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How can I reduce visits from my parents?
November 19, 2011 1:59 PM   Subscribe

I was overjoyed to move several hundred miles away from my parents. Recently, they've decided they want to spend more time with family, and as of this week they'll have driven to see us three times in a year with little to no notice. Is there any reasonably graceful way to discourage/reduce these visits?

Until recently, in-person contact with them has mainly been on my terms, and calls were limited to holidays and birthdays. I haven't been willing to completely break contact, and this was a tolerable arrangement for me.

I'm finally recovering from last year's holiday-time debacle (including but not limited to their visit) and an extremely stressful few months. I'm in the midst of difficult work in therapy which is bringing up angry feelings towards them. Contact with them leaves me angry, stressed, muddled, and unbalanced.

We cannot afford to be traveling when they announce their visits. They will bend over backwards to be flexible to our schedules, and especially as a stay-at-home-mom I cannot say that our every daytime and evening moment is spoken for.

I'm not a believer in the blood-trumps-all faith. My father was abusive to me and my siblings, and while they've improved their behavior toward me and genuinely want to connect, they're still assholes with "we're so nice" veneers. They really are trying, but I just don't like them, and I feel I owe them very little.

(Any tips on how to cope with this week's pending visit are also very much welcome.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (42 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
We cannot afford to be traveling when they announce their visits.

If they're just "announcing" they're coming to visit, I'd say "Actually, that's not good for us. I'm not quite sure when will be best, but I'll get back to you." Then don't. Unless you decide to, of course.
They'll either get the hint or not, but nobody should be expected to tolerate uninvited guests even if they're people you really like!
posted by blaneyphoto at 2:07 PM on November 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


'Now's not a good time, for a visit, mom. That's not going to work for us.' Repeat as necessary. DO NOT GIVE SPECIFICS.
posted by bq at 2:08 PM on November 19, 2011 [16 favorites]


Seems like a good time to trot out the Miss Manners standby: "I'm sorry, that won't be possible."
posted by smirkette at 2:10 PM on November 19, 2011 [11 favorites]


As for this week: if you don't mind leaving your kids with them, take advantage of them as free babysitters as much as possible. Plan daily outings for them and the kids - zoo, museum, etc. - while you 'run errands' and 'finally get all this stuff done - thank you!'. Go on dates with your hubby as many nights as possible. For T-Day, arrange to buy a cooked dinner or buy as many prepared sides as possible - box stuffing, premade pie, instant mashed potatoes, gravy in a box. You might miss grandma's special oyster dressing but minimizing cooking will pay dividends in spades. If anyone objects, say something noncommittal but positive and do what you want anyhow.
If you don't feel comfortable leaving them alone with the kids, now is a great time to enlist a couple friends and plan lots of playdates, at your house if necessary. That'll keep the kids out of your hair and having strangers around will keep them on their best behavior.
posted by bq at 2:15 PM on November 19, 2011 [7 favorites]


You would probably benefit from spending some therapy time focused on setting and enforcing boundaries. Because if your parents essentially just invited themselves for Thanksgiving, that is insane in any family.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:17 PM on November 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


As for this week: if you don't mind leaving your kids with them, take advantage of them as free babysitters as much as possible.

My father was abusive to me and my siblings

Really?
posted by rodgerd at 2:22 PM on November 19, 2011 [14 favorites]


bq -- I have a feeling anon won't want to leave the kids alone with the parents. My father was abusive to me as a child but has gotten kinder as he has aged, and I'm sure he would never hurt a child again, but I still wouldn't want to leave my children alone with him. It's just a gut thing.

Anon -- it's incredibly rude that they give you little to no notice of their visits. Let their rudeness prevent you from feeling any guilt about being blunt -- and firm -- with them. Use the Miss Manners method and be ready to kick them to the curb if they just show up out of nowhere (well, maybe give them something to eat first). Otherwise they're never going to respect your boundaries or wishes.
posted by imalaowai at 2:23 PM on November 19, 2011


I'm the OP, here in my newly-minted sockpuppet account.

The problem is, I've been friendly but distant. They feel we're on pretty good terms. And I'm torn, because despite everything, I can't stand the thought of doing or saying something that would be hurtful. The cold brush-off seems like it would be so obvious and hurtful and out-of-left-field.

