Posted by fxckfeelings on February 28, 2011Share This Post
Dealing with jerks is difficult, but being related to jerks is torture, especially when they’re the kind of jerk (genus: ASSHOLE) who thinks everyone else is a jerk but them. Luckily, no matter how closely related you are, you don’t have to share their beliefs or give them what they want. Still, you’re stuck with them, because, while maintaining a relationship sucks, the alternative is usually worse, so learn how to make the relationship no worse than it has to be. Keep your feelings to yourself, figure out your own standard of conduct, and hope the jerk gene dies with them.
I’ve read my son’s Facebook and email (he left the stuff on the computer screen last time he visited), and he tells his friends he had a terrible childhood, and his parents are assholes. As his dad, my attitude is: Fuck him and his shit. Breaks my heart, but I paid over $100k for his school, and I’m not rich by any measure. His mother thinks we should be working to find out why we have this split. This is new since he went to college (now graduated and gainfully employed)– he’s an only child, now 25. I’d not have paid for his school if I knew what a sociopath he would become. He seems to want two separate lives, one we’re allowed to know about, and one we’re not, with the latter being where we are horrible folks and he was a poor abused kid that made his way up through some undefined poverty and difficulty. His mother and I are going to be divorced soon if we can’t resolve this. I want nothing to do with the ungrateful asshole, and she thinks I am a terrible father for not understanding he has a mental illness. He doesn’t acknowledge any problem, refuses to speak to us if there is any “drama.” In fact he wouldn’t return a call for three months. This is the only issue my wife and I have, but it is consuming us and we’re arguing continuously.
Before you get carried away reacting to your son’s blame, ingratitude, and nastiness, think of the goal you set for yourself when you decided to have a kid (assuming it wasn’t an incidental goal after “getting laid”).
Unless you’re foolish enough to believe in a father’s power to make his kid turn out right by bringing him up right, you know that bringing up kids is a crapshoot. (That’s why you should always hedge your bets by having more than one).
The only goal you can possibly set for yourself and your wife as parents is to do a good job and hope for the best. Like all parents, you probably had big dreams for him, and hey, so did Mama and Papa Gaddafi.
So you’re not alone in finding out that the kid you loved and nurtured sees you as an abuser. It’s life at its most unfair, but whether or not your spawn turns out to be a jerk just isn’t under your control.
Medically, your son’s problem is called a “personality disorder,” which means, in this case, that his emotional sensitivity is so strong that it causes him to see rejection, criticism and danger when they aren’t really there, and react to them as if they were. No one knows why some people are like that, but a lot of it is genetic, and the part that isn’t is not easily reversed.
At its worst, the problem will make him see his problem as always caused by others (like you) and, if that belief doesn’t change, there’s nothing much you or a therapist can do to help him. He’ll be an Asshole ™ who thinks the problem is everyone else (see our asshole definition here).
Don’t protest, though the problem is painful and unfair, because if you do, you’ll sound abusive and confirm your son’s worst beliefs. That will drive your wife to be protective, and destroy your marriage, as well as any chance of reconciliation. He might be an asshole, but he’s your son, and blood is thicker than bullshit. Yes, it’s painful and unfair, but your only choice is to make the best of it.
First, remind yourself and your wife about all the good things you did right as parents. Your son can believe what he believes as long as you know your own beliefs and stand by them.
Then offer him your perspective. As long as you don’t express anger or moral condemnation, you can be pretty frank with your view of his problems and your advice, without engaging in the “drama” he so dreads (and creates).
Understanding your son’s mental illness doesn’t mean you have to like it; you just can’t rage against it, because that fixes nothing while potentially destroying your family. Don’t tell him to go fuck himself, because the only one who’ll end up fucked is you.
“Nothing could be more discouraging than to hear that my son thinks we abused him, but, knowing that we didn’t, I need to accept the fact that there’s something wrong with the way he processes feelings and that I need to protect myself and him from negative beliefs. I’ll let him know that our own views about his childhood are positive, but that we acknowledge his pain. I’ll urge him to consider the possibility that his sensitivity is playing tricks with his memories and beliefs and that he should try to verify what really happened, rather than trusting his feelings and acting on them. I don’t feel responsible for his pain and won’t talk about it, but I’m otherwise available to spend time if he can keep things positive.”
I really don’t like my mother, or at least I don’t like what I know—she ran off with someone when I was 6 and then decided to come back for a tearful (hers) reunion when I was 19—but she was never really nasty or abusive, so I feel like I owe it to her to be polite. The trouble is, she hates to pay for hotel rooms, so whenever she’s planning to come to town, she calls me, sounding very friendly and complimenting me for all my achievements, and then says she’d love to spend some time together with me, my wife, and her grandchildren and expects to stay with us for a few days. She always makes it sound like she’s conferring a favor and atoning for past neglect, but in reality, she uses my house as a way-station and when we do have time together we have nothing to talk about since she really couldn’t give a shit about anyone but herself. I can’t say no. My goal is to be less angry at my mother.
We’d all love to have warm feelings for our mothers, but sometimes it’s just not possible, except maybe in the movies, where confrontation leads to insight, understanding, forgiveness and peace. Except if that movie is “Mommie Dearest.”
In real life, some mothers have little love to offer, and that’s the way it is. They can’t help it, you can’t talk them out of it, shrinks can’t cure ‘em, and you’ll have a tough time thinking of positive things to say about her when she goes except that she finally left.
If you had a good, long heart-to-heart talk with her, you’d probably feel worse. She’d feel she had to do what she did, she wouldn’t understand her impact on others, and you wouldn’t understand why she couldn’t hold herself to higher standards.
Communication, when people are made differently and see the world differently, usually makes things worse. It’s like two people trying to have a conversation when both parties speak different languages; it’s frustrating, futile, and filled with angry hand gestures.
You might feel less guilty if she was an overt jerk, like the guy above, who badmouths the parents who’ve been kind to him. After all, it’s not polite to resent someone who is as friendly and full of compliments as your mother is. Don’t let your feelings tell you what’s right; instead, think it through, and come to your own conclusions about what a good person should do with a needy mother who had no talent for nurturing.
It’s not right to cause her unnecessary pain, which is what you’d be doing if you tried to straighten her out or set her straight. It’s not your fault, however, if her pain arises from what you and she don’t control: her inability to understand others and give as much as she takes.
It’s too bad that she could do so little for you, but that means you don’t owe that much to her, other than to treat her decently. As an adult with responsibilities of your own, you’ve also got other priorities.
Give yourself reasonable advice that includes showing her respect, but saying no to long or frequent visits. Then say no, nicely. She may not understand or like your decision, but if you convey confidence in it and stand by your beliefs, she will have to accept that argument is not an option, and you’re not an innkeeper. Just don’t offer her any wire hangers.
“I’ve got lots of painful feelings about my mother, but there’s nothing I can do to make them better other than what I’ve done, which is to try to be a good reliable person and respectful son. I do a good job of not giving her a hard time, but I can’t expect to make her happy, because she wants more from me than she deserves or that I feel is right to give, and my job is to say no. I’m proud I can do it, regardless of the painful emotions I’ve always had about her and the ones she sometimes tries to stir up.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname