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I cut off all contact with my mother. It made my life much better (washingtonpost.com)
50 points by eplanit 3 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 48 comments

Exceptionally tough concept for many to understand, but I became estranged from my father and step mother during the final six months and two years of life respectively. In my case, it was in direct response to ultimatums given in an attempt to get both of them into recovery / rehab for alcohol abuse.

It’s an exceptionally difficult decision for any person to make; however, it’s often a necessary decision to protect yourself and your family (my wife in my case). It’s unfair to your spouse, as an example, to put them through significant emotional abuse and derision.

In my case, the “how will you feel if they die” example wasn’t a consideration. The parents I had growing up were not the same ones that had been ravaged by alcohol. Those people had long since died, and i had already had to go through that grief process. For people who make the decision to cut ties, they’ve potentially already dealt with the same grief as a death, just without the person actually “dieing”. Hard to comprehend, but that was my experience.

Well put. Thanks for this, and sorry for your loss. Your last paragraph is something I'd never considered before, but makes perfect sense and hits a bit close to home.

Thank you!

Lots of life is tough and complicated, and there tends to be a significant amount of shame associated with stories like mine. I do my best to flip it around and share my experiences so others don’t feel so alone if they are going through something similar. I feel no shame around my experience, and I hope others choose to not carry that emotion as well.

Several years ago, I finally cut off relations with my own Mother. After several bouts of therapy it became very hard to ignore that she was and always had been a toxic influence in my life. As an adult through my 20s and 30s, I'd try to 'play-nice' and invite her over to visit (she lived in Spain, and may still do, I have no idea), from the moment she arrived to the moment she left, she tried to manipulate and emotionally blackmail not only me, but my partner and even my young daughter. When that stopped working she'd get her husband to do the same every time I was alone with him. She made me miserable even when she wasn't around, and I would be constantly stressed knowing that I'd have to interact with her, something I tried to do for the sake of my daughter. I feel no emotional bond with the woman; she has treated me awfully my entire life.

Since stripping her from my life, I no longer feel the guilt and burden of maintain a relationship that really wasn't good for me.

Blood is never thicker than water. It doesn't matter who the person is; if they are not a positive element in your life, then cut them out. Like you would a cancer.


Before someone thinks 'ah but I bet he carries some blame regarding the deterioration of the relationship' - nope. My sister, who is several years younger than me, has also cut my Mother out of her life. In fact she did it before I did.

I’m in this phase right now where I’m trying to cut off my mother, for the same reasons you listed.

The thing that kills me is she knows she’s hurting me and tries to change. She can make the changes for a few weeks but then reverts back to her “normal” self. It’s like watching an addict relapse, it’s so goddamn hard. I know there’s a human in there who loves me, but goddamn it, the demon who wants clean floors always wins.

Clean floors is all she wants? Doesn't seem terrible. I'm guessing that was a tip-of-the-iceberg kind of thing?

She has an idea in her head about how the world should work and she has a tome of rules and regulations that you must follow at all times. Lots of yelling and screaming when these rules are broken. There is no scale to her reactions. You walked on the floor with bare feet? Same reaction as if you broke a cherished heirloom.

It sounds like some sort of obsession/compulsion thing.

It can get weird:

I once knew a guy who felt a need to balance left and right turns. He would count. After descending a normal multi-story staircase, he would spin in place to unwind the turns.

The rules, no matter how weird, must be followed. Unfortunately in your case, you're expected to participate.

Looks like comorbid irritability, have her checked for thyroid dysfunctions. Hashimoto's a good candidate.

This would explain the harsh reactions, but doesn’t explain the need to create rules for everything. The more I think about it, the more I think that the rules are just an excuse to give into an anger addiction.

> Blood is never thicker than water.

I've heard that the original version of this saying is "the blood of the covenant runs thicker than the water is the womb", which would mean pretty much the opposite of the original. Whether it's true or not, I prefer that version.

That version has no basis in history, nor does it make much sense if you think about it. That said, I agree with your sentiment, just wish there was a more well known quote conveying it.

It’s about fraternities.

My father abandoned the family when I was 13. I started working as an apprentice in the railroad at 14 in order to help supporting 3 younger brothers. My salary went straight to my mother.

