An issue with parents - advice appreciated.

How to explain ERE, arranging family matters
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sl-owl-orris
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An issue with parents - advice appreciated.

Post by sl-owl-orris » Sat Jul 29, 2017 10:37 am

There are some smart people on this forum, who have broad experiences and knowledge. I hope you can give me some insight, as I seem to be stuck in a very bad place.

Growing up, I had an amazing relationship with my parents. We were very close and I would tell them all my secrets. We could talk about everything and I felt very supported and loved. I knew that they would do anything for me. I didn't go through any rebelling stage in my childhood or adolescence, mainly because I didn't feel I had to rebel against anything. I trusted them so much, then when at 19 I wanted to break up with my boyfriend and they told me no, I listened. In the end, I did break up with him because he wasn't right for me, but that was after unnecessary drama with my parents and him.

I was 20 when I left the country and started studying and supporting myself abroad. It was very freeing but I still remained under the big influence of my parents and I contacted them almost every day. Naturally, living in a different country and not in the same house as my parents broadened my horizons, and a clash of views was inevitable.

The first big clash happened when I told them I had depression and they said that this was not the case. I explained what depression was, described my symptoms and told them I've been diagnosed with depression by a doctor and that I was taking medicine for it. They reacted quite aggressively and told me not to take the medicine and get over myself. I felt betrayed, guilty and started to reevaluate my life. For the first time in my life I realized they may not be infallible, something most kids realise at around the age of 7. I was 26.

However, the biggest clash was few months after I got married and they asked me when we plan to have babies. I responded truthfully and said never. It was like if hell opened. I heard a litany of useless arguments from, "children are the best thing that could ever happen to you", through "if you are not a mother, you're not a real woman", to "I only had you so that I could have grandchildren". The words are my mother's, my father agrees with her, but he said nothing to me. I excused her hurtful behaviour at first, but she didn't stop after few hours, so I threatened to leave. That seemed to sober her up and she asked me to stay, and she promised to stop this subject. She didn't. Instead of openly criticising me she resorted to snide remarks at any occasion. I tried to tolerate it but, I had to draw a line somewhere.

Ever since then our relationship became strained. I would only visit her once or twice a year and only if she promised to behave. She usually didn't start open arguments, as I would leave immediately, but her body language is now always tense around me and sometimes she bursts with rage. After that, I distance myself and don't contact her for a while. My dad seems really removed from it all. He told me he agrees with my mother, but he doesn't try to push the subject.

To protect myself emotionally, I stopped visiting them even if I'm in the country and don't call or skype them at all. I only keep email contact as I thought that would prevent bursts of anger from my mother. It takes more time to type and send something hurtful than to say it, so the idea was that my mother may filter out some of her resentment. No such luck. If I ignore her snide remarks, she grows bolder and bolder, until she really crosses the line and I need to call her out on it.

For the past year, I decided to limit myself to brief birthday / Christmas wishes and to notifying of major life events so that I wouldn't invite reasons to criticise me and my lifestyle. Since I'm starting a job soon, I thought that this is enough of a reason to notify them. My mother's response was more unpleasant than I anticipated and I suspect that it will take a good few days for me to get over it.

So my point is: I don't need drama and negativity in my life, especially since I should be focusing on a smooth transition into the new job, but I feel like I've already limited my contacts with my parents to a minimum. In their minds, they want what's best for me and I'm making an awful lot of bad choices I'm going to regret later on and they think any method is justifiable to save me from misery. My mother is emotionally draining at the moment, but I can't stop thinking that she was a great mother when I was growing up and that it's not her intention to make me miserable, so she doesn't deserve being cut off completely. She doesn't think there is anything wrong in what she writes to me.There is also the issue of contact with my father who seems disinterested with me lately, but he at least knows not to say or write hurtful words, and contact with my maternal grandparents (who are connected to my mother in my mind, so I can't seem to contact them without thinking about it affecting her).

I've already tried ignoring my mother's negativity and not letting her words affect me, but for now, I'm unable to. Although I know I shouldn't feel this way, it seems like I still want my parents' approval and I feel guilty whenever I don't do what they want. I realise I can never satisfy them and that they won't change, so there is no point trying, however, I only know it on an intellectual level - my emotions take over in that respect and that's frustrating to me. I also realise that I have a toxic relationship with my parents. I considered counselling, but for now, I deem it too expensive.

