Dealing with an Emotionally Absent Parent


A few years ago we ran two pieces: one on getting married after your mother has died, and one on getting married when you have an emotionally damaging relationship with your mother. Right after we ran the second piece, Nicole wrote me a note that she wanted to write about coping strategies for when you have a parent who is simply emotionally absent. This often happens when you have a parent dealing with illness, as well as for people whose parents are not that interested in planning or are otherwise distant from the wedding planning process. The article Nicole took two years to write is, no surprise, brilliant. But perhaps more surprising, I found it profoundly helpful reading for dealing with a variety of complicated relationships, married or not. This one, with tons of wisdom Nicole figured out in therapy, is pretty much a must-read for everyone.

Meg

Dealing with an Emotionally Absent Parent | A Practical WeddingMy mom and I have a challenging relationship, to say the least. Though it has been improving over the years, it probably hit its peak of challenging-ness when I got engaged and began planning my wedding in 2009. I had this fantasy that though we had always butt heads about the most minute and mundane details, we would suddenly plan this wedding in perfect harmony, and it would be the most incredible bonding experience for us. It would lead us to have that mother-daughter relationship I had envied amongst my friends for my entire life. It just took me getting engaged for it to happen!

We all know what comes next.

The first instance of realizing this would not be true was at the very beginning, about five months after my husband proposed. We wanted to get a firm grasp on our budget and guest lists so that we could begin making plans. That two-hour long conversation ended with my feeling flabbergasted and my mother feeling angry. It ended with my mother telling me to do whatever the hell I wanted and she would just write the checks. With her saying that she didn’t want to take control and thus was leaving everything to me to do on my own.

And she was completely true to her word.

My parents paid for the wedding, but my mother was as removed from it as any one person could possibly be. She was completely emotionally absent, and I was completely emotionally drained. I tried and tried to get her involved (Want to go dress shopping? What do you think of these centerpieces? Can you help me make the invitations?) and nothing ever worked. To be fair, she has a load of problems that have nothing to do with me (a chronic illness and her own disappointments with her wedding, just to name a couple), but, even as I write this, I can vividly remember the pain of all those quiet glares and eye rolls and leaving rooms and unanswered questions. My dreams of a wedding bonding experience were never going to be realized. And that’s the case; they were never realized.

But this isn’t necessarily about venting those stories. What I really wanted to write about is what it was like for me to have a parent who was emotionally absent from my wedding process. Especially having a mom who is emotionally absent.

Think about all those perfect wedding images that include parents. The mother and daughter giggling as the daughter is trying on the dress. The mom clasping the pearls around the daughter’s neck right before the she walks down the aisle. The mom and daughter tearfully smiling at each other after the wedding. And when that didn’t happen, when that perfect relationship didn’t exist, all I felt was shame. Absolute shame and fear that there was something deeply wrong with me and that it was completely my fault. At the same time, I had so much anger because I knew, I knew, that this was not my fault. She was making her own choices and that was not my responsibility.

But somehow, that knowledge doesn’t seem to fix it. The knowledge and the emotions don’t fit together. And, because I didn’t have anyone to talk about it with, or anywhere to get help figuring it out, I wanted to share with you some of the things that helped me.

Boundaries. These were so important. I can’t even tell you how important they were for me, even if I failed to utilize them all the time. I had to figure out my boundaries with my mom, and I had to set them with her. So, for example, I learned that asking my mom to help with the invitations was going to be rebuffed every. freaking. time. So I stopped asking.

Rely on others. Because of a whole other set of issues around my wedding, this was really hard for me. But, I had a great maid of honor who stepped up and helped me even if I didn’t really know how I wanted her help. I trusted her, and I used her. I “let” her help me with those invitations. I tried not to shut her out because my absent mom refused to be a part of it all.

50/50. My therapist helped me figure this out about two weeks before my husband and I were heading back to Texas to get married. She pointed out that in my desperation to have the perfect relationship with my mom, I was putting about 95% of myself into it and my mom was only doing about 5%. This was problematic because it was leaving me drained, and I can’t possibly put that much into a relationship that is giving me nothing back. I can’t do her work in our relationship. I can only do my part, my 50%. She was responsible for the other 50% and if she chose to only put in 5%, well, that was her prerogative. I had the knowledge that I had done my part. This was revolutionary to me and has completely changed the way I try to relate to my mom. Even at the wedding, two weeks from that appointment. My husband kept chanting in my ear, “Your 50, your 50, your 50,” when he would see me becoming despondent because of something she said or did or didn’t say or do.

Be present. Seriously. There was literally nothing that I could do. I had done all that I could. As I said, my mom has her own set of problems, and I cannot do anything about them nor be responsible for them. I decided to be present in my life, at my wedding. I had decided to continue forward even though it is painful. I recognize that pain (see below) but try my best not to dwell on it.

Don’t ignore your emotions. Don’t ignore your logic. One of our biggest problems in society is our tendency to ignore our emotions. My mom being emotionally unavailable for this whole process was awful. It was completely devastating. I was allowed to feel sad and devastated about it. And I was allowed to feel that way every time something happened. But I really struggled with this. I felt like I should have known this was always going to happen, so I didn’t allow myself to feel sad or cry or feel angry about it. Instead, I kept putting myself in the way of being re-hurt by her (those invitations!). Try not to do that. Don’t ignore that feeling to cry. Try not to allow that devastation to help you put yourself in a position to be hurt again. Set those boundaries and keep to them. And be sad because you have to have them.

I am now three years and some change past our wedding. I contacted Meg in 2011 about wanting to write this post, and it took me this long to finish it. Part of the reason why is because I felt I needed to be in a place where I was neither devastated nor rage-full when I thought about the wedding and my mom. As I said, our relationship is getting better. But, I still practice every one of these things with her. For example, I do not allow us to get into the details of the wedding, because she remembers it all completely differently (I shut her out). Rather, we talk about the kindness of others, the (happy) emotions of the day (carefully), and our shared frustrations (my photographer failed to take any pictures of the ceremony). Our relationship is better for these boundaries and invisible rules. In a way, wedding planning was a turning point, just maybe not the way I had expected.

I want to say, though, that if you are feeling this way, know that I’m so sorry you’re expectations of the relationships while wedding planning aren’t being realized. I also want you to know that you are not alone. You have people who love you and want to be there for you. And you are a wonderful person. Protect yourself and love yourself and move forward. I’m sending you virtual hugs.

Photo by APW Sponsor Emily Takes Photos

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  • KEA1

    Oh wow. This was worth the wait. Virtual hugs right back to you, and HUGE thanks.

    • Hannah

      Wait, wait! Tried to hit “exactly!” and hit report this comment by accident! Sorry!

      • Jess

        I do that all the time, especially when reading on my phone! I feel like it needs a confirm dialogue. :/

        • theemilyann

          I always zoom WAAAAYYY in on my phone when hitting exactly, in order to avoid this! A confirm dialogue would be great.

  • SarahToo

    This was a very helpful post for me. Especially where you write “It was completely devastating. I was allowed to feel sad and devastated about it. And I was allowed to feel that way every time something happened.” In my case, it was (and still is) my father who was largely absent from my wedding planning, and in many ways, from the wedding itself. While my mom came through beautifully, as did my husband’s parents, my father and his wife (parents = divorced) were at best luke-warm in their support. This is nothing new, since my dad has provided marginal support ever since my parents divorced when I was very little. Somehow the hurt was brought to a whole new level during wedding planning…likely due to the cultural “story” of family togetherness that I had emotionally internalized. What did my dad’s absenteeism look like in a practical sense? It looked like me having to ask my dad for every tiny bit of support that he ended up giving (it was like pulling teeth, and the help he did give was tiny, especially compared to what the other parents contributed). I had to accept it when he promised help and then (unsurprisingly) failed to follow through. I felt weird and left out when my dad’s side of the family took of for a walk in the park before and after the ceremony, and didn’t make any effort to approach me and hang out. It left me crying in the bathroom at one point during the wedding, when I realized that dad, his wife, and my half-siblings were all leaving at 8:30pm, before the speeches, and weren’t going to hang around for the first dance. I’m still learning how to deal with his absenteeism in my life in general, to not take it personally, and to be thankful for the other, more supportive people in my life. But not having my dad be there for me still hurts…

    • Hintzy

      sending you many virtual hugs, I had an entirely different occasion of absenteeism – but I think I know that feeling and learning how to deal with it, and it’s not fun.

    • http://coliesplace.com Nicole

      Oh it absolutely hurts, and I am sorry that you have to experience it all. And I understand the feeling of, “yes, I have supportive others, but I really want my supportive parent.” Because, truly nobody can replace that parent. So, I hope you give yourself space to be sad.

      And I’m sending you lots of love.

    • Meg

      My dad is very similar. There was a short period of time where we spoke regularly, but after he remarried I’ve yet to spend more than 5 minutes alone with him (it’s been nearly three years). His new wife is nice enough, but they are never apart. My grandma likes to call me when he’s at her house so she can force him to have awkward conversations with me. In the nearly six years I’ve been with my fiance, he’s never shown an interest in getting to know him. The worst part is that I miss him terribly and that no matter how much his disinterest hurts me, I still love him and hold out hope that one day he’ll wake up and want to be a part of my life. There were a few years where every time I got off the phone with him, I would be an emotional wreck. I finally decided it wasn’t fair to my fiance or to myself to keep getting so upset from wishing he would be a better father. I’m just trying to accept that what I’m getting from him now is all I’ll probably ever get from him. I’ve only spoken to him a few times since we got engaged and I have no idea how to involve him in the process. Thankfully, my mom has stepped up in the past few years and our relationship is finally starting to turn around. It took a lot of work to get her to act like a parent instead of an emotionally dependent child, but I have to take solice in the fact that at I have one supportive parent.

      • SarahToo

        Wow, Meg, so much about your family situation resonates with me (hands-off dad, mom who is very present but often needed emotional care-taking). Especially where you say “no matter how much his disinterest hurts me, I still love him and hold out hope that one day he’ll wake up and want to be a part of my life.” Understanding that for whatever reason my dad isn’t willing/ able to be a more active part of my life is hard, and each time another incident drives home his lack of support/ interest in my life it hurts. After much counciling I’ve arrived at a place where at least I don’t take it so personally (I used to interpret his distance as “there’s something wrong with me” or “I’m unlovable”…now I know that he has issues too). Also, it’s getting easier to fully experience my hurt in the moments after a “dad incident”, vent to my wonderful husband or a close friend, accept their sympathy, and move on more quickly where I used to dwell on the incident painfully for days and sometimes weeks. While it still hurts to have one absentee parent, thankfully I’m blessed with a few very supportive friends, a great husband, and a much improved relationship with my Mom.

  • http://writemeg.com Megan

    Hugs. While my mom hasn’t been emotionally absent in this sense, I know that the wedding plans are throwing her into a tailspin — and I find myself “shielding” her from much of the minutiae, not wanting to overwhelm her. Though I’m starting to worry that she’s seeing it differently: as me being secretive and independent, as not valuing her opinion. Sounds like we have our own conversation coming up . . .

  • http://thevanillabride@blogspot.com Sonarisa

    Although I hope this will not happen during my wedding planning process, I really want to thank you for sharing your post with us. This sounds like an incredibly difficult topic to write a post about, and you really got it right. Thank you.

    • http://coliesplace.com Nicole

      Thank you so much. That means a lot to me.

  • Hintzy

    Thank you for this post, although I’m not very far into wedding planning I have a somewhat distant relationship with my mom (largely due to my very ill relationship with her second husband, and I don’t forsee that changing any time soon) and I’ve been very apprehensive about how this will all go down. The advise you gave feels pretty true to what I’ve learned to do over the years, it’s difficult but hopefully it won’t cause too much pain.

  • http://andshelovesyou.com youlovelucy

    This is a wonderful post, and the advice you share is spot on.

    I’ve been working on a piece very similar to this, though it’s not at all ready to share (still resolving feelings on the matter) and who knows when it will be. Because my mother was/is emotionally absent, to the point of being completely uninvolved in my wedding and not attending. Something she now blames entirely on me.

    It’s incredibly difficult to have a relationship with family that doesn’t fit well within the popular expectations of those relationships during events like weddings. I’m just so glad that there is a space where these experiences can be shared, as yet another person who felt alone and unable to talk to anyone about it for so very long.

    • http://coliesplace.com Nicole

      I feel like I can just ditto everything you said. Especially about the popular/cultural expectations we have. That has been the most difficult for me to process, I think. But working (and I say, working in the true sense of the word, and it is still happening) has allowed me to shift the relationship I have with her. We have a much stronger and healthier relationship then we have ever had before.

      I wish you luck in figuring it out for yourself!

    • Elle

      If I could exactly your comment a hundred times I would. I have a very similar relationship (or lack thereof) with my mother as well, and faced incredible–though wholly self imposed–shame and embarrassment in feeling like the bride without a “mother of the bride.” She made it clear that she wasn’t going to attend if other family members were present. So, I not willing to be manipulated like that told her flat out to make her own decision. And she chose not to come. And has since estranged herself from my siblings and me.

      It wasn’t until the month before the wedding that I realized that it was quite for the better that she not be there and allowed the weekend to be entirely filled with joy and celebration for everyone, instead of it being focused on her narcissistic need to stir up tension and drama regardless of the damage she may do. There were no proverbial egg shells to walk on, no terse glares across the table. Six months later, I look at our pictures often and feel no regret or sadness that she isn’t in them and who knows how I might feel in another 20, but for now I’m at peace with the fact that in her absence true happiness and love triumphed.

  • Lauren

    Thank you for this. I’ve been doing difficult personal work around my less than ideal relationship with my mom for the past year. Especially with setting and maintaining boundaries and self love. Thank you therapy! I’m feeling good about how far I’ve come even if I know my mom may never give her 50%.

    However, as a gal in the pre-engaged state I worry that once I become engaged all the work I’ve done will come crumbling down as my hopes for a different relationship with my mom take over. As you said about your wedding fantasy, “It would lead us to have that mother-daughter relationship I had envied amongst my friends for my entire life”. That’s the dream no matter how hard I try not to have it.