"You would probably benefit from spending some therapy time focused on setting and enforcing boundaries. Because if your parents essentially just invited themselves for Thanksgiving, that is insane in any family."

I think one time, they were already in town. The other times, they say that they'd like to jump in the car and drive down right then, would we be open to having them over? At least once, I suspected they were already in the car on the way. I have no idea how to say no to this.

As for this week, I'm really embarrassed to admit this: non-holiday calls from their mobile have presaged visits in the past, but this call was only to ask about presents. But I'm sitting here dreading the possibility that they will decide this season is another great opportunity to come down.

(Confirming that there is no way in hell I will leave my precious girl alone with them, even if they do seem nicer now.)
posted by Eolienne at 2:32 PM on November 19, 2011


My father was abusive to me and my siblings, and while they've improved their behavior toward me and genuinely want to connect, they're still assholes with "we're so nice" veneers. They really are trying, but I just don't like them, and I feel I owe them very little.

If this is the case, and how you have been feeling towards them for years, why not break contact? How are they with your child/children? If there is a good relationship there, beaking contact completely is not a good idea, but if the relationship is barely there, I think kids will benefit more from having a relaxed and joyful mother than from visiting with indifferent relatives who negatively impact upon mum's mental state.

I've noticed that a lot of people discover their mellower and contact-happy side when they reach pension-age, but sometimes that is just a few decades too late. At least tell them that you are fully booked out this holiday season, and postpone seeing them again until you regain your balance and feel more on course.
posted by miorita at 2:36 PM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do you need to invent excuses?

'Baby is sick'
'Husband's distant cousin i(that you don't know) is already here.'
'I'm volunteering for the soup kitchen and can't back out.'
posted by k8t at 2:43 PM on November 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


A good excuse to give them when they're saying that they'd like to just stop by is that your daughter is sick. A good stomach flu will scare them off.

Second, if you're not willing to tell them to not show up uninvited, let your partner be the bad guy/gal. Let your parents know that your partner was unhappy with them just inviting themselves over. If you can't say no yourself, let someone else do it for you.

That said, finding your way to being able to say no is the best thing in the long run.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:46 PM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are two people inside of you. One of them is a good daughter who has been trained to be 'nice' and 'accommodating'. The other is an annoyed woman who has had enough of being imposed upon by these older people who think they can write their own invitation or just show up without one.

One of these people has to deal with your parents. If you let the good daughter deal, then the annoyed woman will just get more angry at the impositions of these clueless older people. If you let the annoyed woman deal with whatever skills she has - white lies, avoidance etc, the good daughter will go 'but but but... that's not nice!'. But you know what, the good daughter will also feel protected by her internal champion.

Be your own champion, just say NO to your parents.
posted by Kerasia at 2:49 PM on November 19, 2011 [34 favorites]


Yes, if they are announcing you have a right to say it's not a good time. Try it. What can they say? You don't need to give any excuses like the kid is sick or husband is under lots of stress. Just say it's not a good time. I watched About Schmidt last night and the daughter did this. She just said no. Granted, this is a movie and Schmidt wasn't abusive.

If you are on better terms with your mother tell her that the last minute visits make you uncomfortable. You need more notice.

If you are willing, plan a time (once a year) where you will all get together. "Oh, that's not going to work out for us but I thought we could meet up for Memorial Day Weekend at such and such a park."

If you can't say no insist they stay in a hotel if they don't already.

I can empathize completely with your dilemma. It's tricky because you are still in contact. They probably think nothing is wrong. You are going through some tough stuff (I've been there and I still have issues and have parents that are idiots/oblivious) and are an adult. You have every right to say no to unwanted house guests.
posted by Fairchild at 2:49 PM on November 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


The other times, they say that they'd like to jump in the car and drive down right then, would we be open to having them over? At least once, I suspected they were already in the car on the way. I have no idea how to say no to this.

Right. So you need to practice. With your therapist if needed.

"Sorry Mom, not a good time."

"Ah, crap, it's a really bad week."

"Oh I'm so sorry that isn't going to work out. But we'll see you at Christmas!"

