Mum threatening to divorce my 75yr old dad
October 12, 2019 12:54 PM   Subscribe

Following my previous post about mum threatening to leave my sis out of the will/give her almost nothing if she doesn't care for them in old age, mum is now threatening to divorce dad every time he doesn't do what she says, and has many blow-up rows with him. Dad says she's been the main driver of my abuse in the house. They are so old and everything is so messy I don't know how to react. Any advice welcome.

Dad turned up at sis's house hysterically crying after a huge fight with mum. Apparently mum's not allowing him to leave the house to garden / see friends / have a drink etc. I'm talking even once a week. She says he snores after a beer and 'can't hold his drink' which is weird bc dad only ever has one and I've never seen him so much as tipsy. When he does something she doesn't like she has a massive blow up row and she threatens to divorce him.

So this row - divorce pattern has apparently been going on for many months. Dad went to my sis hysterical saying he can't go on like this, she says he seemed to be hinting at suicide and she had to calm him down and tell him he could live with them if it came to it.

He told her it was mum who drove to make me homeless as a teenager and he was against it, and that mum wants to cut me out of their will completely and give my share to the GC (my brother), while he wanted to split it three ways. He says she's OK as long as she gets her way but he can't live like this.

Mum knows dad doesn't have as much money so he'd be screwed in a divorce.

So I decided to go NC with mum after hearing this, but I feel guilty? Like she's so old and so hurt that she's doing all this, and maybe I am being heartless with her? The other issue is that my dad was so violent while I was growing up I didn't even have time to notice mum being wacko until much later (and he told me he enjoyed hurting me). There were also many times he hurt me that had nothing to do with her, and the last time he threatened to knock my teeth out I was 19, so an adult (in the UK). So I am so conflicted.

I've written to dad telling him I'll no longer be in contact with mum or call the house (not out of solidarity with him but from what I've heard about her continued spitefulness. I am toying with the idea of writing to dad about the physical abuse he put me through to see if he's repentant and we can have an honest and respectful adult relationship going forward, but my husband says this is a bad idea. What would you guys advise on contact/no contact and dealing with conflicted feelings towards them?
posted by abbagoochie to Human Relations (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My sincere advice is don't write your father anything at all. If you've already sent it well, it's done, but boundaries are not generally set by talking about them but about doing them.

I think the hard thing here is your parents are wrestling for control - of you and your sibling, of their marriage, of the narrative of who is the worse person. In that struggle, they are fighting mostly for the audience of their children. They should be out living their lives, doing good in the world, and only bringing to you what is genuine, real, and supportive. Instead they are just escalating everything and behaving like upset toddlers. Your dad should not turn up wailing at someone's house. Neither of them should be treating their will like a prize. It's all gross.

And of course, you grew up that way so you feel like you have to take sides, like your dad can somehow reconcile with you. (This is unlikely to go the way you hope.) But these are incredibly limited human beings. The best thing you can do is go build your life with as little thought and effort as possible put into their relationship, their money, their living situation. Go live your best life.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:13 PM on October 12, 2019 [38 favorites]

If your mom has had a substantial personality change, i.e. if she's much worse than before, or if her criticisms of your father are really irrational then maybe she needs a medical check up. Small strokes or something like that can cause personality change.
posted by puddledork at 1:37 PM on October 12, 2019 [4 favorites]

Just a quick note to say there is no change, this is her normal personality
posted by abbagoochie at 1:42 PM on October 12, 2019

They are so old and everything is so messy I don't know how to react.

Don't. Stay out of it, and away from them. These are people who've built themselves miserable lives attempting to immure you in their misery. They will only ever hurt you. Be free.
posted by praemunire at 1:49 PM on October 12, 2019 [30 favorites]

Sounds like they realized your sister probably won't be looking after them in their impending dotage and they're frantically trying to pull her (and you) back into their dysfunction.

Trust your rational mind. You do not have to have a relationship with people who beat you and made you homeless.

If I were your sister, I wouldn't let Dad move in, or even offer it.

