An article in Cookie magazine, "Louder than Bombs" by Susan Gregory Thomas, illustrates the distinct difference between how my Dad's generation raised children and how my generation presently raises children-- and the disconnect between the two. When this disconnect is combined with my Dad's Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the combination is toxic and highly destructive. According to Reach Advisors' study, "Generation X went through its all important, formative years as one of the least parented, least nurtured in US history. Half of all Gen X children's parents split; 40 percent were latchkey kids." I can definitely attest to the lack of parenting, lack of nurturing, having parents split, and being a latchkey kid.
Now with my daughter's birth, I knew and know that I will raise her starkly different than how I was raised. Thomas' article touches on my sentiments, "The effects of the narcissistic wounds inflicted by our parents linger, subtly but powerfully, in our behavior as parents now... We are completely completely, utterly attached to our children. Generation X'ers, the parents of the majority of children now, by all accounts appear to be the most devoted to family in American history. We would generally err on the side of being too close, too involved, too loving, than repeat our own parents' sins of neglect." As you will read below, my Dad's parenting advice follows exactly with what they did as a generation, and my unwillingness to accept that type of parenting is reflective of my generation. You will also read how my Dad's Narcissistic Personality Disorder adds toxicity and dysfunction into the mix. Combine all of this with our rocky past & hurtful, and you have a recipe for disaster.
My Dad made an effort in my child's first 8 months to see her once a month. I had told both my Dad and step-mother when my daughter was born that I had an open invitation for them-- that whenever they wanted to come visit, we'd welcome them. I expressed how I will be home most, if not all, of the time, and since they travel quite a bit & have a full social life, they can come when they want, that the door is open for them. During this time, my Dad had retired and my step-mother had progressive ailments (auto-immune; ironically similar to from what my mother is suffering). My Dad also travels (for leisure) at least once a month, and sometimes more, as well is an avid golfer with a full social life. He spends time, almost daily, with his step-granddaughter (my step-sister's child born in 1998), and spends time up at his country club too.
When my Dad visited at my house during those once a month visits, times were sweet. The visits were short, but we would have 'nice' visits with happy-go-lucky conversations. On the flip side, we visited their house 5 times during my daughter's first 8 months of life, and every time we visited, comments would be made about my husband & my parenting. I know that in-laws and parents want to interject their advice, and that's all fine & dandy. The problem is HOW the advice was presented in these instances (in a mean spirited, demeaning, and demanding manner) and what the intent was (more to belittle and condemn me than anything). Additionally, my Dad was stating lies and exaggerations about my daughter and her upbringing that we couldn't bear to hear.
The main points that they harped on are:
- that my daughter was timid when she was first around them and that she shouldn't have 'stranger anxiety' at this point because she is too, so she must have something wrong with her
- she is going to get too attached to me because I am a stay-at-home mother and spend a lot of time with her
- she shouldn't have a nap when visiting at their house
- that we need to make her 'cry it out' when she's around strangers and upset so that she will get used to them.
My main bone of contention is that neither one of these individuals made much of an effort, if at all, in getting to bond or know my daughter. Very little time was spent with her, and the time that they did spend with her was either in a large group (so one-on-one contact was minimal if any or), for very short periods of time, or not in an engaged manner. They, to this day, want to put in very minimal effort but expect maximum results. They want to see her 5 times in one year for a total of approximately 10 hours total and have her running into their arms when she sees them. Human relationships don't work that way unless you are drunk at closing time at a bar.
As far as my daughter getting too much attention from me-- what is the big deal about this!? Is attention a bad thing-- ESPECIALLY when you are talking about a BABY! I had parents that were so absorbed in their own problems, activities, and lives that they didn't have time for me. I would relish having their undivided, fully devoted attention-- heck, I have been searching for that practically my entire life. So, if someone wants to find FAULT for being attentive to their baby, they have issues of their own, and they are seeking to find something to criticize.
In regard to napping and crying it out (CIO), my way of raising my daughter is my way-- actually our way (my husband and me). My parents had their chance to raise their children, now it's my time. We can have differences in opinion, that's fine. But to continually harp on the same issues time and time again, the intent of the advice becomes questioned-- are they truly caring or are they picking, judging, and criticizing? Even after I point out why we are doing what we are doing (ie: what the pediatrician recommends, what the books say, etc), they are still not satisfied, and they say that what the experts say is wrong.
