Hey Captain & Company,
I haven’t seen my father since I was 8. We were in contact until I was 16; he was emotionally abusive throughout that time. I have a brother and sister by his previous marriage, and part of his abuse involved keeping us from having a relationship with each other. We have reconnected as adults and are tentatively trying to learn how to be siblings. It’s very difficult with my sister because she is very close to our father and is really insistent that I should be as well.
My husband, on the other hand, has a great relationship with his parents, his brother, his extended family. And that’s good! They’re all great people! (His mom and mine are like bffs now). Sometimes at his family events I feel like Jane Goodall observing emotionally healthy apes.
“Clay” doesn’t understand why my family isn’t the same as his. I was, admittedly, not very forthcoming about all the issues I have with my father and siblings earlier in our relationship, so he was a bit weirded out when, for example, he found out I’d never met my nieces & nephews. We finally had a discussion about it when he objected to not inviting anyone from my paternal side to our wedding, and I thought he understood.
But now I’m pregnant, and looming fatherhood has made him VERY WORRIED about my father’s feelings. Clay wouldn’t want to be cut off from his child for mistakes he made years ago, and although my father’s mistakes were terrible and I have every right to be angry, can’t I see it from his point of view? (spoiler: no). My sister mentioned that my father has been sending annual Facebook messages to me, reminding me that he loves me and if I “ever need to talk” he’s there for me, and Clay has taken that as evidence that he’s changed and deserves a chance to know his grandchild. The last time Clay and I argued about this he called me unreasonable, and I’m sorry to say that after that point I pretty well lived up to it.
I’d like a script to SHUT IT DOWN, but I guess it’s possible that Clay’s right and I am being unreasonable. I still have a hard time calling my father’s behavior abuse out loud; maybe I haven’t gotten across how really really terrible just the idea of him makes me feel. He does superficially seem like a better person than he was, but I still don’t want him near my child, and I don’t want him near me. I’m hoping someone on Team Awkward has suggestions how to fix this mess or myself.
Thank you so much!
Ugh, I’m so sorry that this is happening to you. Let’s start with founding principles:
1. It’s possible your Dad HAS changed and IS really sorry.
2. It’s also possible for you to not care and not want to talk to him, ever. A visual aid:
Let’s start with your sister, because she is the source of the information and the pressure about your dad.
“Sister, I am going to tell you something, and I need you to hear me.
I do not want a relationship with Dad.
I do not want to hear from Dad.
I do not want to hear about Dad, from you.
I am glad that you and Dad have figured out a happy way to be in each other’s lives, but it’s not the same for me, and I need you to respect that. Please stop passing messages to me. Please stop pressuring me to re-open contact. Please do not give him any information about me or my family. I believe you that he feels bad and has changed. I need you to believe me that my feelings about him have not changed. If my feelings change I ever want to talk to Dad, I will, of my own volition, track the dude down. You are not our go-between in this, and I need you to stop. Do you understand?”
She’ll have some stuff to say, then tell her what is going to happen. “Going forward, if you bring up Dad, I am going to ask you to change the subject. If you won’t, I am going to end the conversation for that day, and we can try again another time. I really don’t want this to come between us or be an issue in our relationship, but the best way to accomplish that is for you to stop making it an issue for me.”
Then give her some time to process, and going forward, implement the boundary setting you told her you would. It may take several tries, especially since he will do everything he can to keep pushing her on the subject (b/c he is a jerkface and hearing “no” just emboldens him to try harder). Be really nice and friendly to her overall, but if she brings up the subject, change it, and if she won’t stop, do the “Well, so nice to talk to you, let’s do this again soon” and GTFO.
Here’s a script for Clay.
“Clay, I’ve talked to my sister about this, and now I want to talk to you.
I need you to hear me, because I’m only going to say this one time.
I do not want a relationship with my dad. I do not want him around our child.
I believe Sister when she says he has changed, he feels bad, he cares about me, he wants a relationship, etc.
That doesn’t obligate me to invite him back into my life, ever. He can go be a better man someplace that is else. I have asked her to stop pushing on his behalf, and now I am going to ask you. Please stop.
You’ve said that this brings up worries for you, for instance, what if someday our child won’t talk to you because you made “a mistake?” Well, if you or I were to terrorize and control our child the way my dad terrorized and tried to control me, that would be a real risk. We’re not talking about one mistake, or the kind of “fight” that would happen in your family, we’re talking about years of systemic maltreatment. (Be forthcoming if you have held anything back; this is your time).
I don’t have to “move past that” in order to make you feel better. If I ever want to talk to my dad, I know where to find him, and I can reach out of my own free will. But it’s not going to happen because you and Sister push me into it. If I’m making a terrible mistake, I can live with that. This isn’t about you as a father, this is about me having a better life because he is finally out of it. Hear me. Believe me. Please stop trying to make this happen.”
He’s gonna say some stuff. Keep some phrases in your back pocket.
- “I don’t need you to understand or agree with me, but I do need you to respect my wishes about this.”
- “You can feel however you want to about it, however, if you bring him up, I’m going to change the subject, and if you keep bringing him up, I’m going to leave the conversation.”
- “This isn’t an argument that you can win, or a negotiation. If you keep pushing, you’re not going to change my mind, but you are going to hurt and annoy me.”
Or, the most positive way you could put it: “Clay, you can’t fix my childhood or my family history. But you are my family now, and I love you. So believe me; let this go and let me finally have a happy family.”
You already know what to do and say and have been doing it. This isn’t about your dad, this is about boundary-setting with the people you do care about. Defend those boundaries without guilt.
357 thoughts on “#577: Being pushed to forgive because faaaaaaaamily”
Ummm…. it’s not your job to make him feel better about you not talking to your father, and you’re not obliged to get back in touch for the sake of his feelings. Like, seriously.
He doesn’t get to decide what’s reasonable for you! GAH, just thinking about this makes my blood boil! I mean, sure, he loves his family and can’t imagine a scenario where someone wouldn’t want to talk to their parents but that DOESN’T MEAN THAT SCENARIO DOESN’T EXIST.
Right on. People who say they can’t imagine a scenario where forget that not everyone had/has their happy, unicorns prancing in the field singing Kumbaya upbringing. I always tell them that I’m glad they can’t imagine it because I would hate to think of anyone suffering the way I have with boundary-challenged/abusive family members. I am glad for their good fortune in that area so the least they can do for me is be compassionate that I have not been so lucky rather than pushing me to try and create a Norman Rockwell painting over a Syria reality.
“… to try and create a Norman Rockwell painting over a Syria reality.” That is a totally awesome analogy and an incredible mental image! I like it!!!
This is such good advice! It also comes at a pretty pertinent time for me, too! I’m getting married in a few weeks and I refused to invite my father. His side of the family has thrown back their heads and howled about it. (In a Traditional Chinese Family, much like the military, you respect the office even if the person is a complete jackhole.) Every Auntie I’ve barely spoken to in 10 years is suddenly calling me up with Very Concerned and trying to browbeat me into issuing an invitation even though neither I nor my fiance want him there.
“I don’t have to “move past that” in order to make you feel better.” IS THE KEY. All this “concern” about your “later regret” is just BS to cover for their discomfort. Stay strong LW, you know what is best for you! The fact that you have a happy life NOW is proof!
“All this “concern” about your “later regret” is just BS to cover for their discomfort”
Thank you SO MUCH for this line. I am hit over the head with threats of nebulous “future regret” a LOT when I am challenging the beliefs of a certain someone in my life. I’ve always known it was wrong, but I never quite knew how to describe it or what words to use. But your phrase is perfect. Thank you very much.
I will take a side of “I don’t need to move past that to make you feel better” with a side of
“I do not need you to rescue me from emotions you imagine I may feel in the future.”
There is a possibility that I may, someday, regret never having any contact with my biofather. I have, on multiple occasions, considered that possibility already, weighed it against his massive whirligig of fuckupedness, pondered what harm inviting that fuckupedness into my life could cause, and decided to go ahead and risk the potential for feeling regret.
I get to decide who I do and do not have relationships with. I do not have relationships with people just to make them feel better, and I do not have relationships with people just to make other people feel better, either!
Ugh, emotionally abusive fathers trying to weasel their way back into your life. Been there, got the t-shirt. Maybe yours really has changed. Maybe he’s just performing change and saying therapy words until you let your guard down, then he’ll be like he always was (spoiler alert, mine was the latter. Every time.) I’ve also noticed that people with healthy family interactions have a really hard time understanding cutting someone off. Like Clay, they worry about being cut off from the family they love and depend on. Well, you might love your father (I love mine in a sort of abstract way. I’m a well wisher, in that I don’t wish him any specific harm.) but you can’t depend on or trust him. It’s a completely different situation. And using your knowledge of past behavior to predict future behavior is not irrational.
“Maybe he’s just performing change and saying therapy words until you let your guard down, then he’ll be like he always was”
Yep. Nice for a bit, and then, bees.
Excellent Simpsons reference. 🙂
Sounds like all abusive (estranged) fathers I’ve ever heard of, and thankfully have no direct experience of.
Not only is the contact the absolute minimum that can still be considered ‘trying’, but the fact that the sister knows he’s been sending annual messages can imply that he’s been telling sister about his attempts to recontact. He may be doing the minimum knowing LW is not going to accept him (because he’s not doing anything to show he’s actually changed from abc and is now xyz) , whilst appearing to be the victim of LW’s non-acceptance in the eyes of the sister.
In other words, he’s setting it up to fail, hoping in his dark heart that his failure brings a wedge between LW and sister. Abuse-by-proxy.
“In other words, he’s setting it up to fail, hoping in his dark heart that his failure brings a wedge between LW and sister. Abuse-by-proxy.”
Abuse-by-proxy. That is a very good point.
Thank you. I swear there’s a proper term for it.
I’ve seen it over and over again with friends and one particular ex girlfriend, ironically the friend and ex girlfriend I was thinking of had to be cut out of my life and it took years to unravel the abuse they levelled at me or even that it was abuse.
When I was a student in mental health stories of family members being used as tools were common place to the point of having to fight treating them as hum-drum.
Essentially, the abuser makes a minimal effort of reconcilliation (or has no idea and doesn’t care to learn) knowing full well that it isn’t enough, yet gives the appearance of trying to change, thereby setting the victim up to appear unreasonable/inflexible etc . Meanwhile, dear tool is feeding back and providing the abuse-nectar that the abuser sucks right up.
Even worse, the refusal to reconcile can be used as retroactive justification for the abuse as “I’ve always had to show you what’s best for you as you’ve always been this unreasonable”.
Of course, abusive people are not all greasy shirt wearing flip-out monsters and can often have meaningful relationships and solid careers, so there’s often a large element of skepticism levelled at the victim, but I’m sure the people here know that part.
Hoooooly crap. This just exactly sums up what was bothering me about my estranged MIL suggesting (via SIL) that we let her have unsupervised visits with our kids as a means of “reconciliation.” I kept saying to SIL, “You’re kidding, right? This makes no sense. Would YOU let her have unsupervised visits with your kids after she treated YOU that way?” And SIL keeps whining, “but she SAYS she’s better….”
@Guava, quite how unsupervised visits with grandkids can go towards reconcilliation is beyond me. It’s not the kids that have to be reconcilled with, but the parents, and that requires that you’re actually there. It’s like trying to fix your car by taking your motorbike to the garage.
It’s possible she’s legit, but misguided, and is offering the only thing she’s capable of – x hours of child herding per week. But it’s also possible that the visits are an excuse to assuage guilt by showering gifts on the g.kids (“I can’t possibly have been a bad parent – look at how much I spend on the littl’uns!”) or an excuse to buy favour with the next generation whilst they’re still young and vulnerable.
As an aside, unsupervised visits can be a burden on the parents, especially if they’re to her schedule. It can become just another means of control “why did you take them to the park, you know I take them there tuesdays” “I’ve been waiting for 15 mins, you should have left the movie early” “Ooops! I’m late and you’ve missed the bus to your expensive lessons? Ah well, you know how my old hips are” etc etc.
Hope some of this helps.
Yes. Given my track record with her, my guess is she wants to get the kids alone so she can a) shower them with candy and try to repair the damage she’s done to their perceptions of her; b) trash talk my husband and me to the kids when we’re not around to defend ourselves.
She is all about creating false perceptions of herself with the other members of the family…she has done this kind of triangulation thing for YEARS…so I think this is more about her trying to look like she cares to other members of the family, rather than actually reaching out.
I mean…she drives past the kids when they’re playing in the yard, and won’t even turn her head to smile or wave at them. Then she wants me to leave them alone with her? No f-ing way.
@Guava, sounds to me like your MIL wants to cross the finish line before she’s run the race! As in, given that she is estranged, unsupervised time with your children would be the final prize after a long process of really proving to your SO and you that she has changed through actual behaviour (and also realizing that she is not entitled to that time with the kids)… Good luck.
You have perfectly articulated what my ex boyfriend did to me. After our breakup, he started being super friendly to one of my best friends and everything just went down the toilet after that. He was constantly trying to “check in on me” and my friends were all for me forgiving him. (Yay Christian subculture! No. Not yay.)
In the end, I had to pretty much tell all my friends “Please do not talk to my abusive ex about me ever at any time because you’re just feeding his ego and making me feel like crap.” Friends who listened to my requests are still friends. The ones who didn’t are no longer part of my life.
If you have people in your life who are willing to buddy up with your abuser and push for reconciliation, abort mission and get as far away from them as you can. Things tend to not get any better.
“Essentially, the abuser makes a minimal effort of reconcilliation (or has no idea and doesn’t care to learn) knowing full well that it isn’t enough, yet gives the appearance of trying to change, thereby setting the victim up to appear unreasonable/inflexible etc . Meanwhile, dear tool is feeding back and providing the abuse-nectar that the abuser sucks right up.”
OMG yes this. My abusive ex continued to contact my mother long after I had cut off all contact with him, and she would tell me about it and it was REALLY upsetting to me. I finally asked her to stop talking to him but she wouldn’t agree to that, so we compromised with “you will never mention any contact from him to me ever again” and she stuck with that, thank goodness.
” Like Clay, they worry about being cut off from the family they love and depend on.”
I think this nails it. Since he has not experiences the level of familial abuse that you have he is picturing something forgivable and doubting himself. I think the last script about reassuring him that HE is your happy family could go a long way.
My husband expressed a similar fear when I was estranged from my father. (Dad and I reconciled after therapy and his divorce from ToxicWife #3.)
I think Hubby is afraid I would cut him off, too. He has expressed sentiments that amount to me being too willing to cut people off.
He really can’t understand how the years of abuse from my stepmothers that my Dad stood by and tollerated/agreed to tacitly, means that I keep an emotional distance from Dad even though he’s a nice enough guy. One of a parent’s jobs is to stand up for their kids in the face of abuse and Dad didn’t do that for me.
Or a third option – maybe HE has changed, when he’s on his own, separate from the OP. But if they reconnect maybe it will be very, very easy for him to slip back into old scripts and patterns because he has no previous experience in respecting the OP as a person, at all. I’m sort of thinking like someone who’s had an addiction cleaning their lives up, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to keep their lives on the right track if they reconnect with the people they used to hang out with. Personally I don’t really give a crap about an abusive father’s wellbeing, but that might be a line to use if other stuff doesn’t work. (Though tbh if you’re coming up with a list of back ups for when your arguments don’t work, it should probably be fairly short before you just hit “Because that’s how I want it!”)
Oh, you’re not gonna like what I have to say, but Clay is probably not going to fully respect your wishes no matter what he says to your face. He might not overtly get your dad involved in your life, but I’d bet he’d send pictures to your dad and give him information without you knowing. The sister probably won’t, either.
I have no concrete proof. Maybe Clay will be wonderful and stay out of all this. But I’ve learned that if someone just caaaaan’t understaaaaaand whyyyyyy your situation isn’t like his situation, chances are he will never understand. Clay really has no reason to think about your father’s feelings, but now he’s getting worried? Not just “You sure, hon?” but long-term worry? I wonder if the father and the sister have been pressuring Clay behind your back.
And the sister — I really wonder about her motives. Emotionally abusive people can be really charismatic. That gets others on their side. Part of me wants to say that your sister is under his spell, for lack of a better word. Another part of me wonders if she’s experiencing his abuse but hasn’t quite convinced herself to get away from him (or doesn’t realize that his behavior isn’t right — happened to me for years with a relative, and it took a friend pointing out that the behavior was very wrong to make me see it), so she’s trying to get you back in the fold in hopes that he’ll move some of the abuse off her shoulders and onto yours.
Is there an authority figure that both the sister and Clay will listen to? (Yes, they should listen to you, but if they’re still pressuring you, they haven’t been listening to you.) Can your mom, or Clay’s parents, back you up when you talk to the sister and Clay? Having another, older, adult there validating what you say could shut down a good amount of protest from those two. (And what about the other sibling? Can he help get the sister to stop?)
Oh, and Captain, that barren-field visual aid is lovely. I shall be right-click-stealing it and printing it out to put on my wall.
I am still looking for the initial creator.
Poking my head out of lurkerdom to suggest it was probably made with the Bayeux Tapestry generator (looks like someone cropped out the bit at the bottom with the URL.) I don’t know what this means for the copyright one way or another, but it does mean anyone who wants can roll their own.
It was probably created in this thing: http://bayeux.datensalat.net/ or its predecessor.
Whatever you do, do not google the name of the image. oy.
I guess it was made by someone from 4chan? http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/medieval-macros-bayeux-tapestry-parodies
The image itself is here: http://knowyourmeme.com/photos/707653-medieval-macros-bayeux-tapestry-parodies
Agreeing w/ hangtown that the blogger seems to have good intentions and makes good points, but the accuracy of some assertions they make tend to give me a lot of “citation needed” feelings–and my anthropologist friends agree.
I agree, sadly. People who didn’t grow up in abusive families sometimes really don’t get it, on a deep level. They’re very lucky to not understand, actually. But even if they don’t, they need to honor the other person’s boundaries.
I don’t know where the LW is from, and I know absolutely nothing about US laws, but where I’m from (Germany), grandparents can legally fight for visitation rights if hey can prove that they established a relationship with their grandchildren and cutting those ties would not benefit them.
Therefore, Clay *must not* sneak out with the baby/toddler/child to LW’s father regularly. That may be a step that can never be taken back.
Of course, there are more reasons why Clay must not do that, and such a law may very well not exist for LW, it’s just what concerns me the most.
“He might not overtly get your dad involved in your life, but I’d bet he’d send pictures to your dad and give him information without you knowing.”
Frankly, I’m worried he’ll go so far as to bring the kid to visit the LW’s father.
LW, when you talk to Clay please be explicit that when you say that you don’t want your kid around your dad you don’t just mean when you’re with your kid, you mean it needs to never happen. Don’t let there be any wiggle room where he can interpret this to mean the only reason you don’t want your dad seeing your kid is because you’d have to be around your dad and therefore it’s OK for Clay to sneak the kid to visit your dad behind your back.
Hopefully I’m imagining a scenario that’s outlandish for Clay but it doesn’t hurt to make things clear.
If you want to take Jessica’s advice in finding an authority figure he’ll listen to but don’t have someone in mind, maybe a counselor would work.
Ah yes, I have had this from my sister. My dad is a complete waste of space and I could not stomach the yearly meal where we acted liked strangers (which of course we are) just so he could feel better. I cut the cord about 2 years ago and have had to tell my sis not to pass on info about me or pass on info about him. I often wonder holding onto the anger I feel for him i detrimental to my health and whether I should forgive and forget, but the thought of maintaining such a false relationship goes beyond my capabilities. So it is my decision and I am sticking to it. You stick to your decision too. Once people see that you are not to be moved, they will leave it alone. Good luck.
“I often wonder holding onto the anger I feel for him i detrimental to my health and whether I should forgive and forget, but the thought of maintaining such a false relationship goes beyond my capabilities.”
Some of the best advice I’ve received in my life was that forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting, and that if you have to take the steps to forgive, you’re probably not going to forget. (Credit, believe it or not, Shape magazine in the ’90s.) A lot of people don’t understand this — I’ve got relatives who don’t understand why I keep an emotionally abusive person at arms’ length while saying I forgive him, and they whine.
You also don’t have to tell him that you forgive him — you can do that, internally, for yourself, and you don’t have to contact him again. It can be difficult at first, but it’s totally doable.
Jessica: thank you – will work towards this I think.
You’re welcome. Good luck.
So, so true. My particular take on it is – I don’t have to remember the details to forget (thankfully, I really don’t enjoy nightmares) and I don’t have to tell anyone about the forgiveness, except myself. So it’s no longer a locked box that I keep pushed down, it’s open and probably rather dusty and I’ve no idea where it is. And that being able to let go – it took a lot to get to that point, but the weight that rolled off my shoulders when I was able to do it was incredible. I’ve learned, it’s shaped me, but it doesn’t define me, and it no longer controls me.
If the past is a foreign country, might be time to lose that passport.
So true – my take is that forgiveness has absolutely nothing to do with the person being forgiven. It is internal to me and a way for me to reclaim my personal power, rather than letting their fuckedupedness disempower me. Doesn’t mean I’m ever having anything to do with them again – even if they are faammmmillly.
“It is internal to me and a way for me to reclaim my personal power, rather than letting their fuckedupedness disempower me. Doesn’t mean I’m ever having anything to do with them again”
Yeah? so what are those steps?! lol.
I’ve had more success forgetting than forgiving! sorry but I just can’t feel it for someone that could thrash a little girl the way he did. The emotional abuse is another story. Definitely damaging stuff…
@steph: right there with you! My experience has been that sometimes “forgive and forget” means *leaving that person behind you*. Because, at least for me, a big part of “letting go” of anger has been getting myself into a safe place where I don’t constantly experience that anger. And now that I don’t constantly have to hold in my mind a defensive readiness to emotionally protect myself… I think am finally getting to a place where I can forget.
Yes, at least I don’t have to worry about him upsetting me any more. Just need to work on the letting go. Thank you.
I said this in another post a few weeks ago, but – forgiving and forgetting are two different processes, and doing the first (if you want to) doesn’t automatically mean doing the second.
If you forgive a debt, you accept that the person who owes you money isn’t going to pay you, and you assume you’re never going to get that money back. You take the balance back to zero. But you don’t have to FORGET it, and lend the person more money as if they hadn’t let you down the previous time.
Same with emotional things: if you want to, and you’re ready to, you can let go of the anger. But you do that for YOU, and it doesn’t mean you have to re-establish contact, or trust them again, or forget about the ways they betrayed your trust in the past. That isn’t “forgiving”: that’s re-extending credit to someone who has let you down, and you don’t have to do that.
