Running from the Scary Mommy

A blog I love, Scary Mommy, is having a Scary Mommy writing contest and it intrigued me. I’m always looking for ideas on what to write about and truth be told, I needed inspiration for another post. I’ve known about the topic for 3 days now but have struggled with whether to participate or not. Because, you see, I’ve spent my entire stint at motherhood avoiding just that – The Scary Mommy.


I was raised by a Scary Mommy. And I’m terrified of becoming her. My mother has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). This disorder has been pooh-poohed by some in the psychiatry field. But take it from one who has lived it – it exists. I recently read a book about BPD and it lists signs that your loved one may have it. I cried when I finished. It described my mother to a tee. I no longer felt crazy anymore.

You see one thing BPD’s are really good at is hiding it from others. Some people would comment how wonderful my mother was and I’d have to keep my face from revealing my confusion. I’ve learned to smile and nod. Others, who were subjected to her whims, would wonder if I’m as rude, as careless with people’s feelings, too. Childhood friends would talk about us as the ideal family and my sister and I thought they were nuts. They had no idea what went on behind closed doors.

 The Scary Mommy I know pulls you by your hair. Tells you you’re worthless. Criticizes your clothes, your friends, your figure, the books you read. They favor one child over the other making you feel guilty when you’re on top, eager to step over your siblings in order to please her when you’re in the doghouse.

Scary Mommys blame everyone else for their problems. Leaving you to pick up the pieces. Make things better. You become the fixer. You learn the term ‘co-dependant’ at too young an age.

Scary Mommys sometimes drink too much, punch holes in walls, break window panes, take medications. Sleep for days.

Scary Mommys wallow in dark, negative places. Or relish tragedy and drama. They turn other people’s pain into their own. They have few friends. The friends they do have rarely last. One day they’re ‘the sweet lady who lives next door’, the next day they’re ‘the spinster.’

I don’t want to be that mommy. I want laughter to spill over in all situations. I don’t want my children to test the waters every morning when they wake up to see what mood I’m in. I want my children to be children while they’re children. I don’t want miniature adults running around fixing, care taking, re-building.

I’m so scared of becoming a scary mommy I’m constantly doubting myself. I check in with my “barometers” (husband, therapist, sister, friends) constantly to make sure I’m making good choices. When I stumble and glimpse hints of a scary mommy in the mirror I panic. I go overboard. I spoil. Become permissive. Defend my child when I shouldn’t.

But I am a scary mommy. No matter how hard I try not to be. We all do it. It can’t be avoided. No matter how idyllic our childhood was. But in my reality I feel I’m Scary Mommy more often than most.

I struggle to make peace with my scary side. Forgive myself. Learn from it. Move on.

But it is so hard. So very, very hard.

And I struggle. And I try. I try hard every day to leave scary mommy in the shadows where she belongs.

And most days I never see her.

Thank God.


Filed under Growing Up, parenting

20 responses to “Running from the Scary Mommy

  1. Steven Harris

    I had a Scary Daddy which meant that I also had a Clinically Depressed Mummy. Even as grown up it is hard not to live in the shadows of a scary parent as I think all such children grow up afraid of turning into that parent themselves. If you are acknowledging that struggle in yourself you are already many steps ahead of where your own Scary Mommy was. Congratulations.

  2. I second Steven. If you need proof that you are not your mother……this post was it. The people who turn into their parents are the ones who have no insight, no self-reflection. That, my dearest, is NOT you. Having a barometer is a healthy thing for all mothers. Thank you for sharing this. It shows your true strength. We all try to fight the good fight everyday….some days are better than others….but most turn out with bright blue skys when we try!

  3. Oh I am so sorry you had to live through that. My husband’s sister had BPD and died of a heroin overdose about six years ago.

    His parents do not have any diagnosed mental illness, but they are alcoholics who do not respect any boundaries (if you are having a fight with your husband and have locked yourself in the bathroom, it is not appropriate to call your son to complain) and who tell my husband that he is responsible for their happiness (not those words, but almost).

