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BF's mother gives me heeby-jeebies - unsure what to do

(39 Posts)
sammyad Fri 02-Aug-13 21:16:37

This is probably going to be a fairly long post, as the situation's mostly in my head, and requires a fair amount of background info, so apologies!
Here goes:

BF and I in relatively new relationship (around a year), and recently moved in together. All going swimmingly, except, fairly early in the relationship, he told me that as a child he had been sexually abused by his mother. First of all he said 'a woman', but eventually it turned out he meant her (which I had guessed, anyway.) We talked about it a couple of times - he was never overly specific, except to say that as a teenager he questioned for ages whether it even happened, before deciding it had, and is now certain, but that 'whatever you're imagining, it probably isn't as bad as that.' He works in a job that requires a fair amount of awareness of these sort of situations, so is in a pretty good position to evaluate his own experience, though he does admit that saying it wasn't 'that bad' sounds like quite a typical victim statement.

As far as I can tell, he's come away from it about as well as can be expected - he's lovely, funny, kind and caring, as well as being about the most laid-back person I've ever encountered. He's very close to his father and older half-sister (father's) and her children, and seems to have no problem with healthy, loving relationships, though, perhaps tellingly, at 25, I'm his first girlfriend.

What I find incredibly hard to swallow though is that he still sees his mother on a regular basis. He says he loves her but doesn't like her (not just a result of the abuse - she behaved pretty sh*ttily in divorce with his father 9 years ago, he blames and resents her for keeping him on a high dose of ritalin as a child, which didn't agree with him particularly, and she prevented his father from telling him about older half sister (result of father's previous marriage) until he was 16).

She strikes me (if I try to view her fairly/objectively, as if I had no knowledge of all this) as basically well-meaning on a very superficial level, but insensitive and incredibly self-centred. The only times I have seen BF get remotely wound up during entire course of relationship are as a result of her actions (eg turning up at a work ceremony of his, getting tipsy, making a point of being rude to his father who was also there and doing the 'embarrassing mother taking photos at school assembly' routine - to a professional in his mid-twenties. I found the experience excruciating, and she's not my mother!)

During our conversation about 'it all' (before I actually met her) I asked how he could still see her. He just shrugged, said 'well, that's family, isn't it! Better not to rock the boat...' and seems to think that's all ok. He moved back in with her for some months a few years ago when he was unemployed, and I think feels beholden to her for helping him financially then. He did say that he feels bad, because he would tell anyone else in the same situation to report the abuse they'd suffered, and he hates 'asking people to be braver than I am myself', but then other times just shrugs it off. He says he hardly thinks of it most of the time, which I'm sure is true, and I'm glad about!

The point I'm working my way round to (eventually) is not so much that I want to stop him seeing her - the accommodation he's reached seems to work for him. He is, as I say, an incredibly balanced individual, and he's obviously reconciled it all in his own mind. I don't want to interfere, or do anything that might upset him and make things harder for him to deal with, HOWEVER, I'm finding it increasingly hard to see her.

I know it probably sounds incredibly selfish, but I just hate having anything to do with her. When she invites us round to hers, or even recently when she lent us a fan for the hot weather, I just hate her having any place in our lives, though I think she's largely trying to be nice! We're both in this for the long haul, and I hate the idea of one day her having anything to do with children of ours (incidentally - I hope it's ok to post on here as I'm not actually a 'mum' yet - I just use mumsnet all the time, mostly for household cleaning tips/babysitting ideas for various small people in the family, and it seemed natural to post as it's the forum I use most!) Anyway, yes - mostly, I want to kill her for the various things she's put him through over the years, and am finding myself getting increasingly wound up by both time spent in her company and the thought of it in advance. I don't want to bring it up with BF, as I feel like I'm being unreasonable, given he's come to terms with everything, and was going along perfectly fine with the dynamic he's worked out with her before I came along. Equally, I don't want to talk to my own family about it as we see them quite a lot too, and it's something completely personal to him that I don't suppose he'd like them to know. Ditto close friends.

