Dear Ann Cannon • My mom constantly says mean things to me and puts me down. I’ve made mistakes, but she keeps bringing up those mistakes over and over. I don’t know what to do. I’m thinking of cutting off all contact with her. But she’s my mom. Can I really do that?
Dear Daughter • OK. Short answer first. Yes. You really can. Breaking off contact with your mother is certainly within the realm of possibility. People break off contact with other people all the time.
There’s a larger question to consider here, though. Should you?
Typically I am not a proponent of breaking off contact with family members. Why? In part because I always remember a story a friend told me about her uncles who’d stopped speaking to one another when they were young. Many years later the two reconnected at a family reunion. One sat next to the other and said, “We’ve wasted a lot of years, haven’t we?” And the other agreed.
It’s a good thing when family members can work together through their issues. That can only happen if everyone a) acknowledges there’s a problem and b) wants to own his or her role in the problem. Let me also make it very, VERY clear that there are relationships that absolutely should be terminated. A friend of mine who was sexually abused throughout her childhood by her father has no contact with him now — nor, in my opinion, should she.
Which brings us back to you. Does your mother realize her behavior is a problem for you? Have you given her the opportunity to address it? If you answered “yes,” then maybe it’s time to take a break from your mother. You shouldn’t stay in a damaging relationship just because family members are involved.
If you do decide to cut off contact with your mother, be straight up with her about it. Let her know what you’re doing and why. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard from parents whose adult children have stopped speaking to them without giving them a reason.
So how will your mother respond to your decision? It’s hard to say. She might decide it’s time to change her behavior for the better. Or she might become more toxic than ever. Oh, human beings! We’re just so flawed!
Whatever happens, remind yourself regularly that you deserve to be treated with kindness. Also remind yourself that if and when the right time comes, you can still open a door you once closed.
Dear Ann Cannon • My family is mean and toxic and so I have cut them all out of my life. I am tired of people thinking that I am a horrible person because I don’t go visit my mother when she is sick or call my father when he is in the hospital. For my own mental health, I cannot be involved in their lives at all. Any advice on what to say to people who judge me for cutting off all contact?
— Unfairly Judged
Dear Judged • Many years ago, my husband and I were given courtside tickets to a Jazz game. As we passed through the various gatekeepers before arriving at the inner sanctum of Jazzdom (i.e. courtside), I assumed people would see us as frauds. Posers. Pretenders. People unworthy of awesome Jazz tickets. So I kept explaining to everyone along the way why we had these tickets. We didn’t steal them! Honest! They were a gift!
After listening to these repeated (and mildly desperate) explanations, my husband finally turned to me and said, ”Stop explaining. Nobody cares.” He was right. People didn’t. They usually don’t. Unless, of course, you neglect to fill out all the necessary information on your security clearance forms after your father-in-law makes you a White House adviser.
Here’s the deal. Sometimes we feel the need to explain ourselves when we really don’t. In fact, there can be real power in not explaining. Which brings us to your situation. You don’t have to explain anything about your family situation if you don’t want to. Just smile politely when people bring up the subject of your family, say you truly wish your family members well (even if you don’t) and leave it at that.
Will you still be judged unfairly? Maybe. But if you know you’ve made the best decision for yourself, then take comfort in that knowledge and move forward.
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