At night I was studying to become a certified electronics technician at a vocational school. One day someone from the staff told me I would be barred from the exams because I haven't paid tuition (a month after this the school was incorporated by a state-owned university and went tuition-free otherwise I would never graduate). So picture a mother that will steal tuition money from his son and you can imagine how my mother leeched me for years. This kind of abuse has consequences for life.

Sometimes your parents are very bad people and there is nothing you can do about it. And no, I don't really care if either of my parents live or die, in some way they are already dead for me.

Yeah. I started a company some years ago, and asked my mother to take care of the books as her job history was office/admin stuff.

Fast forward a few years, she forged my signature on paperwork to ASIC (www.asic.gov.au), making her the sole director of the company.

Not really a person I have time for any more. :(

Estrangement is tough but sometimes necessary, and in fact it’s easier than maintaining a toxic relationship. I am fully estranged from my father and sister, and partially from my mother, with whom I have very occasional contact. The reasons are complicated, but suffice it to say that my family history is very troubled and sad. My sister is a nacotics addict who has two children greatly affected by her addiction (both were born addicted and were in an ICU for a month). She doesn’t have legal custody of them, but my parents enable her behaviors and allow her to have the children even she’s not supposed to have unsupervised visits, etc. A long time ago, and with the help of many therapists over the years, I have decided to cut ties, though it was too hard to completely break all contact with my mother. Of course, most people we know are baffled by our estrangement because my parents seem like “such nice people”. But this solves a lot of problems and in fact the sadness I feel is worth not having to deal with the horrible emotional roller coasters and certain fears my wife and I have regarding the safety of our own children. It’s a sad but necessary solution to a complex problem.

I'm on this train too, I cut ties with my mother last fall. she loves me but it comes out in toxic ways that she doesn't seem to have insight into. as i've grown in life, things have gotten harder and harder with her as we continue to (naturally) grow apart. it got worse when i got engaged, then worse when married, then worse when we had kids.

when it became clear that her only motivation in the relationship was adulation from me, and that she was willing to sabotoge or hold-hostage other relationships to get her way (withholding attention from my kids, accusing my wife of being against her, etc), I realized this wasn't healthy.

it makes me sad that there was no other option. but i don't regret it.

My parents were both in the counseling field. Very few people are beyond redemption. While I fully support this in extreme circumstances, more often than not, from what I've seen, estrangements are more about mental health issues with the person who is cutting things off than the person accused of being toxic. The family was for a long time the safety net for people, now we have put that faith in the government... Out of the two I trust my family more than I trust a bureaucrat that has no loyalty to me.

The other issue is that as our parents and relatives get older their mental condition declines. Some of the extreme views and "toxic" behavior that older people can have stems from that. So instead of having some patience and gratitude for what they've done for us we are now taught to cut them off? I guess them raising us as children, changing our diapers, making sacrifices for us etc. doesn't count for any kind of paying it forward because..... me, me, me, me, me.

> The family was for a long time the safety net for people

In these times also a lot of abuse was not recognized as abuse.

> Out of the two I trust my family more than I trust a bureaucrat that has no loyalty to me.

We trust companies to feed us and house us, and government to regulate them; if social programs were properly funded and efficiently administered there's no reason why they couldn't be as reliable.

There are political forces that seem to want to privatize everything for profit, these same forces have an interest in destabilizing working government programs and/or making them unreliable, difficult-to-use, or untrustworthy, making people think that non-private entities can't perform as well.

I’ve seen it on both sides. My mother was cut out by her sister with paranoid schizophrenia. I cut out my father and step mother (see my other comment for details) due to alcohol abuse.

I will say that never once was it “the governments problem” to deal with them. That wasn’t part of the calculus, and in fact the laws in Ohio were the biggest barrier to us getting them help. Despite being unable to walk and feed himself because he drank so heavily, the state wouldn’t grant me guardianship and said it was his choice to drink himself to death.

If the implication is that families need to be responsible for one another, we need to make it easier for children to attain guardianship over health decisions when their parents stop adequately taking care of themselves. Otherwise you’re throwing a burden on children without any legal authority, so you just end up in a constant high stress situation where you’re trying to convince someone to do something that their brain is incorrectly telling them to be skeptical of and ignore.

The fact that you can't get easily legal guardianship over an ailing parent is indicative of the problem with government intervention. Granted, you have a lot more kids who have no problem committing elder abuse. This is what happens when you chip away at the fabric of the family. Government tries to come in and fill the void and you end up with this.

What if your parents didn't sacrifice for you? What if you raised yourself? The pay it forward attitude is just so blind to the harsh realities that a large number of children face. It is very possible for a parent to hate and resent their child to such a degree that they take every opportunity to hurt, gaslight and humiliate. And that's IF they are not ignoring you because they are distracted by addiction. I love being apart of my children's lives now. I don't expect anything in return for taking care of them. I have to earn their loyalty everyday by being a great person just like I have to do for everyone else I meet. Its such a sense of entitlement that the children owe you. If you don't want to change diapers, don't have a goddamn kid!!!!!!

I agree with the idea its the mental health of the person cutting things off, me in this case. But, indeed, the lion's share of my mental health issues could be attributed to the toxic nature of my relationship with mother. I was very close to being able to maintain stable relationships outside of the familial one. It was a clue that I was probably ok. Once I cut her out and wasn't under assault, my other relationships improved dramatically. (Intimacy etc) I was able to finally separate from her, find my own natural level of dysfunction and begin to live my own life.

> I guess them raising us as children, changing our diapers, making sacrifices for us etc. doesn't count for any kind of paying it forward because..... me, me, me, me, me.

But having children is a choice. A choice that they made. A choice that comes with huge responsibilities.

I'm all for having and expressing gratitude within reason though.

But I no longer see life as some gift I should be eternally grateful for. And even if it is a gift, its not one I asked for and should be required to pay for.

> guess them raising us as children, changing our diapers, making sacrifices for us etc. doesn't count for any kind of paying it forward because.....

Yes. It doesn't because it's a selfish decission of a parent to bring a child to this world. Assuming it's a decission at all. It's your choice as a parent to keep the child for your own selfish reasons. Even if you hate your child and want to get rid of it but you don't and you sacrifice your life and comfort to raise it you still are doing it for selfish reasons. Because you want to think that you are a good person or because you expect something back.

Life is not a gift you gave your children. You don't own your children. They are their own, separate human beings, strangers to you, that have their own lives. If you want to be part of their lives you have to deserve it. You had a good start by exploiting the period when their minds were forming (assuming their experience of childhood was good) but it doesn't give you free pass to do what you feel like and expect their eternal frienship. Most parents don't eff this up and remain friends with their children till they die. If you don't then probably something is seriously wrong with you or (less often) with your kids or with all of you (but that's still probably your fault).

Are children ingrateful? They might still be grateful and never want to hear another word you say. You can't dictate how gratitude towards you is felt or manifested. Otherwise you are parent equivalent of a 'nice guy'.

In case you are wondering I'm in a very friendly relationship with my mother and when it comes to money her need is my need. I'm also very positive towards my father whom I never met and grateful for him doing the right thing. I don't have children but I like them and am very friendly towards them.

I guess them raising us as children, changing our diapers, making sacrifices for us etc. doesn't count for any kind of paying it forward because.....

Looks like you left some big-ticket items off that list, at least as far as it concerns me. Or did you just want the good parts paid forward?

Besides, it reminds me of a Chris Rock routine: "Oh, I take care of my kids!"

"That's what you're supposed to do, ya dumbass."

My colleagues are in the psychiatry and psychological therapy fields, and it's well recognised that some parents are toxic and cause serious on-going emotional harm to their children.

I cut out my parents with the support (not direction of) my therapist. She was very clear in our conversations that the way in which my father and step mother were treating me was not acceptable behavior, and providing them with guard rails around what will allow us to maintain a relationship was appropriate.

So yes, 100% your comment. It’s a pretty easy argument to make.

Are there toxic and harmful people in this world? Yes. Are there toxic and harmful people who have children? Yes. Are there toxic and harmful people who direct that behavior towards their children? Yes.