    I went to a reading the other night by a psychotherapist whose mother was schizophrenic. She has managed to have a happy life. The key thing for her and those in the audience who also had mentally ill parents appeared to be awareness, which you obviously have. Hang in there.

  4. angelcel

    This may be why I seem to relate to you. I had my own version of a Scary Mummy – emotionally stunted, cold, unforgiving, critical and always favouring my brother, always telling me *why* my brother was so much better than me. It leaves you with a whole load of baggage to deal with as an adult and even though she has passed away now, as Steve says, I still often struggle not to live in her shadow and hate it when I see aspects of her in what I do, think and say.

    The good news in all this is that my daughters are now adults and I think, I hope, that ironically my childhood experience may have made me a better mother. (Certainly we’re a very loving family). I so lacked affection as a child that I was a very tactile and affectionate mother. I so lacked reassurance and praise that I took every opportunity to praise my girls – and still do.

    That’s a brave piece of writing but I know it helps me a lot when I see that I’m not alone. I hope it helps you to hear likewise from our comments.

  5. Jane, I don’t know you in real life, but based on the dialogues I’ve had with you thru our blogs, you are a self-reflective, conscientious, caring and kind soul striving to do the right thing, all the time. You will never be like your mother even if you tried. There is just no way. We all have doubts about our parenting choices (or more often than not in my case, parenting moments induced by emotions and not reason). Children don’t come with manuals, and we learn as we go. I am sorry that on “bad mommy days” you are probably much more stressed out than the most of us who didn’t have the bad childhood memories. But please remember: we all have those days when we are not proud of ourselves. THAT in no way makes you a Scary Mommy a la Mommy Dearest. If anything, I believe your experience makes you a even better mom because you actually make a conscious effort to be “good”. On most days, my goal is just so my kids don’t grow up to be serial killers.

  6. queencityma

    That is so scary. I know a few BPD women and I can’t imagine dealing with that as a child.

  7. Sorry about that, it posted under my mom’s site. This is me.

  8. Oh gosh… I am sorry for what you had to grow up with… but I agree with everyone else… you are not a scary mommy… the fact that you are always watching yourself to make sure you do not become HER says it all…

    Thank you for your lovely comment today! (the dark Norwegian winters get me down & make me homesick… I’m from Houston ; ) (you guessed it!)

  9. Wow, Jane, talk about timing — I hope you have a chance to visit my blog and watch the 45 second video I posted today, and the story I’m uploading on Monday. I would love your input because honestly, I have been struggling with what to do. It is not easy to talk about the other side of the front door — especially when it has been assigned glorious labels like “mental illness” which I for one would like to see, changed. No one is born with BPD, yet feeling stuck between wanting to be normal and not knowing what ‘normal’, is, sucks. I understand the cleansing tears of opening a book, and reading for the first time in my life, that I was normal… I was born good enough, and that there is nothing wrong with me —– What I know for sure, because I have been both the victim and perpetrator, is that breaking free BPD is easier than trying to manage life the other way. And it only takes a few months. Isn’t that unbelievable? The books on this very topic tell us just the opposite. I will spend the rest of my life demonstrating how wrong they are. In fact, (though you probably already know this), it’s why I do what I do. Thank you for sharing your story. God bless you.

  10. This is such a corageous an awesome post. My mother was definitely a scary mommy a great deal of the time. And when she wasn’t, she was ideal, which was completely “trippy” to a kid. On my dark days I fear I’m like her, but I know, even at my worst, I’m not. She allowed herself to sink into despair and blame others. I will never do that. And it doesn’t sound like you do either. I agree with the above comments; being aware is over half the battle. And being brave enough to talk about it. Thanks!

