How can I make this relationship "healthy?"
December 1, 2008 11:53 AM   Subscribe

Things with my parents are not good right now due to what I (thought) was a reasonable (although mishandled) decision. I knew it would be hard but wasn't expecting this; how do we deal?

I'll try to condense this as much as possible. Basically, I've recently told my parents that I am marrying my long-distance boyfriend of two years and moving to his home, which is an 18 hour plane ride away. They are livid. I am in my late twenties, have already been divorced, and live a good 7-8 hour drive away from them as it is. When I got divorced three years ago they were also angry with me for not quitting my job and moving back near them (as they put it, there is "nothing there" for me where I had been living for the past two years, despite the fact that they live in an area with one of the highest unemployment rates in the US and that I had a good job where I was). The arguments and back and forth got so bad at that time that it really killed any desire I had to move back near them; I felt like they were being incredibly selfish and unsupportive of my divorce and only cared about having me within eyesight, rest of my life be damned.

A couple months ago I told them that I planned to quit my job at the end of the year and move (rather than sign another year-long lease where I am) but that I wasn't sure what would result, but that I was moving back near them for the interim. I was making plans at the same time with my bf, but because of his unstable job situation we didn't know when things would exactly work out, and I figured that I would be with him eventually and that I wanted to spend time with my family before that happened. I did not want to tell my family anything about my bf and I until it was all finalized, though, because of how they react whenever I tell them something I know they don't want to hear. I don't feel like I actually have a very good relationship with my parents because I do not feel like I can tell them anything personal; decisions I make are recieved with criticisms and negativity. I've grown to keep most things from them, and I really think my mom has a better relationship with my cousins (they chat on the phone about just daily life and things like that. My mom and I do not really have that). For pretty much the last year my parents had constantly been making comments about how I wasn't "allowed" to move abroad, and that I needed a local bf. They've met my bf and say they like him a lot, but that he isn't for me. These criticisms have been annoying to listen to, but I mostly ignored them. Rather than deal with them I just kept things to myself.

I realize now that I should have kept my parents in the loop with all this, because they now claim I "tricked" them. It was never my intention, but I can see how they feel decieved. Nothing I say to them now changes this. I have tried to explain to them that I didn't want to say anything until things were finalized, but they insist that I have no regard for anyone but myself and that the only reason I am marrying my bf is to get away from my family. They actually said that I was doing this to get away from them, and they both meant it. I have explained that I love my bf and want to be with him, I have explained that I love them very much too but that kids grow up and start their own families, but they either don't care, don't believe it or aren't listening. The only thing I have done that would make my parents think I wanted to get away from them was that I didn't move back home after my divorce (they cited this reasoning to me). I visit them often enough that co-workers have commented on the frequency of my visits (with the increase in gas it had dropped to about one weekend every month, but it was slightly more often prior to that). The arguments have been awful, the guilt has been worse. My mother claims she will never visit me and made a nasty comment about how now she has yet another way that someone else will dictate the way she has to spend her vacation time. She said she hates my bf's parents and never wants to meet them. My father asked me to really reconsider what I was doing to my mother. And so on and so on--the last few days visiting them have been a cycle of this and it was not a nice experience. I am no longer looking forward to the time I will be spending at home before I move. On the one hand I feel horrible about this--I really don't want to leave my family and it's not my intention to abandon them; however, at the same time I am also getting extremely angry about how they are acting. They say I'm selfish for leaving; I think they're selfish for thinking that they should expect to determine where I live. It's true that I've always wanted to live abroad, but it has nothing to do with them. If I say that, they get more upset. But the main reason that my fiance and I are living near his family rather than mine is that he is much, much closer to his family than I am to mine and they depend on him for a lot more. There is no way I can say that to my parents, though.

To be fair, my mother is going through a lot right now in taking care of her bed-ridden father and a lot of other family issues. I know this is not good timing for her, but I also know that she would act pretty much the same way regardless, but it does make things more stressful for her.

