Not Today

Setting And Maintaining Boundaries With My Mother Never Ends

I had no idea this would be a lifelong struggle.

A mother and daughter sit on a sofa in their living room communicating with each other
Nathan Bilow/Photodisc/Getty Images

My mother and I have had a tumultuous relationship since I was a teenager. If I’m talking about something terrible that happened to me, she’s had the same experience, only it was worse. If I’m sharing great news, she has better news. If I’m not sure about something, she verbally vomits for what seems like hours — even though I’m pretty sure she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

And so, I’ve tried to keep somewhat of a distance. I used to break out in hives before I’d see her. And then, sometime in my 30s, I decided I needed to set boundaries with her for the sake of my mental health.

I didn’t realize it would be a constant battle setting these boundaries for the rest of my life.

For example, I have been very clear I wanted to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with my kids. I don’t like to go anywhere, and I don’t want to have anyone over. I did years of hosting and was always left feeling resentful for all the work I put in because nobody seemed to care about my needs. So I stopped.

Instead of respecting my decision and my boundaries, she messaged my teenage kids behind my back and asked what we were doing. My children love her and like to spend time with her. I’m fine with that, and I don’t feel the relationship is damaging enough that I have to completely cut her out of their lives too. I also think that would be hurtful to them because they’ve had a different experience with her than I have.

But she puts my kids in a very uncomfortable position being the go-betweens. They question why she can’t come over. I haven’t explained to my kids all the things that have happened between me and my mother. I want them to have their own experiences with her. I’ve asked her not to do this. I don’t understand why she thinks it’s OK to pit my kids against me.

She also complains to my sisters behind my back and tells them she has no idea why I treat her this way. There have even been times I’ve tried to let her do what she wants so I don’t feel the wrath. But each and every time I do this, I am filled with anger and dread. I don’t want her to have access to me whenever she feels like it.

There are days I’m not emotionally equipped to handle her narcissistic tendencies and listen to her constantly turn the conversation back to herself. I don’t think my mother crosses and tests my boundaries because she wants to see me and repair our relationship like she says. If that were the case, I’d be able to tell she was working on our relationship.

I think she does it to have control. She wants everyone else to believe we have a better relationship than we do.

I am more at peace when I tell her no some of the time. I feel happier and lighter when I get to spend certain days with people I want to be with without having to put up with her.

I’ve come to realize not everyone should have access to you whenever they want it on their terms. Yes, this requires a lot of work and constant maintenance but to me, it’s been worth it. My happiness counts too and I’m the only one who can provide myself with the peace I need in order to be the best mother I can be.

Diana Park is a writer who finds solitude in a good book, the ocean, and eating fast food with her kids.