Thursday, May 3, 2012

Choosing Battles

As you can imagine, living with my mom is difficult. It is mostly difficult for me, because I have been going through therapy and attempting to better myself, and my mom is somewhat of a teenager in a sixty-year-old woman's body. Sometimes she's more like a five-year-old.

Our relationship issues stem from the fact that my mom was a) abused as a child, b) married to an abusive alcoholic, and c) a divorced single mother. Since she was abused, she never really had a childhood, and when she married my dad, an alcoholic, though functioning, still an alcoholic, she had no time to really understand who she was. She went from her parental home to her married home, and then she had my brother, and like a lot of women, she lost herself along the way. Then she got divorced, and like a lot of moms, she suddenly realized how much of her life was spent living as someone she wasn't, but then she didn't know who she was, so she looked to me for companionship and support, like a lot of single divorced mothers do.

Then you have my issues. I was a) abused as a child, b) subsequently raised by a single mother from age 11 on, and c) pretty much responsible for everything that went on at home starting after school up until 6:00. I was basically that independent person who knew who she was because I had to be. As the years have gone on since my graduation from high school until now, when I am in my early thirties and finally going to college for the first time, I have started changing and growing each year, and while I am not perfect, I rely on things like criticism and praise for how to adjust myself to my surroundings.

Since my mom was the youngest in her family with both a brother and a sister, she had a unique role in her family that I did not. While her brother would step up and be the "father" figure, her sister would be the "mother" figure. My mom, by default, was still the "baby" of the family, and I think this is where we get our conflicts from. I have been "the adult" for so long, I don't really remember much of my childhood, but I do remember never being able to relate to children and always gravitating towards the adults. I could carry on a perfectly lucid conversation with one of my teachers about the pros and cons of X subject, but when it came to my actual peers, I found them to be directionless and superficial. What I missed out on was that I was allowed to be like that! And I never got it! My friends got to go home and watch TV. I got to go home and make dinner and do the laundry and clean the kitchen.

Well, now here we are, living together. Again. And I feel like she hasn't changed. She still comes home feeling tired, which she says over and over again like she's the only one who's tired, she galumphs across the apartment and complains when the neighbor's TV is on loud enough that we can hear it (hint: the walls are paper thin. Everyone can hear it.), and then she nitpicks at me like she has no bad habits. But if I say something like, "Can you stop slamming the door when you come home?" she jumps back with, "You do it too!" despite the fact that I close the door with my hand on the lock, and then I lock it. I never slam the door. The other night, she stepped on the cat--full-on stepped on him--and started screaming, making everything worse. Now, she was screaming at the cat, saying she was sorry, but we all know that animals don't respond to words, they respond to voice. I said, "Mom, stop screaming!" really calmly, but punctuated. By that time, my cat was in my bedroom, fight or flight clearly etched on his face, and I still didn't know if she had hurt him. His tail was bristled, and he looked so confused. Were we punishing him? Was he in trouble? What was going on? My mom's reaction was, "Why not, you scream all the time!"

So, after it was all over and I was able to determine that Chekhov was fine, just scared, I said to my mom very calmly, "It really isn't very nice when you tell me that. It really had no bearing on the situation at hand."

My mom's response?

Oh, come on.


"Why not? You correct me all the time."

And scene.

Later, after she realized that I really was never going to talk to her again, she came into my room and started apologizing and saying things like, "I'm such a horrible person! I'm such a horrible mother!" I told her to stop, and I introduced the idea of using "I" statements. "Try saying, 'Heidi, I don't like it when you don't shut the kitchen drawers all the way.'" "Heidi, stop leaving the kitchen drawers open," she echoed. I said, "No, you have to make it an "I" statement. I don't like it when you do X." "But that makes me sound selfish!" she exclaimed. I told her it wasn't. "It puts the burden on you. Rather than me doing something wrong, you are taking responsibility for the action, as though you are asking me to do something normal people wouldn't do. Try to say it again: 'Heidi, I don't like it when you leave the kitchen drawers open.'" "Heidi, I would like it if you would stop leaving the kitchen drawers open because ABC..." "Okay, you're not getting this." "I guess I'm not. See? I can't even communicate. I'm a terrible person!" "You need to tell me that you want me to do something. You need to say that you have a need that you would like me to fulfill."

And I realized after analyzing all of that, that my mom can't tell me when she has a need. She's as emotionally stunted as any abused child. We learn to quiet our needs and wants from an early age. Saying you don't like something earns you a punishment. Exhibiting any sense of self earns punishment. Sometimes just moving earns punishment.

The issue is, if I want to continue down a healthy road, I can't be a crutch for my mom to lean against, but that was the role I was cast in when I was a kid, and even ever since then, even after I declared my independence, she was still used to me taking care of her. But now that we live together, I have to fight really hard to not be that person, because I'm there all the time (when I'm not at school or work or kick-punch class, etc.) and I'm available for her.

This is getting a little hairy, and I'm not sure if I can keep on like this, but I don't really have an alternative right now, except maybe a different roommate, and then I'd have to have two bathrooms.

Anyway, it's something to think about.


  1. I read this the other day, but closed my computer before commenting--so I've come back.

    I'm out of my depth, here. I'm so far removed from this kind of situation, I know beyond all doubt that I can't really offer suggestions. I wish I could...but, more importantly, I think the best thing I can do is give you my support. I've never lived your experience; I can only imagine the difficulty you're having and the responsibility you're feeling (the "where would she go" part) and the irritation of considering living with someone else.

    *sigh* I'm no help at all. Just...Just keep up the fight, okay? *hugs*

    1. I don't really need advice, just a place to vent really. I've been trying to validate her feelings, but keep my distance. If it were just a roommate, I don't think this would be an issue, but she's my MOM.

      Anyway, support is good. That's pretty much what I need. And I need to make some appointments with my counselors to help me through this.