My mom is acting like a floozy

She moved in with her boyfriend, then moved back home. Now I'm home too and she's driving me nuts!

Published January 21, 2011 1:30AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I'm stuck in a terrible relationship with my mother. My mother and father always had a bad relationship while I was growing up, and they came close to splitting up many times. I'm now 25, and they finally seemed like they would split, and that it would be a relief, but for two years we have been in a limbo that I find unbearable.

In January 2009 I was in my final year of college and under a huge amount of stress when my mother confided in me that she was having an affair with a man she met through work. I begged her not to involve me, but she did -- and on top of it asked my to keep it a secret from my dad. I did -- but with a deadline. I gave her a month to tell him before I did, and she eventually came clean with him. The stress of the situation meant my grades slipped and I missed out on the top grade I had been working toward for four years.

The situation has become more and more bizarre over the last two years. She was still living at home with the family until May 2009, when she moved in with the man she'd been having an affair with. I eventually moved home from college, got a job, and moved out. Fast forward to a year later, and I had pretty much cut off all contact with her. I didn't get her presents for her birthday or Mother's Day, etc., and was terse with her whenever I saw her. From my point of view, I want nothing more to do with her. From her point of view, she hasn't really done anything wrong, and describes her behavior as "trying to work out a path for herself." I can't stand the way she is messing with everyone around her. My youngest brother is 14, and he knows what's going on but seems to be coping fairly well. My 23-year-old brother really wants her back in the family home so that things can go back to "normal." My dad wants her to come back not because he loves her, but because he thinks it's best for the "family."

So what happened? Well, she came back! I've since lost my job and have had to move back home, so the situation is pretty awful. I've tried to be nice with her, and we've been out a couple of times together, because I don't want this hanging over me anymore. This has dominated my life for two years now, and every time people ask me about my family or talk about their own, this is what I have to think about. I want it resolved.

The main problem here is that she is still seeing the other guy. And my dad knows about it. About once every couple of weeks she'll go and spend the night with him and claim she was at a conference. We all know where she's been. To make it clear: I am the only one who doesn't want her to come back for good. I want her gone. People don't get to treat me that way, and it breaks my heart that my dad and brothers let her treat them that way and say nothing about it. I know it bothers my dad that she still sees the other guy, but every time I confront him about it, he tries to placate me by saying something like, "I've spoken to your mother and told her it has to stop." When I confront her, she tells me she doesn't mean to hurt anyone, and yet she won't take any responsibility for her actions. She really believes that she is the victim in this situation. It makes me blindingly furious. I hate this, too. I hate wasting any of my energy thinking about her or her negativity, but I still somehow get sucked in.

In fact, in my house, I'm the "bad guy." I call her out on her behavior when she acts in a way that's hurtful to me and to others, and I get criticized for it instead of her. My father says he feels like he's in the middle of things, and also repeatedly says that all he wants is to see her and I have a good relationship (which we never had prior to this). However, I can never care for or respect my mother when she treats other people so appallingly. Part of my vitriol directed toward her is from the extreme pain and stress she caused me during my final year of college, and my disappointment at my exam results. I don't think I can ever forgive her for that. But I mostly feel like I can't just sit and smile and be "supportive" of my mother while she uses everyone around her and gets to acts like a teenage floozy whenever she feels like it.

My easiest solution for this would be to move out, which is what I want most right now. But until I find another job, I'm stuck where I am.

I feel like I'm the only sane one in my family.

Not Too Crazy About My Mother

Dear Not Too Crazy,

Let's say you were living with a boyfriend and your boyfriend started having an affair. Let's say instead of hiding it from you he shared its details with you in a way that was icky and infuriating. And his timing was so bad it seemed sinister. He chose to tell you right when you most needed to be on top of your game, and caused you to lose something you very much wanted.

If a boyfriend did that to you, you would break up with him, wouldn't you? Would not your pride and sense of fair play be so outraged by his actions that you could no longer live with him?

But then let's say living on your own posed difficulties. Would you then move back in with your boyfriend for practical reasons?

I don't think so. Moving back in with him would entail the resumption of an intimate relationship that had been irretrievably damaged. It would just seem wrong.

Yet you moved back in with your mother.

Relationships with mothers are different, of course, and the family home is different. But the emotional impact of moving back into the family home is similar.

I think we sometimes disregard the fact that when we move back into a family home we are willingly resuming all the intimate relationships that take place in that home. We are going back into the marriage, as it were. And the marriage is just as bad as it was when we left. Worse, maybe.

My guess is that you could have scrimped, borrowed, toughed it out, found some low-wage job to retain some marginal independence. You might even have borrowed from your family.

All kinds of things run through your mind, I'm sure. It's as much your house as it is hers. Why should she be able to run around and act this way? She's ruining it for everyone.

But your primary responsibility now is to yourself. You have a life to live. You got out once and you can get out again.

After you are out, you may find yourself repeating patterns of behavior learned in this family, and it may cause you to start some serious introspection and perhaps get into psychotherapy. But right now, you're dealing with a situation that you can't fix, and by far your best option is to move out as soon as you can.

I mean, there's a ton of other stuff to get into, and readers will no doubt want to get into it with you. It's tempting to imagine being at the dinner table when someone asks where's your mom and your dad says she's at another conference.

But I'm staying out of it. Right now the best thing you can do is work hard toward establishing another residence.

Write After Work Workshop ad

What? You want more advice?


By Cary Tennis

MORE FROM Cary Tennis

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Since You Asked