from the blogosphere

I am not as active a reading-and-commenting member of the ACON blogosphere as I might be. I post in spurts, when there's something I need to process in writing. I read in briefer spurts, having found in the past that reading a lot about narcissistic parents can end up causing me to dwell excessively on my mother, rather than living my own life. Does that happen to anybody else out there?

Right now, though, I'm feeling contemplative about my own family, desirous of connection with other ACONs who *get it*, and also emotionally secure enough to be able to take a dip in those waters without drowning.

A few things I've found that I think are worth sharing:
  • Violet's post about stirring the pot and provoking drama on The Narcissist's Child. Wise, wise, wise words. Tread very thoughtfully and carefully when deciding to confront a malignant narcissist, and ask yourself: what is this likely to accomplish? What am I hoping to get out of it? In a nutshell: "If your NM is the rageaholic type, you aren’t going to accomplish anything good by rubbing her nose in her messes. In fact, taking any kind of overt action calculated to make her responsible for herself and her behaviour, anything you say or do designed to pry her away from her fantasies, rewritten histories, and sense of entitlement, will be met with resistance and, depending on her personality, could result in anything from a screaming match in which you are characterized as a liar who is picking on her to a full out assault that includes character assassination to not only the family, but to friends, lovers/spouses, in-laws, employers, and even the authorities."  Truer words were never written.
  • Roots to Blossom's recent post about dealing with anger when you are the parent, Mommies Get Angry, Too. ACONs like us have to do a lot of healing and re-learning in order to raise emotionally healthy children.
  • If you've been doubting your sanity and thinking that maybe your Nparents aren't really that bad, here's a refresher course from Sanctuary for the Abused on red flags that indicate someone is an abuser (or their victim).
  • There's always something a little bit satisfying in knowing that other people have received crazy letter from their crazy mothers, too. Here's one, read by the daughter to whom it was sent: Letter from My Narcissistic Mother

various and sundry family things

  • I have a friend whom I met through SIL#1, although neither of us is currently friendly with SIL. Was chatting with the friend last night and she reminded me about how SIL dumped her (the friend) several times for stupid reasons that basically boiled down to the friend not meeting SIL's total approval for coolness and doing things just how SIL does them. Good reminder to me that when it comes to Bro#1 and SIL#1, it's not me, it's them. I mean, she "took a break" from the friend because she didn't like her house. You know, when somebody invites you to visit their new home and you don't love that house, the nice thing to say is "Congratulations! How do you like it? What's your favorite part? Give me a tour!"
  • On the less-nice side, I met yet another person who already knows Bro#1 and wanted to gush to me about what a great guy he is. Ugh. Sometimes my city is too small for me. Yes, he's oh so talented and great with kids and yada yada. He's also an ass who can't separate from his abusive mommy. Can we stop talking about him, please?
  • Something I recently learned about my brothers: apparently when my two youngest brothers were in high school, the younger brother (Bro#3) was starting to learn how to shave and my mother videotaped him, then teased the older one (my middle brother, Bro#2) about not being able to shave yet. What kind of a parent does that? I mean, way to emasculate your son, lady. Teenaged boys have enough emotional garbage without their mothers pointing out that their little brothers are manlier than they are. I cannot imagine making fun of one of my sons this way, especially not about something that he's probably sensitive about to begin with. How cruel. 
  • Got a Christmas card from my parents. Years ago, I would have returned to sender. Then I would have had my husband open it. Then later I would have just recycled it myself. This time I decided to open it. I can handle it. "We miss you and we love you." Oh, so pathetic. If you miss me and love me so much, where's your attempt to truly heal the rift? It stinks that they hurt, that they caused their own hurt, and that they are so totally clueless about it. 
  • Speaking of clueless estranged parents, my husband's brother has been on the outs with my in-laws for about a year and a half, ever since they were total jerks to his girlfriend when she and he were visiting. They're pretty passive-aggressive and judgmental and at some point in my relationship with them I had to stand up to them about it, and ultimately they chilled out a bit and now my husband maintains the boundaries well enough that we don't have major problems. But they had been dicks about this girlfriend since the beginning, and they treated her really poorly, and BIL had had enough of it, and has had very very little contact with them since. The in-laws, of course, don't understand at all and place blame on him, the whole typical dysfunctional parent song and dance. Well, he called them on Christmas and talked to them briefly, after which FIL went on and on about how he wishes he were there to help BIL, that it's so hard when your child lives too far away for you to help them when they're in a time of trouble. Turns out he thinks BIL is depressed. Because, you know, when a kid decides not to spend time with his parents, it's because he has emotional problems, not because the parents are being assholes. *sigh*
  • I have a big huge extended family on my mom's side and there's an annual party for my grandmother which I haven't attended in years because I'm a) not close enough to that grandmother to want to drive across several states and pay for lodging for this party, b) not close to any of my cousins who would be there, c) my mother would be there (yuck), and d) the aunt who hosts the party is the "bury the hatchet" aunt. I'm not really into attending things hosted by people who are emotionally unsafe people for me to be around. Spending time with flying monkeys? No thanks. But anyway, another aunt (my mom's youngest sister, who is a bit of a black sheep herself) apparently told my sister to pass on to me that she misses me and wants me to know that she thinks my mom is a bitch and she totally gets where I'm coming from, and that I should feel free to call her any time. I have been wanting to talk to this aunt so much, y'all. I suspected that she might feel this way, but at the same time, I'm leery of talking to people who are probably more loyal to my mom than to me. So it was really good to hear this message from her. It means a lot to me. 

the more, the merrier? not for the narcissist

I'm getting reminders left and right regarding how messed-up my family is. There was apparently some minor family drama regarding the holiday get-together that my siblings and parents have every year. The tradition in our family is that on even-numbered years, the kids (my sibs, and me until I opted out) and their families visit my parents on Christmas day and have the usual gift exchange and Christmas dinner. On odd-numbered years, the significant others' families get precedence on the 25th and some other weekend is chosen for the family gathering. You are expected to appear for sure on the even years and few things are considered a decent excuse for not appearing on the agreed-upon weekend (i.e., the one my mom has designated) on odd years.

