Behind a cut for parental bigotry & abuse.
I’m wondering if you have any scripts for explaining why your family won’t be at your wedding. I am no contact with my parents. My mom’s combination of untreated, unacknowledged mental illness and homophobia created a very toxic, very abusive childhood. My dad enabled/noped out of the situation (though they’re still together.) As the only child, I got parentified a lot, and my mom cycles between splitting me black and white pretty regularly. When I came out as a teen, she assaulted me then gave me the silent treatment until I went back in the closet to de-escalate things. She still blames me for making her have “the worst years of her life” over a decade later. The abuse left me with chronic medical issues.
Obviously, I don’t want them at my big gay wedding, and I’m in weekly therapy to heal and process what happened/move forward. But, talking about what happened is really hard, and weddings bring up a lot of questions about family. A lot of the abuse was very covert or happened behind closed doors, so I’m getting mixed reactions from people I knew as a kid. For example, my childhood minister refused to officiate without my parents in attendance because he “didn’t want to rupture the relationship with them” and said he “dreamed we could reconcile.” He’s gay, and he’s supposedly a liberal feminist, so that was unexpected and a kick in the gut. I don’t want my extended family there because I can’t replay the conversation with my childhood minister times twenty and keep a job and be a partner and plan a wedding and do self-care and not spiral.
A lot of well-meaning coworkers and acquaintances are mentioning my family and asking how they’ll be in the wedding/how they feel about the wedding being in partner’s state and not my home state. I’ve been glossing over it by telling white lies about them being there and changing the topic. It feels shitty to lie about it, but I don’t want to bring the mood down by talking about child abuse and then get the stigma of being an abuse survivor. I’m starting to explain to people like my in-laws, who are great and supportive, but it’s also scary and vulnerable to open up. My partner is being helpful and running interference with some of her family/our friends. Can you think of any short scripts for these quotidian conversations?
I’d love to plan a wedding without childhood trauma
Hi there, Wedding Planner!
Congratulations/Welcome to hell.
You do not owe people the story of your childhood.
You also do not owe people the performance of a happy upbringing or family life.
You do not owe them a wedding that fits their idea of what a wedding should be, or a picture of what a family should be like at this moment. Your wedding does not exist to spackle over or heal the relationships in your family. You do not owe them face-saving lies or keeping secrets to preserve “the mood.”
You don’t owe anyone preservation of their mental picture of who your parents are and what they are like.
You definitely do not owe your childhood minister his redemption and reconciliation fantasies. That minister did something bad and he should feel very bad. ““Sorry, hon, I gotta condone homophobic child abuse because I don’t want to be ~~~divisive!”
You also don’t owe anyone disclosure. As the great “PFC Marie” wrote in the My Mom Is Pressuring Me To Invite My Molester To My Wedding post:
“You are under no obligation to tell anybody about this abuse, ever. EVER. It doesn’t matter who wants to know, or whether or not you (or they) feel like they have extra super special reasons why they should get to know. They’re not the ones who have to experience the telling of it, and they’re not the ones who have to experience people’s awkward questions, huge mistakes, emotional reactions, and bug-eyed staring once the thing is known. So, only you get to decide who knows, and there is no “right” or “wrong” when it comes to those decisions, only what’s right or wrong for you.”
I recommend the entire post (content notes about mentions of childhood sex abuse apply, if you couldn’t tell from the title) if you want to feel less alone in all of this, if you want very detailed notes from a survivor on how it feels to disclose abuse and ways she made it work for her, and for the amazing letter writer update in the comments.
Because the lying is stressing you out, I think you might feel…”better” isn’t the word… more “in control” of the situation?…if you find a way to tell at least some of the truth about what is happening, at least to some people, while also maintaining control over how much/what/whether you disclose anything. At that wedding post, PFC Marie also talks about how people will often take their cue from you in how they react to disclosures, so if you want people to be calm and not pry further you can practice scripts with your therapist so you can deliver them with a “stay calm and do not pry further” sort of attitude.
To that end, here are a bunch of scripts that could be adapted depending on the audience and how you’re feeling at the time:
- “My future in-laws have been kind enough to take on most of the hosting and wedding planning load, I’m very lucky that way.”
- “I’m trying to balance being excited about wedding planning and dealing with a giant pile of family weirdness – can we talk about the exciting parts?”
- “Oof, families and weddings, it all gets super weird, right?” + “I am very excited about the food/the venue/my dress, let me tell you about it.”
- “My parents are homophobic*, so we don’t really communicate these days. It makes me really sad to think about it, but I have a lovely and supportive fiancée and her family is just wonderful.”
- “I’d love to be able to have my folks at my big gay wedding*, but I don’t want that day to be about navigating their feelings and prejudices.”
- “My parents and I are estranged.”
- “My parents and I aren’t close.”
- “My parents are homophobic and abusive and as a result we don’t talk now.”
- “My family is kind of fucked up. It’s sad, but it’s not my wedding’s job to fix my family.”
*“Gay kid who has minimal or no relationship with homophobic parents” is a story that people recognize. Of course, these stories almost always a crapton of abuse inside them, but maybe framing it in terms of your parents’ bigotry will give people a way to understand it that doesn’t involve disclosing details you’re uncomfortable with.
(I think that might be a couple of the saddest sentences I have ever written. What even is this world right now.)
I’m glad your partner is running interference for you. If her family has a couple people-who-know-everyone’s business, she could get them to help spread the word, too. “Relative, [Letter Writer’s] parents are homophobic and they were very abusive, especially when she came out to them. She isn’t close to them at all, and we decided it’s best to not include them in the wedding. It’s turning into kind of a minefield because of all the wedding traditions and the expectations about family togetherness, so I’m giving you a head’s up so that people don’t accidentally ask her a million questions about her family. Can you spread the word for me?”
The answer to a relative who asks “Abusive? Oh my god, what happened?” is: “It’s really not my story to tell and the best way to take care of Letter Writer is to let her be the boss of when she tells it, if ever. We can help her by giving her a lot of space and peace about this and focus on the happy stuff about the celebration, so, thank you!”
Some people get super-weird about family estrangement and they will drown you in platitudes or attempts to fix it. “How can you not want to have your MOTHER at your WEDDING?” or the old classic guilt trip “What if the abusive person DIES and you haven’t SOLVED IT? You’ll regret it if you don’t make peace!”
First, these people can fuck right off. They didn’t have to live through what you had to live through and they don’t know. You owe them nothing. A sharp “Ok, and we’re done talking about THAT” and getting yourself away from them is totally within bounds.
Second, the people who tear their hair out over the possibility of you being estranged from your family always act like they are the first person to ever think about how family estrangement is kinda not ideal. Like it hasn’t somehow occurred to them that you would miss having your parents at your wedding or have spent your whole life grieving the parents you should have had or that the consequences of all of this pretty much fall on you. Nope, they want you to take care of their feelings about the worst thing that ever happened to you. Let’s stop and just…admire?…gape at?…the fucking weirdness and audacity and entitlement of that for a moment.
Third, the built-in assumption in comments like this is always that the victim has to be the one to make sacrifices or efforts to “make peace” (i.e. spackle over) the situation. These people want a photo op of redemption without the work of redemption (the abuser telling the truth about what they did and apologizing for it, for a minimum). This is the camp your minister is hanging out in right now.
These folks get some version of “I’m not the one who abused their kid, so I’m not the one who has to do anything to make this right. I realize you want to fix this for me, but some things can’t be fixed. Instead of trying to fix this, or pressure me to ‘make peace,’ I’d rather you honor the boundaries I’ve put in place for my own safety. If you’re not comfortable doing that, I understand, but that also means I need to be done talking about this with you. Also here’s a song you might enjoy.”
- “It sucks but that’s the reality I have to live with”
- “Yes it will be sad if they die without ever apologizing to me, I agree.”
- “It’s not what I would have chosen, but it’s safer and I’m happier keeping my distance.”
- “I realize you mean well but this is very unhelpful.”
- “What happened isn’t my fault, and isn’t my job to fix.”
- “My life is better and safer when I stay away from the people who abused me. Sometimes this is as good as it gets.”
- “Neither of us can undo the past, but I can take care of myself by keeping my distance now. If you really want to help me, support me in that.”
- “If you don’t know what it’s like then I’m glad for you, but you don’t know, so it would be cool if you would stop telling me how to feel or what to do about it.”
I hope some of this helps you and makes you feel more in control. And I hope you have a great, joyful, wonderful wedding and a very happy marriage.
I also hope you know that you are far from alone in being estranged from abusive family members. In between all of the potential “How can you not have your MOTHER at your WEDDING?” folks are a lot of fellow “Oh, I know why” people who are also feeling ashamed and alienated and alone when the assumption that “all families are good families” meets history and reality. The more we make it safe for people to tell those stories, the more we fight the pressure to keep letting ourselves be harmed to preserve other people’s idea of Faaaaaaaaaamily.
196 thoughts on “#1114: “Talking about child abuse during wedding planning.””
Serious side-eye at the minister. Wow.
In a weird way he’s validating the abusiveness of the parents, like, “if they know I performed your wedding without them, I will never hear the end of it.”
On the other hand, WOW. Maybe quit your job, dude.
Seriously; if you can’t handle the kinds of rifts that come up in families you might not be best suited for this line of work.
Yeah…that guy. I seriously don’t know how people this craven can look themselves in the mirror. Unfortunately it’s just all too common for people to sweep this kind of crap under the rug, turn a blind eye, pretend all is/always well in the interest of not taking a stand or doing *the right thing.*
Even my old (literally) tired (also literally) ass that is not as apt to mix things up as I was when I was younger is still willing to take a stand for what I believe to be good, and right, and true…damn the consequences.
Yeah, seriously! Like, hey minister, I’m not religious but I’m pretty sure Jesus wouldn’t be on board with any ‘ministry’ that forces people into harmful situations for the sake of appearances. He seems pretty big on the loving people thing, and that’s the opposite of a loving gesture.
Yes, it is 100% the opposite of “ministering.”
As such, why is it that we never consider reporting these ‘spiritual leaders’. This is where a strongly worded letter to the church administrators and his bosses with a demand that he be restrained from duties until he’s been retrained – at the least – would be the right place to go. A self-loathing bigot in an advisor role needs to be outted when they are this damaging.
Good point about reporting it. Most more liberal denominations have a way to report or file a complaint about a minister.
