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Anyone else with a relationship with their parent(s) that is just "duty"

(16 Posts)
Flyonthewindscreen Sat 24-Sep-11 14:58:15

I'm not referring here to people with parents who are/were abusive or have done unforgivable stuff. My DF does not fall into that category. I remember being very close to him when I was younger (I am now 40, he is 76), especially as my DM died when I was 11. He got together with my SM when I was 18 and married her when I was 24 so I see her more as his DW rather than a SM iykwim.

To cut a long story short my SM is a very domineering and manipulative person and has my DF completely under her thumb. Their lives revolve around her DC and GDC. I never see him on his own and if I phone and she is in the house, he will usually hand the phone over to her after a couple of minutes. Being completely fair to SM, he is very happy with her and it is his choice to let her rule him in this way. When I was younger SM used to upset me very much because I didn't understand her technique of always twisting things so that I was the bad guy and she the martyr (is this passive-aggressive,can never work out what it means). However in recent years and with 100 miles between and us and also having the support of my DH, we have had what is on the surface a cordial relationship. I phone DF/SM around once a week if they haven't phoned before then (often they haven't) and visit every couple of months (they visit rarely and grudgingly).

So my problem is that contact with the DF/SM (and as explained they come as a unit) feels like a miserable duty. Duty because I don't want to feel like a bad daughter who doesn't get in regular touch with her elderly DF. But every phonecall/visit a burden and never a pleasure. Recently SM has been hinting and pressurising for more/longer visits (complaining we never stay overnight, etc.). It is pretty obvious to me that this is because DF has started to have some (minor atm) health problems and SM wants me to take some responsibility if he goes downhill.

I would be gutted if my DC felt like this about me when I am older. DF/SM make a big fuss about how lovely it is to see my DC but then don't bother actually talking to them or interacting particularly or on occasion, remembering their ages. I feel like taking them to visit is just for show so they can say DF's DGC have been and here are the photos. DS (9) is already getting wise to them and has started complaining about visiting.

I don't feel like there is a solution to this really but it is not the kind of thing I would admit to in RL and was wondering who else would define their relationship with their parents as purely duty?

PorkChopSter Sat 24-Sep-11 15:11:54

Me. As duty is all that is left after years of alcoholism and gaslighting.

Now I don't phone them or email - although will respond. Visits no longer involve a full meal. We can't eat out (alcohol), if I cook DM will just pick, DF only cooks sufficient food for 3-4 people no matter how many are there (usually 9-10). I will not see them without DH and DC do not see them without us around.

aStarInStrangeways Sat 24-Sep-11 15:14:02

marking my place for later.

eaglewings Sat 24-Sep-11 15:14:54

You could have been writing my story (except parents divorced rather than mum died)

Staying with dad and his wife was a chore, I longed to see dad on his own. his wife died a few years ago and since then our relationship has grown again from being one of duty to loving again.

I don't wish this on your dad, but am writing to say, your relationship is not unusual

Riveninabingle Sat 24-Sep-11 15:16:21

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Springyknickersohnovicars Sat 24-Sep-11 15:18:45

Can't you try to re-establish a relationship with your father without her there or is he just too dominated by her? Have you ever been able to tell him how she makes you feel?

BertieBotts Sat 24-Sep-11 15:22:39

Kind of, yes. Not exactly as you say, but my dad never bothers to get in contact, except occasionally "liking" something on my facebook. I don't know anything about him as a person. How can you have a relationship with someone who just never bothers to interact with you other than the minimum? I've seen him once in the last year, he phoned me asking if I was home, said he was in the area and would pop in for 5 minutes. Which he did. Literally, 5 minutes. Then a few months ago he rang again to ask if I was home in the next 10 minutes, I wasn't. So he said "Oh okay then, never mind." and hung up confused

He and my SM were planning to move to Australia when I was 16 and my sister and I were gutted. It never happened, but it might as well have done. It's like as soon as I moved out of home he couldn't be bothered even to fake it. For a while I only kept in contact because my stepmum made an effort, and to see my half-siblings, but I've grown apart even from them, we see each other so rarely. The last time we did go and stay with him they made it clear I was a massive disappointment for getting pregnant at 19 hmm and implied that because my stepmum had perfect homebirths in an hour and a half, the fact I was exhausted after my 3 day labour was because I wasn't fit and healthy enough in the first place. confused Thanks!

tkband3 Sat 24-Sep-11 15:29:15

I have exactly the same kind of relationship with my DF and it is largely because of his DW who he married about 7 years ago, when I was 35.

