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The Mothers-in-Law Anonymous forum used to have a poster named Ginnie who was a hidden gem. She was a practicing psychologist in her 60's, and she had a talent for digging down to the bedrock of complicated psychological concepts and laying relationship problems bare with scalpel-like precision. She stopped posting a year or so ago, and a site reorg made forum posts from her active period inaccessible unless you know what to Google. I'm going to quote from and link to some of her best posts so the rest of us can benefit from her wisdom.

In this post, Ginnie tells the story of her neighbor and her neighbor's adult daughter. Watch how the story changes as Ginnie digs deeper or switches perspective, and how commenters' reactions change (or don't change) as the story evolves.


Here's a Story...
Posted 01 April 2013 - 07:52 PM

My neighbor of about 30 years and her daughter have a breach that probably is never going to be resolved. I thought I'd share with your ladies and ask for candid feedback to explore some very common issues--without having to hurt anyone's feelings or worry about being tactful. Neither of them read here, and no one has asked for my opinion, but I've gotten 'vented to'. So I will not be sharing any comments made with them.

However, this is such a common set of problems, I thought maybe people would benefit.

My neighbor is 70. She has two children a 51 year old daughter and a 49 year old son. The son is married and has a stepson but no children of his own. The son lives about 5 miles away from Mom.

The daughter lives 25 miles away and has a VERY interesting job in the Fed govt, the kind they make tv shows and movies about. The daughter is divorced twice and has 3 sons: 18, 21, and 23. With her second marriage she acquired a stepson and stepdaughter for about 5 years. They are now 13 and 16.

Mom got pregnant with daughter right around her 18th birthday, did one semester of college, dropped out, married her 19 year old boyfriend and set up housekeeping. Dad did not want to get married or be a father, but in 1960 that's what you did. Or you put the baby up for adoption.

( Mom's parents were strict type old stock german, rigid, hard working, judgmental... )

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
siderea
Apr. 12th, 2014 04:15 am (UTC)
Today's synchronicity: I just heard the most recent This American Life (Act 2). [Trigger warning: initially for explicit violence, later for narcissism]
issendai
Apr. 16th, 2014 12:33 am (UTC)
What a chilling pair the article and podcast make. The father's flat denial doesn't surprise me. What did surprise me at first were that the murderer turned out to be one of the sanest people in the family, and that he managed to find a second adoptive family that was as bad as his first. Upon reflection, it made sense. Of course he wouldn't have the skills to detect the family's particular style of dysfunction; and of course an abused child would be saner than his abusers. Even if his method of escape was horrific.

The part about the father sending his estranged daughters photo after photo to remind them how happy they were was so utterly formulaic that it was terrifying. Parents on the estranged parents boards routinely send their estranged adult children photos, cards, "Mommy you're the best" drawings from kindergarten to remind them that once they loved their parents and were happy. Children of abusive parents routinely report receiving these mementoes. (There's even a video on Youtube of a woman opening her most recent package while talking about it.) Seeing a monster like the man in the podcast doing it is a reminder that not all of the parents in the estranged parents forums are ordinary bad parents.
siderea
Apr. 16th, 2014 04:54 am (UTC)
What did surprise me at first were that the murderer turned out to be one of the sanest people in the family

I suspect I know more murderers that you. That part didn't surprise me at all. (Not that all murderers are lovely people -- one I knew was the narcissistic/abusive estranged parent.)

My abusive system radar gave a deep and resounding PING -- the kind that deafens whales -- early on in the story when the producer casually said "my father decided we were adopting." And I immediately raised an eyebrow and thought back, "And in your family, you all do everything your father says?"

Why, yes! I got it in one! I was suddenly reminded of "The Chameleon" (warning: very long, though a great read, if somewhat off topic.) where the crucial question to ask all along was, "What kind of parent would this happen to?"

that he managed to find a second adoptive family that was as bad as his first

But he didn't. First of all, they found him. Which. I'm thinking of all the women (and some men) I've known who were abused in childhood and who seemed to attract abusers as adults, the way honey attracts ants. Also, all the cases I know of, of children being rescued from abusive parents, and put in foster or institutional care... where they get abused, again. I know one egregious case where the abusive adoptive family volunteered after hearing about the child in the news.

Second of all, while the new family was previously on the same order of awful, he never experienced it himself. Apparently the producer's father rose to the occasion, and started flying right in the presence of the murderer.

