free as a bird

I've been cleaning up my files in anticipation of switching over to a new computer. Today's project included transferring data from one old external hard drive to a new, bigger one. In the process, I dug around in the old files, deleting stuff that I no longer want/need and rediscovering plenty of great old stuff.

One of the things I found was a copy of my initial STOP THIS SHIT letter that I sent to my mother. When I had initially stood up to her regarding my plans for my youngest son's birth and then took a month off from contact with her, I had imagined that her anger would be short-lived and that we would eventally go back to business as usual. In the past, when one of her children had defied her, she would punish us via devaluing and/or discarding us, but that eventually she would get bored of that, we would pass from being in the doghouse to being ignored, and eventually back to normality. In my family, there's generally one child who is the black sheep, one who is the golden child, and three who are ignored, wishing they could be the golden child, but happy that they're not the black sheep. I anticipated a short time in the black sheep role, ended by the arrival of the new baby, and then either going back to a brief golden-child stint or to the flying-under-the-radar position.

Except that's not what happened. Instead, she acted as if my newborn son didn't exist. She acted puzzled by my attempts to include her in his infancy. She ignored me when I attended a birthday dinner for her, and at the end of the dinner, she handed me a letter. I dreaded reading it for the whole hour-long drive home, then couldn't touch it. My husband volunteered to look over it. After he did, he opted to read it to me in her voice. The result was that I still felt hurt by her, but that I was able to laugh as he did his comic impression of her as an imperious, melodramatic Queen of Hearts. 

It was five pages long and full of accusations and lists of my character flaws. It was not the work of a woman who honestly wanted to heal the rift between myself and herself. It was the work of a domineering parent who was issuing a condemnation and order to her wayward child: "you are a worthless turd, and if you ever want to get back into my good graces, you will get back in line where you belong." 

I think my reaction was supposed to be "I'm sorry, Mommy! I love you so much! I'll never do that bad thing again!" Cue the crying and hugging. I had had that fight-and-makeup before. I wasn't doing it again. My initial reaction was to write FUCK YOU in big letters on a piece of 8.5" x 11" computer paper. Just that. Black marker. And mail it. No return address. 

I decided against that response, but it took me almost two months to come up with something. When I did, I had to draft it on the computer, because I simply couldn't get words to flow onto paper with a pen. After typing it, I realized that I didn't like sending things to her in my own handwriting. First, it seemed like too much of me on the paper. Second, she had often boasted of her perfect Palmer Method handwriting, and scorned my own (perfectly legible, perfectly serviceable, perfectly me) writing style. I decided to print the letter and mail it. She didn't deserve a handwritten response.

This is what I sent:
Mom –
I was not surprised to receive this letter from you, since I was aware that you have been feeling hurt and left out.  While you mention a recent estrangement, I would suggest instead that the recent state of our relationship is simply a more honest reflection of a dyad that has been emotionally unbalanced for years.  Your letter reflects a misperception of events and an eagerness to assign character faults and blame to others.  I am uncertain what you hope to accomplish by sending such a letter.  
I am no longer willing to tolerate the disrespect and abuse with which you treat your children.  I am neither the direct cause of your emotional distress, nor am I responsible for resolving it.  In fact, I believe that it would be unhealthy for me to assume that responsibility.  Enclosed is your letter; I am keeping a copy for myself but thought that you might find it useful in the future to re-read what you expressed to me.  You once suggested therapy to me; I encourage you to take your own advice, and would suggest that discussing the thoughts expressed in your letter would be an excellent starting point.
- Claire
I think it's the last time I called her "Mom". She later called my letter "nasty" and berated me for "speaking for your siblings." She cried to my aunts and my siblings, who tried to tell me that I needed to "just sit down and talk it out" or begged me to "bury the hatchet." The thing is, I had discovered my dignity, and I wasn't ever going back. I was free, and there was nothing the flying monkeys could do about it. 


  1. Excellent letter, Claire. Too bad that kind of thing just goes right past the narcs (and their flying monkeys). BUT, getting them to "get it" isn't the point of something like that - I felt the same way about DH's letters (he wrote one to his NM, one to his EF, and then the last one informing his NM that he was going NC.) Anyway, the true point of writing something like that is to stand up for yourself, to be assertive, to show them that you're on your way to becoming a healthier person and you realize that a healthier personhood requires there absence.

    I love your letter to your mother. It's strong and assertive. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Exactly, Jonsi, the point of the letter was not to get her to change. I remember that when I wrote "I am uncertain what you hope to accomplish by sending such a letter," I stopped myself and asked, what am *I* hoping to accomplish with *this* letter? I knew that my letter would not change her. Its only purpose was to show myself that I could stand up for myself, and do it without attacking. It was my aunt who relayed to me that my mother said I had sent a "nasty" letter. There's nothing nasty in it, unless you're a controlling narcissist who cannot stand to hear another person say YOU MAY NOT ABUSE ME.

  3. Nasty? No way! Assertive? Definitely. It's only an abuser who would think you were being nasty.

    Actually, I've always believed that on some level, even they know you aren't being nasty. They are smart enough to know that you've just stopped being a willing party in their abuses. Their sneakiness comes to fruition when they play that martyr game - "Oh, you've hurt my feelings, poor me!"

    Oh shush it, Narcissist. I don't pity you.