I'm sorry your parents are not capable of being a loving, safe family for you. I think you should focus on having a good relationship with your sister and husband. Your parents are adults who can sort themselves out or not.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:55 PM on October 12, 2019 [18 favorites]

It’s been years since my parents’ divorce, but one of the things my therapist told me that stuck with me all this time may help you. He said each parent will make the other into the aggressor and themselves into the victim, and circumstances from the outside may even make it appear objectively that one is the aggressor and one is the victim, at least according to common cultural tropes, but in cases outside of extreme and obvious abuse, it’s never the full story. It takes two to tango and in virtually all marriages that break down, each partner has been contributing in their own way to the unhealthy pattern for a long time. Just because your father claims your mother is abusive does not absolve him of the abuse he inflicted on you, nor does it absolve him of standing by while she instigated abuse against you.

It’s too late to take back your letter to your father but it probably would have been best if you hadn’t sent it, hadn’t taken sides, and merely tried to remain distant and neutral. You need outside help with your parents, it would be vastly healthier for everyone involved for them to use their money on counseling or elder care given by professionals, rather than bribe you to fill these roles informally.
posted by stockpuppet at 2:19 PM on October 12, 2019 [5 favorites]

Your husband is right.

There were also many times he hurt me that had nothing to do with her, and the last time he threatened to knock my teeth out I was 19, so an adult (in the UK). So I am so conflicted.

I would not be at all conflicted. There is nothing your dad could say now that will take back the abuse you suffered and fishing for it it just going to get your stuck back in this dysfunctional merry-go-round your family seems to be stuck in. I am sorry your dad is suffering. You can be sorry he's suffering too but not get drawn back into family dramaz.

Going NC with your mom was probably a great idea for other reasons. You can be supportive of your dad's current conflict (offer to have coffee with him if you feel up for it) without getting back into the "Now let's talk about how you treated me back then" Your dad may not know on a conscious level but at a subconscious level he knows that pushing this button is a way to get you to tune back in to the family soap opera "Hey let's rehash old pain and maybe this time you'll roll the dice and come up with a parent who is not a terrible asshole!" I don't think that's likely and what's more likely is your dad and mom work it out in some stupid dysfunctional way and you're still left feeling like the family outcast except this time you had a shred of hope things might be different.

Really a best case scenario here is that your parents divorce, your dad gets intensive therapy and you wind up with one parent who is someone you might want to talk with about low-key stuff moving forward. It is not at all heartless to be cool to people who have been abusive to you. It is not at all unreasonable to not want to deal with hysterical people who are stuck in their own mess. There are ways to be supportive that don't turn up the heat on all of this.
posted by jessamyn at 2:48 PM on October 12, 2019 [6 favorites]

One more quick interjection to say I haven't sent dad any letter yet, I was just considering it. I sent him a quick email to say I'd heard what was going on and that's all. Thank you to everyone who's answered, your perspectives are so valuable especially at a time when my emotions are clouding my judgment. Thank you all.
posted by abbagoochie at 2:54 PM on October 12, 2019

If I were you I would reach out to your sister and be clear with her that you are going no-contact with the parents, and to be very clear about what kind of support you can give to her. I think that one of the hardest things in situations like these is when one sibling keeps unintentionally pulling another back into the mire of abuse, and one way you can try to mitigate that is by being direct and clear with you words and actions, and another way can be to support that sibling in breaking away from that cycle of abuse if they seem open to it and you have the tools to help.

So like, make clear boundaries by saying "I love you sister but I really can't listen to any more drama about our parents, please don't talk to me about them" and then, say, inviting her to maybe stay with you for a long weekend or talking out other issues she might be struggling with (work stuff, children stuff, house stuff) so you can do a one-two punch of boundaries+assistance. When the inevitable further parent drama continues and she comes to you with it, you can say sorry, but you said that you wouldn't be dealing with their shit anymore, and switch the conversation to something to build your sister's confidence up, like how great she's doing with [insert other challenge here]. If she's open to it you could talk to her about how you've gotten to this place in your life where you can go no-contact with your abusers. Be an example for her, and slowly she might be able to also break free of your parents too. Definitely tell her that you value your relationship with her, that you want to stay in touch with her and be her family, and try to explain that doing this doesn't obligate you to also deal with your parents.