I am beginning to think there is nothing I can do to placate them (short of cancelling my plans, which is not happening) but I am getting to the point where I cannot deal with them not dealing, so what can I do?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (31 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The arguments have been awful, the guilt has been worse. My mother claims she will never visit me and made a nasty comment about how now she has yet another way that someone else will dictate the way she has to spend her vacation time. She said she hates my bf's parents and never wants to meet them. My father asked me to really reconsider what I was doing to my mother.

I am sorry about your family and congratulations on your upcoming wedding. Sometimes it's helpful in these situations when someone who is totally outside the situation tells you that this is not how people who love each other talk to each other. This is what I am saying now. I'm not sure if there's a history of mental illness, alcohol abuse or just other bad juju going on in your family, but it's okay for you to dsraw a line, say "don't talk to me that way" and end the conversation. You may not be able to make your family members respect your choices and be okay with the distance you're putting between you and them, but you can look out for yourself and stop this cycle of horribleness.

I don't know what's up with your mom and it's clear she's stressed out. However, it's totally okay with you to not take this sort of verbal abuse and downright nastiness, guilt-free, end of drama. If you can't do this for yourself, do this for your children so that they don't grow up thinking that this is an acceptable way for peopel who love each other to treat each other. I am so sorry this is happening to you.
posted by jessamyn at 11:59 AM on December 1, 2008 [33 favorites]

If your parents are behaving this way, consider cutting them out of your life for awhile. They'll know how to contact you and will do so when they're ready to behave in a more mature fashion.
posted by k8t at 12:08 PM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding Jessamyn. Your mother is treating you pretty horrendously. I suggest saying something like "Mom, Dad, I love you very much. However, I also love my fiance, and I plan on living with him for the rest of my life. My decision about this is final. The things you have said to me about this subject have made me feel incredibly hurt, and I do not wish to discuss this any further." And if they bring it up again and won't drop it, say "I'm sorry, I can't talk about this with you" and hang up the phone.
posted by schroedinger at 12:09 PM on December 1, 2008

Sounds as if your mom needs professional help, and perhaps your dad would rather that you make his life easier by appeasing her. This does not sound as if it's even a tiny bit your fault. Be sympathetic and supportive with your parents as far as you are able, but don't feel as if you're supposed to shape your life around their dysfunction. What you describe is not a normal, healthy family dynamic, and it's not in your power to fix it.
posted by jon1270 at 12:12 PM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Congrats on finding someone you love and making the big decision to move to be with them. That seems like a good life path you're on - much better than being around people who are trying to manipulate you and making you feel guilty for choosing to be with someone you love.

My only advice is to see your decision through, and in time these inflamed passions will die down. You will begin your new life on the other side of the world, forge new friendships, and will either grown closer to or further from your parents as a result. To me that is a far more positive direction for your life than moving closer to your parents and dumping your fiance, which will not help your parents, your fiance, or yourself.


but it's okay for you to dsraw a line, say "don't talk to me that way" and end the conversation

Yes, this. People start to get the hint when you make really clearly defined boundaries, and they'll change their behavior. But you have to be able to have the courage to say those things.
posted by billysumday at 12:15 PM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

You don't mention whether you have siblings or how long your grandfather has been bed-ridden (I presume "her bed-ridden father" is your grandfather).

It's entirely possible that your mother just needs some help. It's also possible that she sees you as bailing out on family responsibilities. I understand your b/f's family may need him, but so might yours and you're going to be on the other side of the world and not in a position to help them.

That doesn't mean that they get to be horrible and say whatever they want, but it's worth considering and may be on your mother's mind as a result of looking after your grandfather (i.e. what happens to me when I get in to this state with my daughter thousands of miles away?).
posted by mandal at 12:20 PM on December 1, 2008

You need to set some boundaries for your mother. She's been allowed to act like a spoiled brat and lie and be dramatic like this by your father for years and she isn't going to stop on her own. The only way to break this cycle is to change the way you react to her. Once she stops getting the results she wants she will change her behavior, because that is what manipulators do. She will still be trying to her her own way but at least you can force her to engage with you on your terms. Tell her how it's going to be. Nicely but firmly. Then tell her it is not up for discussion: if she tries to start a fight, leave or hang up the phone. Do not engage. Tell your father the same thing. Demand that they talk to you however you want to be treated or don't interact with them.