This year, my sister is in a new relationship. She mentioned bringing her new significant other (sis would be spending the 25th with the SO's extended family) and apparently my mom got really quiet and weird. My mother is never quiet. She rules all things, loudly and firmly. So when she's quiet, it means you have successfully thrown her and she's scrambling to regain control of the situation. In this case, she pointed out to my sister that the family doesn't really know the SO. My sister pointed out that this is a good chance to start. Mom countered that this really is a family-only event, and they left it at that. Sis fumed and considered not attending at all (she ultimately decided to go and said that she was going because she needed to have a face-to-face confrontation with la madre about it).

While this is not the most egregious narcissist behavior in the whole world, it's pretty typical for my mom. She is really strange about meeting her kids' friends and significant others. I recalled the time, almost 20 years ago now, when she met my husband, who was then my boyfriend of a mere few weeks. She was picking me up from college and there was really no reason for him not to hang around and meet my mom and say hi. I mean, nice people do that, right? It wasn't like we wanted him to meet her because we were planning to elope or anything. Anyway, he was around, he met her, we chatted for maybe 5 minutes, and then I left with my mom. No big deal, right? Wrong. My mom went on and on about how strange that was, as if there were something wrong with him or with me for the introduction. Later, when we had been dating for years, she was odd about holidays. I wasn't allowed by my mother to spend a holiday with his family until we were engaged (I was still in college and financially dependent upon my parents, and she exerted quite a bit of control). He didn't spend Christmas with my family until after we were married, at which point I guess he was officially "in" enough to be allowed.

When I was a kid, we never just brought a friend home for dinner. In college, we never brought friends home for a school break or a weekend. Other families do these things. Other parents are excited to meet somebody who is important to their kid and welcome them into their home. My husband's family, who has their own dysfunction for sure, is always happy to set another place at the table. Thinking about my kids, I always try to say yet to friends coming over to hang out or spend the night (barring things like previous plans that can't be rearranged, or overnights on school nights). I try to be flexible. I can make dinner stretch farther. I can find a place for somebody to sleep. Someday there may be girlfriends or boyfriends coming home with my kids. Why would I ever, ever turn them away? How would that be good for my relationship with my child, my child's relationship with their friend or loved one, my relationship with the other person?

It occurred to me while talking to my sister that maybe for my mom, it's not really about keeping family gatherings private and family-only. Maybe she's actually uncomfortable around new people? A person should be able to relax and feel comfortable and not have to be "on" in her own home, I can totally see that. But then, if that's the case, why not just say, "you know, meeting somebody new makes me feel a little on edged and stressed-out; can I meet him/her before then?" or "It would be really nice to get to meet them when it's just you and him/her, not the whole chaotic family group, can we get together next weekend?"

I mean, so many ways that my mom could meet her own needs (whatever they are) while still being kind to her kids and inclusive of the significant others. Excluding people without a really good reason only builds ill will. Why would you ever do that? Narcs shoot themselves in the feet and screw up their own good time while alienating their kids.

(Is it awful that I'm kindof hoping that my mom is on bad behavior when my sis confronts her? No word yet on how that went.)

oh, brother

It's on a mousepad! It HAS to be true!!

So, first, something good: on Saturday, I received a text out of the blue from brother #2. He sent a picture of something funny he saw in a store, knowing that I would enjoy it in the same snarky vein that he did. It led to a long text discussion back and forth, and tentative plans for a visit. It felt especially good following the despair I was feeling on Friday regarding him and brother #1.

Now, the not so good: brother #1 was indeed at the party at the mutual friend's house, and I have a definitive answer to the "is he not speaking to me, or does he think that I'm not speaking to him?" question.

He totally blew me off. Totally. Like I didn't exist.

I knew things wouldn't be good when the first person I saw when we pulled up was SIL, and after she returned my wave, she walked off with a friend of hers, literally turning her back on my family, rather than wait less than a minute to say hi to us. If I had been in her shoes, I absolutely would have waited. I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, but I'm having trouble thinking of a good reason for her choice. Once in our friends' yard, I heard my brother greet my oldest son, but absolutely no acknowledgement of me or my husband. Whatever. I tried to give the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he thinks I'm not speaking to him and he's not sure what to say. Maybe he is too busy talking to the guy beside him and doesn't see me.

At some point, I awkwardly tried to join my SIL and her friend in their conversation. She was cordial. No, civil. Cordial sounds like smiling would be involved. She was not warm. I last saw her in August, when she and I and our kids got together at a park; she was cordial but not friendly then, I'd say. I badly wanted to ask her about my brother at the park that day, but didn't. We have established in the past that we don't talk about the family drama.

Back to Saturday's party. A friend of mine arrived (huzzah!) and joined our conversation, and then we went inside to get some food, at which time SIL and her friend broke off quickly from me and my friend, and we didn't hang out any more for the rest of the evening.

Meanwhile, my brother was still not registering my presence. I had been thinking over the past day or so about how to say hello to somebody who you strongly suspect is not speaking to you. Especially when he's your brother. I mean, it would be rude to just come out with "are you purposefully ignoring me?" in a party situation. Real buzzkill for other guests. But you can't introduce yourself to your own brother, and at this point we had both been there long enough that it was too late for the "hey, good to see you!" thing you can do upon arrival. So when he passed by me, making zero eye contact (it was like I was a piece of furniture), I gave him a sisterly fist bump to the shoulder and said "hey!" in a cheerful voice.