These are normal, healthy, low-conflict things to say. You need to get OK saying them, with some help.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:51 PM on November 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


As an absolute minimum, do not let them stay in your home: insist they always stay in hotels (and pay for it themselves!). This won't prevent all the stress their visits brings you, but it should at least cut it down somewhat.

Ditto what others say above re: Miss Manners and "I'm sorry, but that just won't be possible right now." You owe barely-announced self-invited guests nothing more than that. And when they do show up? Just go about your normal schedule, don't drop everything to play the gracious host.
posted by easily confused at 2:56 PM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


little to no notice

This is not respectful of you and your family. It does not rise to the level of abuse, but it is a marker for lack of respect. That needs to stop. It may seem scary to you, but it is on you to set boundaries. Not only for needing advance warning, but for length of stay.

I understand if you are reluctant to just be straight up honest about your feelings. You can, however, control your end of the interaction. Don't allow them to dictate the timing of visits. If it helps stiffen your resolve, think about how you are modeling respectful relationships for your children.

If you need help coming up with excuses for why a short notice visit isn't convenient, AskMe can certainly help you compile a list so that you always have a ready answer ("gosh, we're having the carpets cleaned this week, so we really can't have anyone over, but we will see you at Christmas") and so forth. If you can grit your teeth and occasionally invite them to come for specific events (a sports event, piano recital, holiday pageant, etc.) it may be easier for you to say no when they spring a no-notice visit on you.
posted by ambrosia at 3:05 PM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem with a specific excuse (kid sick, carpet cleaning, whatever) is that you can't just whip it out again and again. I think a better blanket is something like "I'm sorry, mom, I'm just tired. I find that visits really tire me out." [But we'll help you! We want to see the kid! We require nothing!] "I know, I'm sorry, I just can't. I just have as much as I can handle on my plate and I find visits really tire me out, no matter who it is. Thanks for understanding." [But!] "I know, I'm sorry, I just can't handle visitors these days."
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:17 PM on November 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, I'd be grateful for a list of excuses, white lies, etc.

I'll combine them with learning to set boundaries and be more comfortable just saying "no."

And yeah, I guess occasionally inviting them for specific events will put me back in control of things and ease the sting of "no."
posted by Eolienne at 3:19 PM on November 19, 2011


From Ms. Vegetable, a list of excuses and white lies:
- Oh, that would really mess with my schedule this week, sorry. [I need a routine. Badly. Drop-ins are not ok.]
- We just have too many things going on this week.
- You know, this is just too short notice, and I really need time to plan things so we can have a good visit, so this just won't work.
- Partner is too busy at work.
- Don't answer the door.
- Don't answer the phone. [Why, yes, I have done this.]
- We already have plans this week.
- The house is too messy.
- We're spring cleaning the house this week.
- We're cleaning out the garage this week.
- This week won't work.
- We have friends here already.
- We have guests.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 3:47 PM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think there's a graceful way. They do not accept your limits and it will continue to wear on you until you assert those limits. I agree with fingersandtoes that excuse-making will wear out (and will feel dishonest anyways). And I agree with Kerasia that the part of you that wants to be polite will admire the strength of the part of you that's pissed off if the latter takes that final step of actually defending your limits.

Keep in mind what you've said here:

- You were overjoyed to be free from them.
- You do not like them.
- Your father was abusive.

I think you need to push back, firmly (as politely as possible, but it won't be a kind message) that "I'm only comfortable having contact with you if we do so at instances of my choosing. Period." If you need to, write several versions of this boundary on a pad of paper, put the paper next to the phone, call them, and don't let yourself hang up until you've said asserted version of that boundary and are convinced they've heard it.

You are in a position to have that boundary respected. I think you should demand it.
posted by ead at 4:21 PM on November 19, 2011 [6 favorites]


You really don't sound like you want them in your life any longer, so why are you putting out such colossal amounts of energy to spare their feelings?

You are still afraid of them. Am I right?

Give yourself permission to be fearless. The only people you need to worry about are your husband and daughter.

(BTW. My abusive mother's parents? I hated them! I can't tell you how often I wished my mom would have not forced us to see them. I basically stopped socializing with them by the time I was 14.)