Ideally, down the road, your mother will realize that she completely lost track of her behavior and was acting irrationally and you will have a much more healthy relationship. someday....!
posted by fshgrl at 12:21 PM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yes, nthing the comments that this is terrible, unkind, and unreasonable behavior. One of the things that's so unsettling when parents behave this way is the unspoken message that their love evidently comes with strings attached... which runs counter to precisely the assumption most of us have grown up with.

First off, as to the guilt: just keep telling yourself that feeling guilty is only appropriate when you have done something wrong. You are an adult, pursuing your life, and have treated your parents in good faith; you have done nothing wrong, so you can reject the guilt. (I know just how easy that is to say, and how hard it is to put into practice! But seriously, learning to shake off unneccesary guilt that is wielded only to control you really will make a surprising difference in your life.)

Also nthing boundaries. When you refuse to engage this sort of behavior, it may force the other party to reconsider their tactics -- that is, they're trying to get something out of you; when they don't get what they want, they have to decide whether they're going to keep doing the same unsuccessful thing, or try something else that might be more successful. Either way, you shift the burden for their behavior back onto their shoulders, not onto yours.
posted by scody at 12:40 PM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Been here. They'll chill out once you're married and doing well for yourself, but you're probably still going to want to limit your everyday contact with them.

Expect to do a lot of firmly saying "I'm sorry, I'm not going to have this conversation with you, goodbye now," and then hanging up the phone without further comment. Expect to look over at your BF and go "OH MY GOD I CANNOT *BELIEVE THEM*" about once or twice a week for the first three months. I predict you'll take them out of your speed dial, too, just to limit the amount of chances you'll have to throw your cellphone on the ground in a fit of pique.

Smothering parents are the worst, and they don't back off until you've laid some hard limits and then demonstrated your total willingness to enforce those limits as you see fit.

My mother didn't attend my first wedding, barely knew my ex, and felt qualified to bark orders at me about my divorce. She hasn't gotten to meet Mr. F, and she's sucked it up and sends nice holiday cards addressed to Mr. and Mrs. F all the same. We're sending her our DVD player and a season-one Murder, She Wrote box set for Christmas and going to Vegas for our own celebration, because neither Mr. F nor I want to deal with her on her own turf just yet. I still talk to her on the phone, things are pretty friendly, but she doesn't get let in on anything that will cause her to blow a gasket and get controlling at me.

You may find a similar approach very helpful. I hope your fiance understands where you're coming from, too, and that your in-laws, like mine, are flat-out incredible people who will accept you and not judge you by your family history. Congratulations.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 12:46 PM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, I believe that you could have kept them so in the loop it felt like they were living your life themselves and you still would have had to listen to something as bad as you are hearing now. And you would have been listening to it every.step.of.the.way.

As long as you keep letting them engage you this way they will not stop. You're an adult, and you make your own decisions. You cannot be expected to live your life the way your parents are trying to make you live it. I know you know this, but most kids don't have parents that act like this. And I 100% agree that it is okay for you to say "don't talk to me this way" or to step away from conversations that start to go down a bad path. You cannot prevail here with logic - no matter how flawless your reasoning or how many times you explain your choices it does not sound like your parents are just going to stop and say "Huh. Okay. That *does* make sense."

As for how to make it easier for you to deal with it - honestly, I don't know. The whole parent-child relationship can be just hard to manage, and it sucks to have your parents be mad at you or upset with you, and it is really natural to want to do what they say will make them happy (and/or feel guilty/bad for not doing or and not even wanting to do so). At some point, you just have to do it - you have to start saying "this is not acceptable" and start backing it up with your actions. Maybe they will be angry at first, they probably will be, but what is the alternative? Constantly hearing what you hear now? You just know that it is going to be tough but you screw up all of your courage and just do it, easy or not.
posted by KAS at 12:51 PM on December 1, 2008

Thank your lucky stars and get the %$^ out of there!

Ok, that's not so nice, and clearly you love your parents and don't want to distress them. But they are being really unfair to you. Their job is to support you in whatever you do, and they don't seem to be doing that.

Just say your piece, let them know they are being really hurtful towards your decision and that you wish for their support, but that you are grown up now and need to live your own life. Try to do activities with them where the topic what come up. If it seems inevitable, just try to dismiss the topic, and if they keep pushing it say they're ruining the time you guys have left together before you go.

Everyone's vacation time is dictated by their families, I don't know who your mom is kidding! ;)

Then, after you've moved try to call regularly and send gifts and stuff to let them know they're still in your life (and you in theirs).

Good luck! I'm so sorry your parents aren't being more supportive. (My parents live in Hawaii and I in NYC, and we see each other at least once a year and chat often. It is possible!) :)
posted by thejrae at 12:54 PM on December 1, 2008

"... do acitivities with them where the topic WON'T come up."
posted by thejrae at 12:55 PM on December 1, 2008

This sounds very eerily like what my parents did to me 20 years ago. Seriously, the reaction is identical, down to the "we won't visit you" and "you're just doing this to get away from us" thing. The situations were almost identical, except the relationship at the time wasn't long distance - he was here - but we were going to be moving 13+ hours away to his home overseas.

What I didn't know is that my parents didn't trust my fiance, thought I was making a huge life mistake, but never actually sat me down and said, "Listen, we know you love X and support your decision, but we'd like to get to know him better. We're very concerned that you're going to be so far away from us newlyweds and we won't be able to help you if something should happen. I know it's probably unjustified but we don't have a good feeling about him. Could you consider getting married here and sticking around for six months just to see how things go?"

Since the reactions are so identical I wonder if it's worth asking your parents if there is something specific that concerns them about your fiance or your plans, beyond "he's not for you"? Is there an elephant in the middle of the room that no one's talking about? They may have very real concerns that may or may not be grounded in reality. Getting them out - just let them talk - may help. It may not. It may convince you that they are totally off their rocker.

In my case I wish they had. I probably would have listened. Instead all I thought was that they were being completely and totally insane.

I have some other thoughts I'd offer if I could MeMail you, so if you'd like to hear them, please feel free.
posted by micawber at 1:23 PM on December 1, 2008

I certainly don't know enough about your mother to make any diagnoses about the severity (and pathology) of your mom's actions, but I have a lot of far too personal experience of dealing with histrionic / manipulative people in my life. Thankfully, I've dealt with all of those folks in my life, but it wasn't easy. Here's what I can suggest for you, just on an emotional-attachment level:

- Create distance--for now: it's hard, especially if you think that her behaviour is harming her or others close to her, but you need to consider distancing her from your life or cutting her out entirely for a while...and possibly for a very long while. This is very hard to do if you're attached to the person in question, but it's important [see next point]
- Don't react emotionally: folks who deal with those they are close to in this way often feel a need to elicit strong emotions from you. Whether intense anger, anguish or affection, if you break down or flip out when dealing with her, she feels that she still has some control over you. She's probably using a push-pull strategy of emotional manipulation, where verbal violence is alternated with desperate affection to keep you off balance. Try being as emotionally dispassionate as possible when dealing with her; I'm talking Obama-style unflappable-ness. This will most likely frustrate her and drive her to say even more harsh things to you ; you may have to stop all communication for a while [see above]
- Use slow communications: Since you're moving far away, you may want to consider avoiding telephone conversations altogether and communicating only by email or letters. This creates a time-delay in the conversation, which might help keep emotions down.
- Don't feel guilty: This is easier said than done, but consider that 1) this sort of emotional fireworks is probably hard on her too, and it won't stop as long as you let her tactics work on you; 2) people who depend on drama for their relationships tend to create it around them; this doesn't mean that this is All Her Faultâ„¢, but it does mean that it's not all your fault, either.

hope this helps. The best thing you can do (for yourself) is distance and de-dramatize the whole thing until she settles down.
posted by LMGM at 1:32 PM on December 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

My mother claims she will never visit me and made a nasty comment about how now she has yet another way that someone else will dictate the way she has to spend her vacation time.

