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Carolyn Hax: Mom’s toxic cloud now reaching granddaughter

Carolyn Hax is away. In her absence, we are offering columns from her archive.

DEAR CAROLYN: How can I help my daughter, “Kara,” 3, better deal with my mom? When my mom gets irritated or angry, she shuts down and gives the silent treatment.

For example, Kara will decide she doesn’t want to talk to my mom, and then five minutes later she does, and my mom will say, “Oh, NOW you want to talk to me? Well I don’t want to talk.” And then she proceeds to sit in front of Kara and ignore her for ages. If Kara touches a craft project my mom is working on, same thing. It was hurtful to me as a child – I’ve talked to her about it, but she says I’m being sensitive.


DEAR MINNEAPOLIS: It’s not your job to get your mom to stop. It’s your job, in the short term, to protect your child from people who do hurtful things to her; in the long term, it’s your job to arm her to deal with hurtful people on her own.

Since you’re able to give specifics of this grandmotherly cruelty, I have to assume you’re witnessing it. That means you have an opportunity to accomplish both your jobs at once by saying to your mother, “Please don’t ignore Kara like that.” And if your mom persists: “I won’t let you treat Kara like that,” picking up your daughter and taking her out of range of your mother’s toxic cloud. In doing so you both protect Kara from further psychological warfare, and you draw her an invaluable blueprint for standing up to, and then declining to engage with, a bully.

If your mother has done that to you, then the best way to help Kara is to help yourself. It may be a matter for competent counseling, but courage is a necessity either way, as are nonnegotiable boundaries for your mom (see above).

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