Dear Carolyn: My mother and I have a very toxic relationship and have fought on and off over the years. When she gets angry she spreads half-truths that make me look bad, says hurtful things and tries to sabotage my plans. She’s very narcissistic, manipulative and controlling.
I’m getting married next year, and she’s telling me nobody is excited about my wedding and that I shouldn’t invite my extended family. At this point, I’ve distanced myself from her, which ultimately means I cannot have much contact with parts of my extended family.
We are sending our Save the Dates soon. Should I still invite my family and address any concerns that come up? Should I reach out to my family beforehand? Or should I cut my losses? I’m still planning on inviting my mother, stepfather and siblings (who go along with whatever my mother says).
Answer: Why are you inviting her?
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This is not a rhetorical way of saying “Don’t invite her.” It’s a genuine question because you don’t seem to know the answer yourself.
You start your account with the shockingly hateful things she does to you. Shortly after, you finish with, “I’m still planning on inviting my mother to my wedding.”
There is nothing between these except your distancing yourself from her, and so that middle is a giant blank spot where my curiosity got stuck.
Have you thought in a general way about how to handle your mother, or do you just stagger from episode to episode? Have you ever gotten any guidance from a mental health expert, about both your mother’s volatility and its effect on you and your other relationships? Have you and your spouse-to-be discussed how to handle your family as you form your own? To keep a strong history from repeating takes awareness and vigilance both, and arguably mothers loom largest of all.
I know this seems inopportune; brides- and grooms-to-be generally want to minimize distractions, and taking on your mother issue would be the Queen Mary of emotional preoccupations. But there’s also a strong argument for not carrying significant family baggage into this next chapter. You want to start a marriage healthy, not torn and “depressed” about hosting a party for people you assume don’t support you and you possibly don’t even like.
In fact, now actually seems optimal for dealing with the bigger emotional picture because you’ve reached a milestone — specifically, the milestone of creating a family of choice as opposed to a family of birth. You’re creating the former by marriage but that’s not the only route there.
You can decide who you want to be, then decide who actually helps you get there as opposed to undermining you at every opportunity. Weigh everyone carefully, including family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, mentors, everyone, for their ability to lift you up — then decide those people are the ones you’ll ask to save the date. Then see how well you sleep on the idea of making your whole family one of thoughtful choice. Ongoing choice, too, since you and others may change.
Doing this won’t make anyone behave better, of course. On the contrary: It could invite a momstorm of epic proportions, thus the counseling advice. It can be steadying, though, to have a working list of whom you can actually trust.
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