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My Emotionally Distant Mom

November 17, 2016 | by Emuna Braverman

My mother constantly complains and criticizes instead of giving me love.

Dear Emuna,

My mom is negative all the time and it’s really getting to me. More often than not, she’s complaining. I know she works very hard to keep the house clean, cooks, works and her knee really hurts her, but I'm just tired of hearing the same complaints over and over again. She also barely understands me, nor is she there for me, and I feel that she's usually criticizing me rather than giving me support and love. She didn't have that growing up... but it still really hurts. How do I make sure I don't do the same to my kids?

Hurt and Confused

Dear Hurt,

It seems to me that you may have two questions – one asked and one left unasked. Before we can even deal with the question of your future parenting, the unasked question is how do you cope with the situation now?

I see that you are able to look at your mother with compassion – you see how hard she works and you recognize that she didn’t have any support when she was a child – and this is an important first step. It’s really to your credit that you can see beyond your own painful situation to be empathic to hers.

That said, I know that even with that understanding, the day-to-day negativity and loneliness is hard to bear. We expect our parents to give us support, to “be there for us”, to understand us – all the things you do not have. You need to find a way to make peace with that. For reasons as yet unclear, this is the situation the Almighty put you in. This is the mother that you have and this is your opportunity for growth.

Whether it means that you will have to find a mentor (teacher, rabbi, employer, spouse) who will help you grow and provide that support, whether it means you will have to turn inwards to find your own strength, whether it means you will have to deepen your relationship with the Almighty and your trust is His ultimate beneficence or whether it means all of the above, this is the work that you have to do. I’m not saying it’s easy; it’s not. But there isn’t much choice.

As hard as it may be now, if you do the work, I am confident that you will emerge a stronger, deeper, more emotionally healthy human being. The day-to-day will still be challenging but you are not your mother. Hold on to that and try to focus on the positive in your life, every day, every moment.

As far as not parenting like her, if you find a way to separate yourself from her attitudes, as just discussed, you are on your way to a more healthy form of parenting. While it may be instinctive to react like our parents, we can change our habits. Some people use their parents as role models and tend to parent just like them; others do the opposite. I know, unfortunately, of many people who had difficult parents and their own parenting choices are made in direct opposition to those of their parents i.e. instead of asking what would my parents do and then acting in that way, they ask that question and then do the opposite. The fear of being like an unhealthy parent can be a powerful motivator. As long as you keep in mind your own childhood experiences, you will be a good parent.

You are already self-aware and know what you don’t want to do. Count your blessings every day and make a conscious effort to be a loving, supportive parent and I have no doubt that you will succeed. Especially if you ask the Almighty to help you in this area the way He has in all the others.

Growing Distant after Childbirth

Dear Emuna,

I had a very emotionally difficult pregnancy that affected my marriage somehow. As I was constantly irritable and crying for all reasons, I feel my husband distanced himself from me. I felt so lonely and depressed; I couldn't enjoy the pregnancy or my other children. My baby is now eight months old and I feel I am recovering from this emotional crisis. I love and enjoy my baby and the rest of my children and I'm trying hard to go back to the beautiful marital relationship I once had, but it is so hard! I am often tired and busy and my husband doesn't understand that. I feel he is still apart and doesn't realize that we must do something to improve our marriage. Once I hinted this to him and he just got angry at me. Any advice?

Hurt and Lonely

Dear Hurt and Lonely,

My heart is really breaking over all the pain in this world. I’m sorry you had to go through such a challenging time, especially for something that should be such a blessing. I’m sure that thought only adds to the pain. Just as you are hurt and lonely, I’m sure that your husband is as well. It sounds like your husband just doesn’t understand the whole situation – why you pulled away from him, why you were constantly irritable, why you couldn’t stop crying and why you continue to be tired and busy. I’m guessing that just as he has distanced himself from you, he feels that you have distanced yourself from him.

He may not understand his own reaction to this, his own emotional needs, his own frustrations and pain and that may explain why he responds with anger instead of understanding. Since he is not prepared to consult a professional, I’m afraid that you are going to have to step up to the plate. It’s not a question of what’s fair or whose responsibility is it to repair your marriage; this is your reality.

From reading between the lines (and I may be wrong) it sounds like your husband feels very hurt by your behavior. You pulled away from him and retreated into a world of your own and it sounds like you haven’t fully returned. You are busy. Is it possible to reduce some of those activities so you are less tired or so you at least have some time with him? He is your priority and he needs to be made to feel that way. While you couldn’t do anything about your emotions during your pregnancy, you can now take steps to reconnect. Get a babysitter and go out with him. Leave the laundry and the dishes and spend the evening with him. He needs to know that he matters. He needs to know that he wasn’t responsible for your pain and that you don’t see him that way. Tell him how important he is to you. Tell him how much you enjoy being with him. Get to know him again.

I don’t know how many small children you have and I know it is a tiring time but I feel compelled to repeat that your husband, not your children, is your priority and you can’t just tell him that; you need to act that way. Apologize for your behavior during your pregnancy – not because you were at fault (you weren’t!) but because you feel badly about the distance created. If you truly understand that he comes first and you behave that way, then I believe you will be able to get your marriage back on track, even without professional help. But you must really understand and accept this idea – and then act on it.

This is the most important relationship in your life and it deserves to be treated that way. And, as I told the previous writer, ask the Almighty to give you the energy to follow through with this and the right words to use that will pierce his heart.

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