Dear Prudence

My Grandparents Want Me to Reconnect With My Abusive Parents

Prudie’s column for Aug. 3.

A young woman looks distressed. Her smiling grandparents are in the background.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by amazingmikael/iStock/Getty Images Plus and monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Prudence,

My parents were physically abusive, and I have not lived with them since high school. When I was at college, my father (who shares my name—he’s Senior, and I’m Junior) cashed out the college bonds my relatives set up for me, claiming that since they didn’t have “Junior” written on them, they weren’t really mine. My parents used my inheritance from my grandparents to buy a new car, tampered with my credit when I turned 18, and even stole the money out of my birthday cards.

I have a loving relationship with my maternal grandparents who live across the country. Often, when we talk, they bring up my parents, who refuse to travel to see them. Visits with them inevitably become tear-fests because “the whole family can’t be together.” When I do not express interest in reconciliation, they become inconsolable. They internalize blame and regret—for not interfering, for my mother’s behavior—but I am just not equipped to walk them through this objectively. I can only hug them and promise them it’s not their fault. I worked with my therapist to script out a conversation and explained that I can no longer discuss my parents. But if my parents call them on Christmas, my grandparents try to hand the phone off to me and say I’m there—exactly what I ask them to not do.

My grandparents cling to the possibility that someday we will all reconcile, and they call me crying (sometimes twice per week) that when they die, the family will never be together. This reconciliation matters to them, and I hate seeing them in pain. How can I explain to them that they must stop bombarding me with guilt-trips for not having a relationship with my abusers? And should I get a name change?

—Senior Discount

First things first: If you feel like you need permission from a third party to change your name, I am happy to be the one to grant you that permission. When it comes to your credit, you’re not alone. I hear from a distressing number of people whose parents have taken advantage of a shared name in exactly the way yours did. I’d advise consulting with a lawyer or getting in touch with your local bar association, describing your situation briefly, and asking for referrals. It will help to know all of your legal options and what else you can do to protect your name and your credit in the future. I’d also recommend making a spreadsheet of every asset ever stolen by your parents (when, by whom, how they did it, any evidence you may have available), totaling up the estimated value, then checking your local laws in whatever state the thefts happened for statutes of limitation and dollar-amount ceilings for small claims court. Depending on the amount, you may need an attorney for civil court. You don’t have to go through with any of this—it’s only about exploring all of your options thoroughly. Finally, I’d talk with your therapist about weighing your financial recovery goals with your emotional goals. Is the amount of money significant enough that it would be worth trying to recover in the courts? Are you afraid it might reopen old wounds or that the rest of your family might blame you for airing your parents’ dirty laundry in public? What do you want, what are you afraid of, and what can you live with? A few sessions with someone you trust can help you clarify your own goals.

When it comes to your grandparents, I understand that you feel tremendous discomfort and guilt whenever they put on a big, weepy show about your estrangement from your parents, and the idea of responding to their guilt trips with firmness and distance might seem cold or unkind. But what you’re doing right now isn’t working. Your grandparents aren’t getting what they want (for you to resume contact with your abusers), and you aren’t getting what you want (to not be harassed and manipulated into resuming contact with your abusers). So it seems worthwhile to acknowledge reality: “We both know that these conversations aren’t helpful and only cause us all pain. I can’t talk about my relationship with my parents with you, and if you bring them up, I’m going to have to end the call or leave the room. I hope you can understand, but even if you don’t, I’m going to stick by this commitment.” Then when (sadly, not if) they try to browbeat you, you can lovingly say, “We’ve talked about this. I’m going to go. I hope we can talk again later.” You’ve already done so much remarkable work in disentangling yourself from your family’s cycle of abuse and manipulation, and I hope you find a lot of space, peace, and healing as you take this next step.

Dear Prudence,

My current workplace—a small, independent, non-union company—is very matter-of-fact, and communication with the husband-and-wife management team that is not 100 percent necessary risks being received with frustration if not outright anger or ridicule. As such, I have not yet mentioned that I am diagnosed with severe ADHD and self-diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. The symptoms of these invisible disabilities have led to a number of situations at work that, absent the information that I am disabled, have presumably made me look insubordinate or incompetent. Moreover, there are a few simple things about our workplace dynamic that would dramatically lower my anxiety level while I’m there (I currently have one to three panic attacks per week). Should I disclose my disabilities, even though it would mean risking taking on the stigma and becoming even more of a black sheep and target for my boss’s derision? Being a trans woman working with five men who are all older and more experienced than me, I am very aware of my vulnerability as it stands.

—Invisible Disabilities at Work

I’m so sorry that you’re struggling to access accommodation in a workplace where you already feel vulnerable and demeaned. Since your workplace seems to be tiny, you may not be protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act and would therefore not be able to assert a right to reasonable accommodation. This plus your concern that asking for even simple, low-effort changes in the workplace would be met with derision or even retaliation makes me think that your energies would best be spent elsewhere, both in looking for a new job with a larger company and in trying to get a formal diagnosis from a medical professional so you have documentation you can provide future employers or if you ever decide to attempt to file for disability. I realize that both of those are tall orders, but I think they’re your best bet. Good luck.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From Care and Feeding

This is a bit gross so read at your own risk.

My kid is 15 months old and has discovered he can make himself vomit by sticking his finger down his throat. He only does this when he is in a high chair or car seat. If I try to stop him from doing it, he enjoys the attention and will escalate the behavior, so I’m thinking I need to let it happen, but it’s pretty hard to be chill when your kid is covered in vomit. Advice? Commiseration?