All else aside you could point out that she is trying to tell you how to spend your all-the-time time.
posted by jon_kill at 1:51 PM on December 1, 2008

live a good 7-8 hour drive away... my visits (with the increase in gas it had dropped to about one weekend every month, but it was slightly more often prior to that)
I *love* visiting my parents, we get along terrifically, they're about 2.5 hours away and GOOD GOLLY I'm not surprised your colleagues remarked.

another way that someone else will dictate the way she has to spend her vacation time
Nobody's respecting your time.

I think an 18-hour plane ride sounds like it's just what you need.
Congratulations, and good luck!
posted by mimi at 2:18 PM on December 1, 2008

All the previous responses have covered my thoughts better than I can, I just wanted to add another voice that says you are not doing anything wrong, your parents are behaving inappropriately, do not feel guilty, you are doing what is right and natural to make a better life for yourself, and that maybe it would be best for everyone if you cut back on contact and visits instead of spending more time with them before you leave. Oh, and definitely make an effort to state clear boundaries when they become overly emotional and unreasonable. Say "It is not appropriate to talk to me this way, I am ending this conversation now", then put down the phone, walk out the door, whatever. They will begin to respond to what you said, but just ignore it and walk away.

Good luck.
posted by Joh at 2:27 PM on December 1, 2008

Nthing all the comments about seeing your decision through and not giving in to blackmail. Be strong, but loving, with your folks.

When I was about your age, less than two years after my own divorce, I moved in with my then-boyfriend. My mother told me it was too soon for me to get serious and stopped speaking to me for several months. I stood my ground in the way people have described and she backed down over time. We had some tense times even after she started speaking to me again, but I think she respected how I handled it. I've now been married to the man I moved in with for 8 years and she's completely accepted him.

Congratulations on your upcoming marriage and best of luck with your parents.
posted by immlass at 2:34 PM on December 1, 2008

I don't feel like I actually have a very good relationship with my parents because I do not feel like I can tell them anything personal; decisions I make are recieved with criticisms and negativity. I've grown to keep most things from them, and I really think my mom has a better relationship with my cousins (they chat on the phone about just daily life and things like that. My mom and I do not really have that).

This is what happens with controlling parents - they shoot themselves in the foot, driving away the person they are trying to draw closer, and destroying the relationship they are trying to preserve. Your mother isn't desperately trying to control your cousin, hence her ability to have a normal conversation with him/her which she cant have with you. I also have a controlling mother and have been through something not unlike this. Your mother is likely insecure and terrified that you will reject her, but unfortunately she's behaving in a destructive and unacceptable way and your father is abetting it.

By any chance has she a history of bereavements or abandonments in her past? That often drives this kind of self-defeating behaviour. You can feel compassion for her - but do not allow her to treat you like this or your mental health will be put in danger.

Things that help - if she starts the controlling/criticising behaviour terminate the conversation. Hang up the phone or leave. Do not go home unless you have a friend or your partner to support you, or you have your own transport and somewhere to go and can leave at once. Don't put yourself in situations where you can be trapped by her and bullied. Seconding communication like letters/ emails where it's easier to stay in control of your response and to not let her response provoke you into losing your temper. If she continues the bullying/ attacks on your relationship, then warn her that even this communication will stop. In my experience this initially led to intensified attacks, but when she saw this would no longer work, she did begin to back off and to behave more reasonably. Certainly the situation became a lot easier for me to handle, though there's no miracle cure for this.

Normal people, even if they are dealing with difficult issues like caring for older relatives do not behave like this, trying to destroy their children's relationships through criticism and demands that they not live with their partner, or attacks on their partner's family. This is not normal or acceptable behaviour. Look for support and help from your partner and friends and even from therapy, to set boundaries with her - in the short term it may seem to make things worse, but in the long term it can improve things quite a lot, although it ever disappears entirely.
posted by Flitcraft at 2:38 PM on December 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

The worst thing you can say about yourself is that you failed to handle them as precisely as you could have. However probably the only thing that would have been different is they wouldn't have had this "tricked" nonsense to use on you - they'd have used other specious claims.

