This Is What It's Like To Have A Toxic Parent

by Brandi Jeter Riley
Originally Published: 

I didn’t talk to my mom on Mother’s Day this year. In the past few years, it’s been rare for me to pick up the telephone on special occasions to call her. I’ve learned that, in order to protect my sanity and my heart, there needs to be some distance between us.

Things weren’t always like this, though. As a little girl, I thought my mom was the most beautiful woman in the world. She seemed so sophisticated to me and could do no wrong in my eyes.

Turns out, she did, actually, do a lot of wrong.

The issues that I have with my mother are two-fold. First, she’s an alcoholic. She has been for the last thirty years or so. She was sober for a decade, but when I was pregnant with my first child, she started drinking again. That was ten years ago. She’s had short periods of sobriety, but she’s pretty much completely back off the wagon now. I know alcoholism is a disease, and I try to be compassionate and understanding, but sometimes the pain is just too much.

Because it’s not just the alcoholism. She also has this terrible habit of lying and attracting chaos and tragedy. It’s like she needs it to survive. If things are going well for me or my siblings, she can’t handle it. She’s only happy when things are going wrong. She even makes up stories about things that aren’t true to other people so that she can live out a tragic narrative.

There were times when I’ve wondered if my mom was purposefully sabotaging my brothers and me when we were doing well just so that we could fit into her story. When my youngest brother got into an amazing college, she stopped answering his phone calls after the first semester. He didn’t have tuition or information for his student loan for the next school year and would have had to drop out if not for my uncle stepping in. My mom didn’t do anything else for him for his entire four years of college. I know it’s because she wanted him to fail.

She once kicked me out of her house, knowing that I had nowhere else to go, because I confronted her about lies she was telling a friend about me. I had finished college, was working full-time, and was incredibly respectful of her and her home. That didn’t fit into her storyline, though. She told her friend that I was lazy, messy, and never did anything to help her out. When I told her that none of that was true, she threw my things in plastic trash bags and put them on the steps outside.

There are incidents like this going all the way back to when I was a little kid. There was the time I was going to Germany with my dad for three years and my mom didn’t even say goodbye. Or on the day that my daughter was born, my mom left the hospital and I didn’t see or hear from her again for almost two months. Most recently, my brother had gotten injured and was in the hospital for 7 months. She went to see him once at the beginning, and hasn’t seen him since. That was three years ago.

Through all of this, I have still tried to build a relationship with my mom. Last month, I cancelled my family’s spring break plans to buy her a ticket to come visit us. I repeatedly asked her if she was positive she wanted to come. I assured her that I would take care of everything she needed. Two days before she was supposed to come, my aunt had to break the news to me that my mom wasn’t going to make it.

For some reason, my mom just doesn’t want to be happy. Every time she has the chance, or we have the opportunity to come together and rebuild our relationship, she does something to mess it up.

Over the years, it’s been tough to accept that no matter what I do, my mother will always be this way. I’ve begged her, forgiven her, and bent over backwards to let her know I want her in my life. Nothing works. My mom wasn’t there for me when I was kid. She wasn’t around when I needed her as a new mom. And now she’s not able to be here for her grandchildren.

When I think about the times my mom has disappointed me over the years, I know I can’t put my children through that. When she didn’t show up for spring break, my daughter was crushed. I remember that feeling all too well. Even though it’s hard for me to release her, I know I have to for my children’s sake. It hurts me to let her go, but I have to love her from far away.

I’ll still send her a text message every so often to let her know I’m thinking about her. Then I’ll work on myself to make sure I don’t become the mother that my mom is to me, to my own children.

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