9 thoughts on “When Mom Looks to Her Daughter To Be Her Emotional Partner- Why This Is a Problem

  • April 5, 2018 at 1:39 am

    Hi Katherine,
    I commented on one or two of your posts before because they resonate deeply with me quite often. This one is so on target it’s painful!
    I think I’ve said before, I love my mom, I truly do! She has many wonderful qualities but she has also hurt me by not protecting me from sexual abuse by her husband when I was younger (that is, once she knew about it). She has said matter of factly that she is sorry and “I wish I had it to do over but I didn’t have anywhere to go back then with three kids.” I have never told her what exactly was done to me on average of 3 times a week for many years. She once said when I offered to tell her, that she didn’t think she could handle it.
    Anyway, she’s in her late 70’s now and on marriage number 3 which is failing. I can say that the marriage failure is not all her fault–I wouldn’t stay in a marriage like hers either. However, she’s been talking about wanting to move “closer to you kids and the grandkids.” She would LOVE it if she and I got a place together and I feel like a HORRIBLE daughter because I don’t think I can handle that and stay sane!
    She is still independent although she can’t easily climb stairs, go on moderate length walks or over exert herself due to her health (missing a lobe of her left lung) and her age. She calls me several times daily, depends on me emotionally more and more as she ages and wants to know everything about each of our lives. If I tell her something, she will tell my sister and brother. My brother has a court case coming up regarding his ex wanting full custody of their son (with visitation for my brother who is an active alcoholic that has been verbally abusive to our mom and to me lately) and mom has invited herself to court and said she is “going to ask the court for permission to speak because he shouldn’t have a protection from abuse order on him because it’s a lie.” He is awful with his rages but if I point out this isn’t her issue, I get told “well it is because he’s my son. When one of my kids or grandkids hurt, I hurt!”
    I am in my 50’s and single. I want this to be MY time to have a life while I still have one left. I had a fairly major surgery two weeks ago and she DID spend time with me at the hospital and then came back the next day (about 3.5 hrs of driving all told since the hospital was not in my city OR hers) but most of the time, family support is me supporting THEM.
    I feel like a bad daughter just for writing this!

    • April 5, 2018 at 10:18 am

      Thanks again for sharing your story. I vicariously feel the trap..the suffocation you feel. To get some healthy separation makes you feel like a bad daughter. I get that. Since I am familiar with your story I hope you will permit me to weigh in-

      I hear two related patterns that I invite you to challenge (at least in your mind). One thread I hear (coming originally from mom)is this- Family protects family no matter the offense. “When one of my kids or grandkids hurt, I hurt!” Yet if I understand what you are saying she didn’t protect you when you needed her to ( during years of sexual abuse at the hands of your stepfather) and she won’t be protecting her grandchildren from their father’s rages ( as long as he is dxing alcoholically) if she weighs in, in court.

      IMO this is enmeshment, not protection.

      A common confusion I know. And one that is culturally reinforced at an epic level. It is all too easy to buy into the family mythology without seeing the shadow side of the enmeshment. Yet, who pays the price- the children pay the price.

      I invite you to look at all of this from a different, perhaps radical angle. What if your mother has made up her mind about what family is and is not. You accept you cannot change her no matter how much you ( or I ) may disagree with her.

      Here’s the radical part – What if you use the grace you give your mom to give yourself the same grace to be your own separate person. You define what a “good daughter” is for yourself! Maybe a good daughter doesn’t call or talk to her mom several times a day. Maybe a good daughter is one that has a separate life and still loves her mother…ect. You get the picture.

      I don’t imagine any of this will be easy. In fact, like I tell my clients- it will be the hardest thing you have ever done. It is possible. First, you need to become aware that you have let mom ( understandably) define for you- even in your own head- what constitutes a “good” daughter. You can’t change the past but you can change your mind.

      Mom has made her choices, now you can make your own. Finding your voice, taking a stand and taking your turn all starts with a shift in your thinking. You can give to yourself what your mother never gave you. Not easy, but possible.

      • April 6, 2018 at 1:47 am

        Thank you Katherine for responding but also for letting me know honestly what you see/think. I appreciate it!
        I can see the enmeshment you point out and I know my therapist sees it also. Sometimes I get scared she is blaming ME that it is like this but I know that isn’t the case because I asked her since I can be hypersensitive at times and perceive “attack” when none is happening.
        I didn’t create this but it appears that it is up to me to challenge and change it. That feels, as you said, easier said than done. It also feels scary because of the fear that I will hurt her which isn’t my intent.
        But my life will stay stagnant and it will ultimately be too late for me if I don’t begin somewhere. Reducing calls and encouraging her to make new friends and reconnect with her old friends more regularly sounds like a good starting point! (Or maybe take her on a flight to see you for several sessions lol!)

  • April 6, 2018 at 4:01 pm

    Dear Mrs. Fabrizio, could you write an article on the causes of emotional parentification? What kind of personality disorders does it cause in the child? What’s the underlying attachment disorder?

    • April 6, 2018 at 4:31 pm

      Certainly, I will work on this.

  • April 16, 2018 at 3:58 pm

    Great topic Kathrine! I hear and see this so often with my young client as well! So shared it with my community. Thanks for the terrific conversation starter! Lara

    • April 18, 2018 at 7:50 pm

      Thank you so much Dr. Fielding- I have appreciated your posts on mindfulness as well.

  • May 10, 2018 at 7:42 pm

    Dr. Fabrizio,

    Your work is so important to ladies like us that have dealt with our soul-sucking (let’s just call it what it is, right? lol) mothers since birth. You’re research and care has given hope to many of us where there was never any at all. I’m not sure I’m able to explain just how much that means, to me personally anyways. To restore hope in the life and mind of another human being is without a doubt the greatest gift one could give another.

    Just……thank you.

    Brightest and best blessings to you and yours.

    • May 11, 2018 at 11:02 am

      Your comment has truly touched my heart. I am deeply humbled by your thanks. Thank you as well.


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