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Re-instigating contact with toxic family. Should I?

(43 Posts)
Pavlovthecat Thu 11-Aug-11 10:02:14

I have been estranged from my sister for 4 years. It is long and complicated as it always is with toxic family, but I will give you as brief a background as possible so you have enough to give me some views.

Have 3 older siblings 10yrs/9yrs/6yrs older. My family grew up around violence due to an alcoholic who abused my mother. She finally left him when I was born, after suffering from a breakdown and being removed by friends. So I suffered mildly from the after-affects of the breakup of this, and the long term emotional damage left to my mother and to my 3 siblings, the oldest two the most.

My relationship with my sister who is 9yrs older - we had been v close when I was a child but due largely to her role as a 'mother figure' when my own mum was not able (as a baby) and as I grew she worked full time. As I became independent our relationship struggled between close and tense (when I did not live up to her expectations/did as she wanted).

Her relationship with my eldest brother has been bad. They did not talk for a long long time (12years, he has his own issues) and with my other brother, they are not close, they now do not talk, again for 4 years.

Things finally turned sour when my mother died. Or rather before this. She nursed my mother through illness, which was hard, and her judgmental controlling behaviour came out in full force, she refused support and wanted to control my mother completely. At this point my sister had become an Evangelist and she imposed her beleifs on to my mother somewhat which caused some tensions. Her relationship with my mum had been rocky too and partly mum felt my sister 'needed' to care for her. Make amends/sort out their relationship or something. I don't know.

When my mother finally passed, (I was informed on voicemail of this) the stress in my sister broke and she took it all out on me and the brother she was talking to. The other brother, for other reasons was not aware of my mother's passing, and my sister refused to let him know, until after the funeral, took great delight in telling him.

Her behaviour became unbearable, she took things from my mother's house, told us we had like one day to take what we wanted (other than stuff in the will) even though mum lived in london, I live in Devon and my brother lived in Yorkshire and was in the army. She was exceptionally horrible to my brother, did not speak to him prior to or on the day of the funeral, refused to go to his wedding two weeks after my mother died informing him the day before his wedding she had the flu (in fact didn't speak to him, got her husband to leave a voicemail). I suspect but have no evidence that she 'encouraged' my mum to change her will to remove my outcast brother, as my mother's will was changed two weeks before she died. She had previously told me my brother would be 'seen ok' but was not in the will at all. Not that there was much to give.

My mum's express which was that her ashes were scattered in Glastonbury from the Tor, with family present. This was going to be with all of us including the outcast brother.

Then my dad died, 4 months after my mum. My sister was angry at me about not wanting to go the funeral 'he is your father' even though I met him like 2-3 times in my entire life, and those were as a young child. She lied to me about relatives of his making contact, stating there was none, when they had been trying to get hold of me. She refused to pass on details and at this point our relationship pretty much stopped.

I then wrote an email (a few weeks afterwards) to all the family asking if we could all put our difference aside for a day and scatter mum's ashes as was her wish. I received a poisonous letter from my sister informing me that she and her husband had already done this (on the day of my brother's wedding, two weeks after mum died), and actually she did not do it herself, her husband did it while she waited at the bottom of the Tor (my mum did not particularly like her husband). She told me that my mother was already gone, the ashes were just skin and bone cremated, and that her soul was already with god and all her husband had done was chuck her skin and bone away. She informed me in this letter that she had already saved mum's soul as she repented her sins before she died, called me a petulant and hot headed child and that I should grow up. I wrote a letter back simply stating we should avoid contact for a while and asking for some of the things that belonged to me (birthday cards from mum that she had taken, and ones I had sent her, photos, she had them all, my birth tag, a necklace). I advised her I did not think it was a good idea that she came to my non-christian wedding in sept (mum died in Jan, this email was in June). She replied saying she never had any intention of coming and that I would not get any of my things back until she was ready. Contact ended then.

for the last two years she has sent me a christmas car which I have binned. She does not know I have a second child and she has had no contact with or from my other siblings.

My dilemma is - for the last 4 years I have been adamant that I cannot have her in my life, but she has two children, who are growing older with no family. And I looked at my children today and thought of how old they are compared to my sisters and how they would probably get on, and how it would be nice to have them play together. Then I thought about how close I was once upon a time with my sister and thought of the good times (there were lots as well as bad times). I think about how lonely she must be as she has little friends (she judges everyone very harshly and dislikes most people) and how she must have been grieving for mum after caring for her and then her dad died. My husband thinks I should make peace with her and I find myself sometimes agreeing. And then I think of all the resentments I have against her and do not think I can do it, i remind myself that this behaviour is not just grief, but was always there, the grief just made it 100x worse and she will always be this way and I am not sure I can ever forgive her for her appalling behaviour at a time when we all needed each other.

