What a mess

by Carolyn on July 1, 2009

Nolan at the waterfront

Nolan at the waterfront

How do you protect your children from your parents?  The question seems ridiculous even as I write it.  Because once you have children a transition occurs.  Your parents stop being just your parents and become your children’s grandparents.  And what do we envision when we think of grandparents?  For most of us, we think of kind, caring and loving individuals who are incapable of being bad people.  Warm smiles, a firm hand, a cuddly lap, great stories and an overwhelming sense of love are all connotations of the word ‘grandparent’.

And then there’s the love we children feel for our grandparents!  Oh my, what a pure and organic thing that is.  But not all grandparent relationships are that quaint.  We are only human, after all.  And humans are experts at making mistakes.  Currently I have a parent who is not speaking to me.  I should clarify.  Not only not speaking to me but not acknowledging my very existence.  And it follows that if I don’t exist, then neither does my family.  This is a relatively new occurrence and I can only guess at what prompted it.  It’s not the first time it’s happened, but it is the first since I’ve had children.

Being a child of divorce, I have always believed I could survive anything my parents threw at me.  I survived the divorce.  Survived the remarriages.  Survived their creating new families in which I never quite fit.  Survived my own self destruction.  And here I stand.  Still loving them; still loving me.  I am shouldering this shunning too.  It’s difficult, but I’m doing it.  But suddenly for me there is a whole new aspect to surviving these occurrences.  And this brings me back to my question.  How do I protect my children?  How do I shield them from the storm?

I am a ravenously protective mother.  I have always wanted my children to have nearly the exact opposite of my experiences growing up.  And so far I have achieved that. Until now.  For many years ago it was my grandmother not speaking to my mother, and by extension not speaking to me.  I remember feeling so sad and confused.  I remember wondering what could ever be going on that she wouldn’t love me enough to want to see me.  My mom tried to shield me by not talking about it.  But it went on so long and I was getting so hurt that finally all was explained.  How she was angry at my mom for some trivial detail which to this day I can’t remember, and her retribution was simple: complete and total withdrawal from our lives.

And for me in that moment everything changed.  I can honestly say that though the circumstances improved and she once again acknowledged us, I never felt the same way about my grandmother.  That pure love for her that once flowed through me was dammed.  And not for what she had done to me.  But for what she had done to my mother.  That instinct we all have to protect our most immediate family was turned on and I never quite found a way to disengage it.  A small shred of my innocence was lost.  I lost the belief that parents always love and care for their children regardless of trivial details.

This is one experience I refuse to share with my children.  I survived it, but surviving it is not an option for them.  I can’t make my parent change.  I can’t make him behave in a more appropriate way.  All I can control, is me.  And although the rage and pain and heartache sometimes crumples  me, I will continue to rise up.  I will be my children’s shield.  Even if being their shield means I’m his too.

So what did I say last night when toweling off my four year old I suddenly found two wide innocent eyes searching mine and an angel’s voice saying ‘you know, I really miss grandpa.’?  For suddenly I was flooded with rage.  I was pelted with the visions of unanswered emails, a deleted Father’s day card, a drive right past our neighborhood without visiting, and the blatant disregard for this little angel’s feelings.  And the answer my brain was screaming out was ‘Don’t you talk about him.  He doesn’t love us anyway!’.  But I wouldn’t mar this pure, sweet angel by uttering any of that.  History has taught me that this situation is most likely temporary.  And looking back at history I’ve gained a sense of clarity  because I have survived it and I know I will survive it again.  But he won’t.  Not with his love and innocence in tact.  So I became impenetrable.  I focused on love, not rage.  I pulled him close; wrapped my arms around him and answered ‘Me too, honey.  Me too.’.

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tammy July 1, 2009 at 2:39 pm

That perfect answer for a sweet little boy and from an amazing mom.

Now I can vent for you, the grandfather should be ecstatic to be alive and to be able spend time with his granchildren. There are a lot of children( mine as you know) that don’t have any grandpas. I wish people would look at the bigger picture and suck it up and realize life is to short and stop thinking only about themselves. I wish for your children to only have great memories of their grandparents. The kind that you deserved, as well as them.

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2 Carolyn July 1, 2009 at 6:06 pm

Thank you Tammy. You are a wonderfully supportive friend.

All I hope is that he finds the courage to deal with his anger towards me in a way that’s healthier for him and me and everyone else involved. You see things from a wise perspective because of your history, but I don’t expect the same perspective from him. He must be quite mad to be willing to pay such a dear price in expressing it this way.

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3 Frank July 1, 2009 at 4:14 pm

I have nothing to add here except to say that this post is aptly titled.

