Adapted from a recent online discussion …
DEAR CAROLYN: When I was 16, I came home to my mom sneaking out of our house with her belongings and my younger brother. She was leaving my stepdad, and me, too. She actually left us a note on the kitchen table.
I was already the stepkid with the “horrible” dad my mother bashed repeatedly, so this crushed me.
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After watching my stepdad go through the motions of moving out and not asking me to go with him, it became clear I was on my own. I called relatives and the general consensus was it was none of their business. After years of no communication, I called my dad and he let me move in with him.
Come to find out he was a nice person who made me feel wanted for six great years. After he died of a heart attack, I called my mom crying and she said, “Good, he got what he deserved.” She didn’t contact me again for nine years.
Now she texts me sporadically as though nothing has happened. I reply only to what is being asked and offer no more. Over the years I tried to work on our relationship, but she refuses to acknowledge any possible negative feeling I have. She says I was abusive to her (I wasn’t) and has told relatives these lies about me. It’s ruined my life and has left me without any family support.
I think I need to just stop all contact with these toxic people, but I’ve been made to feel at fault for so long that my mind is cloudy. I have gone to therapy, but they don’t tell you what to do.
I’ve read of your loving relationship with your mom and figure you’ll give me the sternest response, and I want to see all angles of this.
— Left Me
DEAR LEFT ME: This is painful even to read, and you lived it. I’m so sorry.
I’ve said this before, and it applies here: The adults in your life were responsible for nurturing and protecting you. When they abdicated this responsibility, it conferred to you. Of course, as a child you were in no position to act as your own parent/protector. You were betrayed.
Now, though — in your 30s? — you’re equipped to act as your own protector. You had some terrible models, but I bet you can list pretty quickly all the things you’d do for a child, and never do to a child.
That list is what you need to do on your own behalf now. Let’s say No. 1 is “I will respect my child’s needs and feelings.” Then: Apply that standard to dealing with your mom. Maybe No. 2 is “I will protect my children from family members who mistreat them.” Applying that to your situation is a straight line.
About my mom — she took care of me when it was her job to, and she let me take care of myself when it was her job to. There’s a lot more to it in the details, obviously, but her not breaking that fundamental contract was the foundation upon which everything else was built.
Your mom broke that contract, so you’re free to write your own — without apology to your mom or anyone else who would judge you.