Cutting Contact With Her Mom: An email from Barbara in NC

Cutting Contact With Her Mom: An email from Barbara in NC

Hi Paul-

I have tried to start this letter to you so many times (and here I go again!), but listening to what you said about missing your mom on a recent show finally got me to do it. I don’t think anyone that has never experienced the point of getting to where you have to cut ties with a parent for your own survival could ever understand.

Since I don’t want this to turn into a long, drawn out story, I will hit the highlights:

  • Mother was raised Irish Catholic, so guilt and shame and not talking about feelings were ingrained from birth
  • She married alcoholic, misogynistic asshole and had kids because that’s what you did. I would get into the fucked up person my father was, but that is another letter in itself
  • From as young as I can remember, my mother was a bit “off”. Found out of many traumatic events in her life later on that she never dealt with. I never got along with my siblings; my mother’s personality disorder played a huge part in that.
  • House fire in 1985 almost killed her and something broke in her brain that never came back.
  • Bipolar? Personality disorder? Who knows. She spent her life going to Dr’s and never really talking about anything. Oh my God she had soooo much shit happen to her that therapy and a good, caring therapist would have helped. Breaks my heart to think about it.
  • Took meds on and off. From the time I was 20 until 40, I spent my life completely preoccupied with just wanting her to be OK. Psych wards and being committed dozens of times never broke the cycle. Eventually she got tired of me being tired of her and one day told me “we need to go our separate ways.” It was about the third time in our lives that we did not talk for an extended amount of time, but it was to be the last. I had turned 40 a few month before, and my daughter was 11.

The beginning of that end happened when I began to set boundaries when I realized that she was trying to pit my own child against me. I am a single parent, and from the time I decided to keep her, knew that I would be a great parent, because the one thing I would do for my child was never make her feel like she wasn’t wanted. When I said my parents had kids because “that’s what you did back then”, that’s what it felt like. We had everything we needed, but nothing close to the loving relationship I share with my own child. You have touched on it many times on your show- the emotionally distant parent, and the child that was always wanting. My parents also used money as a way to control. By my own fault, I was dependent on her the first years of raising my daughter. What would start with open arms and generosity eventually turned to control and fight picking and being thrown out of the house. At least I wised up to that and stopped living under the same roof, but the more I took my independence out of this terribly co-dependent relationship, the more it angered her.


After my mother “broke up with me”, I made the decision that the only way I would ever deal with her again was if we went to therapy together. I was not going to get sucked into another episode of her “come close, I love you—now that you are back and comfortable, get away, I hate you”. I could not take another bout of that. When she did contact me, I told her about my request for therapy, and she told me “I don’t need to see a therapist” in the most hateful voice. That’s it, I was done. I can’t help you if you refuse to help yourself. I finally got it.


A few years later, I found out through a series of unfortunate events that she was moving out of state to live near cousins that would take care of her. She was, at this point, having serious health issues and had been in several car accidents. A hospital in another state where she was traveling did not know who to call when she was brought in (incoherent after causing an accident on an interstate) and called a mutual friend of ours, who called me. When I called the hospital, I was told that she did not want to speak to me or want my help. I spoke to a cousin who told me that yes, she was moving to where they lived. I thanked her for taking care of her, and she told me that it would be great if my mom and I could just sit down and talk it out, that everything could be better “because of love”. People have no fucking idea what they’re talking about when they have not lived through this hell. They are completely delusional. To most people, my mother seemed perfectly sane; it was like she kept her awful behavior in check until she could take it out on her family.


She started calling me again a few years after she’d moved. When I answered my phone, the first thing she asked was if I wanted her to take us on another trip to Europe. Not “I’m sorry”, or “Hey, I know it was fucked up of me to move thousands of miles away from you & my only grandchild and did not even say goodbye”, but just “Hi- I am calling to chat as if nothing ever happened”. I can’t even remember exactly what was said, but it must have been me again saying again that therapy was the only way we would have a relationship, and that she had to own her behavior. Pretty sure I just hung up. I really could not deal with bringing all that pain and chaos back into my life. She called on and off for what seemed like forever until I finally asked a friend to call her and ask her to stop. After a while, my cousin contacted me that my mother wanted to know if she could have my address. Said she “missed her kids”. I said sure, of course, thinking she was going to write to me, a card, something. Turns out she was probably updating her will to cut me out of it.


In December of 2013, I got a message to call family there. My mother was dead, having died the night before, probably of a heart attack. Another relative had been staying in the house with her and told me that she seemed to be going downhill those last few days. She also told me that she told her “You need to get the guest room ready, because my daughter and granddaughter are coming to visit soon”. Yay, way to go. Thanks for haunting me for the rest of my life with that news.


I could not go to her funeral. Not only was it too far to travel (and I am one of the working poor and have no disposable income what-so-ever), but I also just did not want to fucking go. It would not bring me any comfort; quite the opposite. She was dead, and we would never be able to make it better again. All my life I just wanted us to have a healthy relationship, and that was never going to happen. And I had no choice but to cut ties with her, and she did NOTHING to make it better. Nothing to own the pain she caused, how she could be estranged from her own children (I was not the only one), and not repair and resolve this. I will forever be lost in how she could live like that.


So where am I today? After being estranged for 7 years and her gone for almost 3, I am still trying to deal with it. There is so much emotional fallout. I have so many of my own issues in dealing with relationships and trust and pain. I have accepted the fact that it is just how it had to be, that I did all I could, and it just wasn’t meant to be. It will hurt me forever to know that she died and we were estranged for so long, but it is on her, not me. I just wanted her to be OK. She was never going to be OK.


Does that make it less painful? Not really. I think I really wanted to write to you to let you know—it hurts, it is going to hurt when your mother dies, and it will be a hurt that becomes a part of you, and there is nothing you can do to prevent it or lessen it. You have to keep those boundaries set, just like I did, because they left us no choice. Most of all I feel sad. Sad for a mother that had a life full of that much pain and was so disconnected from herself and reality. People that had loving, healthy relationships with their parents will never understand. But I do. I viscerally feel it whenever you talk about the grief you feel about your mother and the situation of your relationship with her. Big hug, buddy. Be glad for the people around you that love you. Appreciate them. And make peace with what you had to do. That is my daily goal, making peace with it all.


Thank you for your podcast. You have no idea how much you have helped me deal. No idea.


Love and best wishes—

Barbara in NC


P.S.–Just realized the I had the date wrong: She passed on 12/12/12. Truley awfulsome date to have burned into my brain. Thanks Universe!!!​