Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Mother Who Was Not There

A middle-aged friend is suddenly having trouble with her aging mother.

Until recently, her mother was a very sweet and generous woman. When my friend has a problem with one of her teenagers or her husband, she drives over to her mother's assisted living facility and talks to her. Her mother, who has no dementia, listens carefully and not only gives great advice, but is very comforting and reassuring.

My friend is annoyed because her mother, now 85, is becoming difficult and more self-centered. The roles are reversing. She now has to listen to her mother complain. She must now reassure her mother. And it's driving her absolutely crazy. She resents the hell out of the fact that she is no longer being treated like the child. Her needs are not being met by her mother. My friend is at loose ends.

I told my friend she is grieving the loss of the mother-daughter relationship.

Later, it occurred to me that I NEVER had that relationship EVER. As an adopted "child," I had two mothers, but none. I had plenty of sympathy for my friend, but little for me.

We adult children of narcissists have to give ourselves a break. A big, fat break. We grew up without any emotional support and ended up not only alone, but dragging around heavy chains of guilt.


Elise said...


Great post.

I heard a story on NPR about a woman whose father decided to have a sex-change operation. She'd always been "daddy's little girl" and now she was upset that he didn't want to be "daddy" anymore.

OK, I can understand that it could be a tough problem in terms of getting re-adjusted, but your former father will still be a wonderful parent to you.
In other words, having had a wonderfully supportive parent for her first 30 years, she now has to make the adjustment from having a mom and a dad to having two moms. I caught myself thinking, rather bluntly, "Girl, that is one seriously first-world problem you've got there". I.e., give yourself some time and you will really, definitely be just fine. Your ability to have a mutually supportive relationship with your parent will be unchanged.

I would love to have that kind of problem with either one of my parents. It would be a luxury.

Nina said...

Okay, Elise, I had to laugh. I mean, to people like us, having a sex-changed real parent would be no big deal. I soooo get that!

Celera said...

Ha! If surgery of any kind could only cure narcissism and whatever other personality disorder my mom had (and my ex-husband, and my sister-in-law) that would make things so very much easier, wouldn't it?

Nina, as usually I totally relate to your feelings. And the "heavy chains of guilt" really resonates with me -- although it isn't just guilt. There are so many bad feelings, and non-feelings, that go with having parents like this. I've often said that I'm sure I wasn't the greatest parent, but if my kids don't go through life feeling that their childhood is like a hundred-pound weight they have to drag with them everywhere, I will have accomplished something, anyway.

Nina said...


You're right...guilt is just one of the many feelings we have about our narcissistic parents. Their legacy - how it impacted me and raising MY children - continues to be an ongoing concern. Since I'm so hyperaware, I think I've stopped the cycle which I could have carried on. At least we did that. We could have become narcissistic parents ourselves. Now THAT's an accomplishment!