My mother is constantly demanding information and more time with me and my family. How can I politely keep my distance without being unduly rude.
I am an only child and my father beat me. My mother insisted that we had to accept it; he earned a lot of money and she liked the lifestyle we had. When I came out as gay, he cut off contact with me, and we are not in touch. He has never met or acknowledged my wife and our children. My mother divorced him only recently.
I have been quite resentful towards her for not defending me, but I have tried to accept that it must have been hard for her, too. He was her first boyfriend, and she had been trained by her own parents to support her husband.
I live in a different country from where I grew up, and I like the distance. The problem is that my mother emails me many times a day, constantly asking questions. I only respond once a day, but she complains when I don’t reply. She also says I only give her “crumbs”.
She has a lot more money than we do and uses it to try to bribe me. She’ll offer to pay for us to visit, or to leave us money in her will, but only if I take care of her in old age. I don’t feel the money is worth the stress, but equally I don’t want my children to lose out on having a potentially easier life.
After speaking to a specialist, psychoanalytic psychotherapist Helen Morgan (bpc.org.uk), I realised how many parallels there are between you and your mother – before you panic, let me explain. She put up with her husband because of money, and that’s similar to what you’re doing with her. You say she was trained to be supportive of her husband, and I think you’ve been trained to be supportive of your mother, no matter what. Your mother made excuses for your father; you’re doing the same with her.
Morgan pointed out that your family is one of “co-dependency, where people go along with things; where bad behaviour isn’t confronted, it’s colluded with”. Morgan was also struck by your use of the word “polite”. She said: “It may be necessary to really face how furious you are with your mother and what was done to you as a child, and that’s not polite.”
You have every right to be angry with your mother, but it’s not easy, is it? It was easier with your father because of the abuse, but with your mother, something keeps you enmeshed, hopeful, not resolute. If you could, without fear of consequence, what would you really say to your mother? Perhaps you should write it down. I’m guessing you don’t let yourself go there, because it must be painful.
In every tricky relationship where we stay, there’s a hook: usually love, money, guilt or hope. Here, there’s all four. I wonder if your children will look back and say of you: “Mum stayed because of the money,” just as you are saying about your own mother? You’re absolutely not your mother; your longer letter showed compassion, empathy, thought – all things your mother seems to be lacking – but it is something to think about.
You can let things stay as they are, with your mother trying to get to you, and you trying to keep a distance, or you could tell her what you’re not prepared to put up with and what the consequences will be if she breaches those conditions. But I think you fear that such a conversation will be catastrophic, and that she might break with you.
Morgan suggested you examine what you are fearful of, and what’s driving you to keep contact. Only you can answer these things; only you can decide what the boundaries are – but you must know in your heart that your mother is never going to fundamentally change.
You moved far away and you talk of distance a great deal. I see this a lot in dysfunctional family relationships, but, as Morgan pointed out: “You don’t need a distance if an ordinary separation has taken place.” This separation isn’t ordinary, it’s bedded in trauma, dysfunction and pain. You are not a bad person for wanting to have a good life.
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