sometimes broken is better

I recently had a visit with my father's sister, who is one of only two relatives with whom I'm in regular contact (there are a ton of aunts and uncles, and a very large extended family).  It seems to be the case that when I'm spending time with my few remaining family contacts, that the issue of my parents comes up at least once, and we really have to dig into that for an hour or so.

My aunt is a fairly conflict-avoidant person, and also doesn't like to give the impression that she's judging anybody or spreading gossip. This means that she says only vague things most of the time, although slowly slowly slowly she's relaxing more and being more open about the fact that my mother has always been awful to her, and that my father has been very passive in order to avoid rocking the boat. But mostly the sense I get is that she's super-uncomfortable with the family yuck (as siblings/extended family so often are) and naively optimistic about the possibility of everybody forgiving each other and holding hands and singing kumbaya.

So this time around, in addition to a heavy dose of "you can pick your friends, but you can't pick your family" from my uncle, the main theme was "healing." My aunt is under the impression that my mother is getting really freaked out about the possibility of never seeing me again. My aunt thinks that this dawning realization is causing "a change" in my mother and she advised me to remain "open to healing." She encouraged me to attend a family wedding alone, presumably so that I will be 100% available to this "healing" with my mother.

What exactly do people think that healing will look like? This seems to be part of the "you just need to sit down and hash things out" overly simplistic advice file that people dip into so frequently. They seem to imagine that all that is really needed is for the two of us to each take turns sharing our sorrows while the other one patiently listens. Presumably, this would be followed by a good cry and I-love-yous and hugging and everybody would understand each other and live in peace and harmony forevermore.

I found myself feeling so defensive, because there are a bunch of assumptions that people carry with them into these "helpful" discussions. Perhaps I'll write about the bulk of those assumptions later. Right now, I want to focus on one in particular: the assumption that estrangement is always the worst outcome, and that the ultimate goal is reconciliation, AKA happily ever after.

In response to this, I want to quote myself
Family estrangement is considered such a sad thing in our society, but nobody considers how absolutely wonderful it can be from the point of view of the person escaping an oppressive, soul-sucking relationship.  It's the kind of wonderful that makes you want to spin in a full skirt in the middle of a breezy meadow.
I like not having my mother in my life.

No, I love not having my mother in my life.

I don't love not having a loving mother figure - that kindof stinks sometimes - but my mother is not ever going to be one. I'm working with what I have here, and I am pretty darn happy to have zero contact with the woman who gave birth to me.

It's erroneous to assume that a fractured family is a miserable one.

I told my aunt that if my mom is really changing, if she's really serious about "healing", then she'll take action. Words mean nothing to me. I'm not going to let her pour out hear heart to me at a family wedding and I'm not going to go to therapy just because somebody says she wants therapy. But I'm not going to extend any invitations, because I've done a lot of my own healing, and have no desire to have a relationship with my mother unless and until she heals herself. I told my aunt and uncle that honestly, the onus of reconciliation is on my mom, if she wants that, because I'm a happier, healthier person without her in my life.  I'm ok with never seeing her again. I don't see it as a crack that needs repair.

If real change happens, I will know it when I see it. I'm 100% open to that. Open, but not holding my breath.

I'm going on with my relieved, happy, skirt-twirly, motherless life.

Sometimes letting a cracked thing just be broken is better.

houston, we have a problem (and it's not me)

The scene: front passenger seat of a rented van, on an interstate. Day 1 of a road trip. Text notification beeps on my phone. It's my sister's girlfriend.
Her: Hi, this is [sister] on [girlfriend's] phone. When are you going to visit Aunt B?
Her: I'm worried about you being ambushed.
Her: Mom and dad are driving to [aunt's state] right now. 
I reassured her that there was - hopefully - no ambush in the works. My aunt was hosting a gathering of her own siblings, and my parents were expected to be long gone before I visited her at the end of my road trip. So no need for concern.

