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.
When I asked my mother for help after they were born, she said she didn’t know why I would need any help since I’d be light on my feet once I am no longer pregnant, and also said 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.
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.
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The only time we see them now is when they call me or my husband for help. 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.
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?
– Cold and Selfish Grandparents
DEAR GRANDPARENTS: Of course they indoctrinated you early and well in “family loyalty and responsibility.” It was their meal ticket. How convenient that they instilled a sense of family obligation that runs only one way: right into their laps.
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 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 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: 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.