The difficulties of stitching frayed family ties together
DEAR BEL, I grew up in a hostile, aggressive home, but came to terms with my imperfect childhood many years ago.
My father had a violent lack of self-control and held his children at arm’s length – but I do care about him and my mother deeply.
I married 16 years ago and have two beautiful children and the peaceful home I had always dreamed of as a little girl.
Last year, the peace with my parents was blown apart. I had a major operation and our young children (very quiet little girls) were cared for by my parents while I was in hospital. They didn’t find it easy, as they don’t “do” childcare, but I was very grateful.
When discharged, I developed a complication that could have killed me, so my husband pleaded with my parents to come back so he could be at my bedside. Our daughters were so scared. My parents refused, saying they were tired.
Though surprised, my husband accepted this with good grace and found friends to help instead.
I didn’t notice initially that my parents had stopped calling or texting. Getting better, I realised we’d had weeks of silence, during which they had no idea if I was alive or dead.
I was stunned they could choose perhaps the most difficult time in our lives to hurt me like this.
Seven weeks later, I called my mother to ask why. She said they were angry we had asked for more help, that they had done more than enough already, they were tired and how dare we.
It is impossible to express the pain this explanation caused me.
Since then, we’ve managed to patch things up – but I haven’t got over it in my heart.
Lately, my father has been shouting at the children again, he screams at lunch about the smallest thing and I walk on eggshells when we’re at their home. I have to send the girls outside so that they don’t see his temper.
He’s awful to Mum – says he’s depressed and disappointed with life. I don’t know how to manage what’s they might offer as a reason to draw the line at driving back for two hours or more.
If it had been me, I would not have refused – but let me just suggest that your mother might have been browbeaten by her husband into saying no. After all, you know what a difficult man your father is…
What’s more, reading between the lines of your uncut e-mail, it seems possible that your easy-going husband might have couched his request in terms less urgent than was needed and accepted their (selfish?) decision a little too readily. Who knows what went on? I am not in any way taking their side, but it might help you to reflect that things were possibly a bit more complicated.
I can totally understand why you were so hurt, but since you know their failings and how miserable they are, can you not survey them with pity – from the security of your own family joy?
That, after all, is what matters most now.
You certainly don’t want to cut your parents off but nor do you want your daughters to be exposed to your father’s temper, so I suggest that visiting alone is a good option – at least for a while.
If they ask why the children are not with you, just say: “Well, I don’t want the girls to get on your nerves – that’s how it looked the last few times.”
It will be for them to invite the children over.
As for you, you’ve accepted imperfection before and that is one of the keys to a wise, generous soul. – Daily Mail