We celebrate the abusers in our family with smiles and cake

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I will not allow my son to have contact with people who have abused me, my family or my friends.
My rule to anyone looking after my son — my father and grandmother are at the top of this list.

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The Context

In February my grandmother sat me down and made several disgusting and vile comments regarding my girlfriend, my mother, my son and myself. A few days later I told my mother I would have nothing to do with her mother anymore. I had taken as much abuse from her mother as I possibly could.

I told my mother my infant son would have no more contact with her mother. She agreed. For the past six months my mother has been pushing that boundary until, at a family BBQ two weeks ago, she took my son and pushed him into her mother’s face. For my girlfriend and I it was too much.

We decided, until my mother apologies and promises not to do it again, my mother would not be allowed to be alone with my son — we would not use her as a babysitter, but would have no problem with her visiting our son at our home.

After a few emails my mother decided she would only communicate with me in her home, and in front of her husband. This past Sunday afternoon we sat down and yelled at each other for an hour.

Several things they said have left me wondering if we can still be a family. I’ve left this in order of how I remembered what was said while I was putting this together.

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My mother hinted she might have cause to call the Children’s Aid Society because she considers the state of my apartment — which she has been in once, three years ago — might be a danger to my son.

I was told by my parents there are members of our family who refuse to join them for dinner if they know I’ll be there.

I was told by my mother that she was unable to be with her 88-year old, semi-infirmed father because, until she promised not to allow her abusive mother to have contact with my son, I wasn’t allowing her to babysit my son on her own.

I was told the abusive comments my grandmother made to me directly about my son, girlfriend, mother and myself, were nothing compared to what she had been saying to my mother and step-father since we announced my girlfriend’s pregnancy.

My step-father repeatedly insinuated that I was accusing my mother of abusing my child.

My step-father told me he would, if given the opportunity, hand my child to my father — the man who abandoned me when I was eight, and who physically and sexually abused my mother for eight years.

My step-father told me he had no problem being around my grandmother, the woman who abused his wife for her entire life, and who has repeatedly, over the past year, said vicious and disgusting things about my girlfriend, my son and me.

My mother sobbed, and my step-father screamed at me. “You”, they yelled at me, “are breaking the family.”

Our family, they told me, is about “getting along so we can go along”. They told me family does not need to apologize to family.

My grandfather is invited to every family function. My mother told me she pointedly does not invite her mother. But if her mother shows up, so be it. She’s family and therefore, ultimately, invited to any function.

My step-father went even further, listing off the family names… his, ours, my girlfriend’s, my grandmother’s, and saying they were all welcome in his house because they were all part of the same family.

So I asked him about my father. Would my father, who abused and manipulated everyone around him for so long, allowed into this house?

My step-father nearly jumped out of his chair, he couldn’t say “yes” fast enough.

I should have asked my step-father if his first wife, the one who repeatedly sexually abused his two children, would have been invited in, if she hadn’t committed suicide twenty years ago.

How fast would he have handed my child to her?

Abuse is abuse. I don’t need bruises to prove my father left me disabled for life. I don’t need to see scars from cigarette burns to prove my grandmother nearly destroyed my mother.

People just don’t stop abusing. They don’t wake up one morning and decide what they’ve been doing has been wrong. You can’t stop an abuser by serving them pie but, you know, with a dirty look in your eye.

You can’t stop an abuser by letting them into your home and serving them tea without the biscuit. Eventually they’re going to poke you in the eye with a very sharp stick and you will have no choice but to bleed.

My parents tell me I’m being unreasonable in my demand my mother apologize and promise to never do what she did again. And they justify their demand by telling me they ignored my grandmother’s abuse regarding my girlfriend’s pregnancy for six months.

They tell me I only had to hear it once, they had to hear it over and over and over again. As if the abuse to them was greater than that to me, therefore I should relent. Recant. Step back and let the visitations continue as they had been — unsupervised and with them deciding who gets to be near my son.

They let my grandmother continue her rants for six months, or more, with what… the occasional “shut up, you ignorant bitch”, only much more polite of course. Because in our family we get along so we can go along.

Which basically means, ‘we hope you die soon’.

They never told me I was being attacked. They never stopped allowing her to appear at family functions. During our meeting they kept making the point that they never invited her anywhere anymore. But they never stopped serving her tea with a biscuit, they never stopped her from being at my baby’s baptism or the brunch afterwards.

During my meeting with my parents I handed them a paper with a short list of the things my grandmother said to me that started all of this. They both refused to look at it, telling me they knew about it and had heard much worse from my grandmother.

I walked into the meeting with my grandmother unaware and unprepared for what was going to happen, but both of my parents knew. They’re telling me nothing is their fault. But for almost a year they knew what she had been saying.

They knew what she was going to say to me when I told them my grandmother wanted to talk to me, but they never said a fucking word. And now, here we are.

Get along to go along.

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...thanks.

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About Gabriel...