    I know getting married won’t magically change our relationship but the problem, as you said, is the knowing and the feeling don’t line up. Thank you again for you advice and encouragement.

  • Granola

    Thanks for this. I’m going through some tough family adjustments in the wake of the wedding and I think your tips are going to be really helpful, especially the 50/50 rule. I keep thinking that maybe if I just try hard enough, or in *exactly* the right way, magically my mom and I or my dad and I will cease to have any issues and everything will be hunky dory. The reality is that I can only do so much and part of growing up is realizing their limitations and then choosing, when necessary to stick up for myself, as hard and painful as that is to do.

    • http://coliesplace.com Nicole

      That’s it exactly. If I just do something in the right way… I think that’s what keeps us going back, because then it’s assumed that it’s in our control, when it truly is not. Just keeping going, and remember that there other people who don’t need you to do it “exactly.”

  • http://thisstarrytrain.wordpress.com Anonymous

    This post was super amazing. That 50/50 thing really hit home. My mom is not only emotionally absent, but is also bipolar (among other things) and can be downright NASTY in many circumstances. She has hated my husband since before she met him, for no reasons founded in reality and made wedding planning very difficult for me. Like you said, I knew this was her going into everything, but for some reason I had this little glimmer of hope that somehow this would change everything and she’d be zipping up my dress and dabbing her eyes with a tissue on our wedding day.

    Even when I told her I had gotten engaged, she said, “Congratulations, I guess. I hope you know how miserable and awful this wedding is going to be for a lot of people.” and then proceeded to rattle of a list of people I shouldn’t invite from my father’s family.

    The bipolarism made it really tough because sometimes she’d suddenly have an opinion about something — she tried to convince me to buy a certain kind of dress, for instance, that she believed was more “me” (for some reason, even though I’ve wanted to wear the designer I chose since I was like 12, she thought I needed to wear something completely funky and nontraditional) and insisted on buying me earrings to wear (ones that, while pretty and that I did wear, I would not have chosen for myself).

    When I talk to her, she says I shut her out, too, but she chose to not be involved in all of the things I invited her to, including my shower, my bachelorette weekend, even a small dinner with close friends a few evenings before our wedding. She just didn’t want to be there for any of it and it killed me every time she said no. And then she’d build my hope back up every time she suddenly chimed in with an opinion, and I tried to honor all of them as much as I could without dishonoring our own budget, plans and personalities in a desperate desire to make her feel less miserable about the whole thing.

    In any case, our relationship hasn’t really gotten any better, and, now, a few years later, my brother told me that the only reason she actually showed up at our wedding at all was because he convinced her to go. But I’ve set up some pretty big boundaries with her now and it doesn’t sting quite as much when I hear things like that. Sometimes I slip and the boundaries break down and I make myself more vulnerable than I should be with her, and I always regret it. Thank you for the reminder that sometimes these things are necessary in relationships — sometimes I definitely feel alone and a little crazy for having this relationship with my mother.

    • http://andshelovesyou.com youlovelucy

      Sending you solidarity vibes/hugs. Boundaries are especially difficult on good days, but I’m the same way — I almost always end up regretting letting them slip.

      • http://coliesplace.com Nicole

        Clicking “exactly” to this just wasn’t enough.

        Exactly!

  • Kate

    This piece also resonates for me – even though we had an emotionally absent sibling, not a parent.

    My husband’s brother (lets call him HB) has basically cut off ties with his family, for reasons that are generally unknown. Mostly, it appears that my sister-in-law doesn’t like my husband’s parents and grandparents, and so they distance themselves. We actually haven’t seen them since last spring, even though they live in the same state (less than a 40 minute drive away).

    During wedding planning, HB’s absence was keenly felt. My husband had been a groomsman in HB’s wedding the year prior, so he asked HB to be a groomsman in our wedding. HB turned my husband down, saying that “he had so recently been involved in his own wedding, and didn’t want to be involved in another.” That rejection really hurt my husband, who had just lost his job and was really trying to figure out what his next steps were. The support of his brother would have meant a lot.

    HB did not attend our “jack ‘n jill” shower. He did not attend the rehearsal BBQ. We took pictures before the ceremony, and HB and his wife did not show up for those, despite our repeated calls and texts. They missed the entire ceremony. They showed up about 45 minutes into cocktail hour, so the only pictures we have with my husbands family are rushed and in failing light. They left soon thereafter. We did not seem them for another 8 months, when they showed up to my husband’s grandfather’s funeral (and didn’t stay for the wake).

    Almost 2 years later, I am still angry at the hurt HB caused my husband and his parents. I am also hurt by the fact that he missed our ceremony – to me, it was the most important part of the day and I felt like he purposely skipped it. I mourn the fact that my husband can’t have a relationship with his brother, and I wish I knew what having a brother-in-law and sister-in-law felt like.

    Anyway, thanks for this post, it really resonated over here.

    • Meg

      I totally feel you. Sadly, I also have an emotionally detached sibling, and I have a hard time unraveling the logic of why she built these walls. When our parents divorced when we were teenagers, it was rough, but the rest of us mucked through it. My older sister’s reaction was to cut off all ties with our father and only begrudgingly fulfill the bare minimum sisterly duties with my brother and me. Needless to say, it hurts like hell.

      Like you, the status quo is distance and lack of contact, and yet we find ourselves hoping that they’ll step it up for something as momentous as a wedding. We try to tell ourselves that it’s hard to remember birthdays, that they have busy schedules that prevent visits, that juggling all the relatives can be challenging, but really all along, we knew they’d willingly created this distance. A wedding is a watershed moment that shows us where those relationships really stand – for better and for worse.

      What really resonated with me in Nicole’s piece is accepting the hurt but not letting it own you. My older sister is in late stages of wedding planning, and I’m just getting started, and there are a lot of would-be bonding opportunities that leave me feeling sad and rejected. I know I shouldn’t be surprised when she comes to my city and never calls me or posts on facebook about bridesmaid activities I never knew about, but it still hurts every time. I know I should be used to it, and I know I’ve made an effort to rebuild our relationship, but she simply has no interest in meeting me halfway. Recognizing that the pain is valid helps counter the fears that I’m in crazyland and should just accept that my sister has rejected the idea of being in my family and move on. It really is a type of mourning, but we can only do so much without them changing, and we certainly can’t bet on that.

      • http://coliesplace.com Nicole

        YES! And I think this is so important and so helpful: “Recognizing that the pain is valid helps counter the fears that I’m in crazyland…”Because you’re not. You absolutely are not.

  • C

    I needed this post today. Thank you. While I’m not going through this with my mother, I am going through it with a couple of friends, and it really does apply to all relationships. Especially with giving 95% and only receiving 5% back. Thank you for putting in to words so eloquently what I couldn’t.

    • http://coliesplace.com Nicole

      My therapist helped me with it in the context of my relationship with my mom, but boy did I need it in all my other relationships too. I’m glad it’s helpful for you!

