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Having a relationship with a difficult parent

(62 Posts)
WaterWorld Thu 11-Feb-16 22:49:09

Have had to name change due to relatives being on this site also.

My DFather is of the opinion that he is head of the family. He is retired and married to DM, they have two adult married children and one single, who in turn have their own children. Head of the family (for him) translates to grand gestures like buying holiday tickets so we all holiday together, demanding of his daughters husbands that they provide well for them, announcing at the dinner table his status of head of the family, interfering with friends and family of his children, giving gifts and determining how and when they are used - you get the idea).

My DM and I are guilty of not tackling DF (definitely easier not to argue), I would generally omit to tell him of anything controversial and i have always struggled to openly 'disobey' things e.g. a holiday invitation! DSibling has enjoyed many more distant years having moved away at 18, complied less and suffered masses of 'bad press' as a result, though since having her own children has turned into the prodigal daughter and is back in the fold.

I on the other hand am currently out of the fold. My DH will not tolerate DF's interference in his own life, relatives and finances. I agree it is intolerable and our position is a joint one. Henceforth the relationship with my DF has broken down. Life is quieter and calmer without DF's interference, moods and vocal judgements. It has been a year. We are still in touch with DM. My siblings listen to DF's complaining about us and are prone to trying to speak to me without my DH present to try to persuade me of things against my better judgement.

Fine. Except that my 7 year old DS loves and would like to see Grandad.

This is Grandad who is currently making 'will' related threats to me, and personality assassinations because we are not falling into line with his requirements.

The current verbal torrent of 'issues' with me stems from me making an invitation to Grandad and Grandma to meet them at a suitable attraction in the school holidays to facilitate some positive contact for DS.

Grandad made a counter offer to visit his house (me and DS only DH not welcome) and said no to our suggestion.

DH and I do feel for DS and are strong enough to try to facilitate a positive day out for DS's benefit but consider neutral territory essential.

What to do?

WaterWorld Fri 12-Feb-16 10:51:41

Can anyone advise please. Family breaking down around me sad

Rosenwyn1985 Fri 12-Feb-16 10:57:39

My attitude would be if he won't accept your husband and your decisions then sod him but that's just me. I hate to say it but this really is about what you can live with. He sounds abusive and I am not convinced I'd want my kids near him. I wouldn't want them to think that the sort of behaviour he demonstrates is appropriate. But like I said, It's what you can live with that matters. Maybe sit down with hubby, write dad an imaginary letter, try and get out how you feel and things might resolve themselves

mimishimmi Fri 12-Feb-16 11:05:33

Ahhh... my grandfather was somewhat similar in bouts including the will related talk. He became very lonely and isolated and frustated that his money couldn't make people do what he wanted.... I think withdrawing , as you've done, is the only option.

WaterWorld Fri 12-Feb-16 11:06:45

Thank you, I guess I am veering that way but having worked so hard on my relationship with him for so long it is a wrench to give up.
Also I am worried DS will not forgive me.

thecatfromjapan Fri 12-Feb-16 11:19:30

You're thinking ds won't forgive you because that's how your did treats you. Ds is 7 and is your child. If you can't facilitate a relationship between ds and did because did is a bully, ds has to suck it up. And maybe you can tell him why - you're protecting him from an emotionally/psychologically unreliable relationship and from setting up patterns where he accepts being bullied in the name of love and filial piety.

Dh is 50. He is only now coming to terms with a similar relationship with his df. Sadly, because it's taken him so long to do this, we have had 20 years, as a family, of being pulled into a very asymmetric relationship with his df. The children, and myself, have paid a high price over the years to sustain a bullying relationship.

You can try talking to your df, and setting out rules of engagement on your terms. You can keep on doing this. It may work - not this year, not next year, maybe in ten years - it may not.

My main advice would be to think about where your boundaries are, consider if they are reasonable, be firm about not having those messed with, and then make it clear that you are open to any overtures of reconciliation, whenever, so long as your boundaries are respected.

