Mother is estranged from siblings and I am not sure what to do?
July 31, 2020 2:18 AM   Subscribe

My mother cut off all her siblings in her life because they would always quarrel and become jealous of each other - they grew up in a dysfunctional home. It has been almost seven years since she has stopped talking to them and I feel saddened still, as the family gatherings I go to are rare now and not the same. This is rather a sensitive topic in nature, which is why I wanted it anonymous.

One aunt doesn't seem to like me simply because she and my mother are not speaking - it's awkward and now I feel too uncomfortable attending family gatherings. The three other siblings do text now and then and ask me to spend time with them, but it still feels awkward. It saddens me that we were all close, albeit, even if there were riffs and tension at times - I no longer speak to my once close cousins unless I attend a gathering and it's causing me a lot of pain.

I am not sure what to do. Some people have told me I have experienced emotional trauma over this.

Would seeking a therapist help ease the pain with family conflict?

Should I keep trying to see my aunts, uncles, and cousins, or should I cut them out as well? I feel as if it will never be the same with the conflict they have with my mother. I feel they want to see me, but the ball is in my court. And sometimes they are too busy to meet. Just feeling confused and lost. My mother encourages me to see them - but it is not the same as it once was. I am feeling lost here and could use some guidance and advice. Thank you in advance.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Can you put into words in what way it is awkward to meet those siblings who want to see you?

On the surface, it seems simple to say that you are not your mom, and her siblings want to spend time with YOU, so why not go and carve out a relationship of your own with them, if you miss them.
But it sounds like there is more going on than that? It could be any number of things. (For example, maybe your grief is for a family phase of togetherness that doesn't exist anymore, rather than a genuine wish to connect with these specific people, so meeting them now would be more painful than helpful?)

And yes therapy would help, regardless of whether there is trauma or not (there may well be, given what you say about your mom).
posted by Omnomnom at 3:14 AM on July 31 [3 favorites]

I think the answer might be as simple as, you can do what you like as long as you make it clear you won’t be a go-between for anyone. You’re both adults that can make your own choices while treating the other person’s with respect.

I agree with Omnomnom that it sounds like there’s more going on here, though.
posted by mhoye at 3:16 AM on July 31 [3 favorites]

I'm sorry that the perception of your family life changed when your mother put boundaries into place, but I want to remind you that this dysfunction still exsisted you just may not have been as aware of it as you are now. One of the family members not speaking to you or now speaking poorly to you because of your mom is an extensions of those dynamics onto you. In fact in some ways for may be serving as a stand in for your mother for a variety of reasons.

Cultivating healthy relationships in families with dysfunction is complicated, doing it in larger families even more so. It's a ton of work.

So I encourage you to think about first , what do you value about your aunts and cousins and other family members? Is it their time, is it common intrest, is it a sense of family?

After that, concider are you actually getting those things from these members ?

Also , consider what do you feel has changed or have you lost? Is it your mothers involvement, is it how you were treated? Is it something hard to put into words?

And finally is it worth it to you to traverse those dynamics to stay in contact with these people?

You don't say how old you are. But i wonder if part of this is part of you changing as well, getting older, being independent, being more cued into what is actually going on. It might not be. I have no idea how old you are based on this question. But if you were a teen when this happened and now you are in your twenties you are also experiencing a change in your identity coming into adulthood and that did change your relationships with extended family a ton.

I cut off an entire side of my family as a young adult for complex reasons, and have slowly reached out to recultivate relationships i wanted to have safely. It's not as easy as going to the reuinion, because that's never happening, but i have found a space where i feel comfortable and feel like my family is well, my family.

I think the hardest part is that i had to be super clear that decisions and boundaries were not to be litigated. I made my choices. My family made theirs. I don't judge them (the ones i talk to anyway) for making different choices, and don't say anything about it. If they ask me i am firm and tell them I'm not talking about it. That helps to really lower the anxiety.

And I wonder if you feel you are being forced to be a go between, and in that case don't offer any information unless it's been explicitly concented to. Ask your mom if it's okay to give a general health report to her family for whatever. If not, I personally would give a simple answer along the lines of "mom requested i not talk about her, how are you doing?"

You don't want to feed into a cycle that's litterally older than you are.

Whatever you do, take gentle care and I hope you find what you are looking for.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:46 AM on July 31 [10 favorites]

Change always feels awkward for a while. The way to overcome the awkwardness is to keep going within the new parameters and after a while they become the new normal. So not withstanding the fact that it is never a bad thing to explore what you want out of any relationship and assess if you’re getting that, the current circumstances will feel awkward until you have either got used to not being in touch with these people or have carved out a different relationship with the ones you would like to stay in touch with, one that will have different terms and no longer depend on your mother’s relationship with her siblings and their children.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:55 AM on July 31

A therapist would be very helpful here. Your boundaries — specifically that your mother’s issues are your mother’s issues — could use some shoring up.

Also, your relationship with these people has irrevocably changed, and if you’re looking for a new connection to them I would suggest you see yourself as their parent’s grandchild.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:19 AM on July 31

it does sound like some sort of outside input could be helpful.

I've seen some family arrangements where one player opts out (like your mom) and other relationships continue unscathed. But it requires a lot of affection, and also an active resistance on the part of everyone both to refereeing the absent person's opting out, and to treating the remaining person - their kid or sibling or whatever - as a stand-in for the absent one.

If you're going to be treated as a stand in for your mom, you're going to be in a bad spot. But if you can train them to treat you as a separate entity it might work out; you'll probably need some help with that, and maybe a therapist can coach you.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:27 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]

I'm estranged from my parents, but not my sister. The estrangement from my parents pretty much takes out the rest of the extended family, however I can see how it could be *really* awkward with my sister.