And if someone pressures you to do that, without apologising or trying to make amends for the way they let you down in the past, then it’s very likely that they haven’t learned anything and that they’ll do exactly the same thing again. If they’ve done nothing to re-establish themselves as a creditable person, why would you extend them the credit of your trust again?
I’m stealing this analogy, it’s perfect.
Thank you! It’s not mine – I read it somewhere else years ago. But I find it so useful to mentally sort out the difference between forgiving someone and being ready to forget (where the offence is fairly minor in the context of a major relationship and a lot of trust), forgiving and giving someone the opportunity to rebuild trust (where I believe they understand why I’m upset and what they did wrong, but I’m not quite ready to believe they’ll never do it again but I’m willing to give them an opportunity to try), and forgiving and not forgetting (where I can stop being angry, but I don’t believe they know or understand why they hurt me or they’ve got a pattern of hurting me, and I don’t see any positives to giving them another opportunity to do it again.). And, of course, vice verse, when I’ve done something that needs forgiving.
This comment needs a like button. Its awesome.
And also: even after you’ve written off the bad debt, and even if this person has actually done all the work to repair their credit and Equifax loves them now, you *still* aren’t required to do business with them in the future. You have the right to refuse service to anyone, and you’re damn well entitled to refuse service to people who’ve already cost you dear.
Forgiveness doesn’t imply tolerance. You can forgive for your own peace of mind, but that doesn’t mean you tolerate the behavior and return to the fold.
Letting go of anger is good for your mental health, sure. It’s possibly even good for your physical health if it’s a grinding stomach churning anger you feel all the time that will give you ulcers. But I’ve not found forgiving or being in contact with the source of your anger is particularly helpful there. In fact it usually just refreshes the anger as they do more bad stuff.
Anger fades with time and lack of contact with the source. It fades with careful processing in therapy with a professional who can help you work through it. It fades when you move on with your life.
Feel free to forgive people who you think deserve it, people you think really won’t keep doing [bad thing] who are genuinely sorry. That’s entirely cool. Just don’t ever feel obliged to do it because someone told you forgiveness will help you let go of anger. I mean, it will if you truly forgive (and want to forgive to please yourself and not some bystander) and the person truly deserves it, but absent those conditions it’s just a recipe for more fresh shiny new anger.
It took a great weight off my shoulders when my therapist said I don’t have to forgive anyone, for anything. Since then, I’ve aimed more for acceptance of who those people were at that time, and how their actions were consistent with who they were, and how their actions didn’t imply anything about me as a person. I can mentally take that step, but forgiveness, in the sense that most people mean it, not so much.
That’s a good point, about recognising and accepting that someone’s actions were consistent with who they were and not our fault – in some ways I think “forgiveness TM” is a way of plastering over the stark reality of just how badly someone has behaved. We’re already tempted to justify and minimize and explain away the bad actions of people close to us. It’s sometimes genuinely helpful to just name someone’s behaviour as outright wrong, terrible, abusive. Unforgivable. And then accept that that happened, and move on with our lives, having named old anger so that we can truly feel it, and then let go of it and move on with our lives. Far far away from the source of the harm.
Just to add a slightly different voice to the chorus here–I’ve actually found that recognizing and accepting my anger, and letting it become a part of me, did more for my mental health than endlessly trying to let go of it did. Obsessing over it probably isn’t healthy, of course, but that doesn’t mean forgiveness is the only healthy way to deal with anger. It can be just as productive to say, “I’m angry. I might always be angry. And I’m going to channel that into anger a productive force to live the best life I possible can, entirely independent of this person and while thinking about them as little as humanly possible.”
Do what’s right for you. We live in a culture that values forgiveness regardless of how much the person deserves it or how much you actually feel like doing it, and it’s 100% okay to cast that cultural narrative aside in favor of writing your own.
I love this point that you make. I have never understood the notion of how forgiveness is a gift that you give yourself. I don’t get any relief out of forgiving certain people, it just makes me chew on myself for feeling my feelings. I know that forgiveness is helpful and healing to a lot of people, but I’ve never understood WHY it’s “better” to forgive certain people, after they’ve done unforgivable things to me.
To me, giving myself permission to be angry and doing whatever I can to block them out of my life forever is actually far more liberating. That is my way of feeling like I will be safe from ever trusting that person, or ever letting them get close to me again.
In a world where women were really “allowed” to get as angry as they actually feel, you might see a lot more genuine forgiveness (not necessarily reaching out to the offender, but being able to let it go yourself) happening after some time has gone by. We live in a world where “I am angry and don’t want to talk to that guy anymore” gets an immediate “Surely you don’t mean that!”
There are certain situations where staying angry is a protective shield and a reminder not to get sucked into a place where I will be hurt and manipulated again.
Yes, so true!!! Once in a while, I have forgiven someone – when they acted truly sorry and apologized, and we talked it out, and it didn’t happen again. People make mistakes, and if it’s a friend, someone I love and have missed, I’ll find a way to get past it. But some people…the kindest thing I could do for them – and myself – is to keep them on the other side of a great big stone wall with spikes on top, and a moat filled of alligators.
Yeah, this is another facet of the “women are responsible for everything men do” thing. Sometimes you have to remind people that HE made certain choices which led to this situation, and it’s not just you being “irrational”.
But some people…the kindest thing I could do for them – and myself – is to keep them on the other side of a great big stone wall with spikes on top, and a moat filled of alligators.
Good point about this being actually the kindest thing you can do for the other person, Guava. If I haven’t/can’t/don’t wan’t to forgive someone, being around them and interacting with them isn’t going to lead to a renewed friendship. There won’t be any trust there. They might as well try to interact with a lawn gnome.
“See the thing about being an evil villain is that instead of letting your inner demons fester & weaken you, you can control them and ride your majestic, winged beasts of terror into battle against your enemies.”
— Mary Rose, blogger, The Everyday Goth.
You can let go of the anger and walk away from it without having to “forgive” him or let him back into your life. It’s called not letting him rent space in your head. And it’s easier to do the longer you don’t see or talk to him. Right now it may be beyond your ability to achieve, but in another 5 years or 10, who knows? IME it’s always easier to stop being angry with someone if you know you’re never going to have to deal with them again.
This sentence made me so angry somehow and I’m trying to figure out why. Probably because it has me completely flabbergasted, to be honest.
I don’t get how Clay gets to have any point of view in this matter at all (I mean, I do, in a way, because everyone always has opinions on everything). He obviously doesn’t even know your father, for Christ’s sake! And since his father isn’t your father, he has no way of knowing if he really is someone worth standing up for.
He obviously isn’t only two years old either and thus must have knowledge about or even encountered other families where everything isn’t as cool as in his own. Jesus Christ.
It seems to me like his point of view here is probably your father’s point of view also (in that he certainly doesn’t want to be cut off from his child for past “mistakes”). And that is not a cool thing. He should probably think twice before uttering something to the woman he loves that will remind her of someone who emotionally abused her in the past. My god.
Ugh, sorry for the ragefest but I have strong feelings about fathers and people pressuring you to be in contact with someone (not related, though, at least).
Let me just say that the Captain’s advice is absolute stellar.
I also wonder if your contact with your sister is solely face-to-face or if you’re also in written contact, via email or similar? I’m just asking because I feel like a message like this is best brought home in written form (also, I personally wouldn’t be able to remember everything in it and forget probably half of it when talking so writing it seems safer). Just a suggestion, of course, do whatever feels more comfortable to you!
Oh, and I want to stress – as the Captain herself did, too – again how important it is to not give in when giving some kind of ultimatum – I mean the “if you don’t stop talking about this, I’ll leave now” part of the advice here. Don’t only threaten, but do. That’s the only way it will really hit home that you’re serious.
I’m so sorry you have to go through this and wish you all the best with your new family and of course the baby!
I know what upsets *me* about “Clay’s” reaction (and upsets me when I encounter it in my own personal real life) – it’s that, when this person says “I would never want someone to cut me off just because I made a mistake” or whatever, they’re saying that’s ALL my cut-off person did to me. No, my father is not cut way the hell out of my life because he used to drink – it’s because of THIRTY YEARS of drinking and treating me like shit whether he was drunk or sober-ish. My mother is not cut-out because of the One Last Horrible Thing, she’s cut the fuck off because of ALL the horrible and dangerous things she did to me and around my kid. And even IF I choose to cut someone out because of just one thing, what I need from friends and remaining family is for those people to believe that that one thing really was Bad Enough to warrant a cut-off. To me. The only authority that matters in the field of Acceptable In My Life.
It’s not about making a mistake. Most people do not cut a parent off for making a mistake. Parents make mistakes all the time! Sometimes they handle situations badly! Even people in healthy families have probably had a few fights with their parents. It happens.
But abuse isn’t a mistake. It’s a pattern. Even something that was initially forgivable becomes much less so as it happens again, and again, and again. At that point, it is no longer a mistake: it is a clear choice to violate you, and a clear choice to ignore your worth as a person.
Which is not cool, and very worth cutting off.
Most victims don’t give up too soon, either.
“But abuse isn’t a mistake. It’s a pattern…. it is a clear choice to violate you, and a clear choice to ignore your worth as a person.”
Just quoting the beginning and the end as a distillation of so much win – thank you for your succinct articulation of this insight!
Same with me. Cutting people off is for the sake of the person doing the cutting (or their parent on behalf of them). If I made the “mistake” of committing years of emotional abuse on my child, then yes I should stay cut off! That’s not forgetting to pick them up from school or even accidentally leaving a candle burning resulting in serious injuries, it’s years and years of continuing to act with no regard for their wellbeing.
Yes. Since Clay is not abusive: if Clay’s future daughter were trying to get space from some not-terribly-nice man in her former life, and if that man refused to just take no for an answer, would Clay suggest that she try to reconcile with him? Would Clay force his child to stay in contact with someone against her will?
Not to mention that Clay needs a slight reality check – if his adult child were to decide, for whatever reason – right or wrong – that s/he wants to cut him off… they get to cut him off. Adults get to decide who is and is not a part of their life. The people who are being cut off and other people around them do not get a vote.
I hope it never comes to that for you with your own child, Clay, but respecting other people’s autonomy means respecting their wishes. Your wife’s, your child’s, that person on the corner who isn’t interested in making chit-chat while you wait for the bus.
For me, the scary/maddening thing that his empathy is directed at the abuser rather than at the abused. I’m put in mind of the commenter who once posted to a CA post (about dudes who make you feel super uncomfortable) that he “is naturally inclined to empathize with people,” and therefore creepy dude’s side of the story was really resonating with him. Oh, you empathize with PEOPLE. As in, people who are PEOPLE. Not women. OK. I see! (I hate that I can’t find this comment! Anyone?)
In my experience, when people do this, it’s not that they’re abusive or abusive-leaning themselves, but that the abuser/abused dynamic is unknown to them (other people have described this better above). So they understand forgiving and being forgiven as part of the normal fucking-up system, but confuse “at substantial BUT COMPLETELY WORTH IT psychological cost, I will keep myself and my loved ones safe even if that means sacrificing a maybe potentially slightly good relationship with this person” with “you moved my cheese, so I’m cutting you out of my life.”
“You moved my cheese, so I’m cutting you out of my life.”
This sentence made me giggle, and I really needed that right now. Thank you.
I think this is less a case of empathizing with the abuser, and more a case of not understanding that what took place was actually abuse. Emotional abuse in particular is VERY hard to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced it, especially when we have this cultural idea of the “unreasonable teenager who fights with their parents but really its okay they love each other.”
What Clay is probably thinking is that he’ll get in a (typical, non-abusive) fight with his daughter and she’ll cut him off. He can’t understand the difference between the type of fights a healthy family has are TOTALLY different from what LW experienced growing up. And LW may find it impossible to describe her childhood in a way he can actually understand, simply because he has no frame of reference for the stuff she’s talking about, and we really don’t have words to describe these kinds of things.
No, really, that is what it means, he is seeing it from the point of view of the father (the abuser), not his wife (the abused). His first, spontaneous reaction is to think: “But, what about the MENZ!?!?!?” instead of stopping to think “How can I support my partner, because, obviously, I trust her judgement on this situation”
Good point. I think one way to show him, if you wanted to, would be to ask if he would ever cut of his parents because of their mistakes. No? Exactly. I wouldn’t cut them off either. Because they’re nice, awesome people and my dad is not.
This really frightened me and made me angry too. My first reaction was, “If you did to our child HALF of what my abusive parent did to me, I hope like hell she cuts you off and I will walk out with her!”
Someone else commented on the “empathy with the abuser, not the victim” thing, so I will only add: why is it that abusers are always sympathized with and petted and forgiven, while the abused are regarded as less than shit on the sole of a shoe? Jesus Harriet Christ at the head of women’s motorcycle gang all dressed as Valkyries and carrying attack dachshunds, I am fucking TIRED of this.
I think I figured out the reason why this bugs me so so so so so very much. For some of the reasons that the other commenters have hit on, but also –
Clay is placing importance on his own *hypothetical* hurt / fear of getting hurt, above the importance he’s placing on the LW’s *very real* hurt. He’s prioritising his potential future fuck-up as a father over the LW’s pain of being fucked up by her father (in a way that totally WASN’T her fault). He’s trying to get the LW to make him feel good and give him a “get out of jail free” card for future hypothetical acts of abuse or general bad parenting, but the cost is that he’s asking the LW to re-examine past painful history; he’s not acting in a way that shows the LW that she is understood, heard, respected, believed or comforted about that history; he’s implying that her father’s abuse wasn’t that bad and is in some way a sympathetic or understandable occurrence. He is making something that has nothing to do with him, very much about him, and he is making her doubt herself as to how much it “should” have hurt and how correct her decision-making was in making the hurt stop.
Step off, Clay.
I think you’ve just perfectly answered my initial question here.
I could never have said it like that but yes, that resonates deeply with me and I think that is indeed what made me all uncomfortable with what I quoted above.
Whoa. Yes. This. All of the This.
“Waaaaaaah, I don’t understand why your family doesn’t work the way my family works. Fix it!”
Yea, fuck that noise.
My first boyfriend did not in any way come from a perfect family, but he did come from one where children were allowed to “make their case” during a fight, and where a logical argument from a child on occasion did cause the parent(s) to change their mind(s). I came from a “talking back is not acceptable under any circumstances” family. It doesn’t matter if my parent is claiming the sky is orange, you don’t contradict them. It doesn’t matter how calm and logical you are as you make your case–you will lose, and you will regret trying.
Despite both having me explain this multiple times, and having SEEN IT HAPPEN RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM, boyfriend refused to accept this state of affairs. He would demand that I “defend myself” to my family, and call me a pathetic pushover when I accepted their illogical demands. (Note: I DID need to stand up to my family–but in my own way and on my own schedule, and AFTER I turned eighteen so that I had the power to do it properly.)
Families are not all the same, and even if they were, no one has the right to tell you how you have to interact with yours just to preserve their precious idea of how families “should” work.
I’m going through a version of this right now (except not pregnant, thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster) and what worked for me was to stop trying to “convince” people who didn’t/don’t understand how effed up a parent Dad was that he really, truly is effed up “enough” to warrant cutting him out – people from even mildly normal families (or people from similarly screwy families who haven’t yet seen the light on “faaaaaaaaamily” not being a legitimate reason to subject yourself to the threat of ongoing abuse) just don’t get it, and I have reached the outer limit of my ability to respond to “but it’s not like he hit you” with any words that aren’t profanity. Now, I go with “my life is much calmer and less stressful without Dad in it. If that changes, he’ll be the first to know.” Follow up comments are met with “I’ll think about it” – because thinking about how stupid something is IS thinking about it – and that generally kills any follow-up conversation, since it’s no fun to proselytize to people who aren’t responding.
For H and Sis especially, I think it may be worth an additional line or two (as per the Captain’s excellent scripts) about how your relationship with your father isn’t a reflection on them or their relationships with you or your kid or anything else, since it seems like there’s some serious projecting going on, but I don’t think you owe your husband a litany of the abuses you’ve suffered to “justify” your decisions – if you want to share because you haven’t before and you feel like you want to now, go for it, but if your H can’t hear “please trust me, he’s far worse than you could ever imagine and I can’t go there” and (a) trust your ability to make healthy decisions for yourself; and (b) back off the issue, I’d be concerned that he’s letting his own fears override your needs, which is not cool.
Very very good point. You’ll never be able to convince people who haven’t been there that what you went through was enough to justify whatever steps you’ve taken. That way lies madness.
I don’t think you owe it to anyone to try to convince them, but just as a minor point: you CAN convince some people, even if they’ll never fully comprehended what it means.
I had really good parents and never went through any sort of parental or parental-figure abuse as a child, but I 100% believe and support my husband when he says he wants no contact with his alcoholic father. I can’t ever fully comprehend the impact that his father had on his life, but I don’t really need to comprehend it to trust my partner when he tells me about it. I just need to trust him, have a little empathy for the little boy my husband used to be, and have a lot of respect for the man I know now.
Totally this. You don’t have to “justify” the badness of your childhood experiences to anyone, LW.
TW Trigger warning – family abuse –
My Dad had anger issues throughout my whole childhood, culminating in him beating my sister up with a big four-by-four block of wood when she was 15/16, and hitting my brother with a tennis racquet, which led to an investigation by Children’s Services. One time when we were teens, my brother and I got into a fight in the kitchen and he tried to stab me, and I punched him in the face and he fumbled with the knife and cut his hand. I ran away to a different room, grabbed a phone to call a friend, and my Dad got in my face and yelled at me with spittle flying and said that if I’d knocked my brother’s teeth down his throat I would know all about it. I was so scared I actually pissed myself (at 14). And then there were all the years where he was just regularly angry and stressed about money, and we would creep around on egg-shells (especially my Mum – she would jump up and frantically tidy up the house when he was coming in from work because she was made to feel like she made no contribution as a stay-at-home mum raising two kids). There were definitely a lot of good parts in my childhood and my parents did a lot of things right, but Dad’s emotional and physical abuse was there.
I distanced myself for a couple of years in my late teens, moved out, and I see them only when I am not otherwise stressed, otherwise I just end up going to a depressed and anxious place. It’s funny, I alongside my two siblings have had depression and anxiety issues for many years (I’ve been in clinical treatment on and off for 8 years) and it’s only in the last six months or so that my parents have actually started to believe that depression is a Thing for me and that maybe I’m not just being lazy and ridiculous and should just get over myself. I was on the phone to Dad and he brought it up, saying that he thought why I was depressed now was that I had such a happy childhood surrounded by family, and now I live and work independently I must just be lonely. And in my mind I was just like. Wow. You really don’t want to face the shit parts of our family, ever, do you?
Anyway. I have the relationship I have with them now, which is mostly good as long as I am super self-aware and manage my boundaries and energy around them carefully, and don’t take shit like that too much to heart.
But I still struggle internally sometimes if I feel angry or upset about the past. Like, maybe it wasn’t that bad! I mean, every family has their issues, right? (I remember my Mum telling me that after the near-stabbing – that every family has issues like this) Or it was so long ago; only two real violent incidents in 20 years, and so on and so forth. It’s not even really THAT violent. And it didn’t happen to me – my siblings were the ones beaten. Sure, that gave us great proof that Dad could fly off the handle at any time and that meant we had to protect his feelings full-time, but that’s normal and fine, right?
No. Just no. Not everyone’s family has issues like this (I was sad and relieved to find out in my 20s). There is no minimum level of shit that has to go down before I’m allowed to be sad and angry. I don’t have to be perfectly over anything, and I don’t have to justify anything about the past to anyone, and I don’t have to buy into my parents’ narrative about how great things were. Fuck that noise.
Reminds me of the time my “little” brother, both of us in our 40s, told me, “Do you know how much it stressed me out to hear you get beaten?”
I think I burst out laughing. sadly enough, I didn’t give much thought to his pain…
Not quite getting what you mean by this comment.
well the irony of his comment made me laugh out loud, but that was all about me.
It was some time later before I realized that it probably was nOt fun to hear this enraged maniac emphasizing every blow/lash with whatever “dressing down” that went with it, and me screaming and crying. It probably wAs traumatic for him!
He also said, “I knew I didn’t want any of that”! so he became the golden child (which ended up giving him his own set of issues).
I joke that *I* am the reason he was valedictorian of his High school, and a concert pianist, and graduated magna cum laude from his Ivy League University… Me? I left as soon as I could at 17, and have supported myself ever since. I still remember the palpable feeling of relief those first few years as I lived and loved life free of being the scapegoat for the whole family.
I feel so horrible young you was convinced it was normal to be nearly stabbed by your own father in your own kitchen and that that’s the kind of problem “everyone” has. Jedi hugs, if you want!
Ahhhh thank you thank you thank you.
I’ve been estranged from my father for the better part of 10 years, and while our situations are not identical, I too have a sister who gets very, “But he FEELS SO BAD!!”
And it’s a hard thing to deal with. Because you, nice person, want to be a nice person. You want to be reasonable. And, well, if he’s really sorry, then how sad it is that he’ll live the rest of his life without your forgiveness. And how sad it is that you’re withholding forgiveness on the off-chance he might not really be sorry. Oh what a terrible situation, etc, etc. And how everyone can HEAL and MOVE ON and NOT BE ANGRY anymore if you’d only forgive him.
This is the trap your sister and your husband have fallen into. This is the trap my sister has fallen into.
First of all, the likelihood that your father has truly come to terms with what he did, is truly, as-good-as-anyone-could-possibly-have-hoped-ever sorry and remorseful, is so low that it’s really unlikely that forgiving him or trying to have a relationship with him would really be beneficial. People can change, but I sincerely doubt your father has. Honestly, his constant, regular, “I LOVE YOU REMEMBER?” messages are a red flag to me. My dad did that, too. He hadn’t changed.
Second of all, there’s this really insidious movie/TV plot-line that everyone’s waiting for you to play out, where the child finally forgives their parent, and everyone lives happily ever after. “He was devastated and truly remorseful …. and she never spoke to him again” isn’t a very happy ending. It’s hard for people to accept that you would prefer estrangement when there’s a chance he’s really sorry. But even if he is really sorry (and like I said, I doubt it), that doesn’t undo years of abuse. And he hasn’t earned any of your trust.
Finally, there’s another common idea that if you are estranged from a parent, you must be angry all the time and you aren’t healing from what happened. This is, quite frankly, bullshit. If your father weren’t your father at all, but was instead an abusive ex-boyfriend … who on earth would tell you, “You should forgive him and get back in touch–he’s REALLY sorry and wants to get back together?” NO ONE. So why is that what people insist on when it comes to parents? The fact is that blood does not give someone a free pass to treat you like crap. Blood does not equal automatic, forever relationship.
I am sorry that your husband has not been understanding. My fiance also comes from an intact family, but he’s been unbelievably supportive. He has no desire to meet his future father-in-law, and when we have children, our children have 3 grandparents: his mother, his father, and my mother. End of story. We will find ways to address the issue of my missing father when it comes up.