So thanks to my sister for the heads-up.

And also thanks to her for indirectly reminding me that my mother is somebody for whom ambush seems a pretty reasonable first assumption. That's messed up. You definitely don't want to have a person in your life who seems more likely to be planning an ambush than setting out on an innocent family vacation.


Another two years go by. I have such a love/hate relationship with the holiday season. Within my own little nuclear family, it's bliss. Christmas at home is wonderful. Not going anywhere is wonderful. The thoughtfulness of my children as they get more and more into gift-giving in our little family is heartwarming.Visiting with my husband's family, who live locally now, is mostly nice.


I'm lonely.

Everywhere I turn, there are people celebrating with extended families. Cousins, aunts, uncles, siblings, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents. And I feel so lost.

There is no big extended family for me. I hate this. I chose it, and I stand by that choice, but this "best" choice still sucks. I want it all. I want the lovely Christmas with my children ANDalso the big hoopla of the extended family AND I want them to be awesome, kind, empathetic, healthy people, and to love me, and to love my kids, and for us to be happy.

That won't happen. Can't happen. But it doesn't stop me from wanting it.

It gets me going down that path of "did I make the right choice?" and "how bad would it be, anyway?"

Really, how bad would it be?

I try to remind myself that holidays with my "one big happy family" were never that happy. They involved marching orders from la madre, everybody held in her thrall, total denial of anybody's desires or comfort except for hers, siblings programmed to think of me as a bitch, ignoring anything I say while laughing at each other's stories, driving home heavy with disgruntlement and hurt. I was no less alone then. It only looked less alone, because I had the big family pictures to show for it. See? We're a happy family! Look at this multi-generational awesomeness!

It's like my favorite Vonnegut book comments: "no damn cat, no damn cradle." It was all an illusion.

My kids have five cousins, but only remember one or two of them. They've never even met one of them. I have no contact with my niece and nephews. I'm estranged from one brother and not at all close to two others. That sense of family ties, family tradition? It's all snarled up.

How do I rewrite my mind to accept that the five of us - me, my husband, our three sons - are enough? That this small, genuine celebration is better than the large, fake one? It's really nice not to go anywhere on Christmas, not to worry about competing inlaws.  I grew up with a big, big extended family. Quiet holidays with just us five plus my mother-in-law and father-in-law are so small. So...boring. How do I learn to accept this as normal and love it for what it is?

Do you know?

from the blogosphere

I am not as active a reading-and-commenting member of the ACON blogosphere as I might be. I post in spurts, when there's something I need to process in writing. I read in briefer spurts, having found in the past that reading a lot about narcissistic parents can end up causing me to dwell excessively on my mother, rather than living my own life. Does that happen to anybody else out there?

Right now, though, I'm feeling contemplative about my own family, desirous of connection with other ACONs who *get it*, and also emotionally secure enough to be able to take a dip in those waters without drowning.

A few things I've found that I think are worth sharing:
  • Violet's post about stirring the pot and provoking drama on The Narcissist's Child. Wise, wise, wise words. Tread very thoughtfully and carefully when deciding to confront a malignant narcissist, and ask yourself: what is this likely to accomplish? What am I hoping to get out of it? In a nutshell: "If your NM is the rageaholic type, you aren’t going to accomplish anything good by rubbing her nose in her messes. In fact, taking any kind of overt action calculated to make her responsible for herself and her behaviour, anything you say or do designed to pry her away from her fantasies, rewritten histories, and sense of entitlement, will be met with resistance and, depending on her personality, could result in anything from a screaming match in which you are characterized as a liar who is picking on her to a full out assault that includes character assassination to not only the family, but to friends, lovers/spouses, in-laws, employers, and even the authorities."  Truer words were never written.
  • Roots to Blossom's recent post about dealing with anger when you are the parent, Mommies Get Angry, Too. ACONs like us have to do a lot of healing and re-learning in order to raise emotionally healthy children.
  • If you've been doubting your sanity and thinking that maybe your Nparents aren't really that bad, here's a refresher course from Sanctuary for the Abused on red flags that indicate someone is an abuser (or their victim).
  • There's always something a little bit satisfying in knowing that other people have received crazy letter from their crazy mothers, too. Here's one, read by the daughter to whom it was sent: Letter from My Narcissistic Mother

