Formerly abusive parents who are now elderly and wanting forgiveness
April 13, 2016 8:29 AM   Subscribe

Growing up, my family was squarely middle class. But that didn’t make it easy. My father was an alcoholic with a vicious temper. He was incredibly emotionally abusive, and on occasion, he was physically abusive. Think “The Great Santini”, minus the military elements. And minus the supportive mother. My mother – whom my father abused just as much as he did us – put up with every inch of it. What’s more, she basically took it out on us children, keeping herself cold and distant while never once acknowledging his faults. Now they’re dying, and man, are the guilt trips heavy.

It was a miracle that none of us ended up dead or in jail. Seriously, it got very close to that at times. My father unsuccessfully attempted suicide, and one of us nearly killed my mother, literally. All of us children developed issues with drug and alcohol abuse at an early age.

My siblings and I all left home as soon as possible. We all moved thousands of miles away. And since then, we’ve all managed to put together successful lives, although I’ve never had a desire to have children. Luckily, I managed to find a wife who also had no desire for children, and we’ve been happily married for 20+ years.

But that’s more a testament to my wife’s patience than my ability to heal or reconcile. I fully admit that I have an intense fear of emotional intimacy, and I still have a deep reservoir of rage and anger at my core. My wife, who clearly deserves better than me, has put up with my inability to provide her with emotional support.

Now my parents are in their 80s, and their health is failing. They’ve mellowed over the years, but they are still highly manipulative and incurably dysfunctional. My father actually abandoned my mother while she was in the hospital in another state undergoing serious heart surgery.

But they’re both expecting me and my siblings to swoop in and start taking care of them now. We are fighting each other not to do it. None of us can stand to be around them for more than two or three days. The last sibling to try to visit them ended up leaving in a rage after a day and a half.

But we are the target of endless guilt trips now. “Your mother is dying, and if you don’t come take care of her, you will regret it,” my father keeps saying. My mother, for her part, has guilt trips of her own to lay on us.

I want someone to tell me I’m not an evil person for wanting to stay out of it. My father, ever the Christian, is begging me to forgive and forget. And while I acknowledge the value of forgiveness, I’m not sure being a Christian requires me to submit myself to ongoing abuse and manipulation.

My wife, while she is extremely understanding, came from a comparatively idyllic family, and she doesn’t quite get it. She sees my parents as they are now, not as they were when I was a child, so she’s a lot more sympathetic to their current plight. She wants me to go take care of them now.

Can someone who’s experienced this kind of situation offer me some thoughts or advice?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (60 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I am unmarried and have only one child -- not many eggs in my basket for potential caregivers when I am elderly.

If I put my child through the crap you describe I would expect to be left to die alone, and I would deserve this. 'Family' requires more than simply making a genetic/legal tie somewhere along the road.

If your wife is particularly saintly and particularly motivated to help simply because they are old and alone, I would not object to her going out to visit them and briefly help arrange affairs. But this random mother gives you internet permission to stay at home, and feel peace over the end of the raw deal you got rather than feeling any sort of guilt.
posted by kmennie at 8:37 AM on April 13, 2016 [21 favorites]

You are not an evil person for not wanting to do this.

The most I would do - and literally, I mean the most - is to go and visit them, once, for a very finite period of time. But - decide a very, very, VERY strict and clear boundary for yourself, and have a long talk with your wife where you outline what that boundary is, and where you state that the SECOND that your parents overstep it, you will immediately go home, and you trust that she will support you on that ("Okay, we'll go for one long weekend to help set up some legal stuff, and we will stay in a hotel. But if they insult me/hit me/talk trash about me/demand I stay longer/demand I stay in their house, I am immediately going to leave, even if we've only been there a half hour. You can do what you want, but I will be going home, with or without you. I hope that I would be going home with you, though.")

But that is literally the most I would do. You have my permission to not do that at all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:43 AM on April 13, 2016 [8 favorites]

Nope nope nope. I'm glad your wife doesn't understand (really!), but I do. They used up all their filial duty allotment in your childhoods, and now they're on their own. Stay strong, friend.
posted by teremala at 8:44 AM on April 13, 2016 [47 favorites]

I want someone to tell me I’m not an evil person for wanting to stay out of it. My father, ever the Christian, is begging me to forgive and forget. And while I acknowledge the value of forgiveness, I’m not sure being a Christian requires me to submit myself to ongoing abuse and manipulation.

You are neither an evil person for wanting to stay out of it nor any less a Christian for refusing to martyr yourself.

There are lots of AskMe threads along these lines, and many responses have boiled down to "I gave in to the guilt trips, and I ended up regretting being involved much more than I would have regretted not being involved."

My wife, while she is extremely understanding, came from a comparatively idyllic family, and she doesn’t quite get it. She sees my parents as they are now, not as they were when I was a child, so she’s a lot more sympathetic to their current plight. She wants me to go take care of them now.

Going to counseling together may provide helpful perspective. If that's not an option... well, in my experience, when you try to get well-meaning people who care about you to understand this dynamic when they haven't experienced it, it's exceedingly difficult. (For this reason, I operate under the assumption that it'd be effectively impossible to get people who DON'T necessarily care about me to understand the dynamic.) But if those same people actually do end up experiencing the dynamic, their eyes are fully opened and they Get It. I'm not suggesting "Go to your parents and bring your wife so she sees just how terrible it ends up being," because that could be scarring, or more likely ineffective, since you say the dynamic has changed. I guess what I'm getting at is, your wife is probably just worried that your inaction could lead to long-term regrets, and that's a worry that can be eased with time and open communication.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 8:46 AM on April 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

You are not an evil person for wanting to stay out of it, not remotely. People who didn't grow up in a similar environment just aren't going to get it, ever, but that's on them, not on you.

I know it's difficult to reconcile your idea of yourself as a kind and worthwhile person with these guilt trips and accusations of abandonment, but reading this will help, I promise -- The Debt: When terrible, abusive parents come crawling back, what do their grown children owe them? (Spoiler alert: The answer is "nothing.") We've had a few discussions on the blue about estrangement that might hold some comfort and solace for you as well. You are not alone.

Congratulations to you and your siblings for making it out alive and creating whole, nourishing lives for yourselves. I wish you all continued healing and peace.
posted by amnesia and magnets at 8:46 AM on April 13, 2016 [33 favorites]

You are not an evil person.

There are a couple different things going on here. Do they want forgiveness because they need help, or do they want forgiveness to be forgiven. What exactly have they owned up to and asked to be forgiven for?

It sounds like they are still the same people, just older and slower and less physically vicious, but no less emotionally abusive.