  11. Oh, Jane. . . . a big hug to you for your bravery.

    A child psychologist told me once that a child can deal with a bad parent–he learns to avoid her. It’s when she changes back and forth that the kid gets messed up because he loses the ability to trust others or even himself. Sounds like you had one of those. Lucy, pulling the football away at the last second.

    I don’t know anyone who feels they were “good enough” as a parent. Trust yourself.

  12. Thank you so much for sharing this. My sister has BPD, and after reading what I have about the disorder, I am fairly certain my mother has some form of it as well. I struggle everyday with depression and with wanting to be a better mother – thank you for letting me know that I am not alone and for reminding me that accepting is half the battle.

  13. I agree with everyone else who said you are not a scary mommy because you actually care and worry about being a scary mommy. Insight, self-reflection and awareness will always separate you from those that are. I always worry about my “scare” factor with my daughter and step daughters (no one is perfect, especially after a stressful day). The fact that it hurts you to hurt anyone else? That is the key I think.

  14. i’m so sorry for that child who had a truly scary mommy. and how lucky for the children of that child who gives them what she didn’t have.
    this post…wow, amazing. thank you. for sharing this story.

  15. Joe

    I had an idea about what I wanted to say until I read the comments, and everyone said what I was thinking. By recognizing your actions and actively thinking about them before and after they happen i key. I find that hard to do with myself. I don’t have children, but even with things between my wife, family, friends, and coworkers, I think I need to do more of this self-reflection myself. This is a main reason I love reading your blog. You have the ability to get people to look around and look within themselves in ways they may not have thought about before.

    And to follow up on your comments on my wedding slideshow, thanks! The wedding was a blast, and we wouldn’t have done a single thing differently.

  16. I honestly don’t know what to say. I’m awed. Stunned. Touched. I had no idea I would touch people in this way. I had no idea the beautiful out pouring of support I would receive. Or the sweet vote of confidence you all have given me as a parent. There is a part of me that is denying that you truly know me well enough to be able to say what you’re saying with any validity – but then there’s another part that acknowledges the fact that when we write honestly about our lives/our perceptions/our feelings we learn so much about each other and ourselves. I suppose, especially to those of you who have been reading me for awhile now, that you DO know me. And for that I am so very, very grateful that I have somehow attracted such beautiful, giving, kind people. Honestly. I’m at a loss for words. I want to write each of you an individual thank you note but I’d be up all night. This will have to do. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kind words, encouragement and support. It means so much to me.

  17. This is brutally honest and brilliant. I think we’ve all seen Scary Mommy in the mirror a time or two.

  18. I am so sorry you missed out on being close to your Mom. But you won’t make the same mistakes. Instead you know the kind of mom you want to be, so relax. Enjoy the time you have with your kids and make great memories. Breathe…….

  19. LisaF

    Ditto to insider53’s thoughts. The fact that you are so very aware of the dangers and ramifications makes you a “not scary mommy.” My kids would have surely given me the “meanest mommy in the world” award as teenagers, but my youngest actually invited my husband and I to accompany her entourage while celebrating her 21st birthday — as the DDs, of course! And my oldest thinks I’m the wisest woman in the world now that she has kids. Hang in there. From what you’ve shared in your posts, you have a beautiful soul.

  20. The worst thing ever is to feel like you are not good enough as a mother or that you are so undeserving of the child (ren) you have to share life with. I feel that way a good part of the time. I struggle with BPD. I am scared to see “The Scary Mommy” in me. I feel like I know she lives here inside of me, but I am trying my very hardest not to act out on the symptoms most commonly associated with BPD as an excuse to not take responsibility for hurting another…even my own child. I wish I could read more about other mothers who feel the same way I do. I just don’t know many mothers first-hand in day-to-day life. I kind of isolate myself in some ways. I truly am honored you wrote this post, and feel like I connected with much of what you said about how BPD has affected you. My hope is that we continue to be constantly aware of our actions, reactions and interactions with others, so that we can enjoy life without fear and love the moment we experience in the here and now…not yesterday or even tomorrow. Take care…

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