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4 Carolyn July 1, 2009 at 6:22 pm

A mess indeed.

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5 Urchin July 1, 2009 at 4:52 pm

-mumbles something about a happy stick-

My dad does this to me. A lot. I’ve never had a grandparent do it… no actually I have. But it’s a mutual not speaking thing on our part at this point. With my grandmother (biological maternal… short explanation, I’m adopted) I wasn’t “christian enough” for her. So Heathen me got into what I thought would be a nice theological discussion… nope. I guess on my part it’s good because I didn’t know her all that well at the time, but it’s also bad, because now I don’t know if I’ll ever get to know her well.

But this. This involves your son, who I can see has a smile made out of sunshine. Likely a rich curiosity too. I love kids. Don’t want any of my own, but I’ll be happy to borrow them and give them back when the parents want. I don’t like the idea of a kid being hurt in the cross fire of ANY argument. Sure I survived it, sure you survived, but that goes back to one of my first comments (that the evil glitch ate).

Just because we survive it, doesn’t make it okay.

You’re answer to Nolan was perfect. I cannot think of a better reaction. I’ll hope that grampa comes around. I’ll hope that he realizes what he’s doing. I’ll hope. And I’ll keep my happy stick near by, just in case.

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6 Carolyn July 1, 2009 at 6:22 pm

This was difficult for me to write about but I felt it was important. Because I don’t think the situation is unique to only you and I. I think this happens more often than we’d like to admit. Like a shameful secret that nobody wants to tell or hear. But a friend wrote me recently that sharing secrets helps to distribute the weight of them. Making their burden that much easier to bear. I think he’s right.

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7 Urchin July 1, 2009 at 6:38 pm

I think he’s right too. It’s part of the joy of postsecret (excellent books and blog! Another one I stalk regularly. Though it’s only updated on Sundays. boo)

I think you’re right about it being more widespread than with just divorces and bad marriages. It’s a form of abuse, when it comes right down to it. According to the DSM IV-TR (of which I just happen to have a copy…) “Emotional abuse is a pattern of behavior that attacks a child’s emotional development and sense of self-worth. Emotional abuse includes excessive, aggressive or unreasonable demands that place expectations on a child beyond his or her capacity. Constant criticizing, belittling, insulting, rejecting and teasing are some of the forms these verbal attacks can take. Emotional abuse also includes failure to provide the psychological nurturing necessary for a child’s psychological growth and development — providing no love, support or guidance (National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse, 1987). ”

It’s not just children though. It’s anyone. Anyone can be emotionally abused and the withdrawing of love just because you’re displeased with someone… that’s a jerk move to make.

I joined a group a while ago, after auditioning for Who Wants to be A Superhero (yeah I’m a dork) We call ourselves Skiffytown League of Heroes. My character, Urchin (long standing nickname) fights against things like this. Partially because it IS so close to home. But it can and does affect everyone on some level or another.

Carolyn, you’re a hero. Proud, and true. By drawing your son into your arms, and saying “Me too” you let him know that he was still loved. By you. Always. I applaud you.

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8 Maryann July 1, 2009 at 8:15 pm

Carolyn,

It really hurt me more than you can imagine to read this. If only you could understand how Dad feels. Did you take into account the terrible position he is in or what terrible things are going on in his life. You know he lost his job. You know that you put him against his wife. All you needed to tell Nolan is that Grandpa is going through a hard time. I try to stay out of the issues you and him have but when you air it out for the public like this, it really hurts. I don’t know if you ever thought of how much you have hurt him over the years and how much he has had to forgive. You just don’t get it.

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9 Urchin July 1, 2009 at 9:27 pm

I’m sorry, I have to disagree. I can see your side of it, but any issues a person has with their spouse is on them. Not another person.

I don’t know you. I don’t even really know Carolyn. I’m just… personal responsibility. She didn’t point fingers, merely expressed her point of view using, I might add, very effective “I” statements. “I feel…” etc.

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10 Carolyn July 1, 2009 at 9:39 pm

I’m sorry this piece hurt you Maryann. It was intended to be reflective, not accusatory.

I would love to understand how dad feels, if he would communicate with me then maybe I would. I understand he lost his job, but has that stopped him from being able to have a relationship with you? There’s no way I’m going to tell Nolan about his troubles. He’s 4. He gets to be 4. And I tried to deal with this privately with dad. He won’t communicate with me. At all. So how can I?