I haven't spoken to my father in 15 years, and he did far less than what you describe. His karma to die alone, not mine. I went through the guilt, but after the 4th time to try and reconcile only to have his same behaviors keep repeating, well enough is enough.

They sound like horrible people. I would not for one second entertain caring for them, sending the wife to do so, or funding any care.

if they want to be forgiven because they are nearing death and fear the afterlife -- fuck that. I would go to their funerals only to dance. But maybe I am the evil person.
posted by archimago at 8:46 AM on April 13, 2016 [13 favorites]

I am, more or less, your wife in this scenario. My partner's parents are terrible, terrible people and physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive parents. The more I hear about them over the years, the more I would like to claw their faces off and the more impressed I am by my partner's restraint in not having done so already.

Which is to say that I wonder if part of her inability to see your viewpoint may be about not having a full understanding of how just how badly they treated you. If emotional intimacy is a problem for you, then it may be that she hasn't been allowed in enough to have a full picture. (Which is okay! You are not required to dig up your painful past for your wife; I just offer it as one possible reason why she may not be fully on the same page as you.)

If permission from a stranger who is a bystander to a similar scenario helps: You are not a terrible or evil person and you do not owe your parents your forgiveness or your support, financial, emotional, or whatever. You owe yourself self-care, and that may very well mean "staying way the hell away from your parents." You have my unconditional sympathy, support, and encouragement to do what you need to in order to heal yourself and focus on your chosen family.
posted by Stacey at 8:52 AM on April 13, 2016 [11 favorites]

You owe them nothing. Congrats on getting out of that terrible situation. You have this internet stranger's permission to do nothing and focus on your own life. I grew up in an emotionally abusive environment as well and I plan on doing nothing for my parents once they get old. You can forgive them if you want but that doesn't mean you have to actually do anything. It might help to just cut off contact. You are not evil. Also therapy might help you unpack your feelings about this. I'm in therapy now and we discuss my shitty childhood a lot and come up with strategies for dealing. It's been comforting for me to have someone professional help me work through this.
posted by FireFountain at 8:52 AM on April 13, 2016 [6 favorites]

She wants me to go take care of them now.

Oh hell no. I'm glad she didn't have a terrible childhood but you did. Child abuse, spouse abuse - those aren't alien concepts that she can't grasp simply because she didn't experience it. She needs to take your word for it and respect your feelings.

You are not evil. You are taking care of yourself. And you deserve that care. I think archimago had good insight - they sound like they are asking forgiveness because they are feeling their mortality not because they are feeling genuine regret.

You are not evil because you choose not to be around evil people or because you choose not to allow evil people to harm you. If your best friend came to you with this question, what would you tell him?

Good luck to you. Take care of yourself.
posted by Beti at 8:53 AM on April 13, 2016 [21 favorites]

You are absolutely not an evil person for wanting to stay away from all that.

“Your mother is dying, and if you don’t come take care of her, you will regret it,” my father keeps saying.

You don't need to take those calls. Let it go to voicemail.

My wife....wants me to go take care of them now.

Explain to your wife that it was your experiences with these people that built you into a person who fears emotional intimacy and therefore has not been the husband she deserved - and has not been able to have the life you deserved. Tell her that instead of pouring what little emotional resources you have into the black hole of that harmful dynamic and those harmful relationships, you want instead to put the effort into building the relationship you want with her and becoming a person she can rely on. And then find a therapist to help you do that.
posted by headnsouth at 8:54 AM on April 13, 2016 [40 favorites]

Your first job in life is to take care of yourself. If physically, emotionally, or financially caring for people who broke you would endanger you, I believe you are obligated to protect yourself and the family you have made with your wife. Forgive them if it will give you solace or strength, but forgiveness does not mean putting yourself in harm's way.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 8:57 AM on April 13, 2016 [8 favorites]

You're not an evil or bad person. Your parents did this to themselves. It's not on you.

My mom's health is rapidly failing. I like my mother, I love my mother, she is one of my favorite people- however, some of the stuff she and her husband are expecting of me at this point is utter fuck bullshit.

Draw your line in the sand and don't cross that line. If that line means doing nothing - well, that's your line and it's 100% okay.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 8:57 AM on April 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

First, it occurs to me to ask how you're going to take care of parents thousands of miles away without totally destroying your existing work life. Your parents need local support regardless, unless someone is going to be capable of relocating for extended periods and doing all the legwork of caring for frail people without losing a job.

Second: will you regret it? I mean, not just a twinge of regret but sustained, significant regret? (That can, I think, coexist with not wanting to do it.) If you look in your heart and you feel that you're going to regret it for real later on, think of some way that you can help (phone calls to care providers? helping them organize local care from afar? short visit to organize care while you stay at a hotel?)

What kind of care do they need at this point?

I mean, it's tough. Old people need care, and that's a social responsibility quite independent of whether they're good people or not. We can't say "we decide who gets care based on whether we, individually, think that they are terrible people" - that would go all kinds of sideways.

I think it's important to separate out the fear and distress that are involved in caring for any dying relative from the fear and distress that are involved in dealing with your terrible parents. Are you avoiding this in part because you just don't want to do this hard task, regardless of your parents? Because it's hard, even if your parents are great.

If this were me, I would probably talk to the siblings about what we could do from afar to arrange some kind of local assistance. I would try to get everyone onboard with the "helping from afar" project, and I would try to present a united front to your parents, saying "this is what we can do, we can help set up [X], but we can't visit. If that's not going to work, we can't do anything."

I think that if they've been terrible to you all your life and only now, when they want something, are they talking forgiveness, they're not really talking forgiveness.

Not everyone dies as they've lived, but some people do. It's horrible, but there you have it. By not helping, you're saying that your parents are going to have harder deaths than they would otherwise. And yet, that's what it is. Death is hard to process, I think, for this reason - it really is a final accounting, and we're not geared for final accountings.

I think that it might be helpful to look this in the face - not helping is making things harder for your parents, making their deaths harder. I think, personally, that sometimes that's just what it is - you've been abused, you can't cope with the difficult and intimate work of assisting your parents as they die, that's what it is. It's a tough fact to have to swallow, but it's the real of the situation.

I think you're in a tragic situation, a big and obdurate situation, like something in a book.

