Understanding the Borderline Mother, by Christine Ann Lawson, is an excellent book that was originally intended for adult children of mothers with borderline personality disorder (BPD). This book illustrates the complicated dynamics between a BPD mother and her children, describes the four types of BPD mothers, and explains the difficulties and issues children of BPD mothers face during childhood. As a stepmom I found this book invaluable to understanding my stepchildren, their everyday experiences and interactions with their mother, and their behaviors. I highly recommend this book to any stepmom (or other family member!) who finds herself in a similar situation. This book is not particularly cheap so I have written this comprehensive review to help you decide if it is the right book for you. I have read and re-read parts of this book for the last eight years and find it has been instrumental to understanding my situation over the long-term.
Being a stepmom is hard. Being a stepmom to children who have a mother with a personality disorder is a complete nightmare. This is particularly true when the courts fail to act in the best interest of the children and the mother retains primary physical custody. Children of parents with a Cluster B disorder (such as narcissistic personality disorder or borderline personality disorder) experience emotional abuse, trauma, and neglect and sometimes physical and sexual abuse as well.
Due to this ongoing trauma, many stepmoms find it difficult to cope with having children of these types of mothers in the home, even on a part time basis. This article focuses on a book specifically about mothers with BPD, however, there is significant overlap between all the Cluster B disorders. For this reason, the information contained in the book may also be helpful if you are dealing with a different Cluster B disorder such as narcissistic personality disorder.
The chaos from the BPD mother’s home comes to the father’s home, thereby affecting the stepmom, through the children. This chaos is ongoing and never ending and many stepmoms find it extremely difficult and/or nearly impossible to effectively cope with such chaos over the years. When I meet other stepmoms who are dealing with an ex-wife or girlfriend with BPD I find that over time the stress of the situation negatively affects their mental and physical health. Many stepmothers report having to take anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications as well as a variety of medications to control physical problems. Constant stress over time taxes the body and can lower immunity contributing to an increase in physical health problems.
Effective coping skills and strategies are essential for any stepmom (and other members of the family too!) dealing with an ex with BPD. One way for stepmoms to seek out social support and build effective coping skills is to seek out factual information that offers insight into the psyche of the BPD mother and the experiences of the stepchildren. This type of social support is known as aid, and it involves direct assistance, such as the exchange of information. One of the primary reasons I recommend the book Understanding the Borderline Mother is because it offers this type of support.
The author, Dr. Lawson, categorizes mothers with BPD into four distinct categories. These categories are:
1) The Witch
2) The Queen
3) The Waif
4) The Hermit
In addition to describing the thought patterns and behaviors of each of these types of borderline mothers the author authors a specific chapter on how to have the healthiest relationship possible with each type of mother. While a stepmom will never be able to directly influence the mother of her stepchildren if that mother has a personality disorder, she can help impart valuable coping mechanisms to her stepchildren. (Or in some cases a stepmom may chase her husband around with this book until he reads it and starts helping his children cope with the woman they will always have to call mother.) This aspect of the book is what I find the most helpful. While we, as stepmoms, have some escape from an ex with borderline personality disorder, our stepchildren will only have one biological mother and they will have her for the rest of their lives. Negotiating that relationship will be a life-long skill for the stepchildren.
The following video is by a daughter who was raised by a mother with BPD. She discusses the 4 types of BPD mothers as described in this book and talks about her relief at finally being able to have a definition for her mother.
In the next sections of this review I will provide a brief overview of each of the distinct types of borderline mothers discussed in the book. Some borderline mothers are primarily one time with episodes of the other types and some borderline mothers shift rapidly between all the different types. I can’t emphasize enough how amazing I think this book is at giving a truly in-depth look at the experiences a child with a borderline mother will have.
The queen BPD mother is exactly that in her mind. She rules the universe and the entire universe is dedicated to her: her needs, her desires, and whatever she wants in that exact moment. These mothers have a strong sense of entitlement.
A queen mother sees herself as being everything anyone will ever need. She wants to feel constant love, praise, and affection for her and all affection must be reserved solely for her. The queen BPD mother views herself as perfect, the best mother in the world, and right about all parenting matters 100000000% of the time. The queen mother believes her children (who must also be perfect) will never need another soul on earth other than perfect her.
Queen mothers are only concerned with their own needs and desires for attention rather than the needs of the children. She will use her children as her own personal audience and royal court who is there to gratify her emotional needs and need for attention and praise. In order to meet her needs for attention, queen mothers will manipulate others more than the other types of BPD mothers, and this manipulation extends to their own children.
Witch mothers are cruel, hateful, and vicious. These types of mothers lash out at others in epic fits of rage and anger that have no boundaries. Rage may be triggered by jealousy, criticism, or the primary fear of most borderlines, abandonment. This type of mother will try to use power and control to keep others, including her children, from abandoning her.
A witch mother is a sadistic mother with no remorse for her actions, no matter how destructive or hurtful they might be. A witch mother would never apologize for physical or emotional abuse. If there is one type of BPD mother most likely to physically abuse her children this would be the one.
A witch mother typically has a very authoritarian style of parenting. What she says is the law and her rage will greet any child who dares disobey her every command. Rage is not limited to her children, however, and this type of mother will go on a mission to destroy anyone she perceives as in her way. Rage episodes are unpredictable leaving children of these types of mothers in a constant state of alertness and fear for the next attack.
The waif is a mother who is a martyred victim. She is eternally helpless and feels she needs constant protection from a world who, in her mind, treats her horribly. For this mother, everyone is constant out to get her. A waif mother constantly seeks reassurance from her children and she tries to get her children to save her from that big bad world. Waif mothers may appear to be or are depressed.
Waifs always expect others, including their children to save or rescue them from whatever calamity they have manufactured to garner attention. A waif mother will raise her children in alternating periods of neglect and complete overindulgence of both physical and emotional needs. Many times the children of waif mothers will practically enslave themselves trying to make their mother happy and develop a deep sense of failure when they are never actually able to make her happy.
Anecdotal evidence from children raised by borderline mothers indicates that as BPD mothers age they often become more waif-like rather than one of the other types.
Hermit mothers are scared of the world and try to hide from it, taking her children into her cave with her. She may try to project an aura of independence and confidence, but this type of mother is fearful of everyone and everything. She is the type of mother who believes her child might be snatched from the street corner at any moment.
A hermit mother has an overwhelming sense that she has no control and this constant fear makes her feel as though some unknown disaster is around every corner. Because the world is such a scary place for hermit mothers they are overly possessive and controlling of their children, keeping them locked away with her as the sole source of contact with the outside world. Children may feel trapped because their waif mother never lets them explore or be independent. These children are at high risk for not developing skills to cope with the world because they are kept from the world as much as possible.
As stepmoms we can never “fix” for our stepchildren who their mother might be if their mother has borderline personality disorder. We can help educate the children on the reasons why their mother acts the way she does and help them develop healthy coping strategies to deal with her behavior.
The book Understanding the Borderline Mother has been instrumental in helping me to understand my stepchildren and what they experience with their mother. Until one has lived the experience of a personality disordered mother one cannot possible understand how traumatic it can be. It has also helped me to understand the ex-wife by being able to identify and label her behaviors and understanding more about the motivations behind these behaviors.