I went to pack our things and caught my mom ruffling through my toiletries bag. (Artwork: Tess Emily Rodriguez)
She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to… Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions about anything at all.
I have a difficult relationship with my mother. A lot of people say "oh, haha, my parents are weird" — but there's quirky and then there's mentally ill. I'm starting to think my mom has passed over from one to the other.
My wife is having some medical problems that we've chosen not to discuss in full with our families just yet, but it does involve my wife being on a medication that she 100% can't get pregnant on.
We had to travel for one of her medical appointments and stayed in my mom's guest room to save money since our medical debt is piling up really fast. We would have stayed at a hotel but we've maxed out credit cards and were close to some major overdraft fees, that's how desperate we were for a free room for one night. Otherwise, we wouldn't have stopped.
When we got back from my wife's appointment, I went to pack our things and caught my mom ruffling through my toiletries bag. My mom smiled and said she was going to surprise us and do our laundry and scuttled out of the room, which I thought was weird because she wasn't near our clothes.
When we got home my wife was unpacking our bags and noticed the condoms we keep in the toiletries bag looked weird.
We took a closer look, and they've all got holes in them. This was done with some serious finesse because I almost wouldn't have noticed. Thankfully my wife has an IUD, but this was really upsetting.
This kind of behavior and things like it have created a pattern, and I'm ready to end the relationship with my mother. My wife agrees, but we're both really close with my siblings and step-father. I discussed this with my sister, and she was horrified; my step-father said my mother'd been "off" lately but this isn't forgetting your keys, this is deliberate and malicious.
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Okay, you didn’t ask me a question per se, but I believe you wrote in because you are having a normal reaction to what your mom did — that reaction being WTF, MOM.
What your mom did was so wrong on oh so many levels.
She violated your privacy, your wife’s health, and your ability to make choices. Why did she do it? Maybe she thinks what she did was right in her quest to push you towards giving her a grandchild (which is so messed up). Maybe she has mental health issues going on or some sort of dementia setting in. If it is a psychological or medical issue, the family should help get to the bottom of this.
While it is important to understand why she did it, that doesn’t mean you can’t set a boundary with her. In fact, you should set a boundary with her.
I have this discussion a lot with people in the column and IRL. Setting boundaries with family members, especially parents can be challenging. But you owe yourself and your wife healthy boundaries, even with your mother.
When people have crossed a boundary sneakily, as your mom did, the best remedy is to be direct about it.
Get it out in the open. Let your mom know that you are aware of what she did, tell her how you feel about it, and establish a boundary for your relationship. You and your wife can decide to what degree you want to let your mom into your life.
And whatever boundary you set with her is for her alone. Be clear and direct with your siblings and step-father as well about the boundaries you set. Don’t let things be murky or vague.
My hunch is that something is going on with your mom, mentally or physically, if others are noticing she if “off.” As a family, this needs to be addressed.
If I were in your shoes, I would have a conversation with my mother, preferably in person, and ask her to see a doctor about what you are all noticing.
Come from a place of love rather than an accusation; you can do this with kindness and still set that boundary.
The information within Ask Erin should in no way be interpreted as medical advice because I’m not a medical professional. But I am here to help — to share with you the wisdom I’ve gained after years of making mistakes. If you have a question for me about relationships, addiction, dating, friendships, depression, parenting, sex, consent, what I’m listening to, what I’m watching, Dioptase, or anything at all, use the contact form below or email me at email@example.com. As always, your anonymity is golden. Lastly, I’m so excited to share with you my Ask Erin Self-Care Guide, free when you sign up for my weekly newsletter. xoxo