Normal relationships between parents and children involve children going on to live their own lives. You're doing that. Don't feel bad about it because some dysfunctional people are making irrational and unreasonable demands on you. Don't get involved in debates on the matter. Set boundaries and demand respect - plenty of people above offered good advice on ways to do that.
posted by phearlez at 2:43 PM on December 1, 2008

Normal relationships between parents and children involve children going on to live their own lives. You're doing that. Don't feel bad about it because some dysfunctional people are making irrational and unreasonable demands on you. Don't get involved in debates on the matter. Set boundaries and demand respect - plenty of people above offered good advice on ways to do that.

Yes, yes yes.
posted by davejay at 2:57 PM on December 1, 2008

Wow, what a good child you have been. Visiting 1x/month or more, and listening to all this moaning. It's awfully familiar; my Mom did much the same thing. You're very defensive, and I recommend you be more assertive.

Don't listen to the abusive criticism. On the phone, repeat "I'm very excited about this decision. I love BF, and I'm so sorry you aren't able to share my happiness. I hope you'll come to see that I love you and appreciate you." If they persist, get off the phone. "Sorry, Mom/Dad, but it makes me so sad to hear this, and I'm just going to have to talk to you later. I love you. Bye." *click*

Do keep telling them, in as cheerful a manner as possible "of course I love you guys. How could I not love you, you big old meatheads(insert appropriate family term) But BF sure is dreamy." "I know you'll learn to love BF, he like Scrabble(insert family pastime) even more than Dad."

If they are making you really miserable, and you think it will be an awful visit, start saying "It's terribly upsetting to listen to this. I hope we'll be able to have a good visit, but I couldn't bear X days of this." ans step it up to "Since you're feeling this way, I'm going to have to limit my visit." Be calm, remind them that you love them, but stop allowing them to consume your time with their manipulative bullshit. Over time, they'll get over it, when they learn that it's ineffective. Start helping them learn that now.
posted by theora55 at 3:04 PM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

How can I make this relationship "healthy?"

Just to chime back in on this point: it sounds like you believe it's up to you to shoulder the entire burden for fixing things between you and your parents. But the thing is, healthy relationships only come about when all participants decide to behave in a healthy manner. So by definition, you can't "make" the relationship healthy on your own; your parents have to decide to participate in that process themselves.

Your own healthy behavior -- by going ahead and marrying the person you love, by moving where you two decide you want to live, by continuing to love them while not acquiescing to their demands for control -- may indeed prompt them to behave in a more healthy manner, but at the end of the day, that will be up to them. As hard as that may be to face, the advantage of this approach is that it allows you to make your own decisions about your relationship with your folks knowing what's in your control and what's not.

Good luck -- and congratulations on your engagement!
posted by scody at 3:51 PM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

there is nothing I can do to placate them

Has this pattern gone on for your whole life? It sort of sounds like it's not new.. I don't think there is anything to placate them.. whatever you do is never going to be enough. If you dumped your bf and moved to the same town, they would find other stuff that you do that's not exactly what they want, and complain about that.

You know, my mother pulls a lot of the guilt trip stuff about not wanting to call/see her and, though I haven't said it to her directly, I try to not let it bother me by reminding myself - often, it's actually true that I don't want to see her, and that's OK. In fact there is very good reason: it is perfectly sane to not want to see people who try very hard to cut you down and make you miserable and who have done that all your life.
posted by citron at 4:04 PM on December 1, 2008

My father asked me to really reconsider what I was doing to my mother.

