Calling You Names

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For the first three decade of my life it really bothered me that my mother obviously enjoyed calling me spiteful names.  It used to get me down and make me feel really bad about myself.  I still hate it but the pain no longer lasts so long.

I was quite a bright kid and loved reading.  You’d think she’d be pleased but instead she called me ‘a geek’ and ‘weirdo’ and ‘swot.’  It took away all the pride of being top of the class.

It didn’t stop there.  If my room was untidy she’d call me ‘a pig.’  Often in front of visitors and my friends.  When I told her it was a horrible thing to do and really upset me, she’d give a phony laugh and accuse me of not having a sense of humour.   Telling her I didn’t laugh because it wasn’t funny had no effect.

By the time I left home to go to university I had a really low opinion of myself and the things that I was good at counted for nothing. 

Over the years I’ve come to realise that the name calling had very little to do with me and lots to do with her.  She is a bully and it has been her way of feeling good about herself.  It is shocking that she uses me like a punch bag to make herself feel better rather than try to deal with it herself.   

Eight years ago I told her that the name calling had to stop or I wouldn’t come and see her.  They haven’t so I just pop by around Christmas for a very short while. 

I feel guilty but it’s worked for me because I am happier, much more confident and won’t take any rudeness from anyone. 

 

Our comments:

Using derogatory words to put your child down is cruel and demeaning.  The person doing the name calling often pretends if is a joke or teasing, but you are right to describe is as bullying.   It is also very difficult to dismiss them and they can define us.

Well done for learning how to feel happy, take pride in yourself and refuse to tolerate her rudeness and name-calling.    We would, however recommend that you try not to feel guilty as it is certainly not your fault. 

 

 

 

When Your Kind Parent Dies First

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I am devastated.  My kind sweet mother died two months ago and I miss her hugely.  Although she could't stand up to my father or even protect me properly from his tempestuous tempers and manipulative behaviour, she did her best.  She also made being at home bearable. 

In a way her passing was a relief.  She had been ill for some time and eventually gave up on life.  I visited her as much as I could despite living some 30 miles away and having three children and a busy job to manage.  The problem is, since her passing, my father has become even more of a nightmare.  I understand that he cared about her in his rather strange way, and that he doesn’t want to appear vulnerable.  But I can’t cope with his domineering behaviour.   He tells me I have to do his shopping and cooking now my mother has gone and will not accept any excuses. When I explain about my own demands he criticises me for being ungrateful for all he’s done for me, like sending me to a decent school.

A small part of me feels sorry for him because I know he hates being alone, but I feel I am crumbling under the pressure he is putting on me and my own grief.  My husband has suggested that I cut contact with him because we have never got on and it was only my mother that held things together, but my conscience won’t let me.  Please help.  

How sad that you have lost the mother you loved and however much a parent’s passing has been anticipated their death still comes as a shock.  Do allow yourself time to grieve and begin to come to terms with her no longer being in your life.   

Your sympathy for your father shows you have a good heart.  As your loss is so recent, it might be too early to decide to cut him out of your life.  It is a decision for the future. Meanwhile we recommend that you   put your family at the top of your priority list.  Discuss with your husband how much time and support t's reasonable for you to give your father now, and try to explain this to your father.   If he responds badly you could write to him instead. He needs to start to think about how he will manage his own life without your mother, but it is his responsibility not yours. If he makes you feels guilty this is even more reason for you to establish boundaries from the beginning.

A Submissive Mother

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My mother’s role in life is to defend my father under any circumstances.

He is never wrong and she always puts his needs first.  In return he is self-centered, unkind and even cruel.  It would be different if they didn’t have any children but they do.  My older sister and I have put together a list of things our mother has repeatedly told us for over thirty years.

You should do what you father tells you.  He is your father after all.

Your father is far too kind to say something like that.

Your father loves you really, he doesn’t mean it.

We have this meal every weekend because your father likes it.

I cannot come and look after your children while you have flu because your father likes me to be home when he gets back from work.

You cannot come and visit because your father doesn’t like noisy children.

If one of us visit them we can’t wait to leave.  Our father is a stickler for timing and meals must be served on the dot.  He even goes ahead  if I’ve rung to say the traffic has been terrible and I’ll be a few minutes late.  As well as being unpleasant to us he always gloats at the power he wields over our mother.  We cringe with how compliant she is in return.  We can’t believe she loves him, but she won’t hear a word of criticism and is totally submissive.  It makes us feel that we just don’t count.  The good thing is that we have the same views about their relationship and how they behave with us and each other much needed support.

Can you explain what it is all about?