It’s really infuriating that in some circles, “loving” has been twisted to mean that no one can ever be held accountable for anything ever, because that person’s FEEEEEELINGS might be hurt. It’s pervasive in so, so many communities, religious or otherwise, and it’s deeply harmful. And, huh, what a coincidence, it so often operates along the usual axes of oppression (silencing women who have been abused by men, gay folks who have been abused by straight folks, folks of color who have been abused by white folks, etc.). Funny, that. Almost like it’s about upholding the existing hierarchy and not about “loving” at all…
I definitely think that’s part of it. Also, I’ve noticed that people who believe that peace/reconciliation trumps justice, safety, and pretty much anything else usually lean on the victim because that’s what they’ve observed is the most effective place to apply pressure. They don’t expect (usually accurately) that, if they were to go to an abusive bigot and say, “I need you to reconcile with the child you mistreated, because Wedding and Faaaaamily and all that,” they would get results, because those people aren’t reasonable — if they were, they wouldn’t have done what they did in the first place. (Also, they’re more likely than victims are to get aggressive at the busybody if said busybody tried it on them, and that frightens most busybodies.)
So the busybodies skip the people who deserve the pressure, because they know those people won’t yield to it, and they go looking for somebody who might. Usually, that’s the victim.
This sucks beyond belief, of course. It’s also pretty nearly universal. It’s why international pressure tends to land on sane countries to placate terrifying ones, and it’s why teachers demand that victims of bullying try to befriend their tormentors rather than demanding that bullies stop bullying, and it’s why every goddamn “how to avoid being raped” rule was ever invented.
Because the busybodies know that addressing their demands to the perpetrators of injustice, no matter what the type of injustice, won’t work, because people who are massively unjust to others don’t stop when somebody tells them to be nice. But victims — decent people who actually give a damn whether they are perceived as Nice or not — are susceptible to pressure.
For some reason enforcing forgivness seems to be pretty common among various Christian religious circles. I am not sure but perhaps thinking like that might be behind this minister’s actions. In here there have been numerous cases where members of devout conservative Christian groups have been forced to publicly forgive their abusers and rapists – which, in my opinion, is absolutely horrendous.
I completely agree with The Captain and the commenters; this minister should take a hard look on his values and behaviour.
Just want to clap in an aggressively earnest and kind of embarrassing way at Working Hypothesis’ comment, because YES ALL OF THIS.
I agree with what everyone on this thread has said about the pressure on victims to forgive their abusers – not just among religious people, but also among New Age types and well-meaning liberal type people. People like this are using the victim as a tool to bolster up their own self-image as a tolerant, wise, morally correct person who can “love the sinner while hating the sin” – while avoiding the risk of confronting the wrongdoer about his or her behaviour. The late Kathy Krajco, in her blog, took aim at “Narcissist sympathisers” who cloak their spiritual cowardice in this empty virtue-signalling: http://narc-attack.blogspot.com/2008/01/narcissist-sympathizers.html
Yeah, I’m in seminary right now and finished up my Pastoral Care and Counseling class last semester and… like, that’s literally one of the things we were taught NOT to do.
Same. That sounds like a fucking gut punch to get from someone like that. I’m sorry, LW.
That person is 110% coming at this from a “this will be unpleasant FOR ME in the future when I interact with those parents if I agree to officiate.” In the best possible interpretation he’s not aware of this consciously, but that’s no excuse for someone who’s supposed to have their parishioner’s best interests at heart.
Especially because he, himself is gay. You’d think he of all people would know full well that a great many people who come out are abused, abandoned, etc. and what that can do to a person!
That seems quite common… Like sometimes the biggest pressure or judgement on women who have been assaulted to behave a certain way comes from other women, for example.
I’m sure there are all kinds of psychological reasons behind this phenomenon…some guesses: ‘that wouldn’t happen to ME because I am different from you’, ‘people don’t hate or disrespect me as much as what your experience implies – I would rather pretend your experience didn’t happen or was exaggerated’, ‘I have coped by placating abusers, and need to keep believing this is the only way and best way’, ‘it’s so much easier for me to do the things that makes it worse for you than to help you, and my being part of the same group lets me tell myself I’m not doing anything wrong’, the usual bystander fear of ‘don’t associate with the victim or you might be next’ etc etc etc.
I think it may partly be that when someone is very similar to you in some ways, it’s easy to project your wants onto them, rather than seeing them as a unique and different person. “I am gay and would want my parents at my wedding if there was any possible way to make that happen,” for example. Sometimes it can be hard for people to step back from the similarities and realise that, no, actually, you don’t necessarily understand this other person, and you may need to respect that they are deciding differently for reasons that you don’t fully get, and that’s something they are allowed to do.
A more generous interpretation than my examples, but yes.
People like that who want to put a warm, fuzzy, unselfish veneer over their own moral cowardice make me rage.
LW, I’m sorry you got such a bullshit response from that pastor. You deserved better.
My blood boiled when I read what he said to LW. Dude, you were asked to officiate a wedding, not pour your ill-informed judgement over an abuse survivor’s head. Absolutely awful.
Right?! And like, how are the parents on good terms with this minister if he’s gay and they’re super homophobic? Or are they that special kind of bigot who is Totally Okay With the Gays (TM) just “not my child”?
Sadly, I am all too aware of faith traditions and individuals who are able to paint a glossy veneer over their homophobia. (ie It’s alright for this person to be a “Christian” and GLBT…as long as they are celibate. Then we can have them in our faith community and while we’re at it….maybe they will really get “right with the Lord”. GACK!!!)
I think it’s only Catholic priests that are expected to be completely celibate. But maybe as long as the minister doesn’t have an obvious boyfriend they’re okay with it. Or maybe it’s the only church of it’s denomination for many miles and they don’t feel like driving too far out of their way to find another.
I think what Rhoda might be getting at is the whole “homosexual orientation is fine but homosexual sex is a sin” thing that some churches get into. I don’t find it to be a particularly realistic or welcoming stance.
Oops, got people confused, I mean to say I think that’s what Kuododi might be getting at.
Actually, you’ve hit it on the head. I have a dear friend who’s a Catholic priest I met ages ago during residency training. He and his partner had to keep their relationship hidden because of Catholic Church rules about priests remaining celibate. He additionally told me that if he were.running around h*****g anything with a pulse he’d be in less trouble with church authorities than if it was to come out that he was in a quiet, low key monogamous relationship. Now, I am deeply committed to my particular faith traditions but nonsense like that simply gives me hives!!!!
That’s literally my parents. My mom has said, “I’m fine with other people being gay but I’d be disappointed if my kids turned out that way” To ME when I was something like 13 or 14. I was already boy crazy and couldn’t figure out why it didn’t sit right. It felt like more than realizing her love was conditional, although that was how I rationalized it.
Now I’m almost thirty am have really started to unpack that I’m bi. And it took awhile to get from, “oh I like some girls, sometimes. But I prefer men” to Ah…. Idk how balanced it is but I like a lot of people of a lot of genders including the very feminine ones. So probably pretty balanced tbh men were just easier and now I have more experience with them. ///
That’s slightly a non-sequitor but I think her attitude did not help since trying to understand my sexuality didn’t feel safe. So I could hide behind my vailid attraction to men and seem straight.
I’m so sorry you experienced that homophobia and biphobia so early from your parents. 😦
I’m glad you managed to unpack and own your sexuality later though, bisexual pride fistbump! 👊
I wish I could say I’m surprised, but I’m Irish and we all know what the Catholic Church did here.
Seriously! Like, maybe her parents being abusive means it’s a relationship worth rupturing. Even if he means it in an “I need to be able to provide pastoral care for them” sort of way, LW is also part of his congregation and her pastoral care also matters, and I don’t think it’s particularly good pastoral care to LW’s parents to help them hide from the natural consequences of their actions. If the parents want to work through their bigotry and repent and seek God’s forgiveness, the minister can help them with that without involving the LW.
I would argue that a necessary part of pastoral care is holding one’s parishioners accountable for a minimum standard of moral behavior. “The Lord expects better from you” is a sentence which only seems to be used by most pastors in regard to teenagers who have sex; not in regard to adults who refuse to treat others as they would wish to be treated.
I think I was saying the same basic thing? Not sure if we’re disagreeing or on the verge of agreeing loudly.
Kacienna, I thought that I went just a hair further than you (at least than you said; quite likely not than you meant). It sounded as if you were saying that it was part of pastoral care for LW’s parents to help them if they *wanted* to work through their bigotry and repent for their abuse; I pushed past that and said it is part of pastoral care for LW’s parents that their minister *demand* that they work through their bigotry and repent for their abuse, even if they don’t wish to. But we were definitely going in the same direction. 🙂
I’ve had a lot of encounters with ministers, and since I worked for the United Church of Canada, which is very pro-LGBT, I’ve met a few ministers who were gay or lesbian themselves. I found that with them, and they were all over 60, they had very out-of-date ideas about the community in general, but also had a heckton of baggage about families and acceptance themselves. Which is to say – what that minister said was fucked-up, but it’s worth remembering that ministers are not trained mental health professionals in any way, and some of them have a ton of baggage. Alas, they say some shit sometimes.
Yeah, as a clergyperson myself, serious WTF at that minister. If you can’t handle the fact that abuse is a thing, you don’t belong in this profession.
Dearest LW, have the wedding you want with the people you want to be there, and don’t let anyone pressure you into inviting abusers or enablers. The least information might be the best answer to those casual well-meaning inquiries: “Yes, it’s sad, but that’s how it is.” You’ll know they’re well-meaning if they immediately back off and don’t pry or push.
I hope your wedding day is beautiful and happy and full of friendship and joy!
“That’s sad but that’s how it is” is perfect. Repeat forever if people won’t let it drop.
This came into my life this week, and I have so many uses for it: https://goo.gl/images/R9MSe3
Thank you for that image, I just shared it on my Facebook for the joint purposes of annoying my homophobic siblings and parents and sending some love to my gay friends, cousins, and nieces & nephews.
Me, too! Happily, I’m pretty low on homophobic family, but more smiles for those who aren’t as lucky is always good.
Karen, I LOVE that image! Thank you for it!
Also, if you are in need of a family member, come here for tea, cupcakes and loving cat purrs.
“My family is kinda douchey and doesn’t recognize how wonderful Fiancée is and so they aren’t invited, but I’m so glad YOU could be here to help us celebrate!”
even this, I think is too much detail.
I like something like, “We’re not close, and it’s kind of painful; please don’t poke at it.”
Or, “It’s kind of fraught, and I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t pry. I find it difficult to talk about.”
Keep it a rueful tone, and “poke” and “pry” won’t sound so accusatory–but they’re nice in there, because they haven’t poked or pried YET, but those are also strong words, which is nice to have in there. The idea that you WOULD consider it to be prying or poking.
