What does a healthy straight parents/queer child relationship look like?
February 25, 2017 12:41 PM   Subscribe

Last week, I finally cut off my mother for trying to drive a wedge between me and my spouse again, repeatedly implying I was only angry because I must be mentally ill, and rewriting the last ten years of our relationship to make the problems between us purely the fault of my spouse's influence rather than the result years of increasing tension, mostly about my queerness. I want to know, as a sanity check, what good parent-child relationships look like even in the face of complications. Am I expecting too much? What is normal, and what is healthy?

Christ, I'm writing a book here, for which I apologize. If too much of this is tl; dr, feel free to skip to the bottom; I'm adding headings so it will be easier to skip to relevant pieces.

Specific questions I have:

1. When earthshattering things happen in a parent/child relationship, or when a child brings a scary conversation up with a parent, what does a loving and, um, non-hurtful conversation look like to resolve that?
2. How do you know when it's worth just walking away from faaaaaamily altogether? Where do I draw the line? Where do I get to stop giving a shit about intent?
3. Are there any good strategies for making the rest of my family step the fuck off about trying to forcibly reconcile me with my mother, or am I just looking at cutting them off too if they inevitably try to force me back to something that appears to be a loving reconciliation with them?

Background and context: all of those things I mentioned in the opening paragraph are things I have explicitly asked my mother not to do repeatedly over a period of years. Like, there's a lot of backstory here, and in the interests of being fair but also not overwhelming since it spans ten fucking years I've got headers so you can see what bits to skip if you want takeaways. I've also marked out a tl;dr again at the very bottom. Please christ skip this shit if you want; I know I am over-explaining a bit.

2005-2008
I've identified as asexual since I was about fourteen, and, well, in 2005 I didn't think that outing myself as asexual was going to get me anywhere good, so I figured I would just be as open about myself as I could throughout high school without actually using the word. I was and am fairly gender-non-conforming, and had been cutting my hair shorter and shorter since I was about thirteen or fourteen while I viciously avoided wearing any form of makeup, skirts, etc. throughout high school, so it wasn't really surprising that I got pegged as a badly closeted baby lesbian very early indeed when that got combined with my being openly not interested in boys.

So high school for me was a series of events that involved me doing something more butch than the invisible line my mother had in mind, setting off an inquiry about whether I was gay and if not, why would I be acting like that? (My dad doesn't get into the middle of these things at all except to back up my mother to present a united front when she demands he do so; where he can, he seems to just be as not-present as possible.) Those inquiries felt pretty hostile to me--the sense I got was that the only reason I should be acting like I was gay is if I was, and otherwise I was doing something vaguely appalling and gross for no apparent reason. (Once they asked if I was, basically, a trans guy; I didn't think so, so I said no.) Being honest about my actual attractions and where I was at wasn't... wasn't very helpful and just went round and round in circles, and I knew better than to come out as ace then. And it's not like I had a lot of context to work with outside the internet at that point; I didn't even know that anything within the LGBTQ existed until I was twelve or thirteen and, um, someone called me a lesbian as a slur. Yeah.

2008-2012
So I just tried to convey my actual experience without using a label to everyone, and unsurprisingly it felt like that just drew more attention my way... so when I went to college in 2008, I started going "fuck this, I'm going to start coming out as exactly how I identify and the hell with this." I was tired of feeling like everyone who talked to me was going to start interrogating me, and I started practicing using the actual words. And at this point I also started doing things like going to the college bi-annual drag shows for fun and to raise money for our local Lambda alliance, that kind of thing.

I'd go home and mention one of those activities to my parents, and my mother would react with this very uncomfortable, very loud "why would you do this, that's weird, why would you be weird?!?" kind of fast and defensive reaction. Or--around the time I was nineteen, I cut my hair from a three-inch bob down to a one-inch pixie cut, which I'd wanted to do for years and years, and when my mother saw it I got a two-hour lecture about how I'd need to wear big earrings now and makeup or people would mistake me for a boy. An hour or two into this fight, I outed myself as asexual because fuck this. Or a few months after that, I was reviewing an entirely G-rated book about coming out as a teenager for a psych course I was taking and I left it lying around without thinking too much about it--at most, I hoped maybe someone might pick it up and read it and think, but instead what happened was that my mother found it and started yelling at me for leaving it around in case I "confused" my baby sister, who would have just turned eight at the time. Stuff like that kept happening. As this goes on, I start bringing up past incidents to explain the patterns I see and why I'm hurt, and my mother retorts that "that never happened" or "I don't remember that" consistently. I explain that it might not have been as memorable to her, but I remember this, but that doesn't seem to sink through.

At this time, incidentally, I'm also getting more involved in online ace spaces and grappling with whether I've accidentally fallen in love with my best friend, which was something of a problem for me. I didn't bring it up with my parents much, in part because they had reacted poorly when I had online friends before and seemed to think the internet was staffed purely with "weirdoes" and "sickos" as opposed to people, and in part because I had pretty bad experiences just bringing up how important ace community stuff was to my friends at the time, hell if I was going to risk too much of that at home.

This is also the approximate time in which I have a fight with my parents about them not giving me information I needed to plan a spring break trip I badly wanted to go on, and I lose my temper mid-fight and hang up and refuse to answer the phone for the rest of the night. My parents drive two hours to my college to meet me the next morning because my mother is convinced that this is me undergoing a psychotic break. I frankly find this both overblown and sort of terrifying, even at the time, and I am deeply angry about the incident.

So as I go through college, I'm a) dealing with trying to negotiate my status with respect to queer communities as an ace kid, b) trying to figure out, essentially, whether I'm homoromantic or aromantic or what and if I am in love with my best friend what the hell I do about it, c) increasingly aware of how bad my relationship with my parents really is and increasingly heartbroken about how little I can talk to them about everything in my life without becoming absolutely pants-shittingly terrified.

Throughout college, I tried... probably at least once or twice a year to open a dialogue about these things with my mother. I tried talking about this stuff mid fight, I tried bringing it up in conversation when things seemed okay, I tried sending emails and I tried phone calls and I cried a lot at my college therapist about it. These always resulted in my mother shouting that she was very accepting and why did I hate her, she didn't have a problem with my lifestyle and why was I saying such cruel things to her? No one else in my family ever intervened in this fights except maybe to explain to me that my mothers' intentions were good, and I tried pretty hard to keep from putting people in the middle anyway because that's not fair to them.

In 2011, I conclude that a) I don't really understand the distinction between romance and friendship, if there is a sharp one within relationships, b) regardless, I have a definite strong gender preference for women and nonbinary people over men, c) whatever passes for close commitment between me and that best friend is, um, not treating me well and I need to abandon most of that friends group and find a new one with people who actually like me.

This is pretty draining and heartbreaking, and I cope in part by reaching out to my college queer org, in part by immersing myself in online community, and in part by strengthening ties with every friend I have who wasn't involved with the person I had to cut ties with. I wind up dancing around the idea of starting a relationship that definitely does work for me with my partner and another person, and finally go "yeah, okay; let's try and see if we can come up with a plan to live together in the same place?" sometime in mid 2011. Both of them are in other countries from me and each other, which makes it tricky, but we do pretty well by keeping in Skype communication near constantly, given everyone's time zones. I don't bother to tell anyone I'm related to about this, because the odds anyone will react well are zero.