  • Kara

    This reminded me very much of my husband’s mother. Throughout the planning, she never asked a single question, left the whenever we talked about the wedding, etc. We ended up planning the entire rehearsal dinner ourselves. His parents had told us at the beginning that they would do it, but then six months before his mom told him they’d pay, but didn’t want to do anything else. My mother in law showed up an hour late to the wedding rehearsal in jeans and a hooded sweatshirt. My sisters in law are teenagers without licenses and needed alterations to their dresses. I gave her the name & contact info for an inexpensive tailor close to their house, but she never took the girls for alterations. My mother in law showed up an hour late to the hotel on the day of the wedding.

    I was hurt by her behavior at/before the wedding. I felt as if she didn’t like me/my family & didn’t want us getting married. My husband felt emotionally abandoned throughout his childhood so it wasn’t much of a surprise to him. We both hoped that for the sake of the wedding his mother would change, but that just didn’t happen.

    • Laura

      We had similar issues with my in-laws at our wedding. Though, if I’m reading it correctly, your husband understands and hurts from their emotional absence. I’m so sorry – that must be very hard.

      My husband doesn’t seem to notice it at all – it’s just normal. I don’t want to create hurt where there isn’t any, of course. But I still feel sad for him… And I worry a bit that he might repeat that behavior with our future children if he isn’t careful. I suppose it’s a delicate situation.

  • anonymous

    Thank you for sharing this.

    I had a similar experience when planning my wedding three years ago. I wish I could say my relationship with my mom was improving, but it isn’t. She has only ever said negative things about my wedding and remembers none of the efforts I made to include her. I honestly wish I had stopped trying sooner. I agree that boundaries are really important and finding other people (chosen family and friends) who want to share in your joy is also really important. I still had a great wedding, but my time with my mom was the worst part of the day. She disapproves of many of my choices and I used to feel guilty for not being a good enough daughter. Most of that is gone now. I understand that there’s nothing I could do that would ever be enough. She’d still find fault and blame me because of stuff that’s internal to her.

    I dealt with a major illness this past year and my mom has been emotionally absent for that too. My experience with the wedding meant that I had done a lot of my own emotional work and didn’t trouble myself very much about her during this difficult time. On the positive side, a few other moms in my life showed me what positive emotional nurturing can look like. The comparisons threw my relationship with my own mother into sharp relief. For the first time I got a glimpse of what a healthy relationship with a parent could look like and realized that I was actually capable of being part of that kind of relationship. It was kind of an amazing revelation.

    • http://coliesplace.com Nicole

      You bring up the point of “chosen family (and friend)” and I think that’s really important. When we don’t have that support from family, creating our own other family can be so helpful, whoever that consists of.

      And I’m happy you were able to have those positive comparisons and feel that relief. I only hope that continues for you.

    • http://thisstarrytrain.wordpress.com Anonymous

      I posted a comment above, too, but yours *really* resonated with me. Finding other people to be the support and nurturing where my mother cannot has been such a huge part of healing myself, as well as bearing witness to “normal” parental and child relationships.

      Getting over the guilt that my relationship with my mother was bad and learning not to blame myself has been a long road.

      • http://coliesplace.com Nicole

        For me too. Absolutely. And it’s a road that isn”t going to end soon, I’m afraid (at least for me). :\

  • anon

    Thank you! I woke up this morning thinking about my mom and I’s patchwork quilt of a relationship, particularly one big blow-up several years ago. This post reminded me that while I may have been in the wrong, her emotional response was like bringing a gun to a knife fight, and I am not soley to blame for the casualties.

    Thanks for reminding us that love is a long and winding road (not only with our partners) and that there are safety tips for those of us whose paths are a bit darker than the rest.

    • http://coliesplace.com Nicole

      Thank you for that beautiful metaphor. I am just blown away.

      All of this makes me think of the quote from Pooh:
      Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

  • Ammaring

    Thank you for writing this post, the 50:50 comments were a great reminder of how we should approach all relationships in our lives (although sometimes those ratios may not be even, but over time they should be!). I, too, am struggling with emotionally distant family. With divorced and remarried parents, my fathers’ side has always been distant, perhaps with the self-satisfying excuse that they are so “easygoing” so “(I) should do what (I) want in my life!” That said, they were excited about our engagement when it was announced, but have been totally MIA through the whole process since. My only wedding wish was for them to be engaged in some form or fashion in our upcoming wedding, and not “just show up” but my head knows better than to hold out for that. I’ve tried to bring them into the planning process by including their daughter in the bridal party and my dress shopping excursions, and by having them save the date for the various events (that all the other families have offered to take on), but not even a word of interest or even acknowledgement (let alone an offer to do anything). I can’t even summon the guts to ask whether they plan on helping us financially (while all the other families have offered some time, money, and hosting duties), as I know that they would rather we just have something small and easy (but it’s the fiance who wants all the friends and extended family there, and part of the reason for our 90-person event was so that my two families would have enough buffers that they wouldn’t have to pretend to want to chat with each other, and so that the fiance’s family wouldn’t feel caught in the middle. We aren’t even having a rehearsal dinner). Sigh.

    It’s amazing how our heads know that we shouldn’t expect things to change, but our hearts always wish they would.

  • Moe

    What an awesome post, thank you so much for sharing! My mother is absent for some different reasons. She’s in early stages of dementia and in assisted living. Aside from that her usual personality is self-centered and controlling.

    Many of the things you wrote about resonate with me. I grew up to be a person who became fiercely independent to break away from my mom’s grasp. As far as the wedding planning goes I was completely prepared to go it alone (with the help of extended family and friends) but I was not ready to handle to conflicting emotions. It’s a very intense mixture of grief, resentment, anger, sadness all at once. I still have a sense of envy over brides who have any kind of mother present and involved even if she’s difficult.

    Thank you once again for sharing!

    • Class of 1980

      It occurs to me that when this happens, it would be great if there was some sort of mother substitute available among your older friends.

      Every young woman deserves someone in her corner.

      • Anon

        That’s pretty hard when you have an emotionally abusive family, and your mother doesn’t have any friends. In my experience, mother substitutes are usually the family friends who have known you since you were born, or are family members who step up because they know their siblings shortcomings. My parent’s siblings are all nice people, but they take great pleasure in getting to help out because my parents can’t, in whatever area, and then rubbing it in my parent’s faces that they were there for me when my parents weren’t.
        My mother is a severely introverted person who does not make friends and hasn’t retained most of her friends into adulthood. And I haven’t made many older friends myself, and it would take years to make a suitable mother-substitute friend. I leaned on my sister, who had already been through this, a lot, and I tried really hard to understand my mom, who wanted to be involved but didn’t know how. I brought her in on craft projects, because she likes those, and asked her opinion on the menu, but she simply wasn’t the type to look at pictures of flower arrangements and centerpieces. I had to meet her where she was, and find other people to fill my corner with who were more into that stuff.

        • anyname123456

          Oh wow you are not alone! My mother is the same way and my father not much better. But this has been going on my whole life…it wasn’t until my wedding that I started to put it all together. I always thought there was something wrong with me…now I realize yes, there IS a problem with me thanks to them! I have never had a mother that I could talk to. It was all very superficial. Or very basic small talk. Most times growing up I felt I was just annoying to her. No heart to hearts of any sort. No guidance. Nothing. A roof over my head and food on a plate. No emotional interactions. But I use to look at children that were seriously neglected, like starved to death and figured hey, I guess it’s better than that. But now I realize had it not been so fake growing up…if they would have just seriously neglected tha basics maybe I coulda have cut them off like a band aide. But no there was always this false hope and then me thinking it’s me. Now I have so many emotional problems and can not bind with anyone. The only person I feel anything for is my daughter and husband. I lack any sort of emotional connection with anyone in the world. Thanks mom.