Yup. When someone tells you something uncomfortable, even if the listener has the best of intentions, it’s sometimes hard to know if they should do a “I’m here for you since you want to talk about it,” or “ah, gotcha, topic dropped forever.” So put in a “don’t want to talk about it” to let people know which one you want.
Yes, I’m curiosity incarnate with a big side order of empathy so telling me that this topic is off limits helps tremendously. That way I can squish my little demanding voices of “must know what happened” with “that will hurt them and that’s NOT COOL”.
I like the ending of this because it gives the asker an out to continue conversing about happy things.
One thing I do with Inevitable Questions About Awkward Subjects is to create an obviously improbable answer — this scar? Training velociraptors, of course. Childhood trauma? Oh, that’s from the trip in 2nd grade where we were hunting jellyfish on the moon and I got eaten by a space whale — and say it either as a joke complete with “haha” or just deadpan. It doesn’t work with everyone (it’s best with people that can pick up on subtleties and unspoken communication) but it’s a way of answering without actually answering. Our culture expects an answer of some sort, but a fake answer carries a “I don’t want to actually talk” message.
I don’t do this very often — and never in response to a child’s question — but strangers asking me some non-sequitorial version of, “What’s wrong with you/” risk getting an extra-dry, “I was hit by an asteroid when I was three.”
If that doesn’t shut it down, I follow it up with, “Then the telethon says, ‘No asteroid kids!'”
My daughter has a big visible scar on her hand. It was a result of carelessness from my part since I had forgotten to properly hide my knife after we all attended Viking era historical re-enactment event. Back then she was 3 years old and they had just read Emil of Lönneberga book by Astrid Lindgren (it is about a little but endearing rascal of a boy who often whittles little human shaped figures with his knife). My daughter wanted so much to be like Emil that she decided to act on it: she took my knife and gave whittling a try which obviously ended in a wound and a quick trip to emergency room where she received a few stitches.
After that it rained and there were puddles all around and she decided to play something she called “toxic waste plant” with her best friends and obviously the stitches broke and the result was a wide scar.
So, to this day, if anyone askes about the scar she replies: “I got it when I was 3 years old. I was a Viking who worked in a toxic waste plant”.
Obviously, visual scars are different from invisible illnesses or traumas. Sometimes people assume that unless there is a visual impediment they get to judge someone – and then there are people who judge and taunt, no matter what. Sometimes people are just horrible.
I do not know what it is about weddings (and other kinds of big family celebrations) which brings up really strange expectations and behaviour in people. I believe The Captain is right that it brings up all the expectations of love and closeness in families; it is something which some people seem to expect and even enforce, no matter the circumstances.
Your daughter sounds awesome. (And so do you, for that matter.)
Aww, thank you so much. Now I a blushing.
May I borrow that? The next time somebody calls me an inspiration for Existing in Public While Disabled, I would so enjoy saying, “Thanks so much but I’m just a Viking who worked in a toxic waste plant.”
Also: Kudos for having a daughter who played “toxic waste plant.”
Mrs. Wednesday, I love that line! But for some reason I don’t “get” the follow-up — “Then the telethon says, ‘No asteroid kids!’”. Is that a reference I’m missing?
My brother does this with a scar on his knee. It’s just from a childhood fall, which is a pretty boring story…but it’s a dramatic-looking scar, so people ask about it anyways and he got super sick of talking about it. Nowadays he alternates between blaming it on a low-flying helicopter and a very short pirate. Pretty much everyone realizes it’s a joke, laughs, and lets the topic change.
I’m not sure if that would work for something like family estrangement, though. Like the Captain mentioned, some people get weirdly invested in Fixing other people’s family problems; it’s not like a scar, where the injury is firmly in the past and long healed. I suspect these people would completely ignore the “we’re not talking about this” message, because they care more about maintaining their definition of ‘family’ as ‘loving happy supportive group’ than about the actual needs of the person they’re talking to.
I am LMAO at “toxic waste plant” because it sounds like a factory where the actual product being manufactured is toxic waste. Because there is obviously such a large wholesale/consumer market for it. 😂
My dad has a huge scar on his forehead. He got it by closing the hatch of the van on his own head, but that made him feel embarrassed to admit, so if people ask he says “You shoulda seen the other guy!”
I don’t think there is anything wrong with white lies in the service of preserving your happiness and deflecting people who have no business knowing the truth. Have a fabulous wedding and best wishes to the both of you.
Not only no business knowing the truth but no business asking in the first place. When did we stop understanding that one does not ask personal questions?
Yes! To my way of thinking, if you were close you’d already know.
just here to echo the “far from alone” thing. i’ve been estranged from my mother and haven’t spoken to her for five years. she did not know when i got married, was not invited; luckily on the actual day i felt really caught up in who WAS there, rather than the template of what a “typical” wedding would have looked like. (i was even able to answer a casual question about it from a guest’s date without feeling upset.)
re: practicalities of wedding planning: i think one thing that helped me was having a wedding that was nontraditional in various ways. my husband and i entered the ceremony together instead of being handed off or accompanied by our parents (cannot recommend highly enough); we each had one family member give a toast (and my husband chose his brother, so there was no like, mandatory parental component); there was no “parent-child dance”; my husband vetoed inviting *anyone*’s extended family. (we also paid for the entire thing ourselves, which i wish everybody was able to do.) i highly recommend leaning into ANYTHING you can think of that fits *your* understanding of love and marriage, not a ~~wedding tradition,~~ for helping you not feel like you’re having a Broken Wedding with Something Missing but instead a Custom-Tailored Wedding That Reflects Your Experience.
and i, too, can vouch for having some weird-ass conversations with friends, even! (“how can you not make up with your mom? it’s thanksgiving!”) the captain is so so so so correct that this is both widespread and completely bizarre when you actually think about it.
Beautiful! I love this. On our end, we most definitely skipped the weirdly sexual garter toss awkwardness at our wedding – other couples might love that bit which is fine, but just not for us! Some of my spouse’s friends joked that they could throw one of the groom’s socks instead so it didn’t feel as patriarchal, but let’s be real, sweaty wedding socks are just not as exciting.
It’s okay to say no to both unwanted family guests and unwanted traditions.
We got married at the courthouse with a couple of friends for witnesses, and called the families after. 16 years, yesterday, and it’s a fun story to tell my kid.
Do what works for *you and your spouse*, and deep breaths, letting go of anyone else’s expectations.
We did that, too! Our kid held the rings. 21 years here, and he’s the one who tells the story. 🙂
LOL! That reminds me of my mom and stepdad; they got married when I was not quite nine, and we went out to supper for their wedding anniversary at some point in my adolescent years. The restaurant server asked about the single rose my stepdad had bought for my mom, and Mom explained that it was their anniversary, so the server asked how many years (which at that point, would have still been in single digits). The server looked at me, a little puzzled (since I was thirteen or fourteen at the time and looked [and apparently generally seemed] a few years older than that), so as I explained that he is my stepdad, my stepdad popped off with, “Yeah, the neighbors were talking so we decided to make it official.”
The smart-ass is strong in this crew.
It’ll be thirty-four years for them this December. 🙂
We skipped most of the family-related wedding traditions too (mostly because at least one of us found them creepy). Nobody commented. We still wound up married 🙂
This is some fine work, Captain. As a survivor who is estranged from her abusive parents (and who feels some shame that doesn’t belong to her about it), this post made me feel very validated. Thank you.
Well, thanks. ❤
Can I second this? As someone who’s in the throes of an estrangement-in-progress, I come back and read your stuff whenever I need to be reminded that yes, it’s OK to set basic standards for how others treat you and yes, it’s OK to stand up for yourself to enforce those standards. It’s sad the estrangement is happening, but boy wow do I feel so much more at peace with myself.
Thirded! Especially: “Nope, they want you to take care of their feelings about the worst thing that ever happened to you. Let’s stop and just…admire?…gape at?…the fucking weirdness and audacity and entitlement of that for a moment.” OMG THIS.
I’ve been estranged from my father for 15 years and I am 100% fine with it. If there ever comes a day I’m not fine, I will deal with it then. In the meantime I am so much healthier without him in my life. Though I do find that the people who sometimes have the hardest time with estrangement are people who were close with an amazing parent who is no longer living. I do try to give those people a bit more space for their feelings and explain my situation with a little less snark. Usually by the end of the conversation though, they see where I’m coming from.
Thanks for this, Captain. I’m almost completely estranged from a son. (sad, but minimal polite contact is probably best for both of us).
Your suggested responses help a lot, in handling questions/expectations from others about Faaaamily.
My husband, for very good reasons, decided long ago that he had to keep abusive-and-wildly-unreliable parent A and negligent-due-to-absence (and wildly-unreliable-even-when-not-absent) parent B at a distance. He wasn’t completely estranged, but he gave them each just a teensy bit of access to his life, and he was very clear that that’s all they were going to get. Many years earlier, my mother had made the same decision regarding her own negligent-due-to-absence (and wildly-unreliable-even-when-not-absent) parent. As I say, they both had excellent reasons for this, and I think it was a good choice for them. Of course it was hard, but not as hard as being repeatedly hurt and disappointed and let down and *scarred* by people who supposedly loved them.
Well. I wish I had a dollar for each time I’ve heard someone say, or sometimes just imply, to one of them, “You’ll regret this when they’re gone” (a.k.a. “Faaaaaaamily”). DH’s parent A is still around (there’s been a bit of improvement over the years, but not that much, frankly), but my mother’s bad parent is dead now, as is DH’s bad parent B. So I think I can say with some confidence that Mom’s and DH’s response to “You’ll regret this when they’re gone” is “Nope. I do not.”
Because the fact is, these parents “went” a long time ago, at least in all the ways that actually matter, such as love and support and acceptance and acting the way family is supposed to act. Do DH and Mom have regrets? Sure. They regret being dealt such lousy parents.
People who say “You’ll regret this when they’re gone” – who yammer on and on about reconciliation – just do not understand this. Most of them actually mean well, but they’re so clueless they don’t realize what a ridiculous thing they’re suggesting when they talk so lightly about regrets.They look at their own usually more or less functional parents, and they think “Oh, what a tragedy it would be to let a misunderstanding cause such damage!” They do NOT understand that the tragedy occurred long ago, when these people made such a bad job of parenting. And they don’t understand that the difference between people who are good parents despite flaws and people who are out-and-out bad parents is so incredibly vast. They just don’t get it. They ought to get it, but they don’t.
Yes, it would be a tragedy if someone cut a good albeit flawed parent out of his/her life…but we are not talking about good albeit flawed parents. We are talking about bad parents. People who make their kids’ lives a little better by being absent from those lives.
