THE PROBLEM Hi, Christine. I’m Sadie. I’m 34. I work as a medical secretary, and I’m married to the most fantastic husband. My problem is my mother. She’s totally self-obsessed. She and my father, who is a great dad, parted when I was six. After that, various ‘uncles’ came and went. But no one stayed with her. Now that she’s in her 60s, she’s a nightmare. She’s short of money, and she’s a hypochondriac. I live in Bristol but – luckily for me – she moved some years ago to the north of Scotland, where she says people understand her and life is cheaper. I don’t like, or love, her. But should I feel responsible for her? Sometimes I worry that I’m too hard-hearted. But she keeps ringing me and it’s driving me mad. She’s never looked after me, so why should I listen to her grievances, or send her money?
Christine: Hi, Sadie. This sounds horrific. So, in a nutshell, what do you want to do about her?
Sadie: I want her out of my life. She’s hurt me so much.
Christine: That is hard to forgive, isn’t it? Mothers are supposed to soothe pain, not create it. Tell me about your dad.
Sadie: He’s wonderful. He got a place near my mum’s flat when they split up, because he realised that she was a hopeless mother. Several times, he was offered great engineering jobs abroad, but he stayed around for me. He’s been my security.
Christine: And is your husband a good and loving support?
Sadie: Yes, he’s totally great.
Christine: Who else loves you?
Sadie: I’ve got many terrific friends. And my mum-in-law is like the mother I never had. She treats me with such affection. My own mother never came to see me perform in school plays or on sports days? She used to send me to school without the right uniform, and kept forgetting to give me lunch money. She never sat and read to me. Thank heavens for my dad. One day when she’d screamed at me that she hated me, I walked to his house and I never lived with her again.
Christine: That sounds truly terrible. Did you ever try to talk to her about all of this after you grew up?
Sadie: Yes. Last time was when I was 25, just before I got married. She was still in Bristol then. I asked why she’d never loved me. She just shrugged her shoulders and said there was ‘no chemistry’. So, I decided not to see her again. That worked fine for a couple of years but then she started ringing me about her troubles and to ask for money. And I need to stop that right now.
Christine: Sounds like this ringing up business has been going on for ages …
Sadie: About seven years.
Christine: Must be very difficult. But is there a special reason you want to sever the connection now?
Sadie: Yes. You see, I’m pregnant! I’m really excited and I want to focus on my future and not be dragged back to the past. I don’t want my baby to have anything to do with my mother. I don’t even want mum to know that I have a child.
Christine: Well that all seems definite. So what are you going to do?
Sadie: That’s just it. I want her out of my life. But my problem is that I wonder if a daughter can, or should, refuse all contact with her mother. Will I feel bad about it? Particularly when she dies?
Christine: Well, none of us can predict the future. So let’s concentrate on the present. Are you sure that at the moment you want to have nothing to do with her?
Christine: Well, why not review the situation after a year? That way it won’t seem so permanent or irreversible.
Sadie: That would feel more do-able.
Christine: Ok, so what action will you take?
Sadie: I’ll write a letter asking her to stop calling me, and telling her I’m changing my mobile number. I’m also going to describe to her once and for all what a hopeless and unkind mother she’s been.
Christine: You’ve given this a lot of thought.
Sadie: You can say that again!
Christine: Might she write by post?
Sadie: Doubt it. If she does, I’ll tear the letter up. We’re moving soon anyway.
Christine: How do you feel at the thought that she won’t be able to contact you?
Sadie: Like a giant weight has rolled off my back. Do you think I’m awful?
Christine: Not at all. I think that your mother has behaved appallingly.
Sadie: Thank you. I’ve wanted to explain all this for ages, to someone who’d be totally on my side. But even my friends say things like: ‘Don’t be too hard on her, she is your mother…’
Christine: People can be very sentimental about mothers – if they’ve got good ones! But I’ve seen many individuals who’ve been hugely damaged by poor parenting. Look at it this way: she may be your biological mother, but has she – at any time – been the sort of mum that you plan to be to your own baby?
Christine: Then it seems to me that you’re justified in dealing with this in any way you feel is right – and if that includes ‘divorcing’ your mother, that’s fine.
Sadie: Thanks, Christine.
Christine: One last thing: when we feel unloved by our mothers, we can grow up feeling unlovable. So never forget that you have a dad who thinks you’re great. A mum-in-law who loves you. And a husband who adores you. None of this is your fault. Your mother was the grown up. You were the child. She let you down. She’s the one who has to bear the responsibility of that. Not you.
Christine Webber is psychotherapist with a practice in Harley Street and the author of 12 self-help and therapy books. Find out more at christinewebber.com.
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