Dear Annie: I was the victim of domestic violence in my eight-year marriage that ended 10 years ago. After the divorce, I went to counseling with my daughter, "Marie," who was then age 6. I learned that blaming the other parent continuously for the separation would only destroy my relationship with Marie, so for the past ten years, I have done everything I can to encourage and sustain Marie's close relationship with her father. I never mentioned his abuse, but I know Marie remembers some of the more serious incidents.
Marie is now 16. Six months ago, my ex-husband was diagnosed with a terminal case of hepatitis C. Prior to the diagnosis, Marie had behaved in a typical, "I-hate-my-Mom" fashion for about a year, but I thought it was a passing teenage thing and we would eventually get back to our old loving relationship. But she shocked me when she abruptly moved into her father's house and now refuses to have anything to do with me.
I miss her desperately, but the courts tell me that a 16-year-old has custody of herself. What's going on here? —Distressed Mom in Sacramento.
Dear Distressed: You say Marie remembers the abuse, which means she may have felt some ill will toward her father over the years. Now he is dying and Marie wants to make it up to him by spending as much time with him as possible by his side. Avoiding you is easier than dealing with your disappointment and hurt.
You have been a class act for the past ten years. Tell Marie you love her and you are happy she is with her father during this time because you know how much it means to both of them. Hide your bitterness even if it means being an actress worthy of an Academy Award. In time, your relationship will be stronger because you supported her choice. Hang in there, Mom. —Annie
Hi Distressed. I get your confusion. I applaud your daughter's decision to not interact with you, however, it's suicidal for her to be relating with either of you until you both have completed 25 hours of individual therapy.
She's got to acquire the "Wisdom of Solomon" quickly, to get to the point where she can clearly see that you are both equally sick and that it's unhealthy and unethical for to her to reward either of you with her precious presence. She must get clear which, if either of you, is sicker than the other. She can determine this by insisting that both of you complete her therapy requirements, and then to stay away from the one who doesn't value her enough to do so.
You are reaping the consequences of your addiction to blaming. Part of your addiction was to engage a counselor whom you knew you could con (it's an unconscious psychic intention thing). You simply weren't ready to accept responsibility for the effects of your addiction to abusing and being abused. You write, "...I learned that blaming the other parent continuously for the separation would only destroy my relationship with Marie," Two corrections. 1) Your use of the word "continuously" is no accident. Part-time blaming has the same effects. In any case, you did not learn this in therapy, you only learned about it. You already understood the effects of blame; the realization of it merely sunk in a bit farther, but not at the level of knowing. 2) What you've done is to suppress your blame. You've replaced your blaming anger with an act. You've been acting as though you've given up blaming him, all the while still blaming him. This act did not fool your daughter. In fact you taught her to blame as well. She now blames you for the condition of your relationship with her father.
Notice even now you write, "I never mentioned his abuse," Perhaps you never mentioned it verbally but you continuously communicated it nonverbally. A responsible parent would write, "I never mentioned my abuse," or minimally, " I never mentioned our abuse,"
You write, "I have done everything I can to encourage and sustain Marie's close relationship with her father." It doesn't make sense for you to have encouraged her in having a close relationship with someone you know to be abusive. It suggests you know that at some level he was the smart one to also have gotten away from you. Perhaps he has gotten therapy since the divorce?
BTW: It's important to mention here that there is a way to inform a child about an estranged parent so that they make up their own mind. In so doing they will relate appropriately in support of one or both parents getting therapy. Estrangement communicated responsibly, from cause, a child can get it.
You are also reaping the consequences of withholding. Thoughts withheld from loved ones serve as barriers to the experience of love. You withheld the truth about your relationship with your ex from your daughter, for reasons. You've come to believe your reasons as though they are noble truths. One reason goes something like; "I didn't want to destroy Maria's relationship with her father." You withheld the truth because you didn't know the truth. The truth would be, "I'm addicted to abuse. So much so that I attracted and seduced your father into marrying me knowing he was equally sick. I intuitively knew that ultimately he would mirror my addiction. Worse yet, I stayed with him for six years submitting you to more of my blaming machinations. I taught you to stay in communication with abusive people."
Now she's living with a man whom you know to be equally addicted to abusing and being abused. Notice that she is completely unconscious and has ignorantly taken sides, thinking he's the healthier person to live with. She's incapable of taking advantage of your experience. Why? Because she doesn't experience being in communication with you. Your withhold, the deceit in your relationship with her, has become a barrier to open and honest communication. In fact she has no choice whatsoever but to move away from you into his house. She has to find out the truth once and for all. Is one parent sicker than the other? Are both equally sick? Shall I reward and enable one, or the other, or neither until they each get enough therapy for them to relate supportively again—this by the way is the mandate for every child of a divorced couple—"and a child shall lead them."
Notice that you created an abusive relationship between you and your daughter, and then, instead of recognizing the pattern and getting immediate counseling, you hung out in the abuse for "about a year." Once again teaching her to stay in an abusive relationship as you did for her first six years. Also notice that you covertly attempt to blame the abuse between you and your daughter on Marie or "teenage" behavior. "Marie had behaved in a typical, "I-hate-my-Mom" fashion..." It's not "typical," except for parents stuck in abuse.
- Note: What is typical is that all parents who have a teen stuck in an undesirable behavior are themselves stuck in ignorance and arrogance. The arrogance being—they absolutely refuse to ask a communication skills coach for support. They do not want a witness to the fact that it's their leadership communication model that's producing the undesirable results.
What would work is for you to immerse yourself in 25 hours of counseling or therapy. In doing so there is a remote possibility you could prevent her from having to marry an abusive partner.
My advice is to tell her that she can't come back, and that you'll not interact with her whatsoever, for life, until she can tell you she has completed 25 hours of counseling or therapy (you foot 50% of the bill). In this way she'll have experienced knowing the effects of the ultimatum, "Get therapy or I'm leaving tomorrow," at the first sign of abuse. The longer you put off your own 25 hours of therapy the longer she'll have to stay with him.
BTW: She is ignorant of the fact that moving in with him is tantamount to her believing that you were the abusive one and the cause for the divorce. It's not unlike walking away, arm-in-arm, laughing, with someone who just beat up another, leaving the victim (you) in a pool of blood. She's dramatizing some incredible pain.
The confusion will clear up once you tell the truth about your cause of the abuse in your relationship with your ex. It's called taking responsibility.
Send a copy of our communications addressed to both of them.
Great letter, thank you, Gabby