Well, haven’t I yammered on and on. But OP, my point is that you do not owe your parents (much less anybody else) anything just because you’re getting married. There’s more – much more – to faaaaaaamily than mere biology. And you do not owe anybody who asks about them anything more than, “My parents and I are estranged/don’t get along/aren’t close, but ___(insert mention of a good thing, as suggested by the captain’s script)___.” Most people will be perfectly satisfied with that, and the ones who aren’t are just going to have to lump it.
There’s something even bigger that the people who yammer on about how you’ll regret this when they’re gone miss: Everyone regrets everything when they’re gone. You could have the best relationship with the most fabulous parents , and the grief is still overwhelming when people you love die. Part of that grief is a huge dose of should-have-dones. It’s not rational, but it crops up. There are instances of devoted children spending every moment in the hospital around the deathbed of a beloved parent. They’re still likely to say things along the lines of “I shouldn’t have gotten up to get potato chips from the vending machine. I missed my mother’s last breath! She died without me! Oh the sorrow and regret! I just thought of something I meant to tell/ask her. I’m a bad undutiful daughter.”
I think you’ve nailed it. People who have not experienced abusive relationships genuinely cannot imagine what it’s like. I am deeply, deeply lucky to have loving and supportive parents, and even though I’ve experienced emotional abuse from a former partner, it’s still hard for me to imagine how different my life would be if my parents had been abusive.
For people who haven’t experienced it, they just cannot conceive of the idea that the parent is not loving deep down, or that the hurt they’ve caused you isn’t just misunderstanding. Sometimes if they are parents themselves, they think of all their own (reasonable, loving, minor) mistakes and imagine how terrible it would be if their children disowned them for those mistakes.
They imagine a parent who WANTS to do better, but needs your forgiveness and patience to succeed. They can’t imagine a parent whose preferred status quo is to continue hurting you, letting you down, destroying your life, or monopolizing all of your energy.
In short they are picturing someone who might exist, but isn’t YOUR parent, and having feelings about that imaginary person instead of the one who’s actually involved.
I have no idea how to SOLVE that, but it’s definitely a thing.
They imagine a parent who WANTS to do better, but needs your forgiveness and patience to succeed. They can’t imagine a parent whose preferred status quo is to continue hurting you, letting you down, destroying your life, or monopolizing all of your energy.
Mind. Blown. That makes so much more sense than people just being miserable self-centered close-minded assholes about abuse! That may sound snarky but I’m actually being totally sincere. I never really wanted to believe that so many people are miserable self-centered close-minded assholes, but that’s how I experience their bullshit (and it’s still bullshit even if it comes from well-meaning ignorance), but I couldn’t figure out how else to interpret the ridiculous and harmful idea that everything would be okay if I just forgave my abuser.
Yep, exactly (at least from my observations). No doubt there are self-centered close-minded assholes – well, OK, we all know for a fact that there are – but I would say, from many years of observing my mom and my husband interact with these people, that most of those who preach reconciliation are not self-centered or close-minded…they just have no comparable experiences. And I would also say that many of them just aren’t good at understanding how different other people’s lives might be from their own. Their parents were flawed but loving and well-intentioned, and their parents tried to do better, and if they themselves are parents, they know that they’re flawed but loving and well-intentioned…and they just can’t imagine parents being anything else! Or at least not when it involves someone they actually know rather than some sort of nightmarish scenario they hear about on the news.
Take out “parent” and imagine it applied to anyone and any crime. They need your forgiveness and patience to succeed? What the fuck? I’m trying to complete the sentence with any bad behavior, even a tiny slip, and I keep coming back to what the fucking fuck?
Your Honor, my client the convicted murderer wants to stop killing people, but he needs your forgiveness and patience to succeed.
Alcoholic wants to stop getting drunk constantly but can’t do it unless you’re the patient one and you forgive.
I’d love to ramming into you in the hallway, but you have to say excuse me first.
I know I wiped out your bank account through my continued financial screw ups, but you haven’t been patient with me or forgiven me, so what do you expect?
Student flunked all her courses again. She really wants to do better, so nevermind things like tutoring, lesson plans, study sessions; forgiveness and patience, that’s the ticket.
See? You don’t really need to fill in the blank with parents who are intolerable homophobic dickheads to come to the conclusion that their reform is not contingent on their victim’s forgiveness, patience and second chances.
Markedly well said.
[Content warning: Mention of abusive parent and social pressure to forgive, brief digression about a Christian minister’s opinion on the latter.]
I cut ties with my (abusive) bio-father when I was eleven, then, out of the “but you’ll regret it when he’s gone”/”you should forgive him*”/”let bygones be bygones” nonsense, attempted to re-establish a relationship with him in my early twenties. It did not end well. I’ll spare y’all the gory details, but within a year I came to the conclusion that I could have a relationship with my bio-father or I could have mental/emotional stability but not both. I chose the stability.
He died in December 2011, estranged from all four children (my three older half-brothers, plus me), both ex-wives, and his sister. We didn’t even find out he had died until my niece (oldest brother’s youngest kid) was working on a genealogy project for school in April 2012 and found his obituary online.
*Re: forgiveness, a wonderfully kind United Methodist minister, who was the last minister of the church I grew up attending while I was still attending services regularly, told me, “Even God doesn’t forgive someone who doesn’t confess their sins, repent, make amends if possible, and make a good-faith effort not to do the harmful thing again, so if he hasn’t apologized and requested your forgiveness (which never happened because he was one of those people who would admit he’d screwed up only under extreme duress/pressure), you’re not obligated to forgive unless you just want to.”
That minister made an excellent point!
My response to the “you’ll regret this” people has generally been, “then I’ll regret it.” I’ve said it a lot lately about my decision to retire from engineering at 42 to go back to school to become a mental health professional. The dudes around here don’t get it.
I like this very much! We will all have some amount of regrets, no? Why do people feel the need to manage what you will or will not regret? Maybe you will regret it, maybe you will not. That’s your choice to make and your experience to be had. I’ve done things I regret and I learned from them. That’s life! Good luck in your new endeavor!
My response is, “I may feel regret, which would make me sad for a brief time. However, I will not feel the effects of all of the additional abuse he/she would put on me through the years between now and the time he/she passes if we continued to have contact. And THAT trauma would be a lot more damaging to me and my family than a brief and personal experience of regret.”
It’s not a choice between no relationship/regret and relationship/no regret. It’s a choice between no relationship[+ no additional trauma + more time to heal from past events]/regret and abusive relationship[+new abuse + pain of knowing I’m exposing my partner/children to abuse + difficulty healing from past abuse to constant redredging]/no regret but tons of trauma.
Dear LW, I am so glad you’re focusing on having a wedding that is a happy day for you and your fiancee. Mazel! I know you know this but there are no Rules for who has to be a wedding guest. There are, however, Assumptions. Like: “happy family relationships” = “being at the wedding” or “not at the wedding” = “deep wound.” None of my family was at my wedding and the planning process was still conniption-free. Just wanted to say that to counter anybody in your life who tries to make you believe no one can be loving and supportive from a distance.
When I started planning my wedding, my dad told me, “There has never been a wedding that made everybody happy, so you just do what you want to do.” It was good advice.
I’m in the same boat, friend. My dad (enabler) is Super Happy about my engagement, but Super Sad that I’m not treating the wedding as an opportunity to reconcile with my abusive mom and child molester brother. But weddings are about the new family that’s being created, and inviting the abusers in my family would be making it about our family of origin, not about me and my fiance. (He comes from a Family of Evil Bees too, but his are cultists who won’t even come if we’re not getting married in the cult temple.) I don’t want my wedding day to be about the people I’m trying to leave behind. I don’t want to spend that day worrying about what cruel things my mom might say, feeling her eyes on me, wondering when she’s going to insert herself where she doesn’t belong, and hoping that my family of origin and my partner’s FOO don’t start a battle to the death in the middle of the dance floor.
A lot of the weight of the not-inviting-them decision comes from the idea of “what sort of person will I be if my mom isn’t there at my wedding?” “what sort of daughter cuts her mom out from that?” and the answer is: you and I will be exactly the sort of people we are, because LOTS of kinds of people don’t have their moms at their weddings for LOTS of reasons, and even just looking at those reasons that are actual choices (as opposed to, like, parental death) there’s very little you can conclude about what kind of people it makes the children. Your choice not to invite your parents is about your parents’ failures, not really about you. The only generalization you can make halfway safely is that people like us have come a long way in terms of boundaries, self-advocacy, and mental health.
I think it’s important, scripts-wise, to distinguish between people who are just asking to be nice and people who are getting nosy. If someone asked me “oh, are you going dress shopping with your mom?” or some other question that’s really just curiosity about my wedding in general, I could deflect it with “no, with my future MIL, I adore her and I’m so excited to join her family!” (true!) or “actually I think I’ll buy it online/go shopping with my best friend” or whatever. People who are just trying to make conversation won’t usually pry. If they do, that’s when you kick things up to the Captain’s responses. I know this seems obvious, but in the mental space that you and I probably share, non-invasive questions have a tendency to sound prying and to put us into Red Alert: Family Issues Mode when they don’t actually need to do that, and we don’t actually need the stress of thinking about it that way. (If you’re not reacting that way, discard this advice!)
Remember that what matters isn’t just whether the wedding day itself goes okay, but how you’re feeling in the months leading up to it — all that wedding planning is stressful enough when you’re not dealing with family of origin issues on top of it. I think your decision to have a wedding full of people who love and support you and your fiancee — not some abstract theory of love, not love as possession, not you-are-my-child-and-therefore-my-property-and-controlling-you-is-“support” jerkishness — is an admirable thing, and it focuses your energy on your new family with your new wife, which is where it belongs. And I’m so glad that it will let you stop worrying about managing the behavior and reactions of people who refuse to manage themselves.
If someone asks you awkward questions or pressures you, that’s THEIR weirdness, not yours. It’s not about you. It’s about their preconceived notions of family, their insecurities, their…whatever. They haven’t walked in your shoes.
Also, just to add: there are three good responses I’ve found to “what if your abusive parent dies and you regret everything?” 1) It’ll still hurt less than exposing myself to more abuse from her right now; 2) I won’t; 3) OH MY GOD I DEFINITELY HAVEN’T EVER THOUGHT OF THAT BEFORE, HOLY CRAP, WHAT A SILLY THING IT WAS TO ESTRANGE MYSELF FROM MY TOTALLY NORMAL AND NOT AT ALL TOXIC FAMILY ON A WHIM, YOU KNOW, AS PEOPLE DO
Beautifully said. My husband (two bad parents, though bad in different ways) still hears this from time to time, and my mother (one good parent, one very bad parent) used to hear it too. It’s like, yes, sure, that’s what people do – they estrange themselves from their parents on some sort of whim and thank goodness you pointed out this error!
