When My Mother Was Healthy, I Was Worthless To Her

My toxic relationship with my perpetually angry mom.

Woman using hands to say bring it, mother was healthy and I was worthless to her Nicholas Piccillo | Shutterstock, Aleksei Koldunov | Canva

My mother was not always horrible. Yes, she was narcissistic, misogynistic, and cold, but she wasn’t always mean.

When I look back on her later years — the ones with dementia and full-blown mental illness — I’ll think of her as difficult more than unkind. She also had moments when I was growing up when she was my advocate and was often fun to be around.

However, between the time when she started into old age and when she became dependent on others, she was a toxic terror. She spewed malicious opinions about almost everyone, including her family, got increasingly antisemitic, and had zero empathy for anyone.


Qualities that would be admirable in someone else, like speaking one’s mind or being angry, were toxic in my mother. 

RELATED: 3 Signs You Have An Emotionally Immature Mom, According To A Toxic Mom Recovery Coach

After receiving a breakup letter from my mother, I waited for about a month and called her. I should have waited two months or started our break from each other right then and there. She began the conversation by saying that it was sometimes necessary to get intensely angry at someone. She described how she had marched into the dentist’s office and yelled at the dentist’s wife and head receptionist. I’m not sure why my mom was so angry, but it’s an emotion with which she was extremely comfortable.


Angry mother yelling on the phone fizkes / Shutterstock

Before my mother decided she was done with me, she had been somewhat incommunicado. I kept trying to call her using her code of ring once, hang up, and call back, but I had no luck getting in touch with her. 

I was alarmed that I didn’t know if she was okay but relieved that I didn’t have to talk to her. She had a Life Alert then but didn’t always wear the pendant if it didn’t go with her outfit. She may have been old, but she was still vain. Sometimes, even the snappiest dresser can’t rock a Life Alert with a tweed skirt.


I lived three hundred miles away and could never be sure if she’d fallen and couldn’t get up, if her Life Alert console wasn’t plugged in or working, or if she simply wasn’t answering it. After calling various family members, I finally called the dentist’s office, which happened to be next door. My mother still lives in a really small town, and everybody knows her (and, I suspect, avoids her). The dental staff confirmed a mom sighting that morning.

When I finally got a hold of her and told her I’d called the dentist’s office, she was furious that they hadn’t come over to tell her and check on her. She thought they should have investigated further. Her logic was they’d made sure that her two real teeth and gums were healthy, so why hadn’t they made sure the rest of her was, too? Even if they had come over to check, there’s no guarantee she’d have opened the door or even responded when they called her name.

My mother’s point in the “yelling at the dentist's wife” story was that it’s always better to get your feelings out than to keep them to yourself. She thought she’d earned the right (by getting old) to speak her mind, no matter how hurtful it might be. If screaming at someone made her feel better, then that was a good thing as far as she was concerned. I didn’t inherit this trait, as I prefer to avoid confrontation.

RELATED: Meet Confrontation Head-On Without Upsetting Anyone (Including Yourself!)


My mother believed that people who keep their emotions to themselves have strokes. Oh, and people who are too kind to their fellow human beings have heart attacks. She had quite a litany of medical theories. If her theories were correct, it’s not surprising she had neither a heart attack nor a stroke. Her combative personality possibly elongated her life.

After giving me a full report of all her animals inside and out, she finally came to the topic I’d been dreading: her assessment of my behavior during our last visit when we visited her future grave.

If your parent suggests a family trip to the cemetery where they wish to be buried, try to get out of it. Our field trip to the boneyard wasn’t exactly fun — more like horrible.

She wasn’t happy with me, as her letter had indicated. I pointed out to her how she was wrong about several things in the letter; for instance, how could she have seen the petulant look on my face when I was seated in the front of the car and she was in the back? Then there’s the fact that she only has one good eye. 


Our conversation became heated as my mother listed all my crimes, and then to top it off; she called me a pissant. I ended the call quickly after.

The next day, I looked up the definition of pissant, and the online dictionary confirmed what I suspected — pissant means insignificant. Having a parent call their only living child insignificant seems extremely mean and hits me hard.

I was sitting at the computer at work crying about how my own mother believed that my life meant nothing, and I started to get angry. I hoped she meant pissy, which wasn’t great but would be easier to take. Furious, I called her when I got home. I was glad she had previously commented about how much she respected anger because she was about to get a huge dose of it.

“I’m not insignificant!” I yelled into the phone.


Yet another time, I was grateful I didn’t live close to her.

“I never called you insignificant,” my mother said, confused.

“Well, that’s what pissant means.”

She then said that if she had meant insignificant, she would have said it or another word. How was I supposed to know that? Sometimes, when my mother speaks, it’s like a foreign language, and there isn’t a translator nearby. I felt I was on trial and had to plead why I deserved my mother’s respect and love. But my mother had already shut down and hung up the phone without saying anything.

RELATED: The Final Straw That Forced Me To Stop Talking To My Toxic Parents


I told my niece, who also has a complicated non-relationship with my mother, and my niece said something wise: “Your problem is that you think of your mother as a mother.”

A week later, my mother sent me a card (snail mail is always her favorite way to stick it to anyone) and said, “I was bemused at your indignation. I was not, am not, critical of your life — just your crappy way of behaving here.” I was not exactly comforted by her explanation.

As you can guess, I’m always on my best behavior around my mother and try not to get into arguments or enrage her. I would call my actions thoughtful, considerate, and nice, but my mother dislikes nice people. She signed her card, “I would say I love you, but the word love has lost its meaning for me.” She sure had no problem saying it when she told me, “My animals are the only thing I love.”


At the time, my mother didn’t understand love, affection, or family, but she did respect anger. I didn’t want to waste any emotion on her or fix our relationship — our relationship was too insignificant for that. But instead of taking the opportunity to separate from her, I stayed.

Her attitude toward family flipped when she realized she needed us. My mother never appreciated either my niece or me — she only liked my nephews and my nephew-in-law — that whole misogynist thing rearing its ugly head, but we’re all still there doing what we can for her, even if it means from miles away.

Never underestimate the power of a pissant with mother issues.

RELATED: 5 Ways To Heal From A Toxic Relationship With Your Mom


Christine Schoenwald is a writer, performer, and frequent contributor to YourTango. She's had articles featured in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, Bustle, Medium, Huffington Post, Business Insider, and Woman's Day, among many others.