To be honest, this is mostly a rant as I have to get it off my chest, even if only in anonymity, but would also appreciate any advice, as I need to somehow find a way to deal with her!

sammyad Mon 05-Aug-13 22:08:02

Thanks very much for all the responses and suggestions. I think I'm just going to have to try to manage as best as I can. Having a more in-depth discussion with DP about all the futurey stuff I'm worried about is a good idea I think - just finding the right time!

wickedwithofthenorth Mon 05-Aug-13 00:35:41

She hurt someone you love, of course you are going to feel this way. And if you have children together your feelings will probably be a million times stronger.
I have a number of issues with my mil, mostly because she is several different types of crazy, but plodded along for the better part of 5 years trying to maintain a family relationship for the sake of dh until dd came along.
We really did try with her, allowed her to come over, hold the baby and spend time with us, until she showed her true colors again not getting her own way. Dh asked me not to make an enemies of her before dd was born but then hated the way she treated us and dd once she was past the new born cuddles stage and had some preferences of her own.
Dh and one of his younger brothers were shamefully neglected by mil, the extent of which is still reveling itself as dh approaches 30. Both of them were bullied beyond belief at school because of her lack of interest in supporting them and helping them to become independent. Dh was basically left to his own devices at home from the age of 5 when his first brother came along, his brother was then also dropped when their youngest brother arrived 5 years later. I firmly believe this cycle only stopped because she couldn't have any more children.
She basically ignored them in flavor of the latest thing in her life. It makes me so mad to see dh very obvious scars, mostly cigarette burns, and to have been shown and given pictures of him with obvious bruises which I know were just ignored. Since having dd it's increasingly difficult to bite my tounge because I find it impossible to understand how she managed to do it, dh also feels the same way and is the stronger advocate of making sure dd is always supervised around her.
He sometimes makes the effort to have some contact with her and other times choices to actively avoid her. We're in a no contact period at the moment after her last visit where she scared dd, then got other family members to tell dh off because I kept pulling the baby away from her which made his blood boil. Somehow he was planning to call her weekly still, until his youngest brother told him he wished he was the eldest because he had it so easy and everything landed in his lap. We'll be back to talking to her again at some point. I'll enjoy the break while it lasts.
The contact we have with her is normally very limited, busy family occasions every six weeks or so, and very brief, 20 mins, visits to her home between dd morning snack and lunch. Although I tried to when first with dh I don't engage with her other than when I'm with dh and will talk about silly things that really don't matter.
Although I still get the rage when I think about what she's done, for me what helped the most is being totally honest with dh about my feelings. I follow his lead on the kind of contact he wants with her from week to week and while I acknowledge she his mother and it's only natural he cares for her I don't have the same attachment and tolerance. As stupid as is sounds being blunt with him has worked best for us and given him permission to let of some steam too.
Basically I say I'll do x y z because it's important to you but make sure I'm not left alone with your mother because after very little small talk I won't be able to refrain from saying ... And I know that would be uncomfortable for you.
As much as I would love to encourage him to cut all ties with her, I have a feeling it's where the relationship will eventually end up, that needs to be his mission and all I can do is offer support and protect dd while he chosen to maintain contact with her.
Don't rock the family boat if that's not what your dp wants but don't go out of your way to engage with his mother either. If you do have to see her alone meet in public and stick to maintain topics of conversation for your own sanity. Support him however he needs and talk to him about what he wants. For my dh it's to be firm with mil about what she does with dd, because he finds it hard to say no to her so I keep dd busy when we see her and discourage as much of the direct contact dh dislikes as humanly possible.
The book toxic inlaws really helped us open up our communication.

violetshoes Sun 04-Aug-13 22:06:01

As to your immediate problem (the weird baby photo thing), as others have said, it is quite likely that she is wanting to find out what you know. Or put her version across/ apologise/ accuse your DP of lying, who knows?

If you do intend to still see her, you might want to consider how you will respond.

I would suggest that if you are not wanting to 'rock the family boat' (good expression JBM), then avoid going altogether. Then you won't be put in the position of having to lie/ dissemble.

All the very very best.

tangerinefeathers Sun 04-Aug-13 14:50:57

And agree with others that the getting together to look at baby photos is strange, given the history. Think I would be declining that politely...

tangerinefeathers Sun 04-Aug-13 14:49:01

Similar to what fraumoose has said, these things are land mines in families and he may feel that he is happy leaving it buried and in the past, and having a polite but distant relationship with her, while being confident that should there be children in the future he will be in a position to set rules regarding contact.

I agree that openness comes with its own problems and he may not wish to deal with those problems, but just focus on his own life and the future.

