The problem is, my aunt and grandpa have taken her side completely, and have really bought into the idea that my dad ruined my mom’s life. Post split-up, both my grandpa and my aunt essentially reprimanded me for “taking sides” and told me I should be more sympathetic and supportive of my mother. They’ve also talked very negatively about my dad, which has been difficult to hear as he used to be very close to them. I would like to continue to have a relationship with my mom’s family, and up until now I have tried to stick to neutral topics and not discuss my relationship with my mom with them. I just received another email from my aunt reminding me not to take sides and that my mom needs support. Without opening the floodgate of the many reasons I have for the way things are, how do I clue my aunt and grandpa in that their well-meaning advice is not only unwelcome, but painful? I’m beginning to dread getting emails or phone calls from them. — Family Ties in Knots
First, it’s wonderful that you have a great support network, are in therapy, and are open to having a relationship with your mother’s family and even the idea of reuniting with your mother one day should she prove she’s worked through some of her issues. Don’t let your aunt’s and grandfather’s comments and behavior undo the work you have done. If it comes to a point where you need to choose keeping connected to them or remaining on course to mental well-being, choose mental well-being.
In an effort to have both, you have to set very clear boundaries with your mother’s family. To do this, you can answer your aunt’s most recent email with this message:
I understand that you feel I shouldn’t take sides, but there are more than two sides in this situation. This isn’t just my mother vs. my father. There is also the issue of my mental well-being, which is a side I will always, always fight for. Right now, as sad as it makes me, I cannot choose both my mental well-being and a relationship with my mother. I wish it could be different, but until my mother addresses some of the issues that have hurt our relationship and have hurt me — like the name-calling and put-downs I dealt with for years, for example — it isn’t healthy for me to maintain a relationship with her.
I do agree that she needs support, which is why I am happy she has you and Grandpa and the rest of the family. It’s my hope that supporting her and supporting me aren’t mutually exclusive and that you can find a way to have a relationship with me despite my need to keep my life separate from my mother’s right now. If you can’t — and if you continue pushing me to compromise my mental well-being and the work I’m doing to get to a healthy place — I will have to start distancing myself from you, too, which I really don’t want to do.
Please respect my decision to put my emotional well-being first, and accept that for now that means maintaining a healthy distance from my mother. Let me know if that is something you are willing and able to accept or if you think I need to distance myself from you, too.
You can’t force your mother’s family to stop pushing you to “support” your mother. You are only in control of your own behavior. If they continue harassing you, you need to follow-through with your intention to distance yourself from them, as hard as that may be. Good luck.