What you are doing is asking her to behave like an adult. Not an unreasonable request.
posted by roger ackroyd at 5:03 PM on December 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

We have two adult daughters. We are grateful and delighted with any time they choose to spend with us. We know where they begin and end and where we begin and end. We don't complete their lives, nor they ours. It is a process parents must go through as their children become more and more independent and eventually adults with completely separate lives, not connected by anything but love, shared history, and a choice to spend time together. Family, like friends, should spend time with one another because it brings them joy. Your parents seem to have chosen to see you as an object they have a right to have, and manage, and direct for their convenience and pleasure, also retaining the right to abuse you in a way they surely can't treat anyone else in their lives, and still remain in relationship with.

I'm so sorry you are experiencing this behavior by your parents. I hope you don't feel you have to "pay penance" for moving far away by putting yourself through hellish visits and possibly a similarly hellish period living near them, before you go abroad to be with the person you love. theora55 offered wonderful, reasonable and self-caring ways to handle their bullying and derogatory treatment of you. You will have to draw clear lines in the sand and follow through on them. And if things get out of hand, whether you've warned them that particular time or not, you need to protect yourself and get out of the situation however you must. It strikes me that you are more than reasonable with them, to the point of blaming yourself for causing some of their treatment of you by not approaching the move differently. Loving your parents doesn't need to include self-flagellation, guilt and buying into their very manipulative, demanding, and selfish way of relating with you. I wish you personal peace about this situation, based on your decision to continue being the adult you are, loving your parents, but hopefully protecting yourself from treatment that is dishonoring to the love you have shown them despite their treatment of you. Blessings!
posted by mumstheword at 6:06 PM on December 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

I know a bit of what you are going through. My mother does this every time I move to a new city. The trick is really do to like people are saying and set boundaries. The first time I moved the phrase "over my dead body" was used. I moved and didn't talk to her for 3 months. She was then fine with my move.

I'm currently moving to Houston and she keeps jabbing at me to move back home, there's nothing in Houston I could possible want. Houston sucks. Come back home for a year, then move to Houston. This went on for 2 months. I told her what she said made me very upset and angry and if she kept up with it I would stop talking to her again. Haven't heard a peep since. It works, it just takes good willpower. Besides, stop talking to her for a little while, you have less to get stressed about.

Yes, it was rather annoying. But it got my point across that I'm a free thinking person and I mean what I say. Your parents shouldn't be treating you like this at all. And driving 7-8 hours is a hell of a thing and they should have been grateful.
posted by Attackpanda at 6:57 PM on December 1, 2008

Jessamyn got this exactly right from the start, and most of what the rest of us can say productively is just an extension of what she already said. But I'll make a book suggestion (I'm married to someone with very similar parents, and this is an ongoing struggle for us). Children of the Self-Absorbed is a great, helpful read, and I think you'll find a lot in it that sounds familiar.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:14 PM on December 1, 2008

What Jessamyn said. I disagree somewhat -- maybe only semantically -- in that people who love someone really can and do behave that way, but that still doesn't make it right.

And you're not being selfish at all. Parents should not have children with the expectation that they will never be free to live their lives how they choose. When you told them that you love them very much but children grow up and move away, you were being rational and they were not.

I have had similar but not quite as bad experiences with my mother recently. She was being very negative about my husband and I moving to another state because she wants me to live near her. She wants that because she loves me so much; I'm sure you understand that. However, being negative about it is not a healthy or supportive way for someone to behave in that situation. That sort of possessive love leads her to make all kinds of negative comments about things that I enjoy or am looking forward to, I suppose because they take my time away from her. As a result it's unpleasant to visit her, so I visit less and less. When I do visit, I feel like I'm doing time to keep her happy, rather than because I want to see her. Like you, I visit her much more than other people my age (24) visit their parents, and that's still not enough. It wasn't always like that; when I was younger she was just very loving and supportive because I was her whole world, so I understand that she's having trouble dealing with my leaving. But that doesn't make her handling of the situation any healthier, and it doesn't for your mom either.

If she were saying nasty things about my husband or telling me that I don't love her, I would be very angry. Thankfully, she hasn't taken it that far (yet?). I can only imagine how you must feel. *hugs* All I can tell you is that you haven't done anything wrong, and it's your parents who have the problem.
posted by Nattie at 9:21 PM on December 1, 2008

Sure we aren't related somehow? My parents acted the same way when my ex and I divorced, when I started seeing the guy who's now Mr. Grrlscout, and when we married and moved. Down to the "we'll never visit", the scenes, and the emotional blackmail.