Regret is the price of living. We all have regrets, paths we wish had been open to us. It doesn’t mean all those paths would have been good ones, or that trying to backtrack and get on them now would be a good idea.
I’ve had people say I’ll regret it when my dad is gone, and I tell them it’s too late – I already have regrets, and his being here or being gone won’t change them. I regret that my father turned out not to be the person I thought he was when I was a child. I regret that his drinking and his abusive behavior caused so much damage that the only way to heal was to escape entirely. That doesn’t mean that voluntarily giving him fun and exciting new opportunities to abuse me at this point in my life would be good for me.
“hoping that my family of origin and my partner’s FOO don’t start a battle to the death in the middle of the dance floor.”
Aw, c’mon! Just teach the wedding band how to play “Rains of Castermere” and rock on with it! Although, I gotta say you lucked out with the cult-thing. I mean, if you gotta have a messed-up FOO, at least it’s one that you don’t have to waste spoons un-inviting, because they’re nice enough to do it themselves.
A friend of mine went for the Big Ole Lampshade approach to questions, her answer to persistent nosing being along the lines of “You’re right, it IS a Massive Terrible Decision/Thing not to have my mother at my wedding; now how bad do you think things have to be for me to have made such a choice?” and then she’d just stand there waiting for an answer as the noser stuttered into silence.
Excellent work by your friend!
Oh gosh I love that.
That is brilliant.
Ha! High fives to your friend, that is an awesome answer!
Awkwardness, returned to sender.
Brava, your friend.
Have a fun wedding! It’ll be great because it’s what *you and your spouse* want.
I’m not close to (but also not estranged) from my family and haven’t lived in the same country as them for over a decade. One tactic that has worked for me when casual friends/acquaintances/coworkers ask me awkward questions about my relationship with them is to act like they’re talking about some acquaintances in another country whom I see on my rare visits home—which, at this point, is what they are—and that I’m living in a culture that has weird expectations about the role of acquaintances from one’s past in one’s life.
What this looks like in the LW’s case is that she would react as if they were talking about people she used to know a long time ago. So instead of “Is your dad walking you down the aisle?” they’re asking you, “Is that guy you occasionally played with when you were 10 years old and haven’t seen since walking you down the aisle, as is normal in our culture?” to which she can respond with, “No, that tradition isn’t for me. My partner and I are walking down together/I’m walking myself down the aisle/[Some other plan].” Similarly, “How do your parents feel about the wedding being in Partner’s home state?” is really, “How do those kids you haven’t seen since middle school feel about the wedding being in Partner’s home state?” to which she can respond with a slightly bewildered, “I don’t know. I didn’t think to ask them and anyway, it’s too late to change our plans now.” In my experience, these people are generally trying to make conversation and aren’t going to delve deeper.
The stuff with LW’s partner’s family is tricky. Chances are, eventually they will know and the Captain has good suggestions about using the Keepers/Disseminators of Family Secrets to get the story out so that the LW doesn’t have to keep telling it. That, combined with Partner running interference for her in the meantime is probably the best strategy until the whole family knows the story and drops it.
I’ll echo others and say that as an abuse surviver who is estranged from their abusive parent and is constantly having to field questions like this: this is one of your best answers. Thank you. I’ve got new scripts to use, and there are plenty of others that have worked for me in here. ❤
I can only hope the minister’s view of the parents is very different from the attitudes they wore in private, I guess.
“We decided to have the wedding in the state with the family that supports our big gay marriage” might be a short and snappy version. I think the Captain’s right that people will recognize the “Fam not down with teh gayz” narrative and maybe know to back off a little quicker than they might have with a more complicated/less familiar story.
I’m a fan of even less info than that. I’d go with, “It just worked out that this state is better for us. My folks understand.”
Even if your folks don’t understand. Who gives a shit if you lie to people like this?
You want the least drama possible. You want this to be SO VERY UNINTERESTING.
So don’t include anything the least bit interesting.
I do like the idea of going grey rock on this subject when it comes up: “Why isn’t your family coming OMG???” “This is what’s best for us.” “But whyyyyyyyyy?” “Because this is what’s best for us.” “But what if… what about….?” “Like I said, this is what’s best for us.”
That tactic plus Captain’s suggestion of engaging a trusted talkative friend to run point on spreading the word so LW doesn’t have to seems like it would clear a very nice path to getting down the aisle with less extemporaneous bother rather than more.
My simple statement has always been “Oh, we don’t have that kind of relationship.” They can say “What kind of relationship do you have” and “not that kind” is still the right answer. Maybe they say “But don’t you want them there?” and “no, not for this kind of relationship.” still perfectly fits. It doesn’t go into any detail about what happened, but firmly makes it so I don’t have to answer any further questions.
A+ reply, clear without having to go into personal business. I might steal this line.
Many years ago, when I was less aware, a friend told me that he had a stopover in his mom’s European city for a day (from North America en route to Africa) and she didn’t come to meet him at the airport as they’d planned. I said something like, “Oh no! That’s so sad! You must have been so disappointed!” And he shrugged and said, “it’s okay, we’re not like that.”
“We’re not like that” has really stayed with me and I’ve borrowed it and used it several times since. It kind of says it all without having to explain a single thing.
“What kind of relationship?” could be answered by, “a complicated one that’s really hard to talk about.”
And what I like about “we don’t have that kind of relationship” is that it puts some of the responsibility on the OTHER person. It implies that it’s sort of reciprocal.
It also implies that it’s the relationship that is set a certain way, not an action that you are taking.
Fistbump of solidarity! I did not invite my abusive father to my wedding, a million years ago, and dealt with this to some degree. And I’m still dealing with the occasional nosy question, especially this time of year and around Christmas, because of stupid reconciliation movies shown on the Hallmark channel (I blame Hallmark for all my problems in life).
Use that grapevine! Jump on the, “my parents are homophobic” bandwagon! Let your partner shield you! You may feel awkward and weird and stupid for not being able to have the same conversation over and over again, but it will wear you down so fast. Embrace other people doing this thing for you and protecting you from painful topics! I did, and my mother was ready to chew out anyone who even hinted that I should reconcile or forgive him, so nobody brought it up! I had a team of bouncers ready to eject him if he tried to show up (thankfully he did not) and I did get the occasional, “I’m sorry your father is an asshole” comments, but most everybody avoided the topic with me after I came out about the abuse and it was a beautiful wedding day!
I hope yours goes smoothly and that people respect your boundaries!
I vote for “My parents and I are estranged and they won’t be at my wedding.”
Cue screams of “OMG, what happened??!!” and “But faaaaamily!!!”
Cue you going: “What happened is between me and my folks. Please stop pushing this topic and don’t bring it up again.”
Any time they try bring it up after that. “I am not having this conversation.” And then either ignore and walk away, or change topic as you see fit.
You are inviting family: your chosen family. You know, the people who love you and support you and accept you. I had 150 guests at my wedding, and only 3 were blood relatives (one for me, two for hubs), and it was the best damn party I’ve ever been to. So, what if you tried some version of “oh my parents won’t be there, but I’m VERY EXCITED that my friends from Super Sparkle Summer Sleepaway camp are renting a minivan together and driving down for the wedding!”
❤ That was a good party.
You are inviting family: your chosen family. You know, the people who love you and support you and accept you. I had 150 guests at my wedding, and only 3 were blood relatives (one for me, two for hubs), and it was the best damn party I’ve ever been to. So, what if you tried some version of “oh my parents won’t be there, but I’m VERY EXCITED that my friends from Super Sparkle Summer Sleepaway camp are renting a minivan together and driving down for the wedding!”
*fistbump of solidarity*
I had four blood family members at my wedding three years ago: my children, and two cousins who happened to live in the area, so they got invited. My parents and I actually get along fine, but they live a continent away and don’t travel well at their age, so we had them “there” via Skype on tablets held up by friends, so they could see.
But the people who stood with us under the canopy were my chosen brother and sister. And everyone present qualified as ‘ohana. Family is a lot more about who shares your life than who shares your genes.
To quote a wise man: “Family don’t end in blood.”
Sometimes, it doesn’t even start there.
Oh, and because I forgot to say: Congratulations, LW!
If people press you when you use one of the Captain’s scripts, try “Thank you, but I don’t want to talk about it”, followed by a subject change. People seem to love being involved in the intricacies of wedding planning, so you could talk about your wedding attire/decorating choices/venue/food/seating arrangements etc etc.
I also like “Oh, I don’t have a relationship with my parents, but my chosen family will be at my wedding instead. The people who I consider family are A, B and C, and I’m so excited that they’ll be involved in the wedding in X, Y and Z ways”.
As one childhood abuse survivor to another – big hugs of solidarity, as well as fistbumps – well done to you, both for all your hard work to heal and practice self-care, and for living your life and getting ACTUAL MARRIED to your love. Congrats 🙂
LW I hope you get to spend and amazing day celebrating with your chosen family.
“But won’t you miss them?” answer…… I’ll miss the parents I should have had, just like always.
Thank you. I’ve always wondered if other people felt this way, that’s what makes me the most sad, the possibilities I missed out on.
As a Well-Meaning Straight Person ™ when confronted with homophobia straight people often freeze. Our impulse is usually to comfort in some way, so throwing someone a lifeline with help seperate out People Who Will Follow Your Lead and Nosy Jerks.
So, a great response to “are your parents are going to be there” is “my parents are not okay with my partner/wedding/gayness, but it’s great so many people ARE supporting me, and I’d love to talk about my guest list/dress/meals with someone who supports me.” (implied: not talking about my parents and talking about my wedding is how you are supportive, my straight friend.)
A good friend or a smart listener will take the lifeline gratefully and follow your instructions!
Sounds like lying may not be the best option for you, but I just wanted to add: should you choose to lie, you have NOTHING to feel guilty about. In this case, lying is not something you’re doing to hurt, control, or deceive someone else–it’s a form of self-care, it’s something you’re doing to protect yourself. No person who truly cares about you would begrudge you that choice.
“What happened isn’t my fault, and isn’t my job to fix.”
This script is so helpful to me right now. I need to memorize it.
Yeah, if there was one thing I wish would be internalized by the abuse survivors I know, that’s it right there. NOT YOUR FAULT.
As an abuse survivor: it’s the hardest message to internalize. Like, I know it. I feel in my bones it is true. Nevertheless.
