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Talking with adult children about VA - advice?


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#1 AwkwardPaws

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Posted 17 August 2012 - 04:36 PM

What have your experiences been with talking with older children about a parent's VA/EA?

It has been over 10 years since my bro and SIL divorced due to his VA/EA of her, and about that long since a counselor advised me not to have direct contact with my bro/her husband because of his VA/EA toward me.

Since she decided not to tell the kids, then 10- 20 years of age, the specific reason for divorce, I decided it would be best to follow her example.

The kids are all in their 20s now. Rather than time, and a 2nd marriage, easing their father's machinations, he is still doing his best to play up his victim status, and alienate the kids from me and from their mom. He was recently very successful in manipulating a situation where he was trying to force contact with me at a family gathering - despite the fact that for years he has been told verbally and in writing "no direct contact" - and playing it up to his kids as me being rejecting when he was only "trying to be nice".

So, have any of you talked with older kids about a parents VA/EA? What have your experiences been?

AwkwardPaws (the catboxer formerly known as Katydid)

#2 Kris

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Posted 17 August 2012 - 10:17 PM

Welcome back, AP (although, yes, with the usual caveat that we wish it wasn't necessary to be visiting here! But thank goodness places like this ARE here!!!!)

This is a tough question because you don't want to drag the kids through the problems that were there (it's emotional abuse to try to draw kids into the problems that should be dealt with between the parents). And yet it is known that kids are affected by the environment they grew up in. So there are legitimate concerns about whether this might jeopardize their own future relationships.

Depending on how overt the abuse was and how much the kids were clearly exposed to it, I would recommend giving them something to read that will give them perspective on the situation. If you don't think there was direct negative consequences (such as development of codependent traits due to being raised in that environment), then I would give them a copy of How To Be An Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving. That book is an awesome guide to what it takes to be healthy, what it takes to nurture a healthy relationship, and why and where some of the problems arise that can make those goals challenging. It is my favorite book. But if you think the kids have definitely been negatively impacted, that book is still great but I would also get each a copy of Pia Melody's Facing Codependence: What It Is, Where It Comes From, How It Sabotages Our Lives. Between those books, I think they'll be able to sort a lot of the issues out.... without having to drag them through the conflict that really belongs between the parents.

I don't have direct experience though to answer your question... so I'm just basing this on what I've read. But I do think they could benefit a lot from having more information that can help them see what is going on now, and what went on earlier when they were kids. It would help them in a lot of ways!

#3 PrudenceB

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Posted 18 August 2012 - 10:02 AM

I can answer you as an adult child of abusive parents.

Your SIL took her decision when the children were young and she made the decision she felt was best for them at the time. It was not yOur Space at the time to intervene. You don't know how your intervention might have made things worse for them, then.

NOW the question is "have things changed, giving you the place to say something?" "who is going to benefit from your saying something?" "what would you say?"


children living with abusive parents/in an abusive situation are being abused at least emotionally. An abusive person can not be "not abusive" to some family members and not to others at a core level. Children know this intuitively and need validation that it is not them, and need strong role models to show them a different way, lest they think the dysfunction is acceptable. The other part of that is many children see it is a 'dance" and portion out responsibility equally, many see things in black and white, blaming one parent for everything and making a saint out of the other. Do you know which stage your brother's children are in? Mature understanding that it is a dance in many ways and no person is perfect? Or are they still stuck in overly blaming one parent but under the surface messed up because they are angry with the parent that didn't protect them? (this is very general description).

Knowing them, where they are and what they feel/think/their experience was/is, will dictate what they need from you.

The really important question is this- why do you feel you need to say anything? (I am not saying you don't/shouldn't, but your motives should be clear)

It also seems that you can discuss with them about you and your situation without dragging your SIL into it. Have you asked her what she would like to do/needs? If you have difficulties with your brother and his children, that can stay between you guys, without dragging their mother/parents failed marriage into it.