Any thoughts on how to approach / resolve this issue?

TLDR; I am emotionally wrecked after contacts with my mother, but I'm really reluctant to cut her off completely just because she makes snide remarks here and there.

Did
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Re: An issue with parents - advice appreciated.

Post by Did » Sat Jul 29, 2017 10:51 am

I think the thing to do is to make your own life as rich as possible. Your parents will diminish in importance the further you get away from childhood and the richer your own life is. Perhaps tell your father to tell his wife to pull her head in. If he is in on it, then see them less, indeed. Only have people in your life who enrich it, or at the least, do not detract from it.

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BlueNote
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Re: An issue with parents - advice appreciated.

Post by BlueNote » Sat Jul 29, 2017 3:19 pm

Are you an only child? It sounds like you are.

I can sort of relate because my mother assumed that when I became an adult that I would become some sort of composite super human son that would embody all of her expectations. As a child I would just agree with all of her very constraining expectations assuming she knew best. For example she expected that I would always live nearby, always spend xmas holidays with them, marry someone she liked, have children by now, tell her everything in detail about my life etc. In addition she chooses the behaviour that she likes from all my cousins and combines them into this sort of ultimate-son profile and questions me on why I can't be like that. When her expectations weren't met she'd get so upset it was like she was losing her mind, scary stuff. Her main weapon of influence was typical mothers guilt with a healthy dollop of crying, screaming tantrums. My step father just sort of passively let it happen like your dad, so he wasn't much of a support against her. She's more mellow now , I can only say time helped, but has basically ruined any normal adult relationship with my wife and I with her outbursts. She just can't totally accept that I'm an independent adult for some reason. As children we pickup their language, taste in food, and other culture. As children we often think of them like they were godlike. In addition most of us are agreeable to taking care of them to some degree in their old age and helping them out when possible. Isn't that enough of a commitment?

My wife sort of got the same treatment but I think because she was the oldest of 5 her parents weren't as hard on her. They had 4 others to raise and they came to the realization that they can't shape their kids like they were clay to embody their expectations. The remaining siblings on her side have had a much smoother ride though, it's like child number 1 provides them with most of their parenting training and the remaining kids get more realistic expectations.

I don't think you can influence your parents anymore than they can influence you so my advice is to not try to get her to behave a certain way. However I think it's fair to let her know what behaviour you find bad/wrong and why. You can let her know how it makes you feel and what the repercussions might be. If it were me I'd just leave it at that and if they kept up the bad behaviour despite my feedback I'd be dialing down the relationship. Maybe share less intimate details, change the medium (like you already tried by using email more) so on and so forth.

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C40
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Re: An issue with parents - advice appreciated.

Post by C40 » Sat Jul 29, 2017 4:52 pm

I don't have much advice, but just some thoughts:


** If only it was possible to get your parents to read and understand something like what's conveyed in the "Please Understand Me" book... (Something to help them understand that people aren't all carbon copies of each-other and that different people get fulfillment from different things). Of course, that's the kind of lesson that people usually only pick up when they are ready for it, and convincing/forcing someone to think about and understanding it would probably fail more than it would work...


** It is a little ironic that your parents view having a child as such a singularly wonderful thing, but yet now they have this conflict with you, which should maybe make them rethink how wonderful it is to have kids(?)

** There are probably some ways for you to help yourself not be affected by their judgements. Maybe Stoicism would be useful for you here?

** The George Castanza method might be to tell the parents you've tried very hard to have kids but you are completely medically incapable of doing so (and, if needed, some other excuse for why you can't or shouldn't adopt)

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7Wannabe5
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Re: An issue with parents - advice appreciated.

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Sat Jul 29, 2017 5:35 pm

Even though I believe that I would likely be delighted and fall madly in love if I were to be blessed with a grandchild or two, I have dropped any ego attachment I might have that would serve only to irk my adult children and strain our relationship. However, I will admit that on one occasion I did say something like "If I don't have any grandchildren, there is even less chance that I will grow old gracefully." Since my DD26 (XNTJ)really did not appreciate the phase I went through where my wardrobe was a frugal attempt to copy the early style of Beyonce, my comment might have been on the verge of coercive.