The unsaid thing with all of this is that the counseling field has become part of the problem with this. It used to be that counselors had more of a religious affiliation which made the more pro-family. These days they are a big part of the problem.

In a child/parent relationship those very issues could be due to the parent. However, there are just some people who are toxic and the estrangement is fully warranted.

I'm a bit confused by your government rant - why would that bear into wanting to get away from a toxic parent? Or are you saying because the government could possibly do that they shouldn't, as family should be the more important safety net, even if that family is toxic?

> Out of the two I trust my family more than I trust a bureaucrat that has no loyalty to me.

I think you oversimplify the question.

That bureaucrat could be implementing policies that help you (and others) without counterproductive emotional baggage that affects many relationships.

An example might be home care: many daughters are guilt-tripped by society and family to look after their aging parents (this also happens but to a much lesser degree to sons). If the state provided paid care that took many of the burdens off those carers (changing nappies, some cleaning, perhaps meals) then not only could the children have more fulfilling lives without those burdens but they could have a much better relationship with the aging parent when there is no resentment injected into the process (by the child for having to do the "scut work" and by the parent who resents aging having forced them to depend on others).

There's no perfect balance here and perhaps you trust your family, but there is an implicit burden embodied in that.

The people who benefit from this are not the family, but the corporations who have less distracted men and women so that they can continue to make them more money. The better solution is to allow for extra time off to help care for them. Some of those jobs may not be fun, but during end of life there are a lot of conversations etc. that happen during that time....family stories etc. and generally less regret than spending the majority of your time working for a soul-less company while care givers spend time with your relatives during their last days and hours.

Interesting. Have you ever had to care for a dying parent or sibling? Have you ever changed an adult's diapers? Have you ever accidentally injured a frail person, or yourself, trying to help them in or out of bed, and then thought "I wish I had some experience nursing help"?

On the other side of that coin, do you suppose most infirm people would rather burden their own children with changing their soiled diapers and cleaning up the their bowel movements that miss the toilet, versus hiring a professional caretaker to do it? If you're tempted to say yes, I have a surprise for you :)

Delegating those chores that can be done quicker and more competently by a professional will very often leave loved ones with more quality time for conversation and companionship, with less anxiety, exhaustion, embarrassment, and resentment associated with intensive palliative caretaking.

I think you are mixing up two orthogonal topics. I'll address the one relevant to the thread.

If you believe you will achieve a better relationship and memories with an aging parent via nappy changing that's wonderful. But the data show the opposite: much resentment and exhaustion and actually a diminution in the quality of the relationship. In addition few people have the training to deal with a parent who is mentally as well as physically impaired. Better that the time spent was where the participants get the most joy.

Note: I have been studying this market as I'm working on a startup looking at the sector.

> The family was for a long time the safety net for people

Almost, but not quite right, in an important way. The family was for a long time the safety net for people who had a safety net. There may not have alternate safety nets, sure, but it doesn’t follow that family was always a safety net. Many people just ended up with no safety net. The same occurs today—we may have alternate safety nets, which is good, but it doesn’t make families any more or less reliable than before.

You're making a whole lot of assumptions here. Let's break some things down.

1- "I guess them raising us as children, changing our diapers, making sacrifices for us etc. doesn't count for any kind of paying it forward because..... me, me, me, me, me."

No, it counts for nothing. That's your job as a parent. You're not required to have children in most countries I know of. If you sign up for having a child, you sign up to raise them to a point where they're self-sufficient (within reason). If you can't or won't be able to do that, you can have them removed from your custody. Doing the bare minimum (feeding, clothing, educating, and not abusing) a child is your job when you decide to become a parent. Are families complex? Are there lots of communication issued? Of course. But that's not what this article is about.

2- "The other issue is that as our parents and relatives get older their mental condition declines." My mother was verbally and physically abusive since I was a toddler. My father is a (semi)functioning alcoholic with a heart of gold and a lifetime of his own abuses. This is who they are. This is a misdirection. Some people become shit as they get older. Others were always terrible. If my parents behavior worsened as they got older, they never had any gratitude to start with because of their behavior when they were younger.

