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Your Children Don’t Owe You Love

Rhea

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A lot of society tries to pressure people into thinking you OWE your parents a space in your life, even if they are toxic.

I hate that so many people are harangued with, “oh you have to forgive,” and “she’s your mother,” and “you have to answer your father’s call.” It’s wrong. If someone is toxic, and damaging and harms you, you DO NOT owe them space in your life to retraumatize you again and again. There’s no amount of “I changed your diapers” that entitles someone to constantly manipulate you and inject divisiveness into your space.

What are your thoughts on this idea that parents are entitled to some sort of space in their children’s lives, even if it creates strife, stress or harm?

This anecdote is what made me think of this today. I also have some friends who are like the children in this story - they had to cut parents out of their lives to protect themselves and their own children from emotional trauma. I think they should have no apologies for doing so; it’s sad enough to not have a normal parent, society shouldn’t add “and you have to interact with them or you’re the monster.”

There’s a woman on my social media friends whose posts make me feel sad for her. She’s a fellow parent of our kids’ elementary school from a more than a decade back. I feel sad for her because at some point in the last 10 years, and moreso during the Trump years, she went vocally political. Mostly on the topic of abortion (it’s murder and anyone who supports choice is a murderer-for-fun) but occasionally on some other political issues.

My guess is that in person she was even worse about it. Because now her posts are just pictures from the past, 15+ years ago and memories of her children. None of whom will speak to her. She revealed this briefly in two or three posts as a lament, something like, “And now my kids think I’m too extreme, see what liberal media has done to them.” One of her kids, I learned from someone else, is or has been institutionalized because of reportedly being traumatized (like, actually debilitatingly traumatized) by actions that mom claims are fabricated. I have no idea of the truth of that, so I call it “reportedly.” (I’m not doubting the truth of the child’s claims, I’m just not sure those claims were actually made. You can’t say “I believe her,” if she never actually said it.)

But what makes me sad for her is that whatever she did, or whatever happened, all she has left to post are 15 year old pictures of “better days” and news clippings of what the kids are doing now that she is not invited to (like one is in college softball). I feel sad for the kids having to walk away from their mother. I feel so very sad for the youngest if she really is traumatized. And even though I can see her being the driver of this rift, I feel bad for her for what she ended up being.

And of course, there’s no reply you can make to posts like that. “Yeah, your life really was normal 15 years ago. Sucks that memories are all you have now.” It’s a cautionary tale, for sure.
 

Keith&Co.

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A lot of society tries to pressure people into thinking you OWE your parents a space in your life, even if they are toxic.
i think at least part of that is inertia, the same thing thst keeps initiation traditions going. A full disclosure would sound like, "Well, _I_ put up with MY alcoholic mother, because reasons, if i allow you to cut YOUR motherbitch off, I wasted all those hours at the bail bondsman's office."

The other is the human inability to scale our and other's difficulties. Someone talks about beatings at their father's hands, someone else tries to commiserate with, "Yeah, my parents used to hide all the chocolate in the house. But you have to rise above it..."

I fully support cutting toxic people out of your life, no matter how they got into it. It becomes especially stark this year, trying to juggle politics, plague, propaganda...
You have to make your own choices about what your obligations are. "You brought me into this world, i probably shouldn't let you die, if i can stop it, but i do not have to let you read Mein Kampf to the spawn..."
 

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What I've always found curious is the abuse we would never take from a stranger we are suppose to forgive of our family. If a sibling lies to you, cheats you, takes advantage of you, isn't it so much more hurtful than were it a stranger and so much more unforgivable?

-Alone in Medina
 

Toni

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Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

Which doesn't mean you should allow people into your life who treat you badly or who treat others badly. Certainly no need to keep someone in your life if they are abusive or if there's a history of abuse or allowing abuse or neglect or allowing neglect.

I had extremely sharp political differences with my father, who did lots of stuff that pretty much tanked his relationship with some of my siblings. He and I were there a couple of times as well--I simply walked away for a while. But I also learned boundaries: He once made an anti- Semitic remark to me (not even close to the first or worst racist remark he made to me) and I reminded him that my husband's grandfather was Jewish and told him if it bothered him, he didn't have to spend time with his grand children anymore. That cleared that up right then. And no more racist remarks, either, although now that my children are adults, I hear from them that he made some nasty racist remarks when they were late teens and I wasn't present, I'm sure testing the waters to see what he could get by with. These are the sorts of things we used to argue about--race issues, mostly. He was relatively feminist, at least with his daughters and encouraged us to do whatever we wanted. He taught me to ride a bicycle, roller skate, fish, drive a boat and encouraged me to climb as high as I could, literally and figuratively. He also taught me to think for myself. That came back to bite him a bit, as I did not reach the same conclusions he did. He was warm and affectionate and had an easy laugh that was usually very self-deprecating and at the very least, invited others to join in on the joke. He remained intellectually curious about science and the world around him, even in his final illness. He was full of life and I loved him dearly. Which is why it broke my heart when we were on the outs and why I couldn't and wouldn't let it last.