From a philosophical angle, I think the universe is blank. There's no....moral organization, I guess you could say, no moral guarantees. Cruel things come into being. It's a cruel story, that your parents hurt you so much that you can't bear to help them now. It's tempting for us to think that there's an improbably deus ex machina ending with love and forgiveness and duty, because that makes the universe make sense. But the universe doesn't make moral sense like that. I think you're at the very end of a cruel story, and if you truly look in your heart and feel that you can't care for your parents, that's okay. The first part of the story is already written down, and that's what makes the end happen. It's okay to be in the position you find yourself in.
posted by Frowner at 8:57 AM on April 13, 2016 [14 favorites]

Really the only important thing you need to do is whatever you think is best for your mental health. I wouldn't blame you for going for the Hard Cut: "You get no forgiveness, and we're never going to speak again, so this is goodbye. I won't regret it, you deserve this."

That is a tough thing to do, though, and if it gives you no peace don't do it. But I don't know that not doing anything, and having a race to see which of the siblings is going to end up the sucker, is healthy either. I think each of you gets to make a decision about what to do, but the decision can't be "someone else do it instead of me". You guys need to have a summit, and be clear and honest with each other about what choice each of you is making here, rather than having a "not it!" race. Siblings in abuse situations have developed roles and coping mechanisms, it's time to put those aside for a minute. Get a mediator if you must. Maybe get a lawyer too, to educate all of you on likely courses of action here.

Your wife does not get to override your decision about what YOU are going to do, and honestly I think this is one of those fairly rare situations where the spouse does not get a say in what happens. If she does not support your decision and thinks less of you for it, you can try getting some mediation help from a mental health professional (who might be able to provide some education for your wife on what it means to be abused, it's easier to hear it from a professional sometimes), or she can leave. I'd recommend the therapy sooner rather than later if you think the disconnect is going to get out of hand.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:59 AM on April 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

I can't offer advice. But I can offer some observations from a similar situation.

Your parents were my father's parents. Your wife is my mom. And it's only due to the incredible reservoir of strength, patience, and love my mother offered that my dad managed to get to a reasonable point of emotional intimacy, and although he loves my sibling and me deeply it took him some years to both say it and relax about being the kind of dad he wanted to be and get through his fear of being his father.

Then pretty much the exact same kind of situation happened that you have. My mom begged my dad to allow them to take care of his mother. They've mellowed, she said, they're old. Here's your chance to forgive them. My dad gave in. I think he also had some hope himself.

Just because they had mellowed didn't mean they weren't still verbally/emotionally abusive, dysfunctional, manipulative, and hateful. And my dad had to watch somewhat helplessly (because they were also far away, and she initally went without him) as they began to heap the kinds of abuse *he* had suffered onto his wife, whom he loves fiercely. He says now it was one of the worst mistakes of his life - that his hope for some kind of happy ending /reconciliation/ things that had changed meant he put his wife into a situation where she experienced emotional pain, the kind he had struggled his whole life to shield and protect her from. He was actually planning to fly out and get my mom when my grandmother passed away suddenly. And that was that. He saw my grandfather once before he died. And though he didn't say it, he was glad when they died. And that was okay, too. (I was a child and even I knew that they were such terrible people and their affect on him so terrible that it was okay for him to be glad.) It freed him, and that was when he really became who he is now.

Your parents' guilt trips sound like just another expression of the manipulations and emotional abuse you went through - that doesn't sound like they have changed. You are not an evil person. If it helps to think of it this way, you are not just protecting yourself, you are also being strong to protect someone you love. I hope there's some good advice in here for your wife - it may help to have her read this thread.

I wish you all the hugs and care in the world. I've cried for my dad's situation and even as a child realized to some extent how hard it was for him to finally say no. But it was the right thing, and it was the right thing not just for him but for someone he loves more than anyone else in the world.
posted by barchan at 9:02 AM on April 13, 2016 [24 favorites]

They birthed you. They presumably fed you and clothed you. They did not take care of you. I don't see why you would be under any obligation to take care of them.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:03 AM on April 13, 2016 [8 favorites]

You are certainly not an evil person. You're a normal human being who's reacting like a normal human being would to being horrifically abused by the people who were supposed to love you and keep you safe.

As for your parents: they've sown the wind, now they can reap the whirlwind. They had years to do the right thing; if they die alone, well, that's effectively what they chose, whether they care to recognize it or not.

I'm more concerned about your wife, frankly, or rather, concerned with how this seems to be affecting your marriage. By trying to make you feel guilty about not caring for your abusers, your wife is tacitly taking their side and telling you that their behavior toward you didn't matter. It does matter. I would second the suggestion that the two of you might benefit from talking this out with a counselor together.
posted by holborne at 9:04 AM on April 13, 2016 [9 favorites]

My first gut response was to tell them you will come, but you plan on treating them like they treated you so they appreciate it before they die.


What doe they need taking care of? If it is a money issue, I would consider sending them some amount that you can afford. If it is taking care of them physically, not so much. You are not a trained nurse or professional. If they need physical care, they should get it from a medical professional of some sort. Consider offering to chip in some small amount you can afford. If it is about getting documents, legal affairs in order, No.
posted by AugustWest at 9:04 AM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

No, you are not an evil person; and no, don't give in to anyone's (not your parents, not your siblings, and not your wife's [well-meant]) emotional blackmail.

The kindest thing you can do for you and your wife is (if you haven't already) see a therapist and get help for the way they abused you --- at the very least, you're probably suffering from PTSD.

As for your siblings, don't fight with them over this; your parents really don't sound like they're worth it. Just tell your siblings that no, you will not have anything to do with your parents; the siblings can do as they like, but don't let them drag you into your parents' drama. In the end, it sounds like you will want to have contact with them after the parents are finally gone; don't let your parents destroy any chances of you having that future relationship with your siblings.

And finally, your parents: have you tried going no-contact? The full thing, blocked calls, unanswered messages, no visits and all, might be the answer. They can't insist you care for them, nor do you somehow owe them any service, simply because they're related to you. Just because they're now old and ill doesn't make them angels or truly sorry for years and years of crap behavior --- they've only 'mellowed' because they want something from you, not because they've honestly changed. Basically, screw 'em: being alone and old and sick is the payment coming due to them for their own actions.
posted by easily confused at 9:11 AM on April 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

Tell her that instead of pouring what little emotional resources you have into the black hole of that harmful dynamic and those harmful relationships, you want instead to put the effort into building the relationship you want with her and becoming a person she can rely on. And then find a therapist to help you do that.

I heartily agree with this. You sound like you are still suffering heavily from the abuse and neglect they put you through, and putting your energy into helping yourself is effort much better spent than caving to guilt trips by self-serving people. It doesn't sound like your parents offered any heartfelt apology or sincere desire for forgiveness (even if they did it wouldn't negate what they've done). Instead they seem to be trying whatever manipulation they think will work to get you to bend to their will.