People can change, but I sincerely doubt your father has. Honestly, his constant, regular, “I LOVE YOU REMEMBER?” messages are a red flag to me. My dad did that, too. He hadn’t changed.
Oh man, this. So much this. I have cut off a number of relatives in the course of my life. For the sake of this example, I’m using my father and my grandfather.
My grandfather sends birthday cards and Christmas cards and Easter cards to both me and my mother. For a long time (when I was still reading them and not just hucking them in the trash) they included a lot of “I’m praying for you and the day when we can be a family again” type bullshit. (I opened one recently because it was a much thicker envelope than usual and really hard and it turned out to be some sort of homemade door hanger thing so that was . . . entertaining, in a sort of “Oh family and your constant kitschy handmade gifts that have nothing in common with what I would ever want in my home” way.)
Dad backed the fuck off when I decided I just couldn’t with him anymore. He made one last phone call to say that I could totally call him if I needed anything and then he left it alone. When it turned out that I did need his help in a big way he stepped up, let me do what I needed to do and made no demands at all re: our relationship.
I have lunch with my dad every week now. I never want to see another card from my grandfather again. If I could somehow get the postal service to stop being ‘helpful’ and forwarding his cards to me through multiple address changes I would!
Can you talk to the postal service about that? I feel like that might be a solvable problem. Also, big high-fives to your dad. Changing those behavior patterns is hard.
I believe that people can change… but people who DO change? They show it, they don’t just talk about it to other people who will pass that message on to you. They are accepting of their past evils, and understand that it is their lot in life to wait patiently for the day you might – MIGHT – give them an opportunity to step up and show their shiny new selves and start really making things right with you.
Exactly. People who recognise that they did shitty things also accept that their punishment for doing shitty things is that people no longer trust them, and/or want nothing more to do with them.
“And how everyone can HEAL and MOVE ON and NOT BE ANGRY anymore if you’d only forgive him.”
This reminds me of wanting closure from someone – you don’t get closure from someone, you give it to yourself by deciding it’s closed. Everyone is perfectly capable of moving on and not being angry whether Person Who Is Estranged reconciles or not. It is the other people who are hanging on to the idea of reconciliation and thus preventing themselves from moving on – just like waiting for Person You Want Closure From to give you closure prevents you from moving on.
>>the likelihood that your father has truly come to terms with what he did, is truly, as-good-as-anyone-could-possibly-have-hoped-ever sorry and remorseful, is so low that it’s really unlikely that forgiving him or trying to have a relationship with him would really be beneficial
And if he Really. Truly. Amazingly. has come to that place, and is genuinely sorry and remorseful, not in a “woe poor me” way but in a “what I did was terrible” way, then his attitude to you is “I would love to be back in touch with my daughter but my behaviour drove her out of my life: she has the right to make that choice and nobody should be pressuring her to be back in touch with me just because it would be nicer for me.” Anything less than that, and he is not in the truly-sorry truly-changed place yet.
I’m kind of angered on behalf of the child currently in the womb right now. That Clay sees a permanent relationship with this human being, regardless of how ze feels about it as ze grows up, as his prerogative doesn’t signal good things to me in terms of this child’s right to zir own independent identity while ze is living with zir parents.
Eh, I disagree. I read it much more as a soon-to-be parent who’s trying to wrap his head around parenthood, failing at it (because seriously, we can *make* *people*, how weird is that), and trying to deal with his anxieties about what might possibly go wrong by “fixing” things that he doesn’t understand and that aren’t his to fix. Infuriating, reprehensible, and potentially profoundly damaging, yes; but not necessarily signs of an inability to recognize that other people are separate from himself.
Yeah. . . I suppose it would be provoking disaster for the LW to say point-blank to Clay, “If you behave toward our child the way my father behaved toward me, ze probably won’t ever speak with you again, and that will be what you deserve.”
It’s not something I think would work but I’m kinda hoping the LW can get that through to him. I keep envisioning a senario where, 20 years from now, the kid writes to the captain with “My Dad Forced Me To Have A Relationship With My Emotionally Abusive Grandad, Now I Want Them Both Out Of My Life”
Love the Field of Fucks!
I still need to cross stitch that sometime. For a friend.
I always wonder about that sort of response from people who have never experienced abuse or who don’t UNDERSTAND abuse on any level. that response that Clay has right here, the: “what’s to stop OUR kids from doing the exact same thing due to a mistake i made?”
completely not understanding that, abuse is not what you would typically call a mistake to an abuser? that they do it with full knowledge and forethought and display excellent competence in psychologically breaking down their kids? like, buddy, if you consider that to be “one mistake”, then i HOPE our kids never talk to you again.
This really rubbed me the wrong way too but maybe for different reasons. Why is Clay fixated on this hypothetical that’s unrelated? It’s like he’s finding a way to make the LW’s relationship with her father about him somehow.
I pondered on that in my above comment, too, and still find that it’s some kind of “reasoning” I don’t understand at all.
Nearly every older man I’ve told that I’m not speaking to my abusive father has responded like Clay did. And quite a few of the younger ones. They can’t relate to me and my experience (woman, abused), but they *can* relate to his (man, father). Between that and the bullshit TV narrative about bad fathers really just being men who made 1 bad mistake and feel terrible about it, they often flat-out refuse to believe that it was as bad as I’m saying.
Really screws with my ability to believe my own story.
That and the “men don’t do emotions/relationships well” thing, I think it makes people less likely to take abuse from men as seriously. Like, mother abuses child HOW COULD SHE she’s built to be a mother and caring and lovely and she BETRAYED IT ALL! Father abuses child, well I’m sure it was all a misunderstanding, you know how men are, they just need extra time to figure out how to be a parent, it’s hard for them. Bullshit.
This reminded me of the time I was recalling being sexually harrassed by a boy when I was in elementary school (and having, for the first time, words to put to the experience), and my boyfriend at the time expressed sympathy for said dude and his inability to relate to girls. Like, he couldn’t understand my experience of having someone with more social status and power say humiliating and violating words to me, but he got “not being able to say the right thing” to a girl.
I was like, “Don’t feel bad for him, he was doing a horrible thing to me, on purpose. It wasn’t about him being awkward with girls or having a secret crush on me or anything like that.” AND EVEN IF IT WAS, IT WAS A TERRIBLE WAY TO ACT.
Such a good point, both about the limits of men’s empathy in this situation (trust me, I’ve heard the same stuff) and about the tv narrative of ‘bad dads’ being dudes who make 1.tiny.mistake and why can’t we forgive them?
It is a *little* like the “but but but – if you can sexually assault a girl just by ignoring whether or not she wants you to touch her then I might get accused of sexually assaulting a girl!” panic, isn’t it? The answer isn’t, Don’t Pretend What That Guy Did Isn’t That Bad, but Don’t Be That Guy. Work Really Hard At Not Being That Guy If Necessary.
That’s actually a good analogy, IMO.
I think that rapists have done an excellent job of presenting the rape in terms that make decent men who are not rapists get anxious. They present rape in terms that mirror consensual sex, and I think it’s completely intentional. Rapists thrive on creating doubts in their victim’s minds. They also thrive on doing it to other men.
And I think that this is exactly the same thing.
Abusers present abuse in ways that make other people sympathetic. They give examples that other people can relate to. They hold back the parts that they know will hurt their case, and claim misunderstanding if the victim brings them up. They demand specific examples while completely undermining the importance of the whole picture, rather than just the pieces.
It’s so messed up.
This is incredibly incisive and scary as hell.
I think the real elephant in the room with Clay and the LW is, “If you can cut him off so completely, what’s to keep you from cutting me off so easily?” It’s a frequent concern people have when learning someone is estranged from their family.
The deal is, “If you treat me badly, I will leave.” Right now Clay is messing up by bypassing the thought, “So I will always treat you well” and going straight to “I should make sure you can’t leave.”
This is the Monster Under the Bed.
Yeah, and that they think such a cutoff is easy is telling, too. It’s not easy, probably. But that doesn’t make it unnecessary.
I wish saying “the way to make sure you aren’t cut off is to behave in [these specific ways]. If you don’t do those things, you won’t be at risk of losing your relationships. It’s not about you” would work because it’s a real easy answer.
Oh. Huge fucking DING moment there.
Ironically, that approach, skipping over “so I will always treat you well” and jumping to “I should make sure you can’t leave” is already teetering on the line of treating one’s spouse badly, IMO/E.
(ok, at this point I’m never sure if I’m using the word ironically right or not *sigh*)
This is, in fact, irony more perfectly fitting the definition of the word than 90% of its uses. MOST abusive behaviour is originally intended to make the target a closer, more loving, more perfect person/spouse/child/etc. Ironically, it has the opposite effect. It’s like a child trying to hug a cat to keep it in place–that will just make the cat MORE desperate to leave.
The secret to healthy love is to know when to let go, to sit back and embrace the fact that you love a person who will never be 100% certain not to leave you, who cannot love you enough to take away all your doubts and fears, and has any number of flaws and foibles.
What’s abusive is to try to make another person into exactly what you want them to be, without any concern for who they want to be.
Yes. This. I have to admit I would be very tempted to suggest that the LW respond to Clay with a look of wide-eyed horror and, “Are you saying you are planning to abuse our child the way my father abused me?” But I don’t know if that would actually help, or just escalte/put him on the defensive.
This reminds me of a post by the great Harriet J, On Interpersonal Badness:
The entire post is well worth a read (like most of Harriet’s stuff). I’m sure the LW would find it helpful.
Thank you for linking that, I was thinking about that post the whole time I was reading this/comments, but I couldn’t remember what that specific post was titled.
Seconding this. I remember when one friend was in the middle of secretly leaving her abusive parents’ house in the dead of night to stay safe, another friend (a mother of young children) commented that it’s so hard to see the misunderstandings between parents and grown children, and what differences will she and her sons have when they’re older.
I felt sick. I wanted to punch her through the internet. But I managed to keep it to “If you do not abuse them, it will not be this.”
I really hate it when people with healthy families get all faux-concerned about people who don’t have healthy families setting boundaries. I also hate the excuse that “they just can’t understand!” I have a really great relationship with my parents and my brother, I love to see them and talk on the phone and I would call our family healthy. However, I have many friends who have horrible parents (mothers, fathers, siblings, whatever) and every time they describe to me what they put up with the warning bells go off in my head. I’ve been able to think (and say, when appropriate), “If my [relative] said that to me, we would not be on speaking terms until I got a solid apology, period.”
All that to say that, LW, Clay isn’t right. If he truly cannot fathom the experience you went through with your father then that is his problem to work through and maybe he should find someone to talk to about it. If knowing that people can and will cut their fathers out of their lives for being awful scares him, then I think that’s something worth him sitting down and thinking about, maybe talking to a counselor about. By asking you to reconcile with your abusive father, he’s asking you to reassure him that your children will never ever cut him out, at the expense of your happiness and safety.
This post by Harriet J is one I return to again and again, to remind myself that I am not obligated to keep people in my life if I don’t want them there, and that this fact will frighten others, and how to cope with it all: http://www.fugitivus.net/2010/06/10/on-interpersonal-badness/
Anothermous, I just wanted to say that a lot of your comments in the last few threads sprung out to me because you’re always very elegantly and to-the-point-ly saying what I have difficulty to express. Reading another comment of yours is always a delight!
Aw, thanks Myrin, that’s really sweet. I’ve learned so much from this community and from the Captain and all the other writers here, and I’m glad that I’m able to give back in this way. ❤
When I know someone who’s cut off their family because of Reasons, I tend to think, “Yay for healthy boundaries! Go you!” largely BECAUSE I’ve had that healthy relationship with my own family. I know, at least in a general sense, what good boundaries and solid relationships are like. I want other people to have them. But I understand that there are people who are unwilling or incapable of them, and the best thing we can do for Team Us is accept that and stay away from such people. Even if it is Mom or Cousin Jared or Grandfather Roland. Does it suck? Yes, but not nearly as much as having your boundaries stomped all over in hobnailed boots.
For me it’s more that my parents are good parents and I love them and I *still* need to set my boundaries with them, and I *still* struggle with that, so if I, with my healthy and happy childhood have a hard time with parental boundaries, I understand how important it is to have boundaries and how difficult it can be when the situation is NOT so healthy.
I was thinking of that same Harriet J post after reading this letter. It is so on point.
And I just linked to it in response to another comment above, before scrolling down far enough to see this! I agree: it’s an excellent post.
As someone with an emotionally abusive father too, I feel your pain LW. I’m lucky that my boyfriend and my family support me not being in contact with him. Even my grandmother on his side hasn’t pushed me since I told her I’m in no way ready to talk to him. What I found worked with her was saying much of what the Captain said, and adding that I don’t feel able to deal with him, and that I may not ever be able to, but I’m the one who’ll decide if that changes. In my case, I’m lucky that said father has no interest in reconnecting with me.
The most important thing is to take care of yourself, LW. And maybe ask Clay something like this: “If he weren’t my father, if it were someone else who had treated me like this, would you EVER ask me to talk to them again if I didn’t want to?” I suspect the answer would be a solid no…
“If he weren’t my father, if it were someone else who had treated me like this, would you EVER ask me to talk to them again if I didn’t want to?” I suspect the answer would be a solid no…
You would think that and you would hope that, but I’ve definitely heard *this* song and dance from people…
“Why can’t you make up and be friends with Ex-Boyfriend?” “Because [reasons].” “Well, okay, but I’m sure if you told him that and asked nicely, he would apologize and not do that any more.” “We tried that. He continued to do [stuff].” “Well maybe he just needs another chance!” And so on.
Sadly, I suspect you may be correct on that one. But the one person you should be able to rely on when it comes to stuff with your family is your partner. They’re supposed to have your back, so I hope the LW’s partner figures it out…
I think that this is more common within the social group, though, I guess because they’re more invested in it and in “keeping the peace” and “avoiding drama.” IME, it’s a lot less common if the person you’re talking to doesn’t know the person you’ve cut off.
If I may make an observation, emotionally healthy people don’t pressure others into maintaining relationships with their abusers. There may be some subtler forces at play within your husband’s family that you’re not aware of.
Or maybe not. Maybe it’s like when my ex didn’t quite believe how awful my first kiss was until I demonstrated the technique involved (his reaction then was predictably hilarious). Either way, the Captain’s advice applies. Just… something to consider, maybe?
I was thinking the same thing.
Yes, this. Sometimes those of us who are coming from Awful Families look at Not As Awful Families and think “wow, those people totally have their shit together!” when they….don’t. But it looks a thousand percent better than our frame of reference.
Definiitely agree with you. Coming from a healthy-family background =/= not understanding other situations, necessarily. It’s possible there are strong but subtle guilting/”because faaamily” undercurrents within Clay’s family, or could be some of his own Stuff coming out re: projection, fears of fatherhood, fears of LW cutting him off, etc.
After I cut contact with my abusive father, my family tried to emtionally blackmail me into going to family functions where he’d be present.
“If you don’t go to this family function, than you don’t love the faaaaaaamily…”
This is the statement that concerns me most:
If Clay ever made the same “mistakes” (they weren’t mistakes, they were calculatedly deliberate and happened multiple times) that my father made, I would hope for your kid’s sake that they would cut contact with him too.
“(they weren’t mistakes, they were calculatedly deliberate and happened multiple times)”
thank you for this, i was too upset and wasn’t able to write clearly, but this says it clearly.
if you make those kinds of “mistakes”? i HOPE your kids never talk to you again.
“I do love the family. I love the family so much that I can’t bear to see y’all sticking by someone who has hurt me so badly, because that means you’re hurting me a little bit, too.”
Like, “accidentally” abandoning your child doesn’t happen. “Whoops, it occurs to me that I have not seen my child in a decade/talked to her for two years. I wonder if that’s bad???”
Does Clay see himself walking out on his family while this baby is still a child, and then swanning back in years later expecting a relationship? I’m really betting not.
I can bear witness to the notion that it is hard for those of us whose family relationships are generally healthy to understand just how unhealthy it can get. If you have parents who you have some disagreements with but are generally supportive, your idea of a fight is different from the EVIL BEES variety of interaction.
I am in Clay’s shoes. My husband cut/was cut off from his father a couple of years ago. Their relationship had always been fraught and he got tired of being ignored on one hand and called a disappointment on the other (and perhaps I am blinded by love but I don’t see any way in which the man I married could be considered a disappointment by any reasonable parent).
in my case I had met my father in law and saw the unhealthy stuff for myself so I was able to understand in the end and be incredibly angry on husband’s behalf that he had somehow been led to believe this was NORMAL!!
But even if I hadn’t, Clay’s and my job in this case is to respect and support our partners’ decision. We need to help enforce the boundaries set when it comes to other well-meaning family members – I’ve run my share of interference when people tell him to give his dad another chance – and hug our own families for being so much more awesome than we realized.
Hi long time reader first time poster 🙂 As a someone who just manages to stumble into emotionally abusive relationships and friendships and recently recovering from the false geek relationship/friendship fallacies. I can point out that the hubby here is empathising with the dad because he keeps putting himself in the dad’s shoes now that he is going to become a dad himself without realising the full extent of all the horrible things that LW’s father did. We have the habit in society to try and empathise with other people by finding similarities between ourselves and others, that’s why the false geek relationship fallacies “like we must like the same things and everybody has to be friends with everybody else” have such stronghold over hearts at the expense of ignoring the harmful actions somebody is doing just because of clan instincts/similarity-empathising. LW’s hubby needs to understand that he is not like LW’s dad and that he will never behave badly enough to make his kids cut contact with him. If he has fears that his kids are gonna stop speaking to him now is the time to ask why-why would his future kids decide on such a drastic step-other than choosing to be unreasonable? If he plans to be a lousy parent and abuser he will DESERVE his kids cutting contact with him. If he thinks he is not going to be an abuser then he should NOT worry that his kids will cut contact with him and he should NOT sympathise with LW’s dad otherwise he is as bad as that dad. LW should say that whatever her dad did makes her feel UNSAFE, having her kids around him make her worry for THEIR SAFETY and regardless if the person has changed or not the risks are still quite big. Also LW should let hubby and sis know that if they ignore her needs of NOT being in contact with dad they make her feel UNSAFE around THEM AS WELL, likewise if they try to do things behind her back. It doesn’t matter if they understand or not, they need to respect her feelings by NOT forcing her to do things, they are free to interact with that dude so she is not dictating them anything, likewise they should not dictate anything to her.
I think that’s a really good explanation of why some otherwise very empathetic people become so desperate for certain wrong-doers to be somehow justified in their wrong-doing.
Another possible back-pocket phrase:
“If anyone treated our child the way my father treated me, I certainly hope that they would have the emotional fortitude to cut that person out of their life”
“If you think that my father made the “mistake”(dramatic air quotes) of “accidentally” hurting me repeatedly and demonstrably, and then “accidentally” refusing to stop for years until I cut off all contact with him ……. you must believe my father is incredibly stupid”
The first one is on the money. Yes, dad-to-be, sometimes the problem in a complicated father/kid relationship doth lie with the father.
Maybe, LW, if you start refering to your father as “My Abuser”, or “The Guy Who (specific description of his abusive behavior)”.
Good luck, and congrats on the baby!
Seconding this. I started referring to The Dude Who Raped Me as such, and, you know? People magically stopped pressuring me to invite him to my wedding/make up/listen to his apology one more time.
I’m sorry you had to go to these length, but fist bump on shutting people down.
The think of the child part really bothers me, because I firmly believe that if you truly love somebody, then you want what is best for them. And if what will make them happiest is not having contact with you, then that is really painful, but it’s what you give them out of love for them and a desire for their well-being. If your child grew up to be in a situation where the very best thing for them would be to cut off contact with one or both of you, it would suck, but I’d hope you have the strength to give them that as an act of love. After all, what is the alternative? To try to force yourself onto them knowing each time that you are doing so to make yourself feel better at their expense?
Which is why I don’t see how further contact with a parent who makes you unhappy to interact with makes any sense. Either your father does truly love you as a parent should and has gotten better, and would not want you to contact him if he understood that it makes your life worse. Or he hasn’t, and you are only getting back in touch because he is a bad parent who isn’t strong enough to want what is best for you.
Fortunately, most of the time, you have better things to offer somebody you love than just your absence. Usually, you can bring positive things to their life. But if you’re in a situation where that truly is the best you can do, then how can you not hope that they will cut you off? Because the pain of being cut-off is terrible, but I think it’s less than the pain of actively making somebody’s life worse every time you interact with them. Besides, wouldn’t you want your children to interact with you because they enjoy doing so and care about you? Rather than out of some sense of obligation despite not wanting to. If you teach people that they can choose to not interact with people who make their lives worse, then you can trust that your children interact with you because they truly value doing so. And that peace of mind seems like a good thing to have in any relationship.
Very well said.
This is so spot on, Captain. When I was a wee tween Retro, I had a really difficult relationship with my father. (Divorce messed him up and he took it out on me.) One summer when I was staying with him, things got so toxic that I had to leave. So I called my uncle (mom’s bro) and had him pick me up en vitesse. Even though I told him that my dad was abusive and I couldn’t stay with him, uncle started up a whole campaign to make me see sense and send me back to dad because, well, he was a dad, too. And he was thinking of what I’d done (ie, ‘run away’, dishonor the family, put dad in a difficult position re: his ex-wife’s relatives) as something that could happen to him. Never mind that it *couldn’t* happen to him, because my relationship with my dad was fundamentally from his relationship with his kid.
Like my uncle, Clay’s got ‘memememe’ goggles. He needs to understand that family relationships aren’t perfect replicas of each other. The father/kid dynamic is as varied as the people involved. If he’s a decent father (and presumably he’s hoping to be) then he’ll never replicate LW’s problems with her dad and the whole ‘patch things up’ debacle need never be an issue.
LW, maybe it would help to tell your husband that your moral duty is to protect your child at all costs, not to pretend to be one big happy family so your abuser can feel comfortable continuing to abuse you. The potential gain is not worth the risk. Even if he never hurts you or your child again, living with the fear that he might is more stress than any new mother needs. Have you asked for couple’s counseling? Your husband should not be making your family all about him while you are pregnant and need peace. Maybe a medical professional could help him understand that.
If I were you I wouldn’t even say that I believed your father when he said he has changed. That’s enough space to drive a wedge in. I would say, “This isn’t a cheesy made for TV movie about how I need to learn to accept abuse so my abuser can be happy for the good of the family, because my abuser is a real member of the family and I’m a second class citizen. This is an R-rated thriller where the child is in danger because the father is too polite to protect him. Why do we have locks on the door?! Locks are no good if you let the bad man in.”