Which, btw, makes me wonder if the father was operating out of some kind of death wish or craving for accountability. Some part of him clearly knew what he was doing, because it was what was done to himself by his own abusive parents, was wrong. And who brings into his home someone who killed the last perps who committed the very crimes he himself ahs been committing? Someone who either wants to be killed, or someone who wants to be stopped. Maybe he brought the murderer into his family as his own personal policeman, to force himself to straighten out and fly right.

Of course he wouldn't have the skills to detect the family's particular style of dysfunction

He might very well have the skills, only mislabeled in his head "skills to detect nice families". When you've grown up in a circus, having clowns around feels homey.

The part about the father sending his estranged daughters photo after photo to remind them how happy they were was so utterly formulaic that it was terrifying. Parents on the estranged parents boards routinely send their estranged adult children photos, cards, "Mommy you're the best" drawings from kindergarten to remind them that once they loved their parents and were happy.

http://www.violentacres.com/archives/332/the-birthday-card/

Seeing a monster like the man in the podcast doing it is a reminder that not all of the parents in the estranged parents forums are ordinary bad parents.

Wait. So... you're assuming the people in the estranged parents forums are "ordinary bad parents"? What does "ordinary bad parents" signify to you? Like, does it include or not battery, sexual abuse, alcoholism...?

(ETA grammar)

Edited at 2014-04-16 04:57 am (UTC)
issendai
Apr. 16th, 2014 02:46 pm (UTC)
I'm going to have to answer you in snippets in between projects, so bear with me.

My abusive system radar gave a deep and resounding PING -- the kind that deafens whales -- early on in the story when the producer casually said "my father decided we were adopting." And I immediately raised an eyebrow and thought back, "And in your family, you all do everything your father says?"

Well spotted. It doesn't take much when you know what to look for, does it? Even when the narrative hasn't been consciously shaped by a skilled writer.

Incidentally, there are a few folks on the MIL Anonymous board who resist that kind of pattern recognition. People read too much into things and twist their words; it's one of the reasons people have so many relationship problems nowadays, you know. One of the people who think this way was a notable contributor to the Ginnie thread. A year later, she still doesn't know why her daughter-in-law avoids her.

that he managed to find a second adoptive family that was as bad as his first

But he didn't. First of all, they found him.


They presented themselves to him, but he still had a choice. He could have rejected them, befriended them but kept his distance, accepted their help after he got out but not become part of the family... While he may not have literally found them himself, he exercised what free adult agency he had to create the relationship.

Which. I'm thinking of all the women (and some men) I've known who were abused in childhood and who seemed to attract abusers as adults, the way honey attracts ants. Also, all the cases I know of, of children being rescued from abusive parents, and put in foster or institutional care... where they get abused, again.

These two cases don't seem equivalent to me. The adults I know who attract abusers do so through a combination of failing the abusers' tests, ignoring red flags, and having an abnormally high bullshit tolerance. They're not aware of what they're doing, but they're definitely involved in the process.

OTOH, kids in care can't choose their placements, and foster care is what you might call an abuser-rich environment. Getting an abusive foster family is the pick of the draw. I've heard of abused kids who were placed in formerly good homes that became abusive, and the therapists theorized that the kids prodded their foster parents into abusing them because abuse was what felt familiar and safe to them... but those cases were uncommon, and I don't know how they determined that the homes were formerly unabusive.

I know one egregious case where the abusive adoptive family volunteered after hearing about the child in the news.

Ouch. Was the case similar to the one on the podcast?

Second of all, while the new family was previously on the same order of awful, he never experienced it himself. Apparently the producer's father rose to the occasion, and started flying right in the presence of the murderer.

True. Though it's notable that the father became more controlling as the adoptive son became more independent, and he ended up driving the son away.

There's a lot about that relationship that I wish we had the adoptive son's account of.
issendai
Apr. 16th, 2014 03:15 pm (UTC)
Which, btw, makes me wonder if the father was operating out of some kind of death wish or craving for accountability. Some part of him clearly knew what he was doing, because it was what was done to himself by his own abusive parents, was wrong. And who brings into his home someone who killed the last perps who committed the very crimes he himself ahs been committing? Someone who either wants to be killed, or someone who wants to be stopped. Maybe he brought the murderer into his family as his own personal policeman, to force himself to straighten out and fly right.

Interesting point. However, it requires his personality to have a level of consistency that I'm not certain is there. These two things are necessary to make him want to be stopped:

* He'd have to recognize that he, the real him, was committing the abuse. Chronic offenders often believe the self that commits the abuses or crimes isn't real, that it's a temporary aberration from their real, good, loving, law-abiding selves. If the father could stop abusing when the adoptive son was around, it might have been confirmation to him that he wasn't really an abuser.