Whatever it is you a re trying to accomplish with this facade you are working so hard to maintain for your parents - I guarantee you that it isn't working out well for you, your husband, and your daughter.

Re-think your strategy entirely. If you are OK with telling white lies, then fine. But my gut tells me if you are direct with your parents and conquer your fear of them, then you will directly need therapy less because by definition you will be honoring yourself and feeling less conflicted.

Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 4:40 PM on November 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yes, think of it as protecting your family, not protecting yourself, if that's easier. If these are not-nice people who think it's okay to hurt children, why in the world would you want them around your partner and child? That partner and child (and you!) are the ones whose feelings need protection here, not your parents. If you have a hard time fighting for yourself, fight for them.

And you know what I've discovered? The world won't end if you piss somebody off. It sounds stupid, but I had to find this out for myself. I spent so many years being pissed off myself because it was so much more comfortable than risking pissing off somebody else. Let your parents be pissed off--the assholes deserve that. You protect yourself and your family. You deserve to have a peaceful holiday with the people who love you and would never hurt you the way your parents did.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 5:02 PM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


(BTW. My abusive mother's parents? I hated them! I can't tell you how often I wished my mom would have not forced us to see them. I basically stopped socializing with them by the time I was 14.)

This is really good to know to watch for early. Right now, during visits, she thinks they rock. I don't discuss them at any other point, and she's young, so she pretty much forgets about them in the interim. Things could change, though, and if she seems uncomfortable or unenthusiastic, I will honor that.

Offering up an excuse-less "no" seems easier and easier after reading your responses. Thank you.
posted by Eolienne at 5:19 PM on November 19, 2011


Are they really so awful that you would not like your child to know them? If so, invent excuses, tell them the plain truth, whatever. If, in fact, they have changed and are interested and loving towards your daughter (even if you never leave her alone with them), I think she deserves that relationship.
My husband's father was pretty much of a jerk when his kids were little. Once he stopped drinking, he's become a much easier person. No, he hasn't made amends or acknowledged his behavior, but he's been a truly wonderful grandfather, and my children's lives were better for having him involved.
If your daughter enjoys them, why not let her?
posted by Ideefixe at 5:29 PM on November 19, 2011


The way we handled this growing up was that every time a certain someone would call to say they were coming with little-to-no notice, mom would say some variation of, "gosh, we're {out of town staying with friends/at the amusement park all day/in the next town over for holiday shopping and probably staying the night}, I wish you'd given us some more warning, if you're already on your way, you're just going to get an empty house." Then she'd pack me up in the car and we'd head over to a friend's house or out shopping for the rest of the day, so they would actually arrive to an empty house and see that we weren't kidding. If you have a good friend who is understanding, please consider setting up an arrangement - safe haven for a day in exchange for a home-cooked meal, or babysitting, something.

If you are serious about wanting to know where they are in relation to you, you can buy a tracker for under $200 that you can attach to their car in a hidden place the next time they're over that will let you check online the location of their vehicle to see if they're actually on their way to you or if they haven't left their home.
posted by juniperesque at 6:04 PM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


What Kerasia said.

I'll add (from experience) that at some point you just have to steel yourself for the inevitable disappointment you'll cause your parents at some point in your life. The alternative is to live your whole life under their influence or in fear of the next infraction, which should be unacceptable to you. Disappointing them by saying no is the way that you train them out of expecting yes.

It's not just about these specific visits, it's about your freedom from under the thumbs of people who don't respect boundaries. The sooner you come to grips with the idea that you have to disappoint your parents, the better. You'll need to do it repeatedly before they really get it.

But years from now, you'll hear someone talk about their parents' inability to respect their boundaries, and you'll be sooo glad you did it.
posted by nadise at 8:01 PM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm probably missing something, but:

The problem is, I've been friendly but distant. They feel we're on pretty good terms. And I'm torn, because despite everything, I can't stand the thought of doing or saying something that would be hurtful. The cold brush-off seems like it would be so obvious and hurtful and out-of-left-field.

