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Dear Jody: His parents are a pain

By |2011-08-04T09:00:00-04:00August 4th, 2011|Entertainment|

Q: My partner “Stephen” and I go every summer to California to see his mother and stepfather. We spend two weeks with them. The reason we go there for that long is because we have two children. Stephen’s parents have been great as far as accepting us as a couple, and even more spectacular in accepting our adopted children. (Our kids are 3 and 5 years old.) In fact, they have our kid’s pics all over the house, put them on Facebook, and I’m sure bore their friends with pocketbook albums of our kids.
Sounds Ideal? Well, mostly it is. But the problem is that Stephen has unresolved issues with his mother.
Less than 24 hours after we arrive, the shit hits the fan. The issues raise their ugly heads. Then, off go Stephen and his mother: same issues, different year.
At that point, the stepfather takes off and goes back to work, golfing, or whatever; he doesn’t return home until late in the evening, obviously having a few drinks. I end up trying to be the peacekeeper and mediator. I try to get Stephen to let things in his past go, or recognize that everything his mother did to him isn’t what is happening to our kids. I try to get his mother to say that she’s sorry, or that she feels differently now, or she didn’t mean what she said, or whatever I can come up with at the moment that I think will get them to stop their arguing and animosity.
Whatever we come up with that stops the anger doesn’t last. It just puts it under the rug for later in the visit, or next time we’re all together. It’s exhausting, unpleasant and it never really resolves itself.
I’m tired of it all. It’s gotten so that I don’t want to go to Stephen’s parents anymore. However, I know that it’s good for the kids to be with adoring grandparents – which they certainly are! And, Stephen’s sister and her kids live in California as well, and they are very supportive of us. My parents aren’t there for us or our children, and my sister lives abroad – otherwise, she’s accepting. My parents have disowned me and my family, and so have my two brothers. As you can see, my kids have no other extended family.
So, my question is: What can I do or say to both Stephen and his mother to stop these fights so that I can look forward to our trip, instead of feeling the dread of knowing that I’ll be thrown back into the middle of their dysfunction?

Stuck in the Middle

A: In the first place, you are not stuck in the middle, you’ve allowed yourself to be there, and Stephen and your mother-in-law have put you in that place. Without you, they wouldn’t feel as safe venting their animosity. Your role as peacekeeper allows them to carry on with their grievances in a relatively safe manner – by your being there, you don’t allow things to get as bad as they could.
The only way you will be able to extricate yourself from this drama is to get yourself out of the middle.
You might want to start with telling your partner that you will no longer be a part of his and his mother’s arguments. Then, let his mother know the same thing. Inform them, in advance, that you will take the kids and leave, because it isn’t good for either the children or you to be a part of their battles.
Then when you get to California, stick to it. Even if you tell Stephen and his mother in advance, and one or both of them commit to making things different, things probably won’t change – not right away at least. No matter what, stick to your resolve to grab the kids and get out. Otherwise, you’ll remain their referee, and give Stephen and his mother no chance to change or start to deal with their problems differently.
They don’t have to deal with their issues, civilly or constructively, as long as you are there to save them from their anger. What they probably need is to consult with a counselor to deal with it; but first, you need to pull yourself out of their issues.

Dealing with family issues requires effective communication skills. To learn more, go to Dear Jody Valley and Facebook.

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.