With my mother, I had a different relationship. We were not close. We did not fight--no epic battles. In fact, I was more likely to defend her against my father when he was being unreasonable. In their relationship, I almost always felt she was more right than he was. But I felt little warmth from her and in return, for her. She had a traumatic brain injury when I was still in high school and I was overwhelmed with just how much I did love her. We never became close. I don't think she ever really liked me. She resented me too much for being more extroverted than she was and was sure everything came easy for me. I was too much like my father and not sweet, compliant, girly. For myself, I had written her off as a potential or worthwhile ally by the time I reached high school. Looking back, I don't know that there was much I could have done before her injury that would have helped forge a closer relationship. I wasn't interested in trying. But I wish I had tried.

So, I think that of course a person has every right to associate with someone or not, for any reason whatsoever. But I also think that it's foolish and short sighted to let politics divide you from someone you love, whenever possible. But then, I grew up in a fairly conservative state and I have a lot of old classmates and family members who are definitely conservative. I'd have to cut out almost all of the 5% or so that I still interact with if we were dividing ourselves by politics.

Moreover, one never wins anyone over by cutting them out. It just deepens the divide, rather than heals it.

Again, none of this applies in an abusive relationship.
 

Bronzeage

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The nature of forgiveness is often misunderstood. It means to release the anger and animosity one feels toward the person who has injured you. This includes any desire to strike back or take revenge. That is the key element of forgiveness.

It does not mean you give them the opportunity to do it again.
 

braces_for_impact

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I explained this to my mom. Now, she definitely made her mistakes with me, but being a parent myself, I'm much more cognizant of the difficulty of being a parent. Every so often, she would lament the way she used to treat me as I grew up. When I was really little, she was physically abusive until she almost killed me one day, throwing me across the room, and banging my head o the corner of a coffee table. She shocked herself into stopping the physical abuse at that point, although she still spanked me, and at the time she went way overboard with grounding and so on, punishing me to stay in the house for months at a time. She was also pretty verbally abusive for a long time.

I also saw a sincere attempt on her part to try and improve as a parent. I forgave her long ago, and I also realized I wasn't exactly the best son in the world, either. The reason I explained all this to my mom was to reassure her that I wasn't staying in our relationship out of guilt, or a feeling of coercion of some sort, but out of choice. We have a pretty good relationship, but as she ages and her condition deteriorates, I have more and more trouble relating to her. I also have my own emotional issues, and so while I try to be there for her, I sometimes have to tend to my own issues first.
 

rousseau

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Since becoming a parent it's forced me to process some of the stuff that happened when I was a kid. My mom was great, but while my dad was never physically abusive I realize now that he was borderline verbally abusive. Lots of yelling, commanding, negligible leading by example.

As an adult I've moved on from it and realize now that he was just a bit clueless. He's mellowed out a lot with age, but some of the old patterns still persist. He still has to be right, has to get what he wants, and can throw a bit of a tantrum if anyone pushes back. When my wife and I got married we didn't want to invite some of his cousins and he threatened to not come to our wedding because of it. Which is beyond stupid and childish.

Overall we have a good relationship but I do keep a bit of distance, and consider my wife and son my family. There are also complicating factors in what my brother and I stand to inherit when they pass away, it is very much in our best interest to stay on good terms. At times it feels like he holds that over our head.. kind of buying what he wants. This past summer he wanted us all to get together at a cottage that he'd pay for, but saying no is really never an option.

At the end of the day I've been practising being the bigger person in most of my relationships. Just accepting anyone and everyone as they are and trying to keep the relationship positive. Because why not?
 

braces_for_impact

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At the end of the day I've been practising being the bigger person in most of my relationships. Just accepting anyone and everyone as they are and trying to keep the relationship positive.

Boy does that strike home. With me, it's me ex, not my immediate family, though.
 

Rhea

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The nature of forgiveness is often misunderstood. It means to release the anger and animosity one feels toward the person who has injured you. This includes any desire to strike back or take revenge. That is the key element of forgiveness.

It does not mean you give them the opportunity to do it again.

Yes, this.

One can forgive, and be at complete peace with no anger and still be entirely justified on cutting contact.
 

Rhea

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At the end of the day I've been practising being the bigger person in most of my relationships. Just accepting anyone and everyone as they are and trying to keep the relationship positive. Because why not?

I agree with the practice of not contributing to the drama and trauma in retaliation (assuming that’s what you mean by “being the bigger person,”) up the point where one allows further pain to happen. At that point, being “the bigger person,” IMHO, includes walking away. My practice is to do that without rancor - they are what they are, and I don’t have to be angry with them over that. But I have no obligation to maintain raw wounds and grit out, “I’m all right,” when I’m not.


For the record, in the anecdote in the OP, I am fairly certain that it is not just politics that caused those rifts, but more likely that tone and delivery that was demeaning or controlling. I don’t know this, but I suspect it was the toxicity, not the ideology. And it is so sad. But it would be worse, IMHO for those kids to be told they are obligated to spend more time with mom just because she’s mom.

And we see that too often, I feel. That kids are told they should reconcile, that they should suck it up for the ongoing holiday event, that they should should should have a reaction to emotional abuse that permits it to continue.
 
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