It’s very hard to understand the relationship between your parents when  your mother is so submissive and your father so controlling and harder to believe she can love him.  Your mother may be staying because he is such a bully, through a sense of duty,  or she feels she has no alternative.  It’s also no surprise you have a mass of strong feelings and it’s sad that your mother’s lack of emotional honesty towards you and your sister has left you feeling bereft. 

You may also be right that your parents would have been better without children, particularly as they haven’t seized he opportunity to change once they became grandparents.  It is their loss.

You are unlikely to alter the attitude of either parent but if you take a step back you could perhaps see that your mother is trapped and unable/unwilling to change because she doesn’t have the emotional or financial capacity to act differently.

Your parents don’t seem to want you to be close so we suggest you focus on your positive loving relationship with your sister and new families.  It will help you feel stronger and build your confidence. 

A story of neglect

'It took me decades to finally realise that I had been neglected by my mother and just as long to try to overcome the affect it has had.

As a child I never climbed into her bed for a morning  hug nor do I remember walking down the street holding her hand.  New clothes were extremely rare and then I had to wear them until the T-shirts and jumpers didn’t reach my waist and I couldn’t do my skirts or trousers up before I’d get a replacement.

She’d even take away my plate if I didn’t eat quickly enough saying she had no time to wait for me to finish and in any case she didn’t want me to get fat.  Nor was she around much.  She was keen to keep up with new films and plays and her friends and barely stayed in.  My father was around a little more but he too was busy.  I mostly felt invisible at home. 

Luckily I was quite bright and did well enough at school to go to a good university and build a stable career.  Initially I felt guilty about buying myself new clothes, then I went on a binge and bought far too much but finally  reached a balance by buying something new each season without going crazy. 

The emotional effect on me has been more difficult to handle.   

I find it difficult to trust people and when I do I become quite needy and worry that if I give of myself I might get hurt.   I’m hopeless at parties as I think no one would really want to talk to me and when the person I am talking to looks beyond me to find someone more interesting I want the floor to open up underneath me.  It’s also embarrassing when friends show me photo albums of their childhood as there are hardly any photos of me as a child and they are just kept loose in a box.    

Things changed in my late thirties when one of my divorced colleagues  took me out to dinner.  He has custody of his two children who had by chance also suffered from a mother who had neglected them.   The children and I clicked when we met.  Perhaps we instinctively felt each other’s need and over time have  formed a strong bond.   By focusing on their needs rather than mine I became stronger and more confident.   Their father and I married two years ago and  I don’t remember ever being happier.  I even believe that he loves me as much as he appreciates my relationship with the children.   Yet in spite of all this I sometimes feel empty inside and that I don’t deserve their love.  How can I stop these feelings?'

 

       You have managed to overcome a neglectful childhood which is a terrific achievement. You have also found a man who loves you for yourself and this has helped you understand your past and be close to his children.  Bu it's understandable that your past can still haunt you. .   We suggest that you write down some of the sad moments you remember from your childhood together with positive statements like: ‘I didn’t deserve to be ignored over this’ or ‘I was loveable and shouldn’t have been pushed aside’.  This should help you believe in yourself and deserve to be loved.    

 

 

You have managed to overcome a neglectful childhood which is a terrific achievement. You have also found a man who loves you for yourself and this has helped you understand your past and be close to his children.  Bu it's understandable that your past can still haunt you. . 

We suggest that you write down some of the sad moments you remember from your childhood together with positive statements like: ‘I didn’t deserve to be ignored over this’ or ‘I was loveable and shouldn’t have been pushed aside’.  This should help you believe in yourself and deserve to be loved. 

 

Mother's Day

Help! It’s nearly Mother’s Day and I don’t know what to do. 

My mother makes it obvious that she doesn’t like me and that whatever I do is wrong.  I don’t want to buy her flowers, chocolates or send a loving card.  If I do past experience tells me she will say something like:  ‘surely you didn’t waste your money on this? You know full well that I think cut flowers need too much looking after,’ or ‘chocolates make me fat, especially this brand.’   

But if I don’t mark it in some way she’s likely to say: ‘Everyone else’s daughter is buying their mother something nice.  I’ve always known you were a disappointment.’  Or compare me unfavourably with my brother who in her eyes does everything right.  Last year she said rather menacingly: ‘ I had a beautiful card from your brother…now I know who really loves me’.  The fact is that it is true.   I don’t love her and he does.  The problem is I’d feel so guilty if I didn’t get her something. 

Be prepared that whatever you do is likely to be wrong and your mother can seize it as an opportunity to criticise you.  Choosing to ignore the day, which after all, is over commercialised, can trigger a row and may be used by your mother for years to come as an example of how thoughtless and ungrateful you are. 