various and sundry family things

  • I have a friend whom I met through SIL#1, although neither of us is currently friendly with SIL. Was chatting with the friend last night and she reminded me about how SIL dumped her (the friend) several times for stupid reasons that basically boiled down to the friend not meeting SIL's total approval for coolness and doing things just how SIL does them. Good reminder to me that when it comes to Bro#1 and SIL#1, it's not me, it's them. I mean, she "took a break" from the friend because she didn't like her house. You know, when somebody invites you to visit their new home and you don't love that house, the nice thing to say is "Congratulations! How do you like it? What's your favorite part? Give me a tour!"
  • On the less-nice side, I met yet another person who already knows Bro#1 and wanted to gush to me about what a great guy he is. Ugh. Sometimes my city is too small for me. Yes, he's oh so talented and great with kids and yada yada. He's also an ass who can't separate from his abusive mommy. Can we stop talking about him, please?
  • Something I recently learned about my brothers: apparently when my two youngest brothers were in high school, the younger brother (Bro#3) was starting to learn how to shave and my mother videotaped him, then teased the older one (my middle brother, Bro#2) about not being able to shave yet. What kind of a parent does that? I mean, way to emasculate your son, lady. Teenaged boys have enough emotional garbage without their mothers pointing out that their little brothers are manlier than they are. I cannot imagine making fun of one of my sons this way, especially not about something that he's probably sensitive about to begin with. How cruel. 
  • Got a Christmas card from my parents. Years ago, I would have returned to sender. Then I would have had my husband open it. Then later I would have just recycled it myself. This time I decided to open it. I can handle it. "We miss you and we love you." Oh, so pathetic. If you miss me and love me so much, where's your attempt to truly heal the rift? It stinks that they hurt, that they caused their own hurt, and that they are so totally clueless about it. 
  • Speaking of clueless estranged parents, my husband's brother has been on the outs with my in-laws for about a year and a half, ever since they were total jerks to his girlfriend when she and he were visiting. They're pretty passive-aggressive and judgmental and at some point in my relationship with them I had to stand up to them about it, and ultimately they chilled out a bit and now my husband maintains the boundaries well enough that we don't have major problems. But they had been dicks about this girlfriend since the beginning, and they treated her really poorly, and BIL had had enough of it, and has had very very little contact with them since. The in-laws, of course, don't understand at all and place blame on him, the whole typical dysfunctional parent song and dance. Well, he called them on Christmas and talked to them briefly, after which FIL went on and on about how he wishes he were there to help BIL, that it's so hard when your child lives too far away for you to help them when they're in a time of trouble. Turns out he thinks BIL is depressed. Because, you know, when a kid decides not to spend time with his parents, it's because he has emotional problems, not because the parents are being assholes. *sigh*
  • I have a big huge extended family on my mom's side and there's an annual party for my grandmother which I haven't attended in years because I'm a) not close enough to that grandmother to want to drive across several states and pay for lodging for this party, b) not close to any of my cousins who would be there, c) my mother would be there (yuck), and d) the aunt who hosts the party is the "bury the hatchet" aunt. I'm not really into attending things hosted by people who are emotionally unsafe people for me to be around. Spending time with flying monkeys? No thanks. But anyway, another aunt (my mom's youngest sister, who is a bit of a black sheep herself) apparently told my sister to pass on to me that she misses me and wants me to know that she thinks my mom is a bitch and she totally gets where I'm coming from, and that I should feel free to call her any time. I have been wanting to talk to this aunt so much, y'all. I suspected that she might feel this way, but at the same time, I'm leery of talking to people who are probably more loyal to my mom than to me. So it was really good to hear this message from her. It means a lot to me. 

