Carolyn Hax: Mom thinks stepdad’s death will mend rift with kids

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Carolina: A long time ago, my mother married a jerk. My siblings and I were teenagers then and it was hard. He would shout, stomp and slam doors if he felt the least bit aggrieved. Even now that my two sisters and I are adults, he still complains loudly about benign things whenever we visit him, and he finds excuses to stomp around, slam doors, and loudly mumble rude things. We rarely visit because of this. My two sisters have children and don’t want to expose them to his temper tantrums.

It seems like my mom is finally seeing things for what they really are. But since he’s in poor health, she adopted a “Once he’s dead, I can finally do x, y, and z” attitude. And she doesn’t understand why we don’t join these plans to come together as one big happy family.

My two sisters live out of state and she desperately wants them back. The problem is that no one really wants it. We like it. And understand that she is the product of her own upbringing (her father was even worse, in a violent way). But we won’t respond to his requests for deeper connections.

Lately she’s been really pushing for more visitation and guilt-ridden my sisters into moving out. Each time, she seems confused why she is the only one interested.

Do we tell him? Do we let her know she did this to herself? All the years of her prolonging our emotional needs have only encouraged us to walk away and find happiness outside of her. A mean and hurt part of me wants to point everything out and explain everything in detail. Another part thinks we don’t need to do/say anything since they should know. Is there a middle ground that we are not aware of?

Anonymous: Both parts of you are considering responses that are meant to punish your mother.

There are ways to tell the truth in addition to “everything in detail”.

There are ways to let something rest besides silence and restraint.

There are ways to engage with her honestly that are not punitive, but rather compassionate, both for her and for her adult children. There are reasons to engage with her that aim to be practical, helpful, calming, and merciful. The status quo of his guilt-ridden, gripping desperation diminishes you all, so a relaxation that helps everyone.

So yes, there is a huge amount of common ground.

That common ground is where you tell your mother the truth to help her understand her own family, or relieve her of the suspense of not knowing (so that she backs off, please?) , or give it a chance to repair the emotional damage. . Take your pick or add your own.

That middle ground is where you give him a kind, edited-out but comprehensive enough truth capsule to ground his choices in reality. She may not choose to use it, but at least she will have it:

“Mom, if I hear you correctly, you believe that once [Jerk] is out of the picture, we’re going back to the kind of unity we had before. Is that how you see it?” Listen carefully to her response; she may understand her children better than she lets on. She may also know exactly how screwed up she is and how futile her efforts are. to wish or feel guilty about it.

But if his response lacks self-awareness, then: “I only speak for myself, I’m not just going to switch between escaping my childhood home and wanting to come back.” And, if so: “I felt that my emotional needs came last. Not only for [Jerk]but to you too, because you were so busy with him.

Your words, of course, but that’s the idea.

While I’m at it: “Should” is also a punitive word and concept. There are many things we “should” know, say and do. Your mother “should have” protected you, yes, absolutely – and “should have” avoided/not married/divorced the idiot, and “should” have known that you were all deeply affected by the fact that she did not not those things. Arguably, too, you “should” treat her like another victim, or “should” have been honest with her earlier, or “should” understand that you have more nuanced options than hot blame or cold shoulder. We “should” be grateful for word boundaries because “should” has no end.

The thing is, the past isn’t very good at telling us what was possible then. It’s much better to help us see what is possible now (especially coupled with therapy, as warranted and possible).

For your mother, this may include choosing a constructive path: telling her once how you feel now, why, what you think will change that, if at all – and then be patient, resistant to guilt, and true to your principles as she forms her own response.

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