I also agree with the advice that some couples counseling sessions to help facilitate a greater understanding for your wife of what you went through and the lifelong effects you've suffered would benefit your relationship.

You are not evil, of course you aren't. Therapy will help shift and clarify your thinking in all sorts of ways.
posted by JenMarie at 9:18 AM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh hell no. It sounds like they're still just as manipulative as ever. Do not feel obligated to see them or even talk to them. I feel terribly bad for you. The amount of emotional angst this must be causing you is just so all consuming and defeating. Everything that will happen if you do go to see them will just be triggering and it will be like you never left.

I would like to know how your siblings are dealing with the phone calls. If you feel like just ignoring your parents will redouble their efforts to engage your sibs, maybe you all need to be on the same page with your tactics. You all deserve the lives you've made for yourselves and your shitty parents also deserve the lives they've made for themselves.
posted by the webmistress at 9:24 AM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've been no contact with my abusive, toxic, crazy family for over two years now. I'm starting to heal the anger and the resentment and despair and self-loathing that may (and has) seeped over into my relationships.

You're not evil. Neither are they. But that doesn't matter. What matters is how this has affected and continues to affect YOUR LIFE and what you need to do to repair the damage. If you want, you can try to empathize and gain perspective with what caused the abuse (was your father similarly abused? Mentally ill? PTSD? A combo of all of the above?), but that may only help slightly with the anger.

You also have permission to not feel guilty about not wanting to continue letting your parents abuse you and control your emotions. Because when they die a lot of new, intense emotions and memories you won't expect will be triggered. It's best for you take the time to explore this in therapy rather than taking care of them.
posted by Young Kullervo at 9:34 AM on April 13, 2016

You are not an evil person.

Old people need care, and that's a social responsibility quite independent of whether they're good people or not. We can't say "we decide who gets care based on whether we, individually, think that they are terrible people" - that would go all kinds of sideways.

That's why we have social services (and, yes, should have better ones). If OP shouldn't feel a responsibility to take on extra care for a random old lady in the parents' town, he shouldn't be expected to take on extra care for his abusive parents. Social obligations are built on reciprocity and mutualism, not on the mere happenstance of sharing DNA.

It's amazing how "sorry" abusive parents can be when once they actually need something. They're mostly sorry they've lost their power over you. If that weren't true, they would have taken concrete steps to signal their remorse long before. If it makes you feel better, OP, write a check for whatever project your siblings have in mind, but you don't even need to do that.
posted by praemunire at 9:39 AM on April 13, 2016 [16 favorites]

First: You are not an evil person for not wanting to do this.

They no longer have the means to abuse you the way they did before, but they still have one method left--to guilt you. They are using the little they have and you are not a bad person for choosing to defend yourself.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:40 AM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

i realize that i really have no idea how difficult this situation is for you and your siblings.
my thought, however, is to respond to guilt trips with honesty--and let your parents deal with that honesty.

Guilt Trip: “Your mother is dying, and if you don’t come take care of her, you will regret it,”
Response: "No, dad, i don't think i will."

Guilt Trip: "My father, ever the Christian, is begging me to forgive and forget."
Response: "Dad, i have much respect those who can forgive."

Guilt Trip: [when siblings mention 'who will take care of mom and dad?']
Response: "You know, I cannot do it. I don't expect that of myself or any one of you. I hope instead that we all find some peace within our selves and with our [chosen] families. Each of us deserves that."
posted by calgirl at 9:53 AM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

It would be one thing if your parents had truly transformed and were coming to you openly admitting what they had done and the damage they had caused, and asking forgiveness for its own sake. I still don't think you would OWE them forgiveness in that case, because abusing an innocent and helpless child is seriously among the worst things a person can do, in my opinion, and it would still be in your court to decide whether you could forgive. But in this case, they're not even doing that! It does not sound like your parents have owned up to their abusive actions, and it sounds like the motivation for reaching out is to get something from you rather than to genuinely ask forgiveness. In that case, I especially do not think you owe them any sort of reconciliation.

Look -- I get that society places this big expectation about assisting elderly parents. But here's the thing -- plenty of people out there never have children, or their child dies, or their child is severely disabled, or for some other reason there is no child available to assist them in their old age. It's not as if you are expected to seek out all of THESE childless people and help them out, even though in an objective sense they may very well be much more deserving of assistance than your parents are! It seems to me that through their actions your parents made the choice to forfeit their children's assistance in old age, and so there is nothing wrong with saying that they need to avail themselves of whatever government or private services are available to those without children to deal with the aging process.

If you are feeling some guilt around this, I might consider volunteering in your local community with some type of senior services. I did a lot of volunteering in a nursing home when I was a teenager, which was a really great experience, and there are also services like Meals on Wheels. If you are part of a church, many churches have programs for visiting home-bound elderly folks to give them a little company and/or driving elderly folks to church who can't otherwise make it in because they no longer drive. Any of these options might be a positive way to feel like you are "paying it forward" with regard to seniors in need of assistance without dealing with your toxic parents. Plus, it would be local and building your own community, so it would not involve extensive travel or disruption to your work schedule.
posted by rainbowbrite at 9:58 AM on April 13, 2016

No contact will change your relationship with your wife and with your siblings (if they can stick it through) in ways you cannot yet predict or imagine. There are big, bright light filled planets where your parents no longer exist. Where you no longer hold out hope that the next time you call them, they might have turned around.

Being asked to "forgive and forget" is laughable. You are just being asked to honor your father's self granted pardon. There is no responsibility or empathy shown. Your father is not saying, "I realize what I did when you were younger was wrong. It must have been really hard for you when I did [y]. I can't believe I was spiteful enough to sabotage your childhood with [x]. These are serious lapses and I now see why you and your siblings have put such distance between us. I have worked very hard to value you more and I would never act that way toward you. I hope some day you can find it in your heart to forgive me."

No, your father still wants control over who gets to feel what. He doesn't really think you have legitimate grievances. He's pushed the sorry button and can't figure out why you're still talking about the abuse after all that! That's absurd. Stay away from him. The physical fight may have gone out of him but it's very unlikely that he has changed.

You have a whole life to nourish and a wife to adore. Enjoy. Your parents suck. Trust how much they suck. Remind yourself of the suck. Stay away from the suck. And you'll be amazed to see what opens up in your heart and relationships when you remove that suck from your life.
posted by sweltering at 9:59 AM on April 13, 2016 [16 favorites]

I have similar--very similar--biological parents to yours.

My response has been, for 15 years now, Fuck 'em.

Children owe parents the square root of fuckall--we didn't decide to be born, you decided to have us. You owe us, and not the other way around.