Nothing. No reaction. at. all. My friend asked who that guy was. My brother. She was a little shocked by what she later called "the snub."

My husband later cornered my brother - literally, waited until he was in a spot in the kitchen that was surrounded on three sides and took up a position on the 4th side, so my brother was trapped into conversation with my husband. My brother avoided eye contact. Tried to pull other people into conversation - those people are apparently not close enough to Bro#1 to save him from somebody he doesn't want to talk to, and they avoided joining the obviously awkward exchange. So Bro#1 was kindof forced to make small talk with my husband, who eventually, when the kitchen emptied out, asked him point-blank if he's not speaking to me. My brother confirmed that he is not, because, as he put it, he is "just fucking DONE."

You're DONE? Fuck you. And the high horse you rode in on. But at least now I have confirmation of what I suspected was going on, and can rest assured that there is no miscommunication here. It's possible that he thinks I'm not speaking to him, but I think my lame attempt to engage him should prove that incorrect.

He avoided us like the plague after that. We left not terribly long afterward. When I hugged the hostess later, while saying my goodbyes, SIL was next to her and I said goodbye and felt weird - I mean, normal people would hug their SIL goodbye, right? So I asked, "can I hug you?" and she said "of course" (ha, there is no "of course" with her) and I hugged her and told her that I miss them.

The end.

This led to some processing, of course, during which I had some moments of clarity and also some moments of added angst. It is important to note that I felt about 70-80% fine during the party, even after being openly snubbed. I enjoyed the gathering. I met new people, had happy conversations...and for an introvert who was being actively shunned right that moment by her brother, that is HUGE. Those numbers are totally scientifically derived, by the way.

The Clarity
  • I am SO grateful for people in my life like my friend, with whom I had a tête–à–tête after my husband's intelligence mission. She acted as a compassionate witness, assuring me that what I experienced was indeed a blatant snub, and also reassuring me that no, not everybody has huge happy family fun times at Christmas. She reminded me of some of her family dysfunction and essentially made me feel less alone in the world. Everybody should have friends like this, who know how to make you feel like a normal human being instead of like a broken lonely freak. 
  • I am also grateful for Brother #2, who knows me well enough to share something with me that we will both find funny, who doesn't agree with my choosing NC with my mom but who still wants a relationship with me, and who, apparently, is not totally embroiled in the "Claire is a Bitch" psychodrama.
  • I can now go forward with the knowledge that Brother #1 does indeed hold a grudge. It's not my imagination, it's not crossed wires. 
  • I need to do some emotional work on how I have previously viewed my relationship with Brother #1. I was closest to him growing up, in part because we are very close in age and had the most experiences in common. He and his wife can both be judgey sometimes (she alienated a mutual friend in not-too-distant history by telling the friend that her house is essentially a temple to consumerism), which put strain on our relationship when our lifestyles were not extremely in sync. When we were all childless and vegetarian, we were friends. When we had kids and they didn't, they got judgey and distant. When they started having kids, it was initially awesome because we make a lot of the same parenting choices, but then it got bad again, in part because I had the audacity to buy a minivan, which, in SIL's words, "represents everything wrong with America".  If I'm honest with myself, the best time in our friendship was when I was 17 and he was 15. That's more than 20 years ago. 
  • I need to put more effort into my relationship with Brother #2. He is a laid-back guy who hates the family conflict stuff, so he is not likely to be the one to maintain our relationship. I have been slack because I was tired of people blaming me and felt like, you know what, if they want to talk to me, let them come to me. Time for me to put more energy into it.
  • I'm also having more clarity about what exactly makes a good sibling relationship, and which of my siblings I really enjoy, and why. Ultimately, in order to be friends as well as siblings, we have to have interests in common, compatible personalities, and be willing to talk to each other without namecalling and blaming. It's no coincidence that the two siblings who share my sense of humor and who have a less black-and-white view of the world than Bro#1 are the two to whom I feel closest.

The Angst is a whole 'nother post, I think. But the nutshell version is:

  • Do I contact him to try to mend fences? If I do that, am I disrespecting his desire to go NC the way my mom disrespects mine? Would it be ok if the communication was non-shaming and non-blaming and showed a willingness on my part to take responsibility for my actions? But how do I do that when I really don't regret my actions? 
  • And...the kicker...isn't that pretty much the same situation as I have with my mom? Being treated by him the way that I treat my mom makes me wonder about how those two situations compare and whether or not my decision to NC is an appropriate one. My husband says yes. My gut says "oh please don't go back to her". But is it hypocritical for me to cut somebody out of my life and then think somebody else is wrong for cutting me out of theirs? More on this later. 

A few good things came of this. I texted Brother#2 back to thank him for our earlier conversation. I told him the things that I enjoy about him. We chatted very very briefly about the family situation. Later, I thanked my friend for being in my life and told her that I love her. I don't say that to friends often enough. And I also thanked my husband for what he did at the party. It was unasked-for and while it was a little aggressive on his part and I wouldn't exactly call it a nice thing to do, it was helpful. (And my brother can suck it if he didn't like it.)