Adults these days think divorce is ok and think it "best" in many cases. Children do not feel that way. Their parents failed marriage was an assault on their being, ripped their lives apart and changed who they were going to be - forever. They are the most vulnerable parties in a chaotic situation that became the focus of their lives which they could not control or influence. And they lose more than anyone. There is a book called "children of divorce" which might help you. It is the first study of those children done since divorce became popular in the 1970's. The study shows what actually happens (children of divorce turn into broken adults)- not what we lie to ourselves happens (they are happier). Check it out - it might help you decide how/if to speak with them.

Again- think about what you want to acheive, ask yourself who it's really for, and go fromt here when you speak with them...

Good luck and I hope this helps!

#4 AwkwardPaws

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Posted 19 August 2012 - 04:46 PM

Thanks Kris and Prudence, for your thoughtful responses - and for the "welcome back" Kris. I never really left, just stopped posting and tried to learn from others' experiences for the past few years. (plus I could never remember my darn password or which email address I had used before when I logged in!)

As you noted Prudence, motivation IS important. My SIL and I talk about that a lot. This isn't something I'm taking on unilaterally. We're trying to figure out together what is best for the kids.

What has changed is that recently the kids have been dealing with verbal abuse they are witnessing in extended family. At the same time, their dad, a PhD in a helping profession, has ratcheted up his insidious forms of emotional and verbal abuse of the kids, particularly his youngest, as part of his abuse of me.

In our extended family the youngest(20s) just recently saw her dad screaming at me as we were making an exchange of passengers in a parking lot. The kids don't know that 14 years of trying to reason and explain to their dad preceded the last 10 of "no contact" from me. They don't know that their dad was reminded of the "no contact" in a legal communication in writing as recently as 2 years ago.

So they didn't recognize that when he crossed over to where I was in MY car, AWAY from the area he was in, and tried to make chit chat he was being aggressive. He was treating a specific boundary as non-existent. When I told him to "stop it" and he threw his hands up, turned toward the kids and said melodramatically "well I TRIED!", they thought their poor dad had been rebuffed for being nice. When I repeated, only to their dad (the kids couldn't see my face or hear my voice) the one-line "no contract because..." message that their dad had been reading and hearing for 10 years, THEN their dad screamed at me in front of hte kids, and spent 20 minutes stomping around the parking lot in a tantrum.

To me, his initial attempt to converse was covert abuse. The yelling at me, in front of the kids, was overt abuse of me, but also abusive to the kids as witnesses.

In the hours and days that followed l saw the suffering the kids were going through.

So, I'm wondering if it is time to tell the kids that I spent many, many years trying to work through problems with their dad, that I cried A LOT during those years, and that finally a counselor advised me not to have direct contact with him because his behavior was so harmful to me; that their dad has seen this information in writing, and I've told him "no" consistently. That is why they haven't seen me socializing with for most of their adult lives.

I want to tell them that I know what it feels like to watch a parent suffer and to want to help that parent, but just like it really isn't healthy for one friend to be stuck hearing both sides as two other friends are unhappy with one another, it really isn't the job of a child to take on the unhappy feelings of a parent toward another family member. The best thing for the unhappy parent is to get help from an adult who is objective, someone who doesn't have his or her own relationship with the person their parent is unhappy with.

I want to tell them they have the right to say "no", that love doesn't mean erasing yourself in order to feed an emotional vampire (I would find a less incendiary metaphor for the kids).

Lastly, there is something I want to tell the kids, but probably won't: I want to tell them that abuse is not a conflict. Conflict is when there are several options for resolving a situation, and the parties cannot come to agreement. Abuse is when one person believes they are entitled to misuse their psychological or physical power to diminish another person's well being with weapons of words, feelings or fists.

Even if I never say it to the kids, the process of writing this post been helpful for me. Hope it helps someone else too.

#5 Kris

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Posted 19 August 2012 - 07:23 PM

Ugh, it sounds like your brother is using his knowledge about his profession to be a "stealth abuser", if there is such a term. That's frustrating.

I think without getting into details and specifics, it would be possible to talk to the kids and just tell them that you don't want to go into details but that you and your brother have had a difficult history and sometimes it becomes important to establish boundaries and even go "no contact" in order to protect yourself. And that is what you have had to do. But you want them to know that you didn't reach that decision lightly and that you do still love your brother, you just cannot have contact with him. And then give them a book you think would help them. Actually, Richo has a shorter book that might be more accessible: How to Be An Adult. Another short and very accessible book is The Four Agreements.