That might seem harsh but I find it helps to say something a little shocking to snap people out of the false narrative they have in their heads, when they aren’t really listening and just looking for ways to shoot down what you say. If I were you I would tell your husband that it’s more important to be a good father now than a good son in law, and the safety and happiness of his child comes first.
Sometimes I think experience is the only thing that makes people from healthy families understand unhealthy ones. My siblings and I have all had partners who thought that if they could just get us to call more often, or spend more time together, then we would become a “normal,” close, loving family. Then, after they’d been around for a while, they all figured out that there was a reason we were the way we were. I will never forget my husband saying “Everything you ever told me about your dad was true. He is exactly like you said he was.” Well, yes, that’s why I said it.
This is why this letter angers me? Clay is just disrespectful towards the LW, so much so that he would like to make her contact a person that could threaten the safety of her or her child. It’s not just a problem that Clay is not respecting LW’s “no”, he is simply not believing her that things are exactly as they are and this is disrespectful.
This is also true when it pertains to situations that don’t have anything to do with abuse at all. What finally made my mother realise that our upstairs neighbour (old rich white man who’s always right ofc) is totally not taking her seriously was that, after months of us complaining there’s something wrong with the heating in our house because the floor in our hallway is ALWAYS warm/hot, he one day stood in our hallway because of some discussion and suddenly exclaimed: “Oh my, MamaMy was right, the floor actually IS warm!!”. Which meant he had heard her serious concerns for months and just ignored it as mindless yammering. So much disrespect, argh!
To paraphrase something the psychologist Dorothy Rowe wrote (I think): “power means being able to define what ‘the truth’ is.”
I’m in a similar situation–husband comes from a pretty stable and loving family, while my family is pretty unstable (history of abuse and neglect, and that’s just with the parent I get along with). To me, Clay’s fears and the ways he’s expressing those fears make sense. To be clear: I DO NOT support the pressure he’s putting on LW, I think those fears are HIS problem, and I think he needs to back the f off. But it makes sense to me that someone who’s never encountered the special up-is-down hell that is familial abuse would have a hard time wrapping their head around the fact that it’s a totally different type of relationship. In my case, my husband didn’t get it, at all, and made many of the “but why don’t you just forgive/not be weird around them?” comments…until he actually spent time with my family (with whom I’m still in contact). Then he was like, “Yeah, this is really not normal,” and became a good and reliable reality touchstone for me.
I think the Captain’s advice is, as usual, absolutely correct. It’s not the LW’s job to do the heavy lifting of growing and expanding Clay’s worldview; it’s her job to say, “This is what I need,” clearly, and to insist that she get it. That being said, I think that if and when Clay backs down and respects what she needs, some enlightening and reassuring follow-up conversations might be in order (maybe in couples counseling? Couples counseling is great!), to help him get a sense of what the dynamics of an abusive relationship are.
Also, I feel like this sounds condescending so I hesitate to say it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if things got a lot easier on this front once the kiddo gets here. For one thing, parental ruthlessness will take over: you’ll be SO BUSY with poop and baby gates that you won’t have time for non-essential bullshit from anyone. For another, Clay will build his own, real, solid, believable relationship with the child, and might not have to fret about imaginary things that could go wrong.(Important caveat: how are you going to handle whether baby pictures, updates, etc. get shared with your father? I would spend some time talking about what’s acceptable to you, and spend some time on your own making peace with how little control you have over what other family members choose to share.)
Maybe the next time Clay goes on about fearing to be cut off from his child after “mistakes”, be blunt.
Ask him if he is planing to do [enter abusive thing your father actually did to you] to your child? Or if he plans to say [abusive thing your father actually used to say to you] to your child? Has he any designs to do these horrible, abusive things (give concrete examples) to your child, for years? Tell him clearly what you mean when you say your father abused you.
Don’t mince words. Just tell him that children never cut off their parents over nothing. And if he wants to have a good relationship with his child, the way to do so isn’t to bring a person you don’t want back to your life, bringing you stress, and fear, and drama YOU (not him) will have to work through. He should rather concentrate on being a good, non- abusive father, and there will never be a reason to cut him off.
(My father wasn’t abusive, but I still cut off contact with him, because the way he cheated on my mother and made the messiest, most hurtful exit possible to be with his new woman, and lhow he eft her with massive depts made me seethe. I feel much better pretending that the funny, thoughtful guy I looked up to when growing up just died unexpectedly. But the amount of people on my case telling me I simply MUST meet up with him and “let him explain” and how much better I’ll feel if we “talk it out” is staggering. I feel fine NOW, thank you. And “understanding the reasons” for what he did is not necessary for preserving this state of being.)
>> Just tell him that children never cut off their parents over nothing
I don’t think this is 100% true – children can be wrong too, and sometimes children will cut off loving and kind parents because of things like drug abuse, mental health problems, involvement with cults, abusive partners or whatever. You can’t 100% guarantee good-parenting-in = happy-healthy-well-adjusted-child-out. But that’s a challenge of parenting you’ve got to learn to live with, not a reason to pressure your partner into contacting her abusive parent in order to create a false guarantee that all children will stay in touch with all parents.
I don’t think it is the LW’s job to figure out the roots of Clay’s anxiety, just to set and defend her own boundaries and the support she needs, but if I was a friend of Clay’s hearing this story from him, I think I would be pointing out that yeah, parenting is scary, there aren’t guarantees, that’s the reality and you’ve got to figure out to live with that.
Yes. In my former relationship I was the one with the healthy family and my partner was from the less-healthy family. There was no history of abuse as such, but his father neglected him emotionally and their whole family had a head-in-sand approach to conflict. At one point my then-partner did not speak to his mum for a year and I just couldn’t comprehend not speaking to a parent for a couple of days – let alone a year! We had just had our first son and I wanted him to have a relationship with his grandparents.
In the end I meddled and things worked out OK (and now we’re separated I have a better relationship with his mum than he does) but if he had ever suggested there was abuse involved, that the children weren’t safe etc I wouldn’t have touched it. I certainly never pressured him to contact his father.
I know more now and would like to think that in a similar situation I would do things differently. I’m also much better at recognising manipulators and abusers (ie my ex!) now and might want to assess the situation myself, too?
I don’t know. I guess I’m trying to say that I can relate to both sides of this story? Maybe? Argh.
In the end, LW, you have asked your partner to do something specific and respect your decision. I think it is a partners responsibility to follow through on that.
‘scuse me? Neglect (also “simply” emotional) is a form of abuse.
In terms of long-lasting effects, neglect is worse than abuse.
I have an emotionally neglectful father and I am making absolutely no effort to reach out to him; it’s up to him to get off his ass and try to contact me. Because I am 100% DONE with the years-long emotional torture of always trying to figure out what I could do/not do/be/not be that would make him actually wake up and see me as a person. I am DONE with opening myself up to someone and being met with rejection. And if that means we haven’t spoken in forever, so be it.
I’ve got the feeling people don’t really “see” neglect because it’s about not doing something. But as you described, this lack can turn out to be fundamental.
That isn’t quite what I meant – I think you’ve read me as making a distinction between “cutting off an abusive parent which is totally justified and permanent” and “cutting off a parent who was only neglectful when there was still a possibility of reconciliation”, and that’s definitely not what I meant. What I meant is that you can be an ordinary good, loving parent who doesn’t do anything “wrong”, and your child may still cut you off because of problems of their own that aren’t within your control.
Part of being a parent, I think, is learning to live with the terrifying fact that you are entirely responsible for at least the first few years and will feel responsible for long after that, but you aren’t in control. I think that’s the fear that Clay is facing, and it’s an understandable one: he’s just fucking up by trying to control another father-child relationship to make it seem better and less scary.
I am really not sure this is the time or the place to say “But sometimes the parents are in the right and it’s the meaniepants children who cut them off WITH NO REASON!”
Because, honestly? I am 100%, with no doubts, would put money on it, sure that this is the narrative of my abusive alcoholic parents. They have no idea why I won’t talk to them! NO IDEA AT ALL! After all, they didn’t rape me! They just made me available to my rapist and refused to believe me when I tried to tell them what was going on. When I was four. You can’t believe four-year olds. They can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy, and besides, they’re not allowed to have opinions or likes or dislikes! (That’s the most shocking thing, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg in terms of emotional abuse– ironically, it’s minor.)
So, when someone pops up and says “BUT THINK OF THE PARENTS” I am all like… No.
Not the time or the place.
I was going to make the same suggestion. Some people need cold, hard bluntness before they can understand a thing– for example, that making a single mistake and habitual abuse are not remotely the same thing.
Blunt is good. It leaves no room for “oh maybe it wasn’t so bad” or whatever watery version the person is imagining. I had to be very blunt with my husband. I still haven’t told him many things, mostly because it hasn’t been necessary, but what I did tell him I told him in completely blunt, here are the facts, no arguments allowed kind of ways. Like, “she hit me in the face when I didn’t agree with her” or “when I was a kid my bedtime prayer was that I would die in the night so I wouldn’t have to live there anymore.” Blunt is hard to disagree with.
Frankly, being blunt with others about my relationship with my mother helped me to prove to -myself- that things were as bad as they were. Seeing horrified looks on more than one person’s face when I told certain stories…and not even the particularly horrible ones, more so what-happens-in-a-typical-week stories. Getting their feedback, their reassurance, their love and compassion. Granted, the people in question were a close friend and a beloved family member (mother’s sister), and both had suffered abuse in their families, so they were less likely to flat-out dismiss me in the first place, but still. Even they weren’t really aware of just how bad things were until I bluntly described them.
You know, my dad once said, in the middle of a fight, “You accused [abuser] of molesting you; you’ll accuse ANYBODY of abusing you!!!” – no, dad, I said my abuser abused me. You didn’t molest me, ergo, I’m not going to say you did. WTF?
In much the same way, if “Clay” doesn’t want to be cut off by his child, “Clay” has to take the simple expedient of….not…being…abusive? (I mean, not 100% of people are cut off for valid reasons, but OTOH, who the fuck says “I love you and you’ve always been awesome to me so LET’S NEVER TALK AGAIN EVER”??? Is that even a thing?)
Sounds like Clay needs to learn that nobody gets to unilaterally decide whether or not people should have relationships with him.
Honestly, I would consider this a dealbreaker level of desire for control in a partner. Maybe you’re less intolerant than I am, LW. Either way, good luck to you, and I hope your husband listens to reason. Much Jedi hugs.
This is my worst fear when it comes to ending up with someone who came from a healthy background. Especially because, they’re kind of saying abuse doesn’t really happen, it’s just well-meaning parents who make the occasional mistake, and adult children who hold unreasonable grudges. That ends up scaring me both in terms of feeling like they just sort of lucked into healthy behavior instead of purposefully deciding to not treat people like crap, and in terms of feeling like they don’t understand me on this really basic level.
I try to institute a policy of, “you don’t have to understand my family dynamics, you just have to understand that they aren’t *your* family dynamics, and it is not ok for you to interfere with my relationships with my family.” It has had varying success.
I have actually had a conversation with a pushy family friend that went like this:
Friend: but whyyyyyyyy won’t you talk to him? He’s your Dad!
Me: Friend, do you think of me as a person who holds grudges?
Me: Do you think I am an unreasonable person? Or that I often overreact to things or blow up over nothing?
Friend: Of course not! You’re one of the calmest people I know.
Me: Then why would you say that I’m being unreasonable, overreacting, and holding a grudge? You trust me on everything else. I don’t understand why you would argue with me about this when you weren’t even there to witness it, but when you do you’re telling me that you don’t trust my judgement. That’s pretty hurtful.
That got her to drop it. She couldn’t really understand what I went through, but she could understand that if I’d reacted this bad it must have been SOMETHING.
That’s a freaking awesmoe exchange. *internet fistbump*
Wow, I have trouble getting where Clay is coming from. I can imagine it, but…I am partnered with a man who has cut off his father. This father is not generally considered abusive by the rest of the family, and perpetrated no abuse on my partner. (The worst of it was privately on the mom, and a little emotional abuse of one of the siblings.) When he told me he was cutting the asshole off, I was SO RELIEVED. I knew it would be better for him, and even for me, in terms of reflected unhappiness and tension. I support him every step of the way and help him figure out how to respond to unwanted presents, deal with family events, et c.
I don’t need a cookie for this — hell, it’s way better for me than having to grit my teeth through social events with him! — but I wonder…is it partly because Clay didn’t see the transition from “I have a relationship with my father and it causes me to be a tension-ball of angst” to “cut him off, sweet relief”? Is he that lacking in imagination? Hrmph.
The world is full of shitty people, and some of them have families. Those families do NOT have to love them unconditionally or let them back in. Family =/= personal Jesus.
LW, I think your scripts with Clay also need to include something along the lines of, “My relationship witb my father is not yours to fix” and, “I need you to have my back on this issue. Pressuring me to have a relationship with a family member who makes me feel unsafe makes me feel less safe with you. I don’t want this to become an issue in our marriage, but if you persist, it will. If you can’t actively back me on this issue, I need you to at least stop pushing.”
Yes. This. If my husband had ever pushed me to get back in touch with my father, I would have said something very similar to your second script here. I need to feel secure that my husband has my back, not my jerkass father’s back against me.
I had almost this exact conversation with my husband before we got married. He has a healthy family background, me, not so much. When we had conversations about it, he seemed to treat it as a debate and a problem to be solved, and that the position ‘make up with your family’ was worth the same as ‘don’t make up with your family’. I would get horribly frustrated and upset thinking that he wasn’t supporting me and it would lead me to doubt myself and then be angry at him for ‘making’ me doubt myself.
A turning point came when I told him that it wasn’t a debate, that it was a decision I made to protect myself and that when I spoke about it, I didn’t want his opinion, I wanted his support and if he couldn’t do that, we wouldn’t talk about it again. It felt really weird and unreasonable to take a stand like that against him but it worked. It finally framed the situation the way I actually saw it, instead of the way he saw it.
The way you see the situation, LW, is the most important. It’s not about Clay’s future ability as a dad or his opinion on family dynamics or your sister’s relationship with your dad, it’s about what happened to you and how you want to deal with it. Believing that fully (or even not believing it fully yet but acting and talking like it’s true and real) will help other people believe it as well.
You made the right decision to cut your dad off LW. Believing that is the next step.
I love your framing of the issue! And it brings up one of my favorite multi-purpose script: “This is not about you.”
I also sort of think the Captain’s advice from the search terms before on can a rapist be redeemed also applies to an abuser. Someone who is truly and honestly 100% sorry and repentant now cares more about their victim’s well-being than their own need to be patted on the head and told they’re a good person and forgiven. Full stop. If your father’s delicate fee-fees are still more important than your own desires to stay safe, they are not redeemed.
There’s a book I read — which is, in many ways, a terrible book — that had this one plot strand I sort of liked: Guy 1, in the 18??s Wild West, murders Guy 2’s entire family then runs away. Guy 2 spends years hunting him down, living only for revenge. Meanwhile, Guy 1somehow ends up in Japan, and becomes a Buddhist monk, and really, truly, sincerely repents and changes and becomes a good person. Guy 2 finally tracks him down to Japan. Guy 1 realises Guy 2 has found him and wonders how/if he can show him how sorry he is, how he truly isn’t that man any more, etc.
But then he concludes that that is not what Guy 2 needs from him. Guy 1 doesn’t believe revenge will make Guy 2 feel better either, but also believes that’s not his decision to make; Guy 2 wants revenge and Guy 1 isn’t going to interfere with his choices or tell him he’s wrong. So he disguises himself as his old, murdery self, gun in hand, and comes at Guy 2 all “drop your gun or I’ll shoot you, I’m totally not aiming a little to one side of you with no intention of firing at all,” and lets Guy 2 kill him without ever once saying “I’ve changed, I’m sorry, please forgive me.”
Which, obviously, is not what one should literally do in real life when one has wronged someone,and a lot of people probably would actually welcome a sincere apology, I like it as a kind of allegory — he shows how redeemed he is by never seeking to impose his redemption on, or demanding anything of, his surviving victim.
Yes, this. People change, it *can* happen, but it’s something they do within and FOR themselves, not something they do on display or AT others.
I have a friend who keeps asking me how I can be sure my mother hasn’t really changed (as if I need to be sure in order to keep ignoring her). How do I know? Because she’s still pulling the same bullshit she always did, going through other people. The only thing that’s changed over the years is the “message” she wants them to pass along to me.
Wow. That sounds…amazing, as an allegory. I’ll take your word that it’s an awful book, but WOW. Thank you. This is the kind of thing I’ve been looking for for years.
Ah yes, the weird dynamic that occurs when one’s partner comes from a Healthy Family and has a social background of Healthy Families, when you and all of your own personal team are from normal (dysfunctional) families. I love your Jane Goodall thing, honey. That’s how I feel seeing happy families too.
Dr Glass and his family are fucking healthy. Like, they hug and adore and support one another, call one another with news – or just to chat – and his parents deliberately raised the brothers to be happy and independent and *even* emotionally fairly mature, which is a rarity in boy-types. They give off the constant vibe of loving one another’s company and when I saw my mother-in-law today she gave me a cake she’d made just for me. FUCKING SCARY AND UNNATURAL.
Because Dr Glass then assumed that parents of lovely trustworthy people can therefore be loved and trusted, he had a lot of initial kindness and patience for my mother (which I did appreciate and respect.) I would need to get away from her about two hours into a visit, but Dr Glass would want to stick it out to win her approval and affection. He would say very kind, true things like “your mother has a really good heart” and “your mother does love you very much” and “it is so amazing that she has survived [incredibly awful mind-numbing abuse] and I am willing to give her a lot of passes for it.” And while I was still on the same continent as my mother, I was happy for him to go “but faaaaamily!” – it was enough for me to feel like we were partners in loving/defending/standing up to my fundamentally broken mother.
Here’s the thing, though – in the past few years, my mother has accelerated her journey to another plane of thinking. As she’s descended into this, I’ve had to pull sharply away from her. The facade that I loved has been cracking up, and there’s less and less there for me to connect with. We can now only converse politely about cats and clothes – most of which is peppered with that certain kind of Mom-commentary about how I need to lose weight, and how I must stop buying lightbulbs that the government has pumped poison gases into. I began to fight with her properly about two years ago and have pared our contact down to very little.
At first, Dr Glass was upset by this. Without the context of an abusive background, where one is programmed to be hypersensitive to every layer of subtext and meaning in the abuser’s comments and gestures, and where one guards one’s one speech and reactions so carefully so as not to trip a hidden trigger, these conversations can sound normal and healthy on the surface. Plus, he has only trust and affection for his entire family! Surely Elodie is having some kind of weird rebellious stage? Surely it’s better to get over it – she’s your mother and she does genuinely love you. What about when we have our family?
Finally, after a refreshing chat with my mother where she insisted that vaccines cause autism (by “stealing children’s souls” apparently) I broke down in tears.
“Because think about it. We can never leave her alone with our fictional future children.”
“Oh my god,” said Dr Glass. “You’re right. She’ll tell them that they don’t have souls because their parents poisoned them.”
“She’ll take them aside and tell them that everything we tell them is a lie, and to trust only her.”
“She’ll have them believing in CHEMTRAILS.”
It was like – Dr Glass always supported me and has always had my back, but with his background of happiness and responsibility and trust, he had always kind of assumed that his kids would have four grandparents? It had never really come home to him that some close relations could genuinely have harm in their hearts towards his future kids. I hadn’t really spoken about how my mother treated me, either. In a way, he couldn’t conceive of it – he saw our interactions and assumed that he got the whole subtext. Like, “oh, that sounded like a nice chat with your mother.”
“…. She criticised my weight literally the whole time.”
“How? You were talking about clothes! I heard you! You sounded happy! It made me happy to hear you!”
“The clothes were full of bees, honey. Full of fucking invisible bees.”
I’m not saying anything about Clay or how many passes dudes deserve before they Get It, but I’ve had this talk, and “we could never leave X alone in the room with our baby” really activated a parental override switch – in both of us. “X cannot be trusted with the safety of our kid let alone their happiness” trumps all the nice thoughts of goodwill and “faaaamily” in the world. Other people I’ve spoken to have also reported this; the family you’re building HAS to take precedence, and agreeing on that really clicks that mental switch over.
And I think this is more accurate than the people accusing Clay of gaslighting and so on. He doesn’t get it yet because he can’t conceive of someone treating their child that way.
But that is how LW’s father IS TREATING LW. If Clay ‘can’t conceive’ of somebody acting that way, it’s because he is not willing to listen to LW. LW is not saying “hey, my dad has gone full-tilt dysfunctional all of a sudden and can’t be around our kid.” Clay is denying LW’s experience and feelings. That’s gaslighting.
Mmmm….that’s not the definition of gaslighting I grew up with, which is when one is deliberately messing with someone else (cf. the movie Gaslight), which I don’t think Clay is doing here.
Gaslighting involves reshaping someone else’s reality to one’s own specifications so that they will continue to accept mistreatment. It almost always involves a perceived power differential between perpetrator and victim. Something doesn’t have to be at the level of the behavior in the film for one person to use that power differential to say “I don’t experience what you do, so it must not exist, you’re being unreasonable and crazy” and for that to be gaslighting. I think there is a ton of generalized gaslighting around sexism and racism – “I don’t see what you see, and I have the power to act like it’s not real, so I will, and you must conform to my reality or I will make you out to be the unreasonable one and others will agree with me..” Clay is calling the Letter Writer unreasonable for sticking to her own perception of her own childhood with her father. He may not be doing it the way someone hides the keys, and says “you must have lost them!” but it’s troubling.
Clay is not ACCIDENTALLY messing with LW. He didn’t trip over his shoelace or stub his toe and then “you are being unreasonable” popped out of his mouth.
The fact that he is doing it for his own emotional, selfish reasons, rather than to get a fat inheritance, doesn’t change the fact that it’s gaslighting.
@neverjaunty: Clay’s behavior needs to stop but I don’t think it’s intentionally selfish or that he really understands what he’s doing. I have had friends who really just don’t understand dysfunctional families – just the other day I was talking to a friend and I mentioned that many abusive parents “love” their kids, or at least think they do, and it blew her mind. I don’t think that, until that moment, she had ever thought of an abusive person as something other than this evil entity that would be instantly recognizable because EVIL. And EVIL doesn’t beg for forgiveness or say “I love you” or do anything else that good people do, because it’s evil. It doesn’t look like normal people!
She’s not an unempathetic or selfish person, she just has had no exposure to abuse in real life and so has bought into a lot of narratives that just aren’t true. My guess is Clay is the same way, though regardless of how/if he understands it, he needs to support his wife.
Also, I find it alarming that Clay seems to jump to “my partner and the future mother of my kid is unreasonable about events that happened before my time!” rather than “hey, maybe I’m missing something big here”.