I just wondered if I should? Would I be opening myself up to heartbreak. Or indeed have i been unreasonable?

Pavlovthecat Thu 11-Aug-11 10:03:17

wow. sorry. That was not brief at all ! I went back over it and could not find anything to delete. This is only brief compared to the full story!

If you get through it I will be amazed!

EightiesChick Thu 11-Aug-11 10:10:08

What's she written in the Christmas card? Anything conciliatory or is it a duty card?

I see why you like the idea of the kids all playing together but there is then also the risk of your kids forming a relationship with someone who may 'switch' suddenly on them. So I would be cautious about introducing the kids too quickly. Maybe send a card saying you have been thinking about how the two of you played as kids and it would be nice for your kids to know one another and do the same. Then see what response you get and judge by that. But don't feel bad if it doesn't work out.

Pavlovthecat Thu 11-Aug-11 10:19:22

Thanks for replying eightieschick

card says 'to pavlov and family. from 'sister' and family. She used to write a psalm n number/quote on the corner. None of that now.

I guess I miss what 'should' have been. rather than what 'was'. If that makes sense. I also worry about introducing them to someone and build a relationship only to have it removed if she is horrible and we stop talking again.

warthog Thu 11-Aug-11 10:26:11

my worry is that she will insinuate herself into your life again and somehow try and exert her control over your kids too. she sounds like a nutter and will not have changed, so her wierd behaviour will probably be focussed on the kids now.

my gut feel is to stay well away. perhaps when her kids are older you can get hold of them on facebook or whatever it'll be then, and contact them without her getting involved.

you've done well to let go so far, but my feeling is she won't have changed and you may be letting yourself in for another roller coaster ride.

Pavlovthecat Thu 11-Aug-11 10:32:14

warthog and that sort of also bothers me, that she will be mistreating her children and I am not there to help 'protect' them, or not necessarily protect them but to give them some other family as well as just her and their dad. I suspect (know) she is herself a domestic abuser towards both her husband and her children. Although weirdly she fits the stereotype of a male perpetrator of violence not a female one.

EightiesChick Thu 11-Aug-11 10:44:12

Pavlov, you have to accept that it is not your responsibility to 'save' her kids from any mistreatment, heartbreaking though that is. You can't put that on yourself. Though if you are saying she is violent towards them, that should be a social services matter. You can't protect them in those circumstances, they need help from the authorities.

Is there anyone in her area you know who can give you a heads up on how they are all doing, what your sister's behaviour is like?

Definitely put yourself and your own family first.

Miggsie Thu 11-Aug-11 10:50:31

She may be reaching out to you now because she feels she doesn't have enough people to control in her life and is looking for more victims. Reading your post I'd say the chances of her feeling any remorse or having changed are quite small, in fact probably zero.

The much likelier explanation is that she is being nice to draw you back in to be one of her victims that she can control. I wouldn't respond, and I wouldn't expose my kids to a person like this, they don't have enough experience to work out what is going on and it will confuse them.

As to your sister's children, it is sad and undoubtedly they are already emotionally damaged by their mother, and if you expose your children to them it is on the cards that your children will suffer distress, and NOT that your lovely children will help hers see the light.

The only way you could possibly help is if you the husband stands up to his wife, but it sounds like she picked him out for his "victim" qualities as well, and unless he sees the light you can't really help him.

Pavlovthecat Thu 11-Aug-11 10:51:29

unfortunately the only people my sister has contact with is her church, which both she and her husband are part of. It is a very private community that sort its 'own problems' out and there is no way on earth they would talk to me. Also, even though she puts her faith in god she does not put her faith in the congregation of her church (or did not 4 years ago) she did not particularly like them either! and is very much someone who would not talk about anything in her life. They have the type of family where from the outside it all seems fine. Funnily enough my eldest brother lives not too far from her and he has not spoken to her since she dropped the bombshell of mum dying but not wanting to see him so he won't know.

I have no evidence of violence within the family now, but I do know she used to smack her children, and it was not always controlled discipline from what I observed (ie if you do this, the outcome will be x, it would sometimes be in anger). I also know that she would laugh about why one of the lead glass panels in the bookcase was broken or other similar things (i threw a cup). She threw her wedding ring away after an argument, that kind of emotional mistreating of her husband.

Miggsie Thu 11-Aug-11 10:52:59

I also feel your husband should do some solid reading and research into toxic/controlling people. You cannot MAKE PEACE with them because they fundamentally don't view you as a human being and you either live on their terms or you cannot function normally with them as they are not normal, and they never will be.

He needs to understand you cannot be nice and reasonable with people like your sister as she is neither nice nor reasonable and never will be. She knows exactly what she does and she doesn't see anything wrong with it and she never will.

springydaffs Thu 11-Aug-11 10:54:17

No you havne't been unreasonable. YOur sister sounds like she probably has some sort of personality disorder. I am also a christian (or evangelical, in your words) and her behaviour appears to be entirely contrary to everything Jesus ever taught. Sorry to be judging another christian here.

A few years ago I re-established contact with my toxic siblings, for the sake of our parents (the split was distressing them too much) and I have signed myself up to more horrific and mind-bending abuse. Thinking that time had passed and we'd all grown up a bit, I was shocked that the abuse was as bad as ever - no, worse, if that is possible (I didn't think it could be but apparently it is). You may be in a secure place but the damage these people do is beyond belief. The relationship you had with your sister in your childhood is gone, I don't think you will get it back.

imo for any real change to have taken place, any significant overture needs to come from her. She's sending you christmas cards, which indicates at least some level of goodwill, but imo this isn't enough to suggest a true change of heart. I'm not point-scoring here - poisonous people are sick, you have to know what you're dealing with in order to protect yourself. Your focus appears to be more on her children - you sound lovely - but be careful your intention isn't to go in there and save them in some way from her. It is likely you will be very distressed at what is going down in that family. I'm sorry to sound so sure.

With all my dire warnings and as long as you are prepared for things to be just as they were, probably worse, then do give it a try. Get your hard hat/head on, all possible armour (she will find the chink in a nanosecond - be prepared for that) because you will be going into battle. Be resolute in your thinking - you can't afford to be woolly, and goodwill isn't enough. If you want to reestablish cousins for her kids, and some sense of family, then I applaud you but don't expect miracles. And keep your distance - practically but especially emotionally.

Pavlovthecat Thu 11-Aug-11 11:03:27

spring i did not mean to offend with my term 'evangelist', that is the church she is part of. And I agree completely, something that DH and I have spoken about on many occasions - her behaviours are not christian. My mum had faith. Her formal religious ties were cut when she was young but she had strong faith and belief in god and her behaviours, opinions and way of living were christian. However, she was 'encouraged' to beleive this was not enough to be accepted back into God's fold when she died. And she was afraid of being stuck in nomans land when she passed if she did not accept formal religion and repented her sins before she passed. Such a shame as she was a real christian how she already was.

singforsupper Thu 11-Aug-11 11:07:20

I had a childhood with no extended family in this country. It was very difficult for me although we were a big family and had each other.

I also know had my nieces and nephews distanced from my own children through a difficult relationship with one of my brothers.

So for the kids sake, do make contact but ensure it is entirely on your terms. You make the calls, set the days, go and pick them up or go to their home (so that you can leave when you like).

This will ease your conscience and also give the children contact with each other. But do strike a careful balance with your sister, ensure that you never talk about anything other than the children. This is for them, not for you or her. This could also help break this toxic cycle that you have sadly been caught up in.

Also remember that they are only young for so long, by the time they get to about 12 they will not be that interested in each other, but appreciate some form of contact in a quiet way.

Pavlovthecat Thu 11-Aug-11 11:10:21

thanks for that perspective 'singforsupper I would love to have that relationship only, if it were at all possible. What make that difficult is that my sister and i live 300 miles apart, so trips/visits would be longer than a few hours at a time, although it is entirely possible to meet half way for a couple of hours on neutral territory.

singforsupper Thu 11-Aug-11 11:11:46

I forgot to add, that in terms of you and your sister - all you can do is model good behaviour - I think you already know you can't change her or your relationship with her. If it happens fine, but my guess is that it won't.

Pavlovthecat Thu 11-Aug-11 11:12:33

and I am not entirely convinced she has not poisoned their view of us already or might continue to do so over time, so they have a negative view which could impact on my own children - but who knows unless I make contact.

My own children are very fortunate, in that they do have cousins who they have contact with. Unfortunately they live in USA and Yorkshire so see them rarely, but they know (my eldest does, my youngest is too young) they exist and they are family and they see them when possible.

singforsupper Thu 11-Aug-11 11:14:50

Distance is probably a good thing. DCs don't need a lot of contact, just the occasional day out so they know who their cousins are. If you do make contact try to make sure DH/DP is with you too.

