This one has been hard to write. Not so much because of the emotions involved, more because just getting the context right is difficult.
On August 29 my mother and I had a confrontation regarding my decision to prevent her abusive mother from being around my infant son. At the end of the meeting I told my mother she could visit with my son anytime she wished but, because my mother wasn’t taking our concerns about my grandmother seriously, we insisted the visits take place at my girlfriend’s apartment.
And now it has been almost three months since my mother has visited with my son. Until recently I believed her self-imposed exile was entirely about her pride, that she was unwilling to make the phone call because she believes she deserves unfettered access to my infant son.
From March until August we had allowed her to “babysit” on Thursday’s. It was my idea to give my mother a few hours alone with my son to give them time to bond. We told her it was to give my girlfriend some time off, but in reality I had to practically force my girlfriend to give in to the idea.
The problems started almost right away. Two hours became four, and pretty soon my mother was looking after my son every Thursday for six to eight hours.
My mother was basically becoming a third parent. So when I, after the meeting in August, cut the Thursday “babysitting” and relegated her to only having access in one of our apartments, I thought this was what she was basing her decision to stay away from my son on.
But we never cut off her access to her grandson. We just turned her from being my son’s Thursday Parent, back into being a grandparent. All she had to do was call to make sure we were home.
But, despite telling me several times during our confrontation that she needed to have visits with my son, the call still has not come.
We’ve had two encounters in the past few weeks that have led me to believe her self-exile is about more than access to my son, or about how I’ve dealt with her abusive mother.
Roughly a month ago my mother and step-father invited my girlfriend and I out to dinner at a local restaurant. Of course we showed up with our son. When we were all sitting down I stood back from the table, because I thought my mother would want to sit next to her grandson. Instead she chose the seat that put me in between her and him.
My step-father, who said several truly stupid things during the August meeting, couldn’t even look at me, and never engaged my son.
The next time was on Halloween. We dressed our son up as The Joker and walked to my little brother’s home. When we arrived both my step-father and mother were there. My step-father saw us coming, and disappeared. My mother eventually came over and played with my son for a few seconds.
In addition to what was said during the meeting, and how I’ve become the first one in sixty-one years to put consequences to my grandmother for her abuse, there are other things going on…
My mother has always been uncomfortable around my girlfriend — which isn’t really new, but the pregnancy part is. My girlfriend and I had only dated for ten weeks before she became pregnant. My mother did not react well to the news. Neither did my step-father.
There were no cheers. My mother told me it was my responsibility, when I told people, to make sure I did it in a manner that made people understand the pregnancy was a good thing… to “set the tone”. Which I found odd, and vaguely insulting. Aren’t family just supposed to be happy in situations like that?
But when my step-father walked into the room, I followed my mother’s advice. I smiled, and told him I had “great news”, and reached out to shake his hand as I called him “grandfather”. He stared at my mother with disbelief, gave me a limp handshake, then turned and walked out of the room without saying anything.
My mother asked me three or four times during the first six months of the pregnancy “are you sure this is what you want?”, as if she expected an answer of “no, where are the abortion clinics around here?”, or “no, what are my options on how to get out of this?”.
As the pregnancy was coming to full term, my mother decided she needed to put on a baby shower. My girlfriend asked her to keep it under ten people, and only ones we knew. But my mother turned it into a massive event, inviting ten people we knew, but also forty my mother knew.
By the time the date arrived my girlfriend had no plans to attend, but she went into labour the night before, so that saved us from having to cancel.
My mother, who had been at a Christmas party in Ottawa that night, was the first one to meet my girlfriend at the hospital — there was no room for me in the ambulance. I can’t remember exactly what my mother said to my girlfriend that night, but it made my girlfriend feel very uncomfortable.
Just before my baby was born, but after the baby shower, my mother sent out a mass email to everyone who had been at the shower. She thanked them for the gifts (which she opened), and then she added a line about how I was “on permanent disability and continuing to recover from bipolar”.
The email went out to friends of mine who did not know about the manic depression, or the disability. It also went out to extended family, as well as to our Mayor, the publisher of the local paper, a few lawyers and a judge.
…basically, what I’m trying to say, is that it’s a control issue.
When I confronted my mother about the email, she tried to defend herself. But it was obvious I was right, it was my privacy that she destroyed. When she finally admitted to herself that she had done something wrong, she cried. But it wasn’t because she had done something wrong, she told me repeatedly that “our relationship is changing”.
My mother has never taken my girlfriend shopping. But she has given my youngest brother’s girlfriend a job with the local historical society.
My mother can have a conversation with my brother’s girlfriend. But during our August meeting my mother — who is the strongest woman I’ve ever known — actually admitted that she was afraid of my girlfriend.
My girlfriend was abused by her own mother, and they have had a very confrontational relationship. At one point during our meeting my mother actually wilted in her chair and said “”I will not be treated by [my girlfriend] like she does her mother”. It literally came out of nowhere. It was completely off-topic. There was a no chance of that happening.
It was almost as though my mother were saying to me “admit there’s a chance of your girlfriend abusing me, and tell me you’ll chose to defend me over her”.
Then, a few moments later, she was back to being aggressive towards me: “I have concerns for [my baby’s] safety while he’s in your apartment”.
So… she was never close to being enthusiastic about the pregnancy; she showed very little interest in getting to know my girlfriend; she took over the shower and turned it into the one thing my girlfriend wanted no part in; the night my girlfriend goes into labour my mother says something to make her uncomfortable; my mother sends out an email destroying my privacy; she treats my decision regarding my grandmother as an inconvenience to be overcome then, after shoving my son into my abusive grandmother’s face, she treats me as though I’ve done something wrong, then; she lashes out by telling me she’s afraid of my girlfriend, and that I’m probably a bad father.
And now she has spent three months in self-exile from her grandson.
It’s control… she’s lost whatever control she thought she had — both in my life, from when I announced the pregnancy, and from my son’s life when I cancelled the Thursday thing, and now she’s getting back whatever control she can by staying away from my son.
Or something. I’m still working this out. I’m just glad I was finally able to make some sense out of all this.