I used to read Slate Magazine’s advice column “Dear Prudence” fairly regularly, especially when we were still living in the States. I remember reading Dear Prudence in the Washington Post, too, especially when it was written by Emily Yoffe, who wrote an awesome book about adopting a beagle from BREW (Beagle Resource Education and Welfare). Bill and I have adopted three beagles from BREW ourselves, so naturally I wanted to read What the Dog Did: Tales from a Formerly Reluctant Dog Owner (2005). I remember Yoffe also famously wrote about competing in the Mrs. America pageant just for the sake of the experience. That was part of her “Human Guinea Pig” series for Slate. I probably ought to read Slate more often. It might annoy me less than The Atlantic does, with its daily doses of depressing articles about the rapidly degrading state of the world and how it’s never going to get better.
Anyway, this morning, a Facebook friend commented on a column by Dear Prudence. Dear Prudence is currently written by Daniel M. Lavery, who was born Mallory Ortberg and raised by evangelical Christians. I may have to read more about his story. I had not heard of him until today, but apparently he is well known and regarded as a writer, especially in transgender circles.
The topic that so intrigued me this morning is entitled “My Daughter Cut Me Out of Her Life! She didn’t even tell me she’s pregnant.” The letter that prompted the headline was from a mother, distraught that her formerly pleasant and cooperative adult daughter got married to a “controlling” man. Ever since the wedding, daughter has been much firmer with her mom– in fact, Mom thinks her daughter has “turned into a different person.” Recently, the daughter stopped taking her mother’s phone calls and texts. Below is the letter in question.
Since my daughter married “Chris,” she has turned into a different person. It started on her wedding day, when she got drunk and screamed at me for “always putting her down” after I made a (not insulting!) comment about her non-traditional dress. That was four years ago, and things have gotten worse since then. She and Chris have spent every Christmas with his parents rather than me and my husband, she ignores calls and texts, and she has gone from attending every pre-pandemic family function with thoughtful gifts on birthdays to missing all but funerals and sending gift cards as Christmas presents. She has spoken to us twice since February, and on one of those occasions ended up screaming abuse at us until my husband hung up.
I found out the worst news recently and cannot process it. My daughter is pregnant, and not only had she not told us, but she didn’t plan to. I only found out, mortifyingly, because a friend saw something on social media and asked me about it (I’m not on social media). My husband and I tried getting through to our daughter, but she has changed her personal number and only Chris answers the house phone. When confronted, he told us that she no longer wanted any contact with us, and that “they” did not want us in their child’s life. My husband accused Chris of controlling our daughter, at which point Chris hung up. I have since called and pleaded with him to let me talk to my daughter, but to no avail. He has always been a cold person, but I never thought he would do something like this. I know that my daughter has some responsibility for her choices here, but I agree with my husband that Chris seems to be a powerful influence in isolating her from us in this extreme way. We are at a loss as to what to do from here. I cannot bear the thought of never meeting my own grandchild, and part of me can’t believe that our daughter would be so cruel as to follow through with this plan to keep us from them permanently. Is there anything I can say that might get through to Chris, or that I could put in a letter begging my daughter to reconcile? My husband and I miss the sweet, warm girl that we raised, and feel as though we’ve lost her to a cold, angry stranger.
Prudie gave the usual excellent advice. But what really stuck out to me was my friend’s comment. She wrote that the letter “smacked of ‘missing missing reasons.'” Prior to today, I had never heard of such a concept. I decided to follow the link my friend shared in her comment. I found myself on a blog page about parents and children who are estranged. It appears that the blog, Issendai.com, is mostly about psychology, and in particular, estrangement between parents and their children. I will have to explore it more thoroughly today.
The post my friend shared is entitled “The Missing Missing Reasons”, and it’s all about how parents of estranged children seem to “miss the boat” on why they are cut out of their adult children’s lives. These parents will say their children “never gave them a reason” for the estrangement. But then, after they start talking or writing, they reveal that their children actually DID give them a reason. It appears that the estranged parent simply didn’t acknowledge the reason.
