I want my child to grow up open minded, not like you Mom.
January 22, 2012 4:47 PM   Subscribe

More crazy mom drama. How do I tell her tactfully and with the least waves possible that I don't want her to take my eleven year old daughter to a Political Rally on the other side of the country?

This was my last question about my mom.

This time she actually wants to include my daughter. Her and my dad want to take my daughter and my oldest nephew (the oldest two grandchildren, both 11) to some Glenn Beck rally in Texas at the end of July. After the rally they want to fly to D.C. and visit a lot of the early American historical sites.

There are lots of reasons why this is a bad idea. Here are a few:

1.) My daughter lives in her own little world, she may be borderline Asperger. She tends to wander off, a lot. She's also very resistant to change. Even starting a new school year takes months to get used to.

2.) My Daughter is deaf in one ear. Groups confuse her because she can't tell who is talking to who and if she does wander off she can't tell what direction people are in if they're shouting her name. She is very emotional and gets very upset when this happens.

3.) My daughter has Celiac Disease. It is incredibly hard to eat out with her. Even if a meal doesn't have gluten ingredients it's still possible for her to get cross contamination. If she does get gluten she actually starts to see and hear things that aren't there. Sometimes very frightening things. Even on a very strict diet she still needs frequent bathroom breaks that tend to take a long time. Not ideal for sight seeing.

Now for the real reasons:

1.) I don't support Glenn Beck, my husband and I both hate the man. I don't want my daughter near anything having to do with him.

2.) My mom is a Histrionic Narcissist and I don't want my daughter exposed to that. I'm in therapy to deal with it, I don't want her to go through the same thing. My mom is also racist and spouts a lot of rhetoric that I vehemently oppose. She's also incredibly short tempered and horribly impatient.

Here's where it gets tricky.

I walk a very fine line with my mother. I don't seek out interactions with her but I try very hard to keep the peace when she seeks me out. I'm trying very hard to allow my kids to have a relationship with her but only under guarded circumstances.

I need a way of telling her that this is really not a good idea that doesn't start a fight. I know people who say they don't want drama are usually just looking for it, but I really don't want the drama.

The first three reasons are things I'm willing to discuss with my mother. The last two are not. I already told her that I don't think it's a good idea and brought up reasons 1-3 and she shot them all down. "Don't you trust me to take care of my own Grandbaby?" Ugh, no Mom, I don't.

So please, intelligent peoples of MetaFilter, help me shoot this down without making waves!

For what it's worth my husband's reaction was "Hell No!! She's not going!!" so we're both on the same page here.
posted by TooFewShoes to Human Relations (45 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I freely admit that this may be a white lie, but - can you tell her that her doctor has also told you she can't be in a crowded situation like that? If you're in a state of detente with her, it may be easy for her to write off your concerns as your just being a worrywart, but hearing that kind of "no" from a doctor may send the message that "whoa, this is serious."

It's a lie, yeah (or maybe it isn't - maybe check with your doctor's pediatrician for real and see if maybe it really IS a bad idea and that her pediatrician can swear to that).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:52 PM on January 22, 2012 [9 favorites]

"Oh, what a shame, she is at camp that weekend!"
posted by gjc at 4:53 PM on January 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

"We really appreciate the offer, but Mr. TFS and I have discussed this, and we don't think this kind of trip is appropriate for our daughter at this time."
posted by luckynerd at 4:53 PM on January 22, 2012 [31 favorites]

A very wise therapist once told me that in difficult situations like this, the less said the better. For instance, you could say, "Sorry Mom, Mr. TooFewShoes and I discussed it and we don't feel it's a good idea. Maybe when she's older." It's not about Asperger's, deafness, or Celiac, all things your mom might have a way to overcome. The fact is, you don't want her to go because you don't want her to go. End. of. story. Don't give her excuses that she can seek to surmount or get around.

I have a relative who is very into drama and this is what I do. It makes for uncomfortable conversations but then the conversation is over. I don't get repeated calls back saying, "What about if we ..." It's over and we move on.

Hope this helps. Remember, making your kid happy is WAY more important than making your mom happy.
posted by eleslie at 4:55 PM on January 22, 2012 [93 favorites]

I need a way of telling her that this is really not a good idea that doesn't start a fight.

You may not be able to control someone who doesn't deal with reality.

I already told her that I don't think it's a good idea and brought up reasons 1-3 and she shot them all down.

You are the parent, she is not. There is nothing she can "shoot down" without you letting her. I don't say that to condemn or berate you. Just noting that you, as parent, can say "I'm sorry, but that isn't possible" and that be that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:58 PM on January 22, 2012 [18 favorites]

Be blunt, and don't frame it as a negotiation, or any kind of ding against her political opinions, as that way lies madness. Also, paint a picture of what has to happen for something like this to be OK, and point to something you would allow to happen -- that's a face-saving measure for your Mom.

"Mom, thank you for the offer, but I've decided that (Name) won't go on this trip. I'm concerned about her ability to handle crowds and new experiences, and she cannot yet manage her own diet requirements. She would have to be X years old to do something like this. We're really looking forward to doing XYZ with you in the future."

Remember -- it's not a negotiation. You start losing the second you enter into a conversation that goes "But, dear, it won't be a problem because..." Just keep repeating your decision. Not your opinion. Your decision. Understand the difference.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:58 PM on January 22, 2012 [11 favorites]

Suggest something local for them to do as an alternative such as a visit to the museum or a talk by the historical society. That way, they get together time and you can swoop in if a problem develops.
posted by dragonplayer at 5:00 PM on January 22, 2012

Just say no. You don't even need to give her reasons. Just say you don't think it's right for your daughter, and stand your ground.
posted by empath at 5:00 PM on January 22, 2012 [11 favorites]

I already told her that I don't think it's a good idea and brought up reasons 1-3 and she shot them all down. "Don't you trust me to take care of my own Grandbaby?" Ugh, no Mom, I don't.

Don't tell her your reasons; people like this literally don't care what your reasons are, and there exists no Ultimate Good Reason Impervious To Resistance that you can give that she will suddenly accept.

"We appreciate the offer, but [husband] and I agree that this isn't possible." Lather, rinse, repeat, and redirect the conversation. If she tries to bait you with "don't you trust me" statements or the like, DO NOT ENGAGE. You cannot stop her from trying to bait you, but you can stop yourself from taking it (or at least try very hard -- I assure you I know how hard this can be with certain kinds of parents).
posted by scody at 5:03 PM on January 22, 2012 [12 favorites]

I agree that you made an (understandable!) mistake by discussing your concerns with your mom, in effect giving her the opportunity to do what she did - shoot down all your very good reasons.

Now before it comes up again or she buys plane tickets, "Mom, thanks for the generous offer, but Mr. and ai discussed it, and daughter is really too young for this type of trip. Maybe when she's older. Thank you for understanding."

And really, so WHAT if your mom makes drama. That's what your mom does to hold everyone hostage. I think if she chooses to resond like that, you should ignore it.

Your child, your rules.

FWIW - I would NEVER send my child on a trip like this. You're OK!
posted by jbenben at 5:05 PM on January 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

Knowing TFS's mom, pretty much anything she says (especially if it even hints of disapproving of Beck) will result in a drama explosion... It would be safest to focus on the medical reasons, even if that involves a white lie about the doctor saying it might not be wise.

I would suggest something along the lines of telling her that after discussing it with hubby (and maybe the doc) that you don't feel it would be good for your daughter to go on a trip without you at this point, but when she's a little older and better at taking care of herself it might be an option.

Maybe invite the parents to come visit, and have an outing to local museums in your area (with you present, to support the "not without me" statements)... It allows you to spend some time with your Dad, allows them to spend time with the grandbabies, and gives you the ability to supervise anything that is said in front of the kids as well as monitoring the girl-monster's comfort level with the excursion.
posted by myShanon at 5:06 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and this is a great comment from Cool Papa Bell: Remember -- it's not a negotiation. You start losing the second you enter into a conversation that goes "But, dear, it won't be a problem because..." Just keep repeating your decision. Not your opinion. Your decision. Understand the difference.
posted by scody at 5:06 PM on January 22, 2012 [20 favorites]

Tell her your daughter is a very young 11 year old and she isn't emotionally ready to be away from her parents for that long yet. Emphasize that you know that your mother would keep her physically safe (white lie), but that she is very young and very sensitive and the whole experience would be very overwhelming for her.

However, at the end of the day, if she chooses to make it into a huge fight, she will.
posted by whoaali at 5:07 PM on January 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

And really, so WHAT if your mom makes drama. That's what your mom does to hold everyone hostage. I think if she chooses to resond like that, you should ignore it.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ This, exactly. TFS's mom will pull out anything she can think of in order to guilt others into doing what she wants, it doesn't matter if this is unhealthy or unsafe, its what she wants and she will not listen to reasonable explanations.
posted by myShanon at 5:08 PM on January 22, 2012

Also, I'd try explaining that with your daughter's difficulties, being in a crowd especially for something that isn't likely to interest her (because what 11yr old is going to be interested, really?) would take away from everyone's ability to enjoy themselves, as well as possibly causing a disturbance which would inconvenience others (and draw negative attention).