Our city is having a very warm Christmas, and I've been practicing the mental task of focusing on the good in things rather than focusing on what I wish were happening instead. I wish that we had cold weather, because it's nice for fireside cocoa and feels Christmassy and cozy. But I am focusing instead on how nice it is to go out without a jacket in December. How awesome it was yesterday to open up the doors between my kitchen and back porch and breathe in the fresh, spring-like air while I baked. How my friends from warmer climates are feeling happy and enjoying outdoor meals. I'm going to do the same with my social networks: celebrate what is right rather than mourn what is wrong. There's nothing wrong with mourning, but right at this time, seeking out the bright spots and appreciating them is important. So I'm going to do a lot of that. I'll still write about my brother angst, but I'm keeping light alive inside of me and focusing on the people I love.

the holiday vacuum...and avoiding getting sucked in

Some years aren't so bad. Some are great, even. But this year, I'm feeling the loss of my family.

Yeah, I know, you can't lose what you didn't really have, and we were never one big happy family, even if we liked to think we were, but in my head we were, and I miss that feeling. And at the very least, there was never a lack of people. Family = more people to go Christmas shopping for, to share traditions with, to have big gatherings with. I like all of that stuff. I like the planning and the feelings of anticipation and the gathering. And now I don't have people to do it with.

Holidays can bum me out because my friends are all hanging out with their families. Their big, smiling, families. They have plane flights and long car rides to other states or grandmas coming to stay in their guest rooms. They have cousins baking cookies together and photos with four generations on one couch. I know that many of those smiley happy tableaux are masks for the dysfunction underneath, I know. But some of those families really are functional and loving and happy. They really are kind to each other and happy, truly happy, to be together. And I wish I had that. I hate being an orphan at Christmas.

This month, it has been 2 years since I last saw my oldest brother. I will probably see him at a mutual friend's house tomorrow, and that is freaking me out a little bit. I am feeling so, so sad for my kids that they barely know his children, and almost never see them. My kids know their other cousins, my second brother's kids, so little that they wouldn't even know their names if you were to ask them. My kids don't really have a grip on who their aunts and uncles are. I don't think it bothers them, this is their normal, but it bothers me. I'm feeling sad and angry about my brothers being more loyal to my mother than they are to me. It didn't have to be this way. We could have been closer, might enjoy each other more. But when I stood up to my mother and ultimately decided that being near her was unhealthy, I lost my brothers. Collateral damage.

I still have my husband and our awesome kids and the traditions that we have forged together. But it just feels so impoverished to me, so anemic. So isolated.

We also have my in-laws, who live in our city now. In general we have a good relationship, although they've been annoying me a bit lately. Nothing huge. Just imperfect human stuff. I don't particularly want to share Christmas with yeah, I'm whining about not having family, then whining about not wanting to hang with the family I have.

So, anyway, to sum up: I'm feeling depressed and lonely. So I'm blogging after another long break, and googling looking for things to perk me up or people sharing their own similar stories, because solidarity helps so, so much. And now, a few links to holiday-estrangement-type stuff - mine and other people's.

  • So good to remind myself that two years ago, I was feeling down and lonely and then had a totally lovely Christmas day. (Also worth noting that the ornament mentioned in the down & lonely link is on the side of my tree this year, not the back. Progress!)
  • Also so good to remind myself that the holidays of yore were not all that great. Oh, ghosts of Christmas past, thank you. 
  • From E-stranged: "Family estrangement does not shrink your heart. If anything, it touches it with deeper awareness about the essential, universal, human need for connection and belonging." Dig into the holidays/events archive. 

Ok, I really need to get some sleep so that I can tap into more zen and less loneliness tomorrow. I hope that life is treating my fellow estranged ACONs well. Happy holidays, y'all. 

reading notes: you're not crazy, it's your mother

A while back, I made a new friend, and shortly afterward, I shared a post about estrangement on Facebook. She sent me a message letting me know that she also has a narcissistic mother and recommending Danu Morrigan's book You're Not Crazy - It's Your Mother. Danu is the driving force behind the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers site and forum, which, coincidentally, was one of the first resources I found 5+ years ago when I started really trying to figure out what the hell to do about my relationship with my mother. I had known for about a decade before that point that my mother was a pathological narcissist, but had just gotten to the point of deciding that I was not going to engage with her crap any more. I think my friend, being younger than myself, had only recently realized what the deal was with her own crazy mother, and having found resources, she was eager to share them. Sweet person that she is, she sent me a copy of the book in the mail. At the time, I was really not wanting to read yet another book about dealing with an abusive parent, especially since I was in a phase of feeling at peace with my decisions and not in turmoil about my place in the world, so the book resided on my shelf for almost a year.

Recently, I've been feeling bummed about the collateral damage in my extended family relationships, and I've been supporting my Wonder Twin (WT) with her family stuff, and I'm back to writing here, and I'm trying to figure out what my dad's illness means for me, and I've read a ton of fiction lately, so I'm feeling open to some self-improvement reading. Last night some stuff about WT's mom triggered some of my own mom issues, so before bed I grabbed You're Not Crazy and started perusing. I figure I'll keep notes here on ACONography for the sake of remembering good quotes and providing a bit of a review for interested folks.

Without further ado...
You're Not Crazy - It's Your Mother
Danu Morrigan

Who would appreciate this book:

  • women just starting out in exploring issues with crazy moms
  • people who like a casual, conversational writing style and lay-person approach to discussing psychological / emotional illness
  • people who are experienced, well-read ACONS but want a quickie refresher / pick-me-up or a new perspective

Most thought-provoking quote thus far: 
"The kind of attention she prefers is admiration, but fear works well, too, if that's all she can get. And pity, failing even that." (p. 18)
Aha! While I'm very, very familiar with the love the narcissist has of being admired and/or feared, it had never occurred to me that pity is also a form of attention. This leads me to reflect on those times during my relationship with my mother when I clearly was not behaving in an admiring or fearful fashion, and she whipped out the "you have it so much better than I had it" or "when I was your age..." stuff. Kid isn't adoring you? Attempt to strike fear into her heart has failed? Go for "poor me, I had a sucky childhood with an abusive father and dead mother."

I do, actually, pity my mother, and with good cause. But I have learned that it's not a constructive discussion topic with her, because she will use it to excuse negative behavior. Sixteen-year-old me had some killer wisdom when my mother was haranguing me about how much more responsibility she took at that age, and I came back with "my mother isn't DEAD." Your shitty childhood is no excuse for being a horrible person to me.

Issues I have with the book:

Like so many other books and websites about narcissistic mothers, You're Not Crazy appears to fall into the trap of "all narcs are EVIL and all of them are EXACTLY THE SAME." This is a big problem I have with the ACON / Nparent community in general and some resources in particular. Narcissism, like just about everything else in life, falls on a continuum, from extreme narcissism through healthy narcissism through extreme lack of narcissism. Not every Nmom will be at the far, far deep end of the pool. As such, some mothers will be more neglectful than others. Some will be more consistently abusive than others. Some may have occasional flashes of empathy while others never do. And it may be more possible to establish effective boundaries with some than with others. My own mother is closer to the deep end in terms of her inability to change, but is not quite as malevolent as some others. My childhood did have good mixed in with the bad, and as such, it's not healthy for me to perceive it as entirely based in evil.  If we don't allow some room for nuance, we've fallen into the same trap as the Nparents themselves. 

It's also important to note that not all narcissists think they are perfect. Far from it. Most narcissists suffer from extreme lack of self esteem. Their narcissism is excess bravado that they layer on top to hide their self-hatred. They know how imperfect they are, on some level. They just can't handle it, and they especially can't handle you pointing it out to them.

So far, Morrigan is not making points with me because of this lack of nuance. For a balanced perspective that helps adult children to understand their relationships and recover from the harm done to them while also acknowledging the humanity of their broken parents, I still vastly prefer Alice Miller's The Drama of the Gifted Child

I'm interested to read more, and will share what I think along the way!

on the up side

It's a funny kind of up side, and might not sound like one, unless you're an ACON. 

My oldest son is hitting the very beginning edges of puberty. We're not dealing with body odor and hair in strange places and long showers and such yet, but oh, the mood swings. It's bringing me back to when I was his age, and emotion was JUST SO INTENSE, out of the blue. Gotta love those hormones.

I spend a lot of time lately feeling like I am totally failing at this mom stuff. The pre-teen challenges make me feel so, so, SO out of my depth. Babies are easy. You change their diapers and snuggle them and feed them and carry them around and their needs are met. Preschoolers are a little more challenging but you can still keep one step ahead and figure out strategies for handling the tougher days. And there are oodles of books and websites and people in general out there in the world handing out information about little kids and ideas for how to live with them. But this. THIS. I have no idea what to do with preteens and teenagers. I have had no role models for how to be a great parent to a teen. There are very few books about interacting with adolescents and guiding them in a way that jives with how I want to raise my kids. I am SO lost.

Suddenly, kiddo numero uno is very, very, very aware of people all around him. People who can see what he's doing. People who can hear everything he says. People who might be JUDGING him. I can see little adolescent insecurities getting their nasty goblin fingers around his guts. And I know so well, having been that age once myself, that there is no amount of logic that will convince him that other people are not paying close attention to him. That it really doesn't matter what you wear, that you can just get over being insecure and not care.

He and I were in a children's clothing store the other day. This store carries a comfortable brand of underwear that kiddo #1 has been wearing for years. Recently, I have retired some of his underwear because they are worn out or too babyish (airplanes and cartoon moose are a definite no-go now). So I suggested that we pick up a package or two of new ones. He immediately started looking angry and upset.

Me: "what?"

Him: "I don't need any underwear."
Me: "Yes, you do. You don't have enough pairs and some are wearing out."
Him, between his teeth, getting pissed: "I Don't Need Any Underwear."
Me: "We're buying some. You prefer solids, right? No stripes? I know you don't want the other patterns."
Him: "MOM. I Don't. Need. Any. Underwear."

By this time, he looked really mad and he was starting to tear up. Apparently buying underwear is a big deal. I didn't know it was a big deal. Besides, he needs some. I ignored him and went to look through the rack. They were missing his size, so I asked a saleswoman if they had any in the back. She went to look. I turned back to kiddo #1 and his eyes were wide with RAGE and brimming with tears. I was irritated with him. He does need new underwear. He was being unreasonable. What's the big deal? It's just underwear!

What I wanted to say: "OH. MY. GOD. Will you GET OVER IT?!?! NOBODY is looking at you. NOBODY is paying attention to you. NOBODY CARES that your mom is buying underwear for you. It's JUST UNDERWEAR. THIS IS NOT A BIG DEAL."

What I actually said: "Honey, almost everybody buys underwear. There's nothing embarrassing about it. Even that saleswoman probably buys underwear, and sometimes she probably asks people for help. It's not a big deal."

Less than perfectly empathetic, eh?

The saleswoman came back and told me that they were out of his size, so we left. He was fuming. I suppressed the desire to roll my eyes.

But then, as we walked to the car, I suddenly got it. It IS a big deal to talk about or be seen buying underwear in public. Not to me, but to him. This is his reality. And I am not going to be able to logic him out of this. There is not going to be a convincing argument. Because he has hit that age - the age at which everything is embarrassing, especially if your parent is doing it. Oh, god. Are we there already?
I thought back to being his age and embarrassed, and said what I think pre-teen me would have wanted to hear: "I'm sorry that that was so embarrassing for you. It didn't occur to me that it would be embarrassing."

