Carolyn Hax is away. In her absence, we are offering columns from her archive.
No comfort in Grandma's cold shoulder
Q: How can I help my daughter, "Kara," better deal with my mom? When my mom gets irritated or angry, she shuts down and gives the silent treatment, even to Kara, who is 3.
For example, Kara will decide she doesn't want to talk to my mom, and then five minutes later she does, and my mom will say, "Oh, now you want to talk to me? Well I don't want to talk." And then she proceeds to sit in front of Kara and ignore her for ages. It was hurtful to me as a child but I can't seem to figure out how to get my mom to stop — I've talked to her about it, but she says I'm being sensitive.
A: It's not your job to get your mom to stop. It's your job, in the short term, to protect your child from people who do hurtful things to her; in the long term, it's your job to arm her to deal with hurtful people on her own.
You have an opportunity to accomplish both your jobs at once by saying to your mother, "Please don't ignore Kara like that." And if your mom persists: "I won't let you treat Kara like that," picking up your daughter and taking her out of range of your mother's toxic cloud. In doing so you both protect Kara from further psychological warfare, and you draw her an invaluable blueprint for standing up to, and then declining to engage with, a bully.
You admit to being a victim of that warfare yourself, so you know how important it is that you protect your child.
Your history also may mean your ability to stand up to your mom is compromised, though; the abuser's classic first step is to weaken a victim's defenses, by eroding their self-confidence to the point where they feel the abuse is their fault, or their duty to withstand. If your mother has done that to you, then the best way to help Kara is to help yourself. It may be a matter for counseling, but courage is a necessity either way, as are nonnegotiable boundaries for your mom — so start with those and gauge your next step.