2012-now
So anyway. I go to grad school. Plans to try and move near one of my partners fall through, but I do move way the fuck away from my home state against my family's plaintive attempts to convince me. I can't shake the dust off my heels fast enough; I chose the places I applied partly because going home is fucking exhausting at this point, because I feel like I can't be myself without risking an exhausting fight, and because the more open I am, the worse things get. I try to reach out because the guilt trips keep coming worse and worse, but I'm talking about less and less of my life outside of my science, which I know damn well no one in my family can follow too well. I found a local ace-community coffee meeting, which becomes the nucleus of my social group; I don't really tell my family though because that way lies explosions. Things go well with my partners, but I find myself getting a little impatient; I'm tied in place by my grad degree, and my UK partner by her own family, but my Canadian partner isn't--just they have no idea how to legally negotiate citizenship shit.

In 2013, Windsor v. United States comes down the pike, and suddenly my partner moving down to me via legal immigration is an actual viable option. We hyperventilate a lot and go "okay, um, okay" and decide to try making a visit work and see whether this is worth pursuing. It goes--really well, and we go "okay. um. okay. we could--we can really do this?" and start making plans. At this point, I decide my family has to know this is happening, and I decide I don't care if they disown me over it. It would be easier, I think darkly, to not have to try so hard to hit exactly the right notes all the time. So I write them a letter letting them know I'm engaged, which I try to strike a polite but firmly this-is-happening, not-up-for-debate tone with.

I call my middle sister, who is a few years younger than I am, all in tenterhooks about it; she startles me by telling me she had no idea and tries to be reassuring and welcoming. My parents call me about it, and literally the first question out of my mother's mouth is asking if I was lying about my sexual orientation. I'm not. The second thing she does is try to argue me out of doing this, at which point I cheerily point out this is not up for debate, this is about me doing something I want badly which I think will make me very happy, and hang up on her.

Throughout the next several months, we plan a joint vacation in Boston staying on an air mattress belonging to some friends of friends, which is pretty much what we can jointly afford. We elope and then return to our separate countries, because it's time to start the extremely expensive immigration process, which requires evidence from us that this is a real relationship and not a fake one. I send reams of chat logs; eventually I discover several novels' worth of communication bound up in my sentimental hoard of saved conversations. Sometimes I go back and re-read them while I'm feeling soppy. We send photos and emails and anything we can think of, because this is early 2014 and we're among some of the first people to petition for an IR-1 visa for a same-sex spouse; certainly some of the first who weren't married already by the time that Windsor came down.

My mother repeatedly tries to convince me over this period that my spouse is using me for a green card. I find this dubious in the extreme as my spouse is Canadian and spends most of their time talking about the state I live in focusing on how pants-shittingly scary our health care system is, and so I say so. As I get more impatient with this bullshit, I start to just hang up when my mother starts in. This mostly gets me shouted at for rudeness. I run out of ways to politely say "this is not up for debate."

In June 2014, my partner and I go to visit my parents and meet for the first time. My mother proceeds to interrogate my partner on their own family relationships--mostly long since cut--and specifically the state of their mother's health, as we've said she was dead since the kidnapping incident that made my partner cut contact years previously happened. When my mother doesn't get more detail, she demands a diagnosis; when my partner prevaricates that there wasn't really a diagnosis per se, my mother asks "Mental or physical?" There are a couple of other incidents, which culminate in six months of no contact from me over her treatment of my partner following the visit.

Things go on. My mother has, over the last few years, done things like go googling my partner and found out history with the kink community that I knew full well about to start with to try and drive a wedge between me and my partner. She consistently brings up reasons that my partner and I are bad for each other or that I might have made a mistake. This past round, it was insinuating that I am just so tired post election, and that maybe we set off each other's anxieties.

She has also rewritten history in her head to make all of these various problems I've just walked through things that started when I announced my spouse and I were engaged, which I have blatantly said is not true.

Recent/summary context
I, um. I have more. But this time she did it right before a planned family visit to my city, in part to visit me and in part apparently to run a marathon that my sister, my brother and law, and his parents planned to run. I spent two or three hours in a long conversation trying to patiently figure out the secret way to get her to stop referring to my "gay lifestyle" or my "extreme lifestyle" when what she means is that I post about politics on Facebook now, as far as I can tell, since the election. Then I lost my temper, posted a link to an article on subtle homophobia and its strain on me and said my family needed to read it, and refused to apologize. This resulted in a weekend of increasingly angry phone calls because I refused to "accept that I am equally at fault" and finally a blistering email series in which I let my spouse vent the rage they have been fostering for years at my mother, cc'd to everyone in the family.

(This is all, to be clear, a month after my grandparents abandoned me and my spouse on the side of the road; previously I had been my grandmother's favorite child. When I called my parents to say I was okay after posting to Facebook that my living situation had abruptly fallen through, my mother looked for reasons that the abandonment was my fault.)

I'm ignoring calls from my dad right now. I don't want to go back. I didn't want to find out my baby sister was also gay because she interrupted me trying to give her some of this context and said that Mom didn't have a problem with her, Mom was going to classes to better understand now! I don't want to be talked around, but I know my entire family will try.

So I want to know: what is normal there? How do I handle this shit? Is this genuinely normal, or is it fucked up? Is this nuclear-war levels of fucked up--how fucked up is it? Do I need a sanity check? Because I feel like I could use a sanity check here.
posted by sciatrix to Human Relations (39 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
While it may be "normal" in the sense of "average" for most people I know in the LGBTQ community, it's not ACCEPTABLE and I'd say your mom crossed the line a long long time ago. I have a similar situation with a parent (except it's more "I'm disappointed in you so I'm just going to give you the silent treatment") and I'm sick of it and cutting him off. Anyone who doesn't support you can go fuck themselves, honestly. You do not owe anyone who aids and abets abuse. This is emotional abuse. I'm surprised you've managed to put up with it for this long, but I guess you don't know it's abuse or you wouldn't have asked the question.
posted by AFABulous at 12:58 PM on February 25 [6 favorites]


So, so, so not normal. Not healthy. VERY fucked up. I'm sorry your family of origin sucks so badly. Good on you for finding your family of choice.

This (queer, trans, out to their family and dealt with 'but are you trans b/c SPOUSE wants you to be?!? questions that thankfully died a very definitive death) internet stranger gives you complete absolution for walking away now. These folks don't know what boundaries are and gaslight for fun. Goodbye.

Maybe keep contact with your siblings if you think it's a good idea? If your mother/family won't force them to play some messed up go between? If they doesn't mind keeping your continued relationship a secret?
posted by carrioncomfort at 1:05 PM on February 25 [4 favorites]


This is genuinely, nuclear-war-level, holy-shit-your-mom-is-abusive levels of fucked up. This actually sounds like your mom is somewhere on the narcissistic/controlling/emotionally-abusive axis completely irrespective of your sexuality. These are not ok ways to have conversations with your kid, period.

So, my mom was fine with me being gay - I've been a big ol' dyke since I was four, I swear to God, and when I finally came out it was a shocking non-issue for everyone. But my sister being bi, and later actually coming out as poly, have been hard for her and there was definitely a little "did I do something wrong? Have you tried being normal?" But by a little, I mean maybe three or four awkward conversations that I know of, and then she went to goddamn poly/queer-friendly therapy and dealt with it.. Herself. Without involving my sister. Because it *is* her problem, and she is a grown-up, and she deals with her problems like a grown-up. She still struggles with the poly thing, and if my currently-inactively-poly marriage ever becomes complicated in ways I bother to tell her about, she'll have trouble with it, but she loves both her kids and prioritizes that over her own conceptual comfort.

But honestly, the nagging, the gaslighting, the refusal to listen to or accept your emotions, opinions, or really your existence are just abusive whatever the ostensible subject. Hilariously, I just went and looked up the Down the Rabbit Hole post to draw it to your attention and then I realized that you posted it. You know this shit ain't right.

