Ask Amy: Abusive mother seeks reconciliation

August 15, 2013

DEAR AMY: I am in my late 70s, and my past has come back to haunt me.

My late husband and I raised lovely children, but I was an abuser. All of our children were victims of my abuse while growing up, but my daughter bore the brunt of it.

A few days ago, my daughter and I had what I thought was a mild confrontation, but it became a monster. All she can do is cry, because she says it brought back memories of all of the things I did to her during her growing-up years.

I have considered counseling, but I talked with another individual who said the problem of not moving on is her problem, not mine, since I have asked numerous times for her forgiveness and have prayed that God will forgive me. However, I’m not certain that I have forgiven myself.

The rest of my children, who know nothing about this issue, say that I was a wonderful mother, and yes, I did do bad things, but they have moved on and are all well-balanced citizens. My daughter is a fantastic person with a fantastic career and on her own has raised well-adjusted and happy children. When I commented to her that good kids can come from bad parents, she immediately responded, “Yeah, I think I am the one who said that to you.”

I do not know what to do because it is now affecting me. Before, I had a wonderful life, full of family, my own home and a part-time job, but now my past keeps creeping into my daily thoughts, and I am miserable and don’t want to see anyone. My daughter wants to keep her distance until she is “ready” to see me. We used to be very close, despite everything. I cannot change what was, but I do not want to spend the rest of my years feeling as I do now. -- Very Sad

DEAR VERY SAD: I don’t know who advised you against getting professional help, but that person was wrong. Your past behavior is affecting your life negatively now, and it won’t get better until you come to terms with what you did, take responsibility and make amends.

You should not ask people with a vested interest in having a relationship with you (i.e., your other children) to gauge your past behavior or tell you how you should feel in the present. The reason you should talk with a professional therapist is because this is someone who will hear your story, told in the way only you can tell it. You should encourage your daughter to join you.

Ideally, this process would lead you toward a real, deep and honest reconciliation with your daughter. I agree that it is her responsibility to come to terms with her own life, but you are her mother, you were her abuser and now you should work on healing yourself so you can help her.

DEAR AMY: We recently attended an engagement party for a family member. It was a formal affair, attended by nearly 200 relatives, friends and co-workers of the couple. In the ladies’ lounge/restroom, I overheard a group of women (not family members) snickering and making unkind remarks about my sister-in-law “Bettina,” who was also in attendance.

Bettina has had numerous cosmetic procedures that have not turned out well, although no one in the family discusses it. Amy, should I reveal what I overheard? -- East Coast Reader

DEAR READER: No. You need to ask yourself, “What good could come of this?” If you can’t answer this question positively, then you have your answer.

In the moment, you could have responded, “Bettina is a family member; your gossiping about her makes me uncomfortable.”

DEAR AMY: I recently received a thank-you note for a wedding gift. However, the bride thanked me for a piece of china, and I gave her a tureen! Should I try to correct this? -- Confused

DEAR CONFUSED: Yes. The mix-up might have occurred at the store (if these were registry items), or the bride might have made a simple mistake and would have thanked someone else for the tureen. Let her know.

Amy’s column appears seven days a week at www.washingtonpost.com/advice. Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

by the Chicago Tribune

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