Next guilt trip about looking after them? "Guess you shoulda thought about that before being abusive my entire life. Good luck with the doctor. Goodbye."

Stop taking their calls. They made their beds, they've had decades to repent and demonstrate they deserve the idea of forgiveness to be entertained, fuck 'em.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:01 AM on April 13, 2016 [26 favorites]

I'm going to nope the hell out of you having to do anything for your parents--emotionally, physically, or financially. They were supposedly adults, and adults provide for their future. If they didn't do that financially, and they obviously didn't do that emotionally with their kids, too bad, so sad. That's their loss.

More to the point is your relationship with your wife and siblings.

First, your wife: Do what needs to be done to enable your wife to understand why your family dynamics damaged you in the past, and why they are continuing to cause emotional damage by their current behavior. Therapy if necessary, but maybe just a heartfelt talk would work utilizing headnsouth's suggestions. Explain to her that first of all needs to be your emotional health and the health of your marriage--emotionally, physically, and financially. Emphasis to her that you don't want anymore pain or guilt in your life. You may need therapy to accomplish that, but whatever happens, be strong.

Second: your siblings:

But they’re both expecting me and my siblings to swoop in and start taking care of them now. We are fighting each other not to do it.

You don't say what kind of relationship is between you and your siblings. Sounds like it either isn't the best, or that everyone is desperate to salvage what emotional health they have managed to grow into, even if it means alienating each other. What relationship, or sad lack of, between you all is more important than what's going on with your parents at this point. See if it's possible to have a talk together. Understand that all of you don't want to be the scapegoat in this. Agree that emotionally and physically none of you are required to be supportive, and there will be no guilt from any of you toward each other.

As far as long distance financial support, if you're all willing, then discuss that. If one of you can't or won't provide that, the others need to accept that unreservedly, no guilt toward the non-contributing party. If any of you decide to contribute, it should be at the limits each agrees to. If you all want to contribute a percentage according your incomes, fine. If you prefer to limit, no matter your income, fine. If someone decides to take on a burden, that's their decision. No guilt from any of you toward each other if you/they don't do so. Guilt is destructive. You all know what you've been through as kids. End the dysfunction now.

Their generation is passing, and they've had their chance. Your generation needs to get on with healing. You can do it together, as siblings, and deepen your relationship between one another, or you can let each other go their own way. The latter can be done in sorrow, but can be healing for you and/or them, because you will be letting go of a damaging past, and refusing continue to damage each other in the present.

I hope you can work it out between all of you. Explain to your wife if she values the idea of family, you would prefer to put your emotionally energy into a more profitable, healthy current relationship with your siblings, if it can be possible.

Be strong. Be well.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:06 AM on April 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

i don't give a fuck about your parents, but i think you should be worrying about yourself and your wife. work on yourself, on being a better partner for her.
posted by andrewcooke at 10:06 AM on April 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

You are not evil. I am not a Christian, but my understanding is that Jesus preached to relieve suffering and (the New Testament) God is a loving and compassionate one. Evil people don't worry whether they're being kind enough, which is what it seems you're worried about. Your parents abused you and had no right to put you through what they did. I'm sorry you had to go through it.

I also grew up in a very abusive family, and I've cut contact with them all, for many, many years now. Several years ago, the opportunity arose to see an abusive brother. He wasn't ill, but had had a child and wanted to make amends and make good of his life. At the time, I was seeing a wonderful therapist who kindly told me that she would support me whether I chose to visit him or not. She asked me to consider first, though, what I would say to the child-me to prepare myself for the visit, and to consider whether I would want that child-self to be in that situation, to be exposed to those toxic and painful relationships again--even if the circumstances were now different. That helped me greatly in reconciling my present urge to feel "adult" and "responsible" and weigh complex guilt, with the very real pain, distress, and trauma that I'd suffered at the hands of my abusers. It was an interesting paradox because "child me" clung so dearly to the bright and shining promise of "fixing" broken relationships, of having a responsible and healthy brother, and of having a familial relationship that was good, while "adult me" was aware of (and still scarred deeply by) the damage inflicted by these relationships.

I ended up seeing my brother, which I both do and don't regret. I suppose if I hadn't seen him, I'd always wonder "what if." He hadn't changed all that much, and in a way, it was reassuring to see him as an adult and know that the damage he'd inflicted was real; that I wasn't crazy or overreacting to a truly dangerous and abusive person. However, it was very hard to have to re-visit those past traumas of disappointing and abusive relationships. My brother soon leapt further into dark spirals, and I again cut contact with him, as well as his child, which was incredibly hard. I have often re-applied my therapist's words in guiding my decisions to maintain no contact, and while it's not easy, it has brought me much comfort in believing I'm doing the right thing for myself. I'm not sure if it will be as helpful for you, but I do hope that you can find some peace and support with whichever decision(s) you come to. Feel free to MeMail me if you want someone to talk to.
posted by stillmoving at 10:08 AM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

[My wife] sees my parents as they are now, not as they were when I was a child, so she’s a lot more sympathetic to their current plight.

Well with all the guilt trips and manipulation, they don't seem all that great now either.

Anyway. My mother came from an abusive family, and has been estranged from her father on and off over the years. She is also a devout Christian. She goes to visit when she feels she can. She helps financially when she feels she can. She has long since forgiven him, but she's not going to swoop into that mess again, even though her father is basically catatonic at this point. Then again, she had years of practice giving my sister and I highly-controlled doses of "Grandpa" in the name of family, and never exposing us to his awful nature.

To be honest, she did and does all that because it feels best for her, and what she doesn't feel ok with, she doesn't do. My dad supports her in this, probably because he has seen the fallout from the abuse in my mother for the past 35 years. I wonder if that isn't a way you can approach this with your wife: pointing out that although the abuse was long ago, its effects still remain and are difficult for you to work through.

I personally see no problem with you not caring for your parents at all, if that is what you feel you can(not) do. Forgiveness is for the person who was wronged, not for the person who wronged you.
posted by chainsofreedom at 10:20 AM on April 13, 2016

They don't want forgiveness for forgiveness sake they want it so you'll go & take care of them. They are manipulating you again, you have nothing to feel guilty for. As a Christian you can forgive someone & move on, forgiveness doesn't mean a free pass for them to come back into your life & do whatever they want.

If your siblings insist that "something" be done can you all put in to some sort of financial set up to arrange home help. That way you can all still keep a healthy emotional distance.
posted by wwax at 10:26 AM on April 13, 2016 [6 favorites]

You're not evil. While it may be difficult, I suggest trying to view the situation as one of health, rather than of morals or religion. I don't think you should abandon your faith or anything nutty like that, but by taking the perspective "What is the healthiest thing for me and those I care about?" I think things become far less ambiguous and emotionally fraught. All the best to you.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:28 AM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nthing that you are not an evil person. I hope, if you get nothing else out of this, that you at least get that.

