How to handle estrangement from my mother when she sends cards to my children?

Many of you here on the CAF Family Life forum might recall that I am on a six month “sabbatical” from contact with my mother. I have noticed that I have become far more relaxed and happy since stopping all contact with her. I am not experiencing anxiety attacks anymore. In short, my husband and I believe that with my emotional health improving, this demonstrates my decision to stop contact completely was the right one. That and the fact that I have had memories surface that had been repressed that reinforce the idea that her behavior is dangerous for me and my children. So this is all good to acknowledge honestly…
So to my question…
My two youngest children have recently had birthdays. This morning, I discovered birthday cards and gift certificates for them from my mother that my husband intercepted and hid until he could calmly sit down and talk to me about it. When I realized what he had done, I was so thankful to him, and I wished I had not accidentally found them. Anyway, now I am experiencing a flood of guilt and feelings that I had experienced some freedom from when I cut off contact.
And so my question is…
What in the world should I do with/about these birthday cards? I am clueless. :shrug:
My husband and I plan on talking about this issue this weekend, but in our initial conversation, both of us were unsure how to proceed. I am happier and healthier without her in my life. My children are free from her potentially damaging influence.
One added complication is that she is raising my niece, who is the same age as my oldest daughter. I want to send a Christmas card and gift certificate to my niece, but because of her young age (7) this communication between my niece and myself will necessarily have to go through and be approved by my mother, who will then have implied approval to communication with my children.
This is really troublesome for me, so any wisdom you may have will be welcome for my husband and I. Thank you.

I understand toxic moms. I’ve had very, very limited contact with my own for more than 30 years.

I would have the kids open the cards while you’re there to monitor for and mediate anything inappropriate she may have written or included. Then I would have the kids write a thank you note to her. And that’s it.

I would send a card and gift certificate to your niece. If your mom doesn’t give it to her, that’s on her.

Kids know when they’re being manipulated in familial psycho dramas. And they always find out when a parent doesn’t give them cards, presents, gifts, etc., from estranged family members.

It’s best to take the honest high road on this one.

Your mother is still the children’s grandmother, and in her own way, she loves them. I would bet she is already crushed about your relationship, but I don’t believe you should involve these children in the fracas between the two of you, and further compound her sufferings.

God is very stern about respecting our parents and honoring them. I trust you pray for her and remain open to possible future reconciliation.

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I would do as the above poster suggested, however, I would open the cards first. Nothing worse than giving and taking away. I would also open them individually with your children, explaing how some people have “broken love” and “brain sickness” and how we sometimes have to do things like not talking when their words make us sick, too, just like we are careful when people have the flu.

You are protecting your children which is a natural reaction when you obviously have reservations about your mother from previous experience.

Was she just strict or a difficult person? You haven’t said anything about it but I assume from your post that your mother was physically and/or emotionally abusive to you and you have a lot of mental scarring to deal with. You are fortunate to have such a protective husband who has your best interest at heart.

Your children are entitled to have a relationship with their grandmother but you should set the boundaries and supervision of that access.

People do change and in many instances parents can often be better grandparents than parents.

Good luck and consider seeking professional advice on how to handle the situation and your mental state.

I believe that time is too short, our parents did the best they knew how to do at that time.

We should all honour our parents, as difficult as it may be at times.

I disagree with the bolded section; open the cards first and make sure they are appropriate for your children to read/see; you as the parent need to protect your children. Do send the thank you note and then go on with what is working for you and your family now.

Agreed! The biggest thing is to have your kids send the thank you note…teach them to be polite, but that they can establish boundaries for people who are not ‘well’…

As far as your neice goes, sending a card and gift certificate does not imply that your mom can have any communication with your children,other than sending them a card and/or gift certificate which must go through you, so there is no difference, really.

Your neice will either remember your kindness, or never know about it…you can’t do much about either one. BUT if some day she learns the truth…that will reveal YOUR true feelings for her. Take the high road, send the card and whatever else you feel is appropriate to your niece.

You want a relationship with your niece who is the same age as your daughter so I’ll assume you would want these cousins to know each other. This can’t be accomplished unless you patch things up with Mom.

Have you considered counseling to better understand your relationship and how to handle Mom so you do not become anxious?

I don’t want to see you rush into anything but the holidays are here. Any chance of asking Mom if the cousins could visit at her house? This way she’ll see her grandchildren, you’ll see your niece, and maybe the kids could stay and play for an hour and you pick them up after the visit?

I was cut off from my mother for years for similar reasons to yours. But I never stopped her from sending cards to my daughter. I did read them to make sure there was nothing poisonous in there, but as an adult woman my daughter now has lots of nice memories of her grandmother (whom she later got to spend some time with when she moved to town) and I’m glad she does.

It’s a weird thing, but very often whatever compulsion a parent has in terms of their own child, disappears with a grandchild. So, open everything first, is my advice and pass it on.

Someday, after learning all about what you need and getting counselling and all of that, you may be able to deal with your mother in brief doses. I could. But really, right up until she died, things were always difficult.

