Setting parental boundaries
August 19, 2014 11:07 PM Subscribe
My father and I have a complicated history that colors our present relationship. Help me figure out how to set compassionate boundaries.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
When I was in high school, my father married an emotionally abusive woman who basically made my life so bad I suffered from PTSD for a while. My father tried to mitigate it a little, but in the end basically chose to always believe her side of events. She used to say that I was going to go to college in a few years, so if he sided with me she would leave and he'd be all alone and I guess he bought into that.
My contact with my step-mother ended when I ran away after she came after me and tried to hit me during my junior year in high school. I lived with a friend for a bit, while my mother (who lived in another state and could previously not afford to take care of me) made arrangements to have me come live with her. Needless to say, this was a truly horrible time in my life and I honestly think that my father's inability to protect me just ... broke something in our relationship. He made half-hearted attempts to apologize for what happened, but most of that was after she turned on him and he got to see how truly crazy she was.
Cut to twenty years later. I am no longer angry (although that took a long time), but I am still hurt and sad about the situation. I believe that he did the best he could at the time, but that best was just not what I needed from him and I don't believe it ever will be. After living half a country apart for most of that time, my father (and his third, very nice wife) have lived about three hours away from my husband and I for the past few years. I don't have a lot in common with him or his wife and spending extended periods of time with him is seriously hard for me. It's work, and further it's work that I'm not emotionally invested in.
The problem I'm wrestling with currently is that almost every time we talk, he nags me for a visit. He is willing to come here, he's happy to have me go there, we can meet halfway, etc. I just dread the thought. I do not want to do it. We had him up for Thanksgiving last year and it was one of those "everything is ok on the surface, but really I cannot wait for this to be over" type of visits. The only major plus side was that I got a 7 month break from the nagging.
I am happy to talk to him on the phone and text him and interact on Facebook etc, but I really don't want to be around him. The result is that I end up dodging his calls and I don't really go out of my way to communicate with him. I will respond to text messages, and occasionally calls, but that's about it. If he didn't nag me every time we talked, I would talk to him a lot more often. I feel bad/guilty about this, and also like a hypocrite because I am a firm believer in setting boundaries with people and am able to do so all the time with other people. I've ended relationships with other family members when I had to for my own emotional sanity. For some reason, though, I can't bring myself to ask for what I need from my father. I know I should say, "Dad, I wish things were different between us but they're not. I would like to have you in my life, but I need you to let me decide when we're going to see you without having you harass me about it. I love you, but this is the way it has to be for me." I just keep avoiding that conversation and subsequently him. I know this hurts him and I can't pin down why it's scary to say this to him. Do you have any advice for how I can move forward with this situation?