Again, this wasn’t an airing out. It was a reflective piece stating my feelings and the impact on my family. I think I’m allowed that when my father ignores me, my husband and my children. When he doesn’t return emails. When he literally drives two blocks past my house, twice, and doesn’t take the time to see his grandchildren. And I’m not sure exactly how I’ve hurt him over the years. I thought things were going pretty well for the last eight. He’s hurt me too, but I’ve tried to foster the best relationship I could with him; not cut him off. Severing relationships doesn’t make things better. It just hurts people. I learned that lesson. Has he?

I don’t want this to impede on the relationship we’ve been building. It doesn’t have to. Call me. We may not agree on the matter, but we don’t have to you know. It’s okay for sisters to disagree and still love each other. And I love you. Carolyn

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11 Frank July 2, 2009 at 12:20 am

This is, and always will be, the downside to what you’re doing here. Being a writer. The first thing I said to you about this blog was that it was brave and it was honest. I put bravery first for a reason. You are talking about your life. That life does not exist in a vacuum. There’s no way to talk about things without discussing other people. Those people may not want to be discussed.

That’s a hard line to walk, but context counts for a lot. People can generally tell when you’re not giving the whole story, or if you’re slanting the facts to make your side more sympathetic (i.e. claiming your husband hit you, but neglecting to mention the fact that you were trying to stab him with a knife at the time). I don’t get that sense here.

This is the job. This is the calling. You write about things as they’ve applied to you. That’s what makes it yours. That’s the lens you focus through. That’s the picture we see. Not everybody *in* the picture will like how they look. (Though I tend to be unsympathetic toward people who do bad things and then get called on them.)

For what it’s worth, I think you’re handling this well. I’m sorry you’re getting grief for it, or that people are being hurt by your words. Nobody wants that.

And yes, we’ve both learned that time apart is only ever time lost. I hope your dad realizes this, too.

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12 Carolyn July 2, 2009 at 1:22 am

‘You write about things as they’ve applied to you. That’s what makes it yours. That’s the lens you focus through.’

Exactly! But it’s okay. My wonderful sister Maryann did call me. We talked, cried, acknowledged each other’s feelings and best of all decided to put our relationship above anything else. We did great. I’m so proud of us. I had triggered the instinct I referred to in my post that drives us to protect those we hold most dear. But we hold each other dear too. And so we talked instead of hiding from each other. That’s how it all got resolved.

She has grown into a lovely and mature young woman. I’m lucky to call her my sister.

Just as I’m lucky to call you my friend. Thank you, my dear friend.

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13 Frank July 2, 2009 at 7:27 am

I’m really glad to hear you guys sorted it out. You just keep doing what you’re doing, my friend. I’ll always be here to read it.

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14 Tammy July 2, 2009 at 11:41 am

I didn’t feel that anything was being air publicly. I agree the “I” statements and the fact that you were giving you point view or thoughts through the eyes of you as a child and what you think Nolan maybe feeling. I still feel your answer to him was perfect.

I know, I have a different perspective on things b/c my children only know that Grandpa and Pèpè are in Heaven. I would hope your sister and father would see that side of things as well. He is so lucky to be around and to be able see his grandchildren grow up and to feel the hugs that I can only imagine a child can give his/her grandpas. I hope for Nolan and Claire that even if he is not ready to speak with you about what has occurred, he would email or just call and ask if it was okay to take Nolan to the park for awhile. Then when you both are ready to talk, Nolan would never know that anything was going on btwn the adults in his life. Life is to short and I would not want Nolan’s Grandpa to miss out on such a special little man.

That is me too being the overprotective mom and putting out my thoughts. I hope my first statement didn’t cause you problems Carolyn. I can only dream of what relationship my boys could have had with their grandpa and pèpè. Nolan deserves more than just dreams and he is lucky. It is possible for him. I hope his grandpa realizes that soon and doesn’t waste anymore time.

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15 Carolyn July 2, 2009 at 12:04 pm

Don’t worry about causing problems for me Tammy. We are all entitled to our opinions. I expected the piece would stir strong emotions. It was an emotional post! It is always interesting to see how we as people react emotional things. Your view is a compellation of everything that makes you, you. Your history, your present, your personality…..it all affects how you see things. And in this place, everyone’s view is respected. Thank you for sharing yours.

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16 Maryann July 2, 2009 at 1:35 pm

I know my Dad is struggling with a lot of things in his life right now. I felt the need to say that and although I might not have voiced it properly, I still felt it needed to be said. It may not be an excuse for some but to me I know he is having to find himself again. I hate knowing that there is problems between family members and if I could I would wave a magic wand and make everyone happy but I can’t. All I can hope for is that my Dad finds himself again and is able to build strong relationships with his children and grandchildren. For right now, he is needing to focus on himself. That is me being an overprotective Daughter.