Here is my advice for the future years. Your kids will want to know what the deal is. My answer was: “Its between us and none of your business.” Instruct your mother via letter that she is to give the same answer and you will not turn your children against her and you will not tolerate her speaking about you to them. If she does - one time - it will be the end of the contact with the kids. Stick to it.

My daughter has a lot of good memories of both my parents. They were, to be blunt, fairly monstrous as parents. But I’m glad she has the good things to hold onto. I would not have allowed her to be in their care, of course.

My last comment is: I don’t know what happened or why your niece is there, but do you need to advise local social services that there might be issues?

I’m really glad you took the steps you did. Pray for her and let go of the guilt. It was never your job to take care of her. If she needs help in old age, well, you might have to step in and find her some care or something. But that’s all and I bet your husband can take care of it.

You have a beautiful mom-free Christmas and enjoy every single minute of it.

I think you should let your husband open the cards and determine if they are appropriate to give to the children. If they aren’t, just have him throw them out and give the children the gifts. (assuming they are appropriate too.) That way, you won’t have to deal with any nonsense she may have written in there. You should encourage the children to write a thankyou note to send back. You can also send a gift to your niece and hopefully it gets to her.

I remember your posts about your mother. Frankly, I would be very inclined to simply return the cards. But that would not be charitable, now, would it…hmmmm…what to do, what to do…

Whatever you do, DO NOT feel guilty for whatever boundaries you set! I repeat. DO NOT FEEL GUILTY FOR THROWING UP A HEDGE OF PROTECTION AROUND YOUR CHILDREN! No matter what!

Now, if you would like, you can open the cards and make sure that everything is fine before you give them to your children. (You don’t even have to give them to your children, if you really believe that your mother is a bad influence on them.) But if you think you can allow limited contact with her, IN YOUR PRESENCE ONLY, at some point, then let them have the cards and the gift certificates. And let them write polite thank you notes.

I have forgotten - why is she raising your niece? Could you send your gift through the child’s mother instead? If not, then go ahead and send it, and hope for the best. Do not believe that you must allow any contact with your children unless you believe it to be safe for your children. No matter what, protect your children, and your own fragile sense of security. You have seen such an improvement, do not let her guilt you into giving that up!

Hang in there.

I have very little interaction with my mother and she has chosen not to be a part of my daughters’ lives, just as she chose not to be a part of my life. She does give Christmas and Birthday gifts, and I allow that, because that is about all that my daughters will get from my mom.

We are estranged from my inlaws–they disowned us three years ago and we are trying to re-establish communication in hopes that we can heal some wounds. It will happen by the grace of God because they were awful to me and there is no basis of trust, but I pray constantly for God to give me an open and forgiving heart. They do send our girls gifts, and I allow them to receive the gifts, enjoy them, and send their thanks via letter mail.

You can choose to clothe everything in secrecy, but depending on how old your kids are, they probably know way more than you think. My kids know exactly what has gone on, especially my oldest–she sees her mama being treated mean by her grandma–I don’t have to say a word. But that is why we emphasize loving our neighbor, loving our enemies, turning the other cheek, etc. These are deeply painful situations for my husband and I, but they are also opportunities for us to model appropriate relating, boundary setting, and forgiveness to our young girls.

I truly wish you well. I know how hard these situations are.

I always had a wonderful relationship with my mom. So I really didn’t understand how really out there a parent could be. UNTIL I met my mother-in-law. :o

When you have someone in your life like that, you have to do what you can to protect yourself and your children. You need to figure out what that is, then stick to it.

We are in a similar situation with my mother-in-law. She hasn’t spoken to us for 4 years. But suddenly she sent a Christmas card. :confused: My husband and I have agreed that we will be sending a letter explaining that we cannot and will not open ourselves back up to her toxic relationship.

What sort of understanding do you have with your mother? Do you have rules in place by which she ought to understand that she is not to send gifts or cards to the kids? If you do, then you can send them back with a note thanking her but saying that unfortunately the gifts cross the line you’ve set up. If you simply withdrew from her life without explanation or told her you didn’t want contact with her without explicitly saying she’s not to even send gifts to her grandchildren, then you have to decide: are cards and letters allowed? under what circumstances? Then let her and the kids know: that is, by “no contact” you meant, unfortunately, no gifts, either or no contact means she can send things but you’ll be screening them, deciding what is appropriate, and letting her know what you decided, or whatever you decide. Manipulative people are all like attorneys of the worst kind. You have to be explicit about your boundaries or they’ll act like they’ve been martyred when they’re told they’ve crossed one.

Whatever you decide, it will go both ways in terms of contact with your niece, of course.


Your response was rather judgmental of my actions. If you were unfamiliar with my history, which I have sought help with here before at CAF, it would have been very easy to find out by either asking me directly or by previewing my recent posts on the matter.

My mother has a very damaging and manipulative pattern of behavior, which she has continued to play out on her grandchildren, especially my oldest daughter. I am not involving my children in any fracas, and if anyone is crushed in this situation, that would be me, because I have tried for years to have a relationship with my mother. Her sufferings were always my primary concern, until it got so bad that I realized I had to take steps to protect my children.

Not every mother out there is kind. Some are downright cruel. You should not presume to rebuke a heartbroken daughter who has had to stop contact with a toxic mother.

Edited to Add: you mention that she loves my children. Well, then why did she cut me out of her life, along with her grandchildren, repeatedly over the last few years? Why did she tell me, ad nauseum, that she does not feel love, that she does not know what love is?

I wanted to respond to you, because you asked some specific questions that are important details, and I don’t think I have ever corresponded with you here at CAF before.

My husband and his family, and finally myself only recently, suspect she is a sociopath. Not just strict. Not just difficult. But actually quite dangerous. Her MO is to discover my weakness and then destroy me emotionally all the while denying her constant abuse.

My children are entitled to have a relationship with their grandmother, sure, just as I am entitled to have a relationship with my mother. Does entitlement mean necessity? No, not in a situation of abuse and manipulation. BTW, I have never trusted her to be alone with my children, ever, because I have always known that she was not a safe person.

I have sought professional help for this, and the counselour actually ended up advising me to do something that caused more pain to me, because she did not believe me when I tried to explain the severity of the problem. After that horrible incident, I stopped trusting my counselour and decided to rely upon the support of my close friends and my husband’s family, who are all familiar with my mother and her treatment of me.

I understand that I am always supposed to honour my parents, which is why I am not calling them out by name and slandering them, nor do I go around badmouthing them to my friends and inlaws. But having a confidante or two, and quietly making protective decisions with my husband is not dishonouring my parents.

Also, my mother does not do the best she knows how, because when I told her how much certain actions or words hurt me, guess what, she ramped up the abuse in exactly those areas. Those are the actions of a sociopath, not a mother who doesn’t know any better.

And finally, if I seem defensive, I guess I probably am. I am not at all angry with anyone here, so please no one should feel that I am. I have tried and tried, I have wept, I have prayed, and nothing works. And just to provide some perspective, my brother and sister have also cut off contact with my mother as well, because of her treatment of them.

Or, the grandparent can use the grandchild as a pawn to further hurt and cause distress…Or, use the grandchild in the exact same way he/she uses every other individual in life. One can believe the best, and still get stabbed in the back later on down the road, when it’s too late to fix. I would always advise extreme caution and NEVER EVER allow this person whom you KNOW to be “toxic,” to have unfettered access to your children. NEVER. Watch them like a hawk when your children are with them, IF, and it’s a big “IF” you allow any access at all. It’s very valid to just say “No thanks!” to any contact with someone who has hurt you for your entire life and cannot be trusted. I only ever knew one of my grandparents and that only at a distance, and I managed to grow up OK. Of course having loving grandparents can be a huge blessing, but close family friends or other relatives can fulfill the role more safely if the bio-grandparent is dangerous.

I loved your last statement about having a “beautiful mom-free Christmas!” :thumbsup:

I tend to use the term “bio-mom” in these cases because that person has done NOTHING to be a true “Mom” to her children. It is just a biological relationship - she carried you for 9 mos and gave birth. After that, she did nothing but damage your trust, so “Mom” does not apply. Many people have others in their lives who are NOT biologically related, such as a step-mom or step-dad, who do deserve the title of “Mom” or “Dad,” because they are not evil, destructive, narcissistic people, but people who love you and show that love in normal ways. Yet they may not ever be called, “Mom” or “Dad” which to me, seems an injustice. At least if the person recognizes that the bio-parent is NOT deserving of the title, and that the relationship is one of dysfunction, they are then free to appreciate the people in their life who truly love and cherish them.

How did your niece come to live with her? You stated that you and two siblings have cut ties so what is with the parents of this child. The kid is only seven years of age. :eek:

I can’t patch things up with my mother, unfortunately. This is an abusive and manipulative situation. I have tried counseling. It did not help, because my counselour did not really believe me and she gave me some very bad advice. My self-help books and my friends and my inlaws (who have all known my mother for about 18 years) have helped me far more.

My mother is actually not even welcome in our house anymore, and besides, she lives 650 miles away. On top of that, I have never trusted her to be alone with my children. Her behavior is dangerous and erratic, and she is constantly using some kind of pills or another, which add to the danger level. So no visits are even an option. The topic I asked about here was specific to the cards she sent.

I also remember your first post about your mom and replied there. You are absolutely doing the right thing, Sirach’s response was cruel and inaccurate, Jesus had a few choice words for people who damage children if I recall.

I still regret that we wasted so many years trying to appease my mother, who thought she was some kind of goddess to be worshipped. She was actually a mean, selfish, abusive adulteress. Her selfishness was truly superhuman. She felt that she should come before my husband and children, and this after subjecting me to a childhood fit for a TV melodrama.

Advice to let your husband handle this, open all correspondence and determine whether it is appropriate to give to the children is excellent. Do not give them anything unopened.

One year when we were not talking to my half-sister, who has serious mental health issues, she sent a box to my son for his eighth birthday. Now we do not talk because it stresses us both out too much, but my sister is a very good person. Still we were shocked when he read the card which told him that his parents were much too strict and that he should run away and go live with her.

Do not give them anything without reading it first! We laugh about it now, our older ones are adults, but if a resentful or rebellious child received such a card it could be disastrous.

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