Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Parenting & Relationships

Tell Me About It: Be honest with adult kids about abusive grandmother

Q: My mother died a few months ago. My children, who are in their 20s, adored her. They do not know she was abusive to me and my sisters when we were growing up. I don't really want to disillusion them, but it is really hard to listen to them talk about how awesome Grandma was. Is there anything neutral I can say?

Remembering Grandma

A: By neutral, you mean honest without upsetting anyone?

If so, that sounds like a vestige of your abusive childhood: Instead of living honestly, you're living with keen attention to the potential cost of living honestly. That's a legacy no one deserves.

If you were my parent, I would want you to tell me your truth. I would want you to say that you held this back so that I could have my own relationship with Grandma, and explain that you did this without fully appreciating how much it would hurt you to watch this plan succeed. I would also hope you'd be patient if I react emotionally, and trust me to come around to gratitude for knowing. I'd also want you to be ready if I tell you that Grandma also was abusive to me, but that I wasn't comfortable sharing this, until now.

If you have grounds to believe your kids won't receive the news this way, then I suggest enlisting the help of a good, reputable family therapist. If there's any chance of fallout — if experience tells you that your kids don't handle gray areas well — then exploring your options with a trained guide is a reasonable exercise in self-care, the value of which you apparently learned the hard way.

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