If it’s not obvious why from the subject line, we’re putting this post behind a cut so people can choose whether to engage further. FYI there are mentions of past assaults and predatory behavior in addition to describing sex offender registries and designations. Upsetting stuff, though the LW is doing a good job with an impossible situation.
I’m second guessing myself and really need your advice. My mother is currently dating a level 3 sex offender* she’s been with him for two years.
[Ed Note: In the sex offender registries used in most US states and territories, “Level 3” indicates conviction for a serious sex crimes, a high likelihood of re-offending, and includes crimes committed against minors. To give you an idea of how serious Level 3 is, there is no Level 4.]
I found out after she unintentionally mentioned to a relative that he had been to prison. When she wouldn’t elaborate on why he went to prison, this relative found it odd and contacted me to let me know. At the time, my mom had been helping to care for my kids by picking them up from school and serving as an emergency contact. I looked him up online and found all of his mugshots as well as his name on an offender registry. Mom hid this info, as far as I know, everyone. This man had been in my home several times, and my kids and I had spent Thanksgiving with him at my mom’s.
I was enraged, and scared that perhaps my children had been abused by him. After talking with my husband and verifying with my kids and their pediatrician that no abuse had taken place, I confronted my mom with the help of the family member who told me about the boyfriend. My mother’s initial response was defensiveness, accented by a half-hearted apology. She said she believed he was on drugs in the past and he wouldn’t do that again, he’d become a different person, etc. She later told family that I was keeping the children away from her, without explaining why. I had to remove her from the children’s emergency contact list; after this whole thing blew up she showed up at the kids’ school unannounced, which my son told me about.
I was devastated by her response for obvious reasons, but also because we did not have the best relationship while I was growing up. Since my parents divorced, I always felt like she was choosing her men over me; she demonstrated this in many ways. When I was a teenager, my mom had a boyfriend who was predatory towards me. His behavior included walking around the apartment naked when the two of us were home alone, leering at me from anywhere in the house, and standing over me in his underwear while I pretended to sleep. It got to a point where I kept a knife in my pillowcase to protect myself if he ever tried to assault or rape me. When I got the courage to tell my aunt and mother about his behavior they made him “apologize,” but didn’t ask him to leave. I moved away to college as soon as I was able, so I could feel safe. My mom didn’t stop dating that man until he made it difficult for her to keep her friends and family because of his sexually predatory actions around their families.
My mom and I had been estranged for a while, and had just begun to reconnect when I found out about her boyfriend. I thought our relationship was finally getting better. When I mentioned that guy she dated when I was a teenager, she said I was living in the past and needed to learn to forgive. It seems Mom’s new boyfriend isn’t going anywhere. He spent last Thanksgiving with my mom and her sisters.
Here’s where I keep second guessing myself: I have not taken my kids to see her without me. She keeps asking to see my kids but won’t actually talk to me about anything meaningful. I have visited her with the kids in the park or at a restaurant or with my husband in tow. Truthfully, I don’t want to engage her at all. I don’t want my kids to be near her. I don’t trust her. My husband feels the same as me but also tends to avoid tense situations and hasn’t really put much skin in the game. I know she loves them, but I feel she is sick and can’t or won’t realize how dangerous it is for the children and how she has betrayed me yet again.
I feel guilty that I may be preventing the kids from having a relationship with her and they may resent me later. But, I have to protect them. I have explained to them why Grandma isn’t safe. The oldest, my 11 year old, understands and tries to comfort me when I’m bursting into tears about the whole thing. I feel like I have to protect myself and the kids from this ongoing pain.
Family members are not confronting her about this. I don’t feel supported by my maternal family in my decision to keep away permanently. It seems as if they are considering this situation a “me” problem. They say that I’m angry and in pain but it’s used in a way that is dismissive to me. I also feel that whole YOU ONLY HAVE ONE MOTHER thing, but she’s not okay. Why are they enabling her? I don’t think I’m asking anyone to choose sides however I don’t believe its a “me” problem and I’m fucking sick of feeling all this grief, anger and pain.
Am I seeing this wrong?
Let me begin here: there is nothing wrong with the way you are handling this. The situation you’re in is an impossible one. Your mom lost any right to the benefit-of-the-doubt long ago. You gave her the gift of a second chance to be in your life, and she blew that up, too, the moment she failed to give you the information you’d need to make an informed decision about protecting your children.