  • Ashley

    I’m commenting for the first time (eek!) because I need to say thank you.

    While my mother wasn’t completely emotionally absent, she gave only about 15%. Add to the fact that my mother-in-law wanted to give 150% any chance she could, it made it all very difficult to deal with. We’ve been married 3 months now and I’m still not over the hurt of it all.

    There’s way more to my story, but I just wanted to say THANKS to Nicole. You’re incredibly brave for taking the time to write this. Even though I’m already married, I know that points like the ones you’ve made will give me help when other big events come along (like babies).

    So yea, thanks :)

    • http://coliesplace.com Nicole

      Thank you for your kind words. I’m glad you stepped out to comment. Part of working on that hurt is sharing that hurt, so I’m grateful for your sharing.

    • Marie

      Wow, this is almost exactly where I am right now. Mom is at 15%, grandmother is at 150% (and wants to completely take over). It’s so hard to juggle the two. I feel like I can’t complain either way, because through some weird emotional logic, they should balance each other out.

      But the truth is, they’re both unhealthy/unstable relationships and I have to tackle them separately. My mom has slowly become more involved as I’ve given her smaller (and less important) tasks, and my grandmother has been forced to back down as I’ve taken responsibility away from her. It’s a careful juggling act, and this post really highlights how to handle my emotions during this mess. Thank you so much, Nicole. Your words are heard and appreciated.

  • Class of 1980

    It’s awful when a parent can’t really be there as a parent.

    Realize too that it’s never over. Your mother will still disappoint you in the future. Having children? Don’t expect the typical loving grandmother either.

    Very sorry to say it. Every child deserves better than this.

    • SpaceElephant

      “Every child deserves better than this.”

      I don’t know. None of us are children, we’re all adults, and I’m not sure we’re at the point where we *deserve* any more than mutual respect and reasonable expectations. Which, maybe the OP didn’t get, in which case I do feel for her, but parents are people too, and if they are dealing with issues (chronic illness, financial issues, mental health issues, etc.) that mean they can’t necessarily participate joyfully in wedding planning or be a “typical loving grandmother,” that’s not a breach of some sort of parental contract. That’s a person dealing with life the way they know how. And while it may be disappointing to the son/daughter who would like a different relationship, we can’t expect of people what they aren’t willing/able to give.

      • Laura

        While I get the point you’re trying to make, for most of these stories the parents aren’t giving mutual respect or meeting reasonable expectations. If you invite a parent (or anyone) to be involved in your life events, sure, they have every right to decline your offers if it’s not their thing. But it is not a respectful or reasonable response to turn it against you, and accuse you of shutting them out, sometimes for decades to afterward.

        Of course these things change when a parent has an illness (mental or physical health) but that doesn’t mean you can’t be sad that the situation isn’t different. Or that it’s hard to find a way to form a relationship that doesn’t constantly hurt.

        I think Class of 1980 just knows how powerfully a parent’s actions can effect their (adult or otherwise) children, and wishes that the commentors’ situations were easier.

        • Class of 1980

          Yes.

      • KateM

        This is an interesting thought and I think there is a lot to unravel in the parental relationship to adult children. I wouldn’t really classify my mom as emotionally distant, but we don’t relate on some major levels. One we have totally different love languages (read the 5 Love Languages!!!) and so while I know intellectually that she loves me, I rarely feel it on an emotional level. Our adult lives could not be more different, she had 7 children by the time she was my age, and I am working on growing my first baby. She hasn’t been in that “mentoring/mothering” role since I was a child. However, she is wonderful with small children, they love her and she adores them. She is a fantastic grandmother and was a fantastic mother when I was younger. Her twin sister on the other hand, doesn’t like infants. She had colicky babies and was married far to young and resents her youth being given over to child rearing. She was a great mentor though in my teens and helped parent me in that way. As an adult, I have learned about our relationship and have come to terms with it. It is a lot to expect our parents to fill all roles, in the same way it is unrealistic to expect our spouses to.
        I know a lot of what is being discussed on this thread is very hurtful for many years and carries a lot of baggage for many of us. But sometimes we just have to love that person where they are, rather than wanting things they can’t give.

      • KB

        It’s true that you can’t expect miracles from some people or for them to give what they just don’t have – but I think you yourself hit the nail on the head, which is what I thought the OP was getting at, that people at least deserve respect. The part that struck me was the two-hour phone conversation in which it sounds like her mother just said, “Whatever, I don’t like what you have to say, I’ll write the checks, never talk to me about this again.” Her mother had her own issues, but it also sounds like she was being deliberately absent in order to be hurtful. I think that’s definitely different than being frank with something about your abilities – or even being wise enough to see the signs that it just ain’t happenin’.

      • http://coliesplace.com Nicole

        I think both Katem and SpaceElephant are spot on in some regards.

        But I think it took me realizing these things above — the boundaries, the 50/50 — to be able to accept my mom for where she is and love her in that space. Part of it was wanting her to be something she’s not and our relationship be something it isn’t going to be. It’s the realizing that she can’t or won’t give me those things that changed our relationship. But it takes work to get there.

        And I think that what’s important is that I wasn’t trying to change her, I was trying to change how *I* related to her, which made the difference.

      • Class of 1980

        SpaceElephant,

        The use of the word “child” is used to indicate relationship. I’m referring to the fact that she is her mother’s child.

        My comment wasn’t meant to address mental issues; only to commiserate and acknowledge the loss of what should be every child’s reality – parents who support them.

  • Laura

    I have a mother who is….difficult….to say the least. Several years ago, I realized that we were never going to have that warm, super close relationship that some of my friends have with their moms. And that’s okay with me. We love each other, we talk, and I have other people to whom I am close and can share that “special mom stuff” with.

    When it came to our wedding last June, my mom and I had very few of those special moments you describe. She was panicked about getting to the church early enough to greet the guests and was fuming as I took a few minutes at the hair salon to do my makeup. As soon as we got to the church, she rushed to a back room, changed, and was out in front to greet people 45 minutes before the ceremony. I had a lovely time with my sister and best friend, laughing and getting changed and primping before the ceremony. And honestly? I was more relaxed without my mom there.

    Like the author of this piece, I realize that my mom had her own baggage that she was working through (disappointments with her lack of a role in my brother’s wedding, struggling with the fact that much of her family wouldn’t be able to make it because it was “inconvenient”, etc.). And I think she really WANTS to have that lovey-dovey mother-daughter relationship as well. But the word “compromise” just isn’t in her vocabulary, and I don’t think she’s emotionally capable of the give-and-take that comes along with that close, affectionate relationship.

    Which is all to say that, yes, having an emotionally absent parent (or sibling, or best friend, or whatever) is a challenge. But recognizing that you need to protect yourself and accept your relationship for what it is can be very healing. Sadly, for many of us, that super-close relationship you see in the movies is just not destined to become reality.