To Topper’s Books (due to max nesting)
Acts and words don’t have to be intentional to be either selfish or harmful (or both.) And they don’t have to be intentional to be something that needs to fucking stop, like yesterday. Intent matters only in how the harmed person approaches setting the boundaries around bad behavior. The most important thing is how the behavior affects the person on the receiving end.
@homeruncommitment: Especially since he doesn’t know the father at all, he’s never even met him! If he’d had contact with him a couple of times and decided he thinks father is a totally super cool dude (as other commenters actually experienced), it would be understandable how he’d want to deny LW’s words, although it’s of course still pretty Not Good to take this guy’s word/apparent behaviour over that of his future wife. But as it is, there’s absolutely no reason for him to believe father is someone worth having in their life (and worse, there’s actual negative reason for that) and yet he still chooses to act as he does.
@Topper’s Books: THIS. SO MUCH THIS. I was once having a conversation with my mother-in-law that somehow related to abused children — I forget how we got there — and she was more or less saying that abused children are permanently ruined/damaged in ways that will totally fuck up the rest of their lives. I disagreed with her, obviously, but I was too uncomfortable to pull out my “Hi, I’m a counterexample” argument. I think she thought the only kind of abuse is the truly horrific stuff that occasionally makes the news, and that parents who love their kids and want the best for them are never abusive.
If I’d had the energy to try, and to be that vulnerable, I think I could have changed (and totally blown) her mind, but I just couldn’t that day. On a previous visit, something similar had happened — I referred to a local group that works with kids who have PTSD, and she got this incredulous look and said, “From *what*?!” I was stunned to the point of momentary speechlessness, and finally managed to say that it’s frequently from abuse. It was like I could see her universe shifting its axis, that not only was that a thing, but a thing common enough that a not-very-big city like ours could have multiple groups with that mission.
“She’ll have them believing in CHEMTRAILS.”
Having had a long and exhausting discussion with someone last week who, I finally decided, really wanted me to tell him that chemtrails exist, that the government is covering them up and that he is the lone voice crying out in the wilderness who is Right and Just and everyone else are meeeeniehead liars, I had to laugh at this.
The self-defending nature of conspiracy theorists, and how the programming enables and excuses abuse, is naturally a huge bugbear for me.
This is a derail but I lost friends a while back because they so firmly believed in chemtrails and that vaccines are evil and that apple seeds and raw almonds cure cancer and Big Pharma just doesn’t want you to know because they want to sell you their toxic drugs so they can control you.
It made me sad but I had to do it because they were so evangelical about it.
Without the context of an abusive background, where one is programmed to be hypersensitive to every layer of subtext and meaning in the abuser’s comments and gestures, and where one guards one’s one speech and reactions so carefully so as not to trip a hidden trigger, these conversations can sound normal and healthy on the surface.
Thank you. I don’t even have words for the level of jaw drop I just experienced that someone else out there who doesn’t even know me fully understands the context of my conversations with my mother. I hate that you understand it, but for this piece of your insight, I am so grateful.
Me too. This is the hardest thing to explain to people. And it’s the thing that makes us look the least beliveable because it makes us look “irrational” or “emotional” or whatever other code for “woman” is popular at the moment. (if you other commenters are not women this is not to deny you. “womanly” terms are used against men too).
You come away from a “normal conversation” stiff as a board and trying not to throw up, while the abusive person is chill and comfy. It’s so hard to explain.
Erm, that first paragraph is supposed to be in italics because I am quoting elodieunderglass. Html fail, only the second paragraph contains my own original thoughts!
And it’s never just the abuser, either; one has to be under guard with the other members of one’s own family because one never knows what will intentionally or inadvertently be revealed to one’s abuser. And yes, I hate that so many people here understand this, because I hate that we have been through it.
OMG THIS. THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS.
Any conversation I have with my mother, no matter how pleasant it sounds to someone else, is full of land mines.
Also, she is really really good at acting fake and being charming to people who do not have to spend any length of time with her, so people think she’s a lovely person, whereas I am kind of grumpy by nature and have a major case of resting b-face, so I always come off badly next to her, yet it’s because I’m honest and I actually care about people more than I care what they think of me.
Plus I’ve caught her talking shit about me behind my back to people (I thought) were my friends.
Really excellent post. LW, I don’t know Clay, but as someone whose family is pretty OK (and who didn’t realize that this was not universal until fairly recently), I can see how he might just *really not understand what you mean* when you say that your father mistreated you. The thing is, he doesn’t have to, and it’s on him to support you anyway, and I’m sorry he hasn’t been doing that. The Captain’s script is excellent. If you feel like giving him some extra help, you might move the paragraph where you explain that it’s not just “one mistake” a bit earlier in the conversation. Either way, he NEEDS to have your back on this.
BARGH. I am really frustrated by this “not understanding” of his. It doesn’t seem to me like something that should be that hard for someone to understand, even someone from a super-duper happy-dippy lovey family. (Disclosure: I have more in common with Clay than LW.)
Maybe this is another kind of gendered thing — people are more likely to admit things of an emotional or vulnerable nature, a la “I don’t like my parents,” to women; so on average women have more data points early on to work with vis-a-vis abusive or near-abusive family situations? (And/or women are more accustomed to having their wishes disrespected in a VARIETY of circumstances and relationship types, so it’s not so difficult to mentally transfer that dynamic in your head to a parental situation?)
And, seriously: Clay is marrying the LW, not the LW’s father. HE SHOULD BE PRIMARILY CONCERNED ABOUT HER HAPPINESS AND WELL-BEING. As many folks have already said, Clay doesn’t NEED to understand to honor her wishes.
People have limited imagination. We can get to “other people have feelings, just like me.” Often though, we don’t push ourselves to “other people experienced different things, so maybe the feelings they have aren’t the same as mine.” That’s how the “not understanding” happens.
But the mechanism for not pushing our imaginations? That one’s harder.
I don’t know what it is.
Clay’s got to stand behind the LW for sure.
Yes, I think it is true up to a point that coming from a family with healthier dynamics may make it harder to comprehend that sort of abusive environment. On the other hand, IF you have a background of healthy, respectful dealings with people, it should be even easier to identify messed up dealings. If you come from an abusive background, maybe you find it “normal” to be disrespected, manipulated, etc. If you’re not, once you get over the initial disbelief, it should be glaringly obvious how that is not OK.
“Without the context of an abusive background, where one is programmed to be hypersensitive to every layer of subtext and meaning in the abuser’s comments and gestures, and where one guards one’s one speech and reactions so carefully so as not to trip a hidden trigger, these conversations can sound normal and healthy on the surface.”
In my mind I refer to this as Talking About Cinnamon Rolls. Many moons ago I was invited to spend Christmas skiing in the mountains with my father and his relatives which I said yes to because I loved skiing enough that I thought I could endure a week in their company with no internet access. This is just one of many, many teeny-tiny examples of how they behave towards me.
One day large, luxurious cinnamon rolls were purchased from the local super-artisanal bakery for afternoon coffee. They were the size of footballs and I declined mine because I was not hungry. There was a look, that look that isn’t really looking at you and wouldn’t make a good gif if you tried and capture it but is STILL THERE to communicate their Sadness and Disapproval. And after that there were Casual Inquiries. Every day. Multiple times a day in fact. About the Cinnamon Roll. ”Have you had your cinnamon roll, Quisty?” ”They make such delicious cinnamon rolls at that bakery, you should try yours, Quisty.” ”It’d be a shame if it went stale, Quisty” ”I noticed your cinnamon roll is still there, Quisty”. Until I ate it because if I had to face another question about the existential status of me eating the cinnamon roll or not I was probably going to explode. And then when I was asked about the cinnamon roll again and I said ”yes, I ate it.” there was that look again. Can’t win, cannot fucking win with these people.
I have observed that people who have not experienced an abusive or unhappy family dynamic listen to this story and assume that I am the crazy one. I must have misunderstood. They meant so well. I probably imagine that look they gave me. Why would anyone care about something so absurd as whether you ate your cinnamon roll or not? (WHY INDEED). All they hear is you being oddly obsessed with a story about cinnamon rolls. But it was never about this one cinnamon roll. This cinnamon roll is just the last in one long line coming from the Bakery of Evil Bees who specializes in baking Cinnamon Rolls That Means I Hate You. And people who have never seen a Bakery of Evil Bees just cannot comprehend that there is something wrong with the cinnamon rolls your relatives keep giving you because who would do something so absurd and evil and heartless as to deliberately ruin cinnamon rolls?
And so they ask you if you’re not exaggerating. If we just misunderstood each other. If you shouldn’t have shown a little good faith and eaten the cinnamon roll from the beginning. They were just trying to help. And so on and forever. Mr. Quisty comes from exactly the kind of family Dr. Glass comes from (the details are seriously eerily similar) and it’s taken a lot of actual interaction with various of my relatives and with my father for him to understand that there was Something Wrong with the bakery. But he was willing to see it and willing to hear it.
I really don’t know what you’re supposed to do with people who aren’t willing to do that.
“And then when I was asked about the cinnamon roll again and I said ”yes, I ate it.” there was that look again.” Yup. Probably because your response was not, “Yes, I ate it. And it was the most amaaaaaazing cinnamon roll evar, and I was stupid not to have eaten it the instant that you offered it to me. Thank you so much for your kind reminders on the issue, and please remind me of this instance the next time I fail to substitute your superior judgement for my own.”
Was that it? I couldn’t figure out the trap. Like, was Quisty actually supposed to refuse the cinnamon roll the whole time, like in cultures where you’re supposed to refuse gifts?
Well, I can’t speak specifically to Quisty’s experience, but I have seen LOTS of dynamics with similar features. It boils down to Can’t Fucking Win Ever. In many emotionally abusive relationships, the victim is never allowed to be right, even if they do what is requested of them. They didn’t do it fast enough or cheerfully enough. They accepted the gift politely, but without the exact right amount of gratitude and ego stroking for the abuser. They dare to exist as separate human beings from the abuser.
Well in this particular instance and with my particular relatives it’s about conformity and the Law of Jante: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jante_Law
I should’ve done what they were doing because to do otherwise implies criticism of them (in this uncanny valley of reality anyway). There was also an incident with a half-eaten pizza this trip (the pizza I fronted the money for, even), and the wrongful purchase of a hat.
I haven’t actually spent time with these relatives since this trip and it’s been like five years of WIN AND AWESOME.
Oh god yes, jantelagen. This is why I have zero interest in moving back to Sweden. And haven’t spoken to my older brother in almost 10 years. It’s so fucking toxic.
This cinnamon roll story. I spent a weekend recently with 2 guys that do this. I felt bad and gross and was trying to decide if they were being abusive or what the issue was exactly. It wasn’t cinnamon rolls, it was a beer, but it was the exact same shit. Luckily I probably don’t need to see those 2 guys ever again
Ick! That’s terrible, especially extra terrible when it involves alcohol. Good on you for not having to see them again! Ick ick ick.
Even if it wasn’t abusive, it’s grade-A stupid behavior. There’s no less tasty seasoning for a food than a constant stream of “Did you eat that yet are you going to eat that did you like it when are you going to eat that I’m constantly watching you and monitoring your consumption of the thing like I think it’s going to turn into a pile of money the moment you bite into it.” So either they’re deliberately attempting to spoil your ability to enjoy the food, or they’re really being spectacularly thick.
I’ve let food spoil in the fridge just because my roommate keeps asking me if I’m planning on eating it, and he just doesn’t want the fridge filled up with expired food, which is perfectly understandable. I wasn’t even doing it to be mean, it’s just that the moment someone is like ARE YOU GOING TO EAT THAT then it looks less appetizing.
Yeah, the only time “Are you going to eat that?” is in any way acceptable is when it’s followed by, “because I am interested in it and don’t want to take away food you are planning on enjoying later.”
Visiting friends and partners who have broken bread with my family have seen versions of the Cinnamon Roll story at work and we all share your “YEESH” and “NOOOOOO”
My parents are food-pushers and then food-judgers and then body-shamers. “Are you sure you won’t want it? Are you sure? Are you sure you don’t want some?” becomes “Who ate all the _______?” becomes “Do you really need to be eating that?” sometimes within the course of a single hour. I have to sometimes repeatedly say “Howabout everybody just pay attention to their OWN plate” to get through a meal.
Oh god you can’t see it Jennifer but I am cringing SO HARD. Every Christmas used to be like that with the afore-mentioned relatives. There ought to be an Eyes On Your Own Plate Club. Or movement. Or clue by four.
OH GODS AND LITTLE UNICORNS. The Cinnamon Roll Incident is exactly my family of origin, and the Captain has hit the nail on the head for why You Cannot Win with these conversations, Not Now, Not Ever, Your Role In These Conversations Is to Lose and Be Shamed. I literally got a chill reading Quisty’s story.
And people. Do. Not. Fucking. Understand.
(I was once nearly made suicidal via ONE shopping trip. It was for bathing suits, but still. I think I WOULD have been suicidal if I had been allowed that much autonomy over myself at the time.)
My dad counts the cookies in the cookie jar every night, and if any are “missing” does a mass shaming of “Who’s been eating all the cookies?”
Last time I was home my folks very nicely threw a little party for extended family, and people brought dessert, including cookies. Dad didn’t eat any cookies at the party, but there were some left over, but he didn’t eat those either, and then every day for 5 days after the party was like “who at all the cookies I wanted some waaaaah”
He didn’t want cookies.
He wanted a reason to audit everyone’s eating and be a giant weirdo.
P.S. He ate all the leftover pie.
Apparently your dad and my mother trained in the same school. I caught her measuring the ice cream once. It got so I would preempitvely “confess” if I got too hungry to bear it and ate something, because that was easier.
First time commenting, long-time lurker.
Thank you so much. It helps to know I’m not the only one. My mother does this with food – just to me, not to any of my siblings – and it drives me mad. I’ve been denied food because I asked for a smaller portion, I’ve been denied food because I asked for seconds that she had offered, I’ve been denied food because “the men haven’t eaten yet”.
Don’t even start on the stink-eye I’ve gotten when my husband has taken care of me because I’m exhausted and/or in pain.
I don’t visit much anymore.
Ah, the old “Whatever amount and type of food you want is wrong, even if it’s the same as what everyone else is eating” trick.
Can’t imagine why you don’t visit.
“Without the context of an abusive background, where one is programmed to be hypersensitive to every layer of subtext and meaning in the abuser’s comments and gestures, and where one guards one’s one speech and reactions so carefully so as not to trip a hidden trigger, these conversations can sound normal and healthy on the surface.”
Ohhhh my god, this. Conversations with my mom sound fun and happy and we laugh a lot. We laugh a lot because I’m always poking fun at myself. I’m always poking fun at myself, telling stories that make me look foolish, calling myself dumb or crazy, because if I don’t do it, she will. And she eats it up. She loves stories that end with me looking foolish. We laugh and laugh.
That gave me the shivers. How absolutely horrible.
What this reminds me of is a thread quite some time ago when an astute commenter (perhaps MamaCheshire? or staranise?) noted that they used to feel enormous pressure to forgive and forgive and forgive, because if they are so very broken and they don’t forgive other people their brokenness, how could they possibly expect someone else to love them?
I think this is probably the well of insecurity Clay is drawing from. It reminds me, too, of the letter with “why we spend so much time talking about ending friendships on this blog” in the title. Because people from basically functional and loving families with a basic but unexpressed understanding of boundaries? Often don’t learn until later in life that LOVE IS CONDITIONAL. Love is conditional on both parties acting like decent people. Love is conditional on not sapping the other person’s energy and self-worth and happiness until they are not even ABLE to feel love. But that realization — that understanding, that this thing that your very kindly-intentioned parents told you all your life is a big fat lie — that’s really fucking terrifying. “Love should be unconditional” is an assumption that people build their whole lives on. And I get that. Feeling sure that no matter how bad of a fuckup you turn out to be, your family will still love you, is a pretty amazing wellspring of confidence, and if not confidence, strength. There have been times in my life when the thing keeping me tethered here was knowing that losing me would totally devastate my parents. Even if I couldn’t believe in anyone else’s love, I believed in theirs.
But everyone pretty much has to grow up at some point and sit down at the table with the fact that all human relationships can break, no matter how deep and fundamental they might be — and you don’t really get more primal than the parent-child relationship. Clay needs to get really comfortable with the fact that no relationship is indestructible BEFORE he becomes a father. Moreover, he needs to know that he is not raising a child for the sake of receiving love from that child. He is raising that child to be a person with a selfhood that is entirely independent from his own. Has he realized there’s a chance they won’t even like each other? It doesn’t take abuse to cut someone out of your life.
In summary: Clay needs to back the fuck off with regards to the LW’s father, but he also needs a serious come-to-Jesus moment about what he thinks he’s entitled to from his own future children.
“LOVE IS CONDITIONAL” YES YES YES YES YES. Someone who believes that “family is forever” will feel free to behave in ways that (an adult) someone who treats family as a work in progress and an earned privilege will probably not. Urgh. And this is why I am side-eyeing Clay like whoa.
The Unconditional Love Myth runs deep in my family. My father’s extended side was shaped to be very close due to some unfortunate deaths in the family and the need to help each other out in order to raise the half-orphans.
While all that closeness and help was a good thing back then, boy, is it not appropriate now, decades later.
Now, in my late 20s, being married and a mother, I’m still working on figuring out some basic boundaries of mine.
Yeah, love is conditional. And it should be.
I actually think that love CAN be unconditional, but love is not the only thing in a relationship. In order to live with people, cooperate and share responsibilities and fun, there has to be so many other things. Yes, I may love you unconditionally, but I’m going to do it from WAAAAAY over there, kthxby
The thing is, love is a feeling, not an action. It CAN be an action, but it can also be a feeling that you intend to do nothing about. Or other feelings or values can … in practical terms, *TRUMP* the love, in terms of actions you take.
I.e. “I love you, but when I’m around you I feel crazy / sad / insecure / scared / belitted / upset / pick your poison, so my solution is not to worry about the love part, but to deal with the “being around you” part.”
Love CAN be a feeling and an action, and to me that’s where it gets good. Love without the loving behaviours is not a love I want.
Ah, I guess I was using “love as an action” as my definition, rather than “love as a feeling.” The second doesn’t really hold much currency with me, which is probably why I discounted it unfairly.
Maybe my statement should have been “the physical realization of love is pretty much always conditional, and often the emotional state of love is conditional as well.”
Forgiving their brokenness, stops when it breaks me.
“If I’m making a terrible mistake, I can live with that.” PREACH. LW, you are not being unreasonable. You are in fact the only one seeing straight in this situation, and even if in years to come you change your mind, this is still the right decision for you now. This article could be helpful to you for further reading http://www.fugitivus.net/2010/06/10/on-interpersonal-badness/ It talks about how some people will try to coerce you into forgiveness because it scares them that you could cut off a supposedly primary relationship because you could theoretically do the same to them. Well, let them be scared. The message that you will not tolerate shitty treatment is never a bad one to send. And if all else fails, “If you keep pushing, you’re not going to change my mind, but you are going to hurt and annoy me.” is a perfect sentence. Anyone who disagrees with that is flat out being rude, and if you are called unreasonable? I’d take the view that if accepting abuse is their definition then bitches need a new dictionary.
Much love LW, but you are handling this like a badass.
I read in your letter a concern with getting your husband to feel good about your decision to avoid your father.
Like the Captain and the Awkward Army, I believe that it’s important for Clay to have your back, no matter what he thinks of father/child interactions
That’s why I would consider adding that to the Captain’s scripts. That is, something like “Clay, it is important that you back me up on this. My past relationship with my father does not correspond to any relationships in your family. It doesn’t correspond to the relationship you will have with your child. It is not about you. He has been horrific towards me and I don’t want him in my life. I need you to support me in this decision and to accept my choice.”
Oh, LW, how I feel your pain. Substitute “complete abandonment” for “emotional abuse” and this is my family exactly. Except it’s my mom pressuring me to forgive because FAAAAAAMILY (and also because JEEEEEEESUS), because she decided it would be a good idea to REMARRY the man who abandoned her and their kids. You know, as you do.
And for the first time in my life, I took a strong stand against my family (instead of just moving 3000 miles away from them and pretending our issues don’t exist). It was hard. It made me into the bad guy, because he’s sorry! Why am I being so mean? Why am I making everything so difficult? It took me a while to get past the guilt and to realize that you know what? You can ask for forgiveness, but you can’t expect it, and nobody *owes* it to you. Maybe she’s right and he’s changed and he feels bad. That really means nothing to me. It doesn’t change the past, it doesn’t make me any less damaged by his actions. And I have every right to not engage with him.
And so I basically did what the Captain suggested here. I made it clear to my mom that hey, I know where the guy lives. I will reach out when I want to. Otherwise, I don’t need to hear from him, and I don’t need to hear from her that he’s there, that he’s sorry, blah blah blah. It hasn’t been easy, but for the most part she’s complied. There are things I choose to overlook – stories about what she’s been up to that involve him, Christmas cards signed by both of them – because a) they live together; and b) I fortunately live 3000 miles away and can pick my battles. But there have definitely been moments when I’ve had to really enforce that boundary, and it has sucked. The last time basically ruined one of the few times I see my mom in person and nearly led to a very public fight in a hospital waiting room.
So you can do this. You can make this boundary, and you can enforce it. It will be hard, but totally worth it for a life free of that dude. Of course, what’s made it easier is that Team Me is solidly on my side. Some of my friends come from great families! Some of them are religious! They all agree that I have every right to determine who gets to be in my life. So to me, getting your husband on board is the more critical aspect here. As the Captain points out, this isn’t “a mistake.” This is a lifetime of bad parenting that has (presumably) left you with some pretty serious emotional scars. Maybe it would be helpful to turn the issue around on him, so he’s thinking about it as a son rather than a father? If someone treated your child like that, would he pressure your child to forgive and forget, to allow that person back into his/her life?
Anyway, I wish you all the luck in the world and a million Jedi hugs. And also frequent listens to this song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpQNLZRcNA4. (There are lots of covers out there if her voice annoys you.)
THAT SONG, THAT SONG. I LOVE THAT SONG.
That song is the best thing of my whole week so far.
SO MUCH RHYMEY GOODNESS.
Thank you for posting that song, I adore it.
“Jesus loves you, but the rest of us think you’re an asshole” is another good phrase to remember.
I kind of like her voice actually.
I also thought of this song for all those who abuse you and then want you to baby their feelings afterwards:
Ugggggghhhhh. Just, ugh, no. So the thing about “mistakes he made years ago”: I have had to draw some boundaries with my mom about my kids (and myself), and part of this involved not letting her be alone with the babies. Part of this is because of some extremely questionable judgment she showed about their safety, and part of it is that she was just a really lousy, emotionally untrustworthy mom to me, and I don’t trust her with my kids, and I never will. Maybe–*maybe*–they can spend one-on-one time with her when they’re older, but right now they’re very small and their BS detectors aren’t online yet.