Initially, she did some message passing from my parents; I'd say that I didn't want/need to hear that/not engage on the point, and the email thread would die for a bit. She also tried to engage some on the estrangement, agreeing that some things were fucked up, but hey, forgiveness, and move forward, right? I never engaged with that. Eventually either my parents stopped pestering her to pass stuff on, or she stopped doing so, and any times we interact, it's just about us/our lives/hobbies.

She's still in contact with them, and visits, she does make reference to them from time to time. I just don't engage on those small parts, but I also sense that it's only brought up because of the proximity to her. Once, she mentioned that a medication change brought a big positive difference in our mom's behavior. But she didn't bring it back up when I acted as if I dind't read the few sentence paragraph she wrote. If instead she was often bringing them up, in ways that seemed tangential, I'd find that off putting and want to engage much less.

Perhaps consider why your mom has cut them out. Have you witnessed these arguments? Do you feel your siblings were primarily at fault? Did they respect your mother's boundaries attempting to avoid these arguments? Perhaps you feel crappy, because you see why your mother cut them out of her life? Even if personally you didn't value the severity of the boundary crossing to be worthy of estrangement. I think that if you see and agree with why she chose to estrange them, that you should give more consideration towards also being estranged. If you think she has mostly valid reasons, but you haven't had the straw that broke her camel, then you might always feel these feelings that you're betraying your mom.

Maybe instead, your experience was your mother kept initiating arguments/drama but believed otherwise. Or your take on the matter is that she was simply mad that they'd never come to her side. Or never let her get the last word. Or maybe there's mental illness on her part. I.E. the next few paragraphs are for if you don't see any validity towards why your mother estranged her siblings. Or at the very least that you think it definitely did not rise to the level of estrangement.

When you're seeing your extended family, are they trying to pass messages via you? If so, that's a crap situation for you to be in. You can make it better by letting them know you won't pass messages, and you're not there as a substitute for your mom. Either withdraw for a bit when you say it, or leave for that day. Either they learn to respect your boundaries, or they've shown you that you probably shouldn't be seeing them.

When you're seeing them, are you instead feeling like a traitor to your mom (despite possibly not thinking she has any valid reason for estrangement)? And the extended family is respectfully not trying to engage you as a workaround of the estrangement. If so, the way to feel better about this is going to be fully within you. Therapy will probably help find that solution faster.

But yes, I would really expect this to feel weird for you. I know it must for my sister, which is why I haven't tried to push for a bigger boundary like "never at all mention my parents" or similar. I'd actually much prefer to pretend that they just don't exist. But I can get buy with the occasional mention of them, and she's definitely meeting me halfway regarding my estrangement, and engaging with me for our sake, instead of engaging with me to bridge the gap.
posted by nobeagle at 7:45 AM on July 31

I feel pretty strongly that you can’t manage other people’s relationships. You can’t make people get along or coerce them into feeling one way or another about someone. You have to let them relate to each other however they want to handle themselves. This goes doubly so for family.

Your mom has a long history with her family but it’s not YOUR history with them. My mom has tried to push me to have relationships or at least a better opinion of some toxic people in our family. I’ve pushed back on that. She and her older sister had a massive falling out which caused a major rift. I’ve chosen to still have contact with my cousins (children of the Aunt) after a period of nobody talking because they are generally kind and interesting people and I need that sort of family. Now that I reflect on it, while I have sympathy for my mom’s point of view, she has “chosen” the side that I find more troubled. But that’s on her and I certainly am not going to try to mend their fences. Me being in contact with family I like is not mending a fence and I won’t go there.

So, don’t take on their fight if it’s not your fight. Don’t take on relationship management for other people and don’t let anyone put that task on to you.
posted by amanda at 8:12 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]

My mother encourages me to see them

It's really, really good of her to do that. are you worried that this means you have an extra obligation to be loyal to her, just because she's not demanding it? I don't think that's necessary as long as you're firm about not getting into any discussions about her, with them.

the only thing I see to worry about is that your other relatives might see you as a channel of communication to your mother, or try to get information out of you about her. But if anything like that happens, you can just cut it off cold and not initiate further contact. As things stand, unless there's more to know than it seems, you should talk to anyone you want to talk to. but especially the cousins in your own generation, who probably weren't part of what caused the estrangement any more than you were. (or were they? but being loyal to their own parents still isn't the same as bearing a personal grudge against yours.) If you had a good relationship with them before, it seems unnecessary and probably a little hurtful to cut them off over a conflict all of your parents collectively had. unless, as I say, they took an active part in the conflict. Separate yourself from the aunts/uncles if you feel too uncomfortable, but don't extend that to the cousins unless the cousins are hostile.
posted by queenofbithynia at 10:14 AM on July 31 [2 favorites]

I have strained relationships with 2 siblings, for very good reasons. I would really like to have healthy relationships with them, and will continue to attempt that. It's a bit of a heartache, but there's so much crazy and dysfunction in my family and I'm out of spoons.

You're a grown-up; establish your own relationships with relatives, don't edit your Mom out of conversation, but learn her boundaries and her siblings' boundaries, and respect them. Your Mom may be unhappy because Cousin Pat put the moves on her date to Auntie Jay's wedding, or called her 'Pizzaface' in 9th grade, whatever. It's on your Mom to work out her issues; offer support. If Cousin Pat is truly a jerk, or is a total sweetie, you'll figure it out. Also, if you avoid family, you miss the best stories.
posted by theora55 at 2:59 PM on August 1

« Older 30 days notice to NYC landlord - how does it work?   |   ISO experiences with Identity Protection Services Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments