Dear Care and Feeding,
I grew up in a very dysfunctional home with an addict for a father that my mom enabled. There was physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. After years of therapy, I have done my best to raise my four kids in a stable, loving, and supportive home. I haven’t talked to my dad in over two decades but still talk to my mom daily. My mom and sisters never had therapy and feel like everything is “fine.” They are all single, live alone, work from home, and have no friends or social outlet. They are still stuck in the same dysfunctional roles from our childhood and the drama sometimes invades my life. I’ve tried to shield my kids from all the craziness and have mostly succeeded. However, my mom will sometimes scream/yell at me or my sisters in front of them.
We got into a big argument (away from my kids) after I asked her to stop yelling in front of my kids. The argument spiraled down to where I told her she could only see the kids after school on Wednesdays for a couple of hours so we don’t have to communicate regularly but she can still have a relationship with my kids, who she loves dearly and spoils. She came to my house today screaming that I’m “keeping her babies from her,” shoved me, and said every horrible thing she could think of.
My sisters are all on her side because they say I’m “playing games” by limiting her contact with the kids and just being “passive-aggressive” and trying to “control” her. In my mind, I’m just trying to stay sane. I never wanted to be a parent that uses their kid as a pawn or involves them in drama in any way. Am I playing games and being unfair by limiting my mom’s contact with my kids? If so, how can I be “fair” and do what’s best for my kids, but keep my sanity and not be subject to her emotional abuse? To be clear, she has never and would never hurt my kids. They love and adore her.
—Not an Intentional Game Player
Dear Not Intentional,
I am truly sorry to hear that your mother is behaving this way. You recognize the difference between how you have fared after getting significant support, versus your mother and sisters, who seem to be trapped in some of the same cycles that defined your early life. You aren’t being unfair by limiting contact; you are protecting your children from the toxicity that you were exposed to at their age. You decide the terms under which your family has access to your kids.
If your mother can’t refrain from screaming at you and making a scene in front of them, then you have every right to deny her time with them. Let your mother and sisters know that you are being intentional about what your children are exposed to, and while you would like to continue to allow your mother to spend time with her grandbabies, her continued ability to do so is contingent upon her ability to control her temper in their presence. Do not waver, do not budge.
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