Thursday, November 13, 2008

I'm going off the rails of a crazy train

Just when I don't want to think that things can get any crazier, they do. After Aunt Ju-Ju sent her temper tantrum via email, we hadn't heard anything from Grandma L. I really didn't expect to either. That's just her M.O. Ignore the problem and not face the situation. But, she took a different route this time by sending Bill and Aunt Ju-Ju a manipulative, guilt trip letter on Monday making another attempt to put a wedge between Bill and I to disrupt our family. It's a lengthy letter, so here's the gist of it with some key quotes...

"We, as a family, know that we do things and say things to one another that we may never say to others because as a family our love is unconditional... We are a small family and I would hate to think that things said or done would ever break us apart. However, I feel the strain that these past years have had on our family bond. Yes, it does seem we are walking on eggshells each and every time we are together. I know you are grown-ups with families of your own, but you are still my kids."

"As you both know, I waited to become a grandparent. I would tell my kids at school that the only grandkids I had were the fake babies in Child Development class. However, it seems like our family problems began when I finally did become a grandparent. How could such a joyous situation cause such tension?"

"What do you remember most about your grandparents? Unfortunately you never got to meet my mom. That is one of the greatest sadnesses in my life that she never got to meet you. Just think – she died at the age of 57. I was only 22. Just think of where you were in your lives at age 22. Hopefully you can understand the types of questions I would have loved to be able to ask her... Do either of you ever remember your dad or I setting ground rules for your time with them? No, because we respected them and trusted them with you."

"Now, I need to respond to the email that came last week... If there were problems, why couldn’t you have TALKED with me about them? Since when do you feel that you can’t talk with me? My mother’s gut tells me that even though the email was from your email address it was not written by you. The email talked about honesty. Was that honesty? It also talked about walking on eggshells. Isn’t that what we are all doing? We are just waiting each visit to find out what causes problems. Do you really think that I would put you or your family at risk? You knew about (Cousin B's) visit to the Dr. Did you tell Kristin? If you felt that your kids were in danger, why didn’t you leave?"

"... Please remember that you are brother and sister. Do WHATEVER it takes to straighten these things out. Please do not let things that have happened break that tie. I know from personal experience that sibling ties change but usually strengthen over the years... I am purposefully sending this email to you at work so that you to have time to read it and think about it by yourself. You may think – I don’t keep things like this from my spouse. It’s up to you but I would hope you would respect my request and respond on your own".

So basically she is saying: We (the four of them) are a small family and everything (their actions towards me) that have been going on are effecting their relationships. You are still my kids (not accepting the reality of family relationship evolution). I've dreamed about becoming a grandparent for so long (with expectations that were not met), I don't understand how there could be tension from that. I don't understand why you don't ask me questions like I wanted to ask my mom (to her this is disrespect). I never had boundaries with your grandparents because I respected and trusted them (not understanding why we don't reciprocate). I don't know why you can't talk to me (there's no communication at all with them - we tried while they were here). I feel like you aren't the one writing that email (it was constructed by both Bill and myself with the help of our counselor - three of us). I am not dishonest, I told you about Cousin B being sick (calling it teething and saying he was fine). Do you really think I would put your family at risk (this is emotional manipulation). If you thought so, why didn't you leave (deflecting responsibility). Do whatever it takes to fix this (it's up to you two "kids" and she has no part in this). I'm sending this to you at work because I don't want you to share this with your spouse (because they aren't a part of "the family").

I know the game she's playing. I can see right through her.

Bill and I were going to talk about her email last night. He told me that he spoke to Grandma L that morning, ignoring the fact she sent the email, they never talked about it and she cried while asking him what the kids wanted for Christmas (more emotional manipulation). This was just more than I could take. We have to address our problems or they will only get worse.

We talked about making an appointment with our counselor to help us figure out what to do and Bill agreed that he wouldn't talk to Grandma L until then so as not to mislead her into thinking there wasn't a problem. I was sort of OK with this. The biggest issue I had with her guilt trip letter was that she asked Bill to keep it a secret from me. I told him that all I wanted to do was email her to let her know that I read it when she sent it. That was all, nothing more. Mostly to show her that Bill isn't keeping these things a secret from me, no matter if she asked him to "respect her wishes".

Well, after a little back and forth about contact (where Bill did have some good points) it did get a little heated and he said "well, why don't you call her then!" not thinking I actually would. I grabbed the phone and called her up.

I told her that I wanted to talk about the letter she sent, told her that I didn't appreciate her asking Bill to lie to me -which she denied trying to do despite me reading her words back to her ("that's not what I meant!"). She still said that it was my fault that the kids got sick from the virus visit because I didn't ask enough questions (because somehow I need a crystal ball to know Cousin B was sick to begin with). I called her out on all of her crap (manipulation, attempts at ending/meddling in our marriage, dishonesty, etc).