I am, yet another, with a similar situation and will not be providing any kind of care or contribution to care if and when it is ever asked of me.

For your wife, this isn't her decision and she needs to support the path you feel is best for you. This is one of those non negotiable items in my opinion.

For your siblings and interactions with your parents, stand tall on your decision to not give any kind of support. This doesn't have to be a which one of you sucks it up to care for these people. You can join together in a united front of "I'm not able to give you {whatever you are asking for}" in response to any request your parents make of any of you.

Many (((((hugs))))) to you and everyone in this post who has a similar story.
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 10:31 AM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am in your situation. My elderly mother moved three blocks away from me at the age of 78. I see her every day, and am her primary caregiver, after a lifetime of neglect, physical distance of her choice, manipulation, and cold indifference.

I am an only child. I have taken this role because it really has nothing to do with her, and everything to do with how I feel about myself. And oh lordy, it is hard sometimes. But not ALL the time, mostly she's old and frail and appreciative of my involvement. While we really don't speak of the worst times, she's apologetic, especially when she's ill and needs more of my support.

So, I can say that I do have some "closure" here. I have forgiven, not everything but as much as I can. Her return to my life has made me really face a lot of my issues with her and my upbringing, things I had just chosen not to think about for most of my life. I believe I am a better and stronger person for this.

BUT, if I had it to do all over again, I would have set up counseling of some kind for myself to help me navigate the landmine that I've tiptoed through in the last four years.
posted by raisingsand at 10:56 AM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also nthing you're not evil.

To give you some perspective on what "evil" entails when dealing with a dying family member, I'll offer a story I've told before on MeFi (sorry for the repetition). Sixteen years ago, a torsioned ovarian cyst inside of me burst, and doctors told me I was a few hours away from death; I needed immediate surgery. I was in Finland, family – from who I had indeed run away – were on the US West Coast. They had the money to afford a visit to Finland.

Mother called me in hospital and asked, "why didn't you die?" Assuming good intent, I reassured her that I was okay. "No," she said in exasperation, "I mean, God wanted you to die, so why didn't you?"

No one visited me. For further perspective, I had never hit, insulted, starved, or neglected my parents. They, on the other hand, had done that to me all my then-young life. And there I was age 24, in a hospital on the other side of the planet, with my own mother telling me that I deserved to die.

Part of you wants to visit your parents and take care of them. Nothing here suggests that you have treated your parents the way they treated you. Further, nothing suggests that your parents actually want forgiveness. If they did, they'd have listened years earlier.

Feel free to keep your heart safe. You and your siblings have done so well.
posted by fraula at 10:58 AM on April 13, 2016 [8 favorites]

I often recommend the Dysfunctional Families threads at Making Light. This one in particular addresses forgiveness. Here is a link to the most recent one, which has links to all the earlier ones.
posted by Bruce H. at 11:02 AM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

“Your mother is dying, and if you don’t come take care of her, you will regret it,”
This is not a fact. This is his opinion at best and a threat at worst.

My father, ever the Christian, is begging me to forgive and forget.
Uh huh. Has he actually apologized for, or even acknowledged, the specific things he is demanding you let go of?

My wife, while she is extremely understanding, came from a comparatively idyllic family, and she doesn’t quite get it...She wants me to go take care of them now.
NOPE. You put up boundaries for a reason, and it sounds like your parents are continuing to manipulate and abuse you even while demanding your help and forgiveness.

IMO the part with your wife not understanding your boundaries is the only part of this that is even a little bit complicated. You have zero obligations to help, be near, or even communicate with your abusive parents.
posted by almostmanda at 11:10 AM on April 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

I want someone to tell me I’m not an evil person for wanting to stay out of it.

I will go you one further. You're not an evil person for actually staying out of it. Because you want to stay out of it, and you do not owe your parents anything.

Lyn Never mentioned working on this with your siblings. I agree. It seems to me that the best result might be for all of you to decide to stay out of it, and leave your parents to their own devices. Unless one of your siblings feels like they want to help at this point, none of you have to. Now, if one of your siblings does want to help, you're still not obligated to help them do that help, but it might be a kindness if you could support your sibling in whatever they go through as a result (while still maintaining your own boundaries, and the strength of your relationship).

I also want to nth the advice to work on this issue with your spouse through counseling. It's ok if she doesn't "get" it, but it's not OK for her to be pushing you to do something that you don't want to do, that you know will be bad for you. Hopefully, because she loves you, she'll realize that she's pushing to hard.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:13 AM on April 13, 2016

You're absolutely not evil. In fact, your strong sense to stay out of it is a testament to how far you've come in terms of emotional healing. You owe them nothing. The conditions under which I would even consider thinking about taking care of aging abusive parents is if they reached these minimum requirements:
1) They are very actively sorry for what they did. This involves them taking clear responsibility for the severity of the abuse and manipulation with no excuses and minimization of the abuse. No revisionist history, no family myth-making, nothing but PURE and earnest taking of responsibility as well as truly being sorry and asking for your forgiveness on your timeline, not theirs.
2) Absolutely no sliding back into manipulative and abusive patterns. They must be contrite and solicitous of your attention in healthy and respectful ways.
3) This must extend to all siblings, not just the ones that are most able to take care of the parents.
4) No attempt to close the issue on their timeline. You and your siblings decide when and if the matter is put to rest.

It sounds like they've done nothing close to this. You owe them nothing. Do not get engaged with their final attempts at abusing you and manipulating you. As for your wife, I'd try to gently explain that forgiveness is only possible if they have earned it through being and acting genuinely sorry and taking responsibility. Otherwise, this is yet another attempt to bully you and is not healthy or appropriate. Elderly abusers are still abusers and your wife should not be so eager to put you in harm's way because she has fantasies of family cohesion. It would be good for her to either get this clear in her head via speaking with you, reading about these dynamics, or getting joint counseling about this with you. Minimizing the abuse just because the victims managed to heal themselves and the worst of the abuse is over because the victims escaped is not appropriate or supportive.

Your parents are largely in control of this outcome and they've chosen to double down on emotional manipulation and abuse instead of healing relationships that they've damaged. This is their choice. Them acting like it's the choice of you and your siblings is absurd.

You will not regret your decision to keep yourself safe from further abuse.
posted by quince at 11:21 AM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Do you like your marriage? Does your wife like your marriage??

