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Christmas with toxic grump parents. Tell me it's not my job to fix them, please!(40 Posts)
Sorry my first post on here will be a negative one. I am 25 with no kiddies yet.
I'm alone in my flat after spending Christmas day in a black cloud of negativity and tension.
For as long as I can remember, my dad has been a mentally diapered manchild who had such a quick hop from his mum to his surrogate-mum wife (my mother) that he never found the time to grow a sense of social accountability, or experience any real consequences for his actions.
He is an intelligent, loving, accomplished man, but for one reason or another he gets into these moods where he feels like he needs to dominate the situation in petty, horrible ways. He gets off on throwing his weight around in the form of put downs and snide remarks. I think he is lazy and undersocialised, and feels resentful that he doesn't have the kind of life he wants. In the last few years all he's done is hang around the house, and it's making him worse.
If he loses something (phone, keys, etc) while I'm there, I tense up, because I know he's going to take out his frustration out on the whole house, blaming my mum, cursing out loud, stomping and shouting and banging furniture around. Car journeys were always a nightmare, because it was a case of waiting for the almost inevitable row. Wed be trapped with them in the car, not knowing if it was going to be passive aggession or screaming rows this time around. Almost every time, he panics afterwards and tried to act super nice in any way except to talk about what happened and try to resolve it. I genuinely think he's not in the least bit manipulative, just impulsive and immature to the extreme.
Although we never felt physically threatened, it would make my little brother and I sick with worry when we were young. We didnt know when the next fight was coming. We are both emotional wrecks as a result of it, and have has problems with anxiety and depression, but our parents never made the link, or never cared to.
Mum is in total denial. She lives in a total fantasy land where everything is fine. She looks down on people who've had divorces, because sthat could never happen to her, its something that happens to other people. Screaming rows are "forgotten about" and never spoken of again. No matter what he says to her, the minute he calms down, it's like none of it ever happened. She thinks she is being very clever by "ignoring" his outbursts, when really all she is doing is giving him a free ticket to storm about terrorising the house with no consequences. On the other hand, she does literally everything for him around the house. He would be a lost wreck with out her, like a lot of men from that generation.
Because everything would always be "forgotten about", I never felt I was "allowed" to acknowledge that the bad stuff ever happened. It's like I was made to question my perception Of reality. Mum was really bent on making sure I was a doting little fantasy child who adored her parents without question. Neither or them understand why my brother and i keep our distance these days, rather than smothering them with kisses every second of the day.
I am very blessed to have grown up, sorted my head out, and formed my own set of behavioural standards with my partner.
Anyway... Christmas day was a disaster. It was like a stream of negativity coming out of his mouth. He slung insults at the people on the telly, the people on the radio, the people in the newspaper, and generally made an atmosphere. He needed to look for batteries at one point, which led to a huge noisy scene where he stomped around cursing the house, his life, and my mum for "moving his stuff" (if she didn't tidy his stuff away occasionally, the house would be a tip). It got to the point where he was shouting sarcastic questions at mum and taking the piss when she didn't answer. She was working hard in the kitchen, but he acted as though she was just busy out of spite (he thinks meals appear by magic). Me and my brother hid upstairs in our rooms like frightened kids - it was ridiculous.
He only just managed to tone it down when my brothers gf came over for dinner.
At the end of the night, he suddenly moved on to slinging insults at my mum directly, in front of me. He was trying to push her buttons by turning the telly up too loud. When she mentioned it, he turned the sound off altogether and smugly waited for a reaction. When she refused to say anything, he leant across to me in the silent room and said "just look at her face, [my name]. Huh, merry Christmas, eh?", trying to involve me in the game. I couldn't take any more, so I made my excuses and went to bed early. I have no idea what happened between them after that. I just sat in my old childhood room and cried my eyes out. I am 25, and I felt like a frightened kid again. How ridiculous! I feel utterly disrespected.
I think mum guessed I was offended, but I suspect she'll find a way to "forget" this, too.
I'm tired of being expected to play the part of the loving daughter and somehow "tune out" the negativity and never react to it.
