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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.
 

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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.
 

rousseau

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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.

Yea I think in any relationship there is an element of self-respect that you need to maintain. I can be the bigger person but still not let someone walk all over me, and cut ties if a line has been crossed.

This can also go both ways, if I'm going to disavow a relationship I need to own it and not try to exploit that relationship myself. In that case both parties share a bit of the blame.
 

Toni

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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, or as I like to say: To forgive is divine, but forgetting? That's just plain stupid.
 

Toni

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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.

I agree that one should disengage if someone is continuing to abuse you or to gaslight you or ..whatever form of emotional abuse.

But: people do cause one another pain from time to time, unintentionally and sometimes unknowingly. That doesn't mean that something is unforgiveable or not getting overable.

And.....I also know that sometimes, the person who does the cutting out contact is not doing so because they were/are being abused or mistreated but because they are not emotionally healthy themselves and the person who they cut out of their lives is just a convenient place to park all of their grievances. This doesn't mean that there were no issues or that the relationship was perfect. I'm talking about what a reasonable person would decide was 'enough.' Particularly true of the aggrieved person never bothered to let the person they cut out know that their boundaries are being stepped on. I'm thinking of a particular person who has a long history of cutting people out of their life whenever they feel....let down or the relationship gets hard. Over things that the banished person (and imo, most reasonable people) would consider fairly minor or at least something worth discussing. Instead, they just cut contact, without ever letting the other person know why. I'm not saying that feelings were not hurt or that the person didn't have a right to feel hurt or angry. But the reaction was grossly out of scale. That happens. This is someone I know intimately well so I can say with certainty that the reaction was quite outsized and that no earlier displeasure was mentioned.
 

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I have mixed feelings about this. My father was a very disturbed, difficult man, who was also a bully. I stood up to him when I was very young, so I maintained a fairly good relationship with him until he died. Since we lived far apart, I only saw him once a year when we would drive to NJ to see all of my family. I didn't always like him, but I did love him. I just wish his better side had dominated his personality.

There are a few reasons why it was easy for me to forgive him and not dwell on his negative qualities. First of all, he had an extremely difficult childhood. His own parents were mentally ill. One suffered from severe depression and I'm sure that my grandmother had bipolar disorder. She would leave her 6 children alone in the midst of the Great Depression. They sometimes had to steal food to survive. He joined the Marines during WWII at the age of 17 and spent 4 horrible years in combat, leaving him with severe PTSD. Since I don't believe in the concept of free will, I realized that he was a product of his genetic and environmental influences, so he couldn't help who or what he was. His childhood was far worse than mine. Despite the religious indoctrination that was the result of my parents being "saved", I had a pretty good childhood. So, for me, it was easy to maintain a fairly decent relationship with my father. I never grieved when he died, but sometimes I break down now thinking of how much different it might have been if he had not been subjected to the things that influenced him.

My mother was a pretty good parent, but one of my sisters cut her out of her life for nearly 20 years over something very trivial. I tried for years to bring them back together and eventually succeeded. The relationship was never like it had been when my sister was younger, but at least they did spend some time together. Oddly enough, this same sister cut me out of her life about 2 or 3 years ago, over something extremely trivial. Again, my sister is the victim of genetics. She is like a clone of our late grandmother. I just sent my sister a small gift with birthday wishes. Did she respond? Nope. Do I care? Not really. But, if she were to call me, I'd treat her just like I did when we were close. Once again, she can't help what she is and I'm an extremely forgiving person, so I guess I can't help what I am either.

I used to say that unless a parent was extremely abusive, like the mother in the story of Cybil, a person shouldn't cut a parent out of their life. That doesn't mean they have to put up with their shit or visit frequently if it's too painful. I just can't imagine disowning a parent just because they were sometimes abusive or made a lot of mistakes in the past. How would you feel if your own children cut you out of their lives just because you made a lot of mistakes in raising them. To me, that's one of the cruelest things an offspring can do. Sure, there are times when it's warranted, but nobody has perfect parents and for me, it's easier to forgive and move on, then it is to hold a grudge or stop speaking to a person in my family.