EightiesChick Thu 11-Aug-11 11:18:23

Maybe suggest a day out at a kids' attraction, park, theme park or whatever that is midway between you? Then if it all goes pear shaped with her at least you have other things there to do and your DC get a day out. Also means you can keep it low-key for them, make it a day out where, as a side issue, they get to meet some other people, not a big re-introduction.

But I wouldn't even suggest this yet - I would work on contact in writing only (email or cards/letters) for a while for you to get the lie of the land.

singforsupper Thu 11-Aug-11 11:18:38

I remember my nephew saying once ..."are you my aunt then?" - brother had never explained it to him like that. Idiot. So it's good to intervene in that sense, show them you're not some kind of ogre.

Pavlovthecat Thu 11-Aug-11 11:20:28

she does not have email any more. Not an active one. she did not have a tv when we were last in touch, refused to let her children have access to one. And had diallup internet!

I might consider writing to her. I will give it a little time before I make any decisions. I am still not convinced i want to.

singforsupper Thu 11-Aug-11 11:23:11

Eventually this did heal the relationship with my idiot brother, (IB) he couldn't hide the real me any more. Or my dcs from their cousins. But I do think your relationship with your IS is in a different league from mine, as I said you would really have to disengage from what is likely to be provocative behaviour.

singforsupper Thu 11-Aug-11 11:25:11

Write to the kids instead of her? Or get your dcs to write to hers? Sounds like you need to cut her right out of the equation if she's playing silly buggers with technology (poor kids).

springydaffs Thu 11-Aug-11 11:25:35

Aw don't worry pavlov! I am used to people not really getting what christianity is about particularly as a lot of christians aren't exactly a good advert for christianity sad

Your sister sounds like she may be involved in something a bit like a religious cult? I also have a kind of religious mania in my family - the form of it but not the power (and definitely not the love, which is what it should all be about). To quote from the good book, you know something by its fruits.

ps I'm so sorry to hear your mum was confused in her thinking before she died. Bless her - who taught her that complete rubbish? sad. If it helps at all, it is my belief, based on the basic tenets of christianity, that she is (and always was) forgiven and is now at peace.

BadTasteFlump Thu 11-Aug-11 11:33:16

There are two issues here - one is that you have a ideal in your head of all the children (yours and their cousins) growing up together and being close friends. Obviously that would be lovely if it worked.

The second is that you are worried about what your sister is doing to her family and that you may be able to 'save' them if you were back in touch with her.

IMHO neither scenarios are likely to happen in the way you want them to. There is no reason to believe (from what you've said here) that your sister has mellowed at all, or wants to make peace with you. Therefore it is very likely that she will be as hostile and destructive as she has always been towards you, even if she doesn't start out that way. And in the mean time, your family (and you) will suffer as you try to sort things out with her and eventually probably have to cut her off again.

I think you seriously need to think about if that is a risk work taking. Presumably your children have other family and friends around them who they have good close relationships with. And most importantly, you trust these people not to hurt you or them.

In your situation I would stay away from her. I understand that she is your sister, so you will always have mixed feelings, however unpleasant she is to be around, because there is always a pull to blood relations, whether we want it or not. But I would concentrate on the good and non-toxic relatioships you have within and outside your family, and leave her alone to sort out her own affairs. You can't save her and her family any more than you can save the world, unfortunately. All you can 100% do is the best for your own family. And IMO, that would be to keep her out of it.

BTW - I have a similar situation with a member of my own family. I have tried reconcilliations over the years, usually prompted by the birth of a baby or something of similar magnitude. Looking back now I wish I'd never bothered, as it was not worth the upset and grief it caused. Sadly, people who are capable of such horrible actions generally do not change sad

springydaffs Thu 11-Aug-11 11:44:13

IN the normal scheme of things, anyone who tries to 'save' anyone else is on to a loser. But imo this is different. The chances are that those kids are in a religious bubble, probably have very little contact indeed with the outside world (does she home school them? Do they go to a cultish christian school?). Just the fact that you exist could have an impact on them for the good - do they know you exist? It could be that in later years they will be grateful that someone tried to break the tight religious band around them. Also, in later years they could be angry that nobody tried.

I'm not suggesting you go in there with all guns blazing but just someone presented to them, an ordinary family (iyswim) could be a good thing for them. Bear in mind that your kids may find them wierd though (and vice versa).

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