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Watching my daughter suffer

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I always knew there was something wrong in my family. My mother would make off the wall comments that were rarely based on any sort of reality. There was no pleasing her - ever. It did not matter what I did, honor roll, sports, jobs... Nothing mattered. My brother on the other hand could do no wrong, drop out, prison, drugs... She would say he had a good heart and that he was just unlucky or some such excuse. My father was distant and quiet and rarely spoke up about anything ever. I think he learned after years of her wrath that being quiet and distant is the only defense.

She was diagnosed with Bi-Polar and she takes medicine now, and it helps, but there is something else wrong. The mood swings aren't quite as bad, but the behavior is still horrible.

I read the descriptions of BPD and I think - Oh my goodness - that is her.

My problem comes now that I am 36 and I have 4 children of my own. She is doing the same thing with my kids, and it is apparent to them that something is wrong. She has chosen her favorite and the others are punished daily. I could give you hundreds of horrible examples - but I'm sure you all get the picture. The real problem is her absolute dislike for my 8 year old daughter. I have tried so hard to shield my children from her behavior - always making excuses and such - but I think I am done.

This last weekend I had to sit my heartbroken 8 year old daughter down and explain to her that Grandma is ill. That Grandma doesn't realize what she is doing is hurtful. I also had to try and teach my 8 year old daughter how to distance herself emotionaly from my Mother. How to just nod and never answer. Never escalate, never explain and never argue. As soon as there is a break in the barrage of insults - excuse yourself and come home.

That is the hardest part - my father lost his job a few years back, so I gave them a few acres of my land to put a mobile home on. They live next door. There is about 5 acres of woods between us, but sometimes that isn't enough.

Any other tips that I can help my 8 year old with - that will help her to cope with Grandma?? My older kids - 16 and 18 alreadt know that Grandma is like this as they have had years of watching it. Her current favorit is my 9 year old daughter which only makes things worse because the 8 year old sees how nice Grandma is to her sister. It is heartbreaking.

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Another difficult situation. One that requires careful construction of boundaries (physical and emotional) to navigate. It would be a much easier situation to handle if grandma wasn't so close and you only saw her at holidays.

I wrote an article some time ago about my expereince being bullied as a child and part of what I discovered while "researching" that essay was the importance of social support in protecting people from the outcomes of bullying. Your mother is a bully to your daughter (and to you when you were younger), and the thing that this tends to accomplish is to install a critical voice into the head of the bully's target. If the bully's target has a lot of people in his/her life who are giving positive messages, the effect of the criticism is lessened. When you were explaining to your daughter about how grandma is ill, you were helping her with social support, but I wonder if that is enough.

How do the children get along with each other and how do they make sense of this polarized treatment? I'm particularly interested in knowing how the 9 year old takes the positive attention and how she gets along with the other children.

Have you (can you?) taken a stand against your mother's treatment of yourself and your children? I'm aware that in some families this sort of person is so powerful/aggressive/unrelenting that the other family members just roll over and take it becuase they don't have the energy to keep up. Where do you stand with regard to being able to shield your daughter from this awful energy? If you model the "roll over and take it" approach then you are teaching her to do that, and in that case, even though you have told her that grandma is sick, you are also telling her that she is ultimately in control of the family. A mixed message.

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my 9 year old feels enormous guilt and has begun to decline the gifts and invites. This of course causes my Mother to lash out at me - saying that I am turning my 9 year old against her, and then proceeds to offer her things that are almost impossible for her to turn down.

The reason I posted today is because last night my Mother invited the 9 year old out to pizza - but told her not to tell anyone because she didn't want the 8 year old to go. The 9 year old said she didn't want to go. My mother enticed her into going - then sent her to get her shoes. I asked her where they were going and she gets this horrible look on her face and tells me. My 8 year old over hears. My 8 year old (being the overly mature child comes from dealing with this sort of crap) hugs my 9 year old and says "Go - have fun, and sneak me back a piece!" Then she cries a little and my son sees it and gets really angry.

I called my Mom and asked "why wasn't R invited?" My mom gave me some lame excuses and blew up at me. My older kids got mad and asked why I continue to pay their bills and let them live here. I do it because they are my parents. I am able to keep a pretty safe distance emotionally from the craziness.