OTOH, when I consider the possibility that even given zero population growth, I might end up with 8 great grandchildren, and one of them might turn out to be a 17 year old drug addict who will shake me down in my camper when I am 87, I am more likely to say something to my kids like "I am fine with no grandchildren. Will give you guys more time and money to spend taking me on fun little outings when I am decrepit. My biggest worry is that I will grow a mustache and nobody will care."

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Re: An issue with parents - advice appreciated.

Post by jennypenny » Sat Jul 29, 2017 7:17 pm

I don't have strong feelings about grandkids and would never pressure my kids to do anything, but I've seen it often enough that I know it's a real urge. It doesn't matter though. It's your life and you're an adult now. You need to learn to ignore them and stop feeling guilty for stepping away when they are out of line.

You don't have to be confrontational about it. Say things like "Who would volunteer for hours of lectures just for a free dinner?" or "Let me know when you have something else to talk about and I'll come over for a visit" or even "Maybe you should start a support group for parents with ungrateful, childless children." I'm not trying to make light of your situation. I'm only suggesting ways that you could make your point without it always being so serious or such a drain on you emotionally. Using humor to point out how absurd their behavior is will help you put it into perspective ... because it is absurd. What century do they think this is that they believe you need a child to validate your existence?

I also have to say, as a mom, I'm a little horrified at how dismissive they were with your depression. It was closed-minded and potentially dangerous. They really don't seem capable of dealing with anything outside of their expectations. Stop making excuses for their behavior. You can think they were great parents growing up and also think they are being unreasonable and disrespectful now.

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Dragline
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Re: An issue with parents - advice appreciated.

Post by Dragline » Sat Jul 29, 2017 9:47 pm

+1 to jp.

I would limit my exposure to them, as a lot of what you said seems to indicate toxic personalities that you cannot control. Once a year may be enough, and preferably not around holidays.

Hopefully they will mellow as they age, but that does not usually happen until they are late 70s.

However, the desire for approval and guilt are your issues that are created or allowed by you and over which you have control. You may need a little therapy to work through those.

"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."  - V. Frankl

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Sclass
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Re: An issue with parents - advice appreciated.

Post by Sclass » Sun Jul 30, 2017 1:25 am

Great advice here.

I had a similar situation. It was actually a bit more thorny. I ran away from it all in my twenties. I've only recently started socializing with my family twenty years later. Mostly because my dad wants me to participate in the family business.

I still want approval. But I still have some growing up to do. My mom cannot give it to me anymore. And dad knows it is the only thing that keeps me coming back so he withholds it.

I'm further a long. I wonder if I really should have come back. I'm constantly reminded by my dad how wonderful my brother and his kids are. The same schmucks I have to maintain income for after dad is gone.

Today I got in a big argument with dad about a strategy problem. I yelled out, "okay you want me to do it the way my brother would? See what that got him - zero!"

Dad scolded me, "Your brother is an honest man, he works for a living, he pays full
price for his lot." All in a tone implying I do not. I could have strangled the old man. And I'm afraid that is why I'm standing where I am.

Dad can hand me the golden ring but he'll never say I deserved it.

As for you, I think you better run away and "make you good" whatever that may mean to you.

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7Wannabe5
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Re: An issue with parents - advice appreciated.

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Sun Jul 30, 2017 6:31 am

I had a very good relationship with my daughter as she was growing up, but a terrible relationship with my own mother when I was growing up.The contrast was so extreme that I was rather amazed when my daughter would still do things like come cuddle with me on the sofa when she was around 12.

I stopped seeking my own mother's approval when I was around 8 years old. However, I made the opposite mistake of making many of my decisions until I was in my mid-30s on the reactive basis of "What Would Mother Not Do?" She is in her late 70s now, and mellowed, well-medicated for her tendencies towards mania, and rather infirm, but she is still capable of driving 52 year old me mildly nuts for a minute or two with off-hand comments such as "That dress is darling, much better than that thing you were wearing earlier, but maybe you could stand to lose 20 lbs? I know you girls don't like me to give you advice, but if you want to catch a man like (insert name of my current rather conventionally attractive, affluent BF), you may have to make more of an effort." Adolescent me reacted to such comments with shouted responses along the lines of "I will NEVER be a whore for marriage like you!" or "Unlike you, I do not consider myself to be a cow selling my milk on the open market!!!"