Visit a counselor for a few sessions so she can understand why you BOTH need to stay far far away from this unfortunate situation.
posted by jbenben at 11:23 AM on April 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

I am the product of a hundred years of Catholic guilt and Deep Family Immigrant Tradition. I have been known to give long diatribes about the importance of caring for family. I lend money to second cousins who hit me up and are probably going to bet it on black.

I would not help your family in this situation.

All of the things about regret and guilt are true if your parents haven't already violated the social contract of family by abusing you. Which it sounds like they have. So seriously, fuck them.
posted by corb at 11:37 AM on April 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

Nope. It would be different if your story went "and now they seem to be making a real effort..."

If your wife wants to go help them, that's nice. I do all the care taking of my father in law, because he's now mellow and in his 80s and he hasn't abused me, but my husband has ptsd from growing up with that bastard, so I include him as little as possible. My husband only moved his dad to be near us because my father in law lost his illegal apt in Brooklyn that he'd rented for 18 years, and can no longer afford to live there. He'd have been homeless. Which would've been ok with us, actually. But my husband knows that his own mother, if she were still alive, would've made sure her ex-husband had a home. So we do it for her memory.

My father in law is an excon schizophrenic who spent 5 decades as an alcoholic who beat his various wives and children. He has no relationship capital left with any of them (we think he has 8 kids, not sure, my hubby and one sister are the only ones who do anything for him, but the sister is on the opposite coast, so it's mostly me.)

But here's the thing. My father in law is not manipulative (not smart enough) and if he crosses a boundary with me, we will absolutely walk away. (Im very kind to him, people call me a "saint" - but they don't understand that being kind is the path of least resistance. It's just the straightest line to getting home to my husband.) e and I have an unspoken agreement. I pretend I care about his well-being, and he lets me make his doctor appts on MY schedule, and doesn't give me any guff.

My father in law is living on his own right now; the minute he can't, the state will have to take over.

Your parents sound manipulative. I wouldn't do it. You do not have to take care of them. They will run over your boundaries. Your father should've said "if you don't take care of your mother, I will regret it." That would've been honest.

If your wife wants to help them, tell her that the moment she gets frustrated or upset, or hurt - you're cancelling her involvement.
posted by vitabellosi at 11:54 AM on April 13, 2016

on reread of my comment - I want to say that when I say "run over your boundaries" I mean "they will tie you up in knots of pain" - you deserve better.
posted by vitabellosi at 11:57 AM on April 13, 2016

I want someone to tell me I’m not an evil person for wanting to stay out of it.

Man, I don't think this can be said enough in this thread: You are not an evil person for wanting to stay out of it. You're not even an evil person for flat out saying to your parents "I'm not going to help you with anything ever." You don't have to feel even the tiniest bit bad about feeling no desire to help them. You don't owe a debt to parents who failed you so hard growing up. They're coming to you and your siblings because they know no one besides family would even consider putting up with their crap. You have this stranger's permission to not to a goddamn thing to help your hurtful, manipulative parents.
posted by 23skidoo at 12:52 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

My parents are also terrible, and I cut off all contact with them years ago. It was a weight off my back. But I worried: was I doing the right thing? Am I being a good person? What should I do when they inevitably begin to have age-related problems? I am an only child, and if I don't take care of them, there will not be anybody there. I have always been told that forgiveness is a Christian virtue, and I try to be a good Christian.

Here is how I have soothed the worry. I do not have this worry anymore.

The Ten Commandments say to honor your father and mother. What does honoring consist of?

It means I want them to be their best selves, the best versions of themselves they can possibly be. Even though I don't know what my parents' best selves are, I do know what my parents' best selves are not.

No one's best self is an abuser. I am not honoring my parents by allowing them to abuse me. I am not being good for my parents by being around them, because some part of them still sees me as a dependent child who cannot escape, and they are not going to stop trying to hurt me. Since they cannot stop doing that, they don't get to have me around anymore; they've lost that privilege. I honor my parents by taking myself away from them. I love my parents by remaining out of contact. I genuinely believe this is the most loving thing I can do.

Honoring somebody does not mean doing whatever they want. What they want, in this instance, is bad for them. The people they are when they get what they want are objectively terrible. The people they are when they don't get what they want are, I suspect, also pretty awful, but at least they don't feel as safe abusing people who have not had a dependent-child relationship to them, because there are consequences to being vicious to sales clerks and work colleagues and people they meet on the street, people who have no investment in allowing them to get away with this behavior, people who never needed anything major from them.

What they want is bad for me, too, of course. That's why I cut them off, initially; I was not feeling at all altruistic about it. But it reassured me immensely, and continues to reassure me, that it turns out that this is the best thing that I can do for them as well as for me. Part of forgiving somebody and moving on is not allowing the thing that needed forgiveness to continue, because otherwise, nobody's really moved on after all. I wouldn't say I've forgiven (I'd say quite the opposite, actually, and I'm completely all right with that), but if forgiveness is as good a thing to do as everybody says, this is the pathway down which it eventually lies, at least for me.

Good luck. Stick to your guns. Remember that staying away is the best thing you can do for yourself, for your siblings, and, in fact, for your parents. Staying away is what you can to do help.

Staying away is how you honor your parents.
posted by Rush-That-Speaks at 12:54 PM on April 13, 2016 [10 favorites]

Forgiveness is something that happens internally. You can forgive them without ever talking to them again. Forgiveness is relinquishing the anger and admitting to yourself that your parents are deeply flawed. But doing this is a solitary, individual act of letting go of the past. You owe it to yourself but owe nothing to them.

You could consider one final trip to say goodbye, and then sever all communications. Or you could just sever all ties now and just walk away. You are definitely not an evil person for wanting to put this past you.
posted by slogger at 12:58 PM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have a good friend whose mother was incredibly abusive, to the point of breaking bones. We've talked about this kind of thing a lot, and she says her therapist has basically excused her for life from care of her mother. She just says "don't."

We have a mutual friend whose mother is experiencing dementia. They have a beautiful relationship and always have had, but when my friend did a workshop for children of parents with Alzheimer's, the facilitator warned that all kinds of old childhood hurt is going to be re-stimulated when caring for a parent who is ailing. For some people, that hurt will prevent them from being able to give good care to their parents and therefore, they should not care for their parents.

Guilt is a bitch, I know, but you're not an evil person to want to walk away. There are the reports of two experts, if that helps at all.
posted by looli at 1:24 PM on April 13, 2016

I cut my ties with my father when I was 25. No abuse, per se, but just an untenable situation for me. My sister and brother felt differently but that's them and that doesn't bother me.