Emphasizing that your daughter's discomfort within the situation might inconvenience them might encourage your mom to think that maybe she's the one who decided that it might not be the best plan after all?

ALSO, this would involve flights... has your daughter ever been on a plane? Does your mom want to deal with the girl's potential freak out over being on a plane for the first time? (another opportunity to emphasize that its something you would have to be with her for)
posted by myShanon at 5:13 PM on January 22, 2012

Literally just say no, and stop taking your mom's calls. You are going to have drama regardless. Leave the situation with you having the upper hand by doing what is right by your daughter and your family.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 5:20 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd tell her, "We've discussed it and kiddo won't be going on the trip. Thanks for the offer!" and leave it at that. Repeat it as often as necessary, and I wouldn't even say "maybe someday" because that'll leave the door wide open for her to come to you in a year and say, "You SAID someday and now it's someday!" That's not to say that she won't be asking about something similar in the future; just say the same thing if/when that happens ("We've discussed it and kiddo won't be going on the trip.")
posted by cooker girl at 5:21 PM on January 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

The poster's already noted reasonable explanations don't do any good here, so discussing reasons is a complete waste of time. Another vote to just keep it simple: "Sorry Mom, Mr. TooFewShoes and I discussed it and we don't feel it's a good idea."

When Mom objects, just repeat: "Sorry Mom, Mr. TooFewShoes and I discussed it and we don't feel it's a good idea."

When Mom objects again, repeat again: "Sorry Mom, Mr. TooFewShoes and I discussed it and we don't feel it's a good idea."

Keep repeating until you get bored with her drama, then add, "I've got to go now. We've made our decision. Take care." Then hang up and send any further calls to voicemail for a week or so. Seriously, you control the situation here.
posted by mediareport at 5:25 PM on January 22, 2012 [8 favorites]

Here's a different approach, based on what I've seen work with my own control-freak mother.

My kids have started to say directly to her, "no, I don't want to (do that planned activity that they know they'll hate every minute of)".

If I said, "no, they're not taking a week off school to go camping in your caravan and listen to you and your husband bicker constantly", I'd be told one hundred different reasons why they should. The reasons range from "it'll be educational for them" through "that's your problem, you don't give them enough experiences to get them out of their comfort zone" to "they need to sometimes just do what they're told to do!".

But if the kids (aged 13 and 10) say directly to her that no, they don't want to go, her grandmotherly instinct to keep the grandkids happy kicks in.

YMotherMV, but it works well for us. I smother my bad-daughter guilt by acknowledging that my kids are learning to be assertive, but the best part is that life is much more peaceful now that we are not forced to do stuff we don't want to do.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 5:28 PM on January 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just echoing the hivemind: your mother's personality disorder makes her stir up drama no matter what, and it's not your responsibility to manage it. Indeed, part of the trick-question hideous-unfairness aspect of being the kid of someone with major mental illness is this whole idea that it's possible for you to manage it, much less that it's your responsibility.

Yes, it was a tactical error to list reasons, because it allowed her to engage and dismiss instead of forcing her to accept your decision as final. But you can still make a final decision. Agonize in private, agonize to your therapist, agonize to your husband. With your folks, though, present it as decided and over. (Also, not that you asked, but I think you got lucky with being left behind for the Disneyland trip - financial and personal obligation like that is nuclear-bomb ammunition for a narcissistic mom.)
posted by gingerest at 5:35 PM on January 22, 2012 [7 favorites]

From Wikipedia:
The Scorpion and the Frog is a fable about a scorpion asking a frog to carry him across a river. The frog is afraid of being stung during the trip, but the scorpion argues that if it stung the frog, the frog would sink and the scorpion would drown. The frog agrees and begins carrying the scorpion, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When asked why, the scorpion points out that this is its nature. The fable is used to illustrate the position that the behaviour of some creatures is irrepressible, no matter how they are treated and no matter what the consequences.
When your mother is nice, she is asking you to carry her across the river. Or, worse, in this case she is asking your defenseless and precious daughter to carry her across the river. It doesn't matter what her reaction is. Your job is no longer to protect her from being reminded that she is not the center of the universe. Your job is to protect your daughter. You need to stop investing in this fantasy mother who might have a pleasant and normal relationship with you and your daughter, for your daughter's sake.