I am desperate to do something about it. I need to be convinced that they are not my responsibility, I am not their nurse maid. Do I confront them, or are they a lost cause? I love them, and they're fascinating to talk to, but right now it feels like I'm grabbing snatches of interaction in between the bitter snipes.
Oh gosh, I splurged way more than I meant to. Sorry about the long read.
This was very sad to read. And much of it scarily familiar. Do you think you can tell them what you think and how all this makes you feel? It might not help but I doubt it would make it worse.
I'm wary of bringing it up. They'd be utterly mortified, and despite everything, I don't feel like they deserve that, because it wouldn't solve anything, it would just create awkwardness. Maybe I'm just too accustomed to living in denial.
They'd never dream of giving me grief about it if I raised concerns, but on the rare occasions my mum has confronted my dad about his behaviour, it's led to an even worse row, with nothing gained.
Sorry to hear you've been through similar situations, Gristletoe xxx
That's really awful. I'm sorry I don't have words of wisdom - I ended up virtually no contact with my parents as spending time with them was not got for my mental health, I just couldn't cope.
Think about what you would like to achieve, what would your minimum be that is acceptable from them - then look at whether that is realistically achievable.
My only other thought is that as soon as your Dad starts that you speak directly to him and explain either he stops his childish behaviour now or you are leaving - but then you have to follow that through.
No advice, I'm afraid, but boatloads of empathy. It's bloody rubbish.
In in my 30s and sick to the back teeth of my passive aggressive father and doormat mother. He's a cantankerous sod who can't see that the way he behaves and speaks to people is just disgusting. I continually pull him up on it but my mum has just given up, once again enabling him to act like a twat.
Growing up, life revolved around his whims and temper. His moods were legendary and instantly forgotten by my mum (who needed him as she was a SAHM and had no way of supporting us on her own) but never by us children. My siblings and I all left home as soon as we could.
My mum is wonderful, but won't help herself. She cannot stand him and does everything she can to avoid spending time with him. I've told her to leave-she's now financially independent-but I guess it's better the devil you know...
They cannot stand each other-both spend their lives moaning about the other to me-and all advice I've given has fallen on deaf ears.
After many, many years of this crap (in fairness, they have good years and bad ones) I've just accepted that this is the way it is. This is the life they have chosen and it's not your responsibility to fix it. Keep it at arms length and bite your tongue. They are adults and you just have to let them get on with it, irrespective of how frustrating it is to you.
On my end, I wish one of them would just call it a day. They'd be so much happier apart but there's clearly something else binding them together.
My parents are almost just the same. I find it easier to keep them at arms reach, I live 200miles away, and I have my own baby now. There's no way I'd put my child in that situation; I grew up with it, he won't.
I'm taking the view that my parents are adults. They are able to make their decisions about delusion and their own relationship, it's clearly complex and has a history of lies and misery - it's just too big for me to 'fix', so I'm not going to.
Both of my parents are clear that I won't take any stropping and stupidity. I'd have no worries about not talking to them, or leaving, if they were making things too miserable.
In sorry that you're in this situation, but I'd advise you to look after yourself first. Your parents' relationship is likely to be far more layered than is straightforward to change. It's miserable, but it's up to us to not let it continue through any further generations.
Thanks for the replies. Sometimes it feels as though I'm the only one in the world who has to deal with this shit. I spent Christmas eve with my aunt and her family, and seeing all the genuine love in their house was beautiful but also heartbreaking. My cousins are so close to their parents, and it shows. I would love to feel that way, but instead I have to pull on a whole fake personality and put up mental "blocks" when I'm around my folks.
I think in an odd way, mum gets off on having someone to look after. She never achieved much in life, and maintaining the mother/child dynamic was the only thing that gave her life any meaning. I think having a buffoon for a husband is the only was she can possibly feel superior to anyone. At the same time, she has an incredibly tenacious martyr complex. She thinks making changes for your own happiness is indulgent and weird.
I'm all my myself in my lovely little house now. Locking the door behind me felt amazing. I'm watching movies and enjoying the quiet house with zero chance of an unpleasant kick-off in another room.
