Prev Next
rusty toxic sign with skull and bones

I’m Being Guilted Back Into The Toxic Family Sludge

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I’m a huge fan of your Advice Smackdown, and I’ve read just about every response regarding poisonous family, but I don’t think you’ve addressed anything quite like this.

I am the mother of an 11 week old perfect angel baby that I love so much. And my family is not a part of her life. I guess I’m wondering if I’ve made the right decision. My father is deceased, as are his mother and father and most of his family, so that’s not the issue–it’s my mom’s side of the family that is the problem. I was raised by my grandmother because my mom was not a fit parent (READ: exotic dancer addicted to drugs who is so emotionally damaged that at 44 she is still stalking her last boyfriend who has made it clear he’s NOT INTERESTED). She’s cleaned up her act a bit, but she’s still an emotional black hole. Not that my grandmother was any better. I was constantly subjected to a diatribe about what a piece of sh*t my father was, and how selfish my mother is, and the various reasons why I’m just as terrible as they are.

The last time I saw or spoke to my mom was at my baby shower, which my mother-in-law threw. MIL is a wonderful lady and one of the kindest people you’ll ever meet. She tried to get my family involved in the shower planning and throwing, but no one was interested…that is, until they wanted to be featured front and center. My MIL reserved seats near the front of the room for the immediate family (including my mom, grandmother and sisters) but because they were in the second row, not the first, my mom threw an almighty fit, embarrassing herself and me, and left the shower 10 minutes into it. That night, she called my MIL at 4 in the morning to curse her out. Then she sent text messages to my husband and me telling us we were selfish, self-centered a**holes who should rot in hell. Yeah. That happened. She’s never once attempted to apologize for her outrageous behavior, and any time my sister mentions that she should, my mother says, “I’m the elder, I do not have to apologize to her.”

Even worse, my youngest sister, who is still a minor (17), is homeless. Why? Because my mom “can’t stand her” and doesn’t want to be around her. Because of my father’s early death, my sister receives social security benefits–which my mom takes. When my sister confronts her about it, she tells her that she deserves the money for the years of child support my father didn’t pay (are you seeing the “pity me” pattern here?) and to get a job. AT SEVENTEEN!

Meanwhile, my grandmother has not been quiet about her disdain for my husband’s family. She doesn’t like this one, that one is a b*tch, etc. And she doesn’t just say it to me, she says it to other members of my husband’s family! I asked her politely to stop this behavior, and she agreed. Then, at the hospital the day of the birth, she told my husband’s family, “When you all get tired of baby girl, we’ll still be here for her.” What is that about? So I confronted her again. She cried and swore up and down that she didn’t say that. But I found out afterward that she was on an obscene amount of prescription pain killers that day, so who knows what she said?!

She’s also chosen to take my mom’s side regarding the baby shower fiasco. The two of them even went so far as to have my grandfather (whom I love dearly and respect greatly) call me and ask me to “be the bigger person” and begin speaking to them again.

The only reason I would even begin to reconsider is because my sister has begged me to. She has an 18 month old daughter, and we want our little girls to be close, but how can they be if I refuse to go to family functions? And what if one day my niece asks my daughter why she doesn’t visit Peanut? I’m not even sure why my sister wants them in her life, considering they’ve smoked indoors while watching her child (yes, really) and my mom put COFFEE in my niece’s bottle–which resulted in a hospital visit.

Ultimately, I believe that if my mom can’t be bothered to provide for her own child, why should I believe she’ll be there for mine? I don’t want my daughter to face the sort of disappointment I’ve experienced my whole life. And I really don’t want her to deal with the negativity coming from my grandmother. And I REALLY don’t trust either of them to stay off of drugs, so…is it possible I’m being too hard on them, or am I justified in keeping my baby bear FAR away from their toxic influence?

Sincerely,
Angry Momma Bear
Okay.

So.

Wow. Holy crap. Yes. No.

My jaw is hanging open and my fingers are typing sentence fragments because DAMN GURL. Are you justified in keeping your baby away from these people? And yourself? Um, yes. More than a little bit justified. I don’t even want to read anything else about these people, much less join them for Thanksgiving.