Good luck.

thecatfromjapan Fri 12-Feb-16 11:30:29

The 'no dh' thing is rude. And weird. Is there a good reason for his taking against your dh?

For what it's worth, there was a bit of this in our relationship, too. Dh was regularly invited on family holidays without me, without the children, or with just one of the children.

Dh complied. And so did I. The upside is that there is a relationship with these people. The downside ... well, it's a relationship with difficult people. And the dc are caught up in it too.

They're not my parents, so I can't speak for dh, but I do wish dh had told them to shape up or ship out years ago.

The saddest thing in this is that I now realise that I didn't ever force the issue because I knew, inside, he'd choose them over me and the dc.

And that is why they do this, I think. It's about power, control, coming first and testing people to see how far they can push it.sad

WaterWorld Fri 12-Feb-16 11:54:50

Thank you for sharing your experiences and wisdom, this is helping me a lot.
Many of these things you have all been through resonate very strongly.
Shouldn't really cry myself to sleep at 45 because of my Dad's behaviour.

Dh hasn't done anything wrong. But since being with DH I guess I am slightly different in the face of demands placed on me/us, when there is a witness to this stuff it's hard to pretend its not real. DF perhaps can't abide that I am less available to be influenced and presumably sees this as related to not being single any more. Who knows, I'm trying to pick a logical explanation from the illogical behaviour!

thecatfromjapan Fri 12-Feb-16 12:05:26

It is illogical until you see it as being about control, not love.
People who love you don't make you choose like this (dh or me; your identity as a full human being, married with child or your identity as a a daughter).

I think the fact dh chose to go along with this meant that he didn't ever fully commit to his life as an adult, as a father, as my partner. That was very corrosive. As I said, the children and myself are still paying a price for that.

You sound as though you're made of more reflective, tougher stuff than my dh.

I hope your df comes round. I hope he agrees to meet up with you all in a child-friendly space. It's not a lot to

schlong Fri 12-Feb-16 12:08:26

He has no right to lay down the law on how he sees your ds. He can't be that bothered if he turned down your reasonable suggestion. His way or the highway? Ride that road to freedom and cultivate your family of choice. Your ds will thank you in the future for sparing him these petty patriarchal power struggles.

AttilaTheMeerkat Fri 12-Feb-16 12:50:17

What Schlong wrote.

Also what you write initially is very typical of life within a narcissistic family structure. Have you ever read up on narcissistic personality disorder, I would see how much of that fits in with your own experience of your dad.
His actions are all about power and control; this is how these disordered of thinking people operate. Your siblings in order to remain in favour seem to have adopted the "flying monkeys" role towards you and pressure you accordingly.

A good rule of thumb here as well is that if they are too toxic/difficult for you to deal with, its the same deal for your both vulnerable and defenceless child. Your job amongst many here is to protect him from such malign influences like your family of origin with particular reference to his grandad.

This excerpt may help you as well:-

"Your bringing new life into the world did not fundamentally change your abusive parent into a loving family member. But adult children of narcissists (ACONs) seem to show a natural affinity for believing in this work of fiction. We have always wanted our parent to be loving to us, and now we want our parent to be a loving grandparent. What we want and what we end up with are two very different things. Where we usually get tripped up is our failure to recognize the adaptability of the narcissist to changing circumstances.

You are the parent. You're older and therefore more experienced which is the point of being the parent. The child is dependent on your good sense and protective wisdom. You're smarter than your child; use that to your advantage (such as using the distraction method). You are the final authority. This is not a negotiable issue. Your son doesn't get to decide on this one because they lack the understanding, wisdom, experience and good sense that, hopefully, you have. So don't look like you're unsure or open to quibble. You'll undermine yourself if you look anything but firm and resolved on it. Use your advantages as parent to smooth the effects of the cut-off. Over time this will all quiet down. Kids tend to accept what is. It will happen more quickly if you follow the above advice.

