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What is our obligation to our abusive parents?


riverhead

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I'd really like to hear from others that had the experience of growing up with an abusive parent. I had an abusive mom growing up - and it took me many years to realize that she was abusive - but now that I'm in my 40s, and have talked about the experience with a few therapists, and friends, and ex wives, I can see her pattern of abuse and control (physical, emotional, mental) . She justified most of it by saying that her faith (very right wing christianity) preached a philosophy of "obey thy parents" and "spare the rod - spoil the child".

 

So my question is this - my mom is 65 now and has dropped a number of hints that it will soon be time for me to take care of her. I see this is just more efforts on her part to control me and get me to do her will. She hasn't worked for the last 15 years because she claims to have IBS and similar conditions - though no medical doctor has agreed with her self diagnosis and she claims that only god can cure her (I found a very good doctor for her once - and offered to pay for her to see him - but she refused)... my point being - she has very little savings since she hasn't worked for 15 years and won't have much more than social security to live off of.

 

Is it my moral/ethical responsibility to take care of her no matter what she did to me all of my childhood? We aren't really close today - and my sister is also not close with her - I think for similar reasons but my sister doesn't like to talk about it so she won't go into any details of what kind of abuse she experienced (she is 16 years younger than me so I had moved out by the time her memories started forming). I don't enjoy spending time with her - all she can talk about is her faith -- a kind of Pat Robertson brand of christianity - ignorance of the highest order in my opinion. When she isn't talking about her faith - she is whining that she doesn't have things that she needs and nobody helps her...

 

My extended family (grand mother is still alive), uncles, aunts, etc... all seem to put guilty pressure on my to visit her more -- which is about the last way I want to spend my time. I'm dreading the day that the call comes from her or some other family member that its "time" to take her in.

 

I can't be the only person that has experienced this? How did others handle it?

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Gosh, I haven't experienced this particular situation, but I had an abusive father and grandmother. Thank goodness my aunts are taking care of my grandmother because I think I would lose my damn mind if I was forced to.

 

As for my father...it will be a cold day in hell before that man will get a shred of sympathy from me, father or not.

 

I feel for you, and my personal opinion is that you should not go out of your way for her.

It's not your obligation to take care of her simply because you are her daughter.

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You have NO obligation, IMO. People may think you are cold and uncaring, but they don't understand what you've been through.

 

Being a parent does not automatically earn you the respect, consideration, and love of your children. It doesn't matter if you are a parent, or the President... there are reprocussions for acting like a jerk. My father was abusive to me growing up, and now he pays the price of having me hardly in his life at all (which I know is painful for him).

 

I'm a parent now, myself. I will earn the respect of my son. I will also be a parent, in all the undesirable ways too (discipline, etc). He might get mad or "hate" me at times, but as an adult, he will see the big picture and understand. He will then be able to judge me as his father. I'm an adult now, and I can judge my father as a weak, lazy, selfish, bully.

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What does your conscience tell you? That inner moral compass that points you in the direction you know intuitively is the right one. And in order to be able to listen to it - don't look her what she has done but what you will be doing.

 

The above is not to tell you what to do - because only you can answer your own questions.

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First, please accept my sympathies for what you have been put through. It sounds like you have striven to understand, resolve and move beyond this difficult past as well as you are able.

 

For that reason, among others, in my opinion, you are not under obligation to see to the care of an aged parent who was abusive to you. I do not believe that parents hold some inviolable right to place obligation and expectations on their children. (And the same of adult children toward their parents, in turn) These boons, comforts and special considerations must be reasonable, earned and warranted. In your case, your mother seems not to meet any of those three criteria.

 

Further, in addition to what you may or may not owe her, and I again think it is even less consideration and reverence than you seem already graciously to give her - I think she might do real harm to the man you are, the family you may have and the mental and spiritual place you are in, now, if she continues to be an unrepentant and unswayed offender. While the circumstances have obviously changed, and the damage she could possibly do to you mitigated, if the malevolent or simply ignorant manner in which she views and participates in exchanges with you has not grown better over the years, I think there may be a real risk to you, even at this time.

 

Do not let guilt get the better of you. I wish you much luck.

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Personally, I don't think you have any obligation...but then again, I completely severed my relationship with my parents (and by default the rest of the family) over 10 years ago because I got tired of dealing with the residents of Crazy Town.

 

I think you may benefit from setting some boundaries now (I'll do "x" but not "y") and deciding what (if anything) you would feel comfortable doing. So, while you may absolutely NOT want her living under your roof, would you be ok with helping her find other living arrangements....or would that even be too much for you? I suspect you will get some crap if you set your boundaries....might even be a lot of crap -- family members nagging you, trying to make you feel guilty, trying to get to behave in whatever way they think you should behave... But I think you'll be better off in the long run if you confront this head-on now, while there's still time for everyone involved to figure out something that doesn't involve you (or involves you only to the extent that you want to be involved rather than waiting until she gets dropped off on your doorstep with all her stuff in tow.

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As you get stronger and learn to set boundaries, her behavior won't have as much effect on you. I don't think you should completely erase your mother from your life, but her living with you would be very difficult. I would say why not see your mother occasionally but in a controlled setting - meet somewhere for lunch or at something where many others would be around and something that would be for a set time frame with a clear beginning and an end (going to see a show with mom aunt matilda and uncle roy and they all meet you there, etc)

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I am going to take a slightly different approach...

 

I agree you have no moral obligation to take care of your mother based on what you have written. However, you might have a legal obligation to take care of her financially. I know in Canada there is an act that states that if someone has (I am obviously paraphrasing here) put significant resources into raising you into the age of majority then you have the legal obligation to return similar care financially.

 

Just a thought...

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I am not sure if links are allowed here? Here is an excerpt from an article (of an article):

 

“In most jurisdictions in Canada, adult children are legally liable for caring for their parents. Generally, adult children are liable to pay parental support if their parent supported them financially when they were minors.”

 

As quoted from page 300 of Wealth Planning Strategies for Canadians 2010, written by tax and estate lawyer Christine Van Cauwenberghe.

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This is a great post. Riverhead, you will only be understood by others who have experienced abusive parents. My mom was abusive. I do not like the way I feel about her. I spend very little time with her. She is cared for by my youngest brother. I have no obligation to her, and am just now able to say that and not be ashamed. You owe her nothing, and in fact she owes you. People who feel you have an obligation, or have trouble with the way you feel about, should look at it like this: if a stranger abused you, would you have an obligation to take care of him/her? No. So why would you excuse a parent, the one person who SHOULD have treated you well??

 

Free yourself of this guilt and you will feel much better.

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This is a great post. Riverhead, you will only be understood by others who have experienced abusive parents. My mom was abusive. I do not like the way I feel about her. I spend very little time with her. She is cared for by my youngest brother. I have no obligation to her, and am just now able to say that and not be ashamed. You owe her nothing, and in fact she owes you. People who feel you have an obligation, or have trouble with the way you feel about, should look at it like this: if a stranger abused you, would you have an obligation to take care of him/her? No. So why would you excuse a parent, the one person who SHOULD have treated you well??

 

Free yourself of this guilt and you will feel much better.

Veda, I agree with you, as I feel as you do. But what if you had no siblings? Soon I will be in OP's position, but I have no siblings. It would be me or no one.

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Veda, I agree with you, as I feel as you do. But what if you had no siblings? Soon I will be in OP's position, but I have no siblings. It would be me or no one.

Yeah, that is a tough one Miss Kitty. I have three brothers, but I believe I would place her in a state home or something like that, I know I would not take her in, because she would stress me so much. She would probably go to her sister's kids or something like that. I feel like she has ruined my brother's life but better him than me, she already ruined me in a lot of ways. She's on her own. I must sound terrible.

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Yeah, that is a tough one Miss Kitty. I have three brothers, but I believe I would place her in a state home or something like that, I know I would not take her in, because she would stress me so much. She would probably go to her sister's kids or something like that. I feel like she has ruined my brother's life but better him than me, she already ruined me in a lot of ways. She's on her own. I must sound terrible.

You might sound terrible to someone who has never been in your shoes, but not to me.

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I agree with everyone else who say you have no moral obligation to take care of her. My grandmother was emotionally and mentally abusive to my mother and the rest of my grandmother's children, and as a result no one wants to bring her into their home from past traumatic experiences. Unfortunately, my mother is repeating the pattern with me and my brother (moreso me because I am female and she holds very misogynist views), and I have already emotionally disattached myself from her as she serves me more hurt than love.

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Thanks everybody for all of the responses. I have to admit I was surprised by how overwhelming the response was in being supportive of the idea that we aren't morally or ethically obligated. I've struggled with this for years and found that few of my real life friends understand - since none of them had an abusive parent.

 

I found everybody's response helpful. Still stuff to mull over and think about, but it helps knowing that others out there have had similar experiences and have reacted to those experiences in ways that are not too different from my own.

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I agree with everyone else who say you have no moral obligation to take care of her. My grandmother was emotionally and mentally abusive to my mother and the rest of my grandmother's children, and as a result no one wants to bring her into their home from past traumatic experiences. Unfortunately, my mother is repeating the pattern with me and my brother (moreso me because I am female and she holds very misogynist views), and I have already emotionally disattached myself from her as she serves me more hurt than love.

Exactly. My mother had a poor relationship with her mother as well. And yes, mothers like that are rougher on their daughters.

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My father married a very abusive woman; she literally ruined our lives so much so that we had to free ourselves from them. I was ostracized and told I 'HAD' to apologize, after it was SHE who did the wrong things! That's how entrenched it was. I didn't. My father lost all contact with his only granddaughter because he chose his wife over us. So be it.

 

But, he ended up dying of leukemia. And after it was all said and done, he WAS my father. And I blew my daughter's most important years that she could have had with her only grandfather, because I let his crazy wife's issues rule MY life. I couldn't rise above it and be the better person, stronger person; I could only ignore them. When he died, I saw him a total of maybe 5 hours in the last month of his life because of it. I missed out on SO much time with my dad because I let my anger at her dictate my actions. And it breaks my heart.

