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My mother is a schoolteacher and during the summers she likes to travel across the country to visit family for a month or so. Sometimes my children and I go with her, but this year she only wants my children to come with her. Often when I go on trips with my mother it’s stressful and any disagreement leads to my mother having an outburst and saying the most hurtful things she could think of, even if they aren’t true. She once told me that everyone in our family said I was a terrible mother and has threatened to cut me out of her life permanently. I’m pretty good at forgiving her quickly and I know she loves and cares about me. However, I don’t trust that my children can rebound from her displaced stress like I can. I want my children to have some quality grandma time but I’m afraid of what may happen when they’re across the country without me. If I insist that they stay home, my mother might be deeply hurt that I don’t trust her unsupervised with my children.
On the surface, this seems like such an idyllic scenario: A month with grandma and siblings traveling across the country while making mountains of memories. At the same time, I see the potential nightmare scenario of having your mother blow her lid and verbally attack one or all of the children with no escape in sight. You have a legitimate cause for concern.
Before we talk about your children, I want to ask you a question about your own relationship with your mother. You mentioned that you have the ability to forgive your mother quickly and move on after she says horrible things to you. Why are you moving on so quickly without communicating to your mother the negative way she affects you? You continue to put yourself in situations with her where she can treat you this way, even though you say it’s stressful. If you’re okay with her treating you this way, then how are you going to help your children know that what she does to them isn’t okay?
Before you send them on a trip with your mother, I believe it’s important to address the way she interacts with you. Even though she’s the grandmother, she clearly has difficulty treating her own family members kindly. And, if she already believes you’re a horrible mother, you can be certain that she will see your children’s behaviors as a reflection of your failure as a mother.
Your mother may be offering your children a wonderful opportunity, but if she’s diminishing you as her daughter, it’s incongruent for her to play the role as the nurturing grandmother. Her role as grandmother is an extension of her role as a mother. Your children need her to value you as much as she claims to value them.
Are you prepared to ask her to have more respectful interactions with you? Do you even want this for you? If not, I encourage you to take a look at your motivation for not addressing this. Do you believe it will fall on deaf ears? Have you tried in the past and received blame and contention? If you send your children away with her for a month, it will be terribly stressful for you due to the lack of trust you have with your mother. Why would you put yourself through that?
I’m guessing your mother would be deeply hurt by this news that you don’t trust her unsupervised because you’ve never told her how her behavior hurts you. If you can let her behavior go unchecked for you but not for your kids, then her behavior shouldn’t go unchecked. If it’s not okay for your children, then it’s not okay for you. She needs to be someone who is safe for your whole family.
This is a good opportunity for you to address your concerns with her. If she’s not open to hearing your concerns, then she would never be open to hearing your concerns if something were to happen in the future with your children. Address it now before anything happens to your children. Stand between them and your mother and expect her to hear your voice. It’s not too late for you to ask your mother to understand this important need for relationship safety.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.