“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It's not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel all alone.” - Robin Williams
In this blog post I'm taking a pause between mother wound counseling sessions to give you 5 signs that ending your relationship with your mom could be better than staying and trying to make it work. Ultimately, of course, you'll need to decide what's right for you and your own unique situation.
Remember, you know yourself and how your mom treats you better than anyone else on this planet. No one gets to make this decision for you. You and you alone are in the driver's seat. Ready? Let's get started.
Helpful note: Here at the Mother Wound Project we know biological mothers aren’t the only parents people need to go no contact with. Parents of all gender identities can and do behave in ways that make estrangement the only option. When you see us referring specifically to moms in our content, know we’re doing this to dismantle the stigma that comes with having the mother wound in particular. But that doesn’t mean our content doesn’t apply to other parents. To tailor our content to your specific situation, just switch out “Mom” with the parent of your choice, and you’re good to go.
Your current reality with Mom
Let me guess. Things haven't been good between you and your mom for a long time. You've tried everything, but things are still bad. Real bad. And if you're being honest with yourself, maybe they've even gotten worse. You're feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, invalidated, disrespected, and frustrated. You're asking yourself questions like:
"Is my relationship with Mom supposed to be this hard?"
"How much longer can I put up with this?"
"Would going to therapy together get Mom to finally hear me?"
Your mental health has taken a hit. You've been snappy with the kids and your other relationships are suffering. You don't know what to do, but what you do know is that something needs to change. You've heard people in the mother wound community on Instagram talking about needing to go no contact with their moms, but their moms aren't like your mom. Your mom is one of the good ones, right? You've tried telling yourself a hundred times that cutting off your mom isn't necessary because your situation with her isn't bad enough but at this point, you're not so sure.
We don't consider estrangement from Mom because we're bored
For over a decade now I've been specializing in attachment, mother-child relationships, and the mother wound. What I've learned from the research and the clients I've had the privilege of working with is that by the time we're considering calling it quits with Mom, all hasn't been well in Kansas for a really long time. In other words, you wouldn't be contemplating taking the painful road of mother-child estrangement if you could've found a good reason not to.
Connection with mother meant living to see another day
We humans are quite literally hardwired to maintain our relationships with our primary caregiver(s) as a matter of survival. Despite the more recent gains of the women's movement, for the vast majority of human history and even still today, this person is more often than not our mother. Our ancestors who survived the saber tooth tigers were the early humans who clung the most tightly to their mothers. And as for the early humans who could care less about where their mother was, well, let's just say they didn't hang around long enough to pass on their DNA.
Just the thought of going no contact with Mom is painful
Fast forward to today. Even though the saber tooth tigers are long gone, our genetic memories are still very much with us. We might know logically that we don't need a relationship with our mom to survive, but our hearts, bodies, and minds are still convinced we do. And that's why even thinking about cutting off Mom can hurt so damn much.
Estranged adult children choose the pain of leaving over the pain of staying
And that's why I get so frustrated when someone suggests adult children who go no contact with a parent do so as nonchalantly as they pick out breakfast cereal. Clearly, the people who say these things have never sat with real people who find themselves in the terrible position of choosing the pain of leaving their own parent in the hope that it will hurt less than staying already has.
You're the expert on how your mom makes you feel
No one knows what it's like being in a relationship with your mom more than you do. Not me. Not your counselor. Not your mom. Not your sibling. Not this blog post. No one can possibly know better than you do how your mom treats you or if (and when) you need to pull the plug on your relationship with her. Only you can know what's best for you. Trust yourself.
And now as promised, here are 5 signs that going no contact with your mom might be your best option.
Sign #1: Your mom dismisses or invalidates your concerns
Think about the last time you tried to speak with your mom about an issue or problem you had with her. Now think about how she responded to you. Did she:
Seem open to hearing what you had to say?
Genuinely care about your feelings?
Make you feel heard by her?