I'm so sorry you're dealing with all this. Internet hugs, if you want them.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:06 PM on February 25 [45 favorites]


My son who identifies as asexual once told me that if he came out as gay, he figured I would be upset at having not figured it out myself and that would be all there was to it. He spent some time wondering if he was gay because he was not interested in girls and he and I have talked about all that and it is a complete and total non-issue at all. He does not hesitate to talk to me about what he thinks about this, whenever he feels like it -- which isn't hugely often, because it isn't drama. At all.

I don't know why you have put up with it this long, other than that you grew up with this shit so it is hard to get perspective. This is totally not okay.

I recommend you just cut these people off.
posted by Michele in California at 1:15 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]


You should check out resources linked in r/raisedbynarcissists. Whether your mom fits a clinical definition, she's definitely far enough along on the cluster three spectrum to have seriously fucked with your head.

None of this is ok. You are well within your rights to cut these people off, and, honestly, from what you describe, you should absolutely do so. They don't respect you or your boundaries as an individual human with your own identity and life.

Most people don't really start to recover from this kind of thing until they've removed people like this from their life. I'm sorry. I know this sucks. There are a lot of resources out there, though. MeMail if you want some specifics.
posted by schadenfrau at 1:37 PM on February 25 [6 favorites]


OK, answering the literal question in your title: What does a healthy straight parents/queer child relationship look like?

I know a few lucky queer + trans guys who have good relationships with their living parents. One had very religious parents (Orthodox Jews) when he came out in college, and it was a struggle, but they came to accept him. His dad paid for his transition surgery. Now he and his dad (his mom died) spend a lot of time together. He cooks dinner for his dad, they just went on a trip, etc. His dad got engaged and he's involving his son in the wedding planning.

The other guy also came out as trans in college. His dad was immediately accepting and started a LGBT faculty/student committee at the school (he worked there). His mom took a few years to come around. They live a few states away from each other but they keep in touch by Skype and he visits on holidays. Mom knows he's queer in addition to trans and asks about his dating life.

Those are the best case scenarios. Every other trans person has fucked up relationships with one or both parents. I don't know a lot of cis queers; I suspect it's a lower percentage but still much higher than the straight cis population. Family rejection is a leading cause of suicide. The people I've known personally who are depressed are the ones who keep trying to maintain a relationship when there's no effort in return.
posted by AFABulous at 1:46 PM on February 25 [3 favorites]


I was also a baby gay and so that aspect of things was not at all surprising to my mom when I finally came out - she was more hurt I hadn't talked with her earlier. And we always were pretty politically aligned, so that was never a source of friction, either. There was an awkward Thanksgiving where an old family friend said something kinda awful about the NAMES quilt (which I'd just seen, so I was talking about it), and my mom told the friend that what she said wasn't okay and to never say shit like that again around her. She also took it on herself to read every "how to not be a jerk to your gay kid" book that was out there. If she'd been more of a joiner she probably would've joined PFLAG, too.

Which is not to say we never had fights, and that she loved every one of my girlfriends. But she never gaslighted me, never insulted my identity, never implied or stated or anything that I must be doing something she disagreed with because I was mentally ill. What your mom has done/is doing is absolutely beyond the pale and you are in no way wrong for not wanting to put up with it. I'm so sorry you're going through this.
posted by rtha at 1:56 PM on February 25 [6 favorites]


To paraphrase the historian Yuval Harari, the modern world is forcing people to live within stories that are made up to motivate and control us, and the only way to figure out what is real is to identify where there is suffering, because that is where the false stories are causing harm. This is one more internet stranger telling you that you are in a false story and are suffering because of it, please get help to identify and connect with your own social reality.

But to answer your direct question, I think that normal parent child relationships are built on love and honesty (to the extent that is practical for both sides). Also, it is my experience this should be easier when all parties are adults, not harder. Unfortunately the problems you face are all too common.
posted by forthright at 2:03 PM on February 25 [6 favorites]


I feel like your question is a little like asking "How much are my folks allowed to cut on me? Are they really allowed to lop my arm off or is it reasonable for me to ask them to only lop my fingers off?"

The answer is that it isn't okay for them to carve on you at all. It doesn't matter how traditional it is. It doesn't matter how much precedence there is. It doesn't matter how many justifications you have heard. The sane answer to being treated that way is to GTFO and go find people who don't expect to carve on you.

I know this kind of drama is really common and I would bet money that your mother has all kinds of personal baggage she hasn't dealt with that you trip for some reason. None of that really matters.

You should not feel obligated to put up with this. If you choose to continue some kind of relationship to them for some reason, you should pursue however much of a relationship you desire, on terms that are acceptable to you.
posted by Michele in California at 3:04 PM on February 25 [14 favorites]


Hey, I'm sorry you are going through this. I wanted to echo what the posters above me said about narcissism. It sounds like you are the scapegoat, whatever you do will be wrong in your mother's eyes, and your sister is the golden child so whatever she does or whoever she is, your mother considers "right". Having also grown up as the scapegoat child with a passive father, the best thing you can do for your mental health and self esteem is to cut your mother off. Which you did! Go you!!! The next thing you can do is share very little about your life to other family members who are not 100% on your side w.r.t. protecting you against your mother, and the third thing you can do is surround yourself with people who love you for you. It sounds like you are doing this too. Now all it will take is time for your wounds to heal. If you do make the choice to see any family members again, I recommend sticking to a firm time limit (no overnights) and always having a way to leave the dinner or hangout event if you need to.
posted by ball00000ns at 3:08 PM on February 25 [4 favorites]


I think it is almost always a bad idea to walk away from family altogether. It is totally normal for family relationships to be complicated. I think it is useful to accept that everyone, including ourselves and parents, are flawed. So I think in general it is good to reconcile. That does not mean that I recommend letting her control you, but in general it is good to at least be civil and in occasional contact. Setting adult boundaries is key though, and very hard to do.
posted by mortaddams at 3:13 PM on February 25


I don't have a family like yours but I do have an abusive one in a very different way. I cut them off and. I can tell you it was the best thing I ever did for my sanity.

It has its pros and cons. But I have space in my head. And I can fill it up with respect, good thoughts and peace.

Therapy helped most.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:27 PM on February 25 [2 favorites]


"She consistently brings up reasons that my partner and I are bad for each other or that I might have made a mistake. "

So this -- this is the line. Like, a shit-ton of the earlier stuff is very high-drama and not-great parenting and actively mean. But a good parent does not try to break up their children's marriages. They support those chosen marriages unless they're actively abusive, even if the parent thinks the child may have made a mistake, even if it's clear to the parent a divorce is in the offing. The parent keeps their mouth fuckin' shut except to make clear that they're there to provide any and all support the child needs in whatever decision the child makes about their flailing relationship.

And like, dude, we've been reading about your partners here on MeFi for a while. You're not in a flailing relationship where your relatives are biting their tongues while you crash and burn. Your relationships sound very supportive and lovely! Your mom should be on the side of your chosen family, even if it's not the family she would choose for herself, or not the family she might have chosen for you.

So the line, for me, would be that she is not part of my life, and I am not reconciling with her, until she accepts and supports my relationship. Once she does that, you know, maybe you want to work through or deal with some of the other past wrongs, or maybe you'd rather just paper over them and ignore it all in favor of a new improved mom relationship, whatever. But until she is on Team Your Marriage, she's not on Team You.

Now, I'm from a family that's far too intertwined for full cutting off of people (although I have no objection to other people doing that!), so for me these questions are about creating boundaries I am comfortable with with relatives I cannot cope with because they suck. Everyone stays on my Christmas card list, I send wedding and baby presents, but I generally decline to attend their events. If we'll be at the same event given by a third party relative, that's fine, but I make my polite noises ("how are you, how's work, how're the kids") and then avoid them. I am not above "getting a headache" so I can leave. Maybe you let them stay on your facebook "acquaintances" list so they can see big announcements but not everyday posting. Maybe you send them e-mails now and then giving them bigger news. Definitely you use caller ID to screen calls.