Anyways, the reason why I currently do apply rational economic analysis to my relationships with men is that it helps me calm down my urge or tendency to do just the opposite in reaction to my internalization of my mother, who I believe would have married off all of her 4 daughters to whatever men would have provided her with the best ability to wallow in affluence, if she had lived in an era when that sort of thing was possible. So, I now find this more amusing than maddening, and instead of screaming at my mother, like 16 year old me, I now give consideration to where my mother and I do share common ground in our values systems, and will simply smile and reply with something like "He is rather a fine piece of man-candy for 54, isn't he? Off to the pool to swim some laps I shall go. "

My point here being that I think it is a pretty much unavoidable part of growth through adulthood to first go through a phase where you reject your parents, and then through a later phase where you accept your parents. Acceptance means engaging in a practice which is like you regard another person as being like a vase that has some cracks and flaws, and you keep setting it on the shelf in a way that allows you to mostly see the good side, while maintaining knowledge that there is a bad side.

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sl-owl-orris
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Re: An issue with parents - advice appreciated.

Post by sl-owl-orris » Sun Jul 30, 2017 7:15 am

Thanks everyone, it seems like the consensus is that I should keep doing what I'm doing, which is keeping the contact to the bare minimum and focusing on my life instead while working on maintaining my emotional response.
Did wrote:
Sat Jul 29, 2017 10:51 am
I think the thing to do is to make your own life as rich as possible. Your parents will diminish in importance the further you get away from childhood and the richer your own life is. Perhaps tell your father to tell his wife to pull her head in. If he is in on it, then see them less, indeed. Only have people in your life who enrich it, or at the least, do not detract from it.
Making my life as rich as possible works for most of the time, it's just those limited contacts with my mother which disturb my peace unnecessarily. I do hope it will lessen with time.

My parents have separate email accounts and they always make a point of sending their own messages, birthday wishes etc. They basically live separate lives under one roof. I'm not sure appealing to my father would work, as he would probably say he has no control over what she thinks or says, but it's worth considering. He told me exactly once that he agrees with my mother on the matter of kids and that her reaction is understandable. We didn't touch the subject ever since, so I don't really know what his stance is on her being nasty to me. However, I always make a point, to copy him and my brother in conversations with my mother. This way, whenever my brother, who wishes to keep the status quo, tells me to just get over it and that she means well, I can ask him to imagine this was said to him and what his response would be. He is always puzzled, tells me I'm right, but then he says that they are my parents and that they deserve respect and I'm being a bad daughter for limiting my contacts with them or calling them on their BS. Basically repeating all the childhood conditioning we've had.
BlueNote wrote:
Sat Jul 29, 2017 3:19 pm
Are you an only child? It sounds like you are.
I have an older brother but he fell out with them when he was 14, because they stopped being supportive to him when he had problems with a teacher in high school (hard to boast that your son is such a great student if he has to repeat a year). I was unhappy with them for their behaviour, but I also basked in their increased attention and praise. Sick, I know. Anyhow, he stopped caring too much about what they say quite early and since then he patched thing up so that they have an OK relationship right now. His long-time fiance is very vocal that children are parasites, and that she would never subject herself to that, so they accepted there will be no grandkids from that side. Besides, she is a divorcee, so they will never have a church wedding :roll:.

It seems like you've had very similar experiences, not in degree, but in kind. My mother is one of four, the youngest daughter, and she was not meant to have education or family, but she was supposed to live with her parents all like and look after them. She did defy them in that she took vocational education and paid for it by herself, and also married my father and had us, but still, my grandfather's word is sacred and she visits them almost every day and looks after them. The 2 things instilled in my brother and I are, "you have to listen to and respect your parents no matter what", and "it's wrong to upset your parents". It sits deep in me and although on an intellectual level I recognise the fallacy of those statements, it's really difficult not to have an emotional response when I do or think the opposite of those statements.
BlueNote wrote:
Sat Jul 29, 2017 3:19 pm
However I think it's fair to let her know what behaviour you find bad/wrong and why. You can let her know how it makes you feel and what the repercussions might be. If it were me I'd just leave it at that and if they kept up the bad behaviour despite my feedback I'd be dialing down the relationship. Maybe share less intimate details, change the medium (like you already tried by using email more) so on and so forth.
This already happened. Some time ago I made a point of letting her know how what she says and writes makes me feel and why and that she is hurting me. I asked her to stop, multiple times, I told her that as a consequence I will protect myself by limiting contacts and went through with it. My mother-in-law lives an hour drive from my parents. The last 3 times my husband and I went to visit our home country we only visited my mother-in-law. Of course, she talks to my parents, so they knew about it and my mother sent passive-aggressive emails. My dad didn't comment, as usual. I'm at a point where I feel it's not possible to limit the contact further without breaking it off completely.