It works both ways. My same sister has cut her son out of her life. She hasn't spoken to him in well over 10 years. She's cut him out of her will too. Imo, it was over something trivial. I don't know how my nephew feels about any of this, since I lost contact with him when she disowned him. We were never close and I have no idea where he even lives. I think my sister was wrong for doing this, but as I said, she is the clone of our late grandmother, who did the exact same thing to most of her own children.

I'm always very careful as to how I approach my own son because I don't think my daughter in law likes us, or if she does, she has no intention of putting any effort to make it easy for our son to visit us. I don't hold it against my son because I know that he is a lot like my own mom, in that he hates conflict and will do whatever it takes to keep his wife from getting angry. He has two children and I certainly hope they never cut him out of their lives.

Family relationships are complicated. There are cases when it's probably best to cut all ties, but imo, those cases are extremely rare. You don't have to have a deep love for your parents, but it's best to consider why they are who they are, forgive and move on.

I think a lot of this may be cultural. I've only known people of white Northern European backgrounds who have cut their parents out of their lives. It doesn't seem to happen in other cultures afaik. Even if you don't love a parent, you can still be loyal to that parent when they are old and in need of an advocate. I don't think my sister loved our father as he was cruelest to her, but she still visited him during his final days. He even apologized to her once for the way he treated her.
 

Toni

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I have mixed feelings about this. My father was a very disturbed, difficult man, who was also a bully. I stood up to him when I was very young, so I maintained a fairly good relationship with him until he died. Since we lived far apart, I only saw him once a year when we would drive to NJ to see all of my family. I didn't always like him, but I did love him. I just wish his better side had dominated his personality.

There are a few reasons why it was easy for me to forgive him and not dwell on his negative qualities. First of all, he had an extremely difficult childhood. His own parents were mentally ill. One suffered from severe depression and I'm sure that my grandmother had bipolar disorder. She would leave her 6 children alone in the midst of the Great Depression. They sometimes had to steal food to survive. He joined the Marines during WWII at the age of 17 and spent 4 horrible years in combat, leaving him with severe PTSD. Since I don't believe in the concept of free will, I realized that he was a product of his genetic and environmental influences, so he couldn't help who or what he was. His childhood was far worse than mine. Despite the religious indoctrination that was the result of my parents being "saved", I had a pretty good childhood. So, for me, it was easy to maintain a fairly decent relationship with my father. I never grieved when he died, but sometimes I break down now thinking of how much different it might have been if he had not been subjected to the things that influenced him.

My mother was a pretty good parent, but one of my sisters cut her out of her life for nearly 20 years over something very trivial. I tried for years to bring them back together and eventually succeeded. The relationship was never like it had been when my sister was younger, but at least they did spend some time together. Oddly enough, this same sister cut me out of her life about 2 or 3 years ago, over something extremely trivial. Again, my sister is the victim of genetics. She is like a clone of our late grandmother. I just sent my sister a small gift with birthday wishes. Did she respond? Nope. Do I care? Not really. But, if she were to call me, I'd treat her just like I did when we were close. Once again, she can't help what she is and I'm an extremely forgiving person, so I guess I can't help what I am either.

I used to say that unless a parent was extremely abusive, like the mother in the story of Cybil, a person shouldn't cut a parent out of their life. That doesn't mean they have to put up with their shit or visit frequently if it's too painful. I just can't imagine disowning a parent just because they were sometimes abusive or made a lot of mistakes in the past. How would you feel if your own children cut you out of their lives just because you made a lot of mistakes in raising them. To me, that's one of the cruelest things an offspring can do. Sure, there are times when it's warranted, but nobody has perfect parents and for me, it's easier to forgive and move on, then it is to hold a grudge or stop speaking to a person in my family.

It works both ways. My same sister has cut her son out of her life. She hasn't spoken to him in well over 10 years. She's cut him out of her will too. Imo, it was over something trivial. I don't know how my nephew feels about any of this, since I lost contact with him when she disowned him. We were never close and I have no idea where he even lives. I think my sister was wrong for doing this, but as I said, she is the clone of our late grandmother, who did the exact same thing to most of her own children.

I'm always very careful as to how I approach my own son because I don't think my daughter in law likes us, or if she does, she has no intention of putting any effort to make it easy for our son to visit us. I don't hold it against my son because I know that he is a lot like my own mom, in that he hates conflict and will do whatever it takes to keep his wife from getting angry. He has two children and I certainly hope they never cut him out of their lives.

