Between my mom and a hard place
June 23, 2010 6:35 PM   Subscribe

My grandmother treats my mother like garbage...but wants to be friends with me!

My grandmother has been messing with my mother's head for half her life. For years I've been watching my mom cry because of my grandma's verbal abuse. Their relationship remains "cordial" but distanced.

Now my grandmother is trying to have a somewhat functional relationship with me: chatty, "how is school going" kind of interaction. While I boil with anger when I think about the way she's hurt my mom, I also know it hurts my grandma's feelings when I don't want to talk to her. I am at a loss for words with her. I can't pretend that I don't think her treatment of my mother is awful, but fighting with her about it doesn't accomplish much, because she has a completely different opinion of what's happened between her and my mom.

What would y'all do in my situation?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Tell her you don't want to hurt her feelings but that you have a hard time maintaining a good relationship with her in light of the way that she treats your mother. Tell her you want to have a good relationship with her, and that she can make that happen by first developing a good relationship with your mother.

And tell her that you're not going to fight with her about it, so you're not going to talk to her again until she mends things with your mom.
posted by The World Famous at 6:42 PM on June 23, 2010 [10 favorites]

What does your mother think? Your mother may want you to have a relationship with grandma, even if she can't. Or she may not. But I feel like that would be good information to know.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:58 PM on June 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

I fight with my mother all the time. She makes me feel awful. And I make her feel awful too, I'm sure. But she doesn't make my child feel awful and my child doesn't make her feel awful.

I want her to have a relationship with my child. I want my child to experience the good things that my mother has to offer (when she's not making me feel awful). But I keep a watchful eye on the situation, because I will not stand by and let my mother do to my child what she does to me.

And she doesn't.

Part of that is because of the age of my child, but a lot of that is because the relationship between me and my mother is broken at both ends. It is the two of us together that spells bad times, not that one or the other of us is a bad person.

If your grandmother is a Bad Person, then no, don't have a relationship with her. It doesn't matter that she feels sorry for herself and makes you feel bad; call it the price of being a Bad Person.

But if your grandmother is just a regular person who has a bad relationship with you mother, maybe there's something better and different that can grow between the two of you, if that's what you want.

The relationship between a grandmother and a grandchild is very different than the relationship between a mother and her daughter. I understand your feeling torn by loyalty to your mother, but her relationship does not have to be your relationship.
posted by Ys at 7:02 PM on June 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

In my specific situation, which may be different from yours in many ways, it is very helpful to maintain a chatty relationship with my grandma despite her nastiness to my mom and other family members. I can obtain information about grandma's health and mood, help convince/encourage/remind her to do things, feed her positive information about whoever she's currently hating on for no good reason, etc. I also get to enjoy crazy old lady stories about how she tortured the groundhogs today or baked a cute miniature cake for the nice little boy down the street.
posted by dreamyshade at 7:15 PM on June 23, 2010

A few years ago I told my grandmother she treats my mom like a jerk [fact]. She hasn't talked to me since, but hey, do you really need someone like that in your life?
posted by soma lkzx at 7:24 PM on June 23, 2010

Personally, I'd probably answer the phone once in a while or write the occasional letter, answer a couple questions, be polite, keep the conversation very superficial, and try to focus on relating to the elderly person I knew, not the bad parenting I knew about. I've done this with elderly relatives who were bad parents because of their own emotional damage, mental illness, or other similar factors as opposed to being just plain cruel. People who are cruel, I refuse to let in my life unless my extremely superficial contact (i.e., making small talk at family events) with them spares a loved one drama (and even then, I draw a very firm line--the instant the cruel person tries to hurt me, I'm out). I don't know which category your grandmother is in. My advice would be not to make this about feeling anger on your mother's behalf based on the past: decide whether or not your grandmother, as she is right now, is someone you're willing to have in your life. There isn't really a right or wrong answer.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:24 PM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Be mindful that your grandmother's overtures towards you, might be part of the knife twist directed at your mother. Truly professional, first class abusers make sure that their victim is aware that they are capable of being cheerful, kind, and loving to someone else.
posted by availablelight at 7:28 PM on June 23, 2010 [24 favorites]

What would y'all do in my situation?

I would not befriend anyone who treated someone I loved like crap. End of discussion.

but fighting with her about it doesn't accomplish much, because she has a completely different opinion of what's happened between her and my mom.

Then don't fight with her. Tell her why you don't feel good about having a close relationship with her. You've told us, now tell her.
posted by iconomy at 7:35 PM on June 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

Just don't talk with her.
posted by delmoi at 8:03 PM on June 23, 2010

Anyone that is an ass to my parents is not a friend of mine. Period. I don't care who they are.
posted by GlowWyrm at 8:27 PM on June 23, 2010

I dunno...are you sure its all your grandma's fault? There are 2 sides to every story. Why not accept her friendliness...and down the road try to bridge the gap. I bet your grandma loves your mom and vice versa. Their problems don't have to be your problems.
posted by ian1977 at 8:28 PM on June 23, 2010

My Grandma treats my Mom poorly. It is a bit different in my case- they both treat each other in occasionally crazy, cruel ways, and occasionally like adults. When I was a teenager, we moved closer to my Grandma and she wanted to start developing a friendship. Today, we're close friends. I'm also close friends with my Mom. I try to distance myself from their battles, and am firm about boundaries with them.

If my Grandma starts trash-talking my Mom, "Oh, dearest ____ really doesn't have a good sense of what is appropriate, does she? She was wearing tennis shoes at church this week! Poor thing," I immediately step in, stop her, and say (mildly), "You know I don't like it when you talk about my Mom that way. Let's talk about your pitbull Rocky. I like her new collar!"