I've just sent my dp a message telling them I love them and will never, ever take them for granted. Maybe this Christmas was a blessing in disguise - it's really made me appreciate my independence and my lovely partner!
Best wishes to you all, especially if you've got a family like mine.
As for confronting dad directly... I came bloody close after the TV incident, but I bit it down and let the tension out in private as bloody always. Maybe it was for the best.
I gave a lot of thought to messaging my mum today, but I'm too cowardly to deal with the consequences. It's nothing she doesn't already know, really, anyway.
Thanks again for the support x
Similar to my childhood. I suggest as soon as your DF kicks off, you leave & tell him why you are leaving.(I started doing this to my DF - but in my 30s!) I am more concerned that you are unconsciously absorbing some very dysfunctional responses yourself -at some point therapy might help. My heart goes out to you. I know how it feels. Take care.
Rainbow... Thanks for posting, I think you've got a really good grasp of the situation and I'm sorry you have such a sad family atmosphere. I'm not in your situation, but my DD possibly is, or she possibly will be in 5 years time if I don't cease being a doormat/ smoother of situations and confront my H ( in the form of a divorce petition, he's had enough chances). Are you close to your mum-- i.e., could you get some time alone together and tell her how upsetting it is? At least she would know that it isn't invisible, perhaps she thinks it us. Quite likely she is only pretending not to notice. Also if she wants she could call Women's Aid-- they deal with 'older' people and know all to well how these situations can become worse as abusive men age and think they have a right to be horrible. In any case, don't cover it up or make excuses, she may be grateful for your acknowledgement of it as she's accepted it for so long.
Makes me sad to think of your Christmas, that perhaps your mum was really looking forward to having you home, planned special things, then he tried to spoil it... It could be that he's even worse when it's just the two of them and he's no one else around for him to take it out on! Verbal/emotional abuse shouldn't be tolerated!
In a way, I'm sad for my dad. He adores me and at other times its clear that he is desperate for me to love him. He just can't get a grip on himself when the urge to stomp and whine takes over.
Maybe when we're a bit further away from Christmas, I'll introduce the subject to mum as gently as I can.
For a while, I've been tempted to ask her "what would you say to me if I was married to someone who talked to me like that?".
I used to pray that they'd get divorced. I would fantasise about it. What a weird chldhood memory to have.
God forgive me, in my darker moments I used to hope that one day he'd go too far and hit her. Then there would be something real and undeniable to latch onto, for my brain to understand. Something she couldn't brush off or deny. I hate myself for thinking like that.
I'm being horribly self indulgent at this point, but this is honestly the first time I've opened up about it. Even my partner doesn't know much about it, I do my best to hide it from them because it embarrasses me so much.
Rainbow (rereading your OP) you said your DF did get a grip on himself when your brothers gf arrived? He CAN behave, he's just used to his privileged position where he doesn't have to, in front of you! But I've no idea how you'd tell him this... Inevitably he'd deny it!
Sadly your examples all show how he sees the world, as a sort of contest where you're only worth something if you're wielding power over another. I've been reading Patricia Evans' books, particularly 'Verbal Abuse: How To Recognise It and How To Respond' which is a real eye opener, although geared more towards those on the receiving end of abuse.
I think certain men have never learned how to appropriately express emotions, everything goes straight to ANGER, I know my in-laws have this dynamic so no wonder my H is the same... FIL gets angry as a way of 'communication' for example at a (rare) recent encounter, FIL showing pictures of somewhere they'd visited on a day out--MIL tried to join in saying, 'that looks like xxx when we visited'... To which FIL retorted (in shout voice) 'WHAT DO YOU MEAN LOOKS LIKE XXX. IT IS XXX' ...then he turned his back to her and was super nice to me. I got away but regret not giving her some validation or him a good shout back. She just accepted being shouted at, looked a bit crushed but he looked like a bully.
You seem like an insightful and caring person -- perhaps you can get through to your parents before it's too late
PS didn't see your last post-- wow. I really hope you find a way to talk to your mum about it! Sad for you but well done for realising what the situation is!
