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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 [email protected].

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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Holly
Guest
Holly

Aha! This almost EXACT situation is my husband’s mother and her two daughters. We had the first grandkid, told all the grandparents soon after we found out (about 5 weeks). A few months later, my SIL was also pregnant (though nearly 11 weeks by the time she realized). She didn’t want to tell her mom because of all the emotional drama she knew it would cause. Ended up telling her siblings at about 15weeks, and her mom at about 18weeks. MIL was NOT HAPPY. “Don’t the grandmothers usually find out sooner than this?!?!?” My SIL= “Yeah, well, maybe, but now… Read more »

Cait
Guest
Cait

I will say that while I can’t classify either MIL or my mom as “emotional vampires” they do both have their *moments* of being completely emotionally manipulating assholes. MIL started in with OMG BABIES the week after I got engaged, my mom generally knows better then to say to much out loud because I shut that shit down hard when I was a teenager.  All that being said, I am carrying the first grand baby on both sides and am therefore a blanket for all opinions, concerns, thoughts and anything else they can come up with and I deal but… Read more »

Rachel
Guest
Rachel

I would just like to point out that it sounds like if you tell your mom the news now that she may blab it to the world, so that might also be something to consider if you want to keep it private. And by the way, congrats!

Stephanie
Guest
Stephanie

5 weeks is super early. There is no reason to tell your mom that soon unless you actually want to.

I’m not sure when we did tell our parents, but I know it was after 5 weeks. I had to beg my mom not to tell anyone, and she actually kept her promise (which surprised me!), even though it was killing her.

susan
Guest
susan

Sadly, grandchildren don’t fix grandparents. My mom is vaguely similar to yours (she’s pretty self-absorbed) and last weekend when my 4 year old daughter broke her foot, my mom said that she was having a clumsy week, too, and that she’d broken a few dishes the night before. Like that’s even remotely similar or effing appropriate to say! 

So yeah. Do what you want to do when it feels right for you. Otherwise you’ll spend the rest of your life trying to guess what will give you the best mom-outcome. And that’s not where your energy is best spent. 

Chiara
Guest
Chiara

5 weeks is still pretty early in the grand scheme of things. I waited until 9 weeks to tell my mom and it went fine (we don’t always have the best relationship), but one of the things I considered when I was deciding who to tell, was whether or not that person would be helpful to me if I had an early miscarriage. I know it’s a bit of a downer thought, but traditionally that’s why you wait to tell people until 2nd trimester, is because of the higher risk of miscarriage in the first trimester. And miscarriages can be… Read more »

Lisa
Guest
Lisa

Who you tell before the second trimester is who you wouldn’t mind knowing if you miscarry. Imagine that you tell no one, and this beloved, wanted pregnancy miscarries (sorry for the imagery, but this is exactly the reason why people wait to say anything until they’re ‘in the clear’) who would you tell? Would you tell your mother? Would she be at all helpful in your time of need? Or would she make it about her, and how hurt she is that you didn’t *trust* her and maybe you don’t *love* and somehow you end up apologizing for not sharing… Read more »

Jessica
Guest
Jessica

I agree with Chiara.  I was given the advice (which I took) which was that you should tell the people who you would want to support you if something went wrong.  If your mom is not on that list, then she’s not.  

Cara
Guest
Cara

Dear God, yes.  This winter I miscarried at nine weeks, never having heard a heartbeat.  We were so very glad we had only told immediate family.  And even telling that few people was tough.  (But, important.  They were our support system.) If your Mom would make a miscarriage about her, please please at least wait until you hear the heartbeat.  That’s a critical milestone and not nearly so long as the entire trimester if you don’t think you can or want to go that long.

Tasterspoon
Guest
Tasterspoon

Agree with prior commenters re her supportiveness in the event of miscarriage, and also whether you think she’d blab it to everyone ELSE you might not want to know about something going wrong. That said, I told my mother (with whom I have similar, but probably not as significant, issues) in private and in person on a family visit at about 10 weeks and made her promise that it was ‘just between us’ until 12 weeks. I was shocked that she did keep it a secret but, as hard as it was for her, I know it put her over… Read more »

Elli
Guest
Elli

5 *weeks*? Congratulations, and omg, your mom must be extra fun if you’re already worried that she didn’t know 2 weeks ago. I did tell our parents when we got the official nod at 4 weeks, but they would be supportive if something happened. If they told anybody else, then it would have been them who had to make the sadder calls. (As it was, we didn’t even tell them that we were having IVF, though they knew we’d have to) A sister is the dramatic one, but we chose to tell her the same day we told our parents,… Read more »

Elli
Guest
Elli

I meant pulsar, the kind that send out waves of energy at regular intervals.

Liz
Guest
Liz

May I suggest looking at this list of traits of narcissm? I never thought my mom was, because I thought it meant “conceited” – but it’s more complex than that. Once I started googling “narcisstic mother” the light shone in and I saw the situation more clearly and was better able to deal with my mom, because she got so much worse during my pregnancy and when the baby arrived. Your announcement is just the beginning of a long line of baby-battles with your mom, so draw the boundaries early.
http://parrishmiller.com/narcissists.html

Caroline
Guest
Caroline

I would leave it a bit, maybe till you hit 8-9 weeks, maybe after your next OB appointment. If she wants to know why, you just say ”oh we didn’t tell anyone till we were sure it was okay” and leave it at that. Then for the rest, you must now NOW shut down this self-absorbed manipulation. There is no time like the present. You clearly cannot change a person but you can change your reaction, and obsessing over something like this is exactly the trap you have been roped into all your life. Set it down and walk away… Read more »

sarah
Guest
sarah

Oh! This is familiar! My dad’s side of the family, to the letter! We decided to tell my mom’s side at thanksgiving (8 weeks, w ultrasound) because they are supportive and functional and I was seeing Bruce Springsteen with my mom & NOT having beer would have been a dead giveaway. But we decided to wait to tell dad & his side because IF anything had gone awry they would not have been supportive, they would have made it about them somehow. And we would have ended up helping them through whatever hypothetical complication arose. So we waited. Drove through… Read more »

