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Want to end estrangement? Try reaching out to Mom

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Try to end estrangement by reaching out to your mom

St. Paul: My mother and I have not spoken or seen each other in nearly two years, at her insistence. While I don't agree with her reasons for the estrangement (this is my punishment for not cutting my father completely out of my life when he cheated on her), I can respect that she needs some time to work out her feelings. With the holidays coming up, it has me wondering how she is doing, though I'm not sure exactly what to say to her. Would it be proper etiquette to call her, or do I just keep waiting for her to get over this since it was her idea in the first place?

Carolyn: I'm glad you can respect that she needs time to work out her feelings, because I can't. That is highly controlling and punitive behavior, respectively, for her to demand that you worship at the altar of her victimhood, and then to cut you out of her life when you declined to do so.

Obviously infidelity comes as extremely difficult news. But this is your father we're talking about; except in extreme cases, it's not fair to expect a child to judge the worth of a parent based entirely on his worth as a spouse.

Abuse, for example, would constitute an extreme case. Had your dad physically/verbally/psychologically abused your mom, and shown neither remorse nor any effort to heal his own ills, then your mom wouldn't be out of line in asking for your loyalty. It would still be your prerogative to say no, and her not speaking to you as punishment for your decision would still be controlling and punitive.

Wrong as it is, infidelity does not, in my opinion, qualify as an extreme case. Certainly it can be much more complicated than your mom seems to be making it out to be; it is rarely so simple as two people who were doing everything Just Right until the cheater ruined everything.

Given that Mom's reaction to the cheating is to give her daughter the silent treatment — and thus to indulge her own emotional needs at her child's expense — I'm even more inclined than usual to believe there's a lot more to this particular infidelity story than evil man devastates innocent woman.

Your mom may refuse to see complexities, but that doesn't mean you have to ignore them, too. Your mom is still your mom. While her freezing you out might be Exhibit A in the argument that you don't owe her anything, it could also support the argument that she's not emotionally strong.

That viewpoint, in turn, suggests that reaching out to her would be the compassionate and generous thing to do.

Will it be effective? That's up to her. Can it make things worse? Sure, if it's possible to get worse than not speaking — and even if she does thaw, assume it'll be with her same limitations intact. However, if you reach out to her in the form of a card or a letter, not frequently but at regular and patient intervals, she will (1) have a much harder time vilifying you; (2) be able to process your message in privacy and at her own pace; and (3) know you're not going away.

Want to end estrangement? Try reaching out to Mom 12/14/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 11:55am]
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