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.