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My Mother Is Making Up Her Life Online

by Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

From the U.S.: I am a 22 year old graduate student who lives at home with my younger brother, my 47 year old mother, and grandmother. I found out my mother has an online dating profile while going through the computers search history looking for a website I found a few days earlier which isn’t a problem, but it isn’t a “normal” dating website. It’s a Spanking Dating profile.

I was concerned over the type of site, so I read her messages (I do know that wasn’t the right thing to do). In the messages, the pathological liar side of her was out in full force. Her name was the same, but she said that she was recently divorced, except in real life, she became divorced 21 years ago. She said she had three kids, the oldest named James. In reality, she has two kids and no one named James. She pretends that she is full Irish who visits Ireland frequently. That was one persona.

Another was that she had 14 brothers and sisters, when she only has three. Again she had three children and the family was very sports oriented, which isn’t true either.

I am very concerned. She hasn’t met anyone yet, but she won’t tell me if she does, and that concerns me. She also told me about one of these guys as if he worked with her, but he lives several states away. I am concerned over her well being. What happens when these men want to meet her family?

I have read too many crime stories in my life, but there are certain factors I have to think about. My mother has an explosive personality type and she always starts fights with me over the smallest things. The fights always escalate, but if she ever got too heated, my grandmother steps up to the plate. She’s never escalated to violence.

I don’t know the right way to bring this up to her. What should I do? Is there an underlying mental illness?

What neither of us knows is whether your mom is just playing with these fantasies or if she intends to act on them. The best case scenario is that she is bored, has no intention of following through and is just playing games. The worst case scenario is that she is intending to meet up with people who will initially be charmed by her stories and then angered by being played.

I think you do need to have a straight talk with her about what you discovered and your concerns. Do not approach her with anger or judgment — just concern. Do not get drawn into a battle. She’s an adult. She has a right to live life as she sees fit as long as it doesn’t endanger her life or others. Ask for reassurance that she is going to keep herself and the family safe.

Meanwhile: Just because your mom invites you to a fight, doesn’t mean you have to go along. The fights only escalate because you decide to participate in them. You really don’t need to fight. Your brother doesn’t need to fight. Your grandmother should not have to step in to settle family arguments.

If your mother provokes, just calmly state that you aren’t going to fight and leave. Leave the room. Leave the house if you have to. But don’t fight back. You already know it doesn’t get you anywhere. It just stresses you out.

I hope you are looking into a way to finance your education that will let you leave home. Work. Apply for grants. Talk to the financial aid office at your school. If you really do need to live there, arrange your life to minimize contact with your mom. Study at school. Work out at the school gym. You and your mother have a better chance to be friendly if you aren’t in each other’s space. You can live more peacefully and you can give your brother an important lesson in how to manage the situation.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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