Posted by fxckfeelings on October 27, 2016Share This Post
We may all hope to be the kind of lucky people bound to our parents by a shared sense of humor, values, and love, but for some of us the only parent/child bond we share is in our genes. For those extra-unlucky group whose parents carry the genes for rage, alcoholism, and selfishness—the building blocks of Asshole™ DNA—reconciliation is all but impossible, and all attempts will leave you needlessly miserable. That’s why you should never satisfy your yearning for a better relationship with your parent until you administer an unofficial Asshole™ DNA test; learn how to size them up realistically and decide whether you can attempt to strengthen your bond or should leave it at the genetic level.
After decades of trying to have a positive relationship with my parents, I finally stopped all contact two years ago after they transferred their toxicity to my children. Therapy has helped me realize that they are narcissists and that it is simply impossible to have a loving relationship with them. That knowledge deepens as my relationship with my own children grows as they grow, and I cherish them. Although we are all much happier without contact, and even though I know that actually things will never change, a part of me still wishes that things could be different. My father’s own brother refuses to see him for similar reasons and he and other relatives are very supportive of me. Recently, my partner lost both of her parents and she was able to be with each of them in their final hours. Now she is worried that I may regret not trying one last time to improve relations. I appreciate her concern but fear that there really is no point and that, if I did make contact, I’d just be laying myself open to another attack. But, what if I do regret not trying..and so it goes round and round in my head. My goal is to determine whether I’ll feel worse about not talking to my parents or, by trying to talk to them again, possibly allowing their toxic presence back into my life.
Given how hard it is for most people to part with their favorite/disgusting jeans from college or prized collection of VHS tapes, it’s not surprising that cutting yourself off entirely from your parents, no matter how necessary, is bound to leave you with lingering senses of sadness and doubt.
You’re right, of course, to give top priority to the protection of your kids, particularly if your parents are likely to become violent or openly express rage or make accusations in their presence. Even so, there’s no way to feel entirely at peace about cutting off all communication, knowing that time and death will someday make the silence permanent. And admitting to yourself how that silence may also provide some relief will just flood you with the kind of guilt that most Catholics, Jews, and people with neck tattoos feel exclusively entitled to.
Before giving into this first wave of guilt and assuming that resuming contact would be a worthwhile step towards improving your relationship and elevating your soul, take stock of past attempts and their results. Don’t expect to be able to mend fences with insight so powerful that it dissolves their mistrust and hostility; your only standard for a good intervention should be to be pleasant, polite, and reasonably conciliatory, regardless of results. If you achieved this standard through a few good attempts with no real return on your efforts—or worse, your efforts were greeted with a blast of hostility and drama—it’s unlikely that trying again will produce a better result.
Once you’ve decided that seeking improvement is probably unrealistic and possibly harmful, ask yourself whether it’s worthwhile or even possible to have a limited non-relationship rather than nothing at all. A limited non-relationship means restricting contact to short, superficial, polite conversations, free of emotional satisfaction, intimacy, and, as such, opportunity for conflict. You may never get that desired (and fictional) catharsis, but you will be able to participate in large family gatherings without threat of conflict and express benign good wishes, however shallow, regardless of past wrongs or recent provocation.
If you’re hoping to reconnect in order to achieve some level of emotional satisfaction, then you’re bound for disappointment; the best result, aside from the confidence that comes from doing your best to do what’s right, is the possibility that it may nurture other good family relationships for you and the kids while showing the kids how to avoid conflict when it’s pointless and destructive.
Don’t hold yourself responsible for or feel guilty about letting go of anything that’s unfixable, be it your beloved first car or your relationship with toxic parents. Don’t assume, however, that total excommunication is your only other option; you can always salvage broken things for parts.
So, if you wish, you can usually maintain civility with uncivil relatives if you first decide that the strategic rewards are worth the unpleasant effort of management they invariably require. But if you decide that it’s unlikely that your efforts will be rewarded with anything but regret, don’t let guilt blind you to all the benefits of letting go.
“Now that I’m a parent, I wish I could improve my relationship with my parents and give them and my children an opportunity to bond and get to know one another. Given that my parents are unimproveable Assholes™, however, I do what’s necessary to protect the kids while keeping things civil and peaceful.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname