Pretentious Snob

Monday, July 28, 2008

My relationship with my mother is....complicated.

I rarely write about it because honestly I don't want the grief that will come from her recriminations and accusations. And there will be grief. And recriminations.

I have been in YEARS of therapy trying to come to terms with my experiences as a child, as a young woman and finally as an adult and mother to my own child.

While I never blamed my mother, per se, for my experiences - I did seek to place events in perspective.

Last night in a deserted Chinese restaurant in the town in which I came to adulthood, many years of silence broke into a hailstorm.

It was not because of my mother that I made the drive south. No. It was for my sister, about whom I also rarely write.

My mom is a narcissist. With a capital N.

I have spent a life in the shadow of her most beloved - herself. Her children, her husband - all played second fiddle to HER experiences, her opinions and her greater glory. She sets grand drama into play and then spins it all - hard - to her advantage. She is the great martyred mother, whose ungrateful children disrespect, abuse and abandon her. She accepts no responsibility for her part in any of the dramas she has created. She is a victim of them, you see.

It is generally useless to argue with this, as you can never win. This has led my to simply refuse to talk or engage with her in her presence. Which, I must admit, drives her crazy. She will up the ante until I engage. Like when she tried to wear a white dress to my wedding. And asked who was walking HER down the aisle. At which point I suggested she just wear her wedding dress and walk on my step father's other arm. Then I think I hung up the phone on her.

And I tried last night. Tried to withstand the baiting over dinner designed to draw me into this ridiculous rehashed argument about what a good mother she was to us.

It was when she asked me when I became such a pretentious snob that the dam gave way.

Not because I believe that to be untrue. I can be a hell of a pretentious snob. I have gotten to this point in my career and life BECAUSE I can be a gi-normous pretentious snob. As I have also been called whore, slut, bitch, and told that I was ruining her reputation by dating a black man ( I read this as nigger-lover, don't you?), the names don't affect me much.

No. It was my overwhelming need to serve this woman a dose of reality to her face.

My answer? I became a pretentious snob when I was forced to be the only adult in the house...say 1971 or so.

It was, in all, a foolish thing to get drawn into with her. It, as always, exhausts me.

But the funny thing is that I didn't feel any rush of adrenaline. I felt flat during this whole argument. I kept saying my be rebutted by being told that my childhood wasn't "so" bad. That I took my blog title from HER, since she always said that she was doing the best she could, that she never kicked me out of the house and withheld the last year of college tuition from me because I was dating Terrance....

Exasperated, I finally asked - "What do you want from me?". But I know what she wants and I can't give that to her. She wants me to tell her that our family is normal and all right. That she is/was a good mother and that none of the current events in her life, or the lives of her children have anything to do with her actions, words or omissions. She wants absolution, and I can offer her none.

She has reaped what she has sown. In her obsession with herself, she has put forth children who can not give her what she wants. We were too busy protecting and raising ourselves. She does not actually know any of the three people produced from her womb.

"Was I that bad a mother - was I abusive?" she shouted.

"No - I never said that. You were inattentive." I said.

My feral childhood filled with benign neglect came from life with an inattentive mother so consumed with herself that there was no authentic room for her children. We were props in the greater drama of her life.

Exit, stage left.

22 Baleful Regards:

Anonymous said...

De-lurking to say that I'm often afraid my kids will feel that I'm not involved or engaged enough with them or that they will resent me when they get older for different things. Like this morning at the park when I sat reading a book while other moms or nannies followed their little ones around. I wonder where the line is? I fear that I don't do enough and I feel guilty for being selfish.

I don't know the types of behaviour your mom displayed to cause you to feel this way about her and I am in no way saying you are wrong or judging you at all! I just wanted to say that you have inspired me to try harder.

Karen Bodkin said...

Hey sister. Your mom and mine ought to get together and swap war stories. I do wonder who would come out 'on top.'

Bobita said...

This post was so powerful and lucid that I swear I could feel myself sitting at that table in the Chinese restaurant, looking out from behind your eyes.

Anonymous said...

Your mom and my mom must have gone to the same parenting class.

As exhausting as it is, I often wish I could serve up some of that Chinese to my mother instead of completely ignoring her.

But, I know the radio silence pisses her off the most, though, so I end up sticking with that tactic every time.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this - I've been trying to cope with a mother-in-law who suffers from inverted eyeballs and can only see how wronged she is by me, and by her sons. I had to come back and read it a second time to fully digest. Wishing you peace - if not in your relationship with her, then in how you handle her.

Mitzi Green said...


for future reference, i find there's no quicker way to diffuse mama drama than a pitcher of ice water. except maybe a fire hose.

aussiehen said...

Another delurking to say I feel your pain.
My parents in law are the epitome of inattention and bad parenting yet when my DH confronted them about this and the fact that he was sexually abused as a child by a family friend, denial was no longer just a river in Egypt, oh and somehow he was responsible for his mother's congenital heart problems.

Since then we've cut off all contact, something actually encouraged by his therapist.
Anyway hang in there and I hope you find some peace with this.