This confuses me. Have you never told them that you think that they are assholes and that you don't want to visit with them? It may be that they don't know that they were abusive, assholey, whatever. (I'm serious-I don't know the deal here. Maybe your dad acted like an ass because HIS father acted like an ass, and his father's father...it doesn't excuse anything, but it may be an answer to the 'why') If you came out and told them instead of pretending that things are hunkey-dorey, they may be less inclined to visit. And if you dislike them that much, what are you gaining by pretending?
posted by bolognius maximus at 8:12 PM on November 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, man, I am so familiar with the "we're so nice" veneer. Actually, in my family it's more of an "everything is fine" veneer, but it's the veneer that is the problem more than what it is covering up.

My parents are far more respectful of me than yours appear to be, and we do have a pretty good relationship. I am also in therapy working on, among other things, family of origin stuff. I spent a week at my folks' place this summer (on my terms) after a month doing two two-hour sessions of really intensive therapy a week. It was a total mind fuck. It's different because I like my parents and their parenting sins are more benign, but I totally get where you're coming from with "And I'm torn, because despite everything, I can't stand the thought of doing or saying something that would be hurtful. The cold brush-off seems like it would be so obvious and hurtful and out-of-left-field."

What I think we have in common is needing something from our parents (you, for example, need them to leave you the hell alone) but believing that getting that, or even asking for it, would be devastating to them. And we want to be good daughters and not hurt our parents. If my assumption is wrong, I apologize, and feel free to disregard all of this.

I prepared with my therapist for my visit to my parents. We role played some stuff, I wrote out a list of things I needed to investigate, she suggested some books to read. (As it turns out, when I got there, I couldn't bring myself to punch through the veneer of peachy keenness. But I did manage to get some information out of them that I needed and was able to observe my behaviour around them and our whole fucked up family dynamic in a way that was really helpful.)

As for gracefully keeping them away, you will have to think about what your absolute limit is. Are you willing to see them three times a year, provided they give you a month's notice to prepare? Or are twice yearly visits, with six weeks notice and a stay of two nights or less the most you can handle? Once you have established what you are willing to put up with (including no visits at all, which is totally your right) work with your therapist on keeping that boundary solid and feeling OK about it. This is a good one for role playing. And list-making.

Then you can still be polite when you communicate that limit to your parents, if you feel the need to be. If the main problem is the lack of notice, you can address that. I don't favour a list of excuses, because, if you've got that good daughter gene, you're just going to feel crappy for lying, plus anxious about keeping the lies straight. However, a robot made of meat's "You know, this is just too short notice, and I really need time to plan things so we can have a good visit, so this just won't work," is a good one, as is any variation on the trusty "That's not possible." Then you can either tell them a time in the future (six weeks away) when they are welcome to come for the weekend, or if their two visits a year are up, put them off until the new year or some indefinite future (if, say, they've used up their visits by mid-March).

FWIW, I don't know how possible it is to kind of politely drift away from you parents. I think if you really want them out of your life, you will probably have to be more direct, but you and your therapist are better judges of that than I.
posted by looli at 9:12 PM on November 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


Have you thought of inviting your parents to go to therapy with you?

My therapist asked me to invite my parents many times and I always told her they would say no. Then something happened and I went with my dad and it was awesome. My mom absolutely refused to go.

Inviting them to go to therapy will automatically cut the bullshit. They will either refuse, which will make them cancel the visit. Or they will go with you and possibly you will all get something positive out of it.
posted by it's a long way to south america at 10:37 PM on November 19, 2011


You know, every time you accommodate their last-minute requests, you're reinforcing the behavior. If you say no once or twice, they'll learn that they have to make plans further in advance. It'll be awkward at first, but once they learn the rules, it'll be much better for everyone.

I would not be above whipping out a stomach virus or pinkeye as a defense.

If you don't want to lie, I wouldn't start getting into the pathology of what your limits are--just stick to the, "Ugh, this is a really crazy week. I'm really sorry we'll miss you. Next time, let us know when you're thinking about coming so we can hash out something that works for everyone."
posted by elizeh at 10:52 PM on November 19, 2011


I'm seeing a big disconnect between this:
Until recently, in-person contact with them has mainly been on my terms, and calls were limited to holidays and birthdays. I haven't been willing to completely break contact, and this was a tolerable arrangement for me.

