Someone close to me was recently discussing how his parents had hated their grandmother but they had tolerated her under the “respect your elders” rule. It was only as an adult that he learned that his mother was born when the grandmother was very young and that they were raised together as sisters. Then – once his mother learned the truth and had moved in with her “real” mom – his mother was sexually assaulted for years by the grandmother’s partner while she looked the other way. But yet, until the grandmother died, she was part of their lives. When he learned this, he was pretty shocked.
I have seen this played out time and again under various circumstances. For some reason we have come to believe that somehow older people can get away with various cruelties and that younger generations just have to tolerate the abuse. It’s baked into our culture by previous generations all of whom have raised us and know how to push our buttons.
But I am here to tell you today that you absolutely do not have to take it. You can walk away from an abusive relative and if you have children that they’ve acted abusive towards, it is IMPERATIVE that you do so.
Recently, after tolerating years snarky comments, lies and manipulation I finally cut someone out of our lives. While I won’t get into the details, the reality is that for years I had tried desperately to maintain a relationship with this person for my children’s sake. The weekly visits were a huge imposition on our time and energy and Mr. Tucker had to actually be present in the room with this person or else they would say the most awful things to me. But I never wanted anyone to say that I didn’t allow this person to craft their own relationship with my kids. My kids loved them and thought the world of them – until this summer.
This summer they got to see the real person behind the mask when they took my kids on a trip. This person was the adult in their lives who was supposed to protect them but instead they would walk ahead and leave them behind on public transportation and even in airport security. They would pick fights with the kids if they didn’t give them their picture postcard Kodak moments. They lashed out cruelly and said horrifically homophobic things. My kids spent most of the trip terrified that this Dr. Jekyll wouldn’t provide their basic needs. My kids came home terrified with a horrible bout of Covid and this narcissist bailed on our quarantine plan because, they just “were so tired and can’t handle it.” It was heartbreaking when my kids saw the truth because a person they loved betrayed them so horribly.
But it was the catalyst I needed to finally cut ties.
Here is the thing about narcissists and people you let get away with cruel behaviour: your tolerance of it emboldens them. They ratchet up the cruelty and the gaslighting to see how much they can get away with. They are such little people that it makes them feel big to abuse people and get away with it so it just keeps happening. Even if you confront them they will give you a non-apology such as “sorry you feel that way,” and the abuse will stop for awhile. But just as you get comfortable and think that MAYBE, THIS TIME you will be able to have the respectful adult relationship with them that you want, it starts again. It always starts slowly and builds up like the proverbial frog in the pot of water being warmed slowly. The pattern repeats.
The horrid behaviour I can take becomes a problem when you target my kids. In my friend’s situation above, the grandmother was always good to him and it was only as an adult that he learned the truth. With my kids, they experienced the horror first-hand. I just ended all communication with this person. I won’t have anyone treating my children like that.
Of course, in true narcissist fashion, I received an email last week from this person. No, not accepting blame and apologizing. That’s what a normal person who wrongs someone does. Instead, the email was basically three paragraphs about how they were disappointed that I don’t provide them with the perfect familial experience that they feel they deserve. Then they tried to guilt me into allowing them back into our lives. Rinse, repeat.
I replied with pointing out that if my kids want to have a relationship with them, they will reach out. Until then, I am blocking all of their methods of contacting me and I don’t want a relationship.
It’s absolutely heartbreaking when it comes to this. I’m actually sad that they will miss so much of our milestones as a family because they are so obsessed with controlling and manipulating people. Yes, they lie to us – but they lie to themselves more, crafting a victim narrative and denying their involvement in situations even when there have been many witnesses who refute their claim. Alone and sad, they cling to the behaviours that don’t serve them, alienating friends and family.
The truth is though, it’s not my problem anymore. They need to do the work and I think we are way past the point of that happening.
So if I have words of wisdom for you, it is this:
No one is perfect and of course we are all different so we will argue, not agree, and generally live our lives differently than other people may. Be as tolerant as possible of people’s differences.
Yes, you can tolerate behaviour from less enlightened older members of your family who may not “get” it. Make those conversations off-topic. But that only applies to some topics. Don’t accept abuse and gaslighting.
Create boundaries and make them clear and non-negotiable.
If multiple people tell you that you are wrong, you are probably wrong.
You don’t need to respect your elders if they don’t respect you. Everyone deserves respect.
Guilt is never a good reason to do something.
You don’t owe anyone their ideal of “family.”
If it harms you, you should consider not exposing yourself to that behaviour.
If it harms your children, you should absolutely protect them at all costs.