DEAR AMY: My mother is very manipulative and controlling. Her moods swing at the drop of a hat, and she can be very cruel (i.e. making fun of my 10-year-old niece when she started crying for her parents), to the point that none of her grandchildren want to be with her. I'm a single mom. She is constantly criticizing me and my parenting, to the point where I feel uncomfortable around her and awful about myself. Today, we were discussing something via email and she sent back an email stating that she does not feel appreciated by me or my sisters and wants to end her life, but won't do so because of how it would make my grandmother (her mother) feel. I don't know how to respond to this and wonder if I should just separate myself from her for good. Before you suggest it, she is in therapy, but the therapist, we feel, is just taking her money. I want a normal relationship with a normal mother. Please help.
-- Tired Daughter
DEAR TIRED: The "normal" mother-daughter relationship you imagine is rarer than you realize. And, unfortunately, you will simply never have it.
Here's what you do have: A maddening, demanding, manipulative, critical parent who will really stop at nothing to emotionally control you.
Here's her message to you: "My daughters don't appreciate me, and so I'm going to kill myself -- except I'm not going to kill myself because I'm such a good daughter."
You should respond honestly: "This is a frightening statement for you to make. I'm worried about you and hope your therapy is helping you."
You must build boundaries around your life. You might choose to sever the relationship, but don't be surprised if she beats you to the punch and cuts you off.
Unfortunately, sometimes toxic people are so resistant to change that therapy does not really help them -- but they send everybody else into therapy to find ways to cope. I highly recommend it for you.