The peak of these occurrences was when we attended a summer family gathering (my daughter being 6 months old at the time). The following is an email excerpt that I wrote to a friend about the occurrence:
Anyway, after arriving at the reunion, we walked up to the pavilion, my husband holding our daughter. I went to put things down at a picnic bench. Meanwhile, our daughter was immediately overwhelmed by the plethora of people (big eyes). My step-mom proceeded to take her out of my husband's arms. My daughter started to cry. My step-mom then said to my husband and everyone around (I wasn't around), "If you get her out more, she wouldn't be like this" and then she took her solo down to the lake. This put my daughter into a panic, and she screamed. And screamed. And screamed. Finally my step-mom brought her back. My daughter was hyperventilating and scarlet in the face because she cried so hard.
Bottom line, my step-mother (and Dad) are all about APPEARANCES and since our baby can't play the game or be manipulated and acts only on how she actually FEELS, our baby cried, which embarrassed my step-mother and Dad. See, in the past, they have been able to manipulate and control situations with promises of money, things, and so forth. But when you have a baby, actions and reactions are pure-- and raw behavior is revealed on both sides.
We went to their house for Thanksgiving and Christmas, however, and both times, I felt awful when I left. I felt like I was being judged, criticized, and picked at-- and worse that our daughter, A BABY, was being judged, criticized, and picked at. Treating me like this is one thing, but to treat an innocent child like this is TERRIBLE. Truly this where I started giving some very serious thought to how I was treated as a child, how I feel now as an adult when I leave from visiting with them, and effects of all of this on our daughter.
During 2008, my Dad continued to gossip about my husband, daughter, and me to my brother and step-brother, which infuriated me. And even though I expressed my desire is for unconditional love for my daughter and reiterated about the 'open invitation' to visit, my Dad only saw my daughter FIVE TIMES in 2008 (my husband's parents who live thousands & thousands of miles away saw her 3x as much as my Dad who lives less than an hour away!). Three of the visits were large gatherings with lots of people so he had very minimal bonding time with her. Two of the visits were lunches with him, one at the park for an hour and one at a shopping mall for a little over an hour. My daughter was very shy to him on all occasions as he is essentially a stranger to him, but he continually harped that he couldn't hold her (he did, actually, but keeps telling people that he couldn't. In fact, he has kept exaggerating that fact to now telling people that he hasn't held her since she was THREE DAYS OLD. I don't understand why he WANTS to make things looks badly. Puzzles me).
In January 2008, my step-brother came for a visit. My Dad ended up gossiping a great deal to him about my daughter, my husband, and me to the point that the negativity drove my step-brother to tell me details. I was hurt and angry-- and SO VERY UPSET about my innocent child being drug into this toxicity. She is so innocent and unknowing of all the garbage going on around her. And the more that this stuff goes on, the more it becomes clear that I need to cut contact with my Dad and step-mother. See subsequent blog post: What Makes my Narcissistic Dad Tick.
Kathy Krajco states in What Makes Narcissists Tick, "Narcissists are gossips. They eagerly listen to and spread slander. They are self-righteous finger-pointers, pulling the same stunt Lucifer did in the old Gnostic myth about Lucifer coming before God everyday and accusing the other angels of being bad. The result was "war in high places" until the good angels, lead by St. Michael the Archangel, cast down Lucifer (now called "Satan," that is, "the slanderer") to the status they deserve. Narcissists can make it sound like a virtue, but giving others a bad name isn't a good deed. Even if the report is true, it cannot possibly be done in the spirit of goodwill unless it is done in true witness -- that is, responsible witness, on the record, not behind the back. Just because the badmouth perfumes his speech with words like love and Christian and concern and for the sake of our children (always the justification when there is no justification) and sports a halo does not change the spirit in which slander is done. If you know that narcissists are inveterate character assassins, it's easy to spot them. A narcissist has a trail of trashed good names and careers in his wake. He will even have told you strange and terrible lies about the people in his own immediate family. If you know the person he is telling you something strange about, compare the accusation with your own observations. A narcissist will have ignored that person's real faults and smeared one of his or her virtues as a vice! And, if you know the narcissist, you'll find the narcissist himself is guilty of the very thing he's accusing this other person of. "
My Dad does not, and has not ever admitted to himself that he hasn't invested time in getting to know his granddaughter; therefore his granddaughter views him as a stranger. He would rather say something is wrong with her-- that she's 'not normal'. Hoping to educate my Dad and step-mothers' about a baby's stranger anxiety and to allude to the fact that my step-brother informed me of my Dad's gossiping, I sent my Dad and step-mother an email regarding stranger anxiety and the grandparent:
I have more resources (websites, books, & periodicals) if you would like additional information on the topic; however, this is just a sampling of the information regarding stranger anxiety in infants starting around 6 months old. I pulled out some of the quotes from the various websites and put them in purple italics. Some of the reading touches on Grandparents in regard to stranger anxiety. If you have any questions, I will be happy to try to answer them for you.