Good luck, and check out Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers. It's a good forum.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:42 PM on January 22, 2012 [25 favorites]

I would not want to send my kid to a Glen Beck rally either, any more than I wanted to attend fundamentalist revivals or the Republican national convention during my summers with my right-leaning grandparents, either. There is a degree to which protecting her from the realities of a plural society is maybe a goal you should re-evaluate.

That said, if you don't want her to go, you are the parent and you get to decide. You just say "I'm sorry mum, I appreciate the offer, but we're not sending Alison to a Glen Beck rally because it's a political event way outside our family's beliefs." It doesn't matter why you say no; the no will cause drama anyway so you might as well tell the truth.

By the way, despite the fact that you say you maintain this relationship for the good of your children, you have yet to articulate what that good might be.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:46 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just... just say no. The only "reason" I'd offer, if it makes you feel more confident, is that your pediatrician agrees that it's not a good idea.

Beyond that: no, it's just not a good idea. No, Daughter isn't ready for a trip like that. What a nice idea, but impossible. She isn't ready for it and it wouldn't work out. ("Don't you trust me to take care of my own granddaughter? Who do you think raised you?!" "Daughter is a different person, and it's not possible with her. Can't do it.")

Repeat or hang up the phone, your choice, but please remember that your duty is to your daughter, not to your mother, who does not depend on you to keep her physically and emotionally safe. You would be failing your daughter here to do anything other than keep saying NO, and without some outlet like "maybe next year." Just no.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:50 PM on January 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: These answers are very helpful, thank you so much.
posted by TooFewShoes at 6:07 PM on January 22, 2012

One one of the crazy mommy boards out there, they have an acronym that gets trotted out a lot: JADE. Never, ever JADE: justify, argue, defend, or explain. There's a decent explanation here, but not parenting-related.

The answer is "no, that won't work for our family". Period. You are the parent, you decide what is right for your child and your family, and this trip will not work. If she presses, the answer is "we've discussed it, and that won't work. Daughter will not be going on the trip." If she continues to press, change the subject or hang up the phone. If you let her drag you into a discussion about it, you lose. Even if your daughter doesn't go on the trip, you lose. Because yet again, you let your mother tie you in knots. It's hard, I still let it happen sometimes. But this way lies sanity, and the other way - the way you've been doing it - lies madness.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 6:08 PM on January 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

Call her up and tell her you discussed this with your pediatrician and the doctor said your daughter shouldn't go.
posted by raisingsand at 6:14 PM on January 22, 2012

Best answer: Look, I hate to say this, but this is not a genuine offer made out of desire to see your kid. I mean, she won't take your daughter to DISNEY but she is on your ass to take her to a GLENN BECK RALLY Why? Because she is punishing you for having ideas that are different than hers by making it your fault that she is ignoring your daughter. In the meantime she gets to watch you squirm and lie because telling the truth might "upset" her. I mean, really:

1) She knows you hate Glenn Beck
2) She knows you don't want your daughter to go to this
3) She knows you want her to spend more time with your daughter and acknowledge her
4) She knows you want to keep the peace

She KNOWS that you do not want your daughter to go. You are not giving her any new information. She is playing innocent grandma who just wants to take the kids along for a nice trip! And geez, TwoFewShoes complains that I treat the kids differently, but I don't! I invited them both along on this clearly unsuitable trip and she said no! Now she can't complain about the Disney trip that I was a total asshole about.

This is a situation in which you cannot win in any way except by sending your daughter to be tortured. She has purposefully set it so your choice is her flipping out and punishing you, or your daughter being tortured, because making you choose delights her. It's fucked up, and it's not your fault, and there is no way for you to win.

I'm really sorry. This is super sadistic of her and you don't deserve this, and neither does your daughter.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:26 PM on January 22, 2012 [88 favorites]

Response by poster: The young rope-rider has it. I don't know if that's her real agenda but you just made it so much easier for me to say "No, that won't be possible."
posted by TooFewShoes at 6:35 PM on January 22, 2012 [12 favorites]

It's perfectly fine and reasonable to give a short response along the lines of, "Sorry, that won't work for us." Moreover, giving an explanation can often--even to reasonable people, let alone crazy moms--come across as a challenge to overcome rather than a final decision. Especially if you phrase it in a way that implies, "We would go, but there's this thing in the way." It feels less awkward, like you're not really telling them no, you're just explaining why you can't. But it turns the conversation to how to get around whatever the challenge is rather than "Here's my decision."