I’m sorry your sister and grandfather are even trying to drag you back into this mess — I’m trying to picture what your average “family function” would even look like, honestly, since everybody hates everybody and the favorite past time seems to be telling each other how terrible you all are and being generally awful. Maybe it would be like playing Cards Against Humanity, without any actual cards? Good God. I’m sorry your sister is apparently clinging to a peacekeeper role without seeing that she’s really becoming an enabler — by guilting you back into their sphere of emotional and verbal abuse.

Do. Not. Let. Her.

Your children can be close without you having anything to do with your mother or grandmother. Kids don’t “get” family relationships and titles for a very, very long time — they won’t know what “cousins” really mean and if your daughter never attends the family functions your niece won’t grow up with her in that context. It would be one thing if you abruptly stopped going when the girls were older, but by never attending in the first place, the girls probably won’t have any idea that it “should” be otherwise for quite some time. (Unless, of course, you and your daughter’s absence is gossiped about and criticized in front of your niece, but that’s still not your doing or fault. That’s on your sister for putting her child in that situation, or for trying to use her child as a pawn to in her misguided peacekeeper role.) And I suspect that by the time the girls are old enough to really understand that oh, we’re cousins but one of us doesn’t hang with the other cousins, they’ll also be old enough to understand that Grandma and Great-Grandma are kind of nuts and have problems with a lot of people. And if your daughter asks and you think she’s still too young for the details, you can keep it pretty vague. “Grandma and Great-Grandma have problems with a lot of people, including me. It’s not your fault, but we’re all happier if we don’t see each other that often.”

Arrange time with your sister and niece away from everybody else and include them whenever you feel it’s appropriate, but stand up and explain that you are very sorry, but a reconciliation is not going to happen and you need her to stop bringing it up. You’ve made a choice you feel is best for your daughter’s safety and your sanity — you can appreciate and respect that she’s made different choices, so please respect yours.

But one thing. One last thing before you go. Your youngest sister. She is too young and vulnerable for you to walk away from, and she needs HELP. Surely your sister has SOMEONE she can turn to — a guidance counselor, a social worker, Child Protective Services, a lawyer who does child advocacy work pro bono. I know the clock is ticking and she’s probably thinking it’s easier to just break free and start acting like she’s 18 already, but she is still a minor. And already homeless, and already careening toward a future of Very Bad Things. If your mother really has fully kicked her out , denying her essential needs, while keeping her benefits, that’s not just abusive, that’s illegal. Here’s the SSA’s article on Misuse of Benefits by a Representative Payee, and here’s where that misuse can be reported online, or by phone or mail. Have your sister over and help her fill out the form or make the call.  Then call a child abuse hotline and report what’s happening anonymously.

Please, please, please: Stand strong, protect yourself and your daughter…but also your sister.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon
chat bubble icon

Comments

newest oldest most voted
Notify of
AzerPhyre
Guest
AzerPhyre

Oh Angry Momma Bear, I cannot express how much you’re not alone in situations like these and I sincerely hope you can find the support you need. Like you, I have one particularly toxic relationship in my family. An older sister of mine is bipolar and schizophrenic with extensive drug and abuse history, with a violent husband who is in and out of prison, and three children of her own that she cannot care for at the age of 33. On many occasions (far too many to count) she has made her intentions and actions only regarding her. This has… Read more »

Tiffany
Guest

ALL of what Amy said. Stay away. These are not people doing anything to demonstrate what loving, caring family they would be to your daughter. And, you know, if you can… maybe look into some counseling for yourself. You dealt with a lot growing up, and while it sounds like you’re doing GREAT and really have it together, an objective 3rd party trained at helping you identify the unhealthy patterns that seem so normal to you that you don’t readily see them could be really valuable to you. And maybe how to be there for your sister and niece without… Read more »

Martha
Guest
Martha

Yes. All of what Amy said. Especially for your youngest sister. 