When she and I talked about this, she made the same mistake Clay is making: they are both framing this boundary as “punishment” for past “mistakes.” Certainly, my mom made mistakes, but I am not “punishing” her, and “mistakes” are not the problem. The mark of a genuine mistake is that, when the mistake is pointed out, the person who made it apologizes and then does not make it again. This is not what my mom did/does, and it is not what the LW’s father did/does. Everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone manifests a pattern of bullying and emotional betrayal. I am not “punishing” her, I am protecting my children from a known threat.
And hey, maybe she will change. Good for her, but it would take *years* of evidence for me to be convinced. In the meantime, first, my kids are not going to be the guinea pigs, and second, if she does actually change in the way she would need to change for me to consider her safe, she will understand and accept that I will never trust her. Her continuing to pressure me is evidence that she has not changed and is not safe.
It can be hard to protect your own children when that means to contradict everything your parents have ever taught you. They will not understand, and they will push back, hard.
Me and my husband had to be very strict about my brother not being near our baby. He is mentally disabled, and while he means well, he has no idea how strong he really is, he gets violent very easily and he does not understand that other people, especially babies, can be fragile.
My parents are in denial about those points. ‘He would *never* harm a baby’, they said. Fact is, my brother stepped on my cousin’s baby. And yet, ‘he would never’. I wasn’t allowed to keep my pets away from him (‘he would never hit your pet’ was another lie), but things change when it’s your own child you have to protect.
Which, in return, made my parents unsafe, too. They could not be trusted alone with the baby because they can not be trusted to keep my brother at distance.
Now that our child is approaching the age of 2, things are getting better. He’s more sturdy now.
I’m so glad my husband took my side. When your partner tells you that there is a problem, you should not insist there isn’t and put your children at risk. Hopefully Clay will understand that, eventually.
So, Clay is emotionally siding with your abusive father?
That is really REALLY problematic.
I don’t know if Clay gets that is what he is doing, but he is. He is not putting himself in YOUR shoes. He is identifying with your dad, and minimizing your dad’s behavior – and his current disrespect for you – in order to do so. And Clay is gaslighting you by claiming that you are “unreasonable”, all in the service of Clay’s wanting to have nicefeels about your dad.
Maybe if you point this out to Clay he’ll back the fuck off. Right now, he’s being an enabler of emotional abuse.
I think it’s possible that this is more about Clay’s anxieties about parenthood than your relationship with your father. Parents are often told that as long as they love their kids and do their best then that will be sufficient to make them decent parents with good kids. Clay is being confronted by apparent proof that that doesn’t always work, after all, your dad says he loves you, he probably says he did his best and you still cut him off.
That isn’t your problem no matter how much Clay might be trying to make it your problem. If he’s that worried about how his kid is going to feel about him then it might be time to suggest a decent therapist and let him work it out with them. Neither of you can make your child love him by getting back in touch with your father.
I asked my dad to leave me alone for a lot of reasons, none of which constitute abuse. Because they weren’t *super serious* reasons, a lot of my family members don’t get it. My mother does, which is awesome, and then a couple months ago my sister and I were talking before an event, and she said she didn’t understand why I was no longer talking to him. I said something like, “You know who he is. If you had a boyfriend in your life who acts the way he does, or a friend, would you even bother with them at this point in your life? It boils down to this: he brought nothing positive to my life, and a handful of negatives. I didn’t like the way he treated me, my mother, or my daughter. Is that really someone I should have in my life?” Fortunately, lately she’s been assessing what kind of people are important in her own life, and she basically nodded, eyes wide, and said, “When you put it that way, it makes perfect sense.”
My daughter is old enough to make her own decisions about him, so I leave that to her. Your kid isn’t. I regret letting my daughter see how my dad treated me, and letting him treat her the way same, but I’m proud that I stood my ground and said, “This person brings nothing to the table, and takes from the table on the regular basis so I don’t want them at the table.”
I’m wondering how Clay’s dad gets along with HIS father-in-law. Is it possible Clay was looking forward to having a new dad figure to be buddies with, and this situation is bringing his disappointment at not getting that out in the guise of concern for his own child?
I feel like the LW’s father is under an essential misapprehension here. Clay might be too.
He thinks the mistake he made was not having enough of a relationship with his young child. Therefore, he thinks this can be fixed by having MORE of a relationship with his child now! And therefore the LW is just holding back from health by refusing to let this happen. From this POV, annual Facebook messages are a sign that he’s trying to change.
His actual mistake was causing his child emotional harm through his words and actions. This can be fixed by not hurting her anymore. The only person who can tell if the LW is being hurt is her. Annual Facebook messages here are a sign that he’s still trying to get the LW to ignore her own feelings and prioritize his health and happiness over hers.
So he isn’t being cut off just for mistakes he made years ago; he’s also being cut off because RIGHT NOW AT THIS MOMENT he’s deciding he knows best, trying to control the LW, and manipulating her relationships with her siblings. He still isn’t willing to acknowledge his daughter as an adult capable of making her own decisions, or as someone whose opinion matters to him.
And Bingo was his name-o. When I was still getting messages from my family every so often, that’s how I broke it down to my husband. Every time they contacted me after I told them not to was more proof that I was right in the first place. It was more proof that they did not care about me and what I wanted and were only interested in making themselves feel better.
And what elodieunderglass said as well is true. The conversations you have with your dad are not the conversations Clay/your sister and your dad are having. You will hear subtext and references that they do not hear. A message from my mum telling me she has some medical problems and I should get myself checked sounds concerned and helpful to my husband. To me, it’s her denying (again) my actual health problems and centring herself in my life so it can all revolve around her.
I have a parent who also had done the thing of “Other-Parent has Medical problem X – you know, you should really have gotten yourself checked out already”. (Yes, with that exact use of verb tenses.)
At least one friend got what squicked me out about that utterance: called it “having a tin ear”, as the most charitable explanation. And, yeah, a power-play as the least charitable: a way to assert control over offspring even in their adult years.
“A message from my mum telling me she has some medical problems and I should get myself checked sounds concerned and helpful to my husband. To me, it’s her denying (again) my actual health problems and centring herself in my life so it can all revolve around her.”
Ouch. That one just hit me in the gut. Hard.
Spot on. As usual.
A person who committed past evils, who recognizes those evils, and who is now truly repentant will recognize that he has no right to expect your forgiveness. Instead, he will privately hope for your forgiveness, but will publicly leave you alone. Your father is not truly repentant – he has not accepted that he has no right to ask anything of you. He is still asking things of you, because he still doesn’t think what he did was that bad. You are doing the right thing. Stay strong, and comfort Clay that abuse is not “mistakes” and that Clay cares very much and so he will be a good dad.
The ‘Field of Fucks’ is from here: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/medieval-macros-bayeux-tapestry-parodies
And you can make your own here: http://bayeux.datensalat.net/
I have really bad news for Clay: even if your wife reconciles with her father, your child could still leave you.
Parenting sucks. Parenting is terrifyingly vulnerable. You are creating a baby that you can love and nurture and influence… but at the same time, you do not actually have control over whether they love you or not, whether they live or die, whether they become a Nobel-winning scientist or a serial killer. You can do your best, but at the end of the day it is out of your hands. You are going to have to learn how to deal with this.
Making other people do things they don’t want to do so that you are less anxious is a very bad long-term strategy; it won’t make you less anxious, and it will put strain on your relationships. Instead, you have to find the strength and courage to acknowledge your fears and then step back from trying to fix it because the people you love need to figure things out for themselves.
I would really love to connect Clay with something that can help him learn this: a male relative who can help him sit with his fears, a supportive parenting group for men, a therapist, anything. From a distance I can mention Dr. Brene Brown’s research on vulnerability and relationships, which is all about feeling the fear and being able to love anyway. A lot of the research’s takeaways can be found in book form, as a brief audiobook on parenting, or as a 20-minute TED talk.
I think this is great advice and I loved Dr. Brown’s TED talk! Strange thing, though — I can’t seem to click through the “book form” link. Is this happening to anyone else?
I done formatted the book link wrong. :p Here it is!
Thanks! It looks fascinating and I think I’ll go and pick up a copy.
Clay calling you ‘unreasonable’ is a pretty concerning sign, LW. (Silver lining: At least he didn’t say ‘hysterical’?) CA offered some great scripts, but just in case your husband has a pattern of discounting ’emotional’ stuff as less than ‘logic’ or ‘reason’, maybe you guys should also have a talk about how your life is not, actually a court of law, and you don’t have to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that your father is a bad guy, and that ‘he makes me miserable’ is really all the information Clay should need.
Also, I second the idea from a commenter above, I bet sister has been pressuring Clay behind LW’s back.
Hey LW, it makes me angry that Clay is choosing to believe in the hypothetical goodness of a man he’s never met over your word that your father is terrible. It reminds me of the phenomenon where people mention oppression or harrassment they’ve experienced to people with privilege, and they try frantically to come up with alternative explanations to make it not harrassment. http://www.shakesville.com/2013/12/occams-big-paisley-tie.html?m=1
Also, it feels like some weird kind of bro-solidarity, which causes me to give massive side eye. Or at least more charitably Clay is so overwhelmed by impending fatherhood he’s suddenly prioritising the well being of any and all fathers over the well being of his wife and child. Actually screw that too. Clay needs to immediately stop making this situation all about him, because it’s not about him at all. He’s being a selfish tool about this.
Here are some other salient points. Even if you accepted your father back into your life (which I’m *not* advocating) it would still be possible years from now for your child to cut Clay out of their life for some reason. It doesn’t matter whether or not you see your father, that’s always a possibility. Also, I guess Clay is worried future-child will see you cutting off your father as an example to follow, but that’s BS. It takes a lot more than seeing someone else do it to want to cut off our own parents. I have a difficult mother and I’ve *considered* cutting her off and it’s agonising and instead I’ve just limited contact and tried to set boundaries. Children don’t just cut parents out of their lives because it seems to be trendy. It’s a huge big deal.
Clay is putting his own feelings of fatherhood ahead of your safety and well being. Shut that shit down however you can. He should believe you, his wife, who he theoretically loves and trusts, over some man he’s never even met.
As for calling you unreasonable, *of course* that made you angry. It’s gasslighting. It leaves you trying to defend your own rationality, and frames him as the logical one. Fury is a perfectly reasonable response in the face of that. Clay needs to stop framing you as unreasonable *immediately* because that is totally uncool, manipulative behaviour. I hope it was out of character for him, because as a pattern of behaviour it’s bad news indeed.
First of all, urgh on family feels for trying to emotionally blackmail, well anyone, but importantly on pregnant LW.
Right now everyone should be supporting LW and husband during the pregnancy.
Secondly I think the scripts are excellent, well done CaptainAwkward for such neutral (I.e. does’nt allow others to go “emotional pregnancy hormones make you crazy” reverse emodumping).
Thirdly, and I don’t know if this is allowed and if so moderate/delete my comment)…
…I have a suggestion as a last resort if the scripts don’t work.
A friend of mine is currently expecting. She and her husband have a ‘Pregnancy veto’ system.
They have 2 notebooks.
Book 1 is the veto book. They both have a section. In this book they write down things that each other, family and friends have said that they will NOT address during the pregnancy, because all they do is upset Mama/Papa to be and have no real use.
The emodumping of your family, LW, would fall in this category as all it doing is upset and stress you out.
Book 2 is the veto-ish book. This is not a notebook but a Calender book. In this they write down things that they should deal with, on the date it is said, but that they do NOT want to address that day because, Papa-to-be had a night shift, or Mama-to-be couldn’nt sleep as Baby kicked her in the kidneys all night.
It has things in it like the Grandmama argument over christening gowns, or vaccination feels. They review it each week and if they can resolve it then they do. If not it gets bumped until they have the emotional strength to deal with it.
All of us, spouse, family, friends (in that order of importance) know about it. When we are told whatever we said has been “vetoed” we know that we re not to bring it up again/it will be addressed at the appropriate time.
This works (for them) very well and the Grandmama’s sorted the Christening gown argument out between themselves.
It MAY work for you, again, as a last ditch resort IF you are still suffering family feels of “WHY can’t you forgive him???” You can resort to “PREGNANCY go away!
This last bit is obviously not the best but it might give you some breathing space which, frankly, I think you are long over due!
Wishing you a happy rest of pregnancy and complication free delivery. 🙂
I think that is a really cool system.
Clay is really pissing me off. You don’t owe anybody your attention, and Clay needs to deal with that fact.
1. You don’t need a good-enough reason. You don’t need a reason that will convince Clay. If you need a script, use “instinct” or “my gut” or “it makes my stomach hurt.”
2. You know what Clay needs to worry about? Being a good husband in the present, not being a good father in the future. He can’t control whether or not his kid is going to cut him off in some off-chance hypothetical future. But he can control whether or not he’s considerate, respectful, and supportive to you NOW.
3. Part of being a good father is not pressuring your wife to let some sketchy person into your kid’s life, despite her better judgment. Especially some sketchy person she’s known for decades and you’ve never met. It’s not a bad thing to err on the side of caution.
4. WTF is Clay doing putting someone else’s feelings above his own wife’s? How far does this go? Are you supposed to just open the door to anyone who has abused and may abuse you (and your child) again? If the next door neighbor made you feel skeevy, would you need to ignore those feelings because the neighbor’s feelings are more important?
Sidenote: Good parents also don’t pressure their kids to be around people they dislike, even if they can’t articulate why. *Especially* if they can’t articulate why.
OK, so I am a huge Captain Awkward fan and this is the first post in a very long time that I have not agreed with entirely, but –
This isn’t really about LW’s father. It’s about her, and her child.
She absolutely does not have to put up with any more of his shit, and it is good she is now in a boundary-setting place where she can say: No. No, that’s not a thing I’m going to endure. Go away.
The problem with “cut him out completely” is that she’ll deny herself (and her child) *any* positive relationship with her father and the child’s grandfather. If he’s still an abusive jerk, then that’s no loss. But if he isn’t…
Why isn’t it good advice to find out, on a very short leash, and with very firm boundaries, and if he steps over any of them then that’s it? Maybe there is still some good that can come from having even a very limited relationship with her father and her child’s grandfather. She’s in the position of power there – if he steps out of line in any way at all, if he makes her uncomfortable, she can end the contact. And then she’ll know she at least tried.
I do know people who’ve had to cut off relations with one of their parents for /years/. And quite rightly so – the break was entirely necessary to end the abuse. But who have since reconnected with that parent and gain from that relationship – whilst keeping that parent on a tight leash so they cannot hurt them again.
I get this is kind of saying “give Vader a chance, there’s still good in him, I’ve felt it”. But there often is, /as long as you can set up any such chance so that Vader doesn’t have the power to hurt you/.
This isn’t “forgiving”. It certainly isn’t “forgetting”. It’s not about the former abuser and his “entitlements” or “rights”. It’s just seeing if there is anything at all that can be salvaged with time, whilst very much concentrating on containing the threat.
I was waiting to see this argument show up, and here it is!
Do you think she hasn’t thought of this? That this is a decision made lightly?
The Letter Writer has a ton of information that the dad is bad news, and he already makes her uncomfortable enough that this is a bad idea. It’s a bad idea for the Letter Writer, therefore, it is a bad idea for the family. “But think of the child who will miss out…” “on getting to know an ASSHOLE.” Why would Clay, or you, pressure the LW to override her own history, everything she knows about this person for the risk he might do “okay?” You are right, it is a Vader situation. And it’s not a good enough reason. She gets the final say on whether she wants her dad in her life or her child’s life. This is “but he’s faaaaaamily” dressed up in a slightly different outfit. It still looks like Vader underneath. Maybe he’ll be a perfectly adequate grampa (it’s not exactly a hard job), but having him around will still hurt the Letter Writer every single time she sees him.
She is the boss of how to handle her relationship with her abuser. No one else. Not Clay, not the idea of family, not this ideal of what a grandparent could be.
That said, of course (as has been pointed out to me)
– she asked for scripts, not whether she should maintain contact
– I don’t know whether she tried during that time
– she might be doing her job as a parent and keeping her poisonous dad away from her child
– It is TOTALLY up to her to have this person in her life or not.
My point is simply that it also might be empowering for her to know she has the option of considering possible positive future contact without the very attempt snowballing, which might be a helpful thing for her husband and sister to convey. And that sometimes good can come of this, even when people in the LW’s position have been extremely dubious of the possibility.
She knows she has the option of future contact because people like you and her sister and her husband won’t stop telling her that she should get in contact with him! The best thing (for me at least) was people telling me the future contact WASN’T an option because I didn’t want it to be and what I wanted was the most important thing, in a way it never was when I was a kid.
The most empowering thing for someone who’s cut a family member out? Being allowed to have made that decision without people who weren’t there and didn’t experience it (or fuck, even people who were there and did experience it) constantly second-guessing you and giving you ‘options’ you don’t want.
Jesus, this stuff makes me so mad! I’ve had ten goddamn years of people asking me to consider the ‘option’ of a ‘positive’ relationship. Do you know what? I’ve got loads of actual, positive relationships in my life, people who have proven to me that they can treat me like a human being and with compassion and love. Why should I open it up to people who haven’t done that the whole time I’ve known them JUST IN CASE they’ve changed? Setting boundaries and waiting for people to overstep them is EXHAUSTING and not exactly the thing you want to do when you’re having a baby.
This idea that the relationship between the baby and the grandfather is something that is necessary and without even the chance of it, the baby might grow up, what? Grandfatherless? What about all the babies whose grandfathers died before they were born? Are they missing something vital and important from their lives? Their lives will be colourless and sad compared to the babies with grandfathers?
OK. I’m going to chill now. But Worried, you have to realise that you are doing the same ‘faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamily’ dance that the LW wrote in about.
“This idea that the relationship between the baby and the grandfather is something that is necessary and without even the chance of it, the baby might grow up, what? Grandfatherless? What about all the babies whose grandfathers died before they were born? Are they missing something vital and important from their lives? Their lives will be colourless and sad compared to the babies with grandfathers?”
As someone who grew up without any living grandfathers and one living (biological, only got in contact with her child after her adult child sought her out 20+ years after the adoption) grandmother… uh, yeah, kids do okay without grandparents. It’ll be fine. It’s more important that the child grow up with as few assholes in their life as possible, with their mother under as little stress from abusive assholes as possible.
(I had honestly never thought of myself in relationship to the “What about the chiiiiiildren” argument before, so this is kind of a… hunh. People think this is vital? O…kay?)
I really like the paragraph about grandfatherlessness. (That’s a hell of a word…)
It’s funny, recently my father gave a toast at my brother’s birthday, discussing the family members who never got to see us grow up and who he wished we got to know.
Normally, he mentions his mother, who I do wish I could’ve known. She sounded like a really interesting person. This time, for maybe the first time, he also mentioned his dad, who died when he was a teen. My thoughts basically just looked like ????????? at that point. Dearest father, from everything you’ve said about him, he sounded like an alcoholic and an asshole (when he was drinking, which was apparently pretty much constantly, because alcoholic), and possibly abusive. I do not feel ANY lack of him. Grandparents aren’t just important for their symbolic meaning…
Of course it could be empowering for her to know that she has the option. Thing is, she ALREADY KNOWS THAT.
This is not “she doesn’t know she has the option”. This is “she knows she has the option, she has decided not to take it, and she now needs to deal with her husband trying to get her to reverse her decision”. You are arguing about a step she’s already gone through and dealt with.
“If he’s still an abusive jerk, then that’s no loss. But if he isn’t…”
But if he isn’t, what? You couldn’t even finish that thought. What terrible consequences will befall LW if she doesn’t allow a boundary-trampling father with a long history of abuse back into her life for One Last Chance? And what are the odds of those terrible consequences happening, versus the very high probability of terrible consequences resulting from allowing Asshole Dad to inject himself into her family and involve himself with her child?
You know how you make sure there is no chance an abusive person has the chance to abuse you again? You keep them out of your life. The bonus part of this is, when (rarely “if”) they turn out to be abusive, you do not have to start the process of excluding them all over again. In fact, if you let them back into your life, excluding them is worse, because now they’ve been taught that they can indeed worm their way back in if they persist and nag and enlist others in their bullshit long enough.
Nobody is obliged to dig through a mountain of horseshit because there’s a tiny chance they might find a pony.
“Nobody is obliged to dig through a mountain of horseshit because there’s a tiny chance they might find a pony.”
I’m so stealing that analogy.
This analogy is made of win! Use it I shall.
That sentence you quoted stood out to me, too.
Just by mere logic, it should be finished – and I think that’s what the commenter thought when they wrote it, too – with “But if he isn’t [an abusive jerk anymore], then that is a loss.”
And I just… no? It isn’t? There are a million nice, non-abusive people in this world who all aren’t in LW’s life and that still certainly doesn’t consitute as a loss. Also, future grandchild won’t ever have known their grandfather, thus has no way of missing him (maybe in a more abstract sense, like missing the idea of having two grandfathers, but not him specifically, obviously). And to go even further, LW describes *the complete rest of her family*, Clay’s whole extended family as well as her own mother, as happy and a good environment. That seems like enough of a positive force in her life so that she really doesn’t need her abusive father just so she can say he’s included there, too.
“One Last Chance”—yeah no. One Last Chance is like saying “tomorrow.” There’s always another one on the horizon for people who are pushing the mythical One Last Chance. Getting them to accept that the One Last Chance has been given, been failed, and is not renewable is like getting teenagers in puppy love to hang up the phone.
This just makes me so angry. I’m guessing that you don’t know what it’s like to have a parent, the *one person* in the *entire world* who is supposed to be your mommy or your daddy, be untrustworthy or abusive or just generally shitty. Well let me tell you something: it fucking sucks. It just fucking sucks so fucking bad. Lemme tell you a story: a few days after my first son was born, I was tired in a way that the word “tired” doesn’t capture: I was sleep-deprived and sore and bone-weary and hormonal, and I was just kind of lying in bed with tears trickling down my cheeks, when the thought flashed through my mind: “I want my mommy.” And I did. I wanted my mommy to come put her arms around me and smooth my hair and get me a drink of cool water and tell me that all would be well. But here’s the thing: I don’t have a mommy. I know a person I call “mom,” but she’s not a mom. She spent my life undermining, bullying, and gaslighting me, blaming me for not knowing how to do things that kids don’t know how to do, mocking me to my friends and encouraging them to turn on me, tearing me down to make herself look good, etc., etc., ad nauseam. So when I was reduced through pain and exhaustion to wanting my mommy, it was doubly bad because my next thought had to be, “Oh yeah. I don’t have one of those.” I don’t have one of those, and it always hurts. What you have failed to understand is that having an untrustworthy parent is having a wound that is always being reopened. When you suggest that if only the LW would set the right kind of boundary, her father wouldn’t “have the power to hurt” her, you are failing to see that the hurt the LW’s father did her in the past continues to hurt in the now. This hurt persists. This hurt constantly recurs.