    Bravo for working through these complicated issues and emotions, and best of luck to you as your journey with your mom continues.

  • cherryblossoms

    I really needed to read this today. Both of my parents are emotionally distant (in life as well as during my wedding planning process). I don’t really understand the reason; I think it may have to do with the fact that I am no longer a part of their preferred religion and am marrying someone who is of a different faith/culture. In fairness I haven’t asked for an explanation knowing that in past circumstances, they simply shut down or worse blow up when they perceive any criticism (intended or not) of their actions. My mother actually asked me what time the wedding was, as if they won’t be coming into town for the whole weekend and participating in the activities as the family of the bride. My fiance is very supportive although he doesn’t really understand the situation (his family is actually too involved). But, I love what you said about the 50-50 nature of relationships and allowing yourself to grieve. I would love for my mother to hang out in the room with me while I get ready and for my father to do a father-daughter dance with me, and I can grieve that not happening. Thanks for making others feel less alone in our frustrations by sharing your story.

  • http://www.vivianchen.com Viv

    Thank you for sharing this! Especially this part: “Don’t ignore your emotions. Don’t ignore your logic.” It reminds me of the same emotions I went through when my wedding was overshadowed by my husband’s emergency appendectomy. You want to be brave or rise above negative emotions but really, it’s better to feel everything, work through it, even all the ugly sides. I realized the more I tried to ignore it, the worst I felt. So thank you again for this reminder that it’s okay to feel bad. :o)

  • poppy

    As someone who is currently planning my wedding with an emotionally distant mother, this article has made me feel less alone. It is so hard, when as you say, you want your mother to be interested in your wedding and you want the mother -daughter bonding stuff…and when it doesnt happen it is heartbreaking. Thank you so much for writing this, you have made me feel like i am not the only one experiencing this!
    I will be using your 50/50 view on things from now on, and I think this will help me alot! Thank you so much for writing about such an emotionally difficult subject xx

  • Alicia

    Thanks for this post. My mother has been emotionally absent for the majority of my life — I’m not sure she was ever meant to be a mother, if you know what I mean. But she is — and over the years I’ve looked to her again and again to fill that role. But most of the time I’ve been left disappointed and lonely.

    I do have some other “mother figures” in my life, but of course they’re not the same. My grandmother and aunts have always been a part of my life, but they live far away and they have their own children with which they foster a relationship. And my father is dead, so my mother is the only parent I have.

    At this point, I’ve gotten used to the way we act together — we “work,” though a lot of the time I feel like we shouldn’t because maybe I deserve more? I still ache when I think about what I’ve “lost” compared to others’ relationships with their mothers, and the experiences yet to come (wedding, children) where she won’t be there for me in the way most mothers are there for their daughters. But that is just not her, and it’s never going to be her. I accept it, even though I know it’s not “right” or “fair” to me.

    Being exposed to this sort of relationship my whole life makes me really scared for how I will act in the future with a husband and children of my own (if that does end up being my future). The mother/daughter relationship is a huge part of setting the stage for all your relationships in life, and mine with my mother has absolutely led me to become an emotionally distant person myself. I tend to default to the idea that I’m better off alone, because, well, I kind of always have been. My boyfriend has been a huge help for me, but I know close relationships are something I’m going to struggle with for many years.

  • eulalia

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for this post. My mom is highly critical and disapproving of most of my choices in general and the wedding planning is certainly bringing everything to a head, as you say. The hardest part is that she does not like my fiance. I have started to go to therapy for the first time.
    I very much appreciate your timely article and I also VERY much appreciate all the commenters sharing their experience! It helps SO MUCH to know I am not the only one whose mother was not happy when I announced my engagement, critical with my choices for the wedding, and disapproving with my choice of life partner. She knows she is making me unhappy on some level, so every once in a while she makes an effort to be supportive. This is very dangerous for me because it is so easy for me to believe it, but ultimately I just end up getting hurt.
    One thing that is helping me is that my fiance and I have talked about pulling the plug on the whole shebang and just eloping. This out is calming and comforting. I am sure it will get much more difficult to do that as the wedding draws closer, but for now it helps to know I can just run off with my love and quickly be married if I get overwhelmed to the point of breakdown.
    I needed to hear these experiences and words of advice so much.
    I love APW as a whole, but even if this was the only article I had ever read here, it would still make this the best wedding blog ever! I also read the post from 2011, and that was stellar, as well, so don’t miss that if you haven’t read it. Thank you thank you thank you again. I cannot express how much this post means to me. I am literally printing it out and keeping it in my wedding binder. And maybe also in my bag for quick reference.

  • MLA

    Yes. Thank you, Nicole. I didn’t invite my mother to my wedding in August, and my father and sister were definitely emotionally absent. Letting go of trying to do that 95 percent has been both painful (it’s clear that my family isn’t picking up the slack) and liberating (I have my own life, yay!). My husband and I had a backyard reception, and we strung pictures on twine to commemorate our lives before and after we met. I included a picture of me and my mom, just to have her present in some way. We had extensive, hearfelt toasts from so many of our guests, but nothing from my dad or sister. But it was actually a wonderful day, because we paid for it ourselves and gave ourselves time to talk about all of our options, feelings, etc., and do what felt best for us. The overall vibe was relaxed and connected, like a big backyard barbecue with lots of our favorite people. I think it was much better than the elopement I was pushing for when we first got engaged. It took me a while to realize the celebration didn’t depend on my family stepping up.

  • http://katemuehe.com/blog Kate

    This was fascinating for me to read because a few of the details are similar to my own mother– she does not really enjoy wedding planning (I have an older sister who has put us all through this rodeo once before) and she largely stays out of the details. When asked, she does shine beautifully and is so supposrtive, so I suppose that is different. She came dress shopping with me, she will help me pick flowers– the things I think are big.

    I do not think my mom is emotionally unavailable to me as I plan my wedding. But my mom does not care about invites or centerpieces. She does not really care about our venue or guest list. I guess I knew going into wedding planning that it would be that way and in many ways it has been very freeing to feel in control of our own choices without verifying. It has also given me the opportunity to talk to my mom about things like how my future husband and I combine finances and how to we move forward with having a family when each of us has a somewhat different ‘ideal timeline’ than the other. That’s the Mom Advice I really want. There are a dozen other people who can judge my centerpieces for me.

    • Brenda

      My mother is similar to yours, and I think there’s a big difference between just not being terribly interested in weddings and being unsupportive or actively negative about your life choices. I tell my mother what’s going on with the plans and what I expect from her (to come and to walk with me – if my father was alive I’d have both of them escort me in the Jewish tradition), but I don’t expect her to be interested in all the details, because she’s just not that type of person, and I don’t expect her to be. But the things Nicole and some of the other people are talking about are devastating – their parents aren’t saying “pick whatever you want because I really can’t tell the difference between these invitations/dressses/flowers”. To have a parent who actively dislikes your spouse for no logical reason, or distances themselves from you and blames you for it seems heartbreaking. It makes me feel grateful that my mother and I have a very good adult relationship, even if she hates parties and always will.

    • http://coliesplace.com Nicole

      Yay! I’m glad that she is supportive in that way. And I’m happy you have that relationship with her! You’re right, those are the important things.

