Red Responds: Her Turbulent Relationship With Her Mother

Sheila in Orange Country writes:

Almost two years ago my mother and I stopped speaking because I wouldn’t get her a $40,000 loan. She has had a terrible gambling problem for at least 25 years. She refuses to admit that she even has a problem. She has been very angry at me because I stopped helping her. She talks bad about me to everyone. Now she is in bad health. The only way that she will ever talk to me again is if I say this is all my fault and start helping her financially again. I don’t feel like this will ever be resolved while she is alive. My mother has put not only me, but my younger siblings through a lot of pain. I will be 50 soon and not sure how much longer I can deal with her negative behavior. My mother’s problems effect our entire family and all of us are fed up.

Dear Sheila,

It is such a shame that your relationship with your mother is so turbulent, and I am truly sorry to have to say that I’m really not seeing much improvement. There is only so much you can do to help a person with an addiction, particularly when that person refuses to accept that they have a problem. Your mother’s gambling and emotional problems may be at the core of the problem in your relationship with her, but you are harboring a lot of anger and resentment as well.

Your mom is getting older, and her health issues will progress. She isn’t going to live forever, and you need to prepare for that eventuality. I know things aren’t the way you would like them to be when it comes to your mother, but she is who she is, and she isn’t going to change now. This doesn’t mean that you can’t reestablish a relationship with her, but please understand you aren’t likely to have the relationship with her that you want.

Since your entire family is affected by your mother’s problems, hold a family meeting, including your siblings, and openly discuss, “How to Handle Mom.” Family is a shared responsibility that you can choose to support or walk away from. While you will always be related, it does not mean that you must be obligated.

Spend some time searching your soul to discover what you can and can’t live with, and then tell your mother. This isn’t about reliving the wrongdoings of the past, or who is responsible for what – this is about the rest of your mother’s life, your life, and where to go from here. You do not need to assume all responsibility or blame for the past, nor can your mother dictate how much or how little you choose to share with her financially. You may still be her daughter, but you are the adult in control now. You can set the boundaries and redefine some of the rules to this relationship. Right now, she needs you far more than you need her. This is a position of power that can be used to create a better and healthier relationship between the two of you, provided you don’t abuse it. There is a great need for compromise, and family support.

Your mother may be negative, gossipy and a royal pain in your rear – but I fear you will regret it for the rest of your life if you choose to shut her out now. The worst thing that can happen if you try and mend some of these fences is that your relationship with her remains toxic, and you choose to end it. If that should be the case, (and I can’t honestly rule it out) at least you can live out your days knowing that at least you tried. While this won’t erase all the pain and anger of the past, it will allow you a clearer conscience in the future.

Good luck,
Ext. 9226

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