Same Old Song

Yesterday it hit. The thing that’s been peering through windows, waiting for its moment to strike – the metaphorical body blow from my mother.

My mother is a hard person to get close to. She is like a hazelnut you try time and time again to crack, but you constantly fail because you just cannot find that point of weakness. She binds herself tightly in self-righteousness that is stronger than any armour made by man.

She and my sister, Shelley, had a falling out over twenty years ago that resulted in Shelley moving to America. She has never returned. She and my Mum communicate sporadically, tiptoeing around one another like strangers, experts in discussing only neutral subjects. Shelley believes our mother’s heart is locked away in a box and that the key has been lost.

I believe she does have a heart but she is afraid to show it. Her reasons for doing so are hard to fathom.

I could tell you why we fought. I could tell you why it’s been brewing for so long. I could tell you of the resentments that simmer, left on the hot plate for too long, but at my age I should be able to rise above all that petty stuff. So I will.

I love my mother. Of course. But I am weary of her mindgames. It’s taken me my whole life to realise that she’s been playing them and that I’ve been an unwitting participant.

She’s afraid. Terrified for her youngest daughter. Yes, my youngest sister has addiction problems. She has a mental illness. She is married to a man who abuses her. I’m afraid too but I’m trying not to let my fear ruin my relationship with everyone else I know. I’m trying not to cast blame where blame should not be cast.

It’s funny what fear does. It’s like a bird without feathers being forced to fly. It sits at the base of your throat, resting like an invisible hand. It is easier to let living with fear become a habit than to banish it for good. It is easier to keep a song on continuous play than it is to change the CD.

My mother said something the other day that intrigued me and scared me at the same time –

Your sister is still a little girl.

My sister is 36 years old.

Life is full of uncertainty. Deep down we all know that. Somehow we learn to live with it. Bad things happen to good people every day. We have all seen it. Yet hope continues to prevail.

I wish my mother could see that. I wish she could see that sometimes the fear of what could happen is more destructive than what actually happens. I wish there were no molehills in her mountains.

She jabbed at me yesterday. She pounded me. I am a disappointment to her. My husband is a loser and has no money. My son will never amount to anything. A barrage of words that should have ripped me to shreds but instead forced me to mentally step back. Away from her.

How is it that my mother can have the courage to attack me with such force but continually shy away from telling my sister the truth about her life?

There comes a time when weariness sets in. When you realise that some relationships are damaging and need to be avoided for a while. It’s sad. But knowing what needs to be done is good. It’s better than listening to the same old song over and over again.

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36 thoughts on “Same Old Song

  1. “There comes a time when weariness sets in. When you realise that some relationships are damaging and need to be avoided for a while. It’s sad. But knowing what needs to be done is good. It’s better than listening to the same old song over and over again.”

    Yes! Yes! A thousand times, YES!

    It is easy to let fear and hurt reside in a relationship, especially a close one, because we tend to make excuses for certain painful behaviors in order to keep the hurt from taking over.

    Yet, the very excuses we give prove that the hurt has indeed taken over and damage is being done.

    Oh, and don’t you just love it when someone says, “I want you to be honest with me about this,” and then when you finally screw up the courage to say it like it is, they come unhinged? That’s a huge price to pay for a bit of honesty. My mother insists she doesn’t do that, but wonders why we don’t discuss certain things…

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  2. Wow. This was a great post!

    “It’s funny what fear does. It’s like a bird without feathers being forced to fly. It sits at the base of your throat, resting like an invisible hand. It is easier to let living with fear become a habit than to banish it for good. It is easier to keep a song on continuous play than it is to change the CD.”

    That really spoke to me… it’s something I am dealing with myself right now… and the way you describe it is perfect.

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  3. That’s the thing with mothers, isn’t it? … they think they can say whatever they like, and usually come out with stuff that, if anyone else said it, they’d be told to bugger off, and never darken the doorstep again.

    My cousin’s wife is Indian … and his mother has come out, in her presence, with stuff that’s downright racist, and, in any other circles, would probably get her arrested. But, since she’s his mother …

    Thing is, she used to be one of my favourite aunties!

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  4. Oh Selma- I’m so sorry you must live with shit like this. It is so NOT fair since you are so giving and lovely yourself. I may be the worst one to give any advice about family since I moved thousands of miles away from mine to find some sanity but sometimes it is time to cut bait. I think that time has arrived Selma. Insult my husband, my kids?? NO WAY. That’s it. You need to protect YOU. Especially if there is no progress no matter what you do- only crazy people bang their heads against the wall.

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  5. Selma,, so good you have a kind of cool detachement in speaking about your mom and this issue. I get so damned fiery with my mom — that I feel like I’m going to explode.
    I’m still trying to learn to walk away; i’ll get there one day. there is no guarantee in life that we are born to caring, sweet, suportive mothers.
    That’s what makes you a great mom. That’s what makes me a great mom too. I have issues all over the place with my parents.
    I read an article in W with Drew Barrymore about how she severed her ties with her mom. I thought how smart. Wish I had the courage.

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  6. I am sad to read this for you, but relieved for me. Only because, maybe I’m not such a monster after all.

    Like you, I love my mother, but she drains me too. The past two weeks with her were really hard. I found myself hiding in my room, or I’d go to something I had to go to and linger where before I would have taken off right away – anything so I didn’t have to spend time with her. I told myself it was enough that she was getting to spend time with her grandchildren. I was having a hard time getting up in the morning and putting on clothes, let alone doing all the things I SHOULD have been doing. Redbeard asked me at one point, “You’re coming back, right? We miss you….”

    I drove her to the airport and I felt so terrible – how could I feel this way about my own mom? Then she started talking to me about Dad and what I SHOULD be doing, and I realized why I had been hiding. 1/2 to not have to talk about Dad (I know I’ve bottle up feelings about that and someday I’m going to have to deal with them, but I’m not ready – not yet) and 1/2 because I don’t do things the way she did. I think completely different, and I have chosen that thinking on purpose. How do you explain THAT?

    I used to lament that we were so far away from our family that everyone else was super close and we were always going to be the odd cousins. Now I look at it and realize it was necessary to become the bright shinning stars we are – our families (Redbeard’s and mine) are toxic – not that they are dysfunctional, but they would drain us and tell us we aren’t who we are, and neither he nor I was willing to listen.

    You are completely correct, at least in my way of thinking, in avoiding the toxicity for awhile. I do that too. The trick is to love them at a distance…. and the bigger trick is to learn so when we’re parents to adult children, we don’t do the same thing. I confess, I’m terrified.

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  7. Oh dear Selma. I had a feeling something sad/bad was on the horizon for you, when I stopped by yesterday. I felt it. I am sorry to be right this time. I feel your pain and I understand when you talk about your mother’s mind games but still loving her at the same time. My mother was a master of subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) mind games. These were VERY low blows though. I am so sorry you had to hear those words from her. It may be part of the aging process though, I understand that so much more now. So many elderly women start to vent a lot of rage they’ve held in, as they get older, but it’s directed at people WHO DON’ T DESERVE IT, like you.

    Hugs, hugs and lots of positive vibes for a much better day today. This too shall pass (it’s a phrase that’s kept me alive). G

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  8. Hi there, Selma.
    Well, I go away from the blogosphere for a week or so, and gee, I clicked on here and now I see how hurt you are/havebeen. I’m so very truly sorry.
    It WILL get better, I promise you, Selma.
    “Your sister is still a little girl”.
    Someone told me the following about someone else’s sister:
    “She’s the world’s oldest teenager.”
    In both cases, these sentences reflect the obvious inability to accept RESPONSIBILITY for one’s life. If your sister has an addiction(I know many people in my life, for whom addiction is part of their truth), I feel for you. AND your Mom. And why does your Mom lash out at YOU? Because she CAN. She cannot address your sister, because in your Mom’s mind, your sister could not “bear” it. Your Mother’s unfair comments aimed at you and your family, are not surprising, unfair as they are—-because, since she cannot vent at your sister, who she feels “responsible” for(she may even “blame” herself for your sister’s addiction), she attacks the “strong” daughter.
    Addiction is not about “weakness”, though, it’s an illness. I would respectfully, and very heartily encourage your Mom to at least attend one meeting of Al-Anon, or Nar-Anon, whichever applies. She/You may find that other members of a group that must deal with loved ones who have addiction disorders/mental illness, can be a huge source of support!
    In the meantime, write a letter to your Mom. It’s a great, calm way to stay-in-touch, without raised voices, or anguish.
    Peace and Blessings, to You, always, Selma. 😉

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  9. My dearest Selma. Oh how I understand. All close relationships – especially familial – have their own brand of complexity. …but a mother and daughter…nothing compares. I’m fairly certain that if my mom were alive today, I’d have distanced myself from her. Toxicity doesn’t play favorites in relationships. It shows up where it does. I truly believe you’re doing the best thing you can for yourself and your family by detaching as much as possible.

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  10. KAREN:
    Couldn’t agree more. We do tend to make excuses for hurtful behaviours when they come from certain people. But it’s not good to do so because it ends up hurting us even more. OMFG – you don’t know how many times my Mum has said to me – ‘Just be honest with me’ and when i have been hasn’t spoken to me for months. So frustrating.

    CAS:
    I’m sorry to hear you’re going through something difficult. Fear is such a potent force. I’m trying to get rid of it. It’s not easy. It lingers. Hope everything gets sorted out for you.

    TRAVELRAT:
    Exactly. She wouldn’t dream of saying those things to anyone else. It’s horrible, really. My mother is a racist. In her case it’s the Chinese. I had a very close friend at Uni who just happened to be Chinese and my Mum never allowed her in the house. I also worked for a couple of years in a school with a 90% Chinese enrolment. She was horrified. I couldn’t understand why it bothered her so much. I still can’t.

    LAURI:
    You are absolutely right. I am guilty of forgiving her bad behaviour because she is my Mum, but she really hurt me this time. I cried about it for two days and wakened up on Monday with a shocking migraine. It’s just not worth it. I’ve tried and tried, but now it’s time to walk away.

    LURAGANO:
    I think many people have unspoken issues with their parents. The difficulty is in raising those issues, isn’t it? You are so right – there is no guarantee we are going to get supportive, loving parents. I have no doubt my Mum loves me but as my husband says :’She has a funny way of showing it.’

    Wish I could be like Drew too. Very sensible of her!

    TEXASBLU:
    There is no way you are a bad person. Not even for a minute, but I understand what you are saying because I often think the same thing about myself when it comes to my mother. I never expected it to be this hard!

    I get the feeling drained part. It’s exhausting. So many of my family members do that to me.

    You have voiced my secret fear – that my son will end up having a dysfunctional relationship with me. I couldn’t stand it. He is so dear to me it would be like the end of the world. Neither of us are going to let that happen with our kids. OK? We can do it. 😀

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  11. GERALDINE:
    You are such a kind person in so many ways. A member of my writing group is in her 70s and she said the same thing as you. Sometimes the aging process leaves many people bewildered and they become very angry and unkind. She believes it’s a type of grief due to the realisation time is passing. Such a shame for everyone concerned. Thanks for always being there, G!

    LISA:
    You are incredibly astute. I have thought that about my Mum too for quite a while and I do understand where it’s coming from but it’s hard to take. My sister does go to Al-Anon meetings but I doubt my Mum ever would. She would be ashamed. I am going to write a letter to my Mum. I think it’lll be good for both of us. Thanks.

    STEPH:
    It’s important to look after yourself in these situations, I think. A bit of distance is never a bad thing. It’s like a family holiday – without the family. 😉

    GROOVY:
    Hugs from you always make me feel better. Thanks, Grooves!!!

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  12. >> My mother is a racist. <<

    I suppose, to be kind, she’s from an age when such behaviour was deemed acceptable. I still get a laugh when I think about the time when, in my teens, my then girl friend introduced me to her mother, with the qualification ‘You know … he played Othello in the school play’

    She looked me up and down, then said ‘So, you’re not really a wog, then?’

    Thing was … she didn’t have a bad bone in her body; it was just the way people thought then. If she’s still alive, and remembers the incident, she’d probably be horrified.

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  13. Mum’s can be so damn manipulative. My mum says things to me she wouldn’t dream of saying to any of my other siblings because she knows she wouldn’t get away with it. I let most of it slide because she’s my Mum and the good things she does far outweighs the bad. When that isn’t the case the healthiest thing you can do for yourself is to walk away.

    I don’t know if I could forgive an attack on my husband and child but some distance would definitely be a good idea. I hope things work out one way or the other Sel.

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  14. PS: It can also be caused by some physical changes to the brain and how it functions Sel. I didn’t understand a lot of this when it first started happening with my mom. It was a gradual change and for the worse. It’s rather common from what I now understand.

    I feel for you and I hope that you find some regular time to relax and have some quiet time to regroup. You deserve it Sel and it makes all the difference in being able to cope. Hope Im not sounding preachy, I don’t mean to.

    Many hugs, G

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  15. Selma, I wish I knew what to say, what to tell you, but I don’t. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have had such a mother. My mother was a terrible housekeeper, but that is just about the one and only flaw in her makeup. She was uneducated and yet, one of the wisest women I have ever known. During the many years I lived under my parent’s roof, I never once heard her utter one single word of complaint. Come to think of it however, she did take my husband’s side all too often. I think that’s because he always dressed chickens to the house during the time we were dating.

    Your sister is still a little girl.

    My sister is 36 years old.

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  16. I don’t know how that happened. I was about to say that those words you mother said about your sister, ‘Your sister is still a little girl”, reminded me of what my mother-in-law said of her son, and he was at least thirty-five. There are some mothers who just don’t know how to let their children grow up. Just determine in your heart to love your mother but to never allow her to be an example.

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  17. It is the old toddler story in reverse really. Your mother sounds off to you, gets it out of her system because she knows or believes it is safe to do so with you. She can’t do so with your sister incase she goes to pieces and anyone else is clearly out of the question, they would stop speaking to her. She has all this pent up frustration I suppose and she let rip at you.

    It’s hard to deal with and you are probably right (for your own sanity to build in some distance).

    People tend to play mindgames when they feel insecure and perhaps unconvinced that they have done the right things.

    Just remember that what she said to you wasn’t actually she meant to say or even thought – it was just stuff from inside, tension that had built up that she needed to release and you were her safety valve.

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  18. This post reminded me of – who else? – me, of course. My parents hate my wife. There, I said it. So I can kind of, sort of relate here. I think you’re absolutely right that sometimes certain people should just avoid each other. Without getting into all the gory details, that’s exactly the conclusion I’ve reached about that situation.

    I like that thing about the bird representing fear. You’ve got a thing for birds, don’t you?

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  19. I wish you would show the “Same Old Song” post to your mother. She would probably be angry, astonished, resentful, and all the rest of it–but let her be! You’ve written with such clarity (and even with some compassion for her)–let her make of it what she will. Sometimes a fearful, emotionally stunted person needs a good strong dose of truth.

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  20. I am so sorry Selma. hang in there.

    you said “How is it that my mother can have the courage to attack me with such force but continually shy away from telling my sister the truth about her life?”

    Sometimes, because we are really doing just fine, they attack us, because it’s futile to attack your sister. Really, your mom shouldn’t be attacking anyone. And I am sorry she does that to you.

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  21. It always has and always will amaze me what some mothers feel that Motherhood entitles them to say to and expect from their daughters with unconditional love in return. Since becoming a mother myself, it has amazed me all the more. I cannot ever imagine saying such things to or expecting such things from my own children. I don’t know what else to say except you don’t deserve it. You deserve better.

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  22. TRAVELRAT:
    She definitely is of that generation who were intolerant of other races. It’s a shame, really. I think it has made her miss out on a lot.

    ROMANY:
    I can forgive her because I know she doesn’t really mean it, but I’m tired of her resorting to this all the time. It’s upsetting. A little bit of distance will do both of us good!

    EMPLOYEE:
    Oh, absolutely. Definitely the case. And I should have said :’ You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me?’

    GERALDINE:
    You’re not being preachy at all. Thanks for the excellent advice.

    MARY:
    Brilliant advice. It’s true, my mother doesn’t want my sister to grow up. It’s a shame because in letting someone go (letting them grow up) it usually means you actually find them. And the relationship is better.

    RELUCS:
    You are spot on with that one. I wish I had been able to put it as well as you have. I know she didn’t mean it. I know she’s frustrated, but I do wish she wouldn’t say it in the first place. Maybe in time she can vent at the person who really needs it….

    RICHARD:
    I am so sorry to hear that. That is awful. It must put you in really awkward situations. I like the avoidance strategy – works for me.