At the end of his life, my sister made sure that I knew that if I wanted to reconcile, the time was quickly approaching. I declined, on the theory that I had cut ties for a reason and any further contact with him would be futile. He died in 2010. I have no lingering regrets or guilt feelings. I knew what I was doing when I did it and I did it for my emotional health and there ya have it, done deal.
posted by janey47 at 1:43 PM on April 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

I didn't read all the answers, because your question is all kinds of triggering for me, but you owe them nothing. Block their numbers and send their emails to the deadfile. Get therapy with your wife if it'll help her understand, but do not back down on this.

I didn't understand how screwed up my parents were until I had children of my own. I cannot conceive of treating a child the way your parents treated you. If they'd atoned and acknowledged their offenses, that'd be one thing, but right now every contact with them is just going to hurt you further. Stop letting.
posted by snickerdoodle at 2:04 PM on April 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

You can forgive without getting involved in their situation.

Next call from dad gets this response, "You are forgiven. If that brings you peace, then fine. However, I cannot be involved in your circumstances." If your Dad or Mom tries to rebut it, your simple answer is "That is my decision." No arguments, not replies. It's your decision and you've made it.

Let your siblings know what your script is. You are doing this not only for yourself but to give your sibs an example of maintaining boundaries for yourself (and not as a punishment to others).
posted by 26.2 at 2:14 PM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

“Your mother is dying, and if you don’t come take care of her, you will regret it.”

This is just a manipulative guilt trip and there's no way your father could know how you would or would not feel about it, or anything, for that matter. Are your parents really both so clueless still, that they don't realize that none of their children want anything to do with them?

Without going into too much detail, I got the same exact phone call from my brother in 2004, when my father was dying. “Your father is dying, and if you don’t come take care of him, you will regret it.” I didn't care, I didn't go. I have not regretted it for one second.
posted by the webmistress at 2:58 PM on April 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

"Your mother is dying, and if you don’t come take care of her, you will regret it,”

No, you wont. It's the going I regret, and the bitterness of those last memories and the meanness and the horrible, horrible discomfort of it all because of course you can't shout at someone who is dying to stop being a dick.

Your dad is really saying that HE will regret it if you don't come and take of his wife. That is not the same thing at all.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:49 PM on April 13, 2016 [5 favorites]

My thought is that if your parents want to be cared for in a consistent and helpful manner, the *last* people who should be doing it are people who are triggered within hours of contact with them. It's just a bad idea for everyone. It's risky for you and your sibs for obvious reasons; risky for your parents, too. You hear nightmarish stories about elder abuse... I think a lot of them have to do with highly ambivalent kids being pushed past their ability to cope. One of you already almost killed your mom. Your sibs' buttons are being pushed, and they're shifting blame because none of you can take it. Since it's very unlikely you guys *can actually*, *realistically* work together (or alone) on this, the pragmatic and *kind* thing to do for a couple of old people is to let dispassionate pros take care of them. Maybe your wife can see about what supports are available for your parents.
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:11 PM on April 13, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'm really sorry you are going through this.

Stacey: I am, more or less, your wife in this scenario. My partner's parents are terrible, terrible people and physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive parents. The more I hear about them over the years, the more I would like to claw their faces off and the more impressed I am by my partner's restraint in not having done so already.

I could have written that. I would never in a million years expect my partner to go and care for his elderly parents if they tried to threaten and guilt trip him into doing it. In fact I'd try to dissuade him for the sake of his mental health. Your wife needs to try to understand the damage your parents have done to you and support you in not exposing yourself to their abuse again.

I am just an internet stranger but I encourage you to protect yourself from future continued abuse from your parents, and to explore counselling to help you and your wife build better emotional intimacy. You deserve to protect and nurture your marriage.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:18 PM on April 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

My elderly mother was/is your garden-variety icicle, no abuse there, and I am visiting her this weekend for an hour or two because she suffered a minor stroke recently and I will be near her town on what would otherwise have been a pleasant roadtrip. Neither of us will enjoy the visit and she will not appreciate it. We will talk about the weather and maybe get dinner if she is up for it, but I will have done it wrong.

All this week I have not slept well, I've been unable to focus on my work, I have been short-tempered with my partner, and I've had some pretty dark thoughts about my self-worth.

This will be my last visit.

I am not an evil person and neither are you.
posted by headnsouth at 6:37 AM on April 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

You are not an evil person.

Whatever it takes to get your wife to understand (therapy, etc), do it. This situation will get harder as their health continues to fail, and you will need your wife to support you, whatever you decide.
posted by wearyaswater at 11:23 AM on April 14, 2016

My mother died a couple of months ago. I wasn't there, and I have no regrets.

She and I were close while I was growing up-- at times, chokingly, toxically close, because we lived together with my volatile, belicose, controlling, clingy father. Some of it, doubtless, was trauma bonding. Some of it was the product of other, nastier dynamics.

When I got to the point of having to go no-contact with my father, it quickly became clear that despite everything, his happiness was her #1, #2, and #3 priority-- so while I left the door open for her, and responded to 100% of her bids for contact, I didn't really reach our on my own, even after I found out that she was in hospice.

I felt sad when she died, but within two weeks, the sadness was almost completely overtaken by relief.

I sound calm and resolved now, but I assure you that for months and months, I was anything but-- I was flailing, anxious, guilty, freaked-- but at the very bottom of everything was the simple, unassailable fact that I didn't want to talk to her. There was nothing I could say that would have been both honest and beneficial. It would have just more forced smiles, more extorted "I love you's," more hugs of the kind that make a person want to scrub themselves all over with a barbed wire loofah afterward. I wanted to be both truthful and kind, and the only way to do that was to absent myself from the whole show.

And from the sound of it, my parents didn't do 1/3 the stuff to me that yours did to you.

You are not a terrible person. Far from it.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 12:39 PM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have two good friends (unrelated) who have gone through similar situations as their parents aged and became terminally ill. Both opted out of caring for their parents as they became ill, declined, and died. Both friends opted out of visiting their parents during this time. They were both no-contact with the parents and kept no-contact.

The only regret either of them had was that death meant that the hope that the parent would see the light - would truly apologize, would truly repent - was truly gone. With death comes the fact that there will never be a reconciliation. There will never be a true apology. There will never be a time when the parent would step up and actually BE a parent, the parent every kid deserves to have.

From what I've seen, THAT - the loss of hope that maybe the parent would actually get their shit together - requires a lot of work to unpack, and a good therapist can help. But neither friend had a single regret about opting out of the care, about opting out of "just one visit".

You are not an evil person.
posted by RogueTech at 9:47 PM on April 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

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