Dear Carolyn: My parents show very little interest in my 6-month-old twin babies. My father has been a cold and distant parent since my childhood, and my mother has been very controlling and overbearing. Once I got married and started pushing back on my mother’s control, she gave up on me as a lost cause. They were both oblivious and absent throughout my high-risk pregnancy and visited the babies only twice during their long NICU stay.
When I asked my mother for help after they were born, she said she didn’t know why I would need help since I’d be light on my feet once I am no longer pregnant and that she knows nothing about babies, since my siblings and I were taken care of by my grandmother.
My mother also says she wants to help but that I keep rejecting it. The only help she has given me was in the form of advice, and then she got upset at me for not taking it. When I was on bed rest and asked her for food, she sent me chicken dinners after I specifically explained to her that poultry was nauseating to me at that time. And since I didn’t eat her food, she wouldn’t send me anything anymore. Even after the babies were born.
My parents live 20 minutes away from us but have not seen the babies for the last four months. The explanation she is giving my siblings is that she and I don’t get along and so she doesn’t want the tension between us to affect the babies.
The only time we see them now is when they call me or my husband for help with something. This situation is all the more frustrating because my mother brought me up with the idea of family loyalty and responsibility from a very young age. I’ve practically been the parent to my younger siblings since I was a teenager. I have been taking care of my parents both financially and otherwise since I became an adult. I still cover all their expenses, and it’s infuriating to me that they won’t so much as spend an hour with my kids.
Do I suck it up and take my babies to see them occasionally, or do I just ignore them while continuing to help them out? My babies are their only grandkids. They have a lousy and practically nonexistent relationship with the rest of my siblings, too.
– Cold and Selfish Grandparents
A: Of course they indoctrinated you early and well in “family loyalty and responsibility.” It was their meal ticket.
Look at the theme of the bio you provided. Your grandmother tended your parents’ babies for them, and, when you were old enough, you raised the younger siblings for them. Now you’re taking care of them. Nice deal, no? Your parents delegate the child-rearing to others, apparently, but help themselves to the perks of parenthood while exercising their parental entitlement to tell you what to do. How convenient for them that they instilled a sense of family obligation that runs only one way: right into their laps.
That is, based on the account you gave here. Certainly you could have selectively omitted the ways your parents sacrificed for you. But I suspect your description is accurate, given your obeisance to and dislike for your parents – a telling combination. And if so, then the most important step you can take is to recognize the pattern: Your parents aren’t the head of a family so much as an emotional kleptocracy.
Once you understand that, what you actually do about it is secondary. You can sever ties completely; you can supply money but withhold attention; you can supply attention but withhold money; you can maintain the status quo; you can maintain the status quo from a civil and deliberate distance; you can delve into your family dynamic with a good therapist (recommended). The choice itself doesn’t matter because what you get out of your parents will remain the same regardless: Nothing, unless it serves them.
By accepting this, you free yourself to make choices regarding your parents based solely on what the choice itself brings you. I suggest peace of mind as a goal, since it serves you and those babies best.