The older children make it a point to include the 8 year old in outings with them and their friends. (swimming, movies, etc when appropriate) Last night my 18 year old son took her and a friend to McDonalds while the 9 year old was out with my Mom. They are very careful to also invite the 9 year old when she is home, because they don't want her ever to feel like they are playing the same game. But it is a difficult balancing act to say the least.

The 8 and 9 year old are very close - best friends even. This is hurting both of them beyond imagination.

My Father in all of this - doesn't say a word - goes out to Pizza with them and then this morning when we were out feeding the animals tells me he understands. I ask him why he won't stick up for anyone and he just says "You know how your Mom is." The only people in the world who stick up for themselves are my children and myself, but she seems to get her way with the 9 year old more often that not. My brother, his wife, their kids, my Dad and all of our family and friends just sit quietly watching.

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One other thing.

Even when I was younger I would stand up for my Father and Older brother and myself and now it is beginning to feel like a burden. Whenever there is bad news - I am the one who has to tell her because I know how to make the inevitable blow up - quick and a little less painful.

It seems that after years of trying to get an emotional reponse from me she now realizes that it will not happen, and she moves on, relatively quickly. I never engage in back and forth discussion - only to the point information sharing. I do tell her I love her and we do have good days - but we are always waiting for the "other shoe to drop". I am trying to teach my children how to react the way I do. But for kids it is much harder to control emotions. I also fear that I may turn them into emotionally distant people, and that is not my intention. It does appear that I am emotionally distant to most outsiders - and I fear that this will be my childrens fate as well.

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I needed to get things off my chest and see them in writing to sort them out in my head.

I am always open to new ways of dealing with things.

I guess I'm just a bit angry with myself for letting them move so close and become such a huge factor in our lives, and am right now trying to build up the courage to talk with them about them moving somewhere else. This was only supposed to be temporary and he is working again.

I really appreciate the feedback - it did re-inforce that my teaching my kids to be respectful - but stand up for themselves is the right thing to do. And also helped me see that they can have a limited relationship with Grandma, and because they have other healthy relationships - they will be ok.

Thank you for this web-site - it is awesome.

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Some reading recommendations:

You might like to read this essay on boundaries and dysfunctional family systems that I wrote some time ago, and also these essays that Dr. Schwartz wrote some time ago too on Borderline Families:

The Borderline Personality Disordered Family, Part I

The Borderline Personality Disordered Family, Part II: The Children

The Borderline Personality Disordered Family, Part III, Healing

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I just read all of the links. Wow.

I feel so angry and sad that I fell back into the trap. I was 14 when I left home, and I honestly thought that after so many years I was impervious to her attacks and abuse. I never quit communicating with my family; I just did my best to stay away from their drama, and that worked for me.

I spent my entire life trying to get my mother to love me, trying to make her proud. I guess that I am grateful now that I was the “bad” child, because it kept me motivated. I have been scared all my life of making mistakes, scared of disappointing people, scared that maybe she was right about me.

When my parents were facing the loss of their house, I thought it was my duty to help. Now that I am learning more – I wonder if I was just trying one more time to get my Mother to approve of me, maybe even like me. Is it possible that after all these years I am still living my life seeking the approval that will never come?

At first, after they moved to my land, I thought things were different. She is no longer physically abusive, aside from the thrown dish here and there. She does not hit or chase my kids around the house to beat them. She now only yells on occasion. It is the constant insults, the constant attacks, the name calling and petty withholding of love and favors. It’s that we are all constantly walking on egg shells; waiting for the impending explosion that we know is inevitable. But still I kept telling myself it wasn’t that bad. Nothing like when I was a kid.

And at what price to my children do I continue this cycle. This past few years has been horrible for them and I see the damage. I know how they feel, I felt that way. I remember the confusion, the pain, the anger that finally came that allowed me to break free. They are the ones who are angry now. They are the ones who want to see an end to this situation. They are the ones who are willing to never see Grandma again if that is what it takes to make the madness stop.

My son told me last night, let’s rent an apartment and let someone rent our house. Am I going to let them drive me from my home and my land so that I do not cause an explosion? I am a coward, because when he said that it sounded like a good idea, but today I know that is not the answer.

What have I done? I have invited this monster back into our lives. What to do now? So many confusing thoughts are racing through my mind.

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