After getting to the car, I checked in with him to see if he was still mad. He was, so I waited a while, and after he had cooled off, this is what I said: "So, I'd like to know how I could do things differently so you're not so embarrassed. Right now you don't feel like you need underwear. Sometime in the future you might need new underwear. What kind of plan should we make so that you can let me know what you want, but you don't have to feel embarrassed?"

I realized that my kid is in the perpetually-embarrassed stage, I apologized to him for not getting it, I thought about whether or not it's absolutely necessary to ask him in public about underwear (it's not) or to shop with him for it (also not). There are other ways to do this, ways that respect his right to be an awkward, self-conscious pre-teen. He will grow up later. He will, one day, be a twentysomething guy who can walk into a store and buy a pack of underwear without a care. Ok, maybe it will take him until 30. But it'll happen. Right now, this stuff feels hugely important to him, those feelings are very real, and I can recognize his feelings for what they are without getting my own panties in a bunch about it.

I'm sure I will embarrass him again in the near future, and again, and again. I'm also sure that there will be times when I'm not willing to change what I'm doing, and he will be forced to deal with his own embarrassment. But there will also be lots of times when I decide that I can give the poor hormonally-addled, frontal-lobe-growing, mortified kid a break. Because I have the ability to empathize and show compassion. 
And THAT is the up side, my friends. 

wonder twins: how to get us into therapy

Wonder Twin powers, activate!! In the form emotionally healthy individual!
As previously mentioned, I have a dear friend who deals with similar dysfunctional-mom and clueless-dad problems with her own family flavor. She and I didn't know about our shared mom issues until well after we had become friends, and it continues to amaze us just how similar some of our family crap is. She is the first person who ever really *got it* when I talked about my mom, and we have kindof doula-ed each other through growing up and becoming our own women. (I'm sure her sense of humor has helped a lot along the way - the phrase "open up a can of wacky" will forever be a part of my vocabulary, thanks to her. And she has joked for years about us being the Wonder Twins.) Her dad has been ill for a long time (much, much worse than my dad) and has significantly worsened in the past few years, resulting in heightened family stresses. Crisis does a lot to bring out the best and the worst in us, and in this case, it resulted in her already-nutty mom totally destabilizing and leaving her kids in the lurch, faced with making some serious decisions about their father's health care AND managing their crazy mom. Her mom has always been hard for my friend to deal with, but the shitstorm that rained down was just THE LAST STRAW for her, and she cried no mas, and launched her own truth campaign. She attempted ultra-low-contact in a way that reminded me of what I first tried: avoiding her, still letting grandkids see her, trying to communicate only through email. It doesn't work well. For me it was a stepping stone to no contact. For her? Who knows. She's happier and healthier than she was before, she's working through a lot of her own psychological junk, and she's hopeful that eventually there will be some form of relationship or non-relationship that will work for her. For now, though, it's tricky, what with a dying father with whom she still wants contact. She and I were messaging each other recently and there were a lot of moments in there that felt worthy of sharing. So here are snippets, shared with her permission and sometimes rephrased.
"Asking somebody to subvert themselves to an unhealthy dynamic in the name of family love and harmony is not ok. It is not a loving thing to ask."
This was with regard to siblings who give us the "she's your mother, this is causing drama within the family, could you just get over your issues and be normal?" treatment. What's really going on is that they lack empathy and fortitude, probably because they were parented by the same hot mess that you were. They cannot understand that your experience is not the same as theirs. They do not relate to the discomfort you feel in the presence (physical or via mail/phone) of your parent. They can only focus on how queasy they feel about the parent being upset and the "drama" resulting from your standing up for yourself. It's a selfish approach. It is not really rooted in love and compassion.

