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Protecting Children From Their Grandmother

Question:

My mother has borderline personality disorder. while growing up ,we went thru 5 stepfathers, all abusive towards us in the same ways, physically, mentally, sexualy. They all seemed to be psychopaths with horrible stories about things they did as kids etc. My mother seemed so unaware, we always thought she was so fragile and so sad. She has terrible angry outbursts over random things and lies so easily I am dumbfounded. I recently came to terms with the fact that she KNEW what was going on. She chose to ignore it. Why did we always have the need to protect Her? We were the children. She is very manipulative. Has alienated all but one of her 7 siblings and myself as well when I recently told her that I knew she knew. We moved 27 times as children as she went back and forth and from 1 man to another. once her husband made us watch as he buried 4 little puppies alive, he warned”don’t you dig them up either!” as he walked away and we could still hear them wimpering benieth the ground. She claims to “not remember” these events, even after my sister confirmed them to her. She wants to live in lala land. Last year my oldest daughter gave birth by c-section following a car accident. my mom just showed up! “I’m here! To help with the baby!”. At one point she took all the babies clothes off, then yelled at my daughter because the baby was naked and would get cold. She chased away all visitors and ended by going into a tirade against the new mom (with the stapled stomach) in front of my other younger children. I told her her behavior was inappropriate, she continued going on and off her meds w/o telling us(leading to almost psychotic behavior),and these paranoid outbusts. I told her she would have to go home. My q. is “NOW WHAT?” We need boundaries w/o abandoning her. She live in a diff. state, so that helps. Writing her the letter confronting her about my and my sister’s childhood helped me finally get it out . The big question, why, why, why? But she just simply disowned me along with all her other relatives, then called one day as nothing had ever happened and it gives me a sick feeling inside to play this lala land game with her. My children don’t need to be exposed to her explosive outbursts ever again, I know that.

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Answer:

You may never know why your mother acted the way she has acted. It is probably a safe assumption that she was herself abused as a child, but you may never know the details, and really, you don’t need to know the details. Understanding is often a ‘booby prize’ when it comes to coping with mental health issues, including abuse. What is more important than understanding, is what you do to make things better.

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p> Your mother has been a terribly unfit parent in the past, and since past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior we have, and since you describe nothing to suggest that she has reformed or otherwise recovered, it seems the safe assumption to make is that she will be a terribly unfit grandmother. Under the circumstances, it would seem negligent for you to allow your mother to be near your own children (or their children) in an unsupervised capacity. For their own protection, your children should be alerted to the fact that their grandmother is mentally ill, has very poor judgement and may be counted on to be abusive. The episode you’ve described where your mother stripped her great-grandbaby and then blamed it on her grandchild is a good example of abuse, and makes the point without being so horriffic as puppies buried alive (which I don’t know that they need to know about). Making this information clear to your children doesn’t mean you have to encourage them not to love their grandmother. I think you can find a way to communicate that you love your mother and hope they will too, but nevertheless need to shield your children from her because of her illness.

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p> You should take steps to severely limit your children’s contact with your mother. If that means that you have to throw her out of your house in order to accomplish this then so be it. Your own children’s safety and the safety of your grandchildren depend on it.

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p> Not abandoning your mother is important too, as you have clearly suggested. I think there are ways you can help with that that will not endanger your children by bringing her near them. You can help her by providing resources she might need to the extent you can spare them without harming your own family, which needs to take priority. You can help her by helping her to reality test bad ideas she seems likely to have. You can help her by communicating that you love her despite the fact that you are angry with her (if that is true), by being the responsible adult she cannot be, and by understanding that some portion of her behavior is due to circumstances out of her control (e.g., her set of illnesses and her own abuse history), and that you can feel sorry for and love that part of her which is not evil.

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p> Let me close by pointing out that you are yourself an abuse survivor, and appear to have done a marvelous job of that survivorship. I’m sure you are not without flaws, but the fact that you can write a clear letter laying out the issues so nicely speaks very well of your development and relative sanity. Be proud of how far the apple has fallen from the tree, but also, don’t be so proud as to think you won’t need help yourself from time to time. Please do feel okay about reaching out to other sane adults (siblings, trusted friends, clergy, therapists, etc.) who might be able to help you when the weight of this terrible history you’ve lived and the pain of what you will never have (e.g., a sane mother, unscared siblings) gets to you.

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Comments
  • V

    I'm in a similar situation, but I don't have any children yet. I'm scared of my mother, and I've already decided that when I do have children they will not spend time alone with her. She was brutally abused by her father, but luckily I've rarely been physically abused by her. The mental abuse, emotional abuse, manipulation, and outrageous lies have been more than enough to want to keep my family away from her. She talks about how she'll baby-sit for me, but I'm afraid to tell her that I'll never leave my children with her. I feel like when I have children I'll have to cut her from my life because she'll go beyond crazy as soon as I tell her I'm not leaving them with her. My mom has tried to ruin my current relationship (and has with past ones) many times by telling outlandish lies to my fiance and her family when I'm not around (example: that I run an organized crime gang). Luckily they're level-headed and they already knew me long before they met my mother. She also makes up horrible stories about my father that everyone knows are lies. She is extremely condescending towards everyone she meets (except for people she knows hold PhDs). I'm sure she'd have turned out better if her father wasn't such an abusive man, but things didn't go well for her. I feel bad that I've already made up my mind, but I believe my children's well-being is at least partially conditional on them not spending time with their grandmother. What do you think?

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