Also, it would be fine for you to have a policy of not sending your kids on trips by themselves with your mother. The explanation to your mom doesn't have to be, "I don't trust you with my kids," just, "Sorry, that won't work for us." If she presses and asks why not, you can deflect and say, "Mom, I appreciate the offer, but we can't accept it" and change the subject (or hang up the phone if she won't let it drop). Even when grandparents are perfectly sane, kind, and fair, there's no obligation on a parent's part to send her kids cross-country to them.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:38 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

nthing "Just say no." The politics don't even need to get into it. You've got plenty of legitimate reasons not to want this to happen, even if it were just a trip to a state park.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:41 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

OK, read the other thread. Wow. What's the upside of maintaining a relationship with her? Why dance to her tune?
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:45 PM on January 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, randomkeystrike. Would that it were that simple to let go of a relationship with one's narcissistic mother. Mine's been dead six years and it's still an effort not to dance to her tune. [/everythingisallaboutmyissuescomment]
posted by gingerest at 6:48 PM on January 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

The young rope-rider's answer is spot on! TFS, I have no problem telling you that is exactly your mom's motivation here.

"This is a situation in which you cannot win in any way except by sending your daughter to be tortured. She has purposefully set it so your choice is her flipping out and punishing you, or your daughter being tortured, because making you choose delights her. It's fucked up, and it's not your fault, and there is no way for you to win"

You should re-think this relationship. I think there comes a point... and while I wouldn't make any overt moves right away (go ahead and let the Glen Beck thing die down) I absolutely would start making plans to cut this person out and prevent them them from having anything more to do with my children in the future.

I think you're at the point to start making a New Plan. I think the threats and explosions don't matter as much as not letting yourself or your children be pawns in your mom's sick games. It's damaging you and your children, collectively, to keep putting yourselves out there for this abuse.

I feel for you. I do.

posted by jbenben at 6:52 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

There is this idea that you have to respect your parents simply because they are your parents, no matter what they do, no matter how toxic and vicious, they are YOUR PARENTS and you are supposed to suck it up and put up with it.

I don't know how that works for other people, but I kinda saw right through it when I was eight or nine, and realized that they were seriously trying to tell me that when my mother hit me with the frying pan, I was not allowed to hit back, because I was supposed to RESPECT her as she was hitting me. Well, if someone is abusing me, they do not deserve my respect, no matter who they are. (Of course, I still TOTALLY bought into it when they told me that I was a horrible child for being so "aggressive"...)

Despite this precocious revelation, it was over thirty years and a thousand miles of distance before I realized that when my mother called me in a screaming rage, I was not obligated to sit there listening to her, and to call her back when she hung up on me to continue the screaming match for the next three hours. That I could, in fact, hang up on HER - and not call her back, and unplug the phone and not take her calls, and simply not have to deal with it. And oh, what a blessed relief THAT was, to finally have learned to say, "I refuse to be treated this way," and make it STICK.

And even then, it was another seven or eight years before her verbal bashing escalated to the point where there was just no room left for me to feel guilty, or to second-guess the situation, or to say or do anything other than, "Fuck this, I'm DONE."

That was a couple years ago, and the only regrets I have at this point are that it took me over forty years to finally extricate myself from the web of insistent blame and shame. If I'd walked away sooner, I might have still retained a few early childhood memories of the time when she was still trying to be a mother... but now, pretty much everything is colored and overshadowed by the venom.

Which might just be for the best. It keeps me from falling into the Myth of the Happy Family and all the guilt that comes with it.

All around us, we're presented with this idealized image of what family is supposed to be, and we internalize that, we seek to recreate it - even in situations where the personalities and issues make it impossible. We want that loving family relationship we've been taught to reach for, so much that we often put up with far more abuse than we should in the hope that if we just try a little bit harder, we can make that idealized image real.

But if an aunt or uncle or parent or grandparent is toxic, then maintaining a relationship with that family member is not likely to ever resemble that idealized image - and can, in fact, really screw up the kids who get caught in the middle.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is... Emotional ties like that are hard, and every family dynamic is different; for me, healing finally began when I made the decision to permanently sever contact, while others find their healing in maintaining those difficult family ties. There are a lot of people who've been hurt worse than me by their families, to whom my solution would seem unimaginably extreme, and others who will read this and say, "Well, duh," and treat it as a foregone conclusion.

But in any situation, with anybody... there comes a time when you have to set aside the relationship, the family bond, and all the attendant societal expectations and pressures, and look solely at the crazy, because the crazy is doing more harm than the mere fact of being related to the person can possibly hope to repair.

If your mother wasn't related to you, but instead was your next-door neighbor... would you want your children to actively maintain a relationship with her? If not, why not? And does the fact that she's your mother actually make any of those reasons less valid in any significant way?

Just another angle to consider, for whatever it's worth.