" finally a blistering email series in which I let my spouse vent the rage they have been fostering for years at my mother, cc'd to everyone in the family. "

I'd avoid this in the future. You fight your family battles on your spouse's behalf. Having your spouse fight with your family-of-origin is just messy, and ideally you should always be stepping in for each other on that sort of thing.

Similarly, I would shut down any family members (except your dad) who are trying to reconcile the two of you; your mom is a grown-ass adult and can have that conversation with you herself and it is not fair to make other relatives play proxy. (Except your dad.) If the other family members are supportive of your life, they can stay in it, but politely cut them off if they try to play peacemaker.

But yes, bottom line, your family needs to be Team Your Marriage. If they can do that, you can work on other stuff. But until they can meet that minimal criterion, they're at arm's length or cut off. Because, yeah, families are complicated and fucked up and have strange interaction patterns and problems and dysfunctional even when loving. But absolute baseline good parenting, you support your child's choice of partner(s).

And, honestly, "I must actively fight against my child's choice of partner" is a big reason for parents cutting off contact with a child. It's the absolute baseline of a parent/child relationship when the child is an adult.

Side note, you do seem worn a little thin emotionally since the election, make sure you're practicing self-care!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:37 PM on February 25 [22 favorites]


So okay. My relationship with my family is not great in a lot of ways, because — like yours — they have very definite ideas about what kinds of sexuality are okay, and also have a very strong idea that they are supportive and accepting and get upset when told that they're not being those things. I delayed transitioning for years because of them, and they were sure enough real angry when I came out as trans. They were even angrier when I came out as poly. They've openly celebrated after the end of some of my relationships, and told me it would be a tragedy if someone like me ever had kids. They've tried to control who I talk to about my mental illness and how I talk about it.

But they've also, on all of those issues, eventually pulled their heads out of their asses and come around to being supportive. They forward me positive news articles about trans people. They now acknowledge all of my partners and are looking forward to meeting them. My dad's asked me to go to NYC Pride with him this summer. It took years of pushing and hard conversations and negotiating, but once they realized I was happier like this they started making a serious, good faith effort to understand and learn to be good allies. When I tell them why it works for me to live like I do, they listen.

This has been a decades-long process. They've made really slow progress on some of this stuff. But they've made that progress.

Your family sounds orders of magnitude worse than mine. If my family had acted like yours, there is absolutely no way I would be speaking to them anymore. Someone who is legitimately trying to be supportive, and is just confused about how to do that, does not act like your mother has been acting.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:57 PM on February 25 [4 favorites]


2. How do you know when it's worth just walking away from faaaaaamily altogether? Where do I draw the line? Where do I get to stop giving a shit about intent?

When what you get out of a relationship doesn't make up for the pain it causes, it's time for a break. From what you've said here, you don't seem to be benefiting in any way from a relationship with your mother. She's cruel, she's abusive, she gaslights you, she's manipulative, she lies, she hurts your spouse.... You don't need that in your life! No one does!

I took a break from my parents in my 20s and now keep them at an arm's length. It was so worth it. I still get, "but she's your mooottherr!" from time to time. Whatever, that kind of attitude just allows abuse to happen.

Captain Awkward is a good resource.
posted by Stonkle at 4:40 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]


1. When earthshattering things happen in a parent/child relationship, or when a child brings a scary conversation up with a parent, what does a loving and, um, non-hurtful conversation look like to resolve that?

As the parent of an adult queer person, I can tell you my questions are variations of, "Is the person that you like being kind to you?" and "Did you two have a nice weekend?" Aaaand, that's kind of it. Scary conversations between us sound like they would with any other two adults - back and forth with kindness and questions. You mother should be speaking to you the way she would speak to someone with whom she wants to maintain a solid, respectful relationship. If she wouldn't say it to her best friend or [someone else whom she respects and cares about], she shouldn't be saying it to you.


2. How do you know when it's worth just walking away from faaaaaamily altogether? Where do I draw the line? Where do I get to stop giving a shit about intent?

Only you can answer that. But if I googled my kid's partner, NO WAY would I mention any kinks I discovered. Like, WOW. Your mother not only crosses boundaries, she annihilates them. Responding with horror and disgust directly to her face is not an inappropriate response.

If you want to keep your mom in your life, it sounds like it might help to decide what concrete behaviors would be acceptable to you. Map it out. "She can't talk shit about my spouse/she can tell me about Cousin Bob/she can't question my marriage/she can make slightly bitchy comments." And then you have to be consistent about walking away or telling her to shut it or whatever when that line is crossed. It's scary to do, but also really liberating. You get to decide what you'll put up with. Or maybe none of it is okay, and that's okay too, to be done. Maybe you don't want to be done with her forever, just for now. Or you want to try it on first. You can decide to not talk to her for six months and see how that feels. This is all a long way of saying, what do YOU want? if she can't be notawful, what works for you?

Also? You can tell her nothing about your relationships. Nothing. If she keeps saying awful things and is not supportive and tries to undermine you and you don't want to cut her out, don't give her ammo. You can't magically make her stop throwing rocks at you, but you can give her smaller and softer rocks.

3. Are there any good strategies for making the rest of my family step the fuck off about trying to forcibly reconcile me with my mother, or am I just looking at cutting them off too if they inevitably try to force me back to something that appears to be a loving reconciliation with them?

In general, I suggest explaining as little as possible. You and your mom are adults - you don't need people stepping in for you or arguing with you. "This is between us," and "I'm not going to discuss it with you" are two things you can say over and over. Of course it's not that simple, but you can protect yourself a little by not inviting people into the debate.

I wish you well. You deserve far better than this.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 4:46 PM on February 25 [4 favorites]


None of this is normal and none of it is okay. My parents have their weirdnesses and annoyances, and my mom years ago did something that seriously affected my trust in her, but they have been nothing but supportive of my relationship with rtha, coming to our big wedding, welcoming her into the family, etc. I tend to not share many details about my personal/emotional life with my parents, for my own reasons, and that works ok for me. Any of this behavior would be completely unacceptable to me and I'd cut off contact if I couldn't get the behavior to change.

I'm really sorry that you're having to go through this. It's not ok and you deserve a lot better. Feel free to memail if you want.
posted by gingerbeer at 4:57 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]


Look. I can't tell you what is normal as far as parent/family relationships go.

What I can tell you is that what your mom and family are doing is bullshit. You don't deserve it. You can find people who love and accept you for you so fuck your mom. Go pursue happiness without the fucked up family dynamics. Blood should not bind you in these shitty ways.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 5:15 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]


Your mom is choking off your emotional life like a parasitic plant or something. She is holding your emotional life hostage, and it is YOURS and you deserve to actually live it. She is crazy goddamned bananas and you should have no compunction about cutting her off. If you like, think of it as taking a break or something? But she is actively damaging you.
posted by listen, lady at 5:28 PM on February 25


Briefly checking back to add a couple of points:

-Spouse is definitely not the problem here. Spouse has, for example, never stressed me out badly enough that I stopped eating entirely when I was in their presence and had a hard time making myself eat while I was in near proximity to them. My spouse and I are solid, generally speaking; not perfect, but solid. It's not even just a question of my parents trying to break us up; comparing the way that my parents treat my marriage and my middle sister's marriage to charming Mr. Bland has been, um. Enlightening.

-Letting my partner send that email was less of letting my partner stand up for themself and more going "whatever, fuck this. Spouse, you can do as you like right now; I give you full permission, because I'm done with this shit." They responded to that with slightly malicious enthusiasm, but asked me permission before sending things and checked in to see if I wanted to read any letters going back and forth. My partner hates my mother, which seems fairly understandable to me given that my partner knows about the ways in which my mother has tried to undermine our relationship by personally insulting them. They add that they're pretty pissed off about the stress I grapple with, too, and in fact their letter to my mother focused primarily on the effects of her behavior on me, not on them.

Regardless, I have been standing between them both and trying to negotiate for peace this whole time, and my partner has been good about letting me decide how to handle family negotiations, showing up for family events, and generally trying to have my back with respect to family (especially where said family can see them). Stepping back and letting my partner write that letter was less throwing them to the wolves and more letting them vent several years of spleen and banked rage on someone who richly deserved it.

-This incident also comes after about three to five years of setting increasingly blunt explicit boundaries and following up with no-contact breaks when those boundaries are crossed. This has mostly resulted in in family pressuring me to reconcile using tactics of "but you are both so equally hard on each other!" instead of saying I am the only one at fault because my mother didn't mean to say those things.

-I have literally no idea what, if anything, anyone in my family actually likes about my company, interests, or personality at this point. I have no idea why it is so important for me to be present at family gatherings, because the reality of me appears to be unwelcome. The best I got is that they're maybe proud of my professional accomplishments, like being in the PhD.

-I'm trying to take care of myself; it's been, um. It's been hard when I am dealing with this from both the main factions of my family of origin; my mother and grandmother have twenty years of incompatible hatred built up between them, and I was always my gran's golden child and my mother's scapegoat. Finding that when shit gets real, my family won't even validate the reality that I am afraid and that I have real things to be afraid about; won't even cut me some slack by respecting my boundaries and not making me wage another war; won't even acknowledge that I have history here to be mad about?

That's. I want to not be dealing with this right now. I know I want to not be dealing with this right now. I am okay with that. I am more checking to make sure I'm not... blowing things up past what is reasonable, because I have fairly little confidence in my self-assessment of the situation given that no one except my spouse will so much as acknowledge that I am not, at best, equally at fault for this rift. Including my now-fifteen-year-old baby sister, and well, if she is gay and came out and my mother is apparently attending "LGBTQ parenting classes" for her sake...

....why was I not good enough to do that for?
posted by sciatrix at 5:43 PM on February 25 [2 favorites]


This is not normal nor is it okay.

If one of my children came to me with any of the things you came to your parents with - anything - my only questions would be 1. Are you happy? and 2. Do they treat you the way you want to be treated? If the answers were both yes, I'd give a hearty welcome to the family to the spouse, a hug to my child, and an I'm so happy for you. Full stop.

I'm sorry you didn't get those perfectly reasonable things from your parents. Cutting off contact is okay, if you're asking for permission. I've done it in the past and I believe it saved my life, literally.

Good luck to you.
posted by cooker girl at 6:12 PM on February 25 [3 favorites]


On post, the way to madness is to ask yourself why you weren't "good enough." Honey. It's not you. It never was you. They are damaged and you are collateral. That your baby sister is apparently "good enough" has literally nothing to do with you and everything to do with your family being dysfunctional. I used to make myself crazy wondering why my siblings were more liked and loved than me. It's because my father is a narcissist and my sibs play the game.

Anyway, it's not you. People in your life love you. Your chosen family loves you. Clearly you have good attributes. It's not you.
posted by cooker girl at 6:16 PM on February 25 [19 favorites]


"That's. I want to not be dealing with this right now. I know I want to not be dealing with this right now. I am okay with that. I am more checking to make sure I'm not... blowing things up past what is reasonable"

You're not being unreasonable. Don't be dealing with them right now. This all sucks.

"Stepping back and letting my partner write that letter was less throwing them to the wolves and more letting them vent several years of spleen and banked rage on someone who richly deserved it. "

Only because you asked about healthy family dynamics; I know you weren't throwing them to the wolves, but letting your spouse vent their spleen at your mom (deserved or not) isn't real healthy either. 100% think it was richly deserved, 100% expect it was enormously satisfying. But it sounds like the kind of drama your mother thrives on, uses to excuse her own behavior, and has used to undermine your sense of what's normal. They'll use it against you, and against spouse.

So just, in the future, draw a hard line about it, not because it's wrong or bad per se, just because it tends to create excessive drama down the road, and in a healthier family-of-origin relationship, you run all family-of-origin drama through the spouse whose family of origin it is. I can imagine few things in life that would be more satisfying than unloading some of my thoughts at some of my in-laws, but inserting myself into the 40 years of family love/hate/drama/etc makes it very combustible, in a way that letting him handle it doesn't.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:20 PM on February 25 [6 favorites]


A frequent feature of malfunctional parenting is treating one child as the scapegoat, and any others as infallible. It's a terrible way to treat children, be they scapegoat or not. It's entirely possible your sister doesn't see the unfairness right now- and assumes that your mother has actually changed and would therefore treat you better. But it's also possible on some level that she does see the problem, or that she will as she grows older.

I can't say anything about what you should do re: family of origin as a whole; I think there's so many reasons to go no contact for the forseeable future there but you're going to have to make that decision.

But I do have a couple comments. First, about your sister. If you do decide to go no contact with everyone else, you still can have the option of being in contact with your sister-- but this would require her understanding that no information from you can be passed on. She may be too young (and still living at home?) for this to be possible; you might consider providing a means of contact for when she gets older and thinks it might doable.

Next, geeze, if someone isn't tired after this election, they aren't paying attention. It's ok to be tired, and it's totally ok to be especially tired of this family shit during what is already a trying time. Step back and care for yourself and your chosen family (and ask your chosen family to care for you).
posted by nat at 6:29 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]


> I am more checking to make sure I'm not... blowing things up past what is reasonable,

You are absolutely totally not.
posted by rtha at 6:30 PM on February 25 [2 favorites]


Out for decades now. Took my family a bit of time to fully get me (heck I'm still working on getting me) but I was loved through all of it. This is fucked up bullshit. This is not love. This is why so many of us queers have chosen family. Relationships of all kinds are healthy when they make our lives bigger. She is making your life smaller.
posted by anya32 at 6:47 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]


If you weren't queer, your mother would find other ways to control your life, stress you out, make you feel unworthy.

Blood ties are not a good enough reason to spend time with people who don't invest in building supportive, mutually enjoyable relationships with you.
posted by itesser at 8:03 PM on February 25 [2 favorites]


I am going to say that mom is confused as to what role she is allowed to play in your life. You have to set boundaries, and get through to mom that you have a graduate degree, you are all grown up and you have made up your mind about how you are going to live, and who you are at the present time. (This is because we all change, sometimes fundamentally, sometimes we clear up long, ongoing internal messes, and do change for our own happiness.)

1. Mom, you are not welcome to criticize me, and especially not my spouse.
2. Mom, you are not welcome to broker my relationship with the rest of my family. Do not talk about my life choices or me, or my spouse to the rest of the family. This is because you do not understand it.
3. Mom, I can not see any reason for your drama, I am living my life as an adult, and you are living yours. I am not your little child any more, I am not misbehaving and in need of correction. I make my own way, and I am happy with my life.
4. I will not have a relationship with you, until you are capable of being positive with me, and I am open to that change, I will be there for you when you are able to have a positive relationship with me.
5. I love my spouse, and because she is my spouse, she is the most important person in my life, with the exception of me.
6. I am setting these boundaries for me, no one else. This is about my comfort and happiness. I am grown up now, and I don't need parenting. If you can come to terms, cut the apron strings, and disengage from attempts to parent, control, or criticize; then we can be family. Until then I have a family I am very happy with. Please leave my sisters out of your currently dysfunctional relationship with me.

I don't know how old Mom is. She is her own worst enemy, but she may have conditions unknown to you, that cause her bad behavior. She may be mentally ill. A lot of people survive parents with mental illness, but it is never easy. I admire your posts here, and I wish you all the best.
posted by Oyéah at 8:04 PM on February 25


So, I've been thinking for a while about the right way to express this, and after a few false starts I just want to say this:

Do I need a sanity check? Because I feel like I could use a sanity check here.

You're sane. You're completely sane. Quite frankly, from everything you've written here, from everything I've read of yours on Metafilter, and from our few interactions on Metafilter-adjacent internet, it's quite apparent to me that you're possessed of uncommonly good sense, a strong moral compass and sense of self, and an usual capacity for analytical introspection. You really do have the correct take on what's going on with your mother, inasmuch as you understand that it really is her that's the problem, not you, not your spouse.

Am I expecting too much?

No. If anything it sounds like you have been in the past willing to accept too little. Your mom's behavior is unconscionable.

What is normal, and what is healthy?

"Normal" is definitely a loaded concept, but a healthy relationship between a parent and an adult child looks nothing like this. In a healthy relationship, the parent might offer unsolicited advice about her child's romantic partner(s). Even that may be on the somewhat intrusive end of the spectrum. But once she knows that her child knows her opinion about things, that is the end of it -- her only role going forward is to support her child's decisions, welcome her partners into the family, and provide a nonjudgmental sympathetic ear when problems arise. It doesn't sound like your mom is capable of doing that. I'm really sorry; you deserve so much better.

why was I not good enough to do that for?

You aren't the problem. You absolutely deserve love, acceptance, and nonjudgmental attempts to understand you and your experiences. If your mother is now willing to do that work for your younger sister, great, but that she won't do it for you isn't because of you. Most likely it is because at some level she has learned from you what she should be doing, but has already established in her mind that you're the "problem child," and can't or won't break her own patterns for interacting with you. I hope you can take some bittersweet comfort in knowing that your strength and resilience in facing your mother has probably made your sister's path through life easier, whether or not she's able to realize that right now.

I wish I could give you advice, but I have none. All I can say is that from the perspective of this internet stranger / distant academic cousin, you're doing great, the choices you've made are great, and you aren't the problem here. You don't deserve to be treated this way, and I'm sorry that you are.
posted by biogeo at 8:04 PM on February 25 [9 favorites]


Can't comment on the "gay child" part of the question, but I'll echo everyone else that this is not normal and you don't need to put up with it. What exactly do you get out of staying in contact with your family? It sounds like pure grief with no upside, from your description. So unless you stand to inherit a fortune from your family, I think it would be no loss to walk away from them.

I cut way down on contact with my family (they weren't hateful, just annoying) and while I was gathering my courage it seemed like it would be momentously difficult and traumatic. It turned out to be sort of anti-climatic, in the end. I also got married, which reinforced the idea that I'm an independent adult now. Anyway, after not replying to most emails and waiting an ever-increasing time to return phone calls, they got the message that their daughter doesn't need Mommy and Daddy any more, and our relationship would be on my terms, or not at all.

I think that in most cases, adult children hold quite a bit of power in the family dynamic. Assuming you're healthy and not financially dependent on your parents, you may even have the upper hand. Your parents are getting older and facing the terrors of old age: feeling lonely as their kids leave and friends die off, feeling useless as they retire and their skills become obsolete or redundant, feeling disrespected as young people gaze with pity (or sneer outright) at the Olds, feeling scared as their health declines and abilities deteriorate.

You, on the other hand, are heading into your prime years. You are developing your career, you support yourself, you don't really need Mommy and Daddy any more - and they know it. The worst that would happen if you cut off your whole family is ... what?

I say just walk away. It will seem like the scariest thing you've ever tried to do, until you actually start doing it. (And there will be an extinction burst from your family, so be prepared to tough it out.) But after a while, it will seem a little easier and eventually your family will probably back off a bit (because you are not responding and thus not giving them any satisfaction). But your relationship with your family will be on your terms from now on, and if they don't like that, it's their loss.

Also wanted to send a little internet support to a fellow scientist and knitter. Hang in there, sciatrix!
posted by Quietgal at 8:06 PM on February 25 [5 favorites]


Normal, to me, means that when you have family members with whom there is no reciprocal understanding or respect, you choose to either withdraw physically and cease contact (not as a punishment or a time-limited consequence, but because you do not want to be available to them anymore, the end) or withdraw mentally and emotionally, providing your bodily presence for occasional family events every year or three, but not caring about anything they say and thus never getting caught in fights because these people don't matter.

Sometimes a person just needs someone, and family is all that's available, so you have to choose between awful people and no people. but you have others, you can detach from them without being alone in the world and I think it is both normal and good to do so at this point. possibly excepting your sister.

The worst and most upsetting fights I had with my own mother, when I tried to work out afterwards why they were so upsetting when I already knew what she was like and what she thought and none of it had been a surprise, I think it was because it was so important to me what she thought and how she felt. when I failed to convince her, I had also failed to morally repair her and failed to make myself the kind of daughter whose good opinion is the most important thing to her mother.

but: what she thought didn't matter. It wasn't important. She wasn't my judge or my reflection and she was only my parent in historical terms; we were less mother and daughter than equal adults with a past. this doesn't just happen naturally but you can make it happen if you need to. it is the only thing that made it possible for me to respect her and treat her well when that became necessary. and in my case she did deserve real respect but cases vary. She didn't know I had detached myself in this way -- she thought we'd gradually come to fight less and less because I had "matured," not because I'd deliberately stopped caring what she thought -- and I feel good about that. but she was not as bad as some parents and not all parents deserve the shelter of ignorance.

this is all very difficult and a sharp decline in all forms of contact is probably preferable in most circumstances.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:52 PM on February 25


Go with your feelings. A healthy relationship means that you both feel good. An unhealthy relationship means that one or both of you feel bad. - Same like a healthy hand or other body part. If it feels good you are doing it right. If it hurts or aches, if there is any kind of pain or reluctance to use it, something is not right.

Do you want to call your mother? Does the idea make you feel happy and motivate you to reach for the phone? No? Okay, something unhealthy going on.

Your mom is asking about your spouse. Do you relax into the question and start dumping information? "She is so fantastic in the kitchen and I love her way of... etc." No? Feel anxious about disclosing? Then don't disclose. If your mom has made you feel uncomfortable discussing your spouse then do not get into any discussions about your spouse. This is an injured part of the relationship and continued use is causing both of you pain.

Your mom's behaviour has including stalking, obsession, boundary violation, poor sense of self, etc. etc. etc. Why does your family agree with her that it is half your fault? Because she plays the same stuff on them as on you, and keeping her from making them intensely and deeply anxious and unhappy causes them to agree with her because if they don't she doesn't let them go of the subject with them any more than she is capable of dropping the subject with you. Your mom has learned a neat trick. If she does something awful people are so relieved that she accepts ANY of the blame for what is going on that they are willing to let her apportion the other half to someone else.

Harkening to a question slightly above yours, this is a quesadilla split, where Person A says to Person B, "You have two quesadillas and I am only going to eat one of them. I'm going to let you eat the other one." Person A's family is so relieved that she lets Person B even have one of her quesadillas that they all tell Person B that she should be grateful to be allowed to keep a quesadilla. They are aware that Person A is quite capable of eating both quesadillas and trying to throttle Person B in order to get more, so are desperately trying to reinforce Person A's pretense at fairness.

You and your mother have not been quarreling. Your mother has been harassing you and when you try to escape it, she defines it as a quarrel that can be patched up. But you have not been seeking her out to harass her. It has not been the two of you both attacking each other. She has been attacking you and defining your defense as an attack.