And this, which doesn't sound tolerable at all:
I'm finally recovering from last year's holiday-time debacle (including but not limited to their visit) and an extremely stressful few months. I'm in the midst of difficult work in therapy which is bringing up angry feelings towards them. Contact with them leaves me angry, stressed, muddled, and unbalanced.

Furthermore, it seems like the sort of people who leave you feeling angry, stressed, muddled, and unbalanced for an entire year don't deserve this sort of thoughtfulness from you:
The problem is, I've been friendly but distant. They feel we're on pretty good terms. And I'm torn, because despite everything, I can't stand the thought of doing or saying something that would be hurtful. The cold brush-off seems like it would be so obvious and hurtful and out-of-left-field.

I'm guessing they're doing a lot more than "cold brush-offs" to you, correct? If you feel that a cold brush-off would hurt them, then do you think they realize that being so awful to you that you describe interaction as a "debacle" is hurtful to you? Because either they know they're being hurtful, and are continuing that to the point where you dread even the idea of a phone call, or they're so unaware of themselves that they're hopeless.

Boundaries are very good, but sometimes, there are parents who pretend to be nice, then wait for the perfect opportunity (like surprise visits...) to bulldoze through even the most solid, consistently-enforced boundaries, even when they know the consequence could be no contact whatsoever. Mine ended up doing that. It got to the point where I had to ask them not to tell me I deserved to die, or else I'd break off contact for good. Then I realized, "um, anyone in their right minds knows that already," but they sealed their fate when they did it again anyway. No more contact. Honestly... I've made such unimaginable recovery since then, I don't regret it any more. Took a few years, but now I can honestly say I don't ever want to go back unless they have genuinely apologized and made sincere efforts, with, y'know, basic respect such as no death wishes whatsoever. That ain't happened. (I hear about them from others who know them.)

If you haven't yet told them which specific behavior of theirs is not OK – and yes, surprise self-invitations to come for Thanksgiving a few days ahead of time are not OK, that would be so hard to organize with extra people – then you have every right to tell them, "I'm sorry, we're already swamped, that won't be possible." If they insist, or if they start whining about what an insensitive, cruel daughter they have (wild guess... my own parents did that), you say, "Mom/Dad, if you continue to speak to me that way, I will hang up the phone." Then, if they continue, you hang up the phone. If they drop by anyway (mine did that once too after I told them not to!!), get someone else, like your husband, to go outside and remind them that it's not possible.

You mention you're in therapy, which is great – have you discussed their surprise holiday visits with your therapist? Since you relate therapy progress (yes, anger is progress :) don't worry, it gets better, especially if you face it!) and your feelings about the holidays, it sounds like it would be the ideal time.
posted by fraula at 3:56 AM on November 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


There seems to be a lot to unpack here. You can certainly tell them to please ask before visiting. That would be reasonable even if you were on very good terms with your parents. But please don't just make excuses, like "the house is messy". This doesn't address the basic question: Do you or don't you want a relationship with your parents? If you do want one, then 3 (arranged) visits with your parents in 1 year is certainly a very small amount of contact time. That should be reasonable. If you don't want a relationship, then tell them. Trying to shun them without being honest about why is probably the worst thing to do if you are interested in a long term solution to this issue. You could tell them that you are currently seeking help to work through whatever the issues are, so in the meantime you would prefer no visits until you sort it out.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 9:36 AM on November 20, 2011


The best way I can think of going about this would be to be very direct. "Father/mother you were abusive to me when I was younger and I am still working out ways to deal with my anger. You showing up whenever you feel like it or want to is stressful and not going to make our relationship work out any better. It would behoove you to arrange visits on my terms in the future."
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 9:51 AM on November 20, 2011


And this, which doesn't sound tolerable at all:
I'm finally recovering from last year's holiday-time debacle (including but not limited to their visit) and an extremely stressful few months. I'm in the midst of difficult work in therapy which is bringing up angry feelings towards them. Contact with them leaves me angry, stressed, muddled, and unbalanced.