  • merryf

    I’ve got the shakes reading this. Long-time reader here (since 2009) but I comment only rarely and this is one of those times. I also had an emotionally distant mother while preparing for my wedding in June 2010 because, as an “older” bride — I was married at 45 — my parents were already elderly and were at the point in their lives where most things revolved around their various health complaints, doctors’ visits and their activities. Add to the fact that I live in New Jersey and my parents had retired to Florida, which meant my mother was never going to be physically around for any wedding preparation. I tried very hard to involve my mother in whatever I could, long-distance, especially telling her about plans and DIY stuff I was doing. I was so hurt when after about 60 to 90 seconds on the phone she would interrupt and turn the conversation to herself and talk about what she was doing and what doctors she was going to. It was clear to me that she wasn’t interested at all in any of it. I was torn between trying to be an adult and be compassionate towards her with the feeling that this was MY WEDDING after all these years, and why can’t you care one little bit.

    My therapist at the time taught me how to say, “Mom, I would like to tell you a few things about my wedding, can you listen for 5 minutes.” I tried and tried. Epic fail every time. She just couldn’t do it. But I had to forgive her because she was already 77 and this was not her focus. I tried so hard to shut my mouth because I knew I would be disappointed with her reaction. I failed so many times because I thought, well, maybe she’ll be interested in *this* thing. Basically, I hurt myself.

    The end result was that I got married, my parents were at my wedding — my father was 83 at the time — and they enjoyed themselves. They looked very happy. The glitch was that 6 weeks before my wedding my father was diagnosed with leukemia so even at my own wedding I myself wasn’t “present” because all I could think about was him sitting there when 4 weeks earlier he was at death’s door. Still, the fact that neither of them were invested in my wedding was so hurtful — after my wedding my father said, “it was too hard to go.”

    I too tried so hard to write this in a wedding graduate post — about being a middle-aged bride and the feelings behind that, about having elderly parents and how to plan a wedding with those considerations. But I’m still not there. My father died of the leukemia 6 months later and my mother died of a brain hemorrhage 5 months after that, leaving me without any parents before I was married one year. Which is rough no matter how old you are when you get married.So the photo of me with my parents — my dad in his khaki pants and thick black sneakers with the velcro ties, and my mom in her lace-up old-lady shoes, but both smiling — is precious to me. My emotions surrounding my wedding and the year aftermath are still so raw ( I am trying really hard not to cry right now) that all this time later I cannot figure out if I’m still mad because my mother couldn’t make the effort to be interested, or the fact that I can’t move on because they’re not here any more.

    Thank you for being so brave to write this post. I think I’m going to read it again. And print it out.

    • http://coliesplace.com Nicole

      MerryF: I hear you and I see you. And I’m sorry for your pain. I wish that I could give you love in real life, or hold space for you to be sad, but I hope you have a person who can sit with you through it all. Thank you, so much, for sharing your experience. It means the world to me that you would be willing to.

    • Cheryl

      MerryF: I know this reply is months after your original post, but I would be very interested in reading your wedding graduate post about your feelings about being a “middle aged bride.”

      I’m 45 and pre-engaged, and–gasp–will be a first-time bride in my mid 40s. It seems like everyone expects me to elope or have a courthouse wedding because I should be “over” wanting a “real wedding” at my, er, advanced age. But I’m not.

  • Kate

    My therapist and I have discussed boundaries and coping mechanisms a lot because those are two things I really struggle with. The sentence that she always says that makes me feel both uncomfortable and free is this one:

    All human beings must experience distress.

    As she always tells me, once I’ve accepted that I will experience negative emotions and stress and everything else, I can deal with them. But I have to know, first, that I will experience them, and that doesn’t make me weak or wrong. It makes me human.

    Whew. Thank you for this post. It’s so hard, I think, to put ourselves forward like this, especially in our society (which, as you say, likes to pretend that we don’t have emotions).

    • http://coliesplace.com Nicole

      I kind of want to take that sentence, paint it on something, and hang it in every room of my house and at my office, and everywhere I go. It’s so true. We have to experience distress. We have to experience the ugly, painful, hurtful things to also experience the wonderful, joyful, lovely piece in life. When we try to shut out one side (normally the pain) we end up shutting out the other side.

      So yes. This is perfect.

  • http://theincompleteidiotsguide.blogspot.com/ Alyssa

    This came at a perfect time for me. My sweetheart and I are getting engaged soon and I fear my (already emotionally absent) mother and the effect it’s having/will have on me. We basically stopped speaking after I moved in with my FH last summer and she was mad about it and told his mom that I’m a drug addict/alcoholic/manipulator who was only using him for sex (none of which is true) and she was only telling her this to protect my boyfriend from me. Needless to say I was not okay with that and told her so, to which she responded by ignoring me any time I come to visit my family. Over the holidays things seemed okay until I was leaving to spend time with his family and she blew up again and made some nasty comments about “playing house.”

    To clarify, she doesn’t hate my boyfriend, quite the opposite actually. She just doesn’t want me to get married, possibly ever. She thinks all marriage is a mistake and women need to be independent and single without a man to hold them back. She always compares my choices with hers (i.e. moving in together before marriage which she did as well) and deduces that since she did the same thing and is unhappy with her life that I will be too.

    Logically I know SHE is the one choosing unhappiness about my relationship, but I would be lying to say it doesn’t hurt. Finally one night over sushi and sake with my sweetheart I lost it. He took me home and held me while I cried for hours, mourning the relationship and happiness for me I fear will never materialize. I know I secretly hope getting engaged will make her come to her senses and accept my decisions. After all, her mother missed her wedding because she disagreed with her marriage to an Asian man, you would hope she would learn from the past. But based on how unenthusiastic she was about my college graduation (something she actually agreed with) my hopes aren’t high.

  • http://oneawkwardyear.wordpress.com Liz

    Thanks so much for touching on this, this is so hard to talk about and I’m so glad you shared. I am pre-engaged, with a mostly absent father and I spend way too much time already worrying about the role he’ll play in my wedding, and in my future as I expand my family to include my FH. It’s so heartening to hear others experiencing similar things and giving some coping tips. THANK YOU!

  • OneMoreMeg

    I can tell already that I’m going to keep coming back to this post for the next 15 months – or longer. Unless something drastically changes, my dad will not only be distant emotionally, but he won’t be present physically either. That’s been a fact of life essentially for the last 6 years, and I know in my brain that the wedding won’t change that. But a part of me hopes for the fairytale of father-daughter loveliness that our cultural narrative is so good at selling. My stepdad has been great for my mom and I, but I would love to be stressing about how to make both of them part of the day. But I can only do my part. I sent cards that went unanswered for a few years and none of my contact info has changed. Now I need to focus on accepting life as it is, which is harder than anything else that I’ve ever done, but it all comes down to knowing who you can rely on and adjusting expectations accordingly.

