Dear Ann Cannon • I need to ask when enough is enough when it comes to parents. Aside from one recent visit, I haven’t seen my folks for about 18 months because the last time I was with them, my mother ripped into my daughter when I stepped outside to talk to my dad. Mom was upset because my daughter and her future husband went out-of-state to visit his grandparents. She said this was unfair because although we live only 25 minutes away from my parents, we didn’t visit them a lot. The reason? My mother is just very toxic.
For years she’s regularly threatened to “write off” me and my siblings and has said (while sitting at my dinner table, no less!) that if she had it to do all over again, she wouldn’t have kids. She also complains constantly about the things she doesn’t have, even though she’s more blessed materially than most people. I used to call her weekly, but all she’d do is complain about my siblings. She’d never ask about my wife and kids (college graduates who have always been loving and kind to Mom), and when we invited my parents to my beautiful daughter’s wedding this past summer, they were no-shows — which is the reason I didn’t visit her recently in the hospital when she had a mastectomy. If my parents had truly wanted me there at the hospital, they would have come to my daughter’s wedding.
To top it all off, I have a sibling (she was the black sheep while we were growing up) who is taking every opportunity now to make me look bad in my parents’ eyes. While I give her credit for being there for my parents, she’s just like my mother — mean and toxic.
Sorry to be so long-winded, but I don’t know how many more times I should try to be a part of my parents’ lives. I can’t fix something when they seem to have no interest in changing. I can’t be the only person who has issues like these. Any advice would be appreciated.
— Fed-Up Son in Salt Lake City
Dear Fed-Up • Wow. I’m so, so sorry. There’s just plenty of pain and hurt to go around here.
OK. This is one of those times when I need to remind you (and everyone else) that I’m not a trained therapist, so I probably shouldn’t be tossing around terms like “narcissist” and “narcissistic.” And maybe if I knew your mom in real life, I wouldn’t be tempted to toss around either of those terms.
BUT. Based on your description here, your mother does, in fact, remind me of Narcissists I Have Known. In other words, everything is all about her. Her feelings. Her disappointments. Her desires. Her apparent sense of entitlement. Her lack of empathy for other people. I’m afraid you can’t do much to change her at this point. Sadly. Sad for you. And sad for her, too. Narcissists not only make the people in their lives miserable, they’re miserable, as well.
While I typically advocate for families to find paths of reconciliation, there are situations where I think it’s better for individuals to just step away — as you’re obviously in the process of doing. It might be helpful, however, for you to talk to an actual therapist during this time of transition. A therapist can help you process the inevitable feelings of guilt and grief, anger and betrayal that will come knocking from time-to-time at your front door.
Meanwhile, give yourself TONS of credit for obviously avoiding some of the mistakes your own parents made. It sounds like you have a lovely family. Continue to spend time with them and openly express gratitude for the richness they bring into your life.