...diagnosed with manic depression in 1989, for the next 14-years I lived without treatment or a recovery plan. I've been homeless, one time I graduated college, I've won awards for reporting on Internet privacy issues, and a weekly humour column. In 2002 I finally hit bottom and found help. I have an 8-year old son, and a 4-year old son... I’m usually about six feet tall, and I'm pretty sure I screwed up my book deal. I mostly blog at saltedlithium.com....
This entry was posted in Bipolar, Clinical Depression, crazy people with no pants, Depression, Granny, Health, Living With Depression, Living With Manic Depression, Manic Depression, Mental Health and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to We celebrate the abusers in our family with smiles and cake

  1. zoom says:

    Gabriel. You’re in a tough spot, and so is your mother. For what it’s worth, I think you’re mostly right. Your family (like many) has some dysfunctional ways of remaining intact. One of which is to say, basically, that “Family is family,” as though that excuses everything. It’s right up there with “My country, right or wrong.”

    This kind of attitude will keep a family together no matter what. Unfortunately, the flip side of this is that it will keep a family together no matter what. It can be the ideal breeding ground for abuse, and for a collective, ongoing, multi-generational tolerance of abuse.

    With the stand you are taking, you are essentially telling your family that that it stops here and now, with your child. That their way of coping with dysfunction and abuse over the years is not good enough. That you will not raise your son that way and you will not allow them to do it either.

    Naturally they’re taking it hard because it’s not just about right now, it’s not just about Victor. It’s about how everything has always been done in your family. It’s about whether your mother is able to continue shrugging off the abuse she suffered at the hands of her mother all her life. You are, in essence, challenging everything that has happened in your family – since before you were even born – up until this point.

    One more thing – it sounds like your mom has appointed herself the peacemaker in your family. She’s the one who tries to smooth the ruffled feathers. The one who acts as intermediary in everybody else’s spats. The one who reminds everybody that “Family is family.” If she can’t mend the rift between you and your grandmother, well, then she has to choose between you and she dreads being put in that position. She may feel that she’s desperately trying to keep her family together and not lose anybody, and that her way is the only way.

    I respect your courage and the stand you’re taking, and the underlying guiding principle that you will do what’s best for Victor.

  2. Bromac says:

    Someone is eventually going to stop the ‘get along to go along’. Sounds like it’s going to be you. I’m glad.

    I am so terribly sorry about this meeting. I don’t know which shocked me more, that your sf would allow your bio father around your son or that your gm has been running her mouth for so long. Nah, probably that your mom threatened calling authorities on you. That is worrisome.

    I don’t think any more mtgs should be on the agenda for awhile. Doesn’t sound like they’re even listening to what you are saying. They’re not even trying to hear. Gawd, I’m sorry.

    What is Victor’s mom saying? Was she at the mtg?

    • Gabriel... says:

      Hi Bromac… the authorities thing was bizarre. Something my girlfriend and I wanted was a promise my mother would keep her mother from physical contact with our son. So I kept telling my mother “promise me this and it’s all over, we can go back to how it was”.

      Then, suddenly, she agreed. She said “I’ll promise to do my best to keep Victor away from her” (which was barely what we were asking) “if you’ll make me a promise.”

      So I said “anything” and her response was:

      “I want you to clean your apartment. I have concerns for Victor’s safety when he’s in your apartment.”

      Which made no sense because she’s only been here once in the seven years since I moved in and, other than some dirty dishes, there’s nothing wrong with my apartment.

      But that was her trying to take back some control.

      There were a couple of reasons why I didn’t bring my girlfriend to the Sunday scream-a-thon.

      1. She doesn’t know what my grandmother said to me, if she knows it was bad and is willing to live with that. If she knew there’s no way she’d ever allow my son near anyone in my family ever again.

      2. I needed to be able to speak freely to my mother and step-father. And that meant the possibility of bringing up past abuse that, again, would have caused my girlfriend to freak out.

      I’ve kept my girlfriend up to date on everything, as it happens. She just shakes her head and says things like “your family is fucked beyond repair”.

  3. Hella Stella says:

    In your situation, I would do exactly what you are doing. Unfortunately, that would also mean I would take a break from my family until things cooled down, which could be weeks, months, or years. Or it could be until your grandmother is dead (sorry, that’s blunt).

    My partner’s parents have a similar outlook on family that your mother does, and it’s been a source of tension for years. In my family, if someone abuses or treats people in an unacceptable manner, they don’t deserve our time. In their family, you’re expected to stay tight as ever, no matter what people have done, no matter how bad. It seems insane to me.

    Lately they seem to have realized that we will never agree with their system, and have started to move to middle ground. It was probably because we spent a month with little or no contact, and they realized that it was harder on them than it was on us. I honestly never thought it would happen, but I’m relieved too.

    I’ll be thinking of you guys… That’s a lot of bullshit to have to deal with. TEAM GABRIEL!

