When Your Mother Needs Mothering

Whether shes mentally ill or addicted to alcohol, your mothers problem can impact profoundly

‘My mother was Cleopatra – no wonder I was in denial,’ says Sandra*, a 25-year-old Durban student. ‘De Nile, denial, get it? Sorry, old family joke.’ Desperate jokes and bursts of hysterical laughter are what Sandra says kept her and her younger sister sane while growing up with a manic-depressive mother. ‘My earliest memories are of Mom in heavy eyeliner, an old kaftan and a Cleopatra bob she’d cut herself, berating a wide-eyed new gardener for not bowing when she approached. Dad had warned him that Mom sometimes acted a little strangely but he said she was possessed by bad spirits and quit on the spot. Not many people can take it. But when it’s your mom who’s affected, you don’t have much choice.’
Growing up with a psychologically ill mother can leave emotional scars and lead to patterns of behaviour in childhood that are often carried into adulthood. Learning what you can do to avoid repeating this behaviour in relationships with others further down the line can go a long way towards helping you to lead a healthy life.

1 Accept feelings such as shame, anger, fear or even hatred as normal.
2 Establish a support network with family and friends to share the load of caring for or simply living with your mother.
3 Write down your feelings in a journal, or write letters to your mother that you don’t send.
4 Go for individual and/or group therapy.
5 Let go of guilt.
6 Choose not to do the self-destructive things your mother may have done.
7 If someone is destroying you, get away, whether it’s your mother or ill-picked partners.
8 Forgive, pamper and indulge yourself.
9 Eat well, exercise regularly, meditate or pray.
10 Educate yourself – read about your mother’s condition and contact support groups for information:

Mental illness The Mental Health Information Centre (021) 938-9229; The SA Depression and Anxiety Group (011) 262 6396, 0800 567 567 (toll-free).
Alcohol and drug abuse South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (Sanca) (011) 482-1070, (021) 945-4080, (031) 202-2241, e-mail lulama@mweb.co.za, visit www.sancanational.org.sa; the Cape Town Drug Counselling Centre (021) 447-8026, visit www.drugcentre.org.sa; Narcotics Anonymous SA: Gauteng (011) 485-5248, Western Cape 088 130 0327, KZN 088 127 8832, visit www.na.org.sa.

* Name has been changed