the more, the merrier? not for the narcissist

I'm getting reminders left and right regarding how messed-up my family is. There was apparently some minor family drama regarding the holiday get-together that my siblings and parents have every year. The tradition in our family is that on even-numbered years, the kids (my sibs, and me until I opted out) and their families visit my parents on Christmas day and have the usual gift exchange and Christmas dinner. On odd-numbered years, the significant others' families get precedence on the 25th and some other weekend is chosen for the family gathering. You are expected to appear for sure on the even years and few things are considered a decent excuse for not appearing on the agreed-upon weekend (i.e., the one my mom has designated) on odd years.

This year, my sister is in a new relationship. She mentioned bringing her new significant other (sis would be spending the 25th with the SO's extended family) and apparently my mom got really quiet and weird. My mother is never quiet. She rules all things, loudly and firmly. So when she's quiet, it means you have successfully thrown her and she's scrambling to regain control of the situation. In this case, she pointed out to my sister that the family doesn't really know the SO. My sister pointed out that this is a good chance to start. Mom countered that this really is a family-only event, and they left it at that. Sis fumed and considered not attending at all (she ultimately decided to go and said that she was going because she needed to have a face-to-face confrontation with la madre about it).

While this is not the most egregious narcissist behavior in the whole world, it's pretty typical for my mom. She is really strange about meeting her kids' friends and significant others. I recalled the time, almost 20 years ago now, when she met my husband, who was then my boyfriend of a mere few weeks. She was picking me up from college and there was really no reason for him not to hang around and meet my mom and say hi. I mean, nice people do that, right? It wasn't like we wanted him to meet her because we were planning to elope or anything. Anyway, he was around, he met her, we chatted for maybe 5 minutes, and then I left with my mom. No big deal, right? Wrong. My mom went on and on about how strange that was, as if there were something wrong with him or with me for the introduction. Later, when we had been dating for years, she was odd about holidays. I wasn't allowed by my mother to spend a holiday with his family until we were engaged (I was still in college and financially dependent upon my parents, and she exerted quite a bit of control). He didn't spend Christmas with my family until after we were married, at which point I guess he was officially "in" enough to be allowed.

When I was a kid, we never just brought a friend home for dinner. In college, we never brought friends home for a school break or a weekend. Other families do these things. Other parents are excited to meet somebody who is important to their kid and welcome them into their home. My husband's family, who has their own dysfunction for sure, is always happy to set another place at the table. Thinking about my kids, I always try to say yet to friends coming over to hang out or spend the night (barring things like previous plans that can't be rearranged, or overnights on school nights). I try to be flexible. I can make dinner stretch farther. I can find a place for somebody to sleep. Someday there may be girlfriends or boyfriends coming home with my kids. Why would I ever, ever turn them away? How would that be good for my relationship with my child, my child's relationship with their friend or loved one, my relationship with the other person?

It occurred to me while talking to my sister that maybe for my mom, it's not really about keeping family gatherings private and family-only. Maybe she's actually uncomfortable around new people? A person should be able to relax and feel comfortable and not have to be "on" in her own home, I can totally see that. But then, if that's the case, why not just say, "you know, meeting somebody new makes me feel a little on edged and stressed-out; can I meet him/her before then?" or "It would be really nice to get to meet them when it's just you and him/her, not the whole chaotic family group, can we get together next weekend?"

I mean, so many ways that my mom could meet her own needs (whatever they are) while still being kind to her kids and inclusive of the significant others. Excluding people without a really good reason only builds ill will. Why would you ever do that? Narcs shoot themselves in the feet and screw up their own good time while alienating their kids.

(Is it awful that I'm kindof hoping that my mom is on bad behavior when my sis confronts her? No word yet on how that went.)