Family relationships are complicated. There are cases when it's probably best to cut all ties, but imo, those cases are extremely rare. You don't have to have a deep love for your parents, but it's best to consider why they are who they are, forgive and move on.

I think a lot of this may be cultural. I've only known people of white Northern European backgrounds who have cut their parents out of their lives. It doesn't seem to happen in other cultures afaik. Even if you don't love a parent, you can still be loyal to that parent when they are old and in need of an advocate. I don't think my sister loved our father as he was cruelest to her, but she still visited him during his final days. He even apologized to her once for the way he treated her.

In my experience, someone who cuts one person out of their lives for trivial (or 'trivial') reasons tends to cut out other people for equally trivial (or 'trivial') reasons because that's how they deal with conflict: eliminate it instead of resolve it. Or because they tend to put all of their issues into one person, so by eliminating that person, they can eliminate all of their troubles. Sometimes, there is something else going on that the person who cuts other people out of their lives that they just aren't willing to deal with. It's easier to attribute the issue to a particular person, even if the person being cut out has no idea what the issue is.

I actually understand people cutting others out of their lives if there's been abuse or allowing abuse. I'm not saying that it's healthy or unhealthy. It can be either. I also think you can forgive people and still not want them in your life.

When possible, I think people should be upfront about their issues with other people and deal with them openly. Forgiveness is big and for me, that's basically understanding. My father treated my mother terribly after her traumatic brain injury. It was appalling and for my siblings, pretty unforgiveable. But I was there, present during a lot of the post-injury trauma and I realized then as I do now that my father was trying to carry too many burdens. I still do not understand how he did not have a complete break down, the stress was that much and from multiple sources and everyone he might have been able to lean on: my mother, his brother, his father were all facing serious health crises and unable to help. In fact, my father had to be the one to take care of them plus both my mother's mother and my father's stepfather. Oh, and kids, including me and my younger siblings plus one in college. Oh, and a job that didn't provide that much income. He was horrible to be around and in fact, there grew to be so much conflict between us that I ended up renouncing my major scholarship that was through his work place, dropping out of university for a while and leaving home. It was a terrible time and had been preceded by some pretty nasty, abusive behavior directed towards me that was the culmination of a couple of years worth of increasingly nasty conflict---and about 3 weeks of us not speaking although we lived in the same house and sat at the dinner table together most nights. I had to leave because I couldn't continue to put my mother and siblings through our conflict. I had been working 3 very part time summer jobs while running the house and providing what amateur PT and OT I was able to muster for my mom.

We mended our relationship, although we never actually discussed what was going on. My father left my mother a year later and the divorce was final about 9 months after that. He remarried very shortly after. The marriage did not last but it managed to torture my youngest sibling who was forced to live with him. Lots of conflict with wife #2, which was totally predictable for a lot of reasons.
 

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My mother was a difficult person. She was enormously driven in her career, something of a narcissist, manipulative, given to gaslighting, compulsively lied about things great and small, and among these other traits, raised us three boys with open favoritism and guilt tripping. I’m confident that she loved us as best she could, but her own childhood and family background, as I came to understand, were pretty abusive and horrific.

Her mother was a Christian Science minister, which meant that any illness or injury was treated by lying in bed and contemplating your faults and sins until you got better. This treatment was applied to my mother even when she fell off her bike and broke her knee. No doctor, no medical treatment.

Of the three of us boys, it was the middle one who had the strongest love/hate relationship with her. He was never able to shake off the negativity or develop any depth of understanding of where she was coming from. There’s a saying – to resent someone is to let them live inside your head rent-free – and that was certainly the case with my brother. When he spoke at her memorial service he didn’t mention any of the good times, but started out saying how you’re not supposed to say anything ill of the dead, and then brought up several sketchy episodes from his childhood. He closed by saying “On the whole, I guess I’m glad she lived.”

It was embarrassing to say the least, but also very sad. My brother took his resentments to the grave with him when cancer killed him nine or ten years later. So I agree he didn’t owe her anything, but he owed himself some attempt to reconcile himself to his childhood and our mother.
 
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