As is standard procedure when one finds out they are expecting a baby, I told my mother. My mother and I are not close and have a fraught relationship with long periods of not speaking. The last vow of silence lasted over a year, and though punctuated with occasional texts and the most strained of phone calls, it seemed we had both finally agreed our absence in each other’s lives was the best thing for everyone. Then, as tends to happen there was one of those life events, namely her turning 50. I’m not heartless enough to let it go unnoticed so while I didn’t buy presents or put up balloons I did get in touch with her. Which led to her asking if she could come round, which led to her asking me to go for a drink on her actual birthday, which led to the sporadic phone calls of the past year becoming more frequent (from her not me).
It’s been commented on by several people who know her that she does seem much more stable than she ever has done. So the reintroduction of her into my life was not as horrific as imagined and, perhaps softening in my old age, I decided there was no harm in slowly allowing her back into my life to occupy just a small space marked ‘well she is your mum’. This wasn’t a tear filled reunion where a space that’s been empty is finally filled. It was a once a month short catch up. I had been perfectly happy not having her around, safe in the knowledge her destructive presence was not required. Still, allowing her a fragment of my time and thus appeasing my need to know that when she shuffles off this mortal coil, I can say I tried, didn’t seem too much of a hardship.
As has always been the way with our relationship I was wary about what I told her and resolute that the moment she started demonstrating any of her usual behaviour I would cease all contact again. My disclosures to her tend to be on more of a need-to-know basis like moving house or, more recently, having a baby. It was a funny feeling telling her because whilst we do have all these issues, I couldn’t help the excitement of being a daughter about to tell her mum she was pregnant. I didn’t want to feel like that, I really didn’t. It was nice telling her though and she was excited, happy and not even annoyed that I had told my Dad before her; a very good sign her bitter and resentful behaviour has been buried. Since then though, the phone calls and texts have become more regular; once a week instead of once a month, which may not sound like a lot but with her unpredictability I can only handle baby steps (excuse the pun). I fear, and know from previous experience, that she has a way of knocking my defences down. Even though I am so wise to her behaviour I somehow end up trusting her, telling her things she definitely doesn’t need to know, things she will use against me. I have no idea how I end up sucked into this mother-daughter relationship; some primeval need to be mothered perhaps?
The realisation of this happened last night, during one of her calls. We were chatting far too amiably and I was, now I think about it, mentioning feelings and not just facts. We slipped so seamlessly into this genial conversation that I know, in her mind, we are now ‘friends’ again; the frost has thawed, summer is here. It will have been a subconscious action but she has decided she can now play ‘mother’ again.
It’s not a commonly known condition but I believe wholeheartedly that my mother has narcissistic personality disorder. That’s a whole other subject in itself but basically the narcissistic mother uses her child as a supply, to get the fix she needs to feel better about herself. To do this, she sucks the life from her child by belittling them, blaming them and depending on them far more than they depend on her. She never does it obviously but by subtle comments, passive aggressive interactions and a blindsiding inability to never take responsibility for any of it. This is my mother. Her own mother was the same (yes I do fear for my parenting skills). Only last week my mum lamented on how my nana was an awful mum but a wonderful grandparent. I responded with ‘well you should be a brilliant Grandma then’. To which she retorted that she really wasn’t that bad and not as bad as her mum had been. Thus instantly invalidating every feeling and conversation we have had about how difficult she made my childhood. That’s what narcissists do; try to make you think your feelings aren’t real instead of admitting they were wrong.
So last night after discussing some prams I like the look of it she started with her ‘concerned’ voice, which basically means a patronising, self inflated tone that she thinks sounds ‘caring’. It doesn’t, it just gets my hackles up. She proceeded to tell me how she was worried that I would struggle with a pram and have a lot of trouble putting it up and taking it down. With me being so tiny she just really didn’t know how I would cope! Are you fucking kidding me?! This woman has barely been there for all of my adult life while I navigated school, college, uni, mortgages, a career and a husband, and now she’s fraught with worry over the construction of a bloody pram; don’t make me laugh. I know it seems like I’m getting hysterical over a seemingly innocent comment but it’s the A-typical behaviour that gets to me. She says these ridiculous things all the time and she does it to make herself sound caring and superior and me just a helpless little girl in need; essentially belittling how far I’ve come in life without her. She does it to make herself feel like a ‘mum’ because she’s too selfish to actually know how to be a real one.
Mostly I am angry with myself for obviously letting my guard down too soon and signalling to her that she can start draining her narcissistic supply from me again. When I distance myself from her I don’t feel this torrent of frustration but surely it does not have to be all or nothing when the casual arrangement we had before I got pregnant was working well enough? I don’t need a hearts-and-flowers-mother-dearest type to fuss over me but I do want her to be around, it just needs to be on my terms. I need to reset the boundaries, for her and for myself. Remind her that I will not be patronised and remind myself every time I speak to her to not let my guard down. It sounds sad doesn’t it, having to keep a barrier up with my own mother but actually it is far easier and less painful than dealing with the fallout when she finally abuses my trust. It means I get a semi-relationship with my mum without the worry of what she will end up doing to me. It’s not sad, it’s self preservation.