You’re not the only one that’s had that experience. I’m glad to hear I’m not either, and I’m impressed that you were able to put it out there like that.
Oh yes, this so much. Thankyou for laying it out so clearly.
It is so unbelievably hard to accept that there’s nothing you can do to *fix* your parent and turn them into the parent you desperately want as well. Harder than accepting the reality of an abusive partner, because at least with those you know that in theory you can go out and look for a new partner who is nice and lovely and everything you want. You don’t get to go and find a new parent who you grew up with and love and trust at the absolute core of your being because they were there when you were a baby. This is why the decision to cut off a parent is insanely difficult – you finally let go of the hope that they’ll be the parent you want – and why asking someone if maybe actually they should give them some more chances is just cruel.
Yes. It will never stop hurting that my abusive parent isn’t the person he should have been. The one I could see on the good days when I was growing up.
I just want to write a massive “THIS!” in obnoxious green sparkle text.
You aren’t just hurt by the parent you have. You are hurt by the parent you _don’t_ have.
THIS. These are the feelings I have X2 – biological Mom is BEES, while stepmom, who was a fantastic Mom, died a few years ago. So I really don’t have a Mom now, and reminders of that is deeply painful. *hugs*
Thank you so so much for this comment. This is raw golden truth.
This just made me cry. I know exactly how this feels and I am so, so sorry that you do, too, Leonine.
To “Worried:” BUTT THE HELL OUT OF OTHER PEOPLE’S BUSINESS. Jesus Harriet Christ driving a hot pink semi filled with CLUE-BY-FOURS, no one cuts off a parent BECAUSE IT IS FUN. No one does it because the parent made “one mistake.” I know people who are still in touch with parents WHO RAPED THEM REPEATEDLY. THAT is how strong the cultural narrative is that we’re not ALLOWED to have our own lives separate from these vicious and poisonous people. And you come in here bleating that those of us who scraped together the strength and willpower to draw a few healthy boundaries might be “missing something?” Yes, we might be missing YET MORE ABUSE.
In short, fuck off.
Captain, I came back to apologize for my language. Do I need to go into the penalty box? I am sorry. But this is really a trigger point for me.
As long as victims feel emotionally pressured to give “one more chance,” the abuser will have that opening; this is the “forgiveness” that functions to clear the slate for abusers and make victims look like vicious crazy people for being hurt that they were abused; scripts like this make abuse more invisible and victims seem more unreasonable and unbelievable.
As far I as I am concerned, people like “Worried” are secondary abusers, busy making the world safe for rapists and pedophiles and emotional abusers and child molesters.
We know that the world is disbelieving of abuse victims.
We don’t believe that it happened.
Even if we believe it happened, we don’t believe it could have been THAT bad.
Even if we believe it WAS that bad, we don’t believe that victims should draw strong boundaries, or hold onto anger and hurt – we act like they’re the ones breaking the social contract by not “forgiving and forgetting” and falling back into line, instead of the abusers breaking the social contract by committing abuse.
We treat their pain and their personal decisions about that pain as public property in which we all have a stake, because No One Is Perfect and We All Make Mistakes and if the LW cuts off their Dad for emotional abuse, maybe Clay will have to be super careful about not committing emotional abuse towards his wife and child (MAYBE HE WILL HAVE TO BE CAREFUL AND MAYBE THAT’S NOT A BAD THING).
And when they do draw strong boundaries, we don’t believe them.
We don’t believe they’ve thought it through and made a subjective judgment about what is right for them in the circumstances of their lives!
We don’t believe that they’re done trying to Give It Just One More Go!
We don’t believe that they can be done, forever, even if they say: “I’m done, forever” and go about their lives for many years as if they are *done, forever*.
Thank you. Thank you.
One thing that is really valuable about this space is that we are believed. It is true, sometimes we have trouble believing ourselves.
It is so important.
This. x 1000.
As someone who has the kind of tightly controlled relationship you describe with her own dad and sees the value in it: this advice is not what the LW asked for or needs. Believe me, if a parent is shitty but not rising to the level of straight up abuse, then most adult children will do exactly what you describe, if only because it’s the path of least resistance thanks to people like you and the LW’s sister and husband.
When the parent is abusive enough that the child has cut off all contact despite all the social pressure to make it “work” at all costs? That should be a big fat neon flashing sign that Thar Be Bees Here. And unlike a situation like mine, the Pascal’s wager of To Cut Out or Not To Cut Out isn’t a relatively even tradeoff of “freedom but lots of whinging relatives and my children don’t have all their grandparents, vs. social acceptance but I’m on my toes monitoring whenever he visits and make sure never to share anything private or sensitive.” It’s more like:
Cut off: Freedom! and some whinging relatives/friends/whatever some of the time, your kids have one less grandparent
Keep him in your life, and he’s truly changed (unlikely): be incredibly stressed out whenever he comes around or contacts you, fear for your children, fear for yourself, make constant backup plans, etc etc etc
Keep him in your life, if he’s still an abuser (the massively more likely option): all of the above stress, plus he might abuse your kids, and if you ever try to cut him off again he will remember that it didn’t work the first time you tried and be emboldened to never leave you or your family in peace until the day he dies
That is not a good trade-off. I’d take the missing grandparent any day of the week. What is so great about one hypothetical grandfather-grandchild relationship that it’s worth urging LW to put herself through either of the latter two options? People don’t just cut their parents off unless something is seriously wrong, and that’s usually not a situation you want to get a grandchild involved in.
But here’s the thing: abusive jerks are also guys who donate to charity, buy girl scout cookies, help old ladies across the road and adopt puppies from the local pound. Months can go by without abuse, and good behaviour can be an attempt to buy freedom from guilt or an excuse for later bad behaviour. Every moment with him will merely be like schrodingers abuser, except with no way of telling whether he’s changed or whether the box just hasn’t been opened yet.
There’s no guarantee that abusive father won’t merely be abusive to LW jr when LW Jr hits whatever invisible trigger opens the box.
My SIL and her whole family went through this with her mema, the abuse stopped when they grew big enough to stand over her, but boy did my nieces get it when they were old enough to be cut by nanna’s sharp tongue.
“Every moment with him will merely be like schrodingers abuser”
Oh wow! This is brilliant!
Every summer from the year I was 10 to the year I was 16, my mother, siblings and I would spend at a house we rented out in the country. Every year, my mum’s parents would come for an extended stay.
Every year during that time, my grandfather molested me. Even when he didn’t, I was constantly on my guard, trying to not be left alone with him, worrying about what would happen, while also trying to not let my mother or grandmother knew. (I had reasons not to tell that made perfect sense to my child self…)
The last year was particularly bad because my sister wasn’t there and she was the only other person who knew what was happening, so the two of us had been helping one another so that neither of us would be left alone with him. Still, he didn’t actually touch me for most of the summer. I was thinking that maybe he wasn’t interested because I’d grown up too much. I was hoping that maybe he’d realized that what he’d been doing was wrong. But I could never trust him – and, in fact, towards the end of the summer he molested me again. And he smiled at me while doing it.
Even as an adult, I could never relax when he was in the same room that I was. My sister refused to come along when my mother went to visit her parents. I often did go along because otherwise he’d blame my mother for us not being there. And I was always stressed out and worrying, following my mum and grandmother to the kitchen instead of staying to talk with him, and so on. This fear stayed with me literally until he was on his death bed, when I was in my early 30s.
He never actually touched me inappropriately after that last summer. But his abuse kept hurting me for another decade and a half.
That is what repeated abuse does to you. It makes you unable to feel safe, even after years of non-abuse – because you can never ever be sure that he won’t do it again. You can never relax in his company.
LW, I support and applaud your decision to not expose yourself to that situation again. I hope that Clay will understand and feel the same.
I am 100% certain that the time to address this is REALLY NOT NOW. Not while the LW’s pregnant and would be healthier without a ton of stress; not while her husband’s working out a mountain of FEELS about fatherhood and family and potential abandonment. If it’s the right time to reconnect, the LW will know, because it will arise from her genuine desire to reconnect.
“She’s in the position of power there”
I can see how you might think this, particularly if you were not a victim of parental abuse yourself. Here is the problem with this line of thinking: abuse victims rarely, if EVER, are able to feel like they have power over their abuser. Even if they completely do. Even if everyone tells them they do. Even if, intellectually, they know they do too. This goes DOUBLY so with parents, who have generally had mental and physical power over you since the day you were born. Who the rest of society will tell you MUST be in your life, no matter the circumstances, because FAAAAAMILY.
Abuse gets in your brain, and your brain doesn’t care. Your brain is going to continue feeling small and weak and scared when it’s standing in front of That Person, probably for the rest of your life. Even if you know better. It can be difficult if not impossible to form a healthy relationship with someone, and to do the work of setting and keeping boundaries with that person (which, with a former abuser, is a LOT OF SOUL-SUCKING, EMOTIONALLY EXHAUSTING WORK; it’s not just “keep them on a tight leash and everything will be fine!”) when your brain is terrified of them.
As a victim of parental abuse, I would rather lose a thousand opportunities for an awesome relationship with my parents than be abused by them again. Period. There is no contest.
I also have to wonder, by the way, how your friends would feel about you using them as examples here. Because I know if I was your friend, and you were using my personal experience, which is specific to me and is not intended to be a guide for anyone else, to build a nice soapbox for yourself? I’d be pissed.
Just something to think about.
Agreed. Also, LW really *wouldn’t* be in a position of power in that scenario, because she’d be caving to pressure from her husband, sister, and strangers on the internet. She would feel that to actually and finally end things (after Just One More Chance, ffs) would invite more criticism from friends, loved ones, and complete strangers, which would pin her just as effectively as anything her father could manage directly.
Also addressing this sentence: “She’s in the position of power there…”, but from a different angle:
Given the history LW relates, the only “power” is that of determining her own boundaries. There is no power *at* *all* over the father. It’s not within her power to affect how her father had been or is still abusive (or not). She doesn’t make him abusive by calling out his behavior as abusive; I realize this is not what you would mean to say, but it’s very difficult not to draw that conclusion when ever I hear, “Oh but … just give him a chance!!” That plea, reasonable as it looks on the surface, actually invites the hearer to (yet again) discount the evidence of their own experiences.
It is only in LW’s own determination of her own boundaries – their nature, extent and hardness – that there is any power at all.
But the way Worried frames this particular objection actually REMOVES power from LW, in my opinion. “She’s in the position of power there…” which means, what exactly? A reminder to be responsible in exercising this power? “Just give him a chance?”
Her first responsibility will be to herself, her child, and her partner (to the extent that he steps up to the plate for her). Dangling in front of LW the vague notion of some missed goodness as the consequence for LW using the only power she has to guard her own well-being?
That’s no power at all.
I think this is a really important point. The way I read the power thing was: she has something he wants (contact), and she’s the only one who can decide whether or not to give it to him. But you’re completely right–when a ton of other people are busy trying to wheedle away at her decision, that’s no power at all.
…and perhaps to give a grandchild’s perspective on this… My grandfather abandoned my mother when she was little and then tried to reconnect with her as an adult. While I’m not sure that fits the technical definition of abuse, the situation was similar in that there was a big pressure on her to have a relationship with her dad on behalf of us children.
To be honest, I can’t help asking what any of us actually got out of that forced relationship. Throughout my childhood, I dreaded the one day a year we spent with my grandfather. I still have a weird feeling about the particular holiday he’d come and visit us. I could sense that my mother was extremely uncomfortable, but doing her best, and in turn I was also uncomfortable (because, frankly, my grandfather was a piece of work) and trying to play the Good Grandchild. When he left, I would always be grateful it was a whole year until I had to go through the charade again.
Grandchild-grandparent relationships can be a great thing for sure, but in my case, I would have preferred it if my mom had just said no to him.
I suspect she knows exactly what she’s denying her child and she’s doing it out of the purest maternal love.
If her father were an unrelated criminal, or a vicious animal, or a minefield, you’d have no problem understanding why she wants her child kept away from him. You’d think anyone who advised her to let her child hang out around those kinds of dangers and just “watch closely to contain the threat” was completely out of touch with consensus reality.
The fact that this man is a relative doesn’t change the fact that he is potentially a danger to her child.
I don’t know how Clay’s thought process works. Your father was abusive->so much so that the only safety you had was leaving him->let’s make sure he has lots of time with our child.
I mean… what?
Maybe LW has never been the position where she calls the shots before, though. Maybe she hasn’t had supports before who will back her up and enable her to take a tentative step to see if there’s a possibility of some positive relationship with the father without then pressuring her to continue it. Maybe she’s only had people who make her feel that if she makes any step, it will snowball and she will have to go through the painful process of escape all over again. Maybe her experience has only been people who won’t back her up.
But what if the people in her life now can do that? (However clumsily they might have approached the subject so far.) What if they can understand that she’s quite right to have cut him off, that she does not have to put up with his shit, and who can give her the confidence to see – for her own benefit, for her child’s benefit, not for him – if there’s any possibility of good at all?
That might actually be possible, and good might come of it. But LW may well not be thinking along those lines simply because to this point people have made it all about the father, and she’s rightly concerned that having any contact will be the crack in the dam wall that brings the deluge of abuse back on her head.
I’m suggesting that, with supports and firm boundaries, there might be ways of testing the waters without running that risk.
“Maybe LW has never been the position where she calls the shots before, though.”
Well, people in her life, including her shithead dad, don’t think she calls the shots now. Maybe she’d feel differently if no one pressured her for say, 10 years. Not “Hey, you’re pregnant, time to think about mending fences with your abuser, right?” Not hey, you’re pregnant, time to optimize every family relationship for the sake of THE CHILD.
There are people on this earth whose funeral I would attend just to make sure they are dead. I don’t care about the possibility that with some boundaries it might be okay under certain circumstances to see them again, because I know for sure that my life is already 100% better without them.
Yes! “Maybe not the worst thing ever” is not good enough to override “but definitely not good.”
“But what if the people in her life now can do that?”
I don’t think the guy who won’t respect her decision to cut off her parent after 16 years of abuse is going to be the guy who helps her call the shots, as opposed to the guy who takes her ability to call shots away because WHAT ABOUT THE UNBORNZ. Maybe that’s just me.
Any other person who required “support and firm boundaries” just to be included in the LW’s life would perhaps more clearly stand out as NOT WORTH IT. But because it’s a father you seem not to be able to see it. My dad and I have that kind of tight-leash relationship now, and let me tell you – it blows. 1. He’s not actually not-abusive, he just doesn’t do it to ME anymore. But he belittles my mom, etc. 2. I am certain that he would bully my hypothetical kids. Why would I even risk that, if I were the LW? Your rationale makes no sense.
The LW is calling the shots NOW and the shot she has called is never seeing her father ever again. I’m sure that she’s fully aware of her ability to call a different shot if she chooses to.
This makes me angry because it’s denying the power the LW has already exercised. From the sound of it the LW hasn’t had support from the people around her to back her up. You know where a good place for those people to start would be? THE CHOICE SHE ALREADY MADE.
*applause and Internets*
I just keep coming back to this comment and how you’ve hit the nail on the head. Brilliant.
Years ago, I was having trouble, and consulted a psychiatrist.
He had not been the first: too many counselors were ready to focus on how much damage they thought I would be doing to my future growth, if I was not prepared to resume interaction with my parents.
He, on the other hand, asked me a question, which has become my “gold standard” regarding interactions: “What would be different, if you actually did reach out to your parents?”
And then he was silent.
So was I. Thinking.
I took five minutes, sitting there in that office, thinking.
Then I said, cautiously at first, “Well, reaching out to them… it’s not really any different than what they expected me to do, ever since I can remember. I was always doing something to try and impress them, get them to love me, to get on their wave-length.
“But none of it worked. So,… ” deep breath, because this was the killer, and I was expecting the psychiatrist to contradict me, “I don’t think that anything would be different at all.”
To my utter surprise, the psychiatrist simply said, “Well then, that’s pretty clear.”
Would you be able to hear something similar from LW?
But the problem she wrote in about is literally, “The people in my life aren’t backing me up and allowing me to call the shots.” You ask, “What if they can understand that she’s quite right to have cut him off” — well, what if they can? That would be a damn good place for them to start, and so far they don’t seem to be there.
Yep. And they don’t need to be there to back up LW, particularly Clay. Where Clay needs to be is “You are my partner, and I trust you to make good decisions for yourself. You know your father better than I do. Even if I don’t understand what went on between you before, I respect your decision to cut off contact with him. If you decide to try again with him at some point in the future, I will support you in that as well.”
“Maybe LW has never been the position where she calls the shots before, though. Maybe she hasn’t had supports before who will back her up and enable her to take a tentative step to see if there’s a possibility of some positive relationship with the father without then pressuring her to continue it. Maybe she’s only had people who make her feel that if she makes any step, it will snowball and she will have to go through the painful process of escape all over again.”
Huh? This is pretty much the exact opposite of what is happening.
I spent the first five years of my marriage trying to hide/cope with my terrified conviction that eventually my DH’s family were going to drop the act and they were so OBVIOUSLY good at acting I was sure it was gonna be REALLY BAD.
Spoiler: they are actually that lovely.
So, I both like a lot of the scripts people have suggested for Clay and am dubious that scripts are the way to go, here. At least, on their own.
I absolutely agree that Clay needs to respect LW’s boundaries about her relationships with other people – her father or anyone. No ifs, ands, or buts. This is Thing One and must happen first.
He DOES have *some* right to have feelings and opinions about and influence over who is going to be in the lives of his and LW’s Child To Be, particularly if he’s going to be helping with the stressful process of enabling the relationships that, say, LW’s siblings have with the child while being ready to back LW up if her father turns up.
In order for that not to turn into an emotional clusterfuck and a power struggle I suspect that he needs to not just respect but also understand LW’s situation and be able to follow her reasoning even if he doesn’t ever completely buy it.
And Clay doesn’t understand abusive dynamics, like, at all. Which is not his fault! Unless he refuses to fix it now it’s been drawn to his attention.
I feel like LW is not the best person to explain and teach here, even if it were fair on her to have to do it all, because it’s exhausting and painful for her and also everything’s all tangled around everything.
If I were LW I would be pushing for him to do some serious reading, if that’s how he learns best, or have some sessions with a counsellor with a background in this stuff, or otherwise do some serious learning about this stuff from people who are not LW.
Marna (or others), do you have reading on this topic that you could recommend? I come from a happy family, and this thread is making me feel like I need to do some reading to avoid accidentally being a jerk to people who didn’t.
If you have a really strong stomach for reading about abuse this woman does a fantastic job of describing what it was like for her being raised by an abusive mother. Her “46 memories” are little written snapshots from her childhood and give a clear and horrifying window into the experience of parental abuse. I’ll put a CN: descriptions of emotional/physical abuse, neglect, abandonment on this link because holy crap is it heavy stuff: http://narcissistschild.blogspot.ca/
I think it’s good to read, though, if you have no experience with abuse. She also post links to interesting articles about studies on abuse, about adults who have survived abuse and the difficulties they face, and writes interesting articles herself on the topic. Really good site.
This is Kiri 🙂 I’m just popping in to say that the only partner I ever had who pushed me hard to reconnect with my mother turned out to be very abusive in a number of other ways as well and during our divorce he attempted to collude with her.
I know LW isn’t me, and Clay is probably a lovely person from a lovely family, but I gotta say, to me, any time someone does not respect a boundary around something so incredibly PERSONAL is still a red flag to me personally.
Ok, I didn’t have time to read all the comments -finals week…sigh- so I hope I’m not repeating anyone else’s wisdom, but I will add a dash of new(ish) parent paranoia to the mix. Even after your sister and other family members pinky swear that they won’t share you or your kid’s vitals with the dastardly dad, use caution with what you share with them. Little babies are fairly ubiquitous in social media and photos, but as your little one grows up -even just a little, there may be telling signs innocuously in the background like a special park or playground, or a sport team logo/name. These little tells *could* make it easy for dastardly dad to find you and your precious new family, where he could ‘happen’ to run into you in public. Scary shit! Don’t give them/him clues if you want to stay safe.
Also, even if Clay doesn’t understand your trauma, he must respect your boundaries. I’m a big proponent of couple’s therapy to find a safe space for him to listen and accept your side. Best wishes and happy gestating!
PS- stress & pregnancy sucks! I was hospitalized overnight in my second trimester with each of mine over stooopid over-doing it stuff a few days before. Tell Clay NOW that these are the rules. No dastardly dad. No way. No how.
LW, nobody ever deserves to be in your life if you don’t want them to be. Ever. No ifs, no buts. Well done for managing to cut someone out (it’s really hard) and best of luck sticking to it because whilst others might not understand, you’ve made the best decision you can make for you.
If I were in this situation, I would say something to Clay that would perhaps not be very kind but would be very *true*. I’d tell him that, in the unlikely event that he treated his child the way the LW’s father treated his, he would find himself swiftly without partner OR child because the baby deserves a safe and loving childhood and that is, and always will be, more important than any particular relationship.
It’s not very comforting for him to hear at all but really, he’s got to realise that child abuse doesn’t tend to just happen “by accident”. The LW’s father didn’t just “make mistakes”, he monumentally fucked up and harmed his own child. Does Clay think he’s likely to monumentally fucked up and harm his own child? It’s worth straight up asking him if he thinks that’s likely and if so *what is he going to do now, pre-baby, to prevent it?* The LW’s relationship with their Dad isn’t at all about Clay and his anxieties but if he’s really all that scared *of what he might do to deserve being cut off* rather than being scared of *being cut off* it might do him some good to actually work out how he can be the best dad he can possibly be and what help need might need now – counselling, parenting classes (or blogs or books), a dads-to-be group, whatever – and to get on with doing that rather than trying to solve the LW’s non-existent problem for her.
Good on Clay for having these concerns. Too bad it’s not really his decision to make.
I do have worries that at some point, Clay (and possibly Sister) are going to get in contact with LW’s dad and Clay is going to sneak child over to him regularly.
^ This blog is worth brushing up on my French for.
Ack this blog is delightful! I just wish I knew which words are quebecois-specific so I don’t end up making my Swiss friends laugh their butts off at me.
A Quebecoise captain! OH, what a delight. From that blog (Thank you, blog, for posting here!), the most quebecois sentence I have seen in a while, and one that I think you should try to push on your Swiss friends, too: “Faque heille, lourdeur.” Which I think translates to something like ‘therefore, hey, [emotional] heaviness”, and is now my new go-to response to any difficult situation.
Also, here is my resource for French-Canadian vocab, as my French is definitely from the other side of the ocean: http://www.dictionnaire-quebecois.com/index.html
Is she Quebecoise? I’ve been wondering just where some of the slang is from.