    I do like my little birdies. If I were a witch they would be my familiars.

    MARGARET:
    You know, you are absolutely right. Despite her behaviour, however, I don’t really want to hurt her. It might open her eyes to read this though. I’ll think about it. Thanks so much for visiting!

    PWADJ:
    This is really all about my sister. It actually would make a great film about reading between the lines. I’ll be fine, hon. You are so kind!!

    QUERULOUS:
    Me too. I just could not speak to my son like that. Ever. I am so close to him that I would feel I was hurting myself if I hurt him. I hope my Mum will realise soon what she is doing. Thanks, hon!

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  23. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
    Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, Chapter 1, first line
    Russian mystic & novelist (1828 – 1910)

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  24. Brilliant post. It is a very sad fact that some of the best writing comes from terrible feelings and situations…and this is one of those times because there’s some great writing in here. As a fear expert (another sad fact!) I particularly liked the bird image…and this from a woman whose first phobia was birds!! I like them a bit more now.
    x

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  25. My heart goes out to you. My mother is the ultimate drama queen. She uses, consciously or unconsciously, mind games and emotional blackmail to push my buttons. And I fall for it everytime. She criticizes everything I do, counts my medicine and basically does everything possible to piss me off. And i react. I blow up. When she says something against my father I backhand it back and tell her that her father & her siblings aren’t perfect. And neither is she. I do love my mother but it’s best that I see her only once in a while.

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  26. Oh My God Selma. I have no idea what to say here. I think your mother has a lot of nerve to rip into you like that while she walks on egg shells around your sister. Maybe its because she thinks she can get away with it? I dont know.

    All I know is that I think you are SIMPLY AMAZING.

    And , I love you.

    ((((HUGS)))))

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  27. Selma, when I read this I felt as if you were describing parts of my mother and parts of my father. I trully understand all of what you wrote. I don’t have any sort of relationship with my mother because everytime we talk she always rips in to me and many times I have walked away crying. To my father I was always a disappointment and never amounted to anything. It is bizarre we really had no father daughter relationship and when he died I had not spoken to him since I don’t remember. I used to think that I couldn’t care less but still its been 2 years since he died and I still wonder why was he the way he was so inhuman and without feelings.

    Why do our parents act the way they do?

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  28. DAVID:
    I love that line. It is so true. In some ways it makes being an unhappy family sound artistic and desirable. That’s the power of a great writer for you!

    RACHEL:
    Thanks so much for visiting and for your comment. Are you a fear expert because you have conquered fear or are you a psychologist who deals with fearful people? Either way I am intrigued. I will come and visit you shortly. Cheers.

    ROSHAN:
    Some people just are drama queens, whether they are Mums or not. I’m sorry your Mum makes things difficult for you. She obviously cares a lot about you. Why is it that Mums know how to push our buttons? I guess they know us better than we think.

    NANNA:
    Awwww. I love you too. You definitely are much more marvelous than me. XXX

    MELEAH:
    Well that goes for me with you too. Love you too. I know my Mum is stressed about my sister. I totally get that. I just wish she’d think about what she is saying. I’m feeling better about it now but for a bit there I was reeling. You have cheered me up so much. XXXX

    TBALL:
    I am so sorry to hear that. How could anyone get cross with you? I just don’t understand. You are such a sweetie. I don’t know why certain people act the way they do. I think it’s mostly to do with them, not us. Knowing that doesn’t always help though, does it?

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  29. See, I just knew you and Karen and I were sisters! We have the same mother – she really jumps continents doesn’t she? Like Lauri I also moved many hundreds of miles away from my family and I still feel the relief on days when she sends thoughtless or self-centered messages. And I learnt at a very young age not to confide in my mother.

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  30. RACHEL:
    I know exactly what you mean. If only I could just snap my fingers and all my fears were gone. Maybe one day….

    DAOINE:
    We are definitely sisters in more ways than one. That mother of ours has a lot of answer for. I am freaking out that you said that about not confiding in your mother because I am the same. She uses every confidence against me in the end. Not good.

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  31. Mine also wants to compete with me all the time, but she must win. If she thinks I’m doing better than her then she sulks, or even goes as far as starting arguments to try and make me feel guilty. Very manipulative.

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