When Your Seemingly 'Nice' Parent Is Actually Toxic
For my entire life, I have always had the mom that everyone wished was their mom. Or, at the very least, the mom who made most of my friends say, “Your mom is so great!” And she can be great at times, but there is a side to her that most of my friends have never seen… and it’s not a good one.
My mom is the “nice” mom to everyone else, but to me? She’s toxic. It took me a really long time to get to that realization, but once I did, it completely changed our relationship.
My mom was a stay-at-home mom my whole life, and her entire identity is wrapped up in everything that entails. As a result, she thinks that she knows everything, and even though she hasn’t really been around any other small children for an extended period of time, she fashions herself as an authority on parenting.
Partially because of the way she raised me and partially because of the fact that my kid is so wildly different than I was, we often butt heads about parenting practices. When I told her I was taking my kid to a behavioral therapist at the age of three, she took personal offense that I didn’t consult her first on how to handle my kid’s emotional problems.
“I’m not saying you’re a bad mother, but I successfully raised you, didn’t I? Why didn’t you just ask me?” she asked, completely serious.
That’s another thing about my mom. She uses the guise of concern to completely insult me and make me feel like shit. Almost every compliment from her is backhanded, and I didn’t realize how damaging it was until I was in my 30s. She would compliment my outfit and then add something like, “That’s really how you’re going to wear your hair?”
In her mind, though, we’re best friends, and people are envious of the relationship she tells them we have.
In reality, I spend time with her because if I don’t, she makes me feel guilty by making passive-aggressive statements like, “What, you don’t want me around?” or “Am I not cool enough for you?”
At least your mom cares about you, some people say.
Well, I can’t remember when I last felt like my mother’s concern was actually about me, and not somehow also about her. She uses her “concern” for me as a way to manipulate me emotionally, and then when I try to call her on it, she turns around and plays the victim.
The “playing the victim” thing is one of the most toxic things about our relationship. There have been several instances where she was “concerned” about something in my life and went behind my back to talk to my friends about it. Why? Because I got “defensive” when she tried to talk to me and she figured that maybe hearing it from my friends would soften the blow. Those friends always knew better than to fall for it, and would often tell me what she was texting them, not because they were doing what she asked, but because they wanted to warn me about the shit she was trying to pull.
This isn’t normal or healthy. “Dude, what’s up with your mom?” they’d ask.
That’s how my mom works, though. Since I was a tween, she has always endeared herself to my friends, often obliging to do whatever we asked. If she positioned herself as the cool mom, then she had something to hang over my head. And by becoming friends with all of my friends, she could further insert herself into my life.
During high school, while she did loosen the reins a little bit, she would happily host my friends for movie nights, dinners, and sleepovers, fawning all over us and trying to get in the cool points. She was basically just like Amy Poehler as Regina George’s mom in Mean Girls, except she never tried to dress like I did, thank God.
It really irked her that when I went away to college, she didn’t know most of my friends. I think during those four years, she met maybe three of my good friends. Having that distance was good for me, because it gave me some control over my life. Even now that I’m an adult and no longer live close to home, she still feels the need to know as many friends as she can. During a recent visit, she met several of my friends and thanked them for “looking out” for me, as if I was incapable of looking out for myself. Thankfully, my friends played it off, but I was mortified and could tell they were uncomfortable with the insinuation.
She’s on social media and has used it to connect with some of my friends. A few friends have asked me if it was okay if they accepted her friend request because I had told them about what she has done in the past.
Sometimes when you have an incredibly likable parent, it’s hard to make others understand that they aren’t who they seem to be. When I try to open up about her manipulation or her toxicity, they brush it off and tell me it could be worse. Well, yes, it can always be worse. But when you’re faced with a parent who is low-key narcissistic and emotionally manipulative, it creates a whole web of damage that can’t be seen from the surface.
Yes, she offers to do my laundry when she comes to visit and cooks dinner for my friends, but there’s always a price to be paid. And that’s what people don’t seem to understand. With a toxic parent, especially one who doesn’t believe they’re doing anything wrong, a simple nice gesture is never just that. There will be days, weeks, and months of comments and statements that will undo even the nicest thing.
The only way to undo some of their toxic stronghold is distance, which I’ve created for myself by moving across the country. And maybe time.
This article was originally published on