*tosses two pennies into the hat, steps down off the soapbox, and is done*
posted by mie at 6:56 PM on January 22, 2012 [19 favorites]

The young rope-rider has it. I don't know if that's her real agenda but you just made it so much easier for me to say "No, that won't be possible."

I'm glad I was able to help, but I am so so sorry that your mother does not have the empathy and kindness that you and your daughter deserve. The normal response to your protestations would have been "Oh, that's too bad, I was looking forward to it. Oh well. Let's come up with something more appropriate for her. I want to make sure she has a good time. Maybe I should come visit there. What do you think?"

Good luck. (and sorry I misspelled your username!)
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:16 PM on January 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

TFS's cousin here...

Most of our family makes the "blood is thicker than water" mindset a religion of its own, insisting that no matter what a family member does to you the person is still family and deserves your love and respect and forgiveness. We sweep our problems under the rug, or ignore the troublemakers and black sheep because they upset our comfortable little lie.

I broke contact with the family over a decade ago, with a few lapses because even knowing that letting them near my life was a toxic situations. Long story short, the last time I went "home" for the holidays I had the singular pleasure of sitting in a room full of people while my grandmother attempted to intimidate my niece by bragging about how she used to beat and emotionally abuse my sister and I when we were growing up, detailing the different types of objects she liked to beat us with. Nobody said a word against her, and even shushed my neice when she tried to change the subject. When I finally had enough and walked out of the room, obviously angry, I got a lecture about "respect for your elders" and such.

The grandmother and my aunt, TFS's crazy mom, have been running a campaign against me since I was too young to understand anything except that they were cruel and hateful toward me no matter what I did. They tell everyone how worthless and what a failure I am, make up stories about terrible things they claim I did to deserve to be the family outcast. I still have no idea why, but after that last christmas I finally walked away and realized that they're never going to tell me.

Walking away from the family apparently makes me a failure, a traitor, and a sociopath. TFS and I only started talking again via facebook where we finally realized that neither of us were the only one who grew up miserable, she gets flak from her mom about being in contact with me.

Should she speak out against her mother's behavior or be bluntly honest about her reasons for rejecting the inappropriate offer... it is extremely likely that crazy mom and psycho grandma would assume it is my influence, and similarly label her traitor and outcast. It is entirely possible that they would target her in a way that would cut her off from anyone in the family who might comisserate with her reasons for choosing her children over her mother's "needs".

Beyond that, I believe that TFS genuinely wishes to have a reasonable fascimile of a healthy relationship with her family. She is extremely close with her father, and cutting off her mom would involve losing him as well as possibly her siblings and whatever extended family might buy into the lies that her mother will spread against her.

no, its never going to be a healthy relationship... but for someone who actually believes that family should be important, not trying is inconceivable.

posted by myShanon at 8:32 PM on January 22, 2012 [7 favorites]

Remember, making your kid happy is WAY more important than making your mom happy.

QF goddamn T. This sentence is, in microcosm, the answer to this whole dilemma.
posted by Aizkolari at 8:49 PM on January 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

"Beyond that, I believe that TFS genuinely wishes to have a reasonable fascimile of a healthy relationship with her family."

I totally believe in that.

I will say that that route has not worked out so well for my brother. Sadly.

myShanon, were TFS' child(ren) in the room when your grandmother regaled your family at Christmas with sweet memories of physical abuse?

I don't ask to be facetious. I'm just trying to imagine what that must have been like. It sounds awful. It sounds exactly like something I would not want my child to hear.


In my experience, TFS, has one really good option left. Just go nuclear. Set hard boundaries. State clearly what is and is not acceptable. Basically, TFS could stop being diplomatic and start saying, "It's MY way, or the highway - especially when it comes to my children and husband."

It sounds like being forceful w/out feeding the drama hasn't been tried. Sometimes bullies respond to a show of power. Sometimes not.

Might be worth a shot since the original question was seeking strategies.
posted by jbenben at 9:20 PM on January 22, 2012

@jbenben My at the time 16 year old neice was the youngest person in the room, if the little ones had been there to overhear I would have done more than just try to quietly leave the room. I think they might have been playing outside at the time but can't really remember specifically where any of them were. If TFS had been in the room I'm certain she would have spoken up. When we were young, the rest of the kids were given the impression that my sister and I were out of control and needed to be disciplined.

meh, its a twisted sad story


I honestly don't know that anyone has ever stood up to the crazy mom...
posted by myShanon at 10:09 PM on January 22, 2012

myShanon, your situation sounds so similar to my own I almost could have written your last long comment... Walking away from the family apparently makes me a failure, a traitor, and a sociopath is absolutely it.