Most of all, do not operate from a fearful mindset. Don't be afraid of your children's possible, or actual, reactions. Don't be afraid that you are depriving them of something important by cutting off a set of grandparents. You are only "depriving" them of bad things. Reassure yourself with that truth. Family is not everything. Blood is not binding. You are escaping the Mob Family. What should connect us is how we treat each other with love and respect. This is always a good lesson to teach our little ones. If any part of you is unsure of your decision then, for Pete's sake, don't show it. Your resoluteness will go a long way toward reassuring your children that you are acting in everyone's best interest. If your children know that you love them, they are going to feel reassured that this decision is also based in your love for them. They will find an added sense of security to know that you, as their parent, are willing to protect them even at the cost of your relationship with your own parent(s). Rather than being fearful, see the plentiful opportunities in this. You are protecting your children from someone whom you've experienced as being abusive; you are reassuring your children that you are in charge and are watchful for their best interests (creates deep sense of security); you can teach healthy family values which include that family doesn't get a pass for abusive behaviour; you can strengthen and reinforce the healthy relationships in your extended family. Kids are less likely to feel like there is a void in their life if you fill it with good things.

Cutting off from your narcissist parent is a good thing. No need to act otherwise. Your children will sense it is a good thing by how you behave. Model how you want them to respond and it is likely they will imitate. Don't be afraid of their questions. Kids are amazingly resilient and well-equipped to handle truth. Parents are supposed to protect their progeny. If your child doesn't agree with how you go about that don't worry. They will often disagree with your decisions for their best interests. Nothing new there. It is your job as parent to make the tough decisions. If you know it is the right decision then proceed with confidence. Showing confidence is a quality of leadership. As a parent you are supposed to be a leader. Lead...and they will likely follow".

RatherBeRiding Fri 12-Feb-16 13:01:03

You say you want your DS to have a positive relationship with your DF. But DF isn't going to change. He is a bully and a control freak.

Unfortunately your DS is too young to realise this, but that's where you, as his parents, need to decide what is in your child's best interests, and from your description of the, frankly appalling, family dynamics on your parents' side - I would say that it is NOT in your child's interests to have relationship with your DF.

If you decide you really would like to try to facilitate some kind of relationship between DS and DF I think you are right to insist it is on neutral territory and must include your DH (if your DF really wants to have a relationship with his grand-son he should be willing to go along with your wishes and not try to dictate the whens the wheres and the hows).

If your DF won't agree, then that tells you everything you need to know about how potentially toxic such a relationship might be for your child.

AttilaTheMeerkat Fri 12-Feb-16 13:02:27


I would also suggest you read and or post on the "well we took you to Stately Homes" thread on these pages.

Lottapianos Fri 12-Feb-16 13:08:28

'You're thinking ds won't forgive you because that's how your did treats you'

Absolutely. It is a very scary thing to have a parent like this who rules with a rod of iron, and that fear doesn't magically go away when you become an adult yourself.

My own father very much sees himself as head of the household and He Who Must Be Obeyed, but is less overt about it than your father. It's a horrible, confusing, overwhelming experience. You are very understandly upset by his behaviour. So why on earth would you expose your 7 year old son to it?

Your DS is a little boy - he cannot possibly understand what grandad is capable of. He most likely wants the fantasy of a lovely, fun, sweet grandad and that's understandable. However, you know the truth, and you need to protect him from an incredibly controlling and toxic man. As Attila always says - too toxic for you to deal with? Definitely too toxic for your child to deal with

'Shouldn't really cry myself to sleep at 45 because of my Dad's behaviour.'