I could have written this thread myself so I know exactly where you are coming from. Our parents and situation sound almost identical. I have run out of ideas myself about how to "fix" things and now just feel despairing and often empty of emotion. It is very sad. My parents have never hugged me nor told me they loved me - not that I can remember anyway. Christmas is all such an act - when I leave, my mother puts on this show "thank you for helping make it a lovely Christmas" and then my dad pats me on the back, I smile feebly (crying inside), get in the car and drive off, and burst into floods of tears as soon as I get out of sight. Friends that I have told (literally one or two close ones) say "Oh why don't you come to ours next year" etc but they don't realise how hard it is to observe happy families having genuine fun. I barely heard any laughter in my parents house this year. The couple of times I tried to make a joke it was not appreciated and met with the coldest of stares from my father. I am now 35 and also don't have any children. I think my relationship with my parents is partly the reason for me being single and childless still. It devastates me to think I may never have a happy family of my own as this is all I really want in life. And I would make sure it was a happy family, with every day full of joy and laughter and not taking each other for granted. I don't think it would occur to my parents that this is what I yearn for, as they really do not seem to see me as an adult who thinks for themselves and has their own life I also spent much of Christmas sitting in my bedroom wishing things were very different but not knowing what I could to change them.
Also to add, I find it hard to make eye contact with my father, I don't know why. I am incredibly uncomfortable around him. Eg I could never do anything alone with him - I don't recall us spending any time together since I was a child. I couldn't bring myself to now, it would just feel too weird and I would feel very awkward. Just being alone with him in a room for more than a minute makes me want to run away
I stopped going to Christmas at my parents house at the age of 16 because it wasn't fun and I'm the youngest of 6 kids. And we all live miles away - 3 of us left the country to be away from them.
You don't have to go for Christmas and be subjected to your insult throwing father, you are 25 and can quite reasonably have your brother to Christmas at yours, wherever that might be.
Your post rang bells for me, as this is how my Dad was, and my Mum rewrote history even after he died about how lovely he was. For me that has been harder to swallow than the original shit-slinging.
Oh rainbowmash, it sounds horrible. You can't cure your parents and your mum isn't going to thank you for raising it with her either. The only thing you can do for yourself is to get a little distance from it. Would it be possible to visit but not stay over? That way you don't have to end up in your bedroom in tears. Your mum doesn't confront the situation, she just waits for it to pass and that's worked for her a coping technique because like you say it does pass and then he's ok again. You also don't confront it but maybe there is a place for saying 'it's all getting a bit stressy in here, I'm going for a walk / going home' so that at least you get an escape and they know it's not just oddness from you. I do feel for you, I know very well how stressy family situations can wear you down.
OP, can you get some counselling?
My hope for you is to get help for yourself do you can build the strength to speak to your parents about this, either together or separately. My hope for you is they will listen, and possibly modify their behaviour, at least somewhat (essential characteristics rarely change).
Did your father have a difficult childhood, emotionally? He sounds needy and seems to lack self-awareness of his own power. I'd guess he feels powerless often.
Sorry, that's wasnt coherent or complete. It's late here. Best of luck.
OP, sorry to hear of your difficult Christmas. Your post rang some bells with me, esp your DH's behaviour.
I am nearly 40 and have 2 DC of my own. Having counselling has helped me over the years.
They all raised the idea of speaking to my DH about his behaviour, but I just cannot do it.
I still see them and they are good grandparents. Small doses helps.
But I have got to a place where I am less affected by it and I mostly accept I cannot fix them.
I think being aware of their behaviour will hopefully mean you can ensure your own future family (be that you and a DP or DP & kids) won't experience the same.
Hope you are feeling better today.
This rings bells for me but it is my step father not real father. I now only visit for an hour once a year at Xmas. Last night I lay there stressing about it so may well make this the last visit as cannot take the shit anymore.
My mum flits between denial and accepting that his behaviour is unacceptable. I think it is her way of coping.
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