I honestly don't know that anyone has ever stood up to the crazy mom...

It could be worth a try, then, but as you put it so well: She is extremely close with her father, and cutting off her mom would involve losing him as well as possibly her siblings and whatever extended family might buy into the lies that her mother will spread against her.

I realize people reading who don't have experience with the crazy that NPD might not get my jump from "standing up to mom" to "cutting off mom". My own mother is diagnosed with BPD, though she shares so many characteristics of NPD that I often wonder. "Standing up to mom" when the mother is part of an unhealthily supportive system for their mental illnesses can be turned into "cutting them off", by the unhealthy person, as it's another manifestation of the splitting (all or nothing, black and white thinking) defense.

I stood up to my mother quite firmly 12 years ago, after I nearly died from a burst ovarian cyst and was told that it was God punishing me for being a whore and so I should have died. I told my mother I'd have none of it; I expected her to speak with me as a human being worthy of respect.

She slammed down the receiver and didn't speak to me again for months. In the mean time, she spread the usual lies to the family about how unappreciative a daughter I was for accusing her of something-or-other (never found out what) when she had tried to generously phone me to hear how I was doing.

I'd say "things went downhill from there" but actually, they didn't, I just realized that I'd always been kept in a pit into which familial shit and trash was thrown and when I tried to climb out, they would kick me further in.

The point to my rambling: you both seem to know this at a gut level, but standing up to her may very well (if not "will", depends on how much importance she places on her granddaughter though) lead to a crisis where you'll need to have a good idea about whether or not, TFS, you'll want to keep her in your life. myShanon is right in that this type of mother would then rather spread lies to everyone, so... don't know what to say to that. I can only speak to my own experience; I thought I was very close to my own father, until finally cutting off my mother (and thus entire family) and realizing how much he'd made her abuse worse by never doing anything to support anyone. Memories returned about his own physical and emotional abuse of me, and how I'd had to repress that because he was the least bad. But. I don't know what your father is like. I dislike saying it; if he's still married to your mother, then that doesn't reflect well on him... I still hate saying that about my own father. He was confident, funny, smart as a whip, gentle (when he wanted). And he sacrificed his children to the mental illness wolves. I don't know your particular situation though.

I'm so sorry for you all. I know what torture it is to be born into a family dynamic where everything is either "golden child" or "black sheep", and how good this type of family is at designating only one or two "black sheep" to make them smell all the shittier to others, no matter what they do or say. rope-rider's comment is right on, I smelled the manipulation too.

Couldn't help but have a dark laugh at the Glenn Beck thing. It's something my own family would do if I had kids and were in contact with them! "I know, we'll show our soulless liberal socialist communist daughter: we'll take her kid to see Glenn Beck!!! She'll have no choice but to say no! Then we can tell everyone how evil she is for being closed-minded and intolerant of our beliefs! Ahahahaaaa!" :o) (yeah I deal with it thanks to humor too... one of the ways I know I'm not like my mother is that when I imitate her with friends, they burst out laughing and then tell me how terrifying my face was in that brief instant.)
posted by fraula at 12:45 AM on January 23, 2012 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Okay, here goes.

MyShanon is from my mother's side of the family. On that side I have her, her little brother, her older sister, and her sister's two kids. On my dad's side I have a huge group of cousins, aunts, uncles, great aunts, great uncles, second cousins, and other various relatives that I am pretty close to and I'm quite fond of them.

Standing up to my mother would alienate me not only from her but also from my dad and most of his family. I live in another state and would not be able to combat the lies and manipulation. Most of my interactions with my extended family is via Facebook and email. My mother sees them frequently. To the general public she seems loud, boisterous, and generally harmless. It would not be hard for her to sway their opinion, I've seen it done with MyShanon. (I've tried to figure out the reasoning behind their treatment of MyShanon, and even when I try to put myself in their place, they being grandma and mom, it doesn't make sense other than they need a scapegoat and somebody to gossip about.)

I have decided on a "Low Contact" option to minimize the drama. I am respectful of the woman who gave birth to me but that is where the respect ends. I tolerate the relationship for the sake of my kids.

As for why I allow my kids to have a relationship with her at all, I'm all about choices. My own grandparents were anything but perfect. MyShanon has illustrated the nightmare that is my maternal grandmother, and my paternal grandmother is Bi-Polar at best and possibly Schizophrenic. My mom sabotaged any efforts that were made by my paternal grandparents and never missed an opportunity to tell me how awful they were. I realized as a teenager that no matter how horrible they are they were still a part of who I am and where I come from. Being able to have a relationship, even a guarded one would have given me insight into my own roots that I have had to fight for as an adult.