  4. Gabriel... says:

    My parent’s whole philosophy of “get along to go along” is predicated on my grandmother eventually dying — the timing of which ranges from six months to three years.

    But I think I may have come up with a compromise based on an episode of The Sopranos.

    Tony’s shrink tells him sometimes our elders need to feel like they’re in charge, but that doesn’t mean we actually give them any authority. So, by the end of the episode, Tony’s uncle Junior believes he’s the head of the Family, but really it’s Tony who’s in charge.

    So… I’m going to give in to my mother’s demands. And this is what I’ll tell her:

    1. When we need a babysitter you will be the first person we call.
    2. When you want to visit with Victor you can call and invite yourself over for coffee, or invite us out to lunch.

    Until very recently we’ve been handing over our son to my mother so once a week they can have an afternoon and evening together. So this stops those long visits, while still giving her an opportunity to be an unsupervised babysitter… and nothing to complain about.

    The thing is, we almost never need a babysitter. We have no problem looking after our son in a restaurant besides, we’re too freaking poor to do anything anyway. And, if we do ever need a babysitter, it’ll only be for an hour or two a month in the evenings, and not half-a-day a week. So the opportunities for my mother to have my son around her mother go down to almost nothing.

    Also, because she is the babysitter, we’d expect to know where she was taking our son. Which also gives us the opportunity to say “no, we’d prefer if he stayed in tonight.”

    So it looks like I’m giving in to my mother’s demand for unsupervised visits with my son, but I don’t think I’m doing it in the way she wants…

    There’s also the “Get along to go along” bullshit…

    3. No more “getting along to go along”, if my grandmother is saying vile things about me, I want to know. If someone in our family refuses to have dinner with me, I should know.

    I do plan on taking an extended break from my family. There’s no chance I can forgive my step-father for the multitude of stupid things he said in his “I’m a big boy” voice — even if I was to receive an apology, which I won’t.

    If my mother wants to visit with my son, fine, but it’s happening here or in a restaurant — like a normal grandparent would.

  5. Gabriel... says:

    Hi zoom… I think you got it exactly. My mother did her best to protect my brother and I from some of the epically screwed up situations she put us into. But she kept putting us into those situations.

    On Sunday she made a huge point about telling me about her response to the time we told her her mother had hit us. She instantly called her mother, yelled at her for ten minutes, and it was a year before we saw our grandparents again.

    But then her father took her aside and used the “we’re all family, and family’s all you got” argument, and she started to leave us with her mother again for extended periods of time. Her mother never hit us again, but she would manipulate and lie to my grandfather and we’d end up out in the woodshed* with him asking us why we did what we did not do.

    *…he never ‘beat’ us, he’d let us anticipate what was coming, until our snot was hanging around our waists and we were sobbing. Then he’d wind up like he was going to ‘POW’, but at the last second he only ‘popped’ us.

  6. detached99 says:

    I have so much that I want to say to you regarding this terrible family drama, but I don’t know where to start! So I’ll just say a couple random things:

    As a child, I had told my mother that I was being molested on a regular basis by a family member, she said “we don’t want to make waves” and she did nothing to stop the abuse. When my kids came along, she continued to have family dinners that included my abuser, with no regard for my feelings about it. We eventually came to a small but significant compromise in that the kids were not permitted in the same room as him. Ever. They even ate in a separate room. For her, it was somewhat effective for me to bring up the abuse, because she agreed to my rules just to get me to stop talking about it! The reason I mention this isn’t because I think this is something that would work in your family, but because this whole “lets just pretend everything is perfect” syndrome appears to be a mindset that is shared by the older generations.

    I don’t know if there is a solution, but in my case, it helped a lot to slowly stop contact with the toxic members of my family. It was getting so bad with my father, who was very abusive in my childhood and just as verbally abusive in my adulthood, that I moved, changed my phone number, and never saw him again. I gotta say, it felt really good!

    If I were you, I would stand my ground come hell or high water and do what you feel is best for you, your GF, and Victor. Don’t compromise who you are to suit people who treat you badly. Do not compromise your health for people who wouldn’t piss on you if you were on fire, and don’t waste your time, your love, or your concerns on people who are narrow minded and shallow and who try to make you cast doubts on yourself.

    Families are complicated, and an awful thing to be around most of the time. Thats why people have children: to have family around that doesn’t suck your will to live. It is obvious that Victor is your primary focus, which makes you a better parent than every last one of the people you have talked about in this post, and therefore, no matter what you and your GF choose to do, it will be the right thing to do. You guys are wonderful parents and deserve so much more love and support than you are getting.

    (I realize I’m rambling…I’m smack in the middle of a somewhat manic phase right now and my mind is going in 50 directions at once…sorry)

  7. Seems to me that your family is just flat out fucked up. I’d probably just have to cut off all contact with all of them until they come to terms with the fact that the abuse is still going on and you’re no longer willing to be a party to it. I think you’re doing the right thing keeping your son as far removed from all of this as possible.

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