“Mom Gives Bad Advice”

I heard myself saying this to my brother who is going through an incredibly difficult separation with the mother of his 8 year old son. My brother is kind, handsome, responsible, trustworthy, successful and truly one of the greatest guys you could ever know. I used to wonder how he ended up in the beyond horrible situation that had become his relationship. Now, I know all too well.

I have been divorced for three years. I had been in an abusive marriage, but didn’t really realize it until it was over. I have three amazing adult kids, lifelong friends, own two homes, am financially stable, and am lucky enough to still be attractive in my late 40’s. I thought I had my shit together, but when I entered the dating world after 26 years, I found myself in some crazy and unhealthy relationships. It was after being stalked and threatened by one of my “boyfriends” that I realized I was the common denominator and sought therapy to help myself.

“This Would Never Happen to my Sister”

That’s one of the first things I said to my therapist. I didn’t get along with my older sister when we were growing up. I thought she was selfish and obnoxious, always fighting with my mother and voicing her opinions. My mother had a lot of rules and was very formal and stoic. I felt that she was raising us to do the right thing, and I never wanted to upset or disappoint her. My sister was confident and knew what she wanted and how she expected to be treated. When I look back, nothing she fought over was really bad or wrong, she just didn’t want to be put in the “box” that my mother had created. She wanted to wear designer jeans, socialize, travel, and stay out later than her curfew. She hung around with the popular kids, and stuck up for herself to the point that she expected her prom date to pay for her dress and shoes when he decided to go with someone else. I guess it could be seen as normal teenage rebellion, but now I realize it was more than that.

My sister had a boatload of self esteem. Her boat is actually overflowing with it. She had more self esteem as a teenager than my mother did as an adult. At the time, as kids, my two younger brothers and I bonded against my sister in some ways because of it. She did what she wanted, and was unapologetic. We three did what was expected of us. Seems so simple saying it now, but it took a lifetime for me to see things that way.

I wish my brother and I could have had this conversation a long time ago.

Waking Up

Everyone’s read about how our childhood experiences shape our adult lives. The difference for me is to be completely aware of it, and to make the small decisions and choices that are necessary to change things for the better. This is not an easy task, mind you. The people in my life are there for a reason, and those relationships have been built based on the person I’ve been. The good people in my life will listen, understand what I’ve been through and be supportive of my decisions. I will have to gradually move on from the people that I have allowed to mistreat me, or who I’ve let consistently put their needs before mine. The key word here is gradually, as I am giving myself the time I need to feel confident with my decisions.

Being self aware also means taking responsibility for my own role in these relationships. I was raised by a mother who didn’t have her needs met and kept up appearances, putting outsiders opinions and expectations before her kids’ and her own. I thought I was nothing like my mother, and it turns out we are all too similar. In fact, my brothers and I all ended up in terribly dysfunctional relationships. My sister, on the other hand, travels the world, has raised 4 incredible young men and is still married to her amazing husband.

You Don’t Know Until You Know

So, I’m talking to my brother who has been struggling through a toxic 15 year relationship. He has been suffering, mentally, physically and financially, while trying to make things work. He has put her, the kids’, and the dogs’ needs before his own, and is literally being abused. He keeps expecting things to change, and is riddled with guilt that it’s not working.

My mother has told him that he’s doing everything right.

I hear myself say that she means well, but that he deserves to be happy. That sometimes things don’t work out, and that it’s nobody’s fault…it just has to end. I tell him that instead of worrying about the people who are mistreating him, I am worried about him. I am on his side. My concern is for him and his well being.

Mom gives bad advice.

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