3- "Very few people are beyond redemption". What. The. Fuck? Who cares? Why is it my job to fix them? What if they don't WANT redemption. What if you tell them, time and time again, "your behavior is hurtful and ruining my desire to have a relationship with you. You need to get help. You need to work on your problems" and they refuse? Of course this is often about mental health issues. That's the basis of mental health! That your state of mind is causing you problems in your relationships and ability to function in the world. I believe many (some?) people are able to overcome their issues. I also believe many people don't care or recognize what they're doing. There's plenty of personality disorders that include "I'm not the problem, the world is the problem" as part of their diagnostic behavior.

TL;dr- My experience runs entirely contrary to yours. What a strange beautiful world we live in. Opinions aren't facts.

> No, it counts for nothing. That's your job as a parent.

Yes. Thank you for writing this, all of it.

What? Are you serious?

Do you think anyone ever asked you if you wanna be alive?

Paying it forward? Wtf?

Totally unrelated to the article:

Why does the washingtonpost hijack my browser history? I had to click my browser's back button 7 times to get back to HN, this is an infuriatingly annoying behavior that I wish websites did not have.

Yeah. But the more general question is, why do browsers allow that? Why can't a browser have a "back" button that, you know, goes back...?

I do my best to show my mother that I love her. Last Christmas, I bought her some nice gifts. I do it in part because there are mothers like this in the world, and not everybody is as lucky as I am.

I think that is indeed the majority case, and it's great you have that, and also that you recognise that it's not universal.

It's unfortunate that people who can't have that for whatever reason get shamed for it.

Both of my parents were estranged from their parents, and are now sad that they are estranged from my sister.

But I was not condemned to repeat that in my own childrearing.

"What if the asshole dies and you're still estranged?" Such a question reveals an ignorance of how toxic people can be. And in my book, blood relations doesn't get you a get-out-of-jail-free card for being an asshole. My family has assholes, leeches, the works. Quite a few I get along with, quite a few I can go to my grave having never spoken to them again and have not one regret for having eliminated stress and conflict from my life.

Not that I've willfully cut anyone out of my life. I do have one sister that stomped off mad one day, never to return. Good riddance, and contrary to whatever fantasies you might harbor, you will not be missed, Sis. The rest I just don't go out of my way to contact. I'd pick up the phone if any of them called. Hell, my estranged sister could call and I'd pick up. But I'm not going out of my way to add difficulty to my life.

So maybe I'm a sociopath, or maybe I'm more enlightened, you choose. But I just don't get this putting up with shit just because "we're family!".

FWIW, the level of prosperity that we currently enjoy in the developed world is probably a once-every-100-million-years kind of event. It's a result of increasing technological sophistication concurrent with reduced fertility. At any other point in human history, you'd be a damned fool to cut off family without a lot of thought and consideration. Family + significant other is the only safety net that most humans have ever really been able to count on.

Editing to add: and if you think your family won't be important in your life because you live in the developed world, you should take a look at current European politics, then talk to older Europeans about the second war (or to Eastern Europeans about life under communism).

> Family + significant other is the only safety net that most humans have ever really been able to count on.

I think this is true, but it's also one of the most common and powerful ways in which abusers control their victims. Often, the most difficult challenge that victims of abuse and domestic violence face is overcoming their dependence, financial and otherwise, on their abusers.

I read an article about people from Syria coming to Germany without parents and talking about a level of freedom they never experienced before.

Not having all your family around you and controlling you and living after there worldviews.

This 100000% over.

You're not a sociopath. You're wise and strong enough to avoid abusive relationships where you see them. Many people can't, so they shame those that can by calling them heartless or sociopaths to justify why they keep toxic people around in their own lives.

It's no wonder why cults, organized crime, shitty people and shitty employers appeal to sense of familial bond as well...peoples' innate need to be part of some "family" construct gets exploited as a cover for all sorts of abuse.

You wouldn't want someone in your family to get in trouble for molesting or cheating you, would you? This will drag on for years, or decades of your life if you let it.

Anytime anybody tries to appeal to family or tells you "we're just one big family here" to get you to do something, run for your life. Whatever you're about to get into will turn incestuous quickly.

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