Well, the indirect method didn't work. My Dad emails back as follows (keep in mind this email was originally sent when she was almost 12 months old and that at the time of this blog entry she is 21 months old, which my Dad has held her all the way to this time. Additionally, keep in mind that the two of them never asked to have my daughter over for a visit (they only saw her 5 times total in 2008!)):
I was extremely disappointed that I have not been able to hold my granddaughter since she was about 3 months old. And especially as a grandparent, it is very hard to deal with. We have always hoped we could have her for a few days, both for us and to give you guys a break. But there is no way this would ever work. You can send me all the web-sites you want and quote all the "experts" you can find, but the bottom line is that we can't hold our granddaughter, and that has been going on for about 9 months now. I'm sorry but that is not normal. I am sure she will "grow" out of this someday, but I fear that the longer the time goes on, the more effect it will have on her in later years.
The entire email was full of lies and exaggerations, and not wanting to split hairs & go back and forth with my Dad, I sent him this:
You should have no concerns as we are my daughter's parents, and we are very in-touch with her & her emotions. We are confident that she is a healthy and normal 11 month old. We are more than happy to have you over more often (an open invitation has always been extended) and with less people so that you can bond with her; however, we are very upset by how you are currently treating the situation. Additionally, we are offended by being told my daughter is not "normal", and we don't want to subject her to that. Bottom-line, we disagree with you and what you think is a "problem". We have differences in opinions which is what makes world go round, so let's move on. We want you part of our lives but in a healthy, positive way. Simply put, you will be able to hold my daughter if time is invested getting to know her.
His response was that I should take advice from him because he's been doing this for longer than me (I can't BELIEVE he would say that! After all that was screwed up, messed up, and crazy from my childhood onward, that he would have the audacity to say that he knows how to raise a child!?), and he repeated that my daughter's reactions to others is not normal (again not taking accountability for the lack of time and effort invested in getting to know his grand-daughter!). Then he quoted the Bible saying, "For my name's sake I will defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off". His response was bizarre (there's that word again!) and sounding very much like my step-mother.
Every child is different, and every child will react to others in different ways. A 3 month old or a 6 month old or a 1 year old or a 30 year old do not have a pat response to situations. To say something is wrong with the child is a sad way to handle the situation. Having my daughter grow up thinking that her responses aren't 'normal' is not healthy. As adults, they need to recognize these are little human beings, extremely new to this world, and it's up to us to make them feel comfortable and safe. If they spent more time getting to know my daughter and the way she needs to be approached, then they would receive the benefits. It's not up to my daughter-- she is acting like a normal & typical child figuring out the world around her. Children are built with protective devices and these instincts are developed from birth-- it what makes them safe.
Seems as if my Dad only looks at the glass as half empty as he sees everything with negativity. Instead of saying 'thanks' for the effort of providing & sending the resources, that obviously I care about what is going on, he looks at the situation as a personal assault. I am continually realizing that no matter what I do or how I do it, I cannot win.
When my daughter's first birth rolled, my Dad & step-mother showed up for her 1st birthday party late and left early. They were distant to my daughter, warm to her friend, and rude to my friends. My heart was breaking seeing my happy little daughter having fun on her birthday with her "Papa & Gram" treating the day like the UPS man dropping off a package. They don't care about HER. They don't care about the event. They care about appearances, getting at me, and getting at my husband. I was relieved when they left, and we could relax with our friends who REALLY wanted to celebrate this momentous occasion with us.