I decided that I would not hinder relationships for my children. I will let them make the choice to cut off contact on their own. That doesn't mean I don't do my best to protect them from the crazy. When they want to call grandma I let them, I just put the phone on speaker and stay in the room with them. Then if my mom starts in on something I can end the call and fight the brainwashing. I can act as a buffer. I also don't speak badly about my mom in front of my kids. I make sure they know whatever she says is just her opinion and that they can believe what they want, but I don't vent about her in front of them. I save that for after they've gone to bed or while they're at school.

Why is my dad still with my mom? First of all, we're Mormons and my dad believes that marriage is forever. Second, his own mom was so completely crazy growing up ("abuse" doesn't begin to cover what happened to them) that I think my mom seems quite sane in comparison. If all you ever knew was physical and emotional abuse then subtle manipulations probably seem refreshingly normal. My dad is a very mellow man who doesn't like to rock the boat. He will stand up when he sees blatant abuse but what my mom does is so subtle that I think he misses quite a bit. He's also hard of hearing, losing his eyesight, and suffering from some pretty bad medical conditions. I think he honestly doesn't see a lot of what goes on. When I was growing up he was in the military, he was gone quite often. When he was home things were better.

The Christmas MyShanon is talking about, I'm pretty sure I wasn't there. The last Christmas I spent with them was earlier than that, MyShanon's niece was only 14. My last visit in any capacity was over two years ago. It was also the last visit ever. I've decided that if my mom can afford to travel to political rallys she can afford to visit her grandkids. I certainly can't afford the trip. If that means she has to choose between rallies and grand kids, so be it. So far the rallies have won every time. That makes it a lot easier when she tries to guilt me into making a trip. If she missed them so much she could make the effort. That's why it's been two years since she's seen them.

Yes, fraula, thank heavens for humor! If I couldn't shake my head and laugh at all this I'd probably be sobbing in a padded room somewhere!

After my last question somebody sent me a MeMail with the link to Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers. That site changed my life. Really. It gave me the tools and the insight I need to make healthy choices for myself and my family. I highly recommend it.

Any other questions?
posted by TooFewShoes at 2:08 AM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

Mod note: I just need to remind everyone that Ask Metafilter is really for addressing the question asked in the post, and not so much for general conversation around a topic – so we sort of need to stay on point here and focus on dealing with solving that problem
posted by taz (staff) at 4:22 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

She's your daughter. If you and your spouse don't want her to go to the rally, that's the end of the story. Period.

Your actions will not estrange you from the rest of the family. Your mother's actions will. Any negative repercussions are entirely on her back. She owns them. Frankly, if this is something that will cause estrangement in the family, you might be better off estranged. It happens. There's really no way to avoid it, as long as your mom is so batshit.

Here's a little secret about becoming the family outcast...Eventually, someone in the family will reach-out to you. It's usually some other family member who also see the bullshit for what it is. They will be your true extended family.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:54 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry that you have to go through this, and wish you the best of luck. I just wanted to second the JADE method above. There are some conversations you will never, ever win. It's depressing, because you might want some sort of "aha!" moment with certain people, but realistically: there are some conversations that will never have a good outcome. Best to not engage.

As the young rope rider has so eloquently pointed out, you have been set up so that there is no good outcome here. In these situations, IMO, the best option is to set polite boundaries and disconnect. Think of the other person's behavior as a thunderstorm: you wouldn't take a thunderstorm personally, right? You can't stop it, right? So get an umbrella, get away as much as you can, and wait for another day.

Best of luck!
posted by lillygog at 7:59 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

My dad is a very mellow man who doesn't like to rock the boat. He will stand up when he sees blatant abuse but what my mom does is so subtle that I think he misses quite a bit.

This is true. I was shuffled around to different family members and while I was living with TFS's family her Dad frequently stood up for me against her mother's issues with me. He hated the mistreatment, so whenever he caught it happening he spoke up or took steps to undermine it by going out of his way to be kind.

I believe it is entirely possible that TFS's dad would stand up for her if her Mom started a campaign to make the rest of the family shut her out... but he's put up with so much of the crazy for so long he seems oblivious to it sometimes and I can't say for certain that he would be aware of it.

I'm tempted to say that TFS should talk to Dad about the matter... Focusing on the first 3 reasons and potential badness for her daughter's emotional stability should she be forced into such an overwhelming series of situations as both a political rally and a trip to the other side of the country. Maybe he'll intervene?
posted by myShanon at 10:34 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

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