In the same way, as others have said you're not under any obligation to have a relationship with her. I feel the same about my MIL - I don't like how she treated my DH, and continues to treat him, and so make no effort to befriend or get closer to her. She makes it easy by living far away and being very hard work, but even so I choose not to engage with her in any meaningful way and that works for me.

Josie1974 Sun 04-Aug-13 10:22:48

Hi sammyad,
I'm in a slightly similar situation with my dh, in that his father is emotionally abusive. My dh has a relationship with him and I completely respect his right to that. But, Similarly to you, I really struggle with my own relationship with him - I hate him so much for who he is and what he's done to his children. (And also his behaviour towards me in the past.)

Dh and I have reached a point where dh sees him and takes our dc to visit, but I don't go. I see him occasionally but basically I have stopped having any relationship of my own with him.

If I were you I think I would limit as much as possible any contact between you and her and definitely don't see her on your own. I would not want to be building my own relationship with her. You can support your dp in his own relationship with her without getting embroiled in one yourself.

FrauMoose Sun 04-Aug-13 08:28:12

Openness while felt to be healthy can have difficult consequences.

If I decided to be 'open' about the situation involving my late father, I can envisage the following consequences.

- My elderly mother would become extremely upset. She would utterly deny that the relevant events took place and/or say that anything which did take place was 'my fault'. And/or she would seek to minimise anything which I told her about and/or this would be seen as a sign of my having mental health difficulties.

- My siblings would react in very similar ways.

- Other relatives who wished to remember my father - now dead - in a positive light, would be profoundly distressed and wonder just what I hoped to achieve by raking up historical matters at this point in time.

Essentially nobody would thank me or want believe me, because the truth is unpleasant. It would be infininitely preferable to believe that I was unreliable and/or malicious and/or mad.

Now I might decide that I - for reasons -of my own wanted to take the step of disclosing past events. But it would be wholly wrong for others who would not have to deal with these consequences to tell me I 'ought' to take this step.

And as I am mature and sensible person, married to somebody with considerable professional expertise in the field of child protection, I felt fully able to protect our children when they were young.

MaryPoppinsBag Sun 04-Aug-13 08:22:01

OP what a difficult situation, I have no idea how to advise, however, my Uncle sexually abused my cousin.
He lived with my grandmother, and when we went to visit grandma as a child I could never understand why my mother wouldn't let us out of her sight. He used to sit in the back room and my grandma and us in the front. If we strayed my DM used to hiss at us to 'come back here'.

I can't imagine how you would handle visits with his mother with future children as grandmothers are supposed to be very tactile and involved and I'm guessing you wouldn't even want her to go near them.

It would mean that your children's relationship with her would be very strained and different to the one they'd have with your DM.

They would realise it was wrong too.

Don't underestimate how protective you will be as a mother. It makes you question how your parents raised you too.

Personally she would not be allowed near my children. And I would tell her why. However, it is probably a bridge to cross nearer the time when you know you are going to have children.

I wonder how different the response to her actions would be if she was male.

JustinBsMum Sun 04-Aug-13 07:56:51

Have cross-posted with Torrosso.
My DF was an alcoholic and it was never discussed with us younger DCs. In the end it the secrecy conjures up more shame and worry about the issue than being kept in the loop would have done. So I don't think family secrets are good.

JustinBsMum Sun 04-Aug-13 07:54:16

Is keeping the secret a good thing.
It would be easier if the secret was out (possibly just discussed with family members) then any future debates about can DCs visit their GM or can DH take DCs to GM are simpler as you can openly say to DH no, or only for half an hour or whatever.
I just couldn't behave normally with someone when I knew something like this about them ie the abusing, asking you to get together with her to look at baby photos almost sounds like she is sounding you out to find out if you know???? So that she is using her power, if she realises you aren't going to 'rock the family boat' , to continue to manipulate DH and now you.
How much easier it would be for you if everyone knew about the abuse. In the long run it could be easier for DH but he probably won't agree.
In the future your DCs will be embroiled in this secret, they won't understand their DM's attitude to Granny.

Torrorosso Sun 04-Aug-13 07:46:14

I suggest you have a detailed discuss with your Dp now about exactly how you would handle her relationship with any children you have together.

How would you deal with any demands/requests to babysit, what would you say to her when she asked? Presumably one of you would always be with the child?

If you're not able to reach total agreement, then really your relationship has no future.