 

 Even choosing the right card is fraught with problems.  For some difficult mothers a card decorated with hearts and flowers and addressed to ‘the best mother in the word’ is the least you can do.  If they have shown you little love or support during and beyond your childhood buying a card like that may stick in your throat.  In which case it’s best to buy a card with simple words that are not too effusive.  However you decide to handle the day do remember that you don’t have to do what you have always done.  You can change both your mind and your behaviour and you don’t need to justify it.   Don’t visit and make a fuss of her if you don’t want to and don't feel guilty about your decision.  But do remember to steel yourself for her to react unpleasantly.  Check out the Coping page on our website for some tips on how to protect yourself.

Even choosing the right card is fraught with problems.  For some difficult mothers a card decorated with hearts and flowers and addressed to ‘the best mother in the word’ is the least you can do.

If they have shown you little love or support during and beyond your childhood buying a card like that may stick in your throat.  In which case it’s best to buy a card with simple words that are not too effusive.

However you decide to handle the day do remember that you don’t have to do what you have always done.  You can change both your mind and your behaviour and you don’t need to justify it.   Don’t visit and make a fuss of her if you don’t want to and don't feel guilty about your decision.  But do remember to steel yourself for her to react unpleasantly.  Check out the Coping page on our website for some tips on how to protect yourself.

A Toxic Mother-in-law

 

I am finding it very hard to cope with my new husband’s mother.   It was obvious from the start that she wasn’t going to welcome me into the family but I have a good relationship with my own mother so it didn’t bother me too much.  What I find awful is how critical she is of him and never seems to be happy with anything he says or does. She also makes endless demands on his time and asks him to come round and fix things at the drop of a hat. I realise that she a widow and needs help, and at one level I feel proud that my husband  cares for his mother. 

But dealing with her is like talking to a brick wall. Instead of him popping round at the weekend to carry out a few tasks, she expects him to come almost daily. Last week she called at 11 pm one night to say that a light bulb had gone out in a cupboard and she wanted it fixed.  

He told her he’d come round after work the following day as it obviously wasn’t urgent, but she started shouting and insulting him. I told him I thought she was being totally unreasonable.  He agreed. But he seems unable to stand up to her and always seems to put her needs first.  We have talked about setting some boundaries as I worry about how this will work when we start our own family but so far nothing has changed. Do you have any advice?

It must be very hard for you to see your husband being mistreated by his mother, especially as you have a loving relationship with yours. Reading the myhorridparent.com  website might help you understand his difficulties, particularly those that are complicated and painful.  Perhaps you could gently help him learn how to step back. Try too not to let him to feel torn between you and his mother.  He needs to be confident in your trust and support.

    Keep talking about his plight so he knows you love him and are concerned and if he confides in you about some of his experiences, be understanding rather than judgemental.     One idea might be for you both to plan a weekend visit to his mother that is both social and gives him an opportunity to carry out some household tasks. If he has you by his side he may feel more able to be firm with his mother and  cut down on these daily visits.   It will take time but it will be worth it.

 

Keep talking about his plight so he knows you love him and are concerned and if he confides in you about some of his experiences, be understanding rather than judgemental.   

One idea might be for you both to plan a weekend visit to his mother that is both social and gives him an opportunity to carry out some household tasks. If he has you by his side he may feel more able to be firm with his mother and  cut down on these daily visits.   It will take time but it will be worth it.

Competitive Mothers

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My mother always wants to be closely involved with what I do and the decisions I make, but I know it is more about her than it is about me. She’s fiercely competitive too, not least because of issues in her own family that has made her feel she’s never achieved her potential.

When I was a child she took every board or card game we played very seriously and never let me win.  She also insisted we ran countless races in the park.  Sometimes the total would be 25 wins to her and 0 to me.  Instead of encouraging me, she then smirked with pleasure.  One of the few things we have in common is watching Bake Off on the television.  I bake every week too and I used to at her request send her photos of what I’d made.  No longer because it spurred her to make something more elaborate and send me a picture in return.

My husband, who I love, was the first man to propose to me and ever since we got engaged she’s reminded me several times that she had lots of proposals and I know she is trying to denigrate me because I only had one. . If my husband and I go on a holiday she goes somewhere she claims is smarter and she will stay longer.  I’ve noticed too that she is now copying my hairstyle, boasting that hers looks more stylish because she has thicker hair.

I don’t mind or even care what she wants to do, but her relentless competitiveness is undermining and I wish she would just leave me alone to live my life as I want to.

 

A good way to deal with her competitiveness is to remove yourself from the game so she can’t compete with you.  You can also try to keep the conversation more general rather than let it revolve around what you do.  When she does make an unkind comparison, perhaps about your holiday say: “Your holiday sounds fun and we are absolutely delighted with ours.” Then change the subject.

You could also accept that she won’t change and instead be happy with the choices you and your husband make. Be delighted that you met your husband easily without having to go through lots of broken relationships.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Only Child and a Horrid Parent

An only child holds all the hopes and dreams of a horrid parent and their one chance for vicarious fulfillment second time around.  There is no sibling to help relieve the pressure.  