Its incredibly difficult, but try to let go of 'should'. It means that you end up living your life according to other people's expectations, rather than what feels right for you. There is no magic switch that gets flicked that takes you from 'child' to 'adult', especially when it comes to your relationship with your own parents. As someone who has shed millions of tears over my own parents' behaviour, its completely understandable that you are hurt and upset by him. Go easy on yourself x

Dioskouri Fri 12-Feb-16 13:12:32

I feel your pain OP. My DF is a selfish bully who has been pandered to for years. Six months ago, he cut my family off (that is, me, my DH and DCs) for no real reason at all; there was just a bit of a tiff over nothing much, and he flounced out and declared he wanted nothing more to do with us. I find it very painful and upsetting that my DCs (who are still too young to know anything about it) will not have a relationship with their grandfather - for all his weaknesses and flaws (which are many).

But truth be told, even if my DF wanted a relationship with us, any relationship with him would not be a healthy one. And the same is true it seems of your relationship with your DF.

The most important people in your life now are your DH and DS. They matter. Your controlling, big baby of a DF does not. I'd wash your hands of him if I were you, hard as that is. Even if you can't do that, please don't sign up to any arrangement that involves dividing your immediate family unit. Either your DF accepts and respects your DH, or he can f* off.

Your DS will understand your position in due course, I'm sure.

Good luck flowers

WaterWorld Fri 12-Feb-16 14:08:52

I feel stronger, thank you everyone.

For sure we won't be doing DF in the foreseeable future if at all.

I need some words for DS. What do I say to him to cause least hurt but let him know not to expect to see Grandad?

WaterWorld Fri 12-Feb-16 14:09:14

doing = seeing!

RatherBeRiding Fri 12-Feb-16 14:28:35

I think I would be inclined to factual, but in an age-appropriate way. Children have a marvellous capacity to absorb the truth and your DS won't be fazed by it if he sees that his parents aren't.

Something like - we probably won't be seeing DGF any time soon. He isn't always very nice to me and your DF, and we don't always get on very well together. Sometimes grown-ups aren't nice to each other.

No need to keep the truth from him, but no need to make more of it than it is I don't think.

WaterWorld Fri 12-Feb-16 17:05:49

We have gone for the age appropriate truthful description of the problem - thus far so Grandad is 'feeling sulky and needs some time to himself' - we were keen not to allow DS to form the opinion that were were 'arguing' when really all the aggression is coming at us and we are just deflecting it.

WaterWorld Fri 12-Feb-16 17:10:09

Needless to say DF is not happy with what we have told DS ! (We think its very fair) I'll add in that we don't expect we'll see him anytime soon.

RatherBeRiding Fri 12-Feb-16 20:09:46

Well he doesn't have to be happy about it! Sounds as though he's not happy about anything that doesn't involve getting his own way.

What's important is that you and your DH are happy with your decision, and your DS isn't subject to bullying and nasty behaviour! Which he won't be, because you are protecting him from it. smile

Lottapianos Fri 12-Feb-16 21:30:53

Well said Rather. You don't have to make him happy OP and you don't have to engage in his games either. If he's anything like my controlling father, he's never actually happy anyway - nothing is ever quite good enough. Its so exhausting.

Cleebope Fri 12-Feb-16 23:04:30

I'm 45 too and still struggling with dad. Have fallen out for 4 years once and more recently 2 years. Stand your ground. But I also think dgcs shouldn't miss out on relationship with dg.Can they not still see him with your Dm?so long as he doesn't badmouth you!

665TheNeighbourOfTheBeast Sat 13-Feb-16 08:03:55

Your son will have already learned about bullying in school.
What you are now modeling for him is how you allow yourself to be treated by a bully. It is a lesson he will take forward with him. If you allow the relationship it will show that bullying in families is allowed, is different than what they have learned in school, and / or doesn't apply to his family.
So that's a "Hell no! " to facilitating a relationship between him and you son, from me.

AttilaTheMeerkat Sat 13-Feb-16 08:20:05

Your son would not miss out on anything if he did not see any of your side of the family, let alone his grandfather.

A good rule of thumb here as well is that if family are too toxic/difficult for you to deal with, its the same deal for your both vulnerable and defenceless child. Your job amongst many here is to protect him from such malign influences like your family of origin with particular reference to his grandad.

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