As she always does (and will forever), she denied any responsibility and wasn't even close to apologizing for anything. Not only is it my fault that the kids got sick because I didn't ask enough questions (after I pointed out that she was dishonest), she said that everything is "my perception", as in not reality. I kept telling her that she was living in a fantasy world, that what she's saying isn't the truth and pointing out what the situation really was. I told her that all of this is going on because she is dumping her issues onto me. That she needs to go to counseling to work on that and once she has a better understanding of herself, then we would be able to do family counseling when they move here. I told her that she called me crazy and that I needed "help" so I went to individual counseling for seven months when she cut me off and then did marriage counseling with Bill on and off for two years to learn how to deal with all of them. I told her that she needed to take those same steps, that she needed help and things weren't going to change unless she took those steps.

She's not going to counseling or doing anything on her end to help us resolve our issues. When I told her about her letter putting that responsibility on Bill and Aunt Ju-Ju, she said that she wanted the tension resolved in "their" family. I told her that "their" family doesn't exist anymore now that Bill is married and Bill and Aunt Ju-Ju have kids. I told her that it's everyone's responsibility to make it work, not just the three of them because the tension is with everyone. I told her that I was as much a part of this family as everyone else and she said no (confirming that I am just the donating uterus, bearing her grandchildren).

BUT! The big difference in this conversation wasn't just talking about the past, I put her on the spot asking what SHE was going to do to help our family move forward. I told her what Bill and I had been doing and that if we really want the kind of family relationship that we all want, it's going to take a collective effort from everyone, not just Bill and I. In her letter, she put that responsibility on Bill and Aunt Ju-Ju. She refused to say how SHE was going to help to make our holidays more comfortable. Actually, she said she wasn't going to do anything.

She started to mock me and I flat out put a stop to it. "Don't sass me. If you want respect, you earn it. Speaking to me like that is not getting you anywhere and I will not be treated this way...". She shut her mouth pretty quick and shortly after that, hung up on me.

She is not only a master emotional manipulator, but she is an emotional abuser as well. It was very clear in this conversation. I hope she knows she's not getting away with it anymore. Because she's not.

So, did we really get anywhere in the conversation? No. Did anything different happen (apology, etc)? No. But I called her out and stood up for myself. AND I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER. It feels like a HUGE weight had been lifted. I wasn't depending on Bill to address the problem - I took it into my own hands to let her know how I feel and told her I knew what she was doing to our family. Bill had been sitting there listening to the entire conversation and after I got hung up on, said that he backed me up 100% with everything that I said, that I wasn't asking for or saying anything unreasonable. Everything that I said to Grandma L needed to be said. I was so proud and happy from that moment. I cried on Bill's shoulder because I felt so much better. It didn't matter what happened because I at least got it all off my chest.

I realized this morning that this whole situation is the school yard bully scenario. I could have my recess kickball buddy stand up for me, but that wouldn't stop the bully from picking on me. It's a temporary solution. I ultimately had to do it. I've had to put up with so much from her and turn the other cheek. I was at the end of my rope. Not doing anything only allowed her to continue to treat me that way. She may always treat me this way and nothing will change with the in-laws, but things will change with me. It's her turn to put up with me. I'm going to let her know how I feel after the horrible things she does. It's not fair to my kids to watch their mom get bullied like this and from here on out, I'm not standing for it anymore.

So, now I can relegate. Now I can comfortably distance myself from them and not engage anymore. We'll see what happens before Christmas when they visit again.


cristin said...

I know that this is not going to be a popular comment. I'm not going to do this anonymously so I can make the point that I am not being a sneaky bitch. Please take that for what it's worth.

I hate my mil immensely, she is a meddling, invasive pain in my ass. My partner and I have fought many a fight about her, believe me. I'd like nothing more than to get to the point where she is dead. (thats terribly mean, i know) So please understand that I do feel for you. I really really do.

That being said, I also feel for your mil. I have three kids and I hope I never see a day where there is pain and fighting in my family. I have fought a long hard road to get to where I am now. I can feel for my mil as well. I hate her, but I can understand how hard it must be for her to not feel welcome in my childrens lives. And how uncomfortable she must feel around me. About a year ago, I gave up the fight. It was making me crazy. I decided to be the bigger person. I set up realistic boundaries (she will not babysit-she's old and incapable), I stopped fighting tooth and nail about every single short coming she has. After all, she is my childrens grandmother and they will love her because she's not a douche bag to them. Should she respect me more? yes. Should your mil respect you more? absolutely. But I think you're going about things the wrong way. They can't take your complaints seriously, they are too numerous. They clearly think you're ridiculous and whether you are is neither here nor there.

If I were to give any advice (that you did not ask for, I realize) I would say either cut them off or get over it. Make everyones lives easier. Fight the important battles. Most of all, make your life and your childrens lives better.

I know it's easier said than done. You dont have to like them. I don't like my mil, not even a little bit. But in my opinion you would feel better too. It seems to be turning into a pissing contest.

I'm sorry if this is offensive, I don't mean for it to be. I have been where you are and it's not fun.

If anyone wants to rip me a new one, feel free:

Won't bother me in the least.

Kristin said...

I appreciate your comment & your point of view from your experiences.