First off, you aren't being selfish or wrong. You didn't tell them everything about you and your fella. So what? Some parents are actually relieved to not know about every person their kids date until the relationship is serious. That's what you've done. You haven't misrepresented things so much as you've just kept your options open for a while. In other words, what you've done does not merit their response.

Look, I've never known someone whose parents were overjoyed when they moved far away. Particularly far enough away to merit an 18 hr flight. Add in the new marriage and your mom's own thoughts about mortality and care and yes, it's an emotional powderkeg.

Most of the time, even the most apprehensive parents even out when they see that you're happy and doing well. When you've been married to your fella for a few years and are happy and settled, and when they see that the distance doesn't mean the end of any sort of contact or involvement in your life, the odds are that they'll even out. It isn't like it was 10 yrs ago. I have an expat friend who has daily conversations with her parents by chat and Facebook and weekly webcam sessions with her siblings and grandparents, even. It isn't a letter in the post that takes 2 weeks to arrive and really expensive phone calls anymore.

Lets say they are like mine, though, and that they don't. I've been here for 3 1/2 yrs, and have settled in pretty well. We have a pet, I'm employed, I like my inlaws, I have friends, we're happy. My parents still haven't forgiven me for daring to not only remarry after a divorce (yes, really) but haven't forgiven me for moving so far away. The last time I spoke to my father was about 3 yrs ago, to call and tell them that we were moving house and to give them our new address. My father started screaming that he didn't want my address and that he hoped I was happy making them so unhappy. I had to end the call there. The rest of my family is completely OK with this move... it's just my parents with the problem.

And that's it, really. They have the problem. I have built a life for myself that makes me happy. Their anger? Their problem. The door's always open for them. Their choice when or if they want to walk through. So far they haven't. Really, it's their loss. They are missing out on a lot. Yes, it makes me sad. But not so sad that it spoils anything. My husband and in-laws know the score, and they're angry and amused in equal measure at how things are with my parents. I think that their support makes it easier. If your parents decide to go the route my parents have chosen, trust me, you'll find you have more support and love and acceptance than you might imagine to help you get through and move on.

If your parents are concerned, their concerns will either evaporate or be validated. If they're controlling, maybe this is the perfect chance for you to develop as a person outside of their control zone. You can send email or cards to your parents from your new home, and you can include them in your new life - but it's up to them to be adults themselves and be happy for you.

But no, to reiterate, you didn't do anything wrong. Not a blessed thing. :) I'm really cheering for you and your fella and this new life you're building together. If you'd like to memail me, feel free.
posted by Grrlscout at 6:06 AM on December 2, 2008

Dear Anon-- Your parents and your predicament sound eerily similar to my own. I've never figured out how to deal with my own mean and crazy parents. But I've come to accept I've done the best I could in dealing with them, and I've used several of your strategies. For one, I keep my personal life to myself. I share as little information as possible, and then only when necessary.

I, like you, am constantly compared to cousins and have learned just to keep my mouth shut. You don't sound like you have loud-mouthed-itis. In fact, you sound like a saint to take all this abuse so patiently.

I even moved half a world away and almost married a partner who did not speak English. My parents will never forgive me. I've come to accept, however, that if I had married Buzz Whitebread and lived down the block, they would have found reason to be just as mean. That's just how crazy people are. Today, they berate me for the dual misfortune in their eyes of living five hours away by plane for my career and suffering from major health problem.

So keep telling yourself you are doing the right thing. Actually, you are doing the only thing you can, which is take care of yourself and live your life for you. In time, hopefully you'll look back at the suffering they caused you with forgiveness. At least I try to.

Their craziness left my sister's life in tatters, but I suspect like you, I turned out a better person for having endured the verbal abuse and derision for every decision I ever made.

Good luck and congratulations on your engagement.
posted by vincele at 10:02 AM on December 5, 2008

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