I went to the most beautiful wedding last year where one of the brides had her best friend perform the “family” obligations. Honestly, it wasn’t until we were gone that I realized that she didn’t have any bio relatives attend. But she had so much family there of the really important variety. And it wasn’t weird at all that the other bride had a bunch of family around. Everyone was so supportive of the two of them, and it truly was about it being all one big group of people celebrating their love.
I wasn’t close enough with them to have heard about how this planning happened.
I just want to give you a big ol’ hug. Best wishes for a delightful wedding.
From someone who had been estranged from father, stepmother and brother for a plethora of reasons….mental and emotional abuse being the biggest. I maintained a relationship with them until my eldest child was in high school by the hardest. After the the sundering, I was heartbroken to find that despite my best efforts to shield my children from the unpleasantness, they were fully aware of what was going on. They told me that, for my sake, they wished I’d sundered the ties with my family a long time ago. Fast forward 15 years and I was at work when I found out that my father had died from a cousin who had read about it in the paper. Though I had been estranged from my father for many years, he was not a bad man…..he was a weak man. The news was a punch in the gut. Thankfully my daughter who worked at the same place was able run interference for me. Many people who worked with me were prepared to go to the wake and/or funeral. My daughter told them that I would not be there not would she. When they asked why, she simply replied that there had been abuse issues and for them to please not bring it up with me because it would cause me undue distress and she wouldn’t talk about it further. I had my husband, my son, my daughter, my cousin, husband’s cousin, my in-laws and a couple of dear friends who ran interference for me, protecting me from those who would have considered it their right and duty to grill me about my “duty” to family.
So dear Letter Writer, please let those you trust, your tribe, your family of choice be your shield. Let them run interference for you and be your defensive line backers. Let them tackle the busy bodies and nosy nellies and give you the gift of a beautiful wedding day surrounded by those who love you, support you and wish for nothing but the best for you and your spouse.
Congratulations and may y’all have many, many happy years together.
“They told me that, for my sake, they wished I’d sundered the ties with my family a long time ago.”
—Kids notice stuff.
I made a point to always live at least 1000 miles away from my family. My son knew them…distantly. When he was almost 17 we moved back to this area and I had a little more interaction with them as my mom was dying.
One day my son (I think he was about 19/20 at the time) said to me “Mom, I want to let you know that I see how they treat you. I don’t know why you even do anything for them. I just wanted to let you know that someone sees it.”
That’s more or less accurate though paraphrased and I said some stuff in between his sentences, but yeah I never regretted keeping him away from the crazy-train that is my FOO.
Also as a child of an abusive father, I appreciate this post deeply, Captain. I do get the occasional “but faaamily!” Line pulled on me- “We don’t want you to have bitterness in your heart!”
And these scripts will be perfect for those moments. It’s infuriating to me how much onus gets put on the victim to mend fences that they never broke to begin with.
Jedi hugs if you would like them, LW
Them: “We don’t want you to have bitterness in your heart!””
You: Aww, how nice of you to worry about me so! I assure you, I have come to a hard-won peace, and this distance is part of what makes that possible. Please, let this be my problem to worry about.”
“But she’s your siiisssttteeerrr…” Ugh!
“Yes, and it’s my relationship with her, so please let this be my problem to worry about.”
“Keeping my distance keeps the bitterness out of my heart “
“It’s not bitterness, it’s self respect.” Also, if you want to get mean, “Please. This isn’t because you care about me. If it was, you would have cared enough to stop him from hurting me. You only care about not having to face uncomfortable truths – well sorry, it’s not my job to make you feel better about this.”
I feel like that last line could stand all on its own as an answer, in a cut-through-the crap kind of way.
“But whyyy won’t you reconcile with your abuser?”
– “It’s not my job to make you feel better about this.”
“We don’t want you to have bitterness in your heart!”
Wow fuck those people. If it’s so important to them for you to not be bitter, they can go tell your abuser to shape the fuck up and apologize sincerely and work to make amends.
Also, for some people the peace finally comes when they stop struggling with trying to forgive or trying to reconcile, and get on with their life without the person who hurt them.
Sometimes making peace with the fact that that relationship is over, or will always be limited in some way, IS a way of ‘letting go of the bitterness’.
Not to say there isn’t sometimes a place for bitterness or that everyone HAS to be at peace. Just disagreeing that if someone is searching for peace or an end to bitterness, that it necessary always means continuing a relationship that is harmful.
Oh we completely agree about not continuing harmful relationships. I cut off all contact with my abusive mother years ago, she wasn’t invited to my wedding and I don’t know if she knows I’m married.
Apologies are definitely iffy, the only way I think an abuser could maybe ethically apologize to their victim is to write an apology and give it to someone who has contact with their victim with strict instructions only to pass it on if the victim wants to read it. Even that may be more contact than the victim wants, though. For me I don’t even want an apology, I just want my abuser to acknowledge that she made my childhood miserable.
Amends, on the other hand, can absolutely be done without bothering the victim. I think the best thing an abuser can do is leave town. Just suck it up and move so far away that their victim never has to worry about running into them. Another good way to make amends is to stay away from all events the victim might want to go to, and to tell people who know both the victim and the abuser why.
The point I was trying to get at is that people who pressure victims to forgive never actually give a shit about the victim’s wellbeing, if they did they would tell the abuser to get their shit together instead of badgering the victim to shut up about how they were harmed.
I’m queer and I’m estranged from my mom. The two are related by not explicitly–I mostly lied and hid my queerness to avoid further abuse and while I have been fully out for some time, I am not sure she ever noticed? Slash wilfully ignores it?
But people almost always assume it’s the reason. Many fill in that blank themselves. “Oh, I’m estranged from my mom.” “Oh, because you’re gay?” Sure. Why not.
Which is to say I agree with the captain that this is a societal story that people know and understand and sometimes it’s easier to let them keep believing it than dive into the dirty details.
listen, there’s got to be SOMEthing that can come out of this, right? Even if it’s only that you take their bigotry and turn it into a tool against them, and for you?
^^This. My dad being homophobic and transphobic (I am bi and trans, as is my partner) is actually a pretty small part of why we don’t talk, but when I got married it was the easiest, least exposed-feeling thing to point to as to why he wasn’t coming. I was pleasantly surprised how thoroughly and gracefully it let me shut down all further questions from well-meaning new friends and in-laws.
The Captain was really right about that part. Lots of people will recognize ‘my parents are homophobic, so we haven’t been close for a long time’ as plenty of reason not to invite them. It’s a familiar story, places the blame back on them where it belongs, and at best it lets people express a moment of empathy with you before taking your hint to change the subject. I’m sorry the people closer to your family are making it way harder; having a tidy exit for well-meaning strangers is a small victory but I hope it works and helps some.
Good luck, and I hope you have a wonderful wedding
Letter Writer, I truly hope that your wedding is loving and joyful and everything that you want.
When people automatically assume I have a close relationship with my mother, I say there is a reason I live three time zones away. And don’t go into detail, unless I’m in an Al-Anon meeting which is a safe space.
Mazel tov, LW! I hope you have the wedding of your dreams.
A thing I have found useful is to use the word “harm” rather than “abuse”, if one is inclined to be that specific about the reasons for estrangement. Many people of the “but faaaaamily” school are inclined to try to ask what exactly happened and then explain that that isn’t REALLY abuse. Saying “This person harmed me” is not generally treated as subjective in the way that “This person abused me” is. (It’s shitty that “This person abused me” is treated as subjective, but that’s the world we live in, alas.)
But you never have to get that personal if you don’t want to. I no longer speak to my father, and all I ever say about it is “I no longer speak to him”. That focuses on my choices and my actions, and doesn’t invite any questions. If people ask questions anyway, I say “We had a falling-out”. That’s it. No one else needs the details and no one else gets them. That plus a subject change and closed-off body language/tone is usually sufficient to move the conversation along.
Congratulations LW! Best wishes for a happy and stress free day. ❤❤❤
Totally agree with the Captain. I’d give people a maximum of 1-2 polite redirects before they get shut down HARD, and maybe even uninvited from the wedding, or given a low-contact time out for the duration of wedding planning.
My oh my, this is timely stuff. My girlfriend and I are discussing getting engaged… just as my grandma sends an email telling us that my abusive, homophobic, estranged-for-my-own-health mom is ill/possibly dying. Grandma is so kind as to throw in some victim blaming to me AND my abused siblings (you all did bad things and have to take part of the blame, you guys were “no angels” either, etc etc…).
Anyway, they’re not invited to jack shit.
Thank you, Captain. I have a feeling I’ll be coming back to this post again in the coming months.
Have a wonderful wedding and happy Pride month, LW. 🙂
It’s not your fault, and not yours to fix. Hugs if you want them.
You aren’t alone!!! So many of us go through this, and I hope that helps! One thing I learned was to tell new folks my parents were gone. It’s genetic bc they weren’t dead but they were gone. By their choice. Some folks I said my parents abdicated. That’s also what I told folks who asked if they were dead. Now thank god they are dead so I can say they are and boy it sounds terrible but look forward to that also it may help. One thing I found is many folks gave weird families. Sone people I tell the truth to. My mom was an abusive addict and I moved out in high school and I’ve taken care of myself. Sone people I tell me grandparents raised me and now they’re gone. Bc it’s kind of true in that I lived with them for a bit and my grandma was my true mom. But mostly I learn to give short answers followed by a polite subject changing question. Nah no Christmas plans, how about you? Most people will accept the switch bc they are onky asking to be polite anyway. Just do that a lot. Nosy ones feel free to be short with, tge ones who pry when they sense a juicy story. Bc it’s yours. One thing I say to a nosy coworker is tgat I’ve learned not to ask q’s bc if someone wants you to know something, they’re gonna tell you. Tgat works on all but the rudest and hold silence or be nasty to them. I’m sorry and finally: congrats on your fabulous event! Congrats on leaving that crap environment, and congrats on healing work! Gosh you sound amazing! Jedi hugs to you and your wife to be!
LW, I wish you all the best on your very wedding day! I am very sorry that you have to deal with all this crap because of abusive family. Not to mention a minister endorsing the nonsense that is “I don’t want to take sides, and besides forgiveness! and faaamily!” That nastiness and homophobia sound like a huge weight of bullshit for anyone to carry, but especially with the added stress of a wedding. Jedi hugs! I hope you and Team You are able to create a safe and happy space, free of all the ridiculousness, for your lovely wedding.
The Captain has fabulous scripts here. Having a few people on Team You with more info about your situation might help you to feel less pressured. Having them running interference with nosy guests, or keeping an eye on you on the day in case you feel overwhelmed, could help a lot. Only if you are comfortable sharing with them, of course. You know best what will make you feel safe and comfortable.