Here's an example of a relatively healthy sibling stance: my sister expresses clearly that she sees how my mother treats me and that she remembers other things my mother has done to all of her children in the past. This provides validation and compassionate witness to me. She does not feel that my choices require her to make the same choices, because she recognizes that she and I are separate people with separate needs and separate relationships with our parents. She has laid down FIRM boundaries with my parents and defends them when necessary. She refuses to get into drawn-out fights and she has let my parents know that she will NOT be put in the middle of their issues with me. That is a sibling who gets it. How she ended up this well-functioning is beyond me. My friend also has one sibling who mostly gets it, although he is currently hitting up against the limits of his compassion. Hopefully that will change, because I know he has been a saving grace for her. We also discussed a couple of standard maneuvers the dysfunctional parent employs. First, act clueless. "I don't know what you think I did...I still have no idea what your problem with me is." This, despite the fact that you have basically been trying to tell them for your whole life. Second, the therapy stick. They hit you with this in one or both of two ways. 
1) "You need therapy to work out your anger issues." Here's the thing: therapy shouldn't be the thing we do to fix the ACON. It should be the thing YOU do, mom, because you honestly want to know your kid and do the work required to get along with her. It doesn't count as therapy if all you do is complain about your kid to the therapist. It only counts if you're seriously working to figure out what your own garbage is. Honestly, if my kid decided he didn't want to speak to me, my first reaction would be to wonder what I did, not to tell him that he needs therapy. 2) "I want you to go to therapy with me." This is sometimes worded as a supposedly-selfless invitation, sometimes as more of an order. Problem is, therapy isn't magic. No therapist in the world can go *poof* and make a family all happy-happy-joy-joy just because you all showed up and sat on his or her couch.
My position is that if my mother really wants to go to therapy with me, really and truly, I need to see a few things from her first. I passed this along to my friend, who liked it so much that she ended up crafting a letter to her mother around this idea. No more "I don't know what I did" and "let's throw therapy at this problem." Here are what she and I think should be the pre-requisites shown before an ACON will go to therapy with a parent.
a) Elocution. The dysfunctional parent should demonstrate that she is aware that she has taken actions that were inappropriate. She should give specific examples of inappropriate behaviors and describe the ways in which these behaviors were harmful. This should be devoid of victim-blaming or excuses. This shows personal insight, responsibility for one's own actions, and empathy for the experiences of another.
b) Remorse. Expressed verbally. Preferably put into writing. Tell the wronged party how you feel about your own actions, and give a sincere apology, without excuses. 
c) Evidence of a willingness to change. This could be in the form of written expression of things she plans to do in order to create positive change, actions they have taken that show that they have taken you seriously and are changing the way they do things, or other positive behaviors.
Integral to this is the idea of SPECIFICS. Saying "I know I did some inappropriate things, and I'm sorry, and I plan to change" doesn't mean anything. It's not that easy, lady. (Not that we've ever been given even that much.) This is definitely a time when more is better. Actions speak louder than words. Love is a verb. And more cliché yet totally true things. She and I agreed that what we had seen thus far from both of our mothers was a) identifying us, the daughters, as the sole causes of all dysfunction, or b) completely ignoring reality by acting as if nothing is wrong at all. It is also important that the dysfunctional parent express these things directly to the estranged child. If you want it badly enough, you will figure out a way to get it to the kid, no matter how non-contact they want to be. It's not good enough for a sibling to tell you "she's really upset, she cries, she really loves you, she really wonders what she did wrong." Um, no. If you've told somebody else that you miss me and want things to be right, but you haven't told me, it doesn't count. The parent also needs to do her own work. You can't look on somebody else's paper for this stuff. From me to my friend:
The whole "give me an example" thing that, yes, I'm sure your mom would do to try to pin you to the wall is just lame on her part. If she wants to go to therapy, she needs to have enough self-awareness to think of at least one thing, ON HER OWN, that she thinks she could have done differently. History has shown me that no matter what the child in a dysfunctional family comes up with, the parent will explain it away. And, frankly, the mere act of batting away your objections is a sign of poor insight and lack of empathy in itself. They could at least get half-credit by listening when you tell them about the things that bother you.
Non-empathetic response: "I never did that" or "You were being unreasonable" or "you're taking that out of context" or any such defensive / offensive response.
Empathetic response: "I didn't realize that affected you in that way. Can you tell me more? My intent was ____ but it sounds like it didn't come across that way. How could I do things differently in the future?" 
Children of broken parents often hear that we are avoidant, and this comes up in the therapy discussions. They fail to realize that there's a difference between avoidance and exercising healthy boundaries. I can't see how it would be at all useful to go to therapy with a person who has shown zero signs of being a person who would be able to participate meaningfully in said therapy. Therapists aren't magicians. I should toss out there that neither she nor I think that either of our mothers will actually ever be able to make amends. I would LOVE to be proven wrong in either case. But neither of us is holding our breath. ;)
So, do you all have anything to add to our list of pre-requisites for starting to mend fences? What would it take for you to begin to trust your parent again?

oh, father

Yesterday I received some unsettling news about my dad, which led to a lot of confusion and difficult emotion on my part, and inspired yesterday's post. My sister visited me, and said that she thought I should know that my dad is having exploratory surgery and might have cancer. She knows that even though my parents continue to send evites to holiday gatherings and postcards from vacation locations and random anniversary cards to me, they would not give me this information. (I checked my spam filter - she is correct, they have not attempted to contact me about it.)

This sent me into a loop. My dad is not a bad guy. He's a broken guy. He's a guy with a mean person for a wife. (Although for that matter, my mom is not a "bad" person, just a very broken one more deserving of pity than hatred.) What he has experienced, without going into his personal medical details, is scary. At a bare minimum, his body is betraying him and he has experienced discomfort and embarrassment and possibly other blows to his self-esteem. He is facing surgery, which is never a pleasant prospect. Even with the most benign outcomes, his physical health will never be the same again. On the more extreme end, he may be facing his own mortality. He might have to have more surgeries, radiation treatments, chemotherapy, and possibly other treatments. Even with all this, even if it's a very treatable cancer, there will be no going back to 100% normal pre-problem health.

This sucks for him. I want to hug him. I want to tell him that I hope everything turns out ok. I don't want him to hurt or be scared.

Do I contact him? I want to, but I don't want to. I want to say kind things to him. I'm not sure how he would receive it. Would it be perceived as me trying to draw attention toward myself? Would it be an "oh, sure, when you're sick she comes out of the woodwork, she just doesn't want to feel guilty if something happens"? (Is there any truth to that?) Would he respond positively, angrily, neutrally, not at all? Would it be helpful to him to say kind things or would it just remind him of the interpersonal crap and bring him down even more in a time when he doesn't need more stress?

My husband wisely asked, "how does this change anything? They have still not owned responsibility for how they treat you or shown any desire to change. If it's not ok for them to treat you badly when they're healthy, it's not ok for them to treat you badly when they're sick."

He has a point. But can you be kind to somebody despite all of that crap? If you know to be prepared for a variety of possible reactions and ready to defend boundaries? IS it kind to pop back in (by email, or sending flowers?) when he's sick?

This is also making me confront a stupid fantasy that I had been harboring. My mom had some health problems a decade ago, and I had hoped that with time, the problems would come back and (quickly, painlessly) kill her. With her gone, I could approach my dad, and if he weren't too angry with me to ever speak to me again, we could go to therapy together and possibly rebuild a relationship. I feel like the only way to have a relationship with him ever again is if a) she has a miraculous epiphany and becomes a nice person or b) she's totally out of the picture.

But the thing is, women usually outlive men. The women in my family usually outlive their men. My father's mother outlived her husband. Most of the women on my mother's side of the family hang on freaking forever as tight-fisted matriarchs. There is not going to be any mending of fences with a widowered father.

