my friend, your friend

I hate it when this happens.

A family friend sent me a friend request today. This is a woman I like. I've known her for more than twenty years. Her kids were friends with my youngest siblings. I babysat those kids and later went to their weddings. This woman helped me to sew a formal dress one time, and gave my wedding dress a nice, clean, safe place to hang out until my wedding day (my family's home was, to put it mildly, squalid). She threw a wedding shower for me. She put my husband and I up in her home when we visited town (my family lacked space). I participated several times in her annual yard sale. She was like an aunt to me. She's far from perfect, but who's perfect? She was good to me.

The thing is, she's my parents' friend. She started as my parents' friend and at the end of the day, she is still their friend. She is not really, when it comes down to it, my friend. And she's a very talkative, gossipy woman (I say that as somebody who can gossip her fair share, too). I used to be Facebook friends with her children, but ultimately they were really my siblings' friends more than they were mine, and they were asking my siblings questions about me and my parents that made my sibs feel uncomfortable, so I decided to unfriend them. They weren't really my friends and I valued my sibs more than I valued them.

I don't want this woman to carry information about me back to my parents. It's not that I particularly care who knows what I'm doing or saying, it's the idea of having somebody who is more on my parents' side than on  mine acting as a witness to my life. I don't need that.

So I clicked "ignore" and then, because stupid Facebook doesn't allow you to just delete the request outright, went into "hidden requests" and deleted it. I felt like a jerk. I like this woman. I'd love to visit her. If she lived close by, I'm sure I'd see her now and then, stop to chat in the grocery store or whatnot.

I hate that in the name of maintaining boundaries between myself and my parents, some relationships like this end up being collateral damage. It whittles away at my tribe and causes me to have to very purposefully develop new relationships, rather than being able to enjoy old relationships the way a normal person might.

And isn't that really the problem? I'm not normal. My parents aren't normal. And I hate it.

living kindness

This entry from Jonsi with a passage from Dr. Martinez-Lewi caught onto a splinter of a memory that had been nagging me in the last few days. 
I say that narcissists are not good people because when we know what they reap in terms of human relationships, the picture is ugly. Yes, they may give money to worthy causes. Some of them are generous and that is good and praise worthy. But when we view their personal lives we see close up the psychological havoc they wreak with their spouses and children and other family members.
I think of this as The Kindness Issue. I commented once that while growing up, there wasn't an attitude within my family of serving others in simple, daily ways. My mother objects to this point of view - she countered via email that she and my dad were constantly doing things for other people like donating to food drives and putting money in the collection plate at church and sponsoring a poor child overseas. These things are true, but as Dr. Martinez-Lewi notes, it's not giving money that makes a person good. 

Things I never saw my parents do:
  • approach somebody on the street who needed help and offer assistance
  • run errands, prepare meals, or otherwise help out a friend or community member who was ill or had had a baby
  • go without something they wanted in order to give it to somebody else
  • perform random acts of kindness
  • perform hands-on service (medical missions, soup kitchens, Habitat for Humanity, trash pick-ups)
Now, my mother says that she and my dad just didn't make sure we saw them do these things. That doesn't jive. If they had been in the habit of living kindness in their everyday lives, wouldn't I have noticed? I want my kids to see me do these things, every day. I want them to see me being kind to other people and also being kind to them. I've been challenging myself to act on kind impulses - rather than just thinking about the homeless woman on the corner near a grocery store, go up to her and talk to her, and volunteer to bring her a meal. Get involved in my community, and talk about it with my kids. Involve the kids when I can. Donate food not just when a holiday food drive calls my attention to it, but as a regular part of my grocery shopping. Accept the challenge of service trips when possible. Offer child care to friends who need a break, give my free time to somebody who needs an ear or a hug instead of rushing around on my own agenda.

But there's more. I want my kids to see me put away a shopping cart that was left in the middle of the parking lot. I want them to see me holding doors open for people. I want them to see me greeting people, offering help when it looks like it might be needed, saying encouraging things to harried parents in the check-out line. Rather than thinking about reading a book later to my kids, put down what I'm doing and read it now. Give them unsolicited hugs. Notice good things about them and tell them. I don't want them to see me doing these things so that I look good to them, but so that they learn to do these things, too.