The nasty parent might insist you follow a career they hankered for but never achieved,  regardless of whether you have the talent or interest to pursue it.   They might nag you to be slim when they themselves are overweight,  marry someone rich when they are financially struggling and anything else from doing well in exams to keeping the family name going.  Being permanently under the watchful penetrating eye of  horrid parent is very stressful. 

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We suggest that you try not to get involved in such arguments however annoying it is.   Instead  listen quietly, nod wisely or say something neutral like:  ‘Yes, I understand how you feel.  I’ll seriously think about it.’  It’s a  good way to mark time until you can leave home. Meanwhile keep reassuring yourself that like your parent you have just one life, and you have the right to choose  how to live it. Once you are independent you can follow your own path.  This doesn’t mean the criticisms and insults will cease, just that the parent’s  power over you will diminish.    

A single child can only share their thoughts about their difficult parent outside the immediate family. 

Keeping your feelings to yourself, either because of loyalty to the family or because it is difficult to trust anyone with such a sensitive subject, can make you feel lonely. CLICK ISOLATION. A positive aspect is that you learn to rely on yourself from an earlier age than most, learn to make your own decisions work through problems.  Spending a lot of time at home on your own will also help you learn to entertain yourself. 

An only child is likely to be responsible for their parents as they grow older, make major decisions about their welfare and deal with the practicalities.  This can be especially difficult as the nasty parent is ungrateful and rude.

We suggest you think about this demanding and tricky issue from time to time so you develop a general idea of how to cope and the responsibility involved.  Managing the situation in a  humane way could help you avoid a guilty conscience once they have died.  Doing the right thing also means you are less likely to pass on their bad behaviour to the next generation. But there are limits. Do what you feel is necessary, but don’t let your obligations intrude too much into your own life.  If looking out for them is a problem, it can help to think of them as a cantankerous old person you have chosen to visit rather than a parent.  The advantage of not having any siblings is that although you get to do all the work, you don’t have anyone arguing about your view. 

If as a child you associated mainly with adults be prepared for it to take practice to interact with your own age group.  It can also be difficult to relate to small children until you have your own.

We suggest you try to get involved with group activities, anything from sport, charity work, following a hobby.  It gives you something in common to talk about.  It is also a good learning space to watch how others interact and learn from that. 

Your home environment is one where your horrid parent’s view is the only one possible on world issues, personal matters and behaviour. 

 It's possible that outside your home you might need to learn how to negotiate disagreements without resorting to being unpleasant:  that there is more than one way to solve a problem and that other people’s viewpoints are as valid as your own. Listen to what others have to say, then present your view calmly.  Don’t copy your horrid parent and verbally destroy the person you are talking to because you disagree with them.   

Disagreeing with someone doesn’t mean your can’t have a relationship with them.  Don’t cut off friends automatically after an argument.  Every worthwhile relationship has its ups and down.  Write a list of the good things about any friendship before ending it.  Try to be a peacemaker outside of the home even if this isn’t possible with your parent. 

Learning how to argue with confidence while respecting another’s view is  more rewarding than an uncontrolled, irrational outburst and far less draining.    

 

 

Apprehension

I feel I’ve spent my life walking on egg shells. When I was at school  I would drag out my journey home for as long as possible because I didn’t know what my mother’s mood was going to be or how she would react to anything  I said.  Sometimes she wouldn't even register that I had arrived, which was fine, but more often than not she'd criticise me for something trivial. 

In some form or other that feeling of dread has stayed with me even though I am now middle aged and have a family of my own. Like most of us I believe it is important to respect peoples’ views and I know that many people find it hard  to be tactful in social situations when they feel passionately about whatever is being discussed. For example you would not rave about Brexit when you know your hosts who have invited you to dinner are Remainers.  But then you usually know were they stand in advance.  In contrast mother’s views are so unpredictable that the feeling of apprehension can be overwhelming.

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I should be old enough by now to be able to manage but because she shouted at me so much when I was a child I have a horror of arguments.  Luckily my husband is very even tempered, but on the rare occasions he is annoyed by something I've done, I fear he could abandon me at any moment.

I don’t want to walk away and have nothing to do with my mother, not least because that is the sort of thing she does and I do my best not to follow her example. I just need to learn how to conquer my anxiety.

That feeling of dread is a form of anxiety and a natural reaction to anticipating a fearful situation, especially when you don’t know how your parent will react.  Prepare yourself in advance. Take a look at the coping page. We suggest for example:

Keep your breathing slow and steady. Think of a distraction like a calming image. Write down your experience. Remind yourself that this is not your fault. Try to have someone with you.