I have no way of drawing this post to a conclusion because my thoughts about it are just too sad and scattered. I feel like the world's worst daughter, yet at the same time totally stand behind my decisions.

DOES this change anything? I don't know.

blurred lines

It's never simple.

I miss my family.

No, I miss the idea of family. Or the family that I thought I had. Or the family that we wanted to pretend we were.

I want my mommy. Well, not the one I have. The one I wish she could be.

My brothers are jerks. Well, sortof jerks. And I wish I were closer to them. Why would anybody want to be closer to people who are jerks? I long for the good old days. I'm not sure there ever were any good old days.

My sister is a miracle. She has empathy. She gets it. She sees it all. And yet she fears commitment. She doesn't want children. She worries she would mess them up because she tends toward anxiety and depression and we had no good models for how to handle that shit or how to be a good mother. She doesn't realize that the fact that she even thinks about that at all is exactly what would save her children.

I wonder who my brothers and sisters would be if not for my mother. And my father.

I miss my dad. I love him but I don't tell him that. I don't love my mom. At least, I don't think I do. I don't speak to either of them, but really, I let my dad off the hook because I consider him a victim, too. Or did until he spat ugliness at me that sounded like a script written by her. I let him off because he's weak. She preyed upon him. He depends upon her love. She privately scorns him. I feel sorry for him. He has self-esteem issues. He has mommy issues.

But I don't have any problem with my grandmother, his mother. Who must have been a monster like my mother in order to produce a son so needy. Right? I never saw her that way, though.

Not like I see my mother. I don't love my mother. I don't like my mother. I wish I didn't look like my mother. I feel revulsion toward her for the way she treats people. But isn't she a victim, too? Isn't she the product of genetics and a narcissistic father and a weak mother and bad luck? Is she any more able to control who she is and what she does than my father is? Both are broken people. Each is dependent upon the other to keep afloat. He needs her. She needs him. Why am I willing to absolve the passive parent but not the actively aggressive one? It took both of them to create a dysfunctional family.

Is the enabling parent less harmful? More harmful? Equally harmful? Is there any way to tell?

I wonder if there is an alternate timeline out there, one in which my dad never meets my mom. One in which he falls in love with a less poisonous woman. Would his wounds still have prevented him from finding a healthy mate? Would some lovely young woman from a functional family have found him? Is there another universe in which he marries a woman who helps him to grow and heal and become emotionally whole?

I will never know. I will never know. This is all I was given. This is all I get.

I miss something I do not want. I want something that will never exist. There is no happy ending, only a stalemate. Pick the life that sucks the least.

It is never simple.

the day of the mothers

It's sometimes a tough day for us. Mother's Day. A day in which we know the whole wide world around us will be celebrating the amazingness, holiness, perfectness of mothers...while we, daughters of narcissistic mothers, struggle with how to handle the mother-worship, and whether or not to engage in it ourselves.

For the last several years, I have not observed Mother's Day as it applies to my own mother. I don't know exactly how many years it has been. Maybe as many as 6, probably less. The fact that I don't remember which one was the last one is a good thing, really, because it means that this day is not as big a minefield as it used to be for me.

It's still an odd day, though. My husband and sons celebrate me, and it feels nice. I try not to have big expectations of the day and see it as a day which I will spend doing whatever I need to do in order to be the mom I want to be. That might mean having a day to myself, and it might mean having a big family adventure. Today it meant brunch out (so that I could enjoy my in-laws instead of feeling stressed about hosting them in a less-than-clean house)(plus I love that place - they have the best bacon and pitchers of mimosas) and then a quiet day at home. Cleaning off my beloved back porch so that I can enjoy it again. Gardening, because I love the feel of the dirt and the sight of the worms and the sense of productivity. Finishing one great book and beginning another. Laying in the hammock. My family enjoying yardwork and playing in the sprinkler. All of us enjoying a beautiful spring day. It was lovely, and for the most part, it was peaceful. But. There's always a but. Last night I dreamed about my mother - something to do with me wanting to have contact with her, but also wanting to hold her responsible for her actions. And today, occasionally, I would have those twinges, not of feeling like a bad daughter, because I know I'm not, but of knowing that other people think that I am. Knowing that my siblings were all paying homage. Knowing that my Facebook feed was probably flooded with hundreds of "I love my wonderful mother!!!!!" posts.

A friend contacted me. This is her first motherless Mother's Day. She chose earlier this year to end contact with her parents, and said, "it's just this ache in the back of my mind, and today it seems louder and harder and guiltier." I get it. It's hard to enjoy the good things in front of you when you are so conscious of the ways in which you are not a typical daughter and your mother is not a typical mother, when you feel so much pressure to say "thank you! you're wonderful!" to somebody who perhaps isn't wonderful and doesn't deserve thanks.

Then another friend shared a link, and I thought I'd pass it along to you.

In Case Mother's Day is Hard for You

Thanks to Jen for recognizing the many, many ways in which this holiday is not happy for many women.

I hope that all of you took good care of yourselves today and shared some love with somebody important to you, whether or not that person was your mother. And to all of you with narcissistic mothers, I hope you celebrated the ways in which you mother yourself.

free to disagree

Dropping in to quickly share a thoughtful Facebook post from The Peaceful Parent Institute.
I love how free my children are to give me honest feedback about what they do and don't like. I love how clearly lacking in inner conflict they are when they express frustration that's resulted in some way from what I've done/said, not done/not said...the next time your child is giving you feedback that's a little bit hard to swallow, try to hold that you're giving them a HUGE gift of allowing, supporting and validating their feelings, their right to have "negative" feelings in close relationships and a right to explore, identify, put words to and express those feelings.
You can read the rest here.