My Dad didn't contact me on Easter. He didn't send an Easter card to my daughter-- he didn't even call her. Things are getting worse. He obviously doesn't care. This is not the way that someone acts who cares. Period.
My Dad didn't come out to the house for one of his solo visits between September 2007 and April 2008. That April 2008 visit was very strained and distant. He wanted to 'talk' and so I did. I told him how uncomfortable I feel being constantly judged and criticized, how I feel badly when I leave their house, and how I simply wish for unconditional love for my child. I reiterated about the 'open invitation' to our house, and I also reiterated how I would be happy to meet him for lunch since he's now retired, at his house, somewhere in between like at a park or mall. His comments focused on how I need to take advice from him and step-mother because they are parents and grandparents. He said that he is insulted when we don't take his advice. I responded that I have to be able to raise my child the best that we decide. Anyway, I left even this visit with a bad feeling in my gut.
We were invited at the last minute (3 days prior) to a Father's Day event at my Dad's house, and we had to decline as we already had plans for my husband / my daughter's Daddy. We were also invited to a July 4th celebration, but my husband's family was coming in town & we had tickets for an event. My Dad forgot my birthday, again. He also forgot my husband's. Then we had an invite to a Labor Day cook-out but our family vacation was already reserved. My Dad emails:
We're all disappointed you can't make it. I think I'm getting a complex, Easter, Memorial Day, fourth of July, Labor Day, all turned down. You know we always try to get family together on holidays, b'days, etc. but it seems like you make plans instead of checking with us first. I think when I get back we should meet and have a talk, what do you think?
We are back (from our family vacation) due to me having the stomach flu. I am very sick. I haven't been this sick in years. I should be in bed, but quite frankly this email is upsetting to me. No need to get a complex. Seriously: no invitation, late invitation, or visitors have been the reason for not getting together on certain holidays. We would love to see you too. However, I really don't think I should have to explain everything below, but I don't like myself / my family to take the blame:
- We weren't invited to do anything on Easter.
- As far as Memorial Day, we weren't invited to your place. You and I emailed AFTER the holiday, where I asked what you did and I told you about our trip.
- We were invited 3-days prior to Father's Day, which I had already planned a Father's Day retreat
- Fourth of July, the in-laws visited us for the weekend (18 hour drive down & back with tickets to an event)
- And Labor Day, you invited us, as you wrote, knowing "this is late notice" (2-days prior to us leaving for our trip).
So, either no contact, late contact, or visitors has caused the inability to get together. Nothing else on my end-- unless you are not saying something on your end. If you want to talk about the holidays, give me a call. Like I have reiterated since my daughter's birth, you have an Open Invitation to come visit at any time. Also as I have mentioned before, we can meet you half way, meet you for lunch, or even come to your house. And as far as holidays, if you are moving back into having family get-togethers after telling me you are not due to my step-mother's health, then let me know.
Sorry you were so sick, but hopefully you are over it now. Not any fun. I think you missed my point- you know we are always late with invites- that's just the way we are. My point was, knowing that, I thought you would call before making plans to see if we were up to anything. I'm just sorry you miss some of our gatherings. As for the "open invitation", I guess we just don't do that very well.
So, I am supposed to accept that they are inconsiderate, "late with invites" (what about forgetting birthdays? major holidays? thinking you invited us but didn't?) . I am suppose to suck it up and allow being treated like a 2nd rate person-- not important enough to be treated with respect and decency? And my husband's parents are supposed to call to get clearance that my Dad & step-mother don't have plans before coming for July 4th before they are allowed to come for a visit!? (To jump to Christmas 2008, my Dad does this again to my husband's parents). And I am suppose to accept my Dad making minimal effort to see my daughter (seeing her a total of 10 hours in 2008) because he's late with invites AND doesn't "do well" with open invitations to visit.
I ended up going shopping with my step-mother a month after all of this transpired. Everything was cordial, but my daughter was stand-off-ish with her. At this point, my daughter is around 20 months old and hadn't seen "Gram" since in NINE MONTHS. I delivered all the presents from all the events we missed or weren't invited to... and my step-mother apologized for missing my birthday (and my husband's) and wrote us a check. She said that the time around our birthdays was just too busy and the birthdays "slipped by" them.
Now we are heading into the holidays...