I want my kids to feel like they have enough emotional and physical abundance to share. I want them to notice opportunities to share it. I want them to engage in the world in a loving, giving way, not in a tit-for-tat, stingy way in which one only does kind things for a tax deduction or to look good in front of others.


During the first year or so of my awakening from the ACON FOG (fear, obligation, and guilt), I kept fairly quiet, only discussing what was happening with my siblings (who were unsupportive) and friends (most of whom couldn't relate). After a while, I felt bolder and understood the importance of speaking out against emotional abuse, and started to write about it on my blog, which I maintain under my real name. I started out in oblique ways, alluding to personal feelings in a way that was sharing yet not spilling all the details. I felt an ethical duty not to out-and-out flame my mother in a public space, while still talking about personal feelings. People sometimes contacted me privately to thank me for saying things that they could relate to.

At the time, I accepted the risk of my mother reading what I was writing and recognizing herself in it, although I considered the risk to be very small. I had shared my blog links with her previously and been told, "I don't read blogs." At the time I maintained a private blog with updates about my children and a public blog with more general ideas and information. While it was unsurprising that my mother chose not to read what I wrote, it was still disappointing. Didn't she want to see pictures of her grandchildren? Didn't she care about the things they were doing or the thoughts I had? I didn't expect her to stalk the blog daily, but geez, wouldn't a grandmother/mother want to at least glance over that stuff once in a while? My husband's parents, for whom I had created the blog, loved it. I couldn't - and still can't - imagine one of my children saying "here's some stuff I wrote about my kids and my  own thoughts about the world" and NOT going to read it. I hope my kids will invite me into their lives that way! But my mom was all "meh", didn't ever ask for pictures of the kids (the in-laws clamored for an annual photo calendar and more), didn't ever care about what was happening in my life, and repeatedly re-asserted her complete disdain for blogging and disinclination to read mine. 

So even though I thought I would still write what I wrote even if she were a regular reader, I felt safe in the assumption that she wouldn't ever read it. 

Then one day, I discovered a comment from her on my blog. When I looked at the page views, I discovered that she had been reading through all of the archives, late into the night and then early the next morning. This gave me pause. I was feeling bolder about speaking my truth and having discovered other ACONs online, I felt more strongly than ever about the importance of speaking out loud. Could I still do this with her watching? 

The next few months were busy ones for me and my blog's spotty entries reflect that in their scattered subject matter - entries about home projects, professional development, thoughts about emotional health. I believe there was a total of one post in a four-moth period that had anything to do with her relationship with me, and that was only in a very, very peripheral way. Around the same time, I continued to reduce my already near-nonexistent family contact. My mother, feeling angry and threatened, attacked me to my husband. She informed him that my siblings consider me to be delusional. She accused me of focusing only on negative memories (which I made up, of course) and denying all the happy family memories. She lashed out about being "attacked" on my blog and stated that the blog was "hot reading" among the entire extended family. This is amusing, because the number of posts that had anything to do with her was a tiny proportion of the total content of the blog and because it took the idea of her being "trashed" on my blog to get her to even look at it to begin with. As for extended family - I'm assuming a cousin saw a Facebook link and asked an aunt what was happening, and that the aunt riled up my mother. Both the aunt and the mother remain stalkers. I haven't noticed any other suspicious frequent fliers and I doubt that it's really "hot reading". That statement reflects her concern about controlling her public image more than anything else. 

At first I felt righteous anger. How could she not see that what she was doing was exactly the kind of emotional abuse from which I was trying to extricate myself? How dare she try to silence me via more abuse? I mean, really, abusing me so I'll shut up about the abuse doled out in the past? Really?  Narcissists would be amusing if they weren't so damaging and infuriating. The problem is, it was working. I was having a hard time writing about anything at all, knowing that she was checking for new posts almost daily. 