My DF and DM had a fairly unstable relationship during my teens and twenties - they were like housemates living under the same roof, not husband and wife...separate bedrooms, completely separate social lives etc. When I was 30 they finally split up (my DM to live with her new partner) and my DF to live on his own.

I have had several run-ins with DF's wife (I never refer to her as SM) due to her attitude to me and a few years ago we had a dreadful row that led to no contact for quite some time. We gradually re-established some sort of relationship - on my part this was entirely due to my desire for my children to have their GF in their lives (DH's father died a few years ago).

But like your DF/SM, whenever we do see them, they completely ignore the children and just want to chat to the adults (about their cats and what's been happening in the church choir). The children try to engage with them but after a while just give up and get on with their own games. On the rare occasion we're invited to their house, DF and wife make it perfectly clear that we've outstayed our welcome if we're there for longer than about 3 hours. They have no other grandchildren - my brother and his wife are child-free by choice and DF's wife's sons are the same.

Last week we were having lunch with my mum and she kindly invited DF and wife over to her house after lunch so they could see the children (they are still on quite amicable terms). They barely even looked at them - just chatted to me, DM and her partner for 2 hours.

DF is a highly intelligent, well-read man with whom I used to be able to have fantastic discussions on all sorts of topics and I miss that, but it mostly makes me sad that my children don't have any kind of relationship with him. They have a better relationship with and get more love and attention from my mother's partner, who is a really lovely man.

I don't expect him to be fawning over the children all the time - I totally accept that grandparents have done their bit raising their own children and don't have any obligation towards their grandchildren, but my mum always says what an amazing father my dad was and I am disappointed that my children won't have any good memories of him.

Like you, I don't see any solution to the situation, although I do wonder whether our relationship would improve if his wife died before him (and I know that sounds morbid, but she's 5 years older than him at 82, so the chances are that she might). It's sort of comforting to hear that there are others out there in a similar situation.

AnnieLobeseder Sat 24-Sep-11 15:29:28

Yup, me. My parents raised us in the extreme Benign Neglect style - never lifted a finger more than they absolutely had to in terms of attention or toys or activities. Then my dad pissed off with his secretary when I was 15, no clue that it was coming, and ignored us all for a whole year 'so we could get over it'. He still doesn't appear to give the slightest shit about either of us and rarely makes contact.

My mum is completely selfish and only talks about herself when she calls. She tells me she had no idea that I was hugely unpopular and bullied as a child, and can't understand that I had a miserable childhood. Oh, and she implied that if I were bullied it must have been my fault for some reason.

Basically, they're both completely self-absorbed, always have been. So I just do what needs to be done, I speak to both of them and have some level of affection for them both, but we're not remotely close. I grieved for the parents I never had a few years ago, if that makes sense, and have now mostly made peace with the situation. But it makes me sad sometimes that neither of them have the first clue who I am, what's really going in my life and that neither of them care about this.

Flyonthewindscreen Sat 24-Sep-11 15:42:10

tkband3, the whole ignoring the DC, until they go away and do their own thing so that SM/DF are able to hold forth on various tedious topics is exactly the scenario we have on our visits.

My concern atm is that SM is going to expect far more contact and actual help as DF gets older. They are the same age but she is tough as old boots, he starting to get a little frail.

allibaba Sat 24-Sep-11 16:05:21

Kamer, my DH actually said the other night that his relationship with his DPs feels like a duty these days. My IL's are still together but their various illnesses have turned them in to very different people.

My DH's childhood was very happy (he's adopted) but for the last 15 years things have become increasingly strained, particularly with my FIL, especially as my FIL hates me and has made that very plain.

