Monday, May 3, 2010

Question Answered – May 3, 2010

What do you do if there's a friend or family member that you decide shouldn't be involved in your children's lives? -- Perplexed

Millie Answers:

First of all, you congratulate yourselves for making a hard decision – because it can be a lot easier to believe that you have over-reacted than that certain people are actually that toxic. Whether something has directly happened to your child or you just have a “bad feeling” about someone, this is one of the most important times to trust yourself. You are your child’s first, best line of defense against the world.

(“How you decide” is a difficult question – one that “Perplexed” hasn’t asked, so I won’t go into it in detail - but I think I should address it briefly here. There are a few instances in which this decision is black and white: if someone has abused your child in any way, if someone has endangered your child’s welfare or actively tried to sabotage your family, you don’t have any choice but to sever ties with them. There are also situations when it’s not so clear; there are people who make your skin crawl, who have different political or religious views than yours, who are relentlessly negative and critical, or who are mind-bogglingly bigoted or just downright mean. Cases like this call for a lot of soul-searching, especially if the person in question is a close relative; don’t leave your child with them unsupervised while you’re making up your mind. It’s important to note here that “Perplexed” states that she and her husband have already made this decision.)

“What you do” is simple, and it’s what you’ve already said: You don’t allow that person to have any contact with your child whatsoever. If the person in question is someone you still want to see but don’t want your child to know (for instance, if they use drugs around your child, tell off-color jokes or cuss a lot and won’t tone it down after you’ve confronted them), simply arrange to meet them without your child. It may not be necessary to make the “I don’t want my child around you” speech at all in this case but if you do, be matter-of-fact about it. You can say something like, “Oh, I decided that we’re ‘rated R for content’ when we’re together” if you want to deflect a Big Scene.

If it’s someone with whom you don’t want to have a relationship either, that makes it easier or harder. If it’s a friend – just stop being their friend. If they ask you why, tell them why if you want to: “You slapped my kid. Nobody slaps my kid.” If it’s a family member it can be a lot more complicated (no surprise there, right?). It won’t be complicated because of what you do, which is the same thing – “You slapped my kid. Nobody slaps my kid” – but because of the pressure you will get from other relatives. “Oh, Honey, they just slapped 2-year-olds in the old days. Heck, we slapped you, and you turned out all right!” or “Why do you always have to make such a big deal out of things? Now you’ve ruined Thanksgiving for everybody.” You may even have guilty thoughts like this yourself. I mean, doesn’t your child deserve to have a relationship with Uncle Biff/ Gramma Mae/ Cousin Jed? They are Family, after all.

Here’s the thing: when you have a child you create a new family, and that new family has to take precedence over the old one. Your duty, first and last, is to protect your child. Stick by your guns. If someone has done something illegal to your child, you call the police and press charges, and I don’t care if it IS your brother. If someone tries constantly to undercut your beliefs and your family structure then you keep them away from your family structure. If someone is evil – and never try to tell Millie that there isn’t any evil in the world – you stick up for your child in the way you wish someone had stuck up for you when you were the child.

Yes, it might be awkward explaining why you won’t be coming to Thanksgiving dinner anymore.

But it sure beats explaining to your child why you didn’t protect him.

Mollie Answers:


The last thing a parent wants to do is explain why she didn’t protect her child from a toxic relative/friend. This is #1 always. Once you have that little person, they ARE first in your life.

I have family members with personality issues that directly interfered during my children's’ youth. I’ll try to recap one of them as well as I can and hopefully you’ll understand my actions.

Growing up, I had a sister who was a drama queen. I will call her Moan-a. She didn’t get headaches, she had brain tumors, that sort of thing. She was (and probably still is) a very high maintenance person who MUST be the center of all attention at all times.

Problem was, she was born into a family with six children, and from time to time she’d have a huge meltdown when she wasn’t dictating the direction of everyone’s lives. She banked a lot of anger, then would spew it out dramatically. Since this was part of my childhood from birth onward, I thought it was normal. It wasn’t. But she was a child and we tolerated her because she was in so many ways innocent and inexperienced in ways of self management. We were kids, too.

And we loved her.

We all grew up, however, and assumed adulthood. During this time, one of the most painful coming of age experiences passes. It is the acknowledgement that we are no longer children and we are wholly and solely responsible for our personal behavior. My sister, Moan-a, never crossed over. She remained a child, trapped in her dramas, hysterics, rants and feuds. Since we’'d always tolerated her in childhood, we all brought it forward into our adult lives. Like I said, it was normal, wasn’t it?

And we loved her.

For me, things came to a head in 1986. I had two sons and of course, the thrust of my life was all about them. Moan-a was #l632 in my list of priorities. This same phenomena was also happening for my other brothers and sisters. All were adults, either parents, serving in the military, attending college, or otherwise taking on the mantle of adult life. Moan-a was fit to be tied. It finally had occurred to her that she wasn’t The Princess anymore.

What she did is difficult to write. She accused our father of sexual contact during our childhood. In a small house with six children, four of them girls, it boggles my mind still how she could accuse him of this. We three oldest girls shared a bedroom during our childhood years, and frankly, my father'’s job kept him out of town so much, he simply wasn’t present half the time. We would have noticed if anything was going on.

Moan-a was simply doing this for attention. She never considered the fact that the rest of us might have a different take, completely different memories of our childhood. Our father never molested her. He never molested any of us, or anyone else, either.

Deceitful accusations of child sexual assault is an evil in its own nature. If a parent or family member has done something so egregious, it deserves to be prosecuted, the children removed from the home, the co-parent watched carefully, etc. Having an adult child accuse a parent should always be on the level and also prosecuted. There should be NO statute of limitations.

My father, bless his heart, was left in shambles. My mother was confused and humiliated, and the rest of us, we were just plain pissed. Moan-a eventually recanted, in the wacko way she handled every other ‘misstatement’ she'’d ever been called up on, and our family life went on.

But I NEVER let her into our lives (the John, Mollie, Peter and Roger unit) again. If she could do that to our father, she could do that to my husband, my sons, any other loved one of mine. She was banned from our home, our conversations, everything. The only way I knew to handle her was to send her to purgatory.

So I did.

My decision was made in anger, but frankly, how could I not be angry and I did have to decide how to handle this. I wasn’t a child anymore, I knew this wasn’t normal (never was, never will be) and if I let her hurt MY family, I was just as guilty as she.

So goodbye Moan-a, hellooooooooo sanity. It worked for me then, it works for me now.

My only caution is that your children are peripherally involved in this and it calls up the caution that “If mommy can stop loving Moan-a, will she stop loving me?” My kids were WAY too young to handle the data of this transgression at the time, and John and I had to handle it carefully, innocuously . We didn’t give our kids too much information too young, but we DID tell them when they were old enough. Hopefully, our handling of this situation was good enough. They learned that they will always be loved, but some actions carry dreadful consequences.

Did I mention that parenting wasn’t always fun?

1 comment:

  1. This is excellent advice. I've actually been pondering this same question lately . . . this helps a lot.


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