Furthermore, it seems like the sort of people who leave you feeling angry, stressed, muddled, and unbalanced for an entire year don't deserve this sort of thoughtfulness from you:
The problem is, I've been friendly but distant. They feel we're on pretty good terms. And I'm torn, because despite everything, I can't stand the thought of doing or saying something that would be hurtful. The cold brush-off seems like it would be so obvious and hurtful and out-of-left-field.
I wasn't very clear: they weren't the sole source of the holiday-time debacle last year. Their part involved the stress of the visit itself and the fact that my dad hurt my cat and thought it was funny. (Yes, I drew an explicit boundary when that happened.) It wasn't the source of the year-long stress, it was just the start. It's been a really difficult year, and it's finally letting up.

They are not verbally abusive to me in the slightest, anymore. They are extremely nice and accommodating. I think they walk on eggshells around me because, for all intents and purposes, I had cut off contact with them for a while when I left home, and because many years later I walked out during one of my rare visits when my dad started verbally abusing my little brother. (He stopped and apologized to me, which was telling.)

I'd love for it to be a black and white situation, but it's not. I can see they're trying. I know they're not Pure Evil. I have all these emotions roiling around in me, and they contradict each other.

It's pretty obvious at this point that I need to do a lot more work in therapy, decide what kind of relationship I want with them, and draw clear boundaries. In the meantime, I have decided that any attempt at a visit this year will be met with, "Sorry, right now is not a good time."
posted by Eolienne at 10:26 AM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Late to the thread here, but just want to say,

I'd love for it to be a black and white situation, but it's not. I can see they're trying. I know they're not Pure Evil. I have all these emotions roiling around in me, and they contradict each other.

I think this is the case for almost all of us who have had abusive parents. My relationship with my mom has always been something like 10% awesome, 25% okay, 25% blah, 40% fucked up. If it were 100% fucked up, all of this would be much easier for all us us, I think. And you know, abusive people do this deliberately whether you're aware of it or not. If that percentage of niceness or even awesomeness keeps people emotionally tied, keeps them feeling hopeful for a good relationship, or at least keeps them feeling guilty or obligated, then they'll stick around for the rest.

You don't have to see your parents as Pure Evil and 100% abusive in order to protect yourself as you would from Pure Evil 100% abusive people.
posted by cairdeas at 1:25 PM on November 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


*meant to say, I think they do this deliberately whether THEY are aware of it or not.
posted by cairdeas at 1:26 PM on November 20, 2011


So I wrote this speech in my journal to give myself an emotionally strong place to simply say "no" from. I do not want to see them in person more than once a year right now, and I will act accordingly.
I understand you want to see us more often, but I’m not willing to engage in a closer relationship with you.

D, because you physically and verbally abused all of your children. M, because you stood by and watched, and you acted with petty meanness to us. Because you only stopped when we weren’t there to do it to anymore. Because you were completely different people in the privacy of your own home than you were outside of it. Because as nice as you are to me now, you still ooze so much contempt for people, and negativity in general.

I’m not comfortable around people who think it’s okay to hurt children. I’m not comfortable around people who hold so much contempt for their fellow man. I’m not comfortable around people who do not act with congruity. I don’t like that kind of thinking in my life or around my family.

So while I care for you, yes, and still want occasional contact, I am not interested in more.
Thank you so much for helping to give me the courage to do this. It helps to bring myself back into congruity, which is very important to me. Pretty much all your answers were helpful. I favorited the ones I would have marked "best."
posted by Eolienne at 2:58 PM on November 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


"I'm only comfortable having contact with you if we do so at instances of my choosing. Period."

This. They may be trying now to be better parents, walking on eggshells around you, &c, but everything isn't magically fixed now just because they're trying. You're the one that's been hurt by their behaviour, if they want to continue a relationship with you they need to do it on your terms until you're healed, or over the past abuse, or whatever point you need to reach in order to be able to be comfortable around them. Maybe you'll never get to the point where you want to have them just "pop in" on you, and THAT'S FINE TOO.

