“Honor your father and your mother so that you may have a long life.” Exodus 20:12 (CSB). This has been one of the more challenging on the Ten Commandments for me to keep since my mother often resorts to toxic tactics in our relationship.
I thought that in the last five or so years, I’ve been making progress. And that my relationship with my mother has been improving.
Last spring, she was finally able to get a tourist visa, and my husband and I paid for her to come visit us for 10 days.
During the first 5 days of her visit, she put me through such an emotional roller-coaster that my husband insisted we send her back to Russia as soon as possible (and regardless of how expensive it was to exchange her ticket).
Those five days were enough to bring all of the bad stuff in our relationship to the surface with a vengeance. It’s been a year now, and I have barely written to my mother (and have not spoken to her at all).
5 Ways to Avoid Toxic Motherhood
If you don’t want to find yourself in this kind of predicament as a mother, then make sure you don’t have these toxic qualities that have ruined my relationship with my mom.
1. Calling Your Kids Names
I remember many of the names my mother called me during the first 18 years of my life (before I left home to move to the United States). Some of the names were more hurtful than others; some were variations of Russian swear words that I would not be able to translate to English even if I wanted.
Each name called is like a brand, seared into my soul. Each name called glaring at me in the mirror… unshakable, reinforced by repetition.
Some name-calling is obvious—swear words, demeaning or degrading terms; but some name-calling is relatively mild and can easily slip off our tongues.
You might not flat-out call your kid “stupid,” but saying something like “What were you thinking?” in an accusing tone of voice might send the same message to your child.
Dear mother reading this, if you ever call your kid(s) names, please resolve right now to STOP this toxic habit!!!
2. Comparing with other kids
My mother often complained how so-and-so’s kid was so much better than me at school or sports or even at cleaning the house.
I don’t know if she thought it was some kind of weird motivation to get me to do better at those things… Maybe in a way, it even did.
I’m definitely an overachiever and very competitive. I ended up graduating from high school as a valedictorian and graduating from law school in the top 10% of my class.
However, I believe there are other more positive ways to cultivate the love of learning and pursuit of excellence in your kids that are not going to give your children unhealthy habits or make them resent you.
If you like to compare your kid(s) to other children who are better at doing something, please STOP this toxic habit!!!
3. Unfair with chores
I am all for teaching kids to help with various chores, but it has to be fair.
My mother would often expect me to clean the house. I usually did try to do my best. But she would inevitably come back to check my work after I was done and find something to complain about.
One day it might be that I did not wipe the tops of the baseboards… another day it might be that I did not dust the tops of the kitchen cabinets. Without asking me beforehand to do those things, I felt it was unfair to blame me for not doing them (after I generally did a decent job cleaning the house).
Another thing is that my mother loved parties. So, my parents would often have parties at our apartment. Unfortunately for me, those parties usually involved a lot of drinking, a huge mess in the kitchen, and all of the adults going to bed drunk without cleaning up.
In the mornings, my mother would get up hung-over and beyond cranky and yell at me for not cleaning up their party mess in the kitchen. I always felt that it was so unfair to be expected to clean up after their drunken parties.
If you’re unfair with your kids’ chores (expectations beyond kids’ age, arbitrary and changing standards), please stop and set the expectations and work together as a team to avoid breeding resentment.
4. Be a Better Mother – Avoid Projecting
As mothers, I think many of us get caught up thinking that our kids are a direct reflection of how good of parents we are.
When and where I grew up, the parent-teacher conferences were done in a public forum. Even though I was an A-student most of the time, my mother would always come home from these parent-teacher conferences unhappy. Her main complaint usually would be how embarrassed *she* was about something that the teacher mentioned about me.
It even got worse. After I graduated high school as a valedictorian, I applied to the Moscow State University. It was a weird deal in Russia that you could only apply to one university and only for a fall semester admission. The system was also very corrupt.
I’m smart, but I’m no genius. And unless you knew who to bribe, you had to be a genius to get admitted to a university the caliber of the Moscow State University. And so, I failed the admissions.
At the time, my dreams were crushed (and my ego too). We were in Moscow still when the rejection was made. We were staying with my great aunt. My mom had a fit. She was upset and yelling at me. She called me names, but the worst thing that stuck in my mind all these years was her saying: “How could I go back home and look people in the eye?”
Instead of recognizing my distress, instead of comforting my crushed spirit, she was concerned with her image. I did not get admitted to the Moscow State University, but it was her dreams and her ego that were really crushed that day.
Dear mama, please don’t base your dreams and your ego on your children’s accomplishments. Don’t worry about what people might think or say about you as a mother. Focus on supporting your children and comforting them when things don’t go their way. Show them you love them NO. MATTER. WHAT.
My mother is a travel agent for guilt trips! I know this is supposed to make you chuckle, but guilt-tripping is so toxic. And at times, I think all of us have been guilty of doing it to our loved ones.
My mother did a lot for me and sacrificed a lot; I have no doubt about that. But she would always love to remind me just how much she sacrificed, while trying to get me to do something. She loved, still loves, playing a martyr to get what she wants.
And that is the crux of guilt-tripping, making people you love feel guilty in order to get them to do something for you. Basically, it’s a form of psychological manipulation.
One of the worst examples of her guilt-tripping was a few years after I left Russia for the United States. My family has always been poor, so I would send them whatever money I could when they asked.
Often, these money requests came with some kind of a guilt-trip from my mother. She just loved painting pictures of horrible diseases and death to get me to send them money. One time, she wrote to me that my dad was ready to go dumpster-diving if I did not send the money. This was the worst image to me for some reason (more so than diseases and deaths).
In reality, all she had to do was ask. Not just for money, for anything else in my life that she got from me through guilt-tripping.
Dear mamas, your children most likely would be willing to do whatever you ask for without you having to guilt-trip them. If you get what you want by guilt-tripping, they will resent you in the end for it.
It’s hard to be a Better Mother
Since I grew up with all of these toxic behaviors, unfortunately, they are such familiar patters for me. So I have to work twice as hard to shake them off and not to repeat them as I mother my own children.
Are there other toxic behaviors that are threatening your motherhood? Leave a comment so we can brainstorm ways of how to overcome them.
Tatyana Gray is a homeschooling mother of two. She has walked away from a career as a lawyer to be a full-time wife and mother and has never looked back. She now writes about family, motherhood, and home education at her blog, TatyanaGray.com.