Then she left a comment (caught by my spam filter; I had blocked her) on a post that had absolutely nothing to do with her, unless you count the fact that the parenting philosophy expressed in the post is pretty much the opposite of how I was raised. That did it for me. Gloves off. I didn't publish the comment; instead, I quoted it in another post about her so-called "unconditional love." Following that - and following her threat to sue us for grandparent's "rights" - I called it quits. I sent her an email requesting that she not contact me, my husband, or my children in any way. I made the estrangement public because I'm tired of the triangulation and whisper campaigns. She has not, of course, respected that request.  She continues to play siblings against each other, which has resulted in tense, very distant relationships between my brothers and myself. One brother in particular lashed out at me when I had the nerve to post a status on Facebook that mentioned my parents lurking around the outside of my home and yelling up at my windows. I mean, really! When you're being stalked, you should really consider the feelings of your stalkers and their cronies. This brother called names, flung accusations, and generally unloaded a lifetime of sibling resentment (courtesy of la madre) on me. He later wrote an email message to my parents and forwarded it to the rest of us. While its gist was supposed to be a "hey, stop bashing each other in front of me," he ended up kissing their asses, telling them what great parents and grandparents they are. He also admitted to them that he was rude to me. He has not directly spoken to me since, has not acknowledged how rude he was, has not offered an apology. Like mother, like son. The other siblings either stayed out of it, gave weak support to him, or chimed in and added to the pile-on. It was a lonely, lonely time.

The long-winded point here is that I have a tortured relationship with outspokenness. I want to speak my truth, but I want not to engage. I want to be anonymous, but I also want to stand up proudly. I want to be unaffected by thoughts about which people might be reading, but I *am* affected. My public blog has suffered over the last half year, halted by hesitancy over any topic that comes to mind. Do I look trivial? Do I look bitchy? Do I look like a narcissist, like my brother says I am?  (lack of comments doesn't help...I know an unfortunately large number of people who read but don't feel comfortable sharing their own thoughts in comments) I was "out of the closet" at first, posting as myself both in my own space and in other blogs' comments. Following my brother's blowup

So, use a pseudonym, or not? Link to ACONography entries, or not? Write whatever comes to mind, or not? For now I'm linking to there from here. Someday I hope I feel brave enough to link here from there. Or even not to feel the need for a pseudonymous blog at all. I hope one day all of us can walk in the light and speak casually about our experiences, both the good and the not-so-good, without fear of censure.

baggage ♥

May we all have our someone by our sides, physically or online!

the elegance of the hedgehog

Yesterday I stumbled upon several quotes that I had copied from The Elegance of the Hedgehog when I read it about a year ago. The book explores narcissism at times, and while narcissism is by no means the emphasis of the book and, in fact, did not detract from my enjoyment of the book (as it did for Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections), I still found that these passages leapt off the page when I read them.

The first reminds me of myself in my twenties, when, despite having some issues with my mother, I still believed that her general controlling approach to parenting was the right way and that touchy-feely "gentle" parenting methods were "lax" and "permissive" (you must say these words with a sour sneer, as if picking up soiled underpants from the floor). At that time, I thought of discipline as synonymous with punishment. I thought of children as unformed creatures who had to be trained and broken.
"The problem is that children believe what adults say and, once they're adults themselves, they exact their revenge by deceiving their own children. 'Life has meaning and we grown-ups know what it is' is the universal lie that everyone is supposed to believe. Once you become an adult and you realize that it's not true, it's too late.  The mystery remains intact, but all your available energy has long ago been wasted on stupid things.  All that's left is to anesthetize yourself by trying to hide the fact that you can't find any meaning in your life, and then, the better to convince yourself, you deceive your own children." (page 22)
When my first son was an infant, I still clung to the belief that my mother's childrearing practices were mostly good. I was not yet ready to put myself in my son's place and consider the possibility that I was raised in a way that was often unkind and injurious, and denied my autonomy from birth onward.

