I’m Being Guilted Back Into The Toxic Family Sludge
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?
Angry Momma Bear
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.