Marnie
Guest
Marnie

Oh do I ever know how you are feeling. My mom declared that she felt she was losing me in a divorce when I got married. I was naive to how emotionally manipulated I had been until after I had my first of 3 children. I agree with Amy and previous posters, things will only get worse from here unless you learn to make boundaries. That means not allowing yourself to feel guilty for this whenshe tries to put it on you. I definitely suggest going to a therapist now to understand an emotionally healthy boundary as soon as possible.… Read more »

Athena
Guest
Athena

Anyone trying to complain about not being told before the three-month mark doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on anyway. The chances of miscarriage is just so, so much higher before you cross the line into the second trimester. So much. I’m guessing that’s probably the reason you picked three months as when you want to share – so that you would actually *know*. Not just know there’s something in there, but know with something approaching a more reasonable certainty that that something was actually viable. If your mother tries to pitch a fit, just… tell her that?… Read more »

C
Guest
C

I have a very painful relationship with a narcissistic mother and told her around 13 weeks for my pregnancy with my first and my current pregnancy. We told my inlaws around 12 weeks for both. I didn’t have any complaints from either about the timing and I think 12 weeks is a generally accepted time for sharing the news with friends and family. My sister, on the other hand, gave me a deadline when i should tell my mother about the first pregnancy because she said she didn’t want my nephew to have to withhold the news from his grandmother.… Read more »

anon
Guest
anon

Babies and boundaries and guilt trips OH MY! HOOBOY did this ever resonate with me. I would like to strongly reiterate the advice that you 1) ONLY tell your mother prior to the start of the second trimester if she is someone you would confide in if something went wrong AND if you are comfortable that it is very possible that she will share your news before you are ready and/or with people you would not share it with this early. I would like to also encourage you to seek therapy during this time – pregnancy is difficult and stressful… Read more »

Buttercup
Guest
Buttercup

This sounds like a really tough situation for you. My husband and I are both close to our families and chose not to tell either of them until the 12 week ultrasound both times. We just both felt better with the “we tell no one until we tell everyone” model.  Also, a good trick I used with my friends who were asking incessantly if I was pregnant was that (after explaining multiple times about miscarriage risk, etc, etc) I finally told them that every time they asked me I was going to answer “yes.” 

Martha
Guest
Martha

When I was pregnant with my daughter, we didn’t tell ANYONE until after we heard the heartbeat at my first OB appointment at 8 weeks. At that point we only told immediate family and swore them to secrecy until after the first ultrasound at 13 weeks. When I found out I was pregnant again, we told immediate family after my first appointment at 6 weeks when we saw the heartbeat. I had a miscarriage 3 weeks later and then had to tell everyone.  Having gone both routes, I recommend waiting a while. The “I had a miscarriage” talk is much… Read more »

OP
Guest
OP

Hey all! I’m the conflicted one that wrote in. Amy, THANK YOU- that was exactly what I needed to hear, down to the fact that witholding information from her might be my repeating the cycle of emotional manipulation. That realization was way above my self-awareness radar until you wrote it. An update- I’m currently 9.5 weeks now, and I decided to go ahead and give my mom a “grandmother” card for mother’s day while my dad and my sister were there. I figured at worst, it would be an opportunity to set boundaries early if it went south, and at… Read more »

Grammy
Guest
Grammy

First, congratulations! Everyone here has already covered it very well. One thing that you should know right now: Your mother is not going to change. A woman who made you and your sister the adults in the relationship (that is what she did) so she could spend her life being a needy person who wasn’t responsible for anything is not ever going to turn into a nurturing, competent adult. When your baby is born she will be 1) jealous that the baby gets more attention than she does and 2) sad that no one lets her have a greater role… Read more »

nora1
Guest
nora1

Hi, congratulations on your pregnancy, others have already said all that needs to be said, and yet I want to chime in too to say that I really felt that I understood your situation and what it’s like not to want to tell your mother about your pregnancy. I also felt terribly conflicted and pressured about revealing my pregnancies to my mother and put it off as long as possible – 16 weeks the first time, 14 weeks the second. My mother has always been difficult but it wasn’t until my second child that I realised she was actually narcissistic… Read more »

DontBlameTheKids
Guest

For me, the three months rule is about who you would tell if you miscarried. If you would want your mom to know, then yes, tell her. If the thought of telling her about a miscarriage makes you ill, then keep it to yourself. I told my mom when I was 6 weeks pregnant with my first. I told her when I was 4 months pregnant with my second.

Emily
Guest
Emily

My mom is the queen of emotional vampires. I’m also an only child and so…yeah. I feel you. I had a miscarriage when we were trying for our second child and we had told EVERYONE right away. And UN-telling everyone was one of the worst experiences ever. So, we decided if we got pregnant again after that, we would wait at least until we’d found the heartbeat before we told anyone–which we did at about 10 weeks. Everyone was thrilled and totally understanding except for my mother who was all, “BOO HOO, YOU DIDN’T TELL MEEEE????? When I got pregnant… Read more »

Lorraine
Guest

I find this story INCREDIBLY intriguing because I am just now 11 weeks pregnant, and I told my mom RIGHT away when I found at at FOUR weeks. Her response was, “How far along are you, three months?” And I replied “uuuh, no, four weeks.”  She gave me a raised eye brow and said something like, “You know, there are protocols to these things. Usually people wait until after the first trimester to tell people.” Which made me feel shitty in a whole different way, so…. Thanks mom!