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17 Susan July 1, 2009 at 10:38 pm

I am reading this and wondering if you ever picked up the phone and tried to call your dad. If your son missed his grandpa why not say lets call him and say ‘Hi’, I know I do that when I miss one of my friends I call them. As I read your blog I am wondering what all happened that your father is not talking to you. When you say your Dad hurt you, have you ever told him how he hurt you and have you ever talked to your Dad about how you hurt him because it sure likes like you have hurt him deeply. It is looking like the eight year relationship is only a acquaintance type not a true friendship. I suggest you give him a call and have a deep discussion about how you feel and find out how he feels.

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18 Carolyn July 1, 2009 at 11:15 pm

Thank you for commenting Susan! I love the feedback.

When things broke down with my dad I was emailing him regularly. I’m not going to go into details, but it was made clear to me that he was not interested in communicating. There’s no way I would have suggested for my son to call him and say ‘hi’, because there was no predicting the outcome. I will not either send him in to test the water or have him watch and be disappointed if my attempt to talk is rebuked.

As for our relationship over the last eight years, it may have been on the lighter side. But it was open, warm and loving. I can only do the best I can do. I was happy. I thought things were good. I had put any pain behind me and was grateful for the place we had come to. I was blindsided to find out eight years in that the feeling was not mutual.

I’m not sure I’m seeking a friendship with my father. I want him to be my father. I want him to be my kids grandfather. There are responsibilities that come with those roles which one should at least try to live up to. I reached out to him. I let him know exactly how I felt. I wished for a response that never came. Perhaps I will be one that reaches out to him again in an attempt to reconcile. When I’m ready. For now, I’m going to keep hoping for him to be the dad.

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19 Susan July 2, 2009 at 11:39 am

In your statement you say you want your Dad to be your father. Have you told him what you expect of him? I do not suggest that you do that in an email, or on your Blog both ways are very impersonal and can lead to all kinds of interpretations. I suggest you tell him face to face or the next best thing by calling him. It sounds like he is having a terrible time right now according to your step sister and needs some comfort and support from his family. A Daughter normally is worried about their father and his well being and would be the first person there to help him, so call him and ask if he is OK and you are sad that you have not heard from him. That could be the real turning point. Also set up a time each week to talk and spend time together wither on the phone or in person. Relationships take time and effort by both people and normally it is 80/20 situation so be the 80 today and I am sure he will be the 80 when you need it.

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20 Carolyn July 2, 2009 at 12:16 pm

I thank you for your advice, Susan. But unfortunately it’s hard to give really good advice when you don’t know the whole story. And you only know one snippet of it. I was asking how to protect my children, not how I could once again extend myself to be the nurturer of my father’s relationship with me. People go through terrible times; but that doesn’t provide an excuse to be cruel to others. My expectations of him have always been quite low: don’t pretend like I don’t exist.

I’m dealing with things in the best way that I know, for me. Trust me, it’s not a subject that leaves my thoughts for very long. So on this point, I’m going to say that we are not going to agree with each other. But I hope you’ll keep reading and commenting. Welcome!

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21 Peter Pan July 2, 2009 at 4:13 pm

Hello, I’ve been here lurking reading and learning from the posts daily. I have lived through allot of pain in my life and I have often wondered/weighed the pros/cons of sharing that grief and pain with the people involved. For the last 25+years of my life I have been able to shoulder this pain and not allow it to affect those around me, until now. When someone shares this personnal information sometimes it’s difficult to hear and often painful but I can assure those hearing the news it was more diffcult for Carolyn to share, then it was for anyone to hear. In my (pro/con) list there’s not much benefit for anyone involved to hear my story and so I sit here praying for those involved. Praying that everyone looks back at this years from now as stepping stone rather then throwing stones.

Carolyn thank you for this forum.

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22 Carolyn July 2, 2009 at 5:54 pm

Welcome, Peter. I thank you for your support. And please be sure to revisit your pro/con list from time to time. Because one of the biggest pro’s of telling may become that it simply benefits you to do so. And that in turn benefits everyone who loves you.

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23 TC June 23, 2010 at 2:43 pm

I find myself correcting my parents, a whole lot. It seems they are way more immature now from when I was younger. It’s really weird.

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24 Carolyn June 24, 2010 at 10:20 pm

It’s funny, isn’t it? I think sometimes that once children are grown, parents can kind of ‘check out’ of their parenting roles. But as children of any age, we always need our parents to be that – our parents. We expect them to be the mature ones, the wise ones, the strong ones and the leader in our relationship with them. No child really wants to reverse the roles because as you wrote, it just feels weird. Thanks for your comment, TC!

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