If you didn't answer yes to all of these questions, that's an automatic red flag. When a mom is capable of having a healthy relationship with her adult child, she'll want to know how her child really thinks and feels about her and her actions even if it might be hard to hear at first.
Sign #2: Your mom doesn't accept your boundaries
In all healthy mother-adult child relationships both the mom and the adult child each have their own boundaries. These boundaries are accepted and respected by both parties. They help each person communicate what is and isn't acceptable for them, and they prevent resentment from building up in the relationship.
How your mom responds to your boundaries is on her
When it comes to your relationship with your mom you're the one who gets to decide which boundaries you need to have. But something you can't do is decide for your mom to respond to your boundaries in a healthy, relationship-sustaining way. That's on her.
Accepting your boundaries is non-negotiable
Assuming no one is getting hurt, the only healthy response for your mom to have to your boundaries is acceptance. Anything besides this is a red flag. Remember, if you can't have boundaries with your mom, you can't have a healthy relationship with your mom either.
A few final thoughts about boundaries
Your mom should be taking your boundaries seriously and doing everything she can to respect them. If your mom is disrespecting your boundaries, she's ultimately disrespecting you. Expecting your mom to respect your boundaries isn't being "demanding." Or "overly sensitive." Or "asking too much." It's standing firm in your worth, which is exactly what you should be doing.
Sign #3: You feel like you owe your mom a relationship
No relationship is always rainbows and roses, but some relationships rarely (if ever) get to enjoy the rainbows and roses. And when we experience that for an extended period of time, we can start to think that’s normal or “just how it is.” This is especially true for mother-adult child relationships, the one relationship we're regularly told is practically unbreakable. It's common (but rarely talked about) for people to find themselves staying with their mom not because the relationship is good for them, but because they think they're obligated to be there. As one adult child considering estrangement from her mom said to me, "Mom is the one person we're expected to always be in a relationship with, no matter how unhealthy the relationship may be."
But what's the truth? Do you really owe your mom a relationship? The truth I share with my clients is this: You don't owe your mom a relationship. If you're maintaining the relationship with your mom not because you want to but because you feel like you have to, that's not a healthy relationship. Your mom decided to be your parent. That was her choice. You, on the other hand, never decided to be her child. You literally had no choice back then. Children don't get to choose their parents. That's just one of the reasons why you have every right to walk away from her today.
Sign #4: Your mom gaslights you
Gaslighting is one of those terms we hear about so often these days that we can start to forget how serious it really is. In addition to this, while there’s a lot of discussion about gaslighting by politicians and romantic partners, it’s nothing but crickets when it comes to Mom. It’s as if we’re supposed to believe that mothers are somehow incapable of gaslighting. If only that were the case.
Gaslighting is a form of emotional manipulation that checks all the boxes for emotional abuse. And as you already know if you’ve been part of our community for any amount of time, emotional abuse is not a “lesser” form of abuse. It’s actually just as problematic as any other kind of abuse. Abuse doesn't need to leave a bruise or cause a visible scar to be abuse. Abuse is abuse. If your mom is gaslighting you, you need to take that seriously. Robin Stern says it so well when she says, "Targets of gaslighting are manipulated into turning against their cognition, their emotions, and who they fundamentally are as people."
Here are some examples of moms gaslighting:
"That never happened."
"I think you're imagining things."
"I'd never say something like that."
Sign #5: Your mom rejects one or more aspects of your identity
Your identity isn’t everything, but it makes up a heck of a lot of what makes you the unique, wonderful, amazing person that you are. Your mom shouldn’t just tolerate you. She should cherish you for who you are! This means:
If you're gay, your mom should cherish that about you.
If you're black, your mom should cherish that about you.
If you're transgender, your mom should cherish that about you.
If you're short, your mom should cherish that about you.
Ok, I'll stop. You get the idea. But I'm so serious. If your mom can’t cherish all the parts that make you YOU, if she rejects any aspects of your identity, it’s not your job to try to make lemonade out of those lemons she’s handed you. You're fabulous just the way you are.