  • Anonymous

    I have that picture of my mom clasping her pearls around my neck. And it bothers me because it looks like this special moment between us, when in reality, someone had to go and get her for the picture because she wasn’t in the room while I was getting ready, probably because she was still mad at me for spending time with my friends, who had flown in from all over, the day before instead of doing what (she had never told me) she wanted me to do. Which I only knew because my sister told me. Which is pretty emblematic of our relationship. She never actually told me that she didn’t like our wedding plans, just was silent after I’d tell her things and it was up to me to not care. Fortunately, my sister and friends were enthusiastic for me about the plans and details. And when my mom could only muster an obviously insincere “it’s a very nice dress” upon seeing my wedding dress, I could tell my sister and now-husband that they needed to tell me they liked it when they saw it. Yes, it hurts that she couldn’t bring herself to say something nice to me, but my husband said an obviously sincere “Wow!” when he saw me. I can’t make my mom communicate honestly with me or put my needs ahead of her emotions, but I could choose a partner who does.

  • Theodora

    Nicole, thank you for your post.

    I’m an older single, but due to family issues dating to my early adolescence (one parent’s alcoholism, verbal abuse, etc.), I long ago made the decision that if I do ever get married, my parents will not be invited. Period. I live at some distance from them (hours), and they have not been part of my daily life for more than 15 years.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00388929873803169413 Kristen

    Nicole, thank you for writing so beautifully and clearly about a problem it seems like a lot of us have. I ended up disowning my parents during wedding planning. It was the best thing that could have happened but it also sucked big time. The replacement mom I thought I had found (my mother-in-law) – Just kind of lost her sh*t during wedding planning and for months afterwards there was continual drama and problems – I was even blamed for “tearing apart the family”. This has all been, as you can imagine, AWESOME for my new marriage. Ahem.

    I can completely understand taking two years to get to a place you could write about it. I can only imagine it will take me much longer to let go of all the pain I experienced during my wedding planning. I would encourage anyone else dealing with similar issues to try as best they can to take your advice. I would also add to the “don’t ignore your emotions” to be strong about this one.

  • Edie norris

    How about the emotionally detached son to his mother. My mother walked out on me, sister and 2 brothers when I was 12. So I tried to be the best mom I could to no avail to an ungrateful only child son. It hurts me to even think about it. He lives thousands of miles away from me now and I can only imagine what will happen when he decides to get married. His father, we have been divorced since our son was two yrs old, was abusive and I divorced him when my son was 2. I would love to understand my son but at this point I have given up. I don’t want to say I don’t love or care for him any longer but my feelings have certainly changed. Be grateful you have a mom to have these problems with, I never did. All the best to you and yours.

  • http://linzersinlondon.blogspot.com Anne

    Oh. My. God. You guys, I can’t even tell you how badly I needed this post, and all of your comments. I’m relatively new to APW (I mostly haunt OBB) but if this post/commentary is indicative of the community I have a feeling I’ll be here all the time!

    I have those in-between kind of parents: they act really interested in my life for about five minutes, but when it comes to ‘remembering’ (ie giving enough of a crap to make sure they remember) or making an effort to attend something they fall short. And then refuse to acknowledge any mistakes – in my father’s case he responds to any perceived criticism / questioning of his motives with vicious, abusive language. I’m currently planning a NorCal wedding from London, where I live, and I went home for two weeks in April to meet with caterers etc; I ended up living with my Maid of Honor for the second week because my parents’ behavior was so unbelievably hurtful and toxic (including talking childish smack about my fiance, who they’ve always liked, within our earshot), and I’m still not speaking to them, which has (among other things) thrown the entire family-oriented wedding plan into uncertain territory.

    It’s an extremely long story, but the point is this: I’m trying very hard to set boundaries, to realize that I can’t change them but I can limit my interactions unless their behavior is respectful, and fighting every day against that feeling that ‘maybe this time something will click and they’ll understand all the hurt they’ve caused and everything will be different.’ Because of course I feel that aching desire for a different relationship in every bone of my body.

    Nicole: thank you for this post. It is brave and articulate and makes me (and it looks like a lot of others too!) feel so much less alone and more hopeful for my future emotional state. And all of you lovely commenters: ditto on the feeling-less-alone, and thank you also for showing me that there is a calmer, less hiccough-crying-y future ahead if I play my crappy cards right.

    So much love, and I’ve only just met y’all…

  • simplegirl

    This is an amazing post that I have found myself re-reading every time I am feeling lonely about all those mother-daughter moments we are “supposed” to have. I honestly have no idea (since most of my really close friends and family are out-of-town, yet separate towns) who might host a shower for us (please don’t get me wrong that I am materialistic that way, but still who?!?) Anyway… My mom has always been distant from me, when my parents divorced when I was 23 (in 2005) always thought I “chose” my dad over her, it all got worse. Now she has been dating someone who none (and I mean NONE) of the family agrees with, but we all contend that its her life as long as she is happy. But she has seems less than happy and much more reserved with me and my sister, pushing us both away. No that I am planning my wedding I felt that I was somehow damaged or less than the amazing person I am because it wont be my mom shopping for my dress with me, or helping me with anything, including paying for it. We are paying for the majority of it with some help from my dad and from my fiance’s mom. My dad has become adorable during this time in listening to me talk about all the details and crazy thoughts about my wedding (his job is to keep me practical) even emailing me ideas for everything. Even with his support, I still find switching between being angry and sad that we don’t that relationship that it seems that everyone else seems to have.

    Aside from all rambling here I just really wanted to thank you for taking the time and having the courage to write your story. It is really comforting and an inspiration that I am not alone.

  • M

    Thank you so much for this. My situation is somewhat different. When I married my college sweetheart, my mom was semi-involved. That marriage ended in divorce. I have now found a wonderful man who loves me deeply & we are getting married next month. My mom doesn’t mind that I’m getting re-married, but seems to feel a “real” wedding is ridiculous because I’ve already done it once. Nevermind the fact that he has never been married and we want to share the event with family & friends because we love them. (And we are *not* asking them for any money or financial help whatsoever.) So many times I’ve been hurt by her comments and her lack of interest, so thank you for the reflection and the helpful words.

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  • bri

    I just read this and it was exactly what I needed to read. With tears streaming down my face, it has finally sunk in that maybe those expectations I have of my mother are not realistic.

    My mother starting dating a man the week of my engagement (August) and became engaged to him the week of my birthday (October) and will be marrying him in a week and a half from this comment (January 2014), while my wedding isn’t until next September. The frustration, anger, and disappointment have been swelling within me and overtaking everything from wedding planning to my day-to-day life.

    Thank you so much for this, the time has come for those boundaries to become a reality and to stop putting in so much of my energy for very little in return. While I’m still mourning the loss of those ideas and concepts, at least I have a battle plan now. THANK YOU from the very bottom of my heart.

  • Petunia

    Thank you for sharing your story Nicole (and APW). I am currently going through almost exactly the same thing. I am trying my best to set boundaries with mother – We went to a dress shop together in the early stages and she tried on more dresses than I did!
    Sadly I had to lower my expectations to virtually nil, but now I can be grateful of any little interest she shows. I’ve spent my whole life being told by her I am being selfish when I wanted her attention/affection and now I realise just how toxic those words have been.
    On a positive note we have amazing friends who love and support us. Now I need to learn how to let my very “motherly” mother-in-law be a part of my life. How lucky am I that I now get to be part of a whole new family.