 

And my husband excommunicated his mom after some dreadful things she did to him, so our daughter missed out on HER in her life, as well. His mom can't help being schizophrenic, you know?

 

All I'm saying is, your mother is what she is. There are all ranges of sickness, meanness, just plain ol' issues - we all have 'em. So I have learned to look at such people, after learning this lesson the hard way, with more compassion. Is she mean? Sure. Did she get pleasure out of hurting you and controlling you? I doubt it. She sounds to me more like someone who was desperate to find her 'answer' and she found it in her religion, like so many people do. Did she know she was hurting you? Probably not; it was simply how she dealt with things, probably learned from HER parents - I guarantee you it never occurred to her what you were thinking.

 

I'm not telling you to move her in or anything. Just to consider that we all have our faults, and some are more severe than others. Do you think she is happy? I doubt it. She's probably been unhappy every day of her life.

 

Maybe you could find a middle ground by telling her what you feel. Once you get past that, and feel the freedom of telling her what she did to you, you can let go of it. And, if nothing else, help set up funding for a retirement community for her to move into, where THEY can take care of her.

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I don't think your situation is comparable to the OP's, or mine for that matter. You were not raised from birth by this woman (lucky for you!) so you have no concept of what an abusive mother is. The only reason you regret not "rising above" is because you lost contact with your father. My father is dead so I have no need to tolerate my mother's behavior and whether or not she is happy has no meaning for me.

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This is a great post. Riverhead, you will only be understood by others who have experienced abusive parents. My mom was abusive. I do not like the way I feel about her. I spend very little time with her. She is cared for by my youngest brother. I have no obligation to her, and am just now able to say that and not be ashamed. You owe her nothing, and in fact she owes you. People who feel you have an obligation, or have trouble with the way you feel about, should look at it like this: if a stranger abused you, would you have an obligation to take care of him/her? No. So why would you excuse a parent, the one person who SHOULD have treated you well??

 

Free yourself of this guilt and you will feel much better.

 

You make a really good point here. I get really tired of people telling the abused that they need to just let go and rise above. Damnit, no I don't. I don't care if I am your child. If you had treated me well and loved me, I would care more about you. I have no obligation to my abuser, no one does.

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You make a really good point here. I get really tired of people telling the abused that they need to just let go and rise above. Damnit, no I don't. I don't care if I am your child. If you had treated me well and loved me, I would care more about you. I have no obligation to my abuser, no one does.

As if it isn't bad enough that we grew up in that situation, now we have these people telling us what our responsibilities are and how we should "get over it", "move on", "rise above". Now we have to have these people making us feel guilty about how we feel. Listen to your heart. We owe the parent, and the others, nothing. We owe ourselves peace of mind and contentment.

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Nowhere did I tell you to get OVER anything. I said you could try to LET GO of what you cannot change. There is a difference.

 

And I also did not say you should start having relations with your parent. I will never see my SM again, by choice. But the question was what to do as far as caring for an aging parent. I gave a possible solution that will not utterly destroy your bond but also keep you from having to deal with them.

 

Just to ask yourself if your relationship - as tenuous as it is - should be thrown away. Because once they are gone, they are gone.

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Nowhere did I tell you to get OVER anything. I said you could try to LET GO of what you cannot change. There is a difference.

 

And I also did not say you should start having relations with your parent. I will never see my SM again, by choice. But the question was what to do as far as caring for an aging parent. I gave a possible solution that will not utterly destroy your bond but also keep you from having to deal with them.

 

Just to ask yourself if your relationship - as tenuous as it is - should be thrown away. Because once they are gone, they are gone.

 

This is their way of letting go. It was my way too. Perhaps you have not experienced abuse to the point they have.

 

I remember as a child thinking of the day my father would become old and weak. the thought of this was not saddening but rather soothing. I didn't even know what I was thinking and why exactly (I was really young). I didn't see anything wrong with thinking this way either, I was simply in survival mode. I spoke mainly only when spoken to, and with my every action, every sound, every being was trying to be 'good'. I was never a kid. I was trying every way I could too keep myself out of harms way. And just the thought of my father being too weak to hurt me, intimidate me, drag me in the hall by my hair was very relaxing. I did not think these thoughts at moments of hysteria and anger. This was when I was calm, and rational and alone.

 

My father still continues to abuse me, my mother and my brother physically and emotionally every chance he gets. (I no longer live there, or speak to him). It is awkward thinking we will be at peace when he dies. I will be more peaceful than sad. This is again not said out of anger, it is not a rash thought on my part. I haven't spoken to him in a very long time. Yet I still have nightmares about him. I freak when my cellphone rings and it is a private number (and yet he doesn't even know my number or my address).

 

This is my way of letting go. This is the best way I can. I have accepted that I don't have a father, and this is a person I should just stay away from.

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