This means that you can work from the assumption that whenever you defend yourself she will feel that you are attacking her. Either you capitulate completely or she will feel hurt, betrayed, angry, un-loved, cheated, preyed upon, trust violated... you know, all the stuff that she has been causing you to feel. YOu make her feel that just by not capitulating entirely.

But you can't capitulate, because you can't turn into the person she is demanding you become. That's like if she hated you for being born a girl when she wanted a boy. You can't be who she wants you to be, no matter what you do, because her definition of the you she wants you to be is a fairy tale image of someone who will make her feel soothed and content, and no power on earth could make her soothed and content.

A good way to approach this is to take ALL the blame. The next time your family comes after you and tells you that you should patch up the quarrel, tell them that you only wish you could, but any time you speak to her you make her upset and you can't bear to make her so upset. You've tried and tried to keep from making her upset - I am quite sure you have! - so now because "you don't have the self control to avoid quarreling with her" you are resolved to control yourself by not contacting her until you are sure you can avoid saying things that will distress her.

You may send loving messages through your family - "Tell her I love her." but remain firm about taking the blame, and assume the responsibility for preventing the quarrel from continuing.

If at some point you start thinking of spending time happily in contact with your mother, go ahead and attempt it. Just be sure you are looking forward to it as a pleasure rather than doing it out of anxiety, a fear of indefinable bad consequences, such as guilt. You need to feel, "I want to tell Mom!" rather than, "I really should let Mom know..."

And if things start to go south and you start to feel bad, uncomfortable, miserable, attacked or whatever... then back up again, citing concern that "you are making her upset." Don't get too specific if a sibling or someone carries the message that you are making her much more upset by backing off, start reiterating how, "I could tell by her voice that she was upset from talking to me."

It is not impossible, although unlikely that you might eventually end up with your mother working seriously to avoid seeming upset in anyway, as a means of getting you to see her or contact you, but at least you will be setting up a guideline for her what she needs in order to have contact. She has to be not getting upset. And how will you know that you are not upsetting her? If she is not attacking you or trying to control you, or doing any of those things that distress you.
posted by Jane the Brown at 12:16 AM on February 26 [2 favorites]


To start with: the behavior you describe from your family is straight-up abuse. Not only have the individual adults in your family treaed you abusively, but the entire family system seems sick and abuse-enabling. I think you know this, right? It's serious and it has caused you a ton of suffering, and when you were a kid you were trapped in that situation and had no choice but to do your best to cope with it in order to survive -- you had to try to get your needs met by your parents, because what other choice did you have? Now that you're an adult and no longer under your parents' control, you have some different options available to you. Your parents are no longer the sole path to survival for you; you can find what you need elsewhere if you so choose. Figuring out how to put that truth into action is going to change your life for the better.

Someone once told me: if you need your family to understand you and acknowledge your pain in order to heal, then you will be waiting forever. In your question, I hear your desperate desire for love, understanding, kindess, fairness, and better treatment from your mom (and the rest of your family). You want them to validate your reality -- but in order to get yourself out of this painful place, you have to let go of that desire. You may want that from them (and I wish they had given it to you, not just now but always), but you can't make them give it to you, and you don't actually need it in order to live your life. If you didn't still want it so badly, it wouldn't frustrate and hurt you so much when you didn't get it. You're still attached to them; you still feel like you need their love and care in order to feel ok -- but now that you're an adult, you don't actually need that anymore.

Sometimes that continued attachment can be a way of putting off the realization of loss -- like, "If I admit that I'm never going to get what I need from my parents/family, then this story has no happy ending -- I have to face up to the full measure of how much they hurt me and denied me over the years." That is so, so hard. But in my experience, it's the only way forward -- in order to open the door for new things, you have to face how much you lost, and grieve for it, and do your best to let it go. What lies beyond that grieving process is: "I don't actually need my parents/family to meet my emotional needs -- I can take care of my own emotional needs, and I can surround myself with people who treat me well. When my family behaves badly, that's on them -- it isn't about me and it doesn't really affect my life." It sounds like you've already done some of this work, and high five to you for that. You may still have some more of it to do.

In your situation, I think estrangement isn't the point -- detachment is. Estrangement (temporary or permanent) might help you in the process of detaching from your own need for your parents' love/acceptance/kindness. But this is not really about your parents -- you don't have the power to change their behavior (lord knows you've tried). It's more about decolonizing your own head. It's like your parents put a leash on you, but now that you're an adult, you're holding the end of that leash yourself. You have the power to take it off if you choose to do so. I'd suggest reframing your question for yourself:

NOT "Have my parents behaved badly enough to justify estrangement according to some external moral standard?"
BUT INSTEAD "What do I need? What will help me to detach from them and the pain that my own expectations cause me? What will help me find peace in my own mind, independent of their behavior?"

I don't know what the answer to that second question is -- only you know that. It might be that it would help you to step back from communicating with your parents so often, or to cut off contact temporarily or permanently. It might be that therapy would help (personally, I really think you deserve to have a therapist's help -- this is difficult stuff you're dealing with). Mindfulness meditation can help you practice using the detachment muscle -- I like these self-compassion guided meditations, and there are all kinds of other resources out there. Maybe right now what you need is just to put all this aside to clear your head -- to take a few weeks of "vacation" from this problem, and instead spend your time taking walks or doing crafts or being with people you love -- to rest and build up strength. Maybe journaling would help, or reading books or resources to gain some perspective (this one might be of use); maybe you just need to crawl into bed and cry it out for a while. Only you can decide what will work for you -- but it has to be something you do for yourself, not something you wait and hope and scheme to get your family to do for you.

I wish you luck and I hope you're able to find some peace and freedom for yourself. This has been a hard time for a lot of people I know -- in part because the political situation is reminding/triggering folks about any abuse they personally may have suffered in the past. Now more than ever, it's critically important to take good care of yourself. All the best to you.
posted by ourobouros at 7:14 AM on February 26 [2 favorites]


....why was I not good enough to do that for?

Unconditional love cannot be earned. If you could qualify for it, it would not be unconditional. Their inability to genuinely love anyone in no way says anything at all about you.

Your sister is not getting the better deal. Their involvement in her process will poison and twist her process, because they poison whatever they touch. It may be a while before that is apparent, but, no, she is not getting something actually good here.

There is nothing you can do to make these people love you. They do not have it to give. The only thing you can do is decide how much of them you want in your life and try to figure out the most effective means to arrange that.

This thing you are doing where you are measuring your self worth by their shitty behavior is a thing abusers typically teach their victims. It makes the bad behavior of the abuser the victim's fault and responsibility.

A child is not responsible for the actions of their parents and grandparents. This is a broken mental model. Whatever they are saying is wrong with you as justification for this treatment is just that: justification. If you were different, they would have different justifications. They would still crap all over you.

The law does not say parents need to properly raise and care for some kids, but not others. Parents are responsible for the welfare of all their kids, no matter how much of a genuine burden they are -- and a child being "too butch" does not begin to count as one of the things I think of as genuinely a real burden for the parents.

There is no list of traits that lets the parents off the hook for trying to properly care for a child. Anyone telling you that some level of abuse is justified based on you being queer, or "too butch," or ace is someone you need to be moving out of your life.

This social contract is null and void. It is not valid. You have to stop trying to meet the terms they set for you. It will not get you anything ever.
posted by Michele in California at 12:58 PM on February 26 [3 favorites]


I don't have any practical advice for you that hasn't been covered, so I'll just offer another data point in "healthy parent-child relationships, difficulty level: queerness." My parents were mildly surprised when I brought home my now-wife. Not remotely upset. They love my wife, and both made beautiful speeches at our wedding about how thrilled and lucky they were to have acquired such an excellent third daughter. Unfortunately I know that's not something most queer people can count on, but it's not some mythical unattainable ideal and it's not too much to ask.

The way your parents are treating you is not okay. I know cutting off contact isn't simple, and you're not Doing It Wrong if that doesn't feel possible. But you're also not overreacting if you feel like having them in your life is making your life worse, and you have the right to stay away from people who hurt you.
posted by BlueNorther at 1:10 PM on February 26 [1 favorite]


My family is toxic as well. Letting myself get sucked into my family drama really messes with my head. I used to spend days and weeks wondering how I could stop being the black sheep of the family, why I was treated so badly, why nobody seemed to care about me, why they thought being mean to me was funny.

It wasn't until I was able to get some separation for an extended period of time that I was able to think clearly about the situation. Looking back, it seems crazy to me that I was so involved or cared so much about the feelings and actions of people who clearly did not care about me, but something about the family dynamic kept pushing me into a place of powerlessness.

Your entire story screams to me "why are you even dealing with these people!? This is NOT NORMAL" but I sense that you are in the same place that I was, that being too close to them messes with your head and prevents you from thinking about the situation rationally. In fact, that may be part of the point - continuing to push your buttons and frustrate and anger you hurts you, which keeps your attention focused on them and their behavior, and not you and your needs. Abusers have a magnificent* way of messing with your head until you can't tell up from down or right from wrong.

I STRONGLY suggest you take a 3-6 month break from your entire family. Just get away from them and give your head some time to clear. Stop dealing with them or thinking about their drama. Route their calls to voicemail and their emails to a special bin. Have your spouse respond to anything that actually requires contact. I think by the end of it, you'll be amazed that you ever questioned whether or not this behavior was normal and whether or not you should put up with it. Maybe at the end of that period, you go back to being in contact, but with firm boundaries that you enforce. Maybe you decide you're happier without some or all of them and go low-contact or no-contact. But either way, you'll be making a decision based on your best interests and your heart, and not theirs.


*Magnificently evil, that is.
posted by zug at 2:39 PM on February 26 [1 favorite]


A little late to this one but here goes. My parents offer an interesting contrast in how healthy/unhealthy straight parent/queer kid relationships look.

When I came out as trans, my father was sad I had been suffering so much and helped me find a therapist. I feel that he is genuinely proud of me. Even when we've had disagreements as an adult, I feel like he respects the most basic and fundamental parts of my identity. He has been really supportive and does not have a pattern of engaging in passive-aggressive behavior.

My mother was furious, told me I was crazy, and demanded I wait years before transitioning. I was then cut off from most of her family and kept as a secret until I was basically forced to come out at a funeral. For a really long time, she seemed to want credit for being accepting without doing the work--having pictures of my sister's friends up at her home but not me, allowing her family to misname and misgender me in front of her, never acknowledging the damage the way her family treated me as a kid, and so on.

While eventually she has become much more supportive (including with financial aid), after more than a decade, she still demonstrates that she doesn't really get it--like, at the end of last year, she was asking when I would be going to a state that is notoriously homo/transphobic and overwhelmingly voted to elect a racist jackass.

I have literally no idea what, if anything, anyone in my family actually likes about my company, interests, or personality at this point. I have no idea why it is so important for me to be present at family gatherings, because the reality of me appears to be unwelcome. The best I got is that they're maybe proud of my professional accomplishments, like being in the PhD.

They want the illusion that their family isn't so fucked up that their child/grandchild would decline to participate. That's how it feels in my mother's family--they aren't interested in me except as a decorative piece that lets them feel as though they're, on the whole, a bunch of wonderful accepting people. What they see as "close-knit", I view as an unhealthily enmeshed sick system.

Your mother is doing some very abusive things and it makes so much sense that you would go no contact. Chronic invalidation can really, really fuck people up.
posted by Excommunicated Cardinal at 9:40 AM on February 27 [2 favorites]


Checking back in here to thank all of you--I'm, um, continuing to maintain no contact with anyone in my family of origin and have kept that up for a good few weeks. My dad's called me a couple of times, but I haven't picked up, and last week he texted to wish me a happy anniversary without mentioning anything else, which was pretty choice considering my anniversary isn't actually for a few more days yet. I ignored it, and I think I'm going to keep doing that for the foreseeable future. I'm so tired, and the more I think about it the more I just want to be free from obligations to almost everyone in my family of origin. I've blocked phones, and no one has thought to email me with a guilt trip yet.

I'm still really hurt about all of this, I think in part because I was beginning to hope that maybe, one day, my sisters or maybe even my dad might come to have my back enough to stand up for me. And well, my middle sister kind of... last time I was talking to her, on the weekend of Feb 17 that kicked off all this for me, when I was pointing out that I don't actually call out the stuff that hurts me all the time, I told her a story I've told here before: how on the eve of her wedding, her maid of honor asked my partner and me how T came to live with me. And how that journey was bracketed by the Windsor decision that let me sponsor T to move here and the Obergefell decision that gave them health care, and how the maid of honor listened to me, tilted her head prettily, and.... asked why states can't be left to make their own decisions.

I told my sister about that, because I'd always kept it to myself thus far, so as to spare her feelings about her friend. And I thought, well, maybe it's just my mother that she can't defend me against; maybe this will be easier for her to understand. So I told her how I'd spared her from knowing about that slap in the face, and she... immediately defended the maid of honor, told me I shouldn't have kept that to myself and bottled it up like that. She said I should have told the maid of honor how that felt, because she'd spoken to the MoH many times and she knew her friend was very supportive of LGBT rights. That, uh. That hurt a bit. And it really burnt a lot of my optimism into cinders, especially at time where I haven't really made any bones about how scared I am right now. I need support now so badly, and... well. I don't... I don't think I'm ever going to get it there, now.

So that left my baby sister, and while I--abandoning her there is breaking my damn heart, but I can't--I can't go back right now. And I'm not doing any damned good there anyway; I'm still being a terrible sister because I don't have the energy to stand between her and anyone else in my family anyway. She's fifteen; I love her so much, but she started piling in to try to pressure me to go back now, and I can't--I can't hear that, and I've been too scared to connect with her properly anyway, so when I lost my faith in the rest of them I sent her an email to a few accounts--I had a reason to think my mother might have been screening her email--explaining, apologizing, telling her about a couple of incidents I mentioned here, and giving her a few venues to contact me if she wants.

I have a good reason to think she's going to be the target when I'm gone, my mother "being fine with it" or not. I mean, more than she was already; she's always been identified very strongly with me by my parents and they used to try to ask me to talk to her about why she was being so difficult before I, uh, fucked that up by taking her side. I think she's just optimistic and scared. And I don't know what or if I can do anything about it. And, hey, maybe I'm wrong; maybe my mother has changed for her, just not for me.

That's the bit that hurts worst. But I'm not... I don't even think I'm keeping her safe at all, and I am so scared and right now I just have to run. So, uh. so I'm running. I'm trying to process and heal after having gnawed off a trapped limb, but I'm still running and I haven't fallen yet.

Thank you for helping me finally decide to run.
posted by sciatrix at 6:12 PM on March 11 [5 favorites]


sciatrix, I'm really hoping you have a support group (formal or informal) and/or therapist and/or someone else(s) not personally involved in this who is 100% supportive of you to help you get through this. Not because you're screwed up, but because you're dealing with a lot of screwed-up shit and you deserve to have people (preferably in person) telling you that you're awesome and none of this is your fault. Because you're awesome, and none of this is your fault.
posted by lazuli at 11:04 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]


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