In the above letter, the distraught mother claims that her daughter became someone she doesn’t know anymore after the daughter got married. She blames Chris, the husband, for the daughter’s change. She makes him out to be an abuser who is trying to prevent her from meeting her own grandchild. But if you read carefully, Mom also claims that her daughter “got drunk” at her wedding and yelled at her mother for “always putting her down” after the mom made a “not insulting” comment about her daughter’s unconventional wedding dress.
Just that initial part of her letter makes me think that “Heartbroken” has a habit of discounting her daughter’s feelings and expecting her adult child to defer to her. I suspect she might be the type of parent who thinks she’s always right and always deserves respect, even when she, herself, isn’t behaving in a respectable way. In her letter, I don’t see any acknowledgment from “Heartbroken” that she may have caused her daughter hurt or offense, even if it was completely unintentional. Instead, she assumes her daughter’s husband is entirely to blame for this estrangement.
Even though Heartbroken writes that her daughter “has some responsibility for her choices”, she doesn’t seem to understand that, as a competent adult, her daughter actually has complete responsibility for her choices. She isn’t a child anymore, and her mother is no longer the boss of her. It could be that Chris is helping her by screening her mother’s calls, but unless he’s the worst type of abusive monster, my guess is that he’s not doing it because he’s a control freak. He’s probably doing it because his mother-in-law is a possessive control freak who doesn’t see her daughter as a fully functioning adult, capable of having and expressing her own feelings and making decisions about who will, and who will not be, in her life. And unfortunately, until that unborn baby she’s carrying is also an adult, she is also capable of making choices for her child, which could mean that Grandma gets “canceled”.
I have some empathy for both sides of this situation. First off, I am a youngest child with family members who have historically discounted my opinions and treated me with contempt and disrespect. Fortunately, of all my family members, my mom has always had the most regard for me as an adult. In fact, when I was a child, my mom often expected me to be more adult than I was. She was in a hurry to see me grow up, because she had made it plain to me that she hadn’t expected or wanted a fourth child (me). I turned out to be a pretty good kid overall, but I had an attitude and wasn’t exactly genteel, high achieving, or well-behaved around her friends. Consequently, I often heard hurtful stories about how obnoxious I was as a toddler and small child. Some would say I never outgrew those traits, even though overall, I really wasn’t that difficult. I never got arrested or pregnant, and I finished high school, college, and graduate school on time, and with little help from anyone else, other than financially.
In my case, my mom became a lot easier to be around once I became an adult. She would probably say the same about me. I’m probably much less annoying as an adult. I certainly require less from her, so she can just be my friend. I notice my mom was also a lot less annoying once I got married. I think she was afraid I’d never be able to launch… or find a suitable mate. Bill turned out to be very acceptable and we’re doing fine, so Mom has relaxed a lot. I think it also helped when she no longer had to deal with my dad or keep their business from tanking.
And secondly, I’m married to a man who was estranged from his daughters. One adult daughter is still estranged. The other has reconnected, which is something I never thought would happen. Younger daughter has explained a lot about why the estrangement happened. When she and Bill started talking again, he approached gently and listened to her. In her case, the estrangement wasn’t so much because it was what she wanted. Her mother pretty much forced her to disconnect and filled her and her sister with fear and doubt.
In that process, I was painted as “the bad guy” because Bill stopped putting up with his ex wife’s abusive bullshit. I also made for a convenient scapegoat as a so-called home wrecking whore. Meanwhile, Bill approached Ex with calm assertiveness rather than meek submission or outright aggression. I’m sure that was infuriating and frustrating for Ex. She once even commented on how his tone had “changed”. She didn’t like it, because she was used to deference. And she blamed me, when she should have realized that he had simply recovered from her toxic bullshit and had made up his mind not to tolerate it anymore.
It took years, but that calm and gentle approach is paying off as Bill strengthens his ties to his daughter and her family. Meanwhile, it sounds to us like Ex is being shut out of at least two of her five children’s lives. And this time, the estrangement isn’t because they were forced– it’s because they’re now adults and they have chosen to disconnect, to some degree.