I think there is a big difference in disliking a pain the ass family member to tolerating abuse. Obviously, Bill & I have talked about this situation at length & yes, in a perfect world - I should let it slide, not effect me in the least. But I can't. I'm human. I have feelings. I can't take it anymore. And I want nothing more than a cut-off to be done with it all, which may end up being the end result. It's been discussed, but it's not something Bill wants to do right now. So this is the next best thing for me. Standing up for myself.

I do think it's sad for her that she won't have the type of relationship that a grandmother should have, but that's on her. Not me. And it's not all because of little petty things, there are very valid reasons for the boundaries we have set up, boundaries that protect our kids health & safety, because it's clear the IL's don't have the best judgment.

My personal opinion, is that there is a difference in being the Bigger Person to the Better Person. The Bigger Person is stone & ignores the situation. The Better Person grows from the experience.

I have learned some very important lessons in this horrible family dynamic. What kind of MIL I want to be when my boys are grown men with families of their own, better communication skills in my home & how important it is for my kids to learn them from the start, to how my own childhood history plays in my reactions.

The lesson I learned last night is how important it is to protect myself, because I can see how easily it is for me to fall into the victim role. While it might have been PC for Bill to handle his family, they don't take him seriously either (you are exactly right that they don't take me seriously at all).

And yes, you are right. It had been turning into a pissing contest. This was part of the heated conversation last night. We knew how it was going, thus made the decision to not respond to Aunt Ju-Ju's email(s). But, after the type of email we received from Grandma L, I didn't think it was appropriate to ignore what was being done.

I know from how I felt afterward that it was the right thing to do, for myself & my family.

momto1 said...

Oh my God she is a piece of work! Good for you for standing up for yourself. I really hope you guys start to get resolution to these issues soon.

cristin said...

I agree that every situation is different. My mil is not abusive, but she is also not 'just a pain in the ass'. I've got stories ;-)

I didn't mean that you should over look everything. I meant that they're not receptive to what you're doing. You shouldn't let everything go. But you can also confront them head on right as it happens "sorry aunt ju ju, you didnt' tell us your kid was this sick, so we're leaving. Next time we'd appreciate this info before hand." But sending emails and waiting for an apology doesn't seem likely to me. I'm saying this from an outsiders POV. Just from reading your blog. It's purely assvice.

I have been where you are, I've had the 'cut them off' discussion. I was NOT happy at all. My partner was not happy either. There was a point where we either cut her off or I had to let the small stuff go. Thats what I was trying to say. Should you have been told about aunt ju ju's sick baby? definitely! Take that on for sure, but waiting for an acceptable apology seems like it would be futile.

I clearly offended you. And I apologize. Will go back to lurkdome ;-)

Kristin said...

No, not offended at all. Otherwise I wouldn't have published your comment :) I see your points, undoubtedly. They're points that we've been talking about for months (years?).

Waiting for an apology IS futile. I've been unrealistically optimistic that someday we'll get an apology for something. It's NEVER going to happen.

It's a very difficult situation to be in & I don't think there is a right or wrong answer to the solution (well, wrong would be to return the abuse). I think at this point we have to go by our instincts. This is where I have to trust my gut, because it's never let me down. And my gut is telling me to confront the problem. Ignoring it isn't working.

I think if this conversation was clearly wrong, I wouldn't feel as I do about it (meaning as good). And Bill wouldn't have either. I know it's hard to get the whole picture from a few posts in a blog, but I also know that those close to me in the situation agree this was what needed to be done.

Anonymous said...

wow..good for you standing up for yourself and family...that situation is crazy.I cant imagine my inlaws ever telling J to keep something from me.good luck

Dawn B said...

So so proud of you. Whether it's the schoolyard bully OR ANYONE bullying you (read your whole post twice to be sure..from my perception your MIL WAS bullying you)'s awesome to stand up for yourself. So so proud. Myabe now she'll reconsider getting some help. If she doesn't do it for her family she needs to do it for herself before she misses out on so much with her grandkids.

Kristin said...

In working on a post this morning on a completely different topic, I came across this quote that really sums up why I felt it was important for me to do what I did.

"I swore to never be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides, Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim, silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." - Elie Wiesel

Anonymous said...

Long time reader, first time commentor:

I agree with both you and Christin. I have had to go through 9 months of counseling to deal with the toxic relationship between me and my parents.

There is a book floating around in my circle called Non-violent communication. It suppose to be wonderful on dealing with these types of problems.

Just thought I'd pass that along. :) I don't want to offend.


Kristin said...

Not at all, actually my sister J recommended that book to me a long while ago. I need to go get it, absolutely.

Erin said...

Good for you Kristin. You stood up for yourself, and even if it doesn't make a difference in her actions, at least she knows now that you aren't going to put up with her crap. I had to do this with my MIL and now, years later, we have a mutual understanding...I don't take crap, and if she senses me getting pissed, she stops and/or leaves. Works great. Hopefully your MIL will do something like this eventually. Just keep standing up for yourself. You're a wonderful mother and a wonderful person, and you don't deserve to be walked all over.