Eat, Pray, Cope: What Kind Of Toxic Mother Do You Have?

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Coping with your difficult older parentWhen I think about my dream of writing a story about toxic mothers and their daughters, I wonder how many conversations the daughters have had with their family; how many books they’ve read; how many movies they’ve watched hoping for a few moments of enlightenment when it comes to dealing with their toxic mom.

As daughters of toxic mothers it sometimes feels like all we do is eat, pray and cope.

My book about surviving toxic moms will include plenty of stories on coping and rich resources. That’s why I want to introduce you to someone else’s wonderful book today.

Coping with your Difficult Older Parent: a Guide for Stressed-Out Children by social workers Grace Lebow and Barbara Kane (with Irwin Lebow) was published in 1999 by Quill (Harper Collins). This slim volume offers tons of information to help you decode your mother’s behavior. It also provides great information on ward ing off arguments, stress and guilt.

Not sure what “type” of difficult mom you’ve got?

The book includes a short multiple choice questionnaire. Maybe it’ll warm you up for my “Confessions of an Undutiful Daughter ” questionnaire found in my previous column Got a Dream? Ask for Help.”

And yes, I’m still collecting them; still want them.

Coping with your Difficult Older Parent was written by elder-care experts with the goal of educating the reader on typical problems and workable solutions. They stress kindness and communication but emphasize setting boundaries and taking care of oneself first in order to be there for a parent. They regularly recommend limiting contact, hiring helpers, making unpopular decisions (like taking dad’s car keys or moving mom into a retirement home) with step-by-step scenarios.

Eat, Pray, Cope: EatInstead of eating ice cream next time your mom drives you to Crazy Town, try gobbling up the wisdom in these chapters.

I can’t say enough nice things about this smart book especially for those of you who would prefer to maintain some kind of relationship with a toxic mother. Here’s your guidebook.

The book commences with descriptions of basic types of difficult parents, which can help the daughters of toxic mothers get a handle on what they are dealing with. (Sometimes we are so close to our mothers we cannot see what kind of people they really are.)

The categories put forth by Lebow & Kane include:

The Dependent, The Black & White, The Negative, The Self-Centered/Vain, The Controller, The Self-Abusive/Depressed, The Fearful, and The Mourning parent.

Eat, Pray, Cope: PrayDo you ever pray for wisdom when dealing with your mother?

How would you deal with The Dependent (or an insanely clinging and guilt inducing) mother?

Whatever you do…

  • Don’t get angry and give your parent hell. It makes both of you feel worse and solves nothing.
  • Recognize that deep down your parent feels miserable. These feelings are what are at the root of difficult behaviors.
  • Don’t try to reason with your parent. Her behavior is not rational. Decide ahead of time what you can and cannot do.

A lot of us with toxic mothers think of them as negative. Lebow and Kane say you can manage a black mood mama.

  • Keep your visits with a negative parent short.
  • Avoid the trap of doing things with and for your parent that are most likely to bring out her negativity. Pick activities that are most pleasurable for her and for you.
  • Try to keep from becoming negative yourself. Negativity is contagious.

Eat, Pray, Cope: CopeThis is the type of little self-help book that you can read in an evening or in a few minutes dig out the bits that apply to you. It’s obvious in every page that the authors know their stuff, want good outcomes for all parties and encourage readers to do the work they must to have the best family relationships possible.

Have you read a book that you can recommend to your fellow readers?

That’s what the “comments” section is for. See it there? Down at the bottom?

We’re all looking for answers so if you have a great book recommendation, please share.

One thing that really stuck with me while reading this book was Lebow and Kane’s theory that so many difficult parents are actually victims of their own limitations; a concept that might help you attain some level of sympathy for a toxic mother.

It could happen!

The authors acknowledge that many people have to face a simple truth:

Giving up the hope that your parent will one day show you more acceptance and love is an extremely painful experience.


Rayne’s dream is to write her first book Confessions of an Undutiful Daughter by the end of 2012. She completed her dream journey on 8WD after a year living her dream. You can find her at Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook.

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  • Toni Schram

    The more I read your horror stories about your mother, the more I am grateful for the wonderful mother I was blessed with.

    Rayne-your work will be very important to so many. Those who can not put it into words as eloquently as you.

    It will be very theraputic for so many and I hope you will find peace within after completing this project.


    • Rayne

      Peace within – what a concept!

  • Rayne

    Now that I’ve filled out and posted my questionnaire I totally get why it’s a challenge!
    Keep plugging away and know that I need them and treasure each one!

  • Heather, CEO and serial entrepreneur

    Rayne – great post and coping advice as always. I am still working on my toxic mother questionnaire. It takes a lot outta ya!

  • Catherine, Site Admin

    Oh Remy I know what you mean about the parents yelling from the stands at their kids. We still see it in football – the father yelling from the fence while the parents in the stands shake their heads. I saw these types of “backstage parents” when we were in ballet and not one of the girls who were pushed went on in ballet. They quit as soon as they could. The parent sucked the life out of the kids dream.

    I’m sitting here thinking about what book really helped me in life . . . there’s The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho – a book that alludes to that fact that all of us have a purpose and a dream.

    It started me thinking about dreaming a long time ago.

    Love this post –


    • Rayne

      Thanks for the book recommendation. I’ll put it on my list: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

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    • Rayne

      Thanks everyone for reposting the link!

  • Remy G

    The “theory that so many difficult parents are actually victims of their own limitations” –

    I used to call this the “little league parent syndrome” – I was a scorekeeper for my sons league for many years. It was incredible to me to watch parents yell out to their kids from the stands or from the outfield grass…not wanting their kids to fail made for incredibly intense dialogue – it used to drive the coaches and umpires crazy. Some parents would fight with each other – even removed from the field cause they were so bad.

    I work with alot of business owner clients who by the time they get to me could be very angry about the current condition/ limitations of their business. They tend to blame everyone else for that happening and they need help. (I dont have a book to recommend about how to deal with it, but my BA is in psychology so of course i like to ask questions!)

    I simply ask them to consider that “most anger is based on fear. so what are you afraid of at this moment” – and that allows them to look inward to where the possible solutions could come from.

    So I could turn that idea around to parents…mom- when she used to get angry at me, it was mostly for my appearance (I was such a tomboy), my clothes, hair, what my room looked like (messy) – because she didn’t want to look bad for having disheveled kids – my actions and my ‘style’ was embarrassing to her, and she didn’t want others to make judgments about her because of me. very twisted, but I get it now, at 43. She’s gotten alot better, tho, and I was even able to stop her doing that to my son when he was 12 –
    Thanks for the insights, good tie in to EPL, lol – and the book recommendation. I’ll pass it alot to a few friends.
    I cant wait to read your book.

    • Rayne

      The main gift of maturing is the perspective that allows you to think things trough; to just see people as people. It’s amazing to me how some relationship problems can be so befuddling, but them you’ll read something or have a conversation with a stranger and then it’s just unlocked.

      That’s why creating forums for discussion is so important. Probably why I’m enjoying my book project so much.