This next passage immediately called my mother to mind:
"She cannot feel safe if she hasn't crushed her adversaries and reduced their territory to the meanest share. A world where there's room for other people is a dangerous the same time she still needs them just a bit, for a small but essential chore: someone, after all, has to recognize her power...she would like me to tell her, while her sword is under my chin, that she is the greatest and that I love her." p 84
For some reason this reminds me of my mother speaking scornfully of anyone who didn't do things the way she liked, like a woman down the street, who worked with my mother, and who had a pair of sons with whom we liked to play. These children sometimes forgot to be perfect please-and-thank-you automatons, and were accustomed to calling adults by their first names. The woman, who was also a single mother, was held up by my mother as an example of all that was wrong with permissive parenting. She was a failure, a bad person. Her children were beneath us. We were discouraged from playing with them and I believe my mother stopped having a friendly relationship with the mother. My mother seemed really hung up on the fact that the boys had a hard time remembering to call her "Mrs. Clairesmom" instead of by her first name. 

Everything was a fight to determine who was right. Her parenting was the right way. Her religion was "The One True Church." Her ambitions at her job reflected the only correct way to run the place, and heaven help those who stood in her way.
One more quote gets to the heart of the matter:
"If there is one thing I detest, it's when people transform their powerlessness or alienation into a creed." (page 85)
Yes, that explains so much. It's very true of my mother, that she took all the faults she found in herself or with the world and turned them into a moral code, a set of absolutes. Nothing was ever a grey area. Nothing. I can sometimes feel the same tendency in myself, stemming from my own alienation from her, from the world, from myself. Again and again I fight that tendency, and struggle not to pass on the universal lie to my own children.



This is a happy, happy day in my friend-tribe, as we welcome a new, lovely little person into the world. This little one has been eagerly anticipated by her family, who had to remind themselves many times that the baby will choose his or her own birthday.

To honor her, I am setting aside this day as a day for JOY. Processing old work is for another day. Today is about newness, hope, life, wonder, and the fresh start that each person has at the beginning of their lives. May each of us tap into that energy today, and realize that our truest selves will be born when we are ready, when we choose.

Namasté, my friends. My you be surrounded by joy and filled with the anticipation of the birth of something fresh and new in yourselves!

how to be an orphan

One of the things I love about blog comments is that often they lead me to somebody new, somebody who has his or her own understanding of the experience of being mothered or fathered by a narcissist. Today I read a bit of When the Ring Swings Forward, a blog maintained by Cassandra Squared. In her most recent entry, written last November, she writes about a letter she gave to her mother; in it, she refers to childhood experiences and beseeches her mother to give some thought to what she says, stating that if her mother is unwilling to take her seriously and treat her with the respect due to her, "I'll give up. I'll learn to be an orphan."

How often in the past three or four years have I described myself as an orphan? I have a biological mother with whom I lived until I was in college. She is still living. My biological father is still living, as well. But with regard to the nurturing aspects of parents, having people who know me deeply and love me unconditionally, I have nothing. I have a mother, but not a mommy. The problem is, I didn't understand my orphanhood until a few years ago, so I have to learn, as Cassandra does, how to be an orphan.

I traveled out of the country last week. After arriving back in the United States, the woman next to me (one of my travel companions) made a series of phone calls to her parents, her brother, her sister, her husband, her best friend. Each of them had been eager to hear from her. Each of them had tidbits of their daily life to share with her and words of love to give her. I almost cried. My siblings are barely aware of the things happening in my life, and would think it strange if I let them know that I had returned. There is no warm, welcoming, concerned family group waiting for me, outside of my husband and children. While I can create - and have created - a tribe of friends for myself, it's not the same as an intact, loving extended family. It's just not the same. And I long for it even while I know that I will never have it.

What do orphans do on Christmas? Whom do they call when they need maternal nourishment? Do they ever stop missing what they cannot have?

the bogeyman...or woman

big bad

Once a month I am haunted in my dreams. It always happens in the days just before or just after my period starts - I will have a night full to the brim of long, complicated, winding, detailed dreams.

Inevitably, my mother makes an appearance. If I'm lucky, it's brief. If not, she is a recurring character, coming in and out of the rooms of my dream all night long.

Sometimes I am enmeshed again with her, and we love each other, and this feels strange and concerning to me. Sometimes she is stalking me. Sometimes I tell her off, loudly, pointing my finger and knitting my brow and really laying into her, listing her sins, holding her accountable.