I take it he hasn't confronted her about the abuse? It must be horrible for you to have this elephant in the room every time you see her.

Is it possible for you to move as far away as you can from her?

And finally, are you satisfied that any children she might have contact with now are safe? That would be my concern. I can understand your dp having dealt with it himself, but there could be other vulnerable existing children who might need protection - one of the help groups around for abuse survivors would be able to advise further.

FrauMoose Sun 04-Aug-13 07:22:34

I think it's naive to feel we can protect our children completely against people who may have harmful impulses.

However much individuals who work with children are checked, we can't check alll our friends and family. Nor can we protect children entirely from access to images which may distress them

We have never been able to protect children 100%. I grew up in Manchester in the era of the Moors Murders. There was a man lurking round the playing field where we all used to play as children who tried to do something that was never quite spelled out to a girl who was my friend.

What we can do is to try and put some mechanisms in place that ensure our children have some supervision and protection - particularly when they're at their most vulnerable. While also helping them to form trusting relationships.

I personally have had experience of needing to manage contact between my daughter and a relative who had exhibited suspicious behaviour. I was able to ensure that he did not try and develop inappropriate closeness with her.

violetshoes Sun 04-Aug-13 02:55:09

I understand what you are saying sammy.

I grew up with physical and mental abuse (NPD 'D'M, enabler DF) and I struggle every day with the aftermath. I try to parent how I would have wished to be treated and I try not to beat myself up too much when I fail.

Once you have DCs, you will most likely feel intensely protective of them. If you have been gritting your teeth and putting up with unwanted contact, your DP may not understand or wish to change the terms at that point.

I'm not saying you should try to control what he does, but that you can refuse to play happy families with the abuser.

FairPhyllis Sun 04-Aug-13 01:41:15

I think the key thing is whether he really will be able and willing to protect any children you might have - independent of whatever he might say now.

I think it's the 'better not to rock the boat with family' attitude that would most worry me. Does she still have any kind of control/power over him that might lead him to drop his vigilance with your future children or to choose what is easy over what you want? Does the way he deals with the abuse leave him vulnerable to not managing potential difficult scenarios well?

I have to say I am always a bit sceptical when I hear about people trying to 'manage' child protection within the family like this - there seems to be such huge potential for it to go wrong.

I don't think a no contact ultimatum would be the right approach here - but you've got to make your own assessment of him and his vulnerabilities - and get it right for the sake of any children.

Don't assume that you're on the same page re: children, OP.

In fact, think very carefully about this before you have them.

This woman is a child abuser. Would you want her around your children at all?

Do you want to have children with someone who will expose them to her?

sammyad Sun 04-Aug-13 00:30:04

Nanny - nobody else knows. Except there is a possibility his much older half-brother on his mother's side experienced the same thing. He has withdrawn almost entirely from the family, lives about an hour away, doesn't contact DP or his mother except high days and holidays. He has a GF of 7 years standing who has never been introduced. Makes me wonder. DP says he has no idea, and no intention of enquiring, which is fair enough.

Wobbly - we rarely disagree tbh, but when we do he tends to be far more patient than I am. He's very unlike her in character (though obviously people do change and sometimes become more like their parents) but from his basic character I think his experience is more likely to have had the same effect as FrauMoose's - active attempts to avoid similar patterns, rather than inadvertent repetition.

I am contemplating tentatively raising the subject again, just in terms of I don't particularly want to see his Mum on my own - happy to back him up otherwise, but find it especially uncomfortable to hear her telling me all about his childhood. Is this selfish?

FrauMoose Sat 03-Aug-13 21:24:08

I think the theory that victims/survivors of abuse are likely to become abusive in their turn is one of the things that makes it particularly hard for abuse survivors to disclose their experiences. It's as if they too will be judged and mistrusted.

When I was a child I was physically and emotionally abused. That experience did leave me with some realdifficulties in terms of getting close to adults and trusting them, as a young woman. However I have never ever treated my own child as I was treated. I think - if this makes sense - that I am better parent because I was badly treated as a child. Having my own needs neglected makes me more aware of what children do need. Also seeing my parents have a relationship that was based on non-communication and manipulative behaviour (sulking, withdrawal) has meant that I've made huge efforts to sort out any difficulties with my partner before things start to fester.

Wellwobbly Sat 03-Aug-13 21:15:45

Sammyad - what is he like when you and he have a disagreement?

Its just that I have a wierd MIL and also got angry at the way she treated and hurt her son...

20 years later he behaves just like her (cold, withdrawing, selfish etc). Looking back we never did resolve conflicts well.

So please take care. The coping skills learned in the FOO come back into YOUR relationship.

Nanny0gg England Sat 03-Aug-13 20:48:01

Does anyone else in his family know what his mother did?

FamiliesShareGerms Sat 03-Aug-13 20:23:15

Slightly different situation, but it took me a very long time to be able to have a relationship with DH's father because of how he behaved to DH when he was a child. In the end I took the view that if DH was able to forgive and forget it wasn't my place to stand in the way and make him behave in a particular way. DH is also adamant that his father is not the same person now as he was back then. But although DH's father sees our children on a regular basis, they will never go for sleep overs with him as I can't wholly put what happened out of my mind.

Sorry, that doesn't sound very helpful. I'll have a think about what happened in the early days of our relationship when DH first told me about stuff, and see if I can be more helpful!

sammyad Sat 03-Aug-13 20:04:13

Kaluki - I thought it was weird too! Glad I'm not the only one. Wondered if there's some MIL code I have yet to learn but apparently not... I like FrauMoose's idea of enlisting DP also.

Goony - he did say during original conversation that 'obviously we'd be extra careful' with any kids - he'd never want to chance anything similar happening - so I'm sure we would be on the same page. It's not that so much that bothers me as just having her about at all. And every time she does something controlling and weird that lovely, laid-back DP just shrugs off and gets on with I can practically feel steam coming out my ears.

Violet - I want to show him it's not ok, but equally as FrauMoose says I absolutely don't want to try to control him either, nor do I necessarily think it would be better for him to cut off contact, especially as we live in the same town and they actually may occasionally come across one another professionally. I suppose I would just like to be able to grow a pair, and quietly tell her one day that I think she is an evil woman (redeeming characteristics aside), that I will be watching her henceforth, and that over my dead body will she ever have anything to do with any children of ours (appearance on the scene of whom is actually a real possibility), before coming over all sweetness and light again upon re-entry of DP.

Unfortunately, she'd probably not have a clue what I was on about (self-knowledge nil) and anyway that's never going to happen, so for the good of DP and general harmony I shall probably just have to quietly steam. Forever. Ugh.

FrauMoose Sat 03-Aug-13 11:17:38

I think one of the hardest things to accept about abusers is that in many ways they are just people not that different from you and me. They have done something harmful and wrong. But they may also have better characteristics.

At the moment this is still relatively early days in a relationship - even if there is a high degree of commitment on both sides at present. I am really not sure how supportive it is to say to an abused and vulnerable person in their first serious relationship, 'You must cut off contact with a parent. You must do what I say. I know what's best.'

Arguably then it's just two women scrapping over who has power/control of some vulnerable bloke. When it should be a matter of enabling somebody to make their own choices - and doing ones best to respect and understand them.

violetshoes Sat 03-Aug-13 11:10:15

I totally get why you hate having anything to do with her. And once you have children, you may find that you feel (even more) protective of your DH and DCs.

He seems to have normalised to some extent what happened so he can cope, but there is no reason why you should. It might do him good to see that. As someone coming in with a fresh view, who is fully supportive of him, you can show how not ok this relationship with his M is.

And there is no good reason you need to pretend to be friendly to his M or that you want to see her.

Start as you mean to go on as it will be easier in the long run.

goonyagoodthing Sat 03-Aug-13 09:58:01

I am sure you have thought of this already, but if eventually you do have children with your BF, will you both be on the same page with regards his mother and her grandchildren? Will he be happy to never allow her to be alone with them? Because thats the long and short of it - she can NEVER be alone with them. As long as you both feel the same its fine, but if he feels grateful to her for financial help etc, will he feel obliged to allow her time with her grandchildren?

I feel for you OP, a tough situation to be in.

FrauMoose Sat 03-Aug-13 09:42:35

I think it would be possible to decline politely and say either

a) you'd rather go through the photos when your partner is around, as you'd be interested to hear his stories too

and/or

b) you're quite busy but meeting for a quick coffee in somewhere like your nearest Costa would be good.

It might feel more comfortable/normal meeting when other people were around. And you wouldn't get drawn into colluding with her version of the past.

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