SUEB0B said...

I run into these ppl and I give thanks that my parents weren't like them. I got lucky.

I used to give an old narcissist lady a ride to church. She could turn ANY conversation into being about her. When my sis died, she called to see where I had been the week previous (watching sis die) and if I would give her a ride the next day.

"Yeah, I was back in Chicago with my sister, who died Tuesday," I said.

"Oh, that's too bad," she replied. "So will you pick me up at the usual time?"

jeanie said...

I really feel for you, Dawn.

I was blessed with far better parents than many - but I didn't think they were perfect, especially during my 20s.

I try to be a better parent to my child, but often wonder how many years of therapy I am committing her to down the track...

yarnwhore said...

As someone with a borderline mother, I know where you're coming from. There's not much to be done, but I made a list of rules for engagement. Certain behaviors and topics of conversation are forbidden, and there are consequences (cutting her off for set periods of time ranging from one month to a year) to engaging in them. I stick to it and, after 17 years, it seems to have sunk in to some degree. Good luck.

Lisa said...

Lurker coming out to say that it must be something with that generation of moms. My mom sounds so much like yours they could be sisters. It's so frustrating but makes me work harder to be less like her and a better mother to my children.

La said...

I usually just lurk, but I had to come out of hiding to tell you that I'm gonna have to sue you for writing about my life this way.

Relationships between mothers and their daughters are complex at best, disaterous at worst (i.e. mine). Most of the time it does no good to engage them because they have their own version of events as they believe them, true or not. But sometimes, you should engage. Not for them, but for you. So that for once you can be speaking your truth and venting to the one person who you need to more than any friend or sibbling or lover; her. (So sayeth my therapist. Once I actually do it, I'll let you know how it goes.)

Anonymous said...

I'm still waiting for the novel...
although the word "novel" connotes a work of fiction.
And I doubt many readers would believe some of it.
I recently unleashed 40 years of pent-up rage and anger at my sperm donor. When I told him why I hated my older sister, because she ALLOWED her older female friend to molest me when I was 8 years old, he said, "Why didn't you tell us?" I responded, "She threatened me." And I knew as an 8 year old that she would make my life even more hellish than she already had. He then said, "Well, you should have called the police." As I stood there in shocked silence, all I could think was, I WAS 8 YEARS OLD! AND YOU EXPECTED ME TO CALL THE POLICE?


E. said...

I feel for you. My dad's a Narcissist. It's hard to accept sometimes that I have a parent with whom it is impossible to have a healthy relationship, but that's the fact.

Anonymous said...

Oh man.
I've been spending so much of my mental energy over the past few years wondering what to do with my anger at my parents about how they treated me and my sister when we were children.
Confrontation would never help.
Dad would just turn away,
and Mom would cry until I ended up comforting her.

I feel for you.

There's nothing we can do to undo our childhoods, or get what we want from our mothers now that we're adults.

But I can't stop wishing we could.

Anonymous said...

This post got me thinking about my mother. She was outrageously beautiful, and I was her very plain daughter (one of three). She got all of the attention, whether she wanted it or not, because of her looks (movie star looks- no kidding, and to be honest, she loved it). Anyway, she made sure we all knew that she was proud of us for our strengths. I realize now, after reading some of these posts, how bad it could have been. I still have some issues about my looks, though.

Melissa, Multi-Tasking Mama said...

The sad thing is they will never change and why I, you and everyone else with crazy mothers keep bother trying is depressing. We may as well be literally hitting ourselves with a brick every time we start to engage them in the same battles we've been fighting our whole lives. And I get you and your post 100%. Thanks for sharing!

Never That Easy said...

Situations may be so different, each unique, and still have so much in common. I lucked out with my mom, for sure, but I have these people in my family nonetheless. And, no matter what I say, it's always wrong.

So I don't say anything. Right now, I'm living with the fear that if I open my mouth, everything will come pouring out. I doubt that would end well.

Yeah, so I meant to say: this post is awesome. And awful. And I'm sorry.

Fraulein N said...

Good lord. I've been there.

Indy said...

My mom was the same way. Not so much drama. Just no attention. I never felt that she cared about us or worried about us. I don't think I would be brave enough to write about it though. It is my first visit here. I'll be back.

Jaelithe said...

My dad is a Narcissist with a capital N, too. I don't talk to him anymore. It's not worth the effort.

BTW Shannon-- don't worry-- you're not one. If you were one, you likely would not have written about feeling guilty about reading a book while your kids played. A narcissist isn't just an absent-minded or occasionally self-indulgent parent. A narcissist is a parent whose love for his or her children is entirely a distorted reflection of love for him- or herself. A narcissist directs his children like actors in a play in which he has the starring role.

And if a narcissist's children stop playing their assigned parts, the narcissist drives the children away, and then milks the tragic tale of how her ungrateful children abandoned her for all it's worth.


We should really go drinking together sometime, Dawn.

Unknown said...

I don't think I have ever been able to ariculate my mother as well as you just did.

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