C40 wrote:
Sat Jul 29, 2017 4:52 pm
** It is a little ironic that your parents view having a child as such a singularly wonderful thing, but yet now they have this conflict with you, which should maybe make them rethink how wonderful it is to have kids(?)


:lol: :lol: :lol: I used this argument several times actually. My mother doesn't see a discrepancy between 'children are the best thing in the world and only give you happiness' and 'because you are such a horrible daughter and won't give me grandchildren, I'm deeply unhappy'. Logical thinking is not the first thing I would attribute to her. If she was capable of critical thinking, I believe we wouldn't have this issue.
C40 wrote:
Sat Jul 29, 2017 4:52 pm
** There are probably some ways for you to help yourself not be affected by their judgements. Maybe Stoicism would be useful for you here?


I agree. I started to become more and more interested in stoicism lately. The funny thing is that I'm actually 'naturally stoic' if I can say so. I don't get angry, or lose control over my emotions and don't worry over things I can't control. Right now, the only thing which causes me to have an overtly emotional response is the conflict with my parents. I will probably get some Massimo Pigliucci as lunchtime reading. Maybe it's also time to stop reading and start practising.
C40 wrote:
Sat Jul 29, 2017 4:52 pm
** The George Castanza method might be to tell the parents you've tried very hard to have kids but you are completely medically incapable of doing so (and, if needed, some other excuse for why you can't or shouldn't adopt)
I thought about it in retrospect and I agree it would have been easier to lie, although I'd rather not lie. I expected them to be upset, maybe grief a bit, but I thought that they will finally move on. The strength of the response and all the venom, + the fact that it lasts more than 5 years now and is not getting better, really surprised me.

@7Wannabe5

A healthy response.

@jennypenny

Very useful advice. I did try the humour thing at some point, but it didn't get through. Still, I think I will try to keep it up for the future contacts.
I also feel like the parents of my childhood, whom I adored, and my disinterested father and aggressive mother I have to deal with today, are different people.

@Dragline Totally agree. I know it all on an intellectual level, but it just seems to sit too deep in my subconsciousness (identity even?) to be able to apply it properly. I may need some therapy at some point. Also, re-reading Frankl's works seems like a good idea.

@Sclass
Seems like a tough situation. You can never gain their approval. It's an unattainable goal. Even if you sacrifice your life to make them happy and do everything exactly as they want, they may never show or say in any way that they approve and there will always be something you could have done better. It's better to realise it will never happen and build your life around what makes you happy. And no, being happy because someone else is happy doesn't count - it happens automatically with people who truly love you.

Salathor
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Re: An issue with parents - advice appreciated.

Post by Salathor » Fri Aug 11, 2017 11:06 am

I think it would be hard to deal with a truly toxic personality, and I don't recommend you open yourself up to being hurt by a family member, but I would suggest that you try at least to understand (if not interact with) where she's coming from.

Imagine if you desperately wanted to have children (you don't, and I don't think people who don't desperately want kids should have them) and then you find out that your husband doesn't want them even though you'd always assumed that he did. You'd be heartbroken because you wanted to create life and now someone that you love is preventing you from doing that.

This is probably how your mother feels--she desperately loved the idea of grandchildren, and now you've taken that away from her. She may be expressing it poorly, lashing out at you immaturely, etc., but it's probably because she's heartbroken.

Now, a lot of the behavior you describe sounds outlandish, so I'm not advocating anything except that you try to understand where she's coming from. It may not improve your relationship, but it may make you feel better, and it MAY make both of you feel better if you can find a way to understand each other.

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Riggerjack
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Re: An issue with parents - advice appreciated.

