Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Uncensored: The Mother’s Accusation

Every week, Danny Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe discuss a Prudie letter. This week: the mother’s accusation.

Danny: so this one is slightly more heavy and devastating than the ones we often chat about

Nicole: Oh, shit

I need a MINUTE.

This is heartbreaking. Her mother needs mental help so badly.

And in the absence of that, what on earth to say?

She WILL say these things to your kids.

Danny: yeah, I think that if she’s seeing a doctor or therapist or psychiatrist right now that it’s crucial for your father to inform them of this latest symptom

and if she’s not, she should be seeing someone immediately

I hope that in the long run she can get treatment for her paranoia and delusions and get better

but right now she’s not well, and she’s not able to treat the people she loves well as a result of that illness

Nicole: Yes.

Danny: and so you need to prepare yourself for the possibility that this might take a long time

I know you can’t afford to move out right now but if you can even just stay at a friend’s place for a few days to catch a break

that would be really good for you

and I also understand why you wouldn’t want to share this with a lot of people, because it’s so sensitive and so painful and so bewildering

but i worry a little bit that right now everyone is still so shell-shocked from how totally baseless this accusation is that they’re all hoping it’ll just … lift

Nicole: Of course! And you will have people who will not accept that you, in fact, have always had a normal and healthy relationship with your dad.

Danny: I hope not many people

Nicole: Same!

Danny: but I do think you need to talk about this with your husband

because you need his support more than ever right now

Nicole: I want her to be able to move out so badly.


Danny: and also so the two of you can figure out how to start saving money or making contingency plans to stay with other people

even up to and including talking to your siblings and father, who all already know, about whether or not they could temporarily loan you some money to move out

like, the good news is that everyone else who lives with you is deeply troubled by this and understands that it’s not true, so you know that they’ll at least want to try to help

I also think it might be a good idea for you to contemplate whether you want to tell other family members because I think the odds are good that your mom will repeat this to other people

if she’s already so detached from reality that she’s just mentioning at dinner she thinks you’re sleeping with your father, then taking you on vacation and acting normally when he’s not around

it’s really hard to imagine her behaving predictably or kindly towards you in the near future

and it might be better for you to share your concerns about her mental health in context first, so that the first your relatives hear about it is not from her

Nicole: There have to be more manifestations of this going on, it can’t be just this, and i imagine her father is doing a lot of work to keep that under the carpet.

Danny: she does say her mom has been struggling with mental health issues for the last year

I don’t know how much they talk about it as a family, though

Nicole: Right.

Families are very good at circling the wagons on situations like this.

Danny: and in this case at least, I do really understand the impulse to just freeze and hope it passes, at least as an instinctive response—it just came out of nowhere and it’s so out of character for your mother and reality, so there’s just a part of your brain that would naturally feel like “This can’t be real”

Nicole: Absolutely! Especially after a normal trip.

Danny: but please don’t just wait for this to blow over—do everything you can to stay somewhere else temporarily, talk to your husband, consider talking with some of your other relatives or close friends because this is REALLY hard to deal with, and continue taking space from your mother

unless she’s able to get really significant treatment for this and make a lot of progress, I don’t think you can allow her to see any children you may have with your husband

Nicole: I agree.

Danny: again, that’s not something you have to decide right now, if that feels too painful to contemplate

but I do think as just a general baseline for whether or not someone should be around your children

Nicole: Yes, this is that.

Danny: is how aware she is of her own delusions, and the harm her accusations have caused her own family

Nicole: Agreed

I am just very sad!

Danny: and as long as she still thinks “No, this is really happening, and I’m the only one willing to admit it,” she will keep saying it, even to little kids, if you had them

I am too

Nicole: Very sad for all involved

Danny: and the other siblings, too!

it puts them in such pain and distress just by having to witness it

so short-term goals: Talk to your husband about this, find a place to stay, continue to avoid your mother, talk to your father about getting her immediate and urgent help

medium-and-long term: talk to the rest of your family about getting you into a place of your own, save all you can, consider getting help of your own if you find yourself dealing with a lot of anxiety or panic attacks, hold a loving boundary as long as your mother is actively delusional if you have children in the future

Nicole: I think this is a good plan, and my silence has largely been one of general horror and sympathy.

Danny: I get that, I really do. It’s hard to respond to, especially coming without warning as it did. How would anyone be able to rally their thoughts if they were suddenly and unpredictably told, “I think you’re having an affair with your father”? I’m just glad the rest of the family is on her side, and I hope she’s able to get out very soon.