everyone once in his or her life. But it happens to you every time you order it. Especially if you’re dying for it. Every time you seek love, approval, support, understanding, kindness from your Toxic Mom…”

“You get a club sandwich with no bacon!” my friend chimed in as we both slapped our hands down on the table top.

We laughed about bacon as a synonym for love and throughout the rest of our conversation when talking about hurtful things that her mother had done, we would pause and both say, “No bacon” and we understood each other exactly.

If you want and deserve yummy, savory, bacon/love and know you’ll never get bacon/love from your Toxic Mom why do you keep ordering it? Why do you keep paying for it? Why do you keep walking away feeling totally gypped?

How many times would you go back to that country club and order the club sandwich with the hope  you’ll get bacon before you try another restaurant and actually get bacon?

Yes, it won’t be the FANCY restaurant bacon, but there is wonderful, lovely, bacon elsewhere. There is bacon everywhere else. You can go out into the world and get all the bacon you deserve.

Toxic Mom Toolkit – Media Page

30 Mar

TOXIC MOM TOOLKIT

Addressing the last taboo: talking about unbearable mothers

 NOT EVERYONE IS EXCITED ABOUT MOTHER’S DAY

 Mother’s Day is Sunday, May 13, 2012

Is it possible that not everyone is excited about Mother’s Day? For some,  Mother’s Day is the most emotional and difficult day of the year.

TOXIC MOM TOOLKIT is an online support community established by journalist Rayne Wolfe for adult daughters of toxic mothers. Reaching 45,000 visitors per month and growing, it is a daily resource for anyone endeavoring  to rise above toxic parenting.

Purpose: Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook offers support through humor, positive images and quotations, video messages and links to news stories, books and other resources. A companion blog, ToxicMomToolkit.com, provides topics for independent therapeutic journals. A Toxic Mom Toolkit YouTube channel encourages frank discussion and mutual support.

Community: With over 45,000 visitors per month Toxic Mom Toolkit connects women from all over the world who face stressful issues concerning their mothers. For many, it is the first time they have ever spoken up about dealing with a toxic mother.

Rayne Wolfe is available as a media resource or radio and television contributor on the subject of surviving toxic parenting.  Her background includes ten years as a daily news reporter for a New York Times regional newspaper in Northern California. From 2010 to 2011 she was a lead blogger at 8WomenDream.com, which focused on encouraging women to pursue their passions. In the late 1990’s her business column, “What Works,” ran in the San Francisco Chronicle and Seattle Times and other papers. She has published in numerous magazines including Glamour Magazine, has taught creative writing at Book Passage, and has read her own short stories on NPR affiliates. She is also a contributor to the Chicken Soup series – Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul.

A former Sonoma County law enforcement chaplain, she has helped families deal with the trauma of sudden loss.

She has written and is preparing her first book Toxic Mom Toolkit for publication. It includes her own memoir of growing up in 1960’s San Francisco, the daughter of three mothers: a toxic birth mother, a toxic adoptive mother and a loving step-mother. Her book includes stories of other women who grew into loving, happy and optimistic adults despite toxic mothering.

You can reach Rayne Wolfe at 707.481.7180, newsyrayne@gmail.com or message her at Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook. She is based in Northern California.

Toxic Mom Toolkit: You Can Laugh or You Can Cry

24 Mar

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

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

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

“You can laugh or you can cry.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toxic Mom Toolkit Journal Project: Who Called the Police?

10 Mar

Most kids fantasize about the day someone finally punishes their parents for all the hurts, slights and times they had to eat their vegetables. But daughters of toxic moms can experience a life long struggle with the idea that perhaps someone should have called the authorities about a terrible home life, neglect or abuse.

So take a deep breath and transport yourself back to that time when your mom was at her worst. She is grabbing the wooden spoon and you are bracing yourself when – WAIT! There’s a sharp series of knocks at the door.

Imagine opening that door and seeing a special police force created solely to bust Toxic Moms. What would the police  say to your mom and what would she say back?

With your child’s eyes survey your childhood home. What would the police notice and question?  Would your mother confess or be defiant?  Would she try to escape? If she were arrested and led off in handcuffs what would be the last thing she would say to you as she was led away? What would you say back, knowing that the police would protect you?

This journal assignment is sort of like writing a small play. The great thing about creating a play is you can choose your characters, move them around and make them say or do anything you want. So what do you want to cover? What do you need to explore? What history needs to be rewritten by the adult you?

Don’t be afraid. It’s just pencil on paper you can erase or toss. But you just might discover that in reenacting and controlling the scene and dialog you are freeing yourself from old ghosts.  Or at least I hope so.