Of course what I'm describing can be seen as insurmountable. So please don't beat yourself up if you can't manage that, or if you do occasionally fall back into the family drama cesspool. It's taken extraordinary resilience on your part to get to where you are now. When you feel overwhelmed please remember that, and take pride in it.
posted by Mizu at 4:13 PM on October 12, 2019 [10 favorites]

Mizu is so right.

You wouldn't even know about any of this if it weren't for your sister's (understandable) desire to commiserate with you.

You can't help your parents. They had their chance to not be shitty people for decades and they blew it. That's too bad but it's not your problem, nor is it within your power to solve.

But you can help your sister, by staying out of it, advising her to stay out of it, and showing her how it's done.

Imagine your parent's drama as a bowling ball, ok? This burdensome awful bowling ball. They each have a bowling ball and they love toting it around. They come to your sister's door, literally or metaphorically, and heave the bowling ball at her. And each time she catches it and carries it around! Just because they heaved it at her (and maybe she thinks she has an incentive to catch it "because of the will.") But she doesn't have to catch it. She can keep her hands in her pockets. She can choose a better life, and the first step is to not make her awful parents' shit into her own problem.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:51 PM on October 12, 2019 [7 favorites]

Bow out of the whole thing. They’re grown adults and as long as they have full mental capacities, they’re in control of their own destiny. No good can come of you interfering.
posted by Jubey at 7:43 PM on October 12, 2019

He told her it was mum who drove to make me homeless as a teenager and he was against it

But he allowed it.

The other issue is that my dad was so violent while I was growing up I didn't even have time to notice mum being wacko until much later (and he told me he enjoyed hurting me). There were also many times he hurt me that had nothing to do with her, and the last time he threatened to knock my teeth out I was 19, so an adult (in the UK). So I am so conflicted.

Oh my giddy aunt. This is so fundamentally awful.

These people are awful people. They have done unforgivable things to you.

If they've made their own lives a hell you should leave them to it. Don't let them drag you into their misery again.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:32 PM on October 12, 2019 [5 favorites]

I'd cut both parents out of your life, and tell your siblings not to talk to you about them. You owe your parents absolutely nothing after how they've treated you.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:20 PM on October 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

I just want to offer some support to part of you that sees that your parents are old and in pain and suffering. And you love them. Loving parents is natural, although some parents manage to ruin things so badly the love disappears but I've seen people who had horrible childhoods still harbor that wish to be in a loving relationship with their parents even though the parents have no capacity to actually love back. It's normal to feel that.

AND at the same time, you need to recognize that they are abusive and dysfunctional and, so far, don't seem capable of being in a healthy and loving relationship with you, your sister, or each other. And so, the best you can do here is to take care of yourself first. Work on being a healthy person, loving yourself and others in your life who might be capable of loving back. Then, from that place, extend love to your sister to the extent that you can do so while taking care of yourself. Finally, hold back for now, but if you reach the place where your parents can't hurt you and feel like it would be healthy for you to make a gesture towards them, then you can try. But not right now - you still need to shore up yourself first and they will undermine that until you can keep them at a safer distance.
posted by metahawk at 4:13 PM on October 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm worried I'm heading to the same place you are, search my answer/comment history for a rundown of my parents' situation and I easily see it going full on "mom abusing dad (either through mental breaks or ever decreasing mental competency) and threatening disowning me even though I'm an only child in the next 5 or 10 years".

The only trump card I have are my kids (my parent's grandkids) or I think I'd already be going it alone without them due to her psychotic/schizophrenic [DrMsEld's rough opinion, not my words] behaviors.

I'd say go full on passive and let them in only when their behavior conforms to norms that are safe and wholesome to your existence. That or playing a role to gain power of attorney (or whatever is the same term on your side of the pond) if you really think they're incompetent to handle those things themselves and you want to start a huge fight for assets that you deem worth it and don't want to see tossed aside for mental failing-based reasons.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:59 PM on October 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

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