Oooooo very, I think. She just mentions being raised in a bilingual country, but I think the vocabulary is most particular. (Admittedly, she could be from New Brunswick, but based on my experience her French is very North American.)
I found another blog today which has been very helpful with the slang — http://offqc.com/
Wow, does this resonate–as it has with a lot of other commenters. I also had a rocky relationship with my father that led to periods of estrangement, and many of my family members did not understand. And with their views on religion, I was pressured quite often to forgive, and judged quite obviously for my refusal to do so. My therapist equipped me with these same boundary-enforcing tactics for shutting down conversations, and they did work–though I also had to endure a lot of “talking just loud for you to overhear that we’re talking about you” sorts of gossip about me and my refusal. I just did my best to pretend to ignore it publicly, and put it out of my head in private. It honestly was easier when I had to resort to “okay, obviously you aren’t respecting my wishes to not discuss this topic, and keep bringing it up when I try to gracefully disengage, so I’m going to leave and let you know that it’s because you’ve made me unwelcome.” Because yes, there was the anxiety of bucking social expectations that I was so attuned to, but when I finally did it, it was an endorphin-like rush of relief in the silence. I hadn’t realized how tensed I’d been every day for another super-polite-super-reasonable conversation about the issue until they weren’t happening anymore. If I ran into family at the store or anything like that I would just smile and return greetings and then walk away very obviously before they could start a conversation, then later tell them, “Sorry I couldn’t stay and talk, I was in a bit of a rush!” and give them the chance to converse with me in a space where I had more control to enforce boundaries if they brought it up. Eventually they honestly did stop bringing it up.
LW, I just wish you the absolute best in dealing with this. Your situation is much more complicated than mine, but the thing about enforcing boundaries is that it does get easier once you’ve rolled them out the first few times. It is going to be tough, and I really hope that Clay understands soon that his feelings really don’t have any bearing on the situation and thus stops bringing it up as if they do. But you can do this! You know that it’s what’s best for you, and that’s all the reason you need.
One more phrase for the back pocket: “I don’t expect you to abuse our child, so you have nothing to worry about here.”
“I don’t expect you to abuse me or our child” 😉
Or anybody else, really – because why would you stay with a person who is abusive to anybody? Anyway, off topic etc.
Oh, LW. My rageasaurus is flipping tables and setting them on fire on your behalf as I write this. You are absolutely not being unreasonable. You and only you get to decide who you want in your life, and your opinion is the only one that counts. Also, like my boyfriend said when we were discussing your letter, it’s *your* family. Who would be better able to judge whether they should be a part of your life than *you*? You are absolutely the expert on your own relatives.
All that said, I don’t think your partner means to be a jerk about this. Being estranged from my mother, I’ve run into plenty of people who just cannot conceive of their parent doing something so awful that they would stop wanting that person in their lives. On the one hand it’s incredibly frustrating to try to explain that no really, my life is better without her in it, but on the other hand I am happy (okay, a mix of happy and profoundly bitter) that some people get to live in a world where the idea that a parent could betray their own child so profoundly just does not compute.
Other commenters have already tackled the problem of your partner mixing up his fears about impending fatherhood and your unrelated relationship with your father in a way that’s kind of understandable even while it’s thoroughly unfair to you, so all I have to add is a reminder that even though it’s understandable, he still has absolutely no right to pressure you about your relationship with your father. I get that it’s scary to think that a child’s love is conditional, but there’s kind of an obvious workaround there: don’t be awful and your child won’t have to cut you off!
Also, I think there is, in sort of a strange way, an upside to being in a relationship with people like us (who’ve made the difficult and painful choice to cut off a relative) – we’ve already proven that we are not willing to keep people in our lives out of a sense of obligation, which means that anyone we do choose to keep relationships with can be certain that they are in our lives because we want them there, not because we don’t know how to get rid of them.
My script to tell other people, for those moments (especially over the holidays) when people suggest that I get back in touch with my family has been:
“My family was the kind that you read about in the worst books and news stories. I was so fortunate that I made it out of that house with half my sanity, and I’ve had years of therapy as an adult. All the therapists have told me to maintain no-contact with them, and you know how usually therapists want to keep you connected with your folks! I’m so fortunate to have made such great friends, and to have a sense of family through people like you.”
This feels manipulative (especially near the end)… but it’s true. Sometimes people are concerned and give me BS about forgiveness, and I simply say that time does heal all wounds, that I believe that forgiveness is a private thing between me and God, and if anyone ever apologized I would ofcourse forgive them… but right now, for my mental health, I need to maintain no-contact.
I’ve also had the more in-depth talk with my boyfriend, once. I basically told him that it would open old wounds and make me regress drastically in my mental health. My childhood is something that I’ve worked very hard to heal from, and I just have found that I cannot communicate at all with any of my family without it causing me unnecessary distress and emotional pain.
It’s been 5 years and counting since I was last in touch with ANY of my blood family, and I only wish I hadn’t been guilted by others into re-opening communication with them 7 years ago (after 5 years of minimally communicating, and before that another phase of being involved after minimal-communication for 3 years — so basically my whole adult life since was 17). It DOES get easier the more time goes on, and this time I’ve been lucky to have supportive friends and to have talked to others who also have cut off contact. It’s not the best maybe (?), but it preserves my mental health and works for me.
Hm, I’m the grandchild in a situation somewhat similar to this.
My paternal grandparents, especially my grandmother, were emotionally abusive. They also had very narrow views on parenting. They believed in corporeal punishments. They also insisted that they would treat grandchildren how they see fit when looking after them.
I never spent time alone with them when I was little.
My maternal grandparents were rather distant emotionally, wanted the children to function and used corporeal punishment. It was a carpet beater.
They also said: Your child, your rules. And they respected those boundaries.
I occasionally was there on my own.
My parents came to terms with their respective childhoods and made their peace.
They also moved us to another country mainly because of work, but they were rather happy about the added barrier of a mountain range between them and their parents.
Was I ever close to my grandparents? No, none of them.
Did it bother me? Not at all.
Did I like my grandparents? Well. I like my maternal grandmother. I liked my paternal grandfather. The other two not so much. Because of things they did. My parents didn’t influence me in any way.
Would I have missed out on anything if there had been no contact? No.
A lot of the things I learned about my grandparents I only learned about in my early 20ies, when 3/4 of them were already dead. It explained a lot of things.
My parents also told me that their rule of thumb when parenting was: ‘Do the opposite of what our parents did.’
Contact with my grandparents didn’t damage me. But no contact wouldn’t have done anything negative either.
People aren’t owed relationships just because you share a few genes. Once my maternal grandmother is dead, there will be no contact between me and my aunts, uncles and cousins, because she is the only one keeping it up.
My father and his siblings are in rather loose contact, mostly maintained by my father.
Family is the family you make with people you like. Not who you share some DNA with.
My grandmother is toxic and my mom knows it, and my brothers and I have resented having to spend time with her (to “build a relationship” because faaaamily) ever since we were children.
Oh, LW, I really feel for you. And this comes from someone with only ‘Clay’s’ perspective on family (my family is loving, generous, thoughtful) and I had to learn that my partner’s relationships with his family were not like mine. As far as I know, it was not the horror you speak of (as far as I know – which is never going to be that far), but he does not have and does not want a relationship with his family like I have with mine. It took me a while (as this also means I can’t build that kind of relationship without dragging him into something he doesn’t want, and that lack of faaaaaamily relations felt wrong to me), but at it’s most basic: you have to accept the other person’s choice on how to relate to their family (if that choice doesn’t hurt you or your partner). It doesn’t matter what their reasons are. You have good reasons. My partner has good reasons. Mostly, that he doesn’t want to – which is *enough*. Thankfully, and happily, he loves my family and is very happy to use my relationship model in that case – which is pretty nice of him. I cannot say this enough: you have the right to set your boundaries and choose your relationship with your family. It will be hard for Clay (it was hard for me), but I hope he can accept it. The Captain’s scripts are, as always, awesome.
After I severed with my parents (both abusive, one an alcoholic, one abusing prescription meds), something I got a lot of was “but you’ll feel so bad when they’re gone and you haven’t managed to make your peace with them!”
Well, they’re both dead.
I’m sorry they made themselves miserable by their own bad choices, of course, but I don’t feel badly for having nothing to do with either of them for years. Cutting them both off– as did all three of my sisters– was the smartest, healthiest choice for me.
I mourned the parents I wish they’d been, but I’m not sorry for walking away.
This, so many times.
A- to the -men. I particularly love the part about “I mourned the parents I wish they’d been” – it took me a long time to realize that that was how I felt about my dad. I’m sad for who I wish he could be, what I wish our relationship could be, but I don’t miss the actual him that exists in the world, and maintaining a relationship with the actual him that exists in the world is not something I want or need in my life. Once I got clear on separating those two things, it really strengthened my resolve to protect myself, instead of worrying about faaaaaaaaaaamily.
Not much to add next to the Captain’s excellent advice. My only thought is that, while the LW is not obliged to give anyone anything, things might be easier if she presented Clay with some simple examples of the shit that went down during her childhood. She mentions she hesitates to call the behavior abusive, maybe Clay is picking up on this ambivalence. Again, she’s not obliged to do anything, and explaining emotional abuse is really hard to do. But in my experience a couple of well-chosen examples, presented without exaggeration or justifications get the message across to all but the most deliberately obtuse audiences. Sadly, most people who have experienced this kind of abuse have a slew of disturbing examples to choose from. If after being presented with that information Clay’s attitudes don’t change then the LW has a current actual problem with her partner, not a past trauma with an abusive father.
Again, she knows her situation and the people involved best. Her judgement is sound and has taken her this far. But sometimes our thought processes seem so reasonable and sound that we fail to put them in words to other people coming from a completely different perspective. Think of Clay as coming from a completely alien culture: even the most basic concepts of your family culture need to be explained in very basic terms.
LW, you have all my love and support. You have made difficult decisions and survived so much shit, you truly deserve nothing but kudos for making it to where you are.
So it makes me sad you’re also receiving the “BUT FAAAAAMILLLLLYYYYYY” spiel from someone you love.
I was abused my entire childhood and teen years by a stepfather. My mother divorced him but later resumed contact and when I refused to follow suit I heard a lot of “but it happened SO LONG AGO, why are you PUNISHING him, don’t you think people can CHANGE?” (Like you, I didn’t care if he’d changed, if he felt bad, if he missed me. Oh well! He shouldn’t have abused me!) I used scripts similar to the Captain’s and maintained my boundaries furiously. Eventually my mother backed off but it cost us a lot of time and wore our relationship down to almost nothing. We’re only now starting to rebuild it. I love her, and I forgive her, but I will never forget what she did and how she made me feel.
I hope, hope, hope this does not happen between you and your sister. I wish you luck in discussing these things with her. I want you to know you deserve happiness and safety and support and you are allowed to look out for yourself and your child. Speaking as a child who grew up surrounded by difficult toxic maternal relatives my mother refused to cut out “because family,” I wish my mother had been able to do what you are doing. I did not develop a relationship with these people, and it brought me a lot of stress at a young age. I would have missed nothing by having them excised from our lives early.
You don’t have to forgive and forget — ever — if you don’t want to. There is no timetable for “getting over it.” Just because other people have maintained a relationship with your abuser, it doesn’t mean your decisions are “wrong.” They’re right for you and your family!
I wish someone had told me all of this when I was going through what you’re going through now: You matter, you get final say, and you will make a life you can live with.
There’s are two straightforward ways for LW to think about this contact and – perhaps – to display/explain the issue for Clay.
There are only three options for judging possibility of contact – direct or indirect – with LW dad.
1. He’s just the same as he’s always been. No problem here. No contact is the way to go.
2. He’s worse in some way than he was before. No problem. No contact.
3. He’s better than he used to be. Problems and questions can arise if LW were willing to entertain them. But only if.
Clay might be able to understand the issue in terms of simple black-and-white options like these. But seeing as, just with those 3 options, no contact wins over any possible contact, he should respect LW’s views on this.
Once past that hurdle he might be better able to walk through the questions and problems about how much better dad’s behaviour needs to be to permit any indirect contact. How much better would he have to be for anyone, LW particularly, to trust that he wouldn’t overstep any boundaries?
But really? His job is as a husband and a prospective father. He should be willing to get down on hands and knees to go around the house looking for those items that are dangerous only to crawling and toddling infants as well as doing the obvious things like putting in safety covers on power points. He should also be willing to anything and everything else he can to keep his family safe from other dangers that he can’t see from his usual vantage point. Some of them are things he can see for himself once he puts himself in the right position. For other risks and dangers, he can only go by what LW tells him now and what his children tell him in the future.
“He should be willing to get down on hands and knees to go around the house looking for those items that are dangerous only to crawling and toddling infants as well as doing the obvious things like putting in safety covers on power points. He should also be willing to anything and everything else he can to keep his family safe from other dangers that he can’t see from his usual vantage point.”
I love this analogy.
Regarding the sister and other family-of-origin members trying to get LW to “reconnect”:
The first few years after I stopped speaking to my mother, I got a lot of pressure from my father and stepmother (who thought I’d regret it because my dad cut his dad off and DID regret it) and other family members to interact with her.
I made things very clear: I told them that if they gave her my current contact information ever again, the next time I moved house, they wouldn’t get it either. I was in grad school then so this was a pretty effective threat.
Regarding the husband and prospective father:
He should be more concerned about the likelihood that your father will hurt the baby than that the baby will grow up bereft of a relationship with a complete asshat.
The thing about abusers is that they’re not necessarily abusive to everyone to the same degree; they have favourite targets. Other people won’t have the same experience even if they witness the abuse. So even if he’s a better person generally, he’s not necessarily going to be a better person with LW.
Also, nobody who has recovered from any abusive relationship ever wants to hear the words “but he’s changed” again. They ALWAYS change. They are in fact super, super nice to you when they are trying to get their claws back in, when they sense that you have checked out of the relationship and are about to leave for good. That’s part of the pattern abusive relationships have. Abusers are manipulative shits who are really good at sucking you back in. I have had to send back really nice presents and refuse money I could’ve used from my mother over the years when she has tried to get me back in her life, because I know from bitter experience that accepting things from her and spending even the smallest amount of time with her leads to a “honeymoon” period which never, ever, EVER lasts and culminates with another awful experience that I don’t want or need to have again.
“I believe Sister when she says he has changed, he feels bad, he cares about me, he wants a relationship, etc.
That doesn’t obligate me to invite him back into my life, ever. He can go be a better man someplace that is else.”
I love this phrasing and this sentiment.
LW, I’ve been there with the cutting on somebody and getting static from people about it. Somewhat tellingly, no one who actually knew the person I cut off, even relatives, ever get me shit about it, but people who didn’t would get all “faaaaaaaaaaaamily” at me. Trust your instincts, stick to your guns; you don’t owe your dad a chance.
Furthermore, somebody pushing you to reconnect so they can tell you how much they’ve changed and aren’t fucking awful anymore is evidence that they maybe didn’t change all that much. And Clay pushing you to reconnect to assuage his own fears about fatherhood is useless. Your reconnecting with your dad is not some kind of familial love rite he can use to craft a magical talisman of Good Fatherhood for himself to prevent his own kids from cutting him off. The most he can do is work as hard as he can to be a good dad.
I’m coming out of lurkdom for this, but my overall reaction is summed up as follows: Why is Clay more concerned with his father-in-law’s feelings as opposed to his wife’s sense of safety? Why does Clay feel that his father-in-law is entitled to taking up space in Clay’s wife’s life? (Awkward phrasing, but the pronouns require it). Why is Clay pretty much putting the father-in-law first here? Why does Clay feel that the father-in-law “deserves” a change to know his grandchild, but LW doesn’t deserve the right to stay away from an abusive person?
This behavior bothers me on so many levels, mostly because the LW shouldn’t have to justify her position to her husband. She shouldn’t have to go into details about why her father isn’t a safe person for Clay to support her. He should trust her view of things. Even if she did go into detail, would Clay simply say that “Oh, that was ages ago” or “You’re blowing that out of proportion”?
Probably not going to be a popular suggestion, but if it were me, I’d consider “recruiting my dad” in convincing Clay that he _should_ be cut off.
Dependent on how much you think it’ll cost you emotionally against how much you think you might gain, but I’d “reconnect”, let him back into your life, stay distant yourself but play nice, and just wait for him to revert to type.
At which point you can say to Clay,
“This is what I was talking about. This was one instance. Imagine years of it. What would it do to your head, your sense of self? Is this _really_ someone you want in your child’s life, in _my_life, in _your_ life? Neither do I.”
But I can be a bit of a manipulative bitch when my children are threatened, so, yeah.
Way too much work.
It’s not just that it’s too much work, that suggestion boils down to telling Clay “OK, since you don’t believe me that my father’s abuse was bad enough that I want never to see him again, I will set myself up to be abused again, because I expect you to believe me about how painful it was once you see it in real time.”
That approach sets Clay up as the authority over LW’s emotions and whether her reactions are reasonable. That would be unhealthy even if the immediate recipe wasn’t “take innocent LW, add known abuser, stir until it boils over, then hope the cook notices the mess when you ask him to please turn the stove off now.”
Yes – and “bystanders” in abuse situations often fail to see abuse even when it is actually happening in front of them. In this scenario, LW would be at risk of having Clay deny flat out that the abuse was what it was, or having him come up with some BS explanation of what just happened – on top of actually *having to go through the abuse again*.
I’ve been thinking about this, and my 2 cents is that Clay is not acting in a rational way. Say he badgers the LW into reconnecting with her dad — so what? What has he achieved with respect to his own fears? There are still countless people who have cut off contact with their parents for less than what the LW went through. So, it’s still not guaranteed that his kids will never cut him off. So, he needs to process this on his own. The fear of being cut off and being a bad parent is perfectly valid (especially when it’s your first kid and you feel lost), but dealing with this uncertainty (yes, there is a distant probability that you will fuck up being a father) by finding an external “problem” that needs to be solved (LW’s relationship or lack thereof with her father) is counterproductive (although this is how the mind works sometimes and I personally would find it annoying but not necessarily disrespectful). I think the way to go about this is if the LW does not acknowledge or feed into his “obsession” with the external problem — maybe then he will face his fear. Finding another male friend to talk with about fatherhood and the sheer responsibility of it may help. I think if I were the LW I would steer him towards this direction next time he brings up the topic.
Been mulling over saying this for a few days, but I think I’ve got to: Clay’s timing is so atrocious that IMO it’s a radar-ping in its own right. It’s just possible that he thinks the baby will be enough of a tie that he can initialize controlling behaviour over the LW on his own account.
I got that red flag too
Some people just can’t fully understand the situation until they’ve seen it for themselves. I hope Clay can come around to being in LW’s corner, where he should be.
Talking to my partner about my mother helped me to realize that I was actually abused and that the way my siblings and I were raised was not okay but she still had a nugget of “well, if you use your words you could work out some kind of relationship there,” for a long time.
Then it got to the point where I was dodging my mother’s calls because that way lies manipulation and I was getting my partner to help me write an email to my mother laying out how I felt, etc. etc. She helped me focus on how I’d like to move forward and why and scrapped anything that was accusatory/focused on past behavior. All good stuff.
My mother wrote back this terrible screed about how ungrateful I was, etc. etc. and my partner finally got that reason and logic and good communication were not going to save the day.
Now, whenever my mother emails me, my partner and I read it together and I don’t feel anxious about what my mother says. We laugh at her overblown, cartoon villain-esque rants and crack jokes about it for the rest of the week.
LW, your dad wanting to talk to you is 100 percent, across the board, ABOUT him. It’s not for you, or about it. It’s about his guilt, his need to explain, his whatever. He is probably, once again, trying to make his child meet his emotional needs instead of being present to meet hers. Because if it was about you, he would leave you alone. This is all him.
That seems especially manifest in the way he’s going about it, pushing sister to be the 3rd side of a 3-sided triangle youre trying to figure out how not to be a part of. Captain is right that you have to shut down the triangle.
Part of emotional abuse and manipulation is instilling fear, self-doubt, and uncertainty in the mainpulated person Moreso if they are a child. Some of that’s probably coming back up for you when otherwise well-meaning people in your life push you on this issue. I know it tends to for me. So does minimizing. Our brains do us a favor by minimizing what we’re going through to help us survive. But that survival trick is a double edged sword later when we don’t have the words to explain how bad it really was, just knots in our stomachs. And somehow the words that do come out aren’t able to convey the full force of the truth. Because we’re so habituated to minimizing for survival. It’s like the language isn’t there. That’s why naming things is so powerful. Like “mansplaining” or #YesAllWomen. Putting names to something provides an Ah-ha moment where so many of us are like *yes this.* You’re working towards your Naming the Thing place, and while you get there, you deserve not to have to put up with any misinformed misdirection from the people closest to your heart.
The only thing that works for me is to push through that self-doubt and fear and instinctive minimizing and say what I have to say. I have a hard ass time doing that. I was emotionally terrorized, and when I decide to take a stand on something, my heart starts pounding and I start shaking, and my reptile brain starts telling me I’m going to get screamed at, made fun of, or derided. I’m not. The barista at starbucks is not going to scream at me for asking to have my coffee remade. Nor is my boyfriend for saying I need alone time tonight rather than together time. But it pops up there in my minds eye like a bogeyman, and I have to stare it down each time, and act anyway, in clear non-minimizing, non-apologietic languague. Or the closest approximation. This is one of those times that any action is better than inaction. If I don’t, if I let the bogeyman of yesterday’s fears rule today’s life, *they’re still winning.*
Or to put it another way, I’m the adult in my own life now, not the child in theirs. Not anymore. Which is powerful, and amazing. I get to be the adult today that I didn’t see around me then. I get to kind of rewrite history by being the grownup it’s right for me to be. I didn’t have that agency as a child, but I do now.
Someone in your life as a child didn’t stand up to your dad and protect you from him. But you get a do-over. Because now you get to do for yourself what that person owed you and should have done for you then. In my case, I can take that statement, and feel self-pitying about it. Or I can take it and feel empowered by it. Which way of taking it is more empowering for me.
Take that amazing stand and feel awesome about it. Tell the people who are pushing you to be nicey nicey to him that it’s unacceptable. (I love Captian’s scripts on how to do that! OMG I’ll be using those.) Grieve that you have to do it for yourself now, but also be soooo happy you get to be the adult today with all the adult power to say *awwww hail no*. Feel empowered. It’s the best. Claim it and live it. In a healthy, balanced, loving way. And set the precedent for your child coming into this world that should have been set before you came into it. ❤
Sorry about the screed, you guys. All the Hugs evah.
This is beautiful and amazing and I will be coming back to it over and over. Thank you.
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