Often I don't remember what happened in the dream when I wake up, but have a troubled feeling for the rest of the day. I know that the feeling has something to do with her, but I don't know what to do with the feeling.

I once read that premenstrual women have longer dreams with more female characters and more conflict. My question is: why? I already know that I have mommy issues, so what am I supposed to do with these dreams?  And is there any way to make them go away?

be excellent

“[Kids] don't remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.” 
- Jim Henson

i am NOT my mother

I've never been a post-it affirmations kind of girl, but lately I feel like I should stick little pieces of paper all over the house with this mantra on it. I am NOT my mother. I am NOT my mother. I am NOT.

Motherhood is full of NO right now. No, you may not eat nothing but granola bars all day, every day. No, you may not stay up until eleven o'clock. No, we cannot have a playdate with your friend today. No, you can't run up the wall in the house. No, it's not ok for you to hit your brother because you didn't like the face he made. No, no, no. I really do know many ways of saying YES to children, of setting them up for success, of relaxing and letting go of my agenda, but lately my kids have been pushing pushing pushing. It's one thing to provide lots of options to which I can say YES, it's another when you're being asked for the six millionth time for something that you simply are not going to give to the kid.

I'm a "gentle discipline" kind of parent, but sometimes after patiently explaining and redirecting and modeling and teaching for the umpteenth time, I just want to scream, "BECAUSE I SAID SO!!!" I mean really, sometimes kids are a royal pain in the ass, no matter how developmentally appropriate and normal they are.

And then I start to remember how many times I heard my mother use the exact same tone of voice that just came out of my mouth, and cringe. I think of how I lived in fear of her anger, how I disliked her even as a child, how unfair and excessively strict she always seemed to be. And I wonder, was I really just being an annoying little kid? Am I just forgetting the thousand times she responded patiently and kindly while remembering the thousand-and-first time, when she got exasperated? Have I become my mother, unreasonably strict and controlling, or have I misjudged my mother, and was she nothing like I remember?

When this merry-go-round starts turning in my head, it's time for a reality check.

I have no problem with the fact that my mother expected us to eat healthy food, get enough sleep, refrain from injuring siblings, say please and thank-you, value family, respect authority, et cetera. Those are things that every parent should teach her child.

I don't even really hold a grudge regarding the many times she lost her temper, or the choice she made to have more children than she could emotionally handle, or the level of control she exerted over her children through their childhood and extending beyond their adolescence. I think they were poor choices, but I understand the factors that led to them - both the realities of being a frazzled parent, and the context of her own personal history.

When it gets down to it, I don't even really take issue with my childhood. I mean, yes, I do take issue with it, but only because it serves to illustrate that the problems I have with her in the present did extend into the past, and demonstrate a consistently dysfunctional relationship.

The real problem, the thing I'm truly worried about when I hear my mother's voice come out of my mouth?  Who she is today, and how she treats me today, and what I worry will happen to my relationship with my own children as they get older.

I do not want to be a woman who:
  • refuses to take ownership of her actions
  • never acknowledges hurts that she causes to others
  • never apologizes
  • considers tactlessness a character strength
  • acts like her children are uninteresting or obnoxious to her
  • plays her children against each other
  • has favorites, denies having favorites
  • demeans and shames her children
  • has to have everything her way, cannot set her wants aside to meet children's needs
  • will not acknowledge that her children are experts on the topics of their own lives, experiences, thoughts, and well as other things
  • makes fun of people who are smarter, dumber, fatter, thinner, prettier, uglier, richer, poorer, less talented, more talented, etc than herself
  • projects her own insecurities onto her children
  • lists her children's flaws when she is frustrated with them
  • cannot allow her children to make their own choices
  • identifies the parts of herself that her children need for physical or emotional support, and uses those things to manipulate them
  • disregards her children's autonomy and physical or emotional boundaries
How do I know that I'm on the right track? How do I know that I'm not doing irreparable damage to my children? How do I know that I'm making choices that will help them to be healthy in the future and will ensure a healthy relationship between them and me?  My mother didn't know. What makes me think I can be any more self-aware than she was?