There isn’t anything wrong with having and maintaining boundaries, okay? From what you’ve shared, your mom and extended family are awful at those. You don’t owe them your complicity in this. The threat this boyfriend poses is not imaginary. Granted, our legal system is pretty crappy when it comes to matters of protecting communities from danger — children especially — though it’s very clear that this man is unsafe for your kids and anyone else’s kids. The idea behind a registry is that people will know who to avoid. Your mom’s family members seem to be enabling her, in my opinion, because they have normalized some idea that “no immediate threat” and “no threat at all” are the same thing.
Your wisdom has shown you that they are not the same. Please congratulate and affirm yourself for knowing enough to create boundaries and protecting your kids.You mentioned that your husband hasn’t been super present in this situation — that he hasn’t much skin in the game. Would you feel less alone/ weird/ guilty if he were more involved in supporting you through this? You also mentioned your eleven-year-old comforts you when she sees that this distresses you. Though it’s awesome that she has enough emotional awareness and care for you that she’s supporting you, she’s still a kid. That’s not to say you’re wrong or bad for the way she’s showing up. You absolutely aren’t. I do want to encourage you to have open and honest talks with your kids and husband about this growing estrangement from that side of your family, with the support of a mental health professional if you can access one.
As far as your personal relationship with your mom goes, please keep holding your boundary with her. She doesn’t, for whatever reason, have the capacity to see her actions as harmful. It’s not an indicator of your value as a person. Your mom is not a measure of your worth. I cannot stress that enough. It seems that this situation with the boyfriend is the latest in a series of her failures to properly love and care for you. That, without a doubt, is not your fault. You didn’t make her this way. Please don’t internalize her behavior as if you did something wrong to her.
Unfortunately, there may not ever be a satisfactory answer to why your mom is like this or why your family is enabling her or any way to convince them you’ve made the right choice. I know that’s really hard to hear, and even harder to accept. When a relationship isn’t working, it’s so tempting to want to dig deeper into someone’s motivations, or their feelings about us. What happens if you focus that mental and emotional energy on understanding yourself, your kids, and your husband instead? What happens if you rest your mind and begin to work through the impact of your mom-traumas on yourself and your relationships? Your guilt, anger, and pain are more than valid. I think, dear reader, that processing those feelings has to happen without engaging her so you can move forward. You and your kids deserve extended family relationships that don’t require your silence in order to exist.
You’re doing a great job by maintaining your distance and never leaving the kids alone with your mother. There’s nothing wrong with your perspective on this — you are seeing things very clearly. If you wish to cut all ties, you’re well within your rights to do so.
Yes, you only have one mother — she only has one you, and isn’t doing a good job being your mom. I hope I’ve helped, reader.
Keep keeping your distance,
About the Author: Lenée is a fat, Black, queer femme who lives in Philadelphia. She’s a lover of Black music, Steven Universe, true crime, and doing the electric slide whenever possible. A new plant mom, Lenée writes on occasion and usually tweets as @dopegirlfresh.
P.S. Quick Note from Captain Awkward: Thanks Lenée!
Letter Writer, you didn’t ask for scripts specifically, but one dynamic I’ve observed in situations where family tries to excuse egregious abuse is a tendency to speak in euphemisms and platitudes like, “Let the past stay in the past” or “Moving past all that” or “Why are you shutting me out” or “He’s a different person now,” etc. By keeping everything vague these apologists try to create a false equivalence. One way to fight back against this minimizing crap is to name the behaviors, like:
- “I’m not ‘shutting Mom out,’ I’m resetting boundaries after she let my kids be around a known child molester for 2 years and repeatedly lied to me about it.”
- “It’s not like she forgot to water my plants, we’re now 0 for 2 with Mom dating sexual predators and putting them before the safety me or my kids.”
- “If [Boyfriend] has ‘changed’, good for him I guess. Since I can’t trust Mom to tell me the truth if anything did happen, I’m not about to let my kids be the test case to see if his redemption took.”
- “Who am I gonna trust with my kids’ safety? Me, or the person who keeps arguing that I need to be ‘more fair’ to the dude Mom ‘forgot’ to tell me was a Level 3 sex offender? No unsupervised visits with Mom, no visits with him ever, and no more arguing about it.”
It’s clear that your mom’s pattern of prioritizing her creepy partners over the safety of anybody in her care has not changed, you’re not “living in the past” by pointing it out when someone repeats the exact same sketchy behavior! Go ahead and hold that grudge!
As always, RAINN is a great resource for people who want trained support around sexual abuse and assault.