* He'd have to recognize that it was abusive to commit these acts against his wife and children. Abusers tend to have one rule for me and another for thee, and their empathy impairments mean it doesn't occur to them that their victims would feel the same way they did when their own parents gave them the same treatment. (Or they didn't deserve it as kids, but their own kids deserve it now.)

And then he'd have to recognize that he and his adoptive son were two separate people with different perspectives, that he wasn't reparenting himself. He'd have to recognize himself as the abusive father, not as the good father who took the abusive father's place and rewarded the good son for vanquishing the abusive father. I'm not sure he has the empathy to do that.

Of course, my own construction is riddled with inconsistencies. On some level the father knew what he was doing was wrong, or he wouldn't have stopped when someone he wanted to impress joined the household. He knew his acts were abusive because he'd experienced them himself. When he became a husband and father, he must have recognized that he was stepping into the same role as his own father. If there was a connection between any of these authentic parts of himself, he might have a death wish or a desire to be policed. But I'm not sure that his self isn't so compartmentalized that that kind of healthy connection is impossible.

What's your experience? I've never succeeded in blasting through an abuser's denial, so I'm working from theory.
issendai
Apr. 16th, 2014 04:06 pm (UTC)
*triggers*
Wait. So... you're assuming the people in the estranged parents forums are "ordinary bad parents"? What does "ordinary bad parents" signify to you? Like, does it include or not battery, sexual abuse, alcoholism...?

This gave me food for thought. Let me dig through my assumptions...

The woman in Ginnie's story is an ordinary bad parent. She's a horrible human being (see comment #129), but she "only" indulged in emotional abuse, scapegoating, emotional neglect... devastating, but not illegal or particularly, um, juicy? It's the kind of abuse that would make a listener say, "Wow, your mom's a bitch," but apart from comment #129 it wouldn't drop jaws. Based on a highly scientific survey of people I know, this type of abuse is common. In a chart of abusive parenthood, it would be the hill, not the long tail.

It's also easy to see in estranged parents' posts. Control issues, lack of empathy, self-centeredness, "One rule for me and another for thee," "It's abuse to make me feel bad," "Disagreeing with me is bullying," it's all there, front and center. It's covered with a thick layer of denial and dressed up in the language of loving parenthood, which means it can take pattern recognition to see... and having to work a little to dig it out means I'm overvaluing the insights I find, assuming that because I found something hidden, I found THE thing that's hidden...

Of course parents don't admit to physical or sexual abuse on the forums. They do admit to having abusive partners--sometimes a string of them--and don't understand their own role in their partners' abuse of their children. Sometimes they admit to having had alcoholism or serious mental illness, and are upset that even though they're better now, their kids still won't forgive them. As they present it, any "real" abuse is in the past, and ideally someone else's fault.

There are exceptions. The woman whose reaction to her 17- or 18-year-old's threat to move out was to lock herself in the bathroom and try to kill herself by cutting her hand off. The woman who ambushed her estranged daughter at the dying grandmother's bedside, wouldn't let her say goodbye to her grandmother until she explained the estrangement to her mother's satisfaction, and when the daughter leaned over to kiss her grandmother goodbye, the mother grabbed her daughter by the hair and dragged her out of the room. The woman who stalked her son, ambushed him at his job, and eventually filed a CPS claim against him and his wife in retaliation for cutting her off--and who believed that when her son texted her "I love you, but I can't take this any more," the conversation was a great success because he said he loved her. The man who said his grown children were estranged from himself and his wife because of hereditary mental illness, or antidepressants, or vitamin deficiency, or Lyme disease, and when his daughter found his posts, she linked to a forum where her mother was a regular... and where the mother was so floridly disturbed that the mods had confined her to a thread of her own.

The exceptions. They're horrifying to see, but the vast majority of the members aren't like that. What the exceptions show is that, first, the "genuinely abusive" parents that the other members swear would never, never come there are indeed on the forums, respected members, sometimes even mods. And second, the other parents don't recognize clear and flaming signs of abuse as long as they're presented by "one of us." Forum members are self-selected to be the type of people who can tell a woman it's completely understandable that she tried to cut her hand off when her daughter wanted to move out, and her daughter is abusive for not wanting a relationship with her today.

So stories like the podcast are a warning and a reminder that some forms of abuse don't show up in members' accounts even when other types of abuse are glaringly apparent, that however bad the member seems, they were probably far worse, and that even the monsters are stealthed. Especially the monsters, maybe.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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