part 3: love crumbs

My husband and I got into the car, and he told me what the phone message said. My mother, in a strained I'm-holding-myself-together voice, saying "I didn't get the chance to say I love you." End message.

Oh, sorry, I didn't give you the chance to say you love me. I was too busy defending the boundary that you crossed several times within a half hour - appearing at my door, leaving cards for my children, calling me on my phone. All things I've asked you not to do. But, you know, if I'd just calmed down for a minute, I would have heard that you love me. And then what? It would have magically been true?

We talked about how I reacted - I wanted to know what he thinks would be ideal, and he said that he thinks how I handled it was perfect. I wanted to know what he thinks about how I process this stuff - I need to talk about it afterward, mull it over. He thinks I'm at a good place - definitely not the way I was years ago. His hope is that someday it wouldn't bother me at all, just be something I could toss off at the end of the day: "hey, my mom dropped by."

He mentioned that he doesn't feel angry at her, because it would like being angry at a dog that bites you. It isn't really the dog's fault. It's a dog. It's in its nature. That reminded me of the story of the scorpion and the frog, which always comes to mind in the form of this scene from The Crying Game:

He has a point. I know she's never going to change, and that means she will probably continue to drop by with these "innocent" gestures. It's in her nature. This is what I can look forward to on birthdays, Christmas, Mother's Day, Halloween, Easter, Valentine's Day, forevermore.

Over cocktails at dinner, I told him that it just makes me feel so mean. I preach compassion, and then I bluntly refuse to have anything to do with her? How compassionate is that? "Shouldn't I just suck it up and be kind to her? Not let it get to me?" "What would that do for you?" he inquired. It's a rhetorical question. We both know that I extended that kind of compassion toward her for many years, knowing that she couldn't help who she is, and that it hurt me, and hurt him because it hurt me, and hurt our kids. It's like the airline-inspired bit of wisdom that I've seen applied to parenting: put your own oxygen mask on first, before helping others.

I confided that her ambush coincided with a resurgence of left-out feelings. I recently saw some photos of my siblings and my parents and my nieces and nephews together, and it dragged up old baggage. A few days later, I read Jonsi's post about immunizing yourself against narcissists, which quoted an article from Dr. Martinez-Lewi:
Don't be surprised at the number of people who follow and are true believers of narcissists. They crave being a member of the inner circle even if they are infrequently thrown crumbs or are honored to kiss the ring of the anointed.They have thrown away their identities, strapped themselves to the narcissist for the E ticket ride. They will do anything to be identified with this person. They believe that he or she is a good human being because of outside trappings and the wielding of power over others.
In my comment on the post, I wrote:
This was very true of me before I extricated myself and is still true of my siblings. Getting over it is a little like being an addict - you're never truly all-the-way better. A glimpse of your old drug can bring new cravings. I saw some photos of a sibling/Nparent gathering last week and even though the rational part of me doesn't want to be part of it at all, the old inner-circle need is still there. I still feel left out, even though I've chosen to BE out! I don't want to kiss the ring, but I still sometimes miss the crumbs.
It's hard to find yourself wanting the crumbs even thought you know that they're crumbs, and stale ones at that. I recalled the time when my mother called me, wanting my support during a trip to a funeral. I felt flattered even though she told me that she had already asked two of my four siblings (yay, third choice!).  I wanted to be helpful, and went, even though it meant leaving my still-nursing baby, suffering engorgement, reorganizing my husband's work schedule, and hearing all about my mother's fabulous mother-daughter trip with my sister the year before. "We stayed in that gorgeous hotel and went to this wonderful restaurant and that beautiful museum..." I had never been invited on a mother-daughter trip before. This was it. The whole weekend was filled with driving from funeral location to funeral location and hearing about my mother's fabulous adventures with other people. My baby cried inconsolably every night while I was gone and I had to buy a cheap electric pump to avoid getting mastitis. It was clear that the bereaved family hadn't expected my mother to come and that she wasn't as important to them as I had always been led to believe. It was also clear to me that I wasn't as important to my mother as I had hoped.

Crumbs. Dusty, dried-out, moldy crumbs from other people's banquets.

Well, last night, I didn't dine on crumbs. I had a feast with my own Valentine, who has seen me through almost two decades of emotional development. We had delicious food, we joked, we told stories, we held hands across the table. He validated my feelings and shored my self-confidence back up. I told him how much I appreciate what he does for me. I felt wanted, and loved, and valued, and enjoyed. All of the things that I don't feel when I'm near my mother.

She didn't screw up my Valentine's Day dinner. In fact, maybe she made it just a little better, because of the clarity I felt by the end of it:

There is no place in my life for her.
My children are precious to me and I will protect them.
And my husband is a gem. I'm so glad he's mine.


  1. Wonderful post! I'm VLC not NC but they are sooooo confused when I no longer respond to the crumb throwing! xx

  2. Claire,
    I also think that you handled this very well - with maturity, integrity and with a supremely crafted ability to move on and have a lovely evening despite the violation.
    Your reaction and further action speaks to the level of emotional development you've achieved and to your good character. I'm very proud of you! :)

    In defense of dogs, though, I have to say that I am hesitant to agree that an adult human being who chooses to treat other human beings with disregard for their own humanity (in the form of boundaries, etc,) absolutely does have a choice. They're a victim of their own choices, which alienate them from the good people in their lives who won't be treated poorly (like you!) and that is sad. But to believe that this behavior is simply within their nature and therefore to be accepted as such is a slippery slope...

    I am an addict/alcoholic. That may be in my nature, sure, and something that I can't help. But I'm also a grown up and responsible human being who's been sober for quite a while because I *choose* not to put those substances/behaviors into my body anymore. It really is about me taking responsibility for my own actions despite my make-up/natural state of being or the things about myself that I can't help. IMO, it's the same for Narcs.
    They can absolutely choose not to violate our boundaries or to treat us with respect. They simply choose not to and expect US to be the ones who change/feel sorry for them/listen to them say they love us.

    Just my opinion, for what it's worth.

    Congratulations on not getting sucked in!

    1. Vanci, I go back and forth on the issue of free will as it applies to narcissists. On the one hand, I hold people accountable for their actions. On the other hand, I do believe that narcissists aren't able to see what they're doing. I feel sorry for my mother - she had a shitty childhood and I'm not sure a single one of her siblings came out of it truly emotionally healthy. I think her perspective is seriously warped and that perhaps she really does believe that what she's doing is kind and good and right. How can one take responsibility for something they don't even know is wrong? I still hold her accountable for it, and I won't subject myself to more of it, but I don't think she can really control herself. It's sad, really.

      I learned to take parenting seriously from her. I learned to question the status quo from her. It's mind-boggling sometimes that she doesn't practice what she preaches.

      (And yes, I would feel much more sympathy for a biting dog than I do for her. Most of the time.)

  3. Claire,
    I agree with you that it's a tough line to walk. On the one hand, I know that my NM had it rough... but on the other I know that I did too and have made the choice to change myself and not pass it on to my daughters, a choice that she for her own reasons was unwilling or incapable of making.
    I learned some good things from my NM, too, and I consider those almost unintentional bonuses.

    I do know that for a long time I didn't know that I was hurting myself or anyone else with my drinking... but then people close to me told me... and at that point I had to decide to be responsible for my actions and could no longer play the "I didn't know any better" card.

    If she truly doesn't know then I absolutely feel sorry for her. If she's refusing to hear so that she can continue not to know, well, that's a little trickier for me to have compassion for, I guess and reveals an awful lot about my unyielding character. :)

    At any rate I'm very happy that you have enough distance from her in your life to be able to ponder and to act in the way that's best for you!


  4. Like Ms. Vanci I also have an "unyielding character" when it comes to these narc/pdparents. Yes, this IS a very black-and-white area for me. If indeed difficult or traumatic histories were the genesis of abusing your offspring then perhaps all children who grow up with these types of parents should be sterilized, right?! Only kidding, really! ;)
    My childhood and early adult life was colored by the abuse from my psychobych 'mother.' There is NO history of trauma or abuse in her background involving 6 sibs. She is the ONLY one who developed MN. If anything she was far more indulged as the "baby" in the family. Was she aware of her behavior and it's impact on me? ABSOLUTELY.
    In my world there is NO "free pass" or excuse for abuse/maltreatment of your offspring. NONE. We've all had a whole lot less than "charmed" lives but we've certainly not done to our children what was done to us-and many of us worry half to death about inadvertently "passing on" the family "tradition" to our own kids.
    As I said in my comment regarding your previous post, give it some time, Little One. These are new behaviors emanating from a conscious awareness of all of your experiences and the natural consequences that result secondary to this awareness. Self-confidence builds as we successfully handle all the stuff the pdparent throws our way particularly when we've thwarted their ability to infiltrate our lives and the lives of our kids. Tundra Woman (TW)