Ask Scary Mommy: I Don't Speak To My Narcissist Mom - What Do I Tell My Kids?
Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s new advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.
This week… What do you do when your children start asking about their estranged grandma, the woman you had to cut out of your life permanently because of her narcissistic abuse? Have your own questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Scary Mommy,
I went “no contact” (that’s parental abuse survivor lingo for “I cut that P.O.S. out of my life permanently”) with my mother about a decade ago. It was a mutual decision, really, since I couldn’t handle her being part of my life due to her verbal, mental, physical, and emotional abuse, overall toxicity, and narcissism, and she refused to not do any of those things. Fast forward to one marriage and two children later, and my oldest is asking questions. She’s almost five, and she knows she has a grandma on her dad’s side, and a grandpa on my side (my dad is a very regular part of her life). But she occasionally asks where my mommy is, and why I don’t have one, or why she doesn’t have a grandma. My youngest is too young to ask questions yet, but she will someday. For now I just say ” all families look different, and I just have a daddy,” etc. and try to change the subject. The reality of the situation is just way too serious for her right now. What do I do as she gets older and just keeps asking? (My mother will never, ever be part of my life or theirs. That is non-negotiable.)
Some parents should never have become parents, point-blank. And those stupid adages of “you only get one mother” or “blood is thicker than water” are so useless and unintentionally harmful and it sounds like you know that already, which means you’ve done a lot of hard work. Narcissists generally are not receptive to getting the help they need and will never change, so it’s up to the people around them to put up healthy boundaries. As someone who’s also been through something similar with a parent, I know it was likely the hardest thing you’ve ever been through. You never need to explain yourself to anyone who doesn’t understand the toxic dynamic of an abusive parent.
You will, however, owe your kids an explanation. Since they’re very young, I think age-appropriate answers are totally fine. I don’t think you should hand-wave away their questions or change the subject. I also don’t think you should ever lie to them (i.e. “Grandma’s dead”). For a five-year-old, what you’ve said so far is perfect. If she persists in further questions, be honest: “Some mommies or daddies aren’t very nice, and mine wasn’t very nice to me. But your mommy loves you very, very much and we’re so lucky to love each other.”
For my own situation, I came up with my own rules for this very heavy subject: 1.) Never initiate the subject (at least not when they’re little); 2.) Never lie; and 3.) Tell them exactly as much as you think they need to know to answer the question, and that’s it. I never want to overwhelm my kids with my own baggage. They’ll ask more as they grow up, and they’ll probe, and these rules can definitely apply then too.
I hope this helps. Also? You’re doing an amazing job — with yourself, and your kids. From one motherless mom to another: I’m proud of you.
Have your own questions? Email email@example.com