Post by Riggerjack » Fri Aug 11, 2017 4:27 pm

I agree. You are an adult, you need to understand where they are coming from. Your mom is broken. You can't fix it. You can enslave yourself to her desires, but that won't fix her. Eventually, you just have to deal with the fact that she is broken.

The asshole that is me, would records on his cell phone each visit, then edit all the abuse into a short track, and on the next visit at the first attack, hit play. Let it run, and ask if she has anything to add, or if we can just agree to disagree. Catching her own words, with the tone delivered, should hammer this home.

As for your disinterested father, he's been dealing with her for decades. This is how he deals with her, by disengaging. This may add to the stress pile she dumps on you.

You are their child, not their property, not a mini-me. And as a grown child, it is both your right and responsibility to set limits on the relationship so every can function.

If that doesn't work, walking away is a fine tool for avoiding hostility. It is how I would deal with it. First unpleasant tone, grab keys, walk out, don't get pissed, just walk before engaging. she'll figure out how to hold her tongue, or she won't, but neither is your responsibility.

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Eureka
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Re: An issue with parents - advice appreciated.

Post by Eureka » Sat Aug 12, 2017 1:44 am

So much sound advice already given, so I will just add two other ideas:

1. I suggest you work actively on keeping a good relationship to your brother so that you keep some sound family relation in your life. Do this completely independent from how you deal or not deal with your parents. I. e. stop putting him Cc on the emails you send to your mother and 100% stop talking about your parents when you are together.

2. Try to befriend some other people of your parents generation, most likely someone in your current neighborhood or through work or hobby. Make a habit of seeing them regularly and being there for her/him/them, almost like you 'adopt' some new parents to yourself. There are lots of elderly people out there who would appreciate having you in their lives. This will enable you to keep in touch with people from the older generation and maintain that dimension in your life plus you could make somebody else very very happy.

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sl-owl-orris
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Re: An issue with parents - advice appreciated.

Post by sl-owl-orris » Sun Aug 13, 2017 2:39 pm

@Salathor
Thanks for your input. I do understand where she is coming from and the fact that she is heartbroken. Because of that, I kept making excuses for her hurtful words and behaviour. It's been 5 years since she found out. If she didn't accept it by now, she probably never will.

I don't think your comparison works though. If I wanted to have children and my husband didn't, then we would need to resolve it with each other. My husband has a say in the question of children, because well... they would be his children. He would provide DNA, he would need to make huge changes to his lifestyle and basically deal with the consequences of that decision every day for the rest of his life. On the other hand, I would not have children just so that mother may call herself a granny, which means she has no say in that issue. She may wish to have grandchildren, and I accept that, but she is unreasonable in pushing this idea for so long.

@Riggerjack
Well said. I believe the biggest problem is that both my parents consider me to be their property/mini-me. It's a bit disheartening to learn this after years for supposedly great and understanding relationship. Now I realise that they showed me so much support because I basically always did what they wanted and had a lot of success at school and what not, which they could brag about. They don't accept the fact that I'm an individual with my own opinions and ideas, and they always give me advice on things, because I can't possibly know what to do and how to behave. For example, when I went to a shop with my mother and I picked something up to see it better, she said, "Don't touch that! You'll break it!" and took it away from me. I was 27, living and supporting myself in a foreign country for 7 years at that time.

Walking out is not really a possibility. My parents live in a different country so I have a very limited contact with them. My problem is that although I accept that we won't ever be a happy family, I don't know how to stay in touch without exposing myself to the venom. They are not getting younger and I would be happy to keep loose contact to know how they are and what's the weather like over there, but my mother uses every contact opportunity to let me know how unhappy I make her, which is painful for me. The last few stays were short and strained, and I didn't visit them for a couple of years, because of their behaviour.

I think you are right about my father.

@Eureka

Thank you, I actually thought about both possibilities before. I think I will adopt this different approach with my brother so that hopefully I will be able to have a relationship with him in the future. I actually tried to 'adopt' an older guy I was tutoring and that was going well for a moment but I had to disengage. Since I'm an INFJ, a lot of people recognise my willingness to empathise and listen to them and they tend to treat me as a free counsellor and they are really fast to unburden on me. This guy had far too much psychological and emotional baggage for me to handle, but I'm certainly open to befriending older generation.

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