From the forums:
Before I met my husband, I lived with my parents, who live in the same town as we do. I moved back home because I thought it would be hard raising my daughter without support. It had nothing to do with my financial situation, as I have my masters and make good money.
When my daughter was four months old, my youngest brother, 23 at the time, also lived at home and was diagnosed with a very rare cancer with poor prognosis. He is still getting treatment and at a great hospital where he has access to trials and the best doctors. Still, the cancer is horrible and has kind of become my parents’ and his life, so to speak.
When he was diagnosed, my mom was watching my daughter while I worked, and since he was home more, he got extremely close to my daughter. Fast forward to this past summer, I told my mom I would go to Disney with the family so that my brother could see my daughter enjoy Disney for the first time. I was kind of guilted into it because I don’t necessarily want to go without my husband who would have to work. Soon after, once I got pregnant, I explained to my mom that Disney wasn’t happening because I’d have a 4-month-old baby by then. The truth is though that I wouldn’t want my husband bringing our kids to Disney without me, especially for the first time, so I don’t want to take ours without him. If I tell my parents that, they will hold it against my husband, whom they already are super competitive with. They are constantly putting him down, passive-aggressively, and believe they should come before him, even with my daughter because they were in her life first.
There is a lot of built-up resentment, partly because when I moved out of their house, it was to go live with him, and they felt I was taking away “the one thing that kept my brother alive” (i.e. my daughter). I know that my brother is going through a lot and, being a mother myself, I know my parents are as well, but I cannot live my life appeasing them even if I wanted to. Sometimes I do it just to make my life easier and to feel less guilty.
Now my mother is saying that if something happens to my brother and he doesn’t get to see my daughter at Disney, she won’t ever go with us (which is honestly fine because I see Disney as a vacation that neither she nor my husband would enjoy together and my husband is the one who should be there and not her). She said I back out of everything and, by not letting her take us to Disney, I am taking her “grandma” perks from her and wronging my brother, her son.
My parents don’t realize I have a new family, and in the past explaining this only made more problems. Cutting them off when they become bitter and crazy about this isn’t really an option either because I lose out on time with my brother who is sick and they start telling me I’m taking my daughter from him and essentially killing him because he “lives” because he wants her to remember him when she is older.
Any thoughts on how to deal with this situation? Am I wrong and just being selfish? — Not the Most Magical Place on Earth
Oh, man, that’s a lot of guilt your parents are dropping on you, and it’s completely unfair. The responsibility to “keep your brother alive” by making your daughter constantly available to him, regardless of her needs, your needs, and the new family you now have, is really out out of bounds and inappropriate. You don’t mention whether this kind of behavior has always been typical of your parents (and it sounds like most of it is coming from your mother?) and the intensity was simply turned up when you brother got sick, or whether your brother’s diagnosis prompted a total change in the way she treats and reacts to you. It may also have been the roller-coaster of emotions of becoming a first-time grandmother, followed by your moving in with them for support as a single mother, followed by her 23-year-old son getting a devastating diagnosis that has made her a little coo-coo.
My point is, there’s a lot going on right now — for your brother, your parents, and you. It’s situations like these that can try even the closest of bonds and certainly rock shaky family dynamics. The best way to proceed will take a lot compassion and willpower. You have to set boundaries — like saying no to family vacations that exclude your husband and depend on your traveling with coo-coo parents, a very sick brother, a tiny baby, and a toddler. I mean, come on. That’s too much for even Wonder Woman to take on.
Saying no doesn’t mean you don’t love your brother or your parents. It means you are respecting the limits of your energy and time, as well as your desire to reserve such special trips for your immediate family unit (you, your husband, and your kids). So, stick to your no, and summon the willpower necessary to disengage when your mother starts the guilt trip and tells you you’re killing your brother (!). I encourage you to adopt a short phrase you can use that will diffuse and shift focus. Something like, “I’m sorry you see it that way, but I don’t and I’m not going to engage in a conversation about that. If you would like to see the kids, I can bring them over this Saturday.” If you bring the kids over and she starts in on you again, you say, “I’m sorry you feel that way. Since I am not interested in engaging in that conversation, we can either agree not to discuss it or I can take the kids home now. If you’d like to see them again on Wednesday, I can bring them over, but I will not be discussing your thoughts about how I am being a bad daughter to you and a bad sister to my brother.”
Every time she starts in on you, shut her down. You have something that is very valuable to her — her granddaughter (and, soon, another grandchild). When she learns that her bad treatment of you compromises her time with her grandchildren, and if she’s smart, she’ll learn to cut the shit. It will take some training and some patience, willpower, and compassion. The compassion comes in when you don’t cut her off completely and you continue to offer time with your child/ren. If she ever begins threatening you, though, or saying or doing anything to your kids that manipulates their feelings about you and your relationship with them (for example, “You want to go to Disney with Granny, right? Did you know your mother said we can’t take you, and that’s why you can’t go to Disney?”), SHUT THAT SHIT DOWN. You shut it down by telling your mother/parents in no uncertain terms that you absolutely will not tolerate the manipulation of your child’s feelings in regards to you and how you’re raising her, and if they ever pull that again, they will lose their “grandparent perks” for much longer than a missed trip to Disney.
I’m sorry you’re going through this. I’m sorry that your parents are watching their youngest son suffer. And I’m sorry that your brother is sick and his prognosis isn’t good. It’s nice that your daughter brings some levity to all of this and some joy to the lives of family who are otherwise not experiencing much of it. But she’s a kid, and it isn’t her job to keep anyone live. It is your job to keep her alive and thriving. As a mom, that’s your number one priority. As a mom of a toddler, and soon a newborn as well, you’ll find that there might not be much energy and time left for other things lower on your priority list. That’s ok. Remember your top priority, focus on that, and cut yourself a lot of slack while you’re deep in the weeds of parenting tiny children. Just because other people aren’t cutting you slack and being respectful of your boundaries doesn’t mean you have to bend to their will. Stay strong and plow ahead.
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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.