Lauren
Guest
Lauren

Wow, I just really want to hug you. First and foremost, give yourself the credit you absolutely deserve for breaking the cycle of abuse in your family by having a strong marriage and a baby you clearly adore. Second, Amy is right–it’s time to call for reinforcements pronto before things get any worse. If your older sister isn’t helping your little sister, you need to. Call CPS, call a child advocate attorney, call a social worker, call everyone you can think of because the more noise you make, the better the chances she will get the help she needs. She… Read more »

Caroline
Guest
Caroline

Yes to everything Amy has said, but just one thing; if your grandfather is a wonderful person, then what has he done to resolve this ghastly situation? Has he protected you, taken care of you, got rid of your grandmother /mother, helped your little sister… no? Then… well… he may be very sweet and a basically kind guy, and I’m sure he is, and against the rest, seems wonderful, but weakness and enabling toweringly toxic situations is actually not the hallmark of a wonderful person. That he would drag you back in is a sign that you might be better… Read more »

MR
Guest
MR

Yes, THIS! He may be sweet, but he is not being kind to YOU. If he were, he would want what is best for YOU, which means he would tell you he loves you and understands why you want nothing to do with your grandma and mom.

Slydegirll
Guest
Slydegirll

so a) YES agree with Amalah. yesyesyesyes.  And I was thinking as I read your letter, that I wonder if there’s still a part of you that thinks it’s….normal? not unhealthy? for families to function like your mom and the extended side seem to. Part of my family functions very similarly, and actually, without reasons like drugs involved – they just somehow naturally see it as OK to throwadult temper tantrums and cuss people out for little to no reason and make horrible comments to people’s faces, etc. And to them, this is…exactly how families function. Nothing abnormal here. Maybe… Read more »

Kat
Guest
Kat

Oh dear. Stay away from those folks. I know it can be really hard to cut out basically your entire family, but remember: by not doing so, you are teaching your daughter that “family” can treat you any way they like, while you would likely never accept such toxic, hurtful behavior from anyone else. That has been my main reason for staying away from my biological dad (and my biological mother’s entire family) – I would never want to give my son the impression that it’s okay to associate with such unstable, angry and abusive people, whether they are family… Read more »

MR
Guest
MR

I’m sorry, but someone who put coffee in a baby’s bottle is someone to cut out of your life completely! And that your sister still has anything to do with them after they did that to her child simply shows how messed up her priorities are. Urge her to get away from them. She can have a relationship with you, and her daughter with yours, but NOT at the sacrifice of their personal safety. It is not safe for them to be around your mother or grandmother. Your grandmother may not harm them physically, but she is definitely emotionally abusive.… Read more »

Ellie
Guest
Ellie

This isn’t exactly your situation, but Emily Yoffe (Dear Prudence from Slate) wrote an amazing article about how forgiveness and keeping relationships with toxic parents is basically overrated. Many people who suffered abuse at the hands of their parents are routinely encouraged to maintain ties or forgive past wrongs in the name of closure or the value of family. However, they do JUST FINE and are finally able to heal once they cut the offending parties out of their lives forever. http://www.slate.com/articles/life/family/2013/02/abusive_parents_what_do_grown_children_owe_the_mothers_and_fathers_who_made.html

Suzy Q
Guest
Suzy Q

This is an excellent article. I don’t forgive my abuser, and I never will. Toxic relationships are just that: toxic. We can sometimes only care for ourselves and those who truly care about us, and move on as best we can.

LW, I hope you find peace and strength in Amy’s words and those of the commenters. Your little family unit deserves it.

Michelle B
Guest
Michelle B

Due to a toxic family situation, my sister and I stopped having interactions with my grandmother at 14. I’m the oldest of 8 cousins, and admittedly we didn’t see them as much as we probably would have without the disruption. It’s of course easier to maintain relationships with “easy”, obvious visits like holidays. However, my parents and my aunts and uncles made efforts for us to visit without my grandmother involved before she passed away 8 years ago. Now, my sister and I drink beer with our cousins and play games at family picnics, and overall have just fine relationships… Read more »

JMH
Guest
JMH

My husband has been estranged from his family for decades. He (and I) tried to mend things, but it just wasn’t worth it. His sister has some mental health issues and was beyond horrible to him a few years ago. Since then, he has basically stopped all interactions with them. It has been so much better since then…holidays are easier, we don’t have to worry when the phone rings, etc. He is thinking of adding something to his will that they will get NOTHING from his estate if he passes away. (Yeah, it is that bad) I struggled with this… Read more »

Leslie
Guest
Leslie

While I was fretting about a particularly difficult sibling to a coworker, she said: “Leslie, you have two little girls that need you. Your sister is an adult. She does not need you.” Everything clicked after that, and I haven’t felt guilty since. Good luck and remember that you are a finite resource – allocate yourself wisely!