New here, Mum with BPD, how to protect my children

Hi all, I’m new. I’ve been looking for a support forum for a long time, only just found this one. Please forgive the long post.

My mum has BPD. It’s not been officially diagnosed but having had many years of therapy to come to terms with the destruction, chaos and neglect inflicted on my brother and I during our childhoods, my therapist believed she showed classic symptoms and every book and article I’ve read on BPD parents since has made it very clear.

I’m 46 now and when I tell people about my childhood they wonder why I still speak to her. My answer has always been she was mentally ill and didn’t want to be ‘that mother’. Didn’t want to be the mother who would stamp up to our rooms every night after we’d gone to bed and smash up our rooms around us, didn’t want to be the mother who told us daily that we were her punishment for something evil she must have done in a past life, didn’t want to be the mother who neglected us so much we’d go to school not having showered or cleaned our teeth for weeks. I always said she was mentally ill and didn’t want to be ‘that mother’.

Through my adult life her behaviour has continued, though less so simply by the geography of my not living at home anymore. It would be so much easier if she was ‘bad’ all the time but she can behave normally and of course you hope she’s the mother you wanted her to be. And then it kicks off again, over anything innocuous. My therapist helped me see that she projects into me what she doesn’t like about herself and then attacks it, which helps to understand.

I’ve tried to have a good relationship with her, and this has been built on seeing her little and often. Any longer than a few hours and the old dynamic kicks in and she kicks off. So I’ve been careful to keep visits short.

When I married and had children, she wanted control and to live with us for a month after our first son was born. When we said no, she was welcome to visit any time but we wanted those first weeks as new parents ourselves, she kicked off and refused to speak to me for the last four months of my high risk pregnancy (having lost our first).

She has a good relationship with my children, in terms of they love her as their ‘Nanny’. However she has no filter in kicking off in front of them. When she does this, we calmly remove ourselves and our children and explain to them that Nanny’s behaviour is unacceptable. It has happened fairly rarely due to our ‘little and often’ strategy and of course we don’t want the children exposed to it at all. But it comes with the territory of having any kind of relationship with her.

Recently she has decided she’s going to move 200 miles and 6 hours away from us. I’ve begged her not to go and told her how we would like to have her stay close to us - I know the little and often approach is the only way any relationship with her can continue, but she won’t see that. She is going anyway.

She currently sees the children once or twice a week, this is not enough for her, she marks on her calendar how often we go and complains about anything we do that isn’t seeing her (‘oh you can do x but you can’t come and see me, oh you can go to y for the day but you can’t come and see me’ etc). I’ve explained to her that if she moves so far away we will not see her very often. The children are at school and it’s too far for a day or a weekend and we have in-laws to see at holiday times as well, and sometimes we just want to have our own holidays or the kids just want to be at home seeing their friends too. But in her rose coloured world she doesn’t accept the reality and thinks we’re all going to merrily come and stay with each other. I can’t think of anything worse than being around her for more than a day or two.

I know how it’s going to pan out, it’s a pattern I’ve seen many times. She decides something is going to ‘fix’ her life and make it perfect, it doesn’t and it isn’t, and then it’s my fault. She’s going to move, it won’t be the panacea she thinks it is, and it’ll be my fault. This time it’ll be my fault because I’m keeping her from her grandchildren (of course it won’t be because she moved away).

Her wanting to move that far away, has caused something of a seismic shift within me. All the excusing I have done for her, believing that she didn’t want to be that uncaring mother, has come back to bite me. I have been coming to terms with the realisation, probably many years too late than is healthy, that actually, she is ‘that’ mother. It’s not that she didn’t want to be that mother. She actually doesn’t care enough. I don’t know many mothers and grandmothers who would choose to move 200 miles and 6 hours away from her daughter and her only grandchildren, particularly at her time of life (she’s just turning 80). My heart is finally accepting that and, sadly, my heart is hardening.

Currently we’re away in France staying with friends of the family. She has come too, they’re her friends. She’s in a little flat next door to us. Given the shift in me, I didn’t want to come on this holiday but the children have been so excited and I thought I’ll just take it day by day. Having no boundaries or empathy, it doesn’t occur to her to give us space as a family or my husband and I some time together. She turns up at 7.30 in the morning for breakfast and doesn’t leave until bedtime. I’ve asked my husband to say to her we want some time (anything I say to her like that is like pouring petrol on a bonfire), but he says we just need to get through it.

She kicked off today at something entirely innocuous, and around the children. I defused it as best I could. Tonight, we were sitting at the dinner table and my eldest son mentioned something about being christened. We’re not a particularly religious family but we had him christened when he was a baby by way of a celebration of having him. My mum told him that he cried when he was christened but that’s okay as there’s a saying that if you cry when you’re christened you’re ‘crying the devil out’. It was such an innappropriate thing to say to an eight year old child, who looked freaked out by what she said, but she was completely oblivious, thinking it was just an interesting and conversational thing. I told her it was an awful saying and reassured my worried son that of course he didn’t have the devil in him to cry out. Of course, as I was disagreeing with her about something, it was petrol on the bonfire and she kicked off. My son looked upset at her anger and asked her to stop but she continued verbally attacking me and then stormed out, leaving my son with his head in his arms in tears at the table.

This is another shift. I’ve never seen my children react like that. I will not have this for my children. My son has been very clingy all evening and is now sleeping in the bed with me tonight. It’s my husband’s birthday tomorrow, the boys were so excited but now there’s a cloud over it all.

Now, I need help with how to deal with this with my children. Whenever she’s kicked off in front of them we’ve always said that Nanny shouldn’t shout, Nanny shouldn’t behave like that. Tonight I said to my son that you know how on his children’s TV channels people talk about mental health, well Nanny doesn’t look after her mental health and that’s why she behaves like this, and that it’s not acceptable behaviour but we try to be understanding because it’s that she doesn’t look after her mental health. That’s the most I can say to him I think.

Do you know, I don’t even know why I’m writing all this. I think I just need to get it out. I’m trying to deal with her, with protecting my children, with this seismic shift in my feelings about her, with the tiger mother in me that knows her behaviour is not acceptable in front of my children and wondering the best way of dealing with it for them. They love her, she’s a big part of their lives, they love being around her 99% of the time, but I cannot have them think that this behaviour is in any way acceptable or normal, and I will not have them exposed to it. But for them not to be exposed to it means them not seeing her. That’s a difficult one. If she moves away naturally they won’t see her so much but the dynamic is always going to be there.

Anyway, I’m sorry, I’m stopping here or this is going to get even longer! It’s all come out in one big dollop and thank you to anyone who’s read this far.

Hi Alex,
welcome to the forum and no need to apologise for pouring out your story.

I suspect your children will become more sensitive and aware of how your Mother behaves as they get older and more easily upset by it.

Perhaps it is for the best that she is intent on moving away - of course they will miss her, but they will remember the good times they had with her. You can still visit her for short periods, staying in a B&B or whatever - just less often.

I really don’t think you should feel guilty about this (I know this is easier said than done,) but your first priority is your children, yourself and your husband.

Others with experience of BPD in their families, will be along I’m sure.


Hi Alex
The forum is a good, safe place for getting ‘things out’ so I hope its helped you.
You sound remarkably well adjusted after such an upbringing, and how you explain things to your children is so thoughtful and mentally healthy . You are doing a brilliant job in difficult circumstances.

The only other thing I would say, and its always easy to see things from the outside (!), is that you know your mother is rarely rational so any accusations or guilt she fires at you are just more manifestations of her irrationality.
Try to let them slide off, and no one would criticise you should you decide to remove your children from her when things get too much. They have to be your priority.


Oh, and if she moves away and it doesn’t work out be careful that she doesn’t then try to move back and in with you!!!
Is there any way she can move but retain her a property foothold near by perhaps?

Thank you so much Mrs A and Melly, your replies and support mean a lot. Yes, I think it is for the best that she moves away. How sad. Mrs A, thanks for your reassurance that I’m doing the right thing with the children - it’s so hard to know and to navigate, there’s not exactly a manual out there for how to protect your children from the behaviour of their grandmother! I just know I don’t want them to feel even a fraction of a percent of the anguish and distress that I felt as a child because of her. Thank you both.

Hi Alex,

Honestly, I think I’d have emigrated to Australia long ago!

It’s time you and your husband set hard and fast rules. If she is in YOUR house, she lives by YOUR rules.
The moment she starts playing up, she’s out of the door. NO EXCUSES.

If she moves away, I’d breathe a sigh of relief, but she must understand, maybe even get her to sign so she can never deny it later, that she understands that she will NOT be staying with you in future.

I spent years make excuses for varying parents, never once confronted them or was rude to them. Too late, I wish I had a few things out with them, especially mum’s hoarding issues. Because in making excuses for their behaviour, my own life suffered.

Thanks Bowlingbun. Yes, my husband and I spoke late into the night last night about how to deal with her when it happens again. As the boys are getting older it’s more important than ever that they see us standing up for what’s acceptable and what isn’t.

I’m sorry you have regrets about not having things out with your own parents, but I truly believe we do the very best we can with the tools and circumstance that we have at the time and I’m sure that’s what you did.

When my sons were aged about 10 and 8 (brain damaged at birth) I realised that I just MUST make myself less available to everyone else, I was the family dogsbody, despite 10 O levels, 3 A levels, and some interesting but very different jobs behind me.
After my closest friend told me that she’d just signed up for a part time degree in Business Studies as she was bored. I expressed interest, so she suggested it would be much more fun it we did it together (we’d been all through grammar school together and when we went to Australia for 3 years, she and her husband lived in our house whilst they saved up for a deposit for their first house). I signed up too.

I shall never know how I even managed to get to college some weeks, but I did. Some projects done at 3am, while the family slept. Coursework done in the caravan at a steam rally while the rest of the family were playing with our engine.

This meant that whilst I was doing some really mundane things. part of my head was somewhere completely different. I was so proud of my degree - even if none of the family came to my Graduation Ceremony!!
I was widowed at 54, but by then I’d been running our business for about 15 years, and could keep running some of it. This involved selling 30 tons of vintage lorry spares!!

Do NOT let mum take away all your hopes and dreams, she sounds utterly suffocating. Sadly, you will never be able to change mum, just the way you respond to her outbursts. I’m sure if she moves you will find a new, much more relaxed you, and the family will enjoy being together without living on eggshells.

Bowlingbun, that’s quite a story, massive well done to you!!! It’s amazing what we can muster up out of unfavourable circumstances!