Ex is the type of person who will send an email full of emotional blackmail, blame, rage, and begging in order to get her way. She’s manipulative and disrespectful, and expects her children and other family members to kiss her ass. She has a one dimensional approach to relationships and sees them only in terms of how they relate to her, without any regard toward how her actions and behaviors affect other people. Meanwhile, she does everything she can to present a facade to the rest of the world about what an “amazing” person she is. It’s all a lie, and it’s obvious to most people who have any situational awareness.
I’m not saying I think “Heartbroken” is like Ex, though. She may have been a much better mother and may be a superior specimen when it comes to simple humanness. But in her letter, I read the words of a woman who blames other people for everything and doesn’t have much self-awareness or personal insight. For instance, she legitimately may not have meant her comment about her daughter’s wedding dress as an insult. However, that was clearly how it came across to her daughter. We can’t always control how people interpret what we say or do, but if someone does take offense to something we say or do, it’s his or her right. And then, we weigh whether or not we care about their being offended. If we care, maybe an apology or explanation is in order. If we don’t care, then fuck ’em, and we reap the consequences.
In this case, it sounds like Mom cares that her daughter has cut her out of her life. She doesn’t want to be canceled from her unborn grandchild’s life. With that being the case, she may have to humble herself and be a bit more introspective. She may have to alter her behavior and show her daughter more respect, or at least acknowledge that some of the things she’s said and done in the past have been hurtful and caused offense. If she isn’t willing to make that concession, she may stay canceled.
Most normal people don’t like being estranged from others, especially close relatives, like a parent. I’m sure “Heartbroken’s” daughter thought about it before she cut off her mom. She may have determined that being separated from/no contact with her mother is less painful than enduring her mother’s recurrent intrusiveness and disrespect. When a person is still a child, they have to tolerate a parent’s disregard and disrespect. But the wonderful thing about being an adult is that we all have the ability to make choices for ourselves. And it sounds like that is what “Heartbroken’s” daughter has done.
It may turn out that this relationship can be salvaged. The letter writer’s daughter may be a reasonable person, and she may welcome her mother back into her life if Mom starts treating her with some basic respect and civility. But it sounds like she’s not going to deal with her as she is today, and she’s not going to subject her child to her mother’s repeated disrespect, either.
The reason I think it’s been a pattern is because “Heartbroken’s” daughter mentioned it at her wedding, of all places. It was her day– a day I’m sure, drunk or not, she definitely wasn’t wanting to spend arguing with her mom. Then, the mom made the comment that she didn’t think she was insulting her daughter. But her daughter clearly took the comment about the wedding dress as insulting– on her day– and, more importantly, pointed out that it wasn’t the first time. So this has been an issue for a long time… and now that daughter has her own family, why does she “need” her mom? She doesn’t… at least not in the most basic ways. She’s a grown and functional person, with a husband who supports her, and soon a child of her own whose needs she will have to consider. And her mom, God help her, is still thinking only about herself and her needs as a mom and grandma.
I have cut some people out of my life. It wasn’t easy for me. I think about all of the years I spent with some of the people I don’t talk to anymore. I have some great memories. But after awhile, the good memories are outweighed by bad ones, and feeling traumatized and angry after multiple toxic interactions. After awhile, healthy people tend to make the decision to stop drinking the poison and put the bottle aside… I’ve done that, and it’s overall been a good thing… even if I do still have some great memories. However, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t listen if someone indicated that they wanted to talk to me, and it was an actual conversation involving more than one perspective. I think “Heartbroken” is firmly focused on her own perspective and how much she hurts. Until she realizes that her daughter was also hurt, she probably won’t get anywhere.
I think if “Heartbroken” is willing to open her heart and her mind, let her daughter know that she hears her and is willing to try to change the way she communicates, she may find her daughter is more willing to include her in her life. But if she just wants to blame her daughter and her son-in-law, I’m afraid Grandma is gonna stay canceled.
Anyway… I’m going to have to read more articles on Issendal.com. I’m glad I took a minute to read about “missing missing reasons”. It’s a concept that I think affects a lot of relationships involving high conflict, immature people who lack insight and introspection.