Even people who don’t know the story will likely get the message if you mention estrangement due to homophobia. My dear friends had their wedding with only one blood relative attending. The rest of their family was aghast that 2 women wanted to marry. No one at the wedding even questioned the lack of family there, because everyone correctly assumed that homophobic awfulness was behind it. Their wedding was the loveliest one I have ever attended. We were all overjoyed to be there, supporting our friends and their happy marriage. I very much wish for you to have the same.
For casual acquaintances, coworkers, etc.: Feel free to just completely dodge their questions if that’s easier for you. They ask what your parents think about the location? “SO’s grandma can’t really travel anymore, so of course we had to have it in her state!” They mention how weddings are such a good opportunity to get the family together? “Yeah, it will be really wonderful to see everyone who loves us in one place.” You can probably vague-answer through most of the ‘making conversation’ type of wedding talk.
For people who know your parents aren’t invited and are are actively questioning that decision…they’re being super rude, and I’d like to give you permission to send the resulting awkwardness right back at them. “What a weird/rude thing to say”, “That’s none of your business”, “I’m done with this topic”, etc. are entirely reasonable responses, and can be quite effective when combined with a good side-eye. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you were in charge of MY wedding’s guest list” might hit a little harder if they continue to persist. Don’t worry about coming off as rude; they started it, and reasonable people around you will recognize that they pushed you into a corner.
You don’t need to disclose anything to anyone. If you want to, you can–but you don’t owe it to anyone. Take care of yourself.
Congratulations, LW! I don’t have much to add to the good advice here, but am over here wishing you a lovely day and wonderful marriage.
Honestly, I think you’re allowed to say “No, my parents won’t be coming.” Period. Followed by a long silence that includes eye contact.
Delurking from the UK to say: we have somebody in the Royal Family now who didn’t invite her shitty relatives to her wedding. And the Queen still came. So anybody taking that course of action has The Royal Assent by proxy, if they want it!
More seriously, LW (and speaking as someone whose private reasons for not getting married for years included “Partner and I are waiting for relatives X, Y and Z to die so we don’t have All The Drama”) – leaving people out of your wedding who will spoil it is very, very, very usual and anybody who suggests otherwise is being wilfully dense at best.
It is entirely up to you what you do, and what you choose to tell people about why. Personally I love the sarcastically implausible stories suggested upthread, but if you don’t have the spoons for those, go with minimal and broken record. Sometimes “augh! family…” and an eyeroll is even enough.
And congratulations! Have a wonderful day, and a long and happy life with your beloved.
Hey Cap, a suggestion – why don’t you add a “weddings” category to the list on the right? It seems we have a few of these, and weddings are really their own bucket of weird.
Just to echo some solidarity for the LW here: I too am planning a wedding and I am estranged from my abusive father.
There have been a lot of questions from (well meaning) friends, acquaintances and strangers and so far nobody has pushed back when I’ve given a very bland, matter-of-fact answer – “we’re estranged, he won’t be coming. Anyway, let me tell you about the food/music/shoes…” Anyone that is worth bothering with will take your cues and not push any further to make you uncomfortable. If they do then feel free to nope on out of there.
There has been some strange unexpected push-back against other family members who have acted in support of my stance. My cousin is also planning her own wedding this year and has decided not to invite my father so that my sister and I can attend. As a result she has been subject to an endless amount of “don’t get involved” and “this isn’t your business” and “you’re taking sides”. This has resulted in some (probably misplaced) guilt on my part that my cousin is being affected by my own family situation. (She understands and has not made me feel guilty: she is a rockstar). It has also been a useful exercise in weeding out more people in my life that don’t deserve to be there – see: That Minister. Yikes.
Basically I want to echo the Captain’s sentiments that none of this is your fault or your job to fix. Have a wonderful wedding LW!
I love your cousin and offer her the free script “Yep, I am taking sides!” Congratulations to you both.
Your cousin rocks! It’s not your fault, and not on you to fix: it’s on your father.
Yes, she is taking sides! Against the abusive asshole! Good for her! 🙂
This has probably been covered (I haven’t read all the comments yet) but, for the people who are a little further out of your immediate circle – as in, folks who you really do not want to Get Into It All….Use a standard reply that is uninteresting and fait accompli. “My parents won’t be there”, for example.
Also – and this is key – when they follow up (and you know they will, with like, “What? Why not?” or some uch) use the exact same phrase. Do not deviate. Don’t add, “Well, like I say…” Or, “Yes, but unfortunately…” I learned this tactic many years ago in a different context.
There is something…unsettling? to the listener to hear the exact same answer to a series of questions. It only takes two or three “My parents won’t be there” with nothing else, for the questioner to back off. I’m not sure why this is, but it is effective.
A friend of mine wrote this article about being ‘motherless by choice’. It’s not the exact same situation, but it’s an excellent article and I would hope make you feel less alone when the ‘but ‘fammmily’ people get to noisy. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/katie-naum/motherless-by-choice_b_5417281.html
Ah, yes! Katie is a member of my women’s group on FB (I’ve met her maybe once or twice?) and I looooove this essay. I’m also estranged from my mother, and cut off my father permanently many years ago – it’s hard to make peace with it, but the more essays like these that get published, the better everyone seems to understand.
It sucks that we live in a world where abused people need to allow themselves to be damaged and perform Happy Family so that people who claim their own families are already pretty great can feel more secure. That’s like forcing someone to eat a meal full of eggs they’re deathly allergic to so I can enjoy my sandwich.
I’m so sorry, LW. So many of us have been where you are. It’s already so painful and these reactions and conversations make it so much harder.
One concept that’s used frequently in queer spaces is “found family.” I wonder if LW can derail people from prying by emphasizing that she is excited to have her found family be at the wedding.
Ex: “I’m really thankful to have [Friend], who’s become part of my [location-name] family, at my wedding to support me.”
“I’m very happy with all the guests I chose to invite.” / “I invited everyone who I felt would make me feel loved on my special day.”
“The family I invited may not be biological, but I love them very much.”
“I gave invitations to people who support me.” / “I consider them my true family.”
(Also abused as a child by my parents, physically, verbally, emotionally etc. When my father died I had my name removed from the obit, don’t know where he’s buried, and when I was offered condolences my responses were akin to “I appreciate the sentiment, but I don’t care that he’s dead.”)
I’m getting married in a few months and my mother may or may not be there, depending on if she feels that I have kissed enough ass in the upcoming weeks to warrant her presence. Which I will not be doing. But anytime anybody asks me “what will [person] think about [wedding decision], my answer is the same: I don’t give a fuck!
It’s my (and my spouse’s) wedding and the only people I’m concerned with making happy are myself and my spouse. We’re throwing a party and have offered you the *privilege* of attending. Attendance =/= a role in the planning committee, input on the guest list, or anything else.
If my mother decides not to be part of that day, it’s on her. If anybody asks why she’s not there, all I’m saying is that she didn’t want to come.
LW, you can tell people you don’t want your parents there and leave it at that. It will be awkward for sure, but nobody can force you to tell them anything.”I don’t want them here” when talking about family is a powerful statement, and refusing to elaborate should be a strong enough indicator that they did A Very Bad Thing(s) and not to push the issue.If somebody pushes the issue IT IS NOT ON YOU TO EXPLAIN FURTHER. It is on THEM to stop being an asshole and leave it be. We get so wrapped up in what we think we’re *supposed* to do that we forget that it doesn’t mean we *have* to do things. I know it is hard and I am so sorry you are going through this, but please remember that you are ENTIRELY IN CONTROL of this narrative and you do NOT have to share what you don’t want to or can’t handle.
I hope your Big Gay Wedding is full of fabulousness and found family and love. You deserve it!
Hold your head high and don’t let people guilt you or tell you how to feel. My entire life every person I’ve ever tried to explain to why I’m not close with my mother, that she was extremely physically and verbally abusive, said the exact same things, but it’s your mooother! To the point where I would question myself whether I should just suck it up. The previous post the Captain mentioned was the first time I’ve ever had my feelings validated in my entire life. The scripts she gives, while I’ve never used them yet, makes me feel stronger just knowing I have them there to stand up for myself.
I am so sorry people have responded that way to you. I don’t know your story, but I believe *you* know it and are entitled to make your own decisions about your life and relationships based on that knowledge. In fact, you are responsible for doing that. Given that removing yourself from the life of another adult is not abusive, no one else is entitled to know your reasons or try to manipulate you with their judgement of those reasons. I know you know all of that, and I’m so glad this is a place where you don’t have to be completely alone in knowing that. That helps me too, though my story is very different.
I’d like to affirm that these people are full of shit and that I entirely understand why you’re not close to your mother.
Sooo, a friend of mine recently went through something similar (estranged from abusive family, minister/s focusing on the “reconciliation” portion, to the point of harassing them). That’s an incredibly lonely, stressful situation to be in, and I’m sad that you have to face that as well as missing out on the family you wished you could have had growing up. All I can offer is that as a bystanding friend, I was totally okay hearing “My friends ARE my family, and they’re going to be there for me on the big day.”
The people who really, truly care about you won’t demand you justify your decisions. They are going to feel happy for your joy in the marriage, sad for the loss you are experiencing, and might even avoid the topic of family as they realize it’s a painful one for you. You don’t have to handle this stress alone, it’s okay to fall back on Team You. That’s why people have wedding ‘parties,’ it takes teamwork to manage such a big, life changing event.
“What if the abusive person DIES and you haven’t SOLVED IT? You’ll regret it if you don’t make peace!”
You know what? My abuser did die, back in 2012. And I don’t regret it one bit that we never reconciled, because he refused to admit he’d done anything wrong. I felt absolutely nothing when I heard he was gone. It wasn’t up to me to “solve” it so I didn’t. I won’t feel anything when his enabling wife dies either.
I don’t get some people who identify as queer… and then do shit that is so toxic and harmful to the queer community.
I can’t stand Tyra Sanchez for her comments on suicide (when she is in ancommunity with HIGH SUICIDE RATES).
And now you have a gay minister who wants to force a reconcilation between an abused queer member with their abusive honophobic parents… while most likely knowing full well the queer member knows about all the abuse that happens to queer offspring. And despite that, the minister is siding with the abusive, homophobic parents in order to “keep the peace”.
It is true what they say, evil prospers when good men do nothing.
I love all of the Captain’s suggestions.
The OP’s IN THERAPY, and I know that may not be something they’re comfortable sharing, but if they don’t mind… There’s a certain subset of people that this will shut up — if only for the ‘oh! Professionals will help fix this estrangement!’ assumption.
“But FAMILY [blah blah]”
“We’re following OP’s therapists advice.” BAM. Expert who knows all the details says OPs doing right (because, of course, one can’t be an expert in one’s own life and healthy boundaries that work for oneself…). Discretely mentioned to those people going to OP’s partner.
Brene Brown says, “Share with people who have earned the right to hear your story” and I follow that. I used to think I had to explain so many details about myself—that the person I call “Mom” is my stepmother, but that she adopted me, that my brother is really my stepbrother, that I’m estranged from my “real” mom by my choice, that she was abusive to me and had a very serious mental illness that she chose not to seek help for that meant she used her demons against me… but then I realized I don’t have to explain. No one needs to understand the inner workings of your family unless you truly want them to. That’s not lying, it’s nobodys business. I used to feel like I had to explain my brother is really my stepbrother so people who knew I was an only child wouldn’t be confused, that is was somehow dishonest not to explain. But it cheapened the relationship by describing it that way and invited further scrutiny into my life and familial relationships than I really wanted to share. I used to think I owed people the truth about my mother, about what I went to and again there were so many times I ended up having to field criticism and comments (but faaamily etc) that hurt me. The truth is none of those people ever really needed to know in the first place. It helps that I am no longer in it anymore if that makes sense. I made these decisions YEARS ago and I know my life is for the better because I did. I look at it as a need to know basis now. Sometimes I will share my story, if it is relevant and the person has earned my trust and shown that one or more of us will benefit by my sharing. So I think the less information you share the better. No one needs to know that your parents abused you, are choosing not to come, are homophobic or died years ago (unless you want them to know). When people ask you if your parents are coming you can say, no my family is really small but I’m so looking to sharing the day with partners loving family and our close friends. If people continue to push for details you can simply say, you know, I’d really rather not talk about it and change the subject to something about the wedding you are excited about. The details are not important. Also, sometimes it can feel like you are the only one who is not close to your mother, I think this thread is evidence you are not. Only you can decide if having someone in your life is healthy or not. Congrats on your upcoming wedding!
Why do people want estranged family members to reconcile before someone dies? What is there to SOLVE exactly?
Both my and my partner’s fathers have died and we both have a sense of closure and relief. This person can’t harm me any more. I don’t have to wonder about what to say at holidays or agonize about having a relationship because it is not possible. I am still in therapy dealing with the aftermath.
I was also abused by a former partner 25 years ago and I think I will throw a party (at least for myself) on the day that they die. I will have NO REGRETS that they are dead.
Right? It’s as if there will be some teary-eyed movie scene on the deathbed with violins playing. Or that the abusive person Won’t Get Into Heaven and it’s all your fault for not forgiving them.
(Somewhat OT, perhaps, but …)
When my mother died, the main feeling I had was _relief_. To put it simply, I always felt like I didn’t really have a mother, even though she seemed to act like a mother. (Yes, it was and still is really confusing.) I was a little surprised that I didn’t feel any grief when she died; it was like I’d already grieved the loss of my mother long before she died.
I realized after she died that I had always felt that I must be doing something wrong for her to be that way towards me, only I could never figure out what to do differently. So when she died, I felt released from the necessity of trying. Hence, relief.
tl;dr : I don’t miss my mother, I miss (and still grieve for) the mother I should have had.
You’re not special or worth something just because you exist. Some people are just plain pieces of shit and it’s not up to the rest of us to make things easier for them.
The best way I’ve seen this handled among coworkers/casual friends/acquaintances is simply, “I’m not in contact with my family.” Most people know to stop there, but if someone slips up and asks why, you can always give them a raised eyebrow and say, “I’d rather not get into that.” If they keep pushing after that, you’re perfectly justified in getting annoyed and leaving the conversation, because continuing to ask at that point is *weird* and most people will get that.
In my whole life I’ve only ever had one person really press me for details. Thankfully most people aren’t that nosy.
For me it’s mostly children? And they also wanna know if I have a grandma, a grandpa, a dog, a cat, sometimes a baby or a robot, where I live, why my hair is this colour, what’s that on my eyes I like it it’s pretty, which of these shoes are yours can I wear them…etc. Kids, at least, are easy, lol.
I’m kind of wondering if there’s going to be a point in my life where I’ll just say my father is dead, tbh. I haven’t spoken to him for 2/3 of my life, so at some point it might be easier to just go that way.
Agree that people are rarely so nosy and this usually works.
The problem I’ve had is the person who when you say, “I don’t want to talk about it” feels free to continue to talk about it THEMSELVES and gives you uninformed pronouncements or platitudes before dropping it. Ugh! Oh, and then asks about it again later because they figure maybe NOW you want to talk about it and they’re “just checking.”
“If your abuser dies without you forgiving them, you’ll never have any closure.”
“The only closure I want is to pee on their grave.”
(It wasn’t a relative, but my father literally peed on the grave of a county official who had caused him some pretty serious hurt, when the old bat finally died.)
i don’t have any real advice, LW, but i wanted to congratulate you on your wedding! i hope you and your spouse have a wonderful future together! you are allowed to not invite people to your wedding, no matter what the social convention on it is. in fact, what i’d suggest for telling random strangers is something like “oh, they couldn’t make it.” the “because i didn’t invite them” is unsaid. however, this is coming from a super uninformed place, so if any of the other advice resonates with you, definitely go with that.
There is a lot of love and sweetness in this comment section today and I want to throw a huge party for all of you right now with soft cushions and rainbow cupcakes and your beverages of choice. That is all.
LW, I hope your Big Gay Wedding is fabulous and filled with only the people you want to be there. Happy Pride Month too!
I have gotten older and lost my fucks and maybe common sense but I just stopped trying to stay out of things. It’s been my experience that toxic and abusive people are the ones who count on everyone being polite and toeing the line and not calling them out on their shit. And the people who are usually trying to lay guilt trips are first-rate enablers and see the victims as the weaker link and more likely to give in to their manipulation. So in my mind, silence and making every effort to have everyone get along just supports the abuser 99.9% of the time.
So, damn skippy, I am Team Bride here.
And that minister is a despicable human being and an absolute shit-stain as a person in any sort of pastoral role.
Oh, and I think all that regret talk is pure bullshit.
I have had relatives die while I was low contact and felt nothing. I realize it’s only anecdata…
And fuck those assholes who have the hubris to tell another person how they are going to feel.
Maybe I’m being naive, but if you want to just avoid the whole topic of who won’t be there, “I’m so excited to be spending the day with so many loved ones”. And just keep hammering home fun things about the day: chocolate cake, best wife, silly in jokes with the wedding party, the marquee because it will be raining (I’m British) – not necessarily in that order. It takes an obtuse person to sail past that many cues, and someone that obtuse might appreciate a”I’m not discussing that”.
Sorry if this is out of kilter. I’ve had some wine, so feel free to ignore. And enjoy your brilliant special day!
About the pastor – there are other pastors and other officiants. If you have the mental energy to search for another, it might be worth it to find someone more supportive of you and of what you need.
Thanks for raising my awareness from “how things look to me” to “how things might look to someone else.” I try to be considerate and respectful of others, but I have my blind spots and I’ve been gnawing a bone about how my sister chose to relate to our mother for way too long. (She’s the older sister and when she made some young-adult-mistakes she also made the mistake of looking for support from our mother — as the younger sister, I got to learn from watching what happened between them, and by keeping my mouth shut about my personal life, I managed to have a less acutely painful relationship with our mother.)
Thanks for helping me feel more compassion for her experience and also let go of my pain about how things aren’t the way I want them to be. Our mother is dead now so nothing is going to change between us and our mother, but my relationship with my sister can still improve, and letting go of thinking I know how she should feel about our mother (which I hadn’t quite realized I was doing until I read this) certainly can’t hurt and might help quite a bit.
I agree about the pastor. There are so many options for officiants. Why have someone who isn’t even supportive of you? You deserve better. I’m wishing you such a happy wedding.
A few years back, I showed my friend how to block her mother after she cut off contact (complicated story which involved her mom staying with friend’s abusive father). Prior to blocking, her mother called constantly trying to wear her down. After blocking her, friend’s sister pressured her to resume contact. My friend’s mother passed away a few weeks later, while they were estranged. It was unfortunate, but that was the way it had to be, because friend would have had to put up with abuse to continue the relationship.
My grandmother is estranged from myself and all but one of my siblings. It’s because she’s mean (it would be abusive, but we never spent enough time together for that) and I had always been the one initiating and doing the work to sustain a relationship. I haven’t talked to my grandmother in over 6 years. She’s 92, I don’t even need an apology, but if she wants to have a relationship with me, she has to be the one to call me. I’ve accepted that she will likely die without me ever speaking to her again, and that’s sad, but it’s also as much her choice as it is mine.
We all make our choices and we can only control our own actions. Sometimes, drawing a boundary means you can’t have a relationship with someone unless they change/make amends, but that is also their choice.
No advice to give to the letter writer, but as a person who survived and abusive childhood and has spent the past 20 or so years living far away from my family in a happy house with the love of my life, I wanted to congratulate you and wish you every happiness. Living happily does so much to heal the hurts of the past. I wish that for you.
I’m so sorry that you have to deal with this, OP. Hang in there.
The Captain linking that song made me think of this, too. If anyone keeps haranguing you about things: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=suaveqvlWP8
Most people who urge “reconcile before it’s too late!” don’t understand that there are (at least) two kinds of estrangement.
Reconciliation is possible if both parties are basically good people who have become estranged because of actions in the past, even if it’s a long series of actions, like well-meaning parenting that was nonetheless controlling and infantilizing. A lot of decent people aren’t great parents because they never learned how to parent the way their child needs. If both parties are decent people who genuinely want a genuinely good relationship, apologies can be made, boundaries set and respected, and the relationship given a new start, on terms that work for both parties.
But then there’s the kind of estrangement from which there is no realistic chance of reconciliation, because it results from a fundamental clash of character/personality. If the behavior that caused the estrangement is rooted in a party’s being a shitty person, they’re going to need a new personality before true reconciliation is possible. They can apologize and promise, and cry and even think they want a good relationship, but they’re usually unwilling and/or incapable of changing the character flaws that drove the other person away in the first place. Their idea of compromise is they change nothing and the other person goes back to putting up with their shit. Apologies and promises don’t mean a goddamn if the behavior doesn’t change and if the behavior is a reflection of their personality or character, they’ll never stop with the shitty behavior.
I am estranged from a sibling who regularly sends me missives apologizing and wanting to “talk it out” and there’s two sides to every story, and she can explain, and I’m not perfect either, you know, etc, but it’s Never Going To Happen because the problem isn’t something she did, it’s what she *is.*
We’re not estranged because of what she did; we’re estranged because I have every reason to believe she will do it again.
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