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Ask a Therapist: “I have a toxic mom”

Posted at 1:30 PM, Aug 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-04 15:30:11-04

Question: I am estranged from my mother because she is a very toxic person, and I don't know how to explain the situation to my young kids when they see her in pictures and ask about who she is, why she isn't in our lives anymore. I don't want to scar them more then the situation already will.

How to handle the situation: It`s important to be honest with kids but to also give answers that are age appropriate.

For young kids, you can say something like 'This is Mommy`s mom. Sometimes things happen between adults that are hard to explain but we don`t see her because she and Mommy have a hard time being around each other.'

As your kids get older, you can give more information as is appropriate. For kids who are a little older you can say something like 'Sometimes adults have a hard time with each other and the best solution is to not be around each other at all'.

As your kids become teenagers and young adults, it will be appropriate for you to let them know that although you wish things were different, your mom has some issues she struggles to change and being around her hurts you too much. Then explain that for those reasons, the best decision you could make was to protect yourself and your family by not having further contact.

Be prepared to answer more questions, especially as your kids get older. Listen to your 'Mommy Gut' about whether or not it is appropriate to answer those questions based on their age and ability to understand. If they ask a question that you don`t think you can answer, simply say that they are asking very good questions and you need to take some time to think about how to answer. Later, let your kids know that they questions they asked would be answered better when they are a little older. If it is something that you wouldn`t want to talk about with your kids at any point, make sure you let them know that it`s always okay to ask any questions they want but that sometimes the answer is that you don`t feel it is appropriate to discuss with them because you need to keep some things private.

One issue you may run into with this situation is a concern from your kids that the same thing may happen in the future for them: That they may not have a good relationship. If this happens, reassure them that your relationship with them is very different, that you have learned from the relationship with your mom, and that you will always work on your relationship with them so you have a wonderful relationship with them for all their lives. Of course, the most important part of that promise is your commitment to follow through.

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