Excuses are all right, but it seems like sooner or later all the excuses end up running out. So you can make yourself a list, but what happens when they've asked for the fifth or sixth time and start questioning your excuses, or start reading into them and assuming something else is the problem? Or, like so many AskMe questions of the past, they see the excuse as the problem and try to accommodate that, so that they're offering to take care of the kid(s) because you're so busy or whatever, and then you have to make *more* excuses, or find some other form of obfuscation until the conversation is reduced to a crazy dance of passive-aggression. It may be uncomfortable to do so, but your best bet may well be to simply be honest and firm with them. You're an adult now, and you can set the terms of your interactions with them.

This may be a good time to engage the services of your therapist, and come up with a way to detail the boundaries of your new relationship with them. Something along the lines of "Your past actions were very hurtful to me, and I am still figuring out how to deal with the results of your behaviour. I understand that you want the relationship to continue and are trying to make amends, and I appreciate that, but in order for me to feel comfortable you need to respect my wishes regarding X, Y, Z." There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG with doing this, and you shouldn't feel bad about doing it. If they really care about you and really want to heal their relationship with you, they will respect your wishes. If they don't, and try to make things happen in their way instead of giving you what you need, then they are not respecting you, and probably never will, and there is nothing you can do to make the relationship right. You are only one half, for things to work they need to step up as well. You cannot fix this singlehanded, or by tiptoeing around them.

Just remember what WorkingMyWayHome said -- The world won't end if you piss somebody off. If they get angry at you for being honest with them, regard it as knowledge about them that you can use to help you define the new landscape of your relationship.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 9:08 PM on November 20, 2011


In the category of things to say to put them off, someone once gave me this one:

"I can't see you, (meet you there, have you visit, etc.) because I am working with someone for that time and have to focus completely on that." (I can absolutely say this even when the only person I am working with is myself, to improve my own peace and serenity.)

Also, the famous Miss Manners response, "That won't be possible." as well as the southern version, "Oh, my goodness, no; I couldn't possibly do that; it's just out of the question for the rest of this month (week or whatever). I'll let you know when the time is better."

The hard part is cutting off that discussion after you've said this and moving on to another topic, cheerfully and then very soon, end the conversation and hang up the phone.

Think of the phone conversation as being about what you want to communicate and once you have done that, the conversation is finished. (You have already heard what they want to communicate at the very beginning and you simply need to reject it immediately, firmly and pleasantly.) You immediately take charge of the conversation and make it serve your goals. This is the only way to handle a situation like this without hurting people's feelings or, alternatively, getting trapped into doing something you don't want to do.

You need to work on getting stronger in your therapy and taking back your life. You absolutely can keep people at distant arms length and never let them near where you live until such time as you feel absolutely sure you can do this without hurting yourself. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

From the time I ran away from home until the day he died, I never saw my father again except on my terms. My mother assured me he had mellowed but it was too little, too late.
Even then, I only ever visited their home because I wanted to see her. I never invited him to my house.

Good luck.
posted by Anitanola at 12:56 AM on November 21, 2011


If you never want them to visit you, you need to set strong boundaries. Say no, hurt their feelings.

If you are okay with them visiting sometimes, I would suggest that when they call to ask if they can come visit today/tomorrow/next week that you say "Sorry, that won't work out for us, maybe we can set up a visit for ." Or perhaps even better, try to set up a weekend somewhere so that they aren't coming to your house. Are there any destination places within driving distance for you that you could use as a neutral space (and stay in separate hotel rooms)?

If you set up a vacation like this a 2 or 3 months into the future, if they call again, you can just say "Sorry we can't do that but I'm looking forward to our trip on . I'll see you then!"

posted by that girl at 4:35 AM on November 21, 2011


I'll cut to the chase. Here is the statement you need.

"Mom and Dad, we're a busy young family. You cannot visit with little or no notice. It's disruptive. When you want to visit, you need to call us a few weeks in advance. That way we can schedule a time that's not disruptive for my family."

White lies and stalling is not going to accomplish the goal. You need to say that showing up unannounced in not acceptable. Until you set the boundary, their behavior will not change.
posted by 26.2 at 8:36 AM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


A thing to remember is - If you have crazy or boundary-pushing parents, they will continue to be so no matter what you do. So, you might as well be true to yourself and your family. Related to the you can't control other people, just your reaction to them.

I hope this thread has shown you that you are not alone and not being unreasonable.
posted by Gor-ella at 9:27 AM on November 21, 2011


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