But what about your SIL? Does she talk to the kids about what happened? What is her relationship with them now? It may well be that they understand a lot more about what is going on than you think. (Oftentimes the kids actually can see the abuse that is happening more clearly even than the parent that is the target of it!)

#6 la_chica

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Posted 20 August 2012 - 09:57 AM

These "kids" are in their 20's, right? Seems like they are old enough to know the truth. It is possible to talk about it without bashing him, but to put it in the frame of "I have had a hard time communicating with him for a long time, and for my own mental health I limit contact with him."

I actually think not talking about it makes it a lot weirder. I mean, obviously they know something is not right. It's like the elephant in the room that no one is talking about.

#7 cocomama

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Posted 20 August 2012 - 12:26 PM

I think that young adults can know as much as they need to know. I think you need to before saying anything be available to listen. I can't agree that children of divorce are "just broken" I am a child of divorce and I think that like all young people I had to work through family issues that would have been there weather or not my parents divorced. Sometimes people put the kids through more because they use the kids as an emotional crutch but that can happen in a marred home as well as a divorced one. As far as ripping some poor child apart, I think its the way you handle it that rips kids apart, not the divorce. These kids probably know far more than you give them credit for. My H's abusive tactics were not done in front of my children but I had one child ask me when I was going to divorce him? So I think that other family members do kids older or younger much more justice when they are there to lend an ear and support to the child no matter if they are 10 or 20.

#8 la_chica

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Posted 20 August 2012 - 01:09 PM

I think you need to before saying anything be available to listen.


I'm also a child of divorce (as an older child, I was 18) and I agree with cocomama. She is right on with the quote above and it brings up a question for you, AwkwardPaws, are they asking about the familial relationships/issues with their father or is it something you want to introduce as a means to explain yourself?

#9 AwkwardPaws

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Posted 20 August 2012 - 06:07 PM

But you want them to know that you didn't reach that decision lightly and that you do still love your brother,
the sad truth is that I no longer feel even sentimental affection, let alone any love for him, so I couldn't tell the kids that. Looking back at how our family functioned, I see that he groomed his younger siblings for hero worship, not genuine connection, the same way he has groomed his kids. His abuse of me started when I no longer deferred to him, and got worse anytime achievements in my life appeared to him to have outpaced him. you just cannot have contact with him. And then give them a book you think would help them. Actually, Richo has a shorter book that might be more accessible: How to Be An Adult. Another short and very accessible book is The Four Agreements. I read the Four Agreements. It was good. I wish that books were more to their liking. These kids aren't readers though.

But what about your SIL? Does she talk to the kids about what happened? She doesn't talk about why she ultimately sought a divorce. What is her relationship with them now? She still participates in gatherings for the kids' birthdays that include their dad, and for a long time still did holiday dinners with them as a whole family, even once he remarried. I believe she feared that if she tried to set up alternative celebrations that didn't include their dad, that their dad would spread propaganda to make the kids resent her. He really is a stealth abuser. It may well be that they understand a lot more about what is going on than you think. (Oftentimes the kids actually can see the abuse that is happening more clearly even than the parent that is the target of it!)From what I can tell, they have yet to recognize the extent to which their dad has played them.



#10 AwkwardPaws

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Posted 20 August 2012 - 06:26 PM

I'm also a child of divorce (as an older child, I was 18) and I agree with cocomama. She is right on with the quote above and it brings up a question for you, AwkwardPaws, are they asking about the familial relationships/issues with their father or is it something you want to introduce as a means to explain yourself?

They are struggling with the pressure they feel in another family situation where boundaries are broken. In some ways it makes their dad look like a bastion of restraint by comparison. Be that as it may, I also see the kids struggling emotionally with the situation between their dad and me. In the past I kept them out of it by not talking with them about it. As you said above though, this last time it felt MORE wierd not to acknowledge what happened. In the past I felt that I was being private about matters the kids really didn't need to deal with. My silence after the last incident feels more like secrecy.




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