I do the same thing with my Mom. I also try to keep a handle on the conversation when they ask questions about each other, because I'm aware that while they're genuinely curious and care about each other, they also might use something I say as ammo in the future. Loose lips sink ships.

Originally I thought that me being friends with Grandma would bring them to like each other more. It hasn't. What is has done is something interesting: my Grandma prizes her relationship with me enough that she is usually able to keep her mouth shut at family gatherings and not be as much of a jerk to my Mom, which means that my Mom doesn't have as much tinder to start her off. So there is more peace in our family.

If it is entirely one-sided, I'm not sure what to say about what you should do. Why not talk to your Mom and ask her suggestion? If nothing else, it will give her a sense of control and power in a relationship (with your Grandma) that it sounds like she usually lacks.
posted by arnicae at 9:18 PM on June 23, 2010

I too think you should ask your mother for more information. It could be that they're "both ends of a broken relationship", as Ys put it so well, or it could be that your grandmother is a class A abuser and you're an unknowing pawn (no implication of guilt or fault on your part meant, class A abusers are very good at flying under the radar), as availablelight describes and as my own mother was.

Speaking from my own experience, as the daughter of an abusive mother and often asking myself what I'd do if I had kids, I can easily see how someone looking at past, recent communications between my mother and I could interpret it as the both of us getting each other's goads. (I stopped speaking to her a few years ago, so I'm mainly using that past communication as an example.) The deeper story is that from as early as I can remember, up to age 22, I did everything I could to try to help her. I supported her, listened to her, gave advice when she asked, hugged her when she needed it, in short, I loved her unconditionally because I hoped beyond hoped that she would get better and be happy. But I got nothing but stabs in the back, threats, insults, and death wishes (that's what happened when I was 22, when I stopped giving her the benefit of the doubt; and again a few years ago, when I finally told myself "enough is enough"). Furthermore, she behaved like an angel with most other people, so no one ever believed me; they thought I must be doing something to justify her bad treatment of me. (As if threatening to give a 5-year-old up for adoption, accusing an 8-year-old of being a violent schizophrenic, ignoring your unconscious hemorrhaging 12-year-old, and saying "you should have died" to your 22-year-old are in any way justifiable. That's just a little of what she did to me.)

I can very easily see how, if I had had a child and continued to remain in contact with my mother, that my own boundary-setting and anxiety at nonetheless having to deal with extremes of crazy could make my reactions seem goading. It's also easy as pie for me to conceive of my mother being an angel with my child in order to, if nothing else, be able to tell me behind closed doors, "your child's so much better behaved than you were! You were such a difficult child to take care of! It's a good thing you got lucky and had a child with such a good character, s/he must have great teachers, I know your personality must be hard on her/him," and various sh*t like that, which is quite similar to nonsense she'd say when comparing my brother and I. (FWIW, I was a straight-A student, am still friends with people I've known since age 5, as well as being in regular contact with teachers who supported me, and have succeeded in life entirely on my own, since my parents didn't see the point in supporting me. And you see, that's the horrid poison of a class A abuser parent: they never have to justify themselves. Their child has to explain their irrational abuse, justify their own right to exist without being dumped on, and yet, very often pays the price of being disbelieved in favor of the parent. Talk to your mom. Let her know you love and support her, and don't judge anything she says; I know I shut down ASAP as soon as someone starts trying to justify what my mother did. If you really want to know the truth, and her childhood experience of her mother was similar, it would be good for both you and her to know. In any case, your own decision will be easier to make.)
posted by fraula at 1:23 AM on June 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

young people are often very busy. Be very busy.
posted by naplesyellow at 7:58 AM on June 24, 2010

My mother and I don't get along. I have three siblings, and if she's not upset and not talking with at least one of us, she's not happy.

My eldest child will NOT HAVE A THING TO DO WITH HER. Knowing how I was raised, what the issues were, they don't want to have anything to do with it all. He just knows he doesn't need the headache. In fact, he lives in the same city as her, and has requested I not tell her. I haven't.

My younger child will, on occasion, meet with my mother. He knows it's healthier to keep some distance. He lives about an hour from my mother.

My advice, based on my mother, would be to watch out that your grandma isn't trying to use you against your mother--kind of like a pawn.

Family dynamics are difficult. My sons are often just "unavailable"--school or work functions.

Best of luck to you.
posted by 6:1 at 9:28 AM on June 24, 2010

My dad's mom has told many people in my family that she doesn't like my mom. Well, I'm just like my mom so she must not like me either. I will be polite at family stuff but other than that I don't really talk to her. Besides, she has over 100 grandkids, great-grankids, etc...
posted by IndigoRain at 8:06 PM on June 24, 2010

I grew up with that nonsense, with nearly all my dad's family hating on my mom.

I have no doubt that my grandmother did have love for us, and wanted to interact in a healthy way, but after the stunts she pulled I'd had enough. I stopped talking to her 10 years before she died.

It's perfectly understandable that you're conflicted. On the one hand, she's grandma and you're family and you're supposed to get along. On the other, you can't ignore what she's doing to your mom.

Re: "she's got different versions" of whatever's going on. It's not your job to arbitrate. I don't know what your relationship with your mother is, but take a step back and analyze how they talk with and about each other.

If grandma is trying to make you choose between her and your mom, you need to keep as far away from grandma as possible. This is toxic behavior and will poison you slowly, and it has the potential to disarm your bullshit and abuse detectors.

If mom (is also) trying to make you choose, I'd back off from her, too.

It might also help for your mom to get away from her mom. I know it did wonders for my parents to get away from grandma.
posted by lysdexic at 6:45 AM on June 26, 2010

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