I believe the years of abuse have left Leigh in a severe state of depression and that her children suffer for it. Many days she doesn’t get out of bed, doesn’t care for herself, and leaves her children to fend for themselves. In the past five years, her parents have had to step in to care for her two children after discovering living conditions where her children haven’t been bathed or fed. Her oldest child has behavioral issues which have led to school suspensions and outbursts about his parents not caring for him.
Leigh and I live a few hours apart from each other but my husband and I have personally witnessed neglect when we have been together. In my pointing out different incidents, Leigh has waved them off. Her parents are essentially raising these two children as their own, with Leigh handing them off without much care. Despite this, Leigh has announced she is expecting a third baby in the winter — a baby Leigh says was planned and that she is over the moon about it.
After twelve years of being by her side, I had to walk away from the friendship because the day-to-day phone calls, text messages, and e-mails about the things her husband has said or done, or the re-tellings of how her children have become injured because she’s not properly supervised them, or her parents keeping me updated about their daughter’s living conditions have left me drained in the wake of her news. I cannot believe another child will be brought into this life. Leigh reached out to me, shortly after I told her that I couldn’t believe this news, that she understood why I needed to walk away, but she insisted her life was actually much better. I don’t believe that.
Her parents have chosen to not speak to me further because they are angry with my decision to walk away from their daughter and with my recent decision to not attend a baby shower for her. I now feel guilty, and I do miss her. Was I wrong to walk away? — Feeling Guilty For Walking Away
You were not wrong to walk away. You were right to protect your own sanity and emotional well-being and to create some boundaries that support that. Could you have created those boundaries in a way that didn’t feel so definitively like you were “walking away”? I think so. You could have checked in less and answered fewer phone calls, texts, and emails. You could have made an excuse for why you had to miss the baby shower. In general, you could have made yourself much less available while not officially breaking up with Leigh. And maybe that wouldn’t have worked, but you could have tried that route first. I’m not faulting you for choosing the route you did, but your way does come with ramifications, which you’re dealing with now.
That said, Leigh’s parents are wrong to guilt you. It’s not your job as a friend to remain as a constant source of daily support, to be a therapist and caregiver. There was not even a moral obligation for such endless devotion. You don’t owe your life and sanity to someone who is unable or unwilling to help herself. You never signed on for that, and even if you had, you’re allowed to say “no more.” But you can also have compassion for Leigh’s parents and the position they’re in. It’s not quite as easy as grandparents to abandon children who are otherwise neglected. It must be an enormous amount of pressure, and they must feel some sense of guilt for having raised a daughter whose sense of obligation to her own children is so absent. I’m sure having you to help shoulder some of the burden was a huge help, both logistically and emotionally. What a great loss for them to no longer have that additional support. They should be thanking you for your years of devotion and not be guilting you for finally prioritizing your own needs, but they’re human and they have limits and flaws like the rest of us — limits that are surely being tested by the news that their troubled daughter is having another baby they’ll likely be responsible for.
You’ve chosen to make a clean break, and while there may have been other ways to disengage and prioritize your needs, a clean break is what you chose. So keep it that way. Block all channels of communication that Leigh’s parents have with you so that they can no longer make you feel shitty. Shut them out and move on. I know you miss your friend, but you know you can’t have her in your life without also having all her drama that has become too much for you to bear. That’s not your fault. It simply is the way it is, and while missing an old friend is never fun, let that feeling be a testament to the love you have for her, the history you share, and your hope that eventually she may find her way to a better place in life — a place that’s not your responsibility to help her find.
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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.