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My Mother, the Emotional Vampire (art by Alex Katz at Timothy Taylor)

My Mother, The Emotional Vampire

By Amalah

Hey Amy!

I’ve been reading the Smackdown for years and bookmarking all the posts that I think I’d need when I get pregnant (pretty much all of them). I haven’t seen anything with this, so hopefully I’m not repeating anything.

Some background: my mother has always been childlike and dependent on my sister and I for emotional support and her self-esteem. I grew up being her support system, and I’ve always been a little resentful of the fact that I had to mother my mother. She tries, she means well, she’s just “an emotional black hole”, as my sister puts it.

I got married in August, and since getting engaged have been asked constantly by my family about when we’re going to have a baby. It would be the first grandchild for my mom’s side of the family, and a VERY wanted grandchild…none of my older cousins want kids, and my sister is younger and not on the baby track. My mother makes it a point to tell me about every other person that has made a pregnancy announcement that she knows, and that all her coworkers have been asking when she’ll be a grandmother.

So, I’m now 5 weeks pregnant. My mother suspects something, and when I went home for Easter, told me about another friend of hers that has a pregnant daughter, and “of course, she told her mother right away when she knew.”

I haven’t told my mom (we found out two weeks ago), and I’m conflicted about telling her at all before 3 months. On the one hand, telling her could bring us closer because she might be able to support me through some of the more stressful things (since she’s obviously done this before), but on the other hand, I don’t want to feel like I’m being used for fulfillment and guilted into telling her just because she wants to be told. I’ve had this convo with my husband, and he just supports whatever I decide to do.

I guess my question is: should I just suck it up and tell my mom because it’ll make her happy and proud? If I do, how do I set boundaries so I feel like I’m being supported instead of used? If I DON’T tell her until 3 months are up, how do I explain why? Would I be making a mistake and throwing away my chance to really connect with her over this?

Or, am I just being way too dramatic and the news will just come out when the time is right and it doesn’t really matter in the long run anyway?

Gah! Thanks,
Conflicted

Coming from a long family line of subtle guilt trippers (of course, your friend’s perfect daughter told her mother right away, because of course she did, and that’s not a strange or overly specific detail to drop into this particular conversation, Mom, not in the SLIGHTEST), you have my personal support — whatever that’s worth — for keeping your news to yourself until whenever the hell you want. It’s your pregnancy, your news, your decision.

On the other hand, if you mostly don’t want to tell her because you’re trying to turn your pregnancy into some kind of Point, to basically shut your mom out as payback for years of putting up with years of emotional entanglements, or to hold the news hostage because you’re tired of being constantly and passive aggressively nagged about babies (which to be fair, is not a thing that’s unique to your mother)…you might want to step back and examine your own motives. Are you really setting boundaries, or are you just continuing the cycle of emotional mind games? Your mom finds all her meaning in life and support and self-worth in her daughters, which is an EXHAUSTING role to play. But is specifically withholding this news from her helping with any of that? Or is it just stressing you out completely because every interaction with her — like saying, “Mom, guess what, I’m pregnant!” — has become a game of Emotional Battleship?

(A game that your mom might not even realize you’re playing, if she’s never been called on her shit, or at least shut down when she nags and cajoles and tells you oddly apropos story after story and her Friend’s Daughter’s Roommate’s Cousin who took HER mom with her to every OB appointment and let her cut the cord, HONEY. “Mom, when we have news we’re ready to share, we’ll tell you. But the more you bug me, the less I want to discuss this topic with you at all, okay?”)

(“Oh, but I was just TELLING you about my FDRC because I thought it was INTERESTING, I didn’t MEAN anything by it.”)

(“Of course you didn’t. Do you think it’s going to rain today?”)

(Annnnd scene.)

The thing is, no matter when you tell your mom, you’ll have many months of pregnancy left, and a lifetime of trying to balance her emotional needs with your own — and with your child’s, as you attempt to forge a healthier relationship with him/her than the one you were modeled as a child. Waiting until 13 weeks won’t turn your mom into someone she’s not. Best case, she’s so genuinely happy for you (and herself!) that she won’t fixate on the week number. When she asks how far along you are just give her your due date to maybe skim over the exact math. (You also don’t have to tell her how long you’ve known. You found out about as early as biologically possible, it sounds like, but plenty of pregnancies aren’t picked up on until quite a few weeks later.) But from that point on, you’re still going to be doing the work of boundary setting and conversation ending and probably some call-avoiding. Help! My mom wants to come to ultrasounds with us! And be in the delivery room! And live with us for a month postpartum! GAH.

Worst case, yeah, she’s hurt and overly emotional about it and goes sobbing to your sister and her friends and looking for reassurance that she’s a good person who deserved better from you. That’s on her, though. That’s the kind of guilt she’s good at saddling on you, in hopes of controlling your future behavior in order to avoid feeling that guilt again. If you feel like this is the right moment to break free of that Pavlovian response and kick the guilt to the curb, do it. As childlike as she may seem, she’s a grown-ass woman. She’ll live.

Wow, I’ve just talked in so many circles I’m feeling kind of dizzy. And there’s probably no real advice here. So I’ll close with some: If you haven’t spent some time with a professional therapist to help deal with your mother and the emotional baggage she’s basically dumped on you since birth, now is a really good time to do so. Or to do so again, for a little refresher, as you’re preparing to become a mother yourself. Pregnancy has a way of digging up old anxieties and insecurities and just DUMPING them on you all at once, out of the blue. So that’s fun.

It sounds like you have a good support system in your sister, but she won’t be able to understand everything that’s going to happen in the next eight months and beyond. And while your mother’s been pregnant and had babies, it’s pretty obvious that she’s NOT capable of truly supporting anyone without going all emotional vampire on them, sooner or later. The fact that you’re holding out hope that maybe, MAYBE this time will be magically different (provided that you cave one last time and tell her your news on her terms, not yours) suggests that you might benefit from talking to a neutral third party on a regular basis about her, and boundaries, and motherhood in all its (dysfunctional and wonderful) forms. And then you can really focus on nurturing yourself, your marriage, your child, rather than being sucked dry by your past.

Art Source: by Alex Katz

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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