Dear Neil: Since my divorce, my parents have had nothing to do with me. They were distant with us before the divorce, never attempting to make contact or visiting, and being curt when I rang them. I have chosen to be friends with my ex-mother-in-law (who they despise), and in a nutshell my parents and I have not spoken for two years. However, I have recently heard that they have befriended my ex-husband, inviting him and his “tart” to stay at their property in France.
You have absolutely no idea how this hurts. I divorced my ex because of his infidelity, and he hated my parents. They are loaded with money, and that’s all everyone else is after. I hope karma bites all these people on the backside.
— Feeling Rejected in the UK
Dear Rejected: When I was 21, I flew back from college in order to be present at my parents 25th wedding anniversary. But my dad told me my hair was too long, and therefore I was not welcome at their celebration party with all their friends unless I cut my hair. I refused, and was highly insulted. But my aunt appealed to me, saying my absence at this event would spoil the experience for my parents, and she asked me to be the bigger person, cut my hair (I could always grow it back) and graciously make a toast at their anniversary dinner party. Reluctantly, I did just that.
I tell that story because it appears you are in a similar situation with your parents, and I am going to offer you the same advice my aunt gave me. Be the bigger person — and therefore reach out and break this silence with your parents.
It sure sounds as if your parents want you to cater to their feelings about your ex-mother-in-law, and no doubt a variety of other things as well. Clearly you have controlling (and maybe narcissistic) parents who are not supportive of your choices, and who use withdrawal, distance and vindictiveness as leverage. I don’t blame you for being hurt and angry with them.
But you needn’t worry about their relationship with your ex-husband. They invited him to come for a visit in order to get at you, not because they are taking his side — and not to actually be friends with him. There is clearly something they are wanting you to do that you’re not doing.
You do not sound like a child and you are entitled to have a “self” different from your parents. Nobody wants you to become invisible or to lose yourself by catering to their feelings too often. But it is painful to not have a relationship with important people in our lives, and therefore, I am going to recommend that you could be the bigger person in this story and make a peace offering to your parents.
You could write, call or otherwise reach out to them. The goal would be to simply break the ice; you’re not agreeing to live by their rules or wishes. But if you’re friendly with them, and not defiant, then you may be able to strike up a conversation where you could inquire about what they’re upset about, and hopefully they could hear how you feel about things as well. You may not agree, but at least you’re talking with each other.
You can break the silence or stay estranged from them. I am urging you to be the bigger person and break the silence.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. His column is in its 23rd year of publication and is syndicated around the world. You can reach him at 303-758-8777, or email him through his website: www.heartrelationships.com. His book “Love, Sex and Staying Warm: Keeping the Flame Alive” is now available on amazon.com.