For example, phone call this week, 1st one for about 3 weeks (which normally means DH is being punished for something he didn't realise he had done) - FIL complains that he's not seen DH & DGC for 3 months, why doesn't DH pop in to to see them anymore, why could they not come and stay with us when they asked etc etc. Basically trying to put a big guilt trip on him. Well in answer to those questions, we havn't seen them for 3 months becuase we live several hours away and when we do pop back home and see them they ignore DC and are rude to DH and I. DH has never popped in to see them on his way past to work as its an hour and a half out of his way and he wants to get back to see DC and bath him at night. And they couldn't come to stay with us when they wanted as they gave us one weekend out of 4 months that we couldn't do and refused to rearrange anything else with us as they were annoyed.

DH doeesn't see a bright future for this relationship and we both know that it is only going to get worse over time. Particularly as with another DC on the way we won't be able to bend over backwards to their demands even more.

Its a very sad situation as no-one expects to be in this position with their own parents. But what can you do?

AttilaTheMeerkat Sat 24-Sep-11 17:30:11


Interesting that you used "self absorbed" to describe your parents. To my mind that is another way of saying narcissistic. I would read "Children of the Self Absorbed" by Nina Brown if you have not already done so as it may help you.


TBH I would not even call them once a week now after the way they've acted. No wonder your 9 year old does not want to see them; children are very perceptive to this sort of nonsense.

I woud not let your Dad completely off the hook either as I feel he has acted as a bystander out of self preservation and want of a quiet life. He should not have acted the way he did; his actions show him to be both a weak and very selfish man. He made a conscious choice throughout and put his second wife and her family first at your expense.

I was trusted, well actually more like left, by my parents to get on with it from the time I was 14. Its not a situation that has changed much to be honest: I am still seen to be the responsible one so am left. My mother still cannot do enough for her son (my brother) however and still cleans his house for him and does his ironing.

AnnieLobeseder Sat 24-Sep-11 17:44:37

Thanks Attila, I will keep an eye out for that book.

Flyonthewindscreen Sat 24-Sep-11 18:45:55

Attila, I totally agree that my DF has a role as a bystander and has been weak in never defending me against SM. I suppose I excuse him a bit because he was widowed with a young DD (me) and must have been very lonely in the years before he got together with SM. He is I think very grateful to SM for "rescuing" him from his situation. However he has paid a high price (imo) for being rescued as he has had to give up all independence.

But as for reducing contact in this situation, much as I would love to, how do you get past the guilt of seeing less of an elderly parent, who has not been abusive or done anything outwardly dreadful and in the knowledge that SM would twist everything so that I was the bad person, which is her modus operandi?

nametapes Sat 24-Sep-11 18:53:03

Havnt had time to read all this , but i do seem to have a duty type of relationship with my Mum, who can be a total bitch. My dad is lovely and i like to see him, but the only reason i call by to see them both is to see my dad. My mum doesnt really deserve much attention, she has been so horrible to me sometimes in my life. I only bother now because i want to keep in touch with my dad. I bite my tongue with my mum and am only pleasant by DUty.

paulapantsdown Sat 24-Sep-11 19:17:56

My relationship with my dad is purely duty now. My mum died 6 years ago very suddenly and my Dad fell to peices. My mum and dad still cared for my severely disabled brother at home, although my Dad did very little 'hands on' while mum was alive.

In order for my brother to be able to stay at home, I stayed there for a long time (with a 2 year old and a 8 month old), and gradually helped my Dad to learn everything he needed to do, cooking, laundry, running a home etc. It was a nightmare and the 18 months it took him to be able to cope nearly cost me my sanity and my marriage. I have absolutley no memories of DS2's babyhood.

Over these years my dad has lost his temper with me and done and said some awful things, but I have had to forgive and forget for the sake of my brother. This has caused so much resentment for the old goat that I find it almost impossible to have any kind of nice normal relationship with him now.

Everything I have done for him over the last 6 six years has been for DB's sake, but when the day finally comes that DB has to go into residential care, I will be making a duty visit to DF about once a month instead of the 3 x week as it is now.

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