The Narcissistic Mom

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Dear Dr. Darcy

I believe that my mother has narcissistic personality disorder, and I want to understand the best way to deal with her.  Can you give some advice?

It is really hard to explain my mother to other people, but I'll try. Basically, she is completely obsessed with me. She has no other friends or family: My father died. She disowned her family several years ago. She has no friends, "because people have ulterior motives". I am an only child. She has most of the traits of NPD, but she doesn't seem to be very good at controlling people because she has alienated everyone in her life.

I am married to a woman in a same-sex relationship. We have two children- a 5 year old and a toddler…

After our son was born about a year ago, my wife quit her job to take care of the kids. My mom has come to visit twice for 2 months at time. The first visit, she got pissed for no apparent reason and wouldn't speak to us for 2 days. Later we found out that we weren't sufficiently grateful for her helping us with repairs, painting, etc on our new house.

This last visit ended with her going home unexpectedly and I'm not sure if we will ever see her again. Basically, she started complaining to me about my wife- how my wife doesn't treat me well, how she doesn't take care of the house well- there was a big issue about how my wife is not taking care of the lawn correctly. My mom is an expert on taking care of lawns and how dare my wife do things differently than my mom. This did not go over well. It built up to my mom and my wife getting in a huge fight, and then she went home. I have not spoken to her since.

I am happy to have her out of my life, but I also feel guilty. My daughter keeps asking why grandma left without saying goodbye and why grandma and mommy were fighting…I want to protect my family and do what is best for my kids. But, I feel guilty because my mom is mentally sick (I think?), has nobody, and lives far away (her choice, but still..) Also, is it wrong for the kids to not have a relationship with their grandma? I justify this by saying that my mother wants to meddle in my relationship and would love for me to get a divorce, which is way worse for the kids than not having a grandma.

Thanks for taking my questions.

ANSWER

Your mother gives me hives. And yes, she definitely has a personality disorder. Or THREE.

I don’t know if I’d recommend you go from having the relationship you’ve had with your mother to cutting her off. As painful as that would be, I think it would be the easier road for you to take. I’d rather see you try to have an adult relationship with her – one where you take responsibility for the kind of relationship that you want. So how do you do that?

Boundaries, boundaries and more boundaries.

Your wife and children come first in your life (in that order). So your loyalties must align that way. And that means that when your mother begins speaking negatively about your wife, you immediately interrupt her and tell her that it’s inappropriate for her to speak negatively about your wife and that if she doesn’t stop you’re going to end the phone conversation. If she continues, you immediately say goodbye. And for the foreseeable future, your only interactions with your mother should be on the phone. Only when you feel capable of holding boundaries with her can you consider having her visit again. But ground rules need to be put in place.

She needs to know that she is visiting your wife’s home and that if she doesn’t consistently treat your wife with kindness and respect, she’ll be asked to leave. And her visits need to be no longer than a week at a time. You need to hire help when you have a nanny crisis, or a handyman crisis, or a horticulture crisis. Your mother is not the go-to for any kind of help, because clearly her help comes with strings (chains) attached. And until she proves herself trustworthy (which may be never), she can’t be alone with your children. If what you’re saying is true and she’d like to see you divorced, she won’t hesitate to try and poison the children against your wife. So when you’re tempted to let her take them out to lunch unsupervised, ask yourself if you’d let the kids play with a bottle of bleach unsupervised, because your mother sounds to me like she’s the toxic-equivalent.

You’re responsible for what this relationship looks like today. It didn’t get like this overnight. And although she’s acted like this your entire life, most teenagers have an adolescent rebellion which tends to change this parent-child dynamic at the point at which the child reconnects with the parent. I’m betting you never had one. So some of this is a result of your choices. Try it my way and see if it’s possible to have a different kind of relationship with her. And please let me know if I can help in any other way.

Writer’s Stats: Female, Lesbian.