Seven months ago, my daughter ghosted me. She was angry and upset over something I’d said and rather than talking to me about it, she went with radio silence.
During a subsequent text exchange about five months later as she tried to reconnect, suggesting it had nothing to do with me, mostly. She had fallen into another abusive relationship and that had led to problems. She’d kicked him out now, however, and was ready to reconnect.
(Side note: if you’re getting out of an abusive relationship, stay single and get help. I’ve suggested this to her [and others in similar situations], but it doesn’t seem to stick. She goes from one to the next, from harm to harm.)
That I was going to hold her accountable for her behaviour came as a shock, as did the news that my trust had been damaged. Natural consequences have never been her thing, and historically, I’ve not held her adult(ish) self responsible for much of anything. But therapy has been sinking in, so this time I did.
The response was unpleasant, abusive, and full of gas-lighting. She accused me of a lot of vile things which mostly boiled down to charges of my abusing her and my grandson for the four years they lived with me.
This isn’t the first time ghosting has happened in my relationship with my daughter.
One of the accusations she levelled at me was that I treat my son differently. This is likely true though not for the “you love him best” reasons she levied at me.
I will interject something here that I likely haven’t mentioned – my daughter is my stepdaughter. She and her sister were the children of my son’s father. I was their stepmother for seven years, and four of those were full-time. Her father and I split when he started a relationship with my married best friend. She kicked her husband out for the “love of a lifetime.”
I wish I’d kicked him out for abusing me, but that didn’t happen.
“The love of a lifetime” lasted for less than a year. But in that year, the abuse I’d experienced with him amplified exponentially. Police were called, often. He lost in court because of the violent damage he inflicted several times. And then he started using the girls to send messages. ‘You’re a bitch. Daddy says you’re crazy.” On and on like this. Abusive people need to win; the collateral damage they cause doesn’t seem to matter to them
I decided to pull back. He was harming the girls and harming me. Visits and messages fully stopped when they were about eleven. Their father surrendered them to foster care, and never gave me a chance to take them in, which means they never had a chance. Their experiences in foster care were vile.
I mention the above – and no, I wasn’t perfect – because the daughter who I connect with blames me for treating my son better. I don’t believe this is the case. The difference in the way I treat her and my son isn’t a function of biology. It’s a function of time. I know him better. That wasn’t something she was willing to hear.
It’s also a function of her behaviour. Even before this recent schism, living with her was tense. You’re aware that a misstep will lead to ugliness. How odd that I didn’t connect the dots.
The accusations she levelled reminded me of the conversations I sometimes had with her dad. Pointed abuse and gaslighting were his specialties too.
I talked things over with my therapists, my friends, and my son, who saw me crying the day of the texts and said, “whatever she’s saying, you didn’t do anything wrong.”
I didn’t share the contents with him. She’s his sister, though she ghosted him too.
Despite the reassurances, her words still burned. Sticks and stones do break the bones – I have no idea why someone wrote those garbage lines to the contrary.
I’ve been training and have been qualified to be a foster parent. I can no longer work for someone else – my fractured brain isn’t going to get back to being able to function on a rigid, external timetable. When I putter along in my home doing my things my way, it’s all good. So I thought perhaps fostering was a way to go.
We all need something meaningful to do with our time.
I started the approval process before my daughter and I were alienated. Interestingly, one of the best recommendations was from her. But words get into the brain and crawl around, so despite other people’s props, despite what I know about myself regarding how I parent, and despite what I’ve learned from my mistakes over the years, it was my daughter’s abusive words that kept echoing in my head.
I think my inability to fully let them go is also why my brain focuses on imagined conversations following her imaginary return, where I get to present my case and devastate her efforts at gaslighting.
We all like to win. [i]
I’ve been doing some foster work, however. So far it’s been relief for other parents. Up until this weekend, it was also short efforts, but today is my last day of a four-day run.
I was not a monster. I was not like the things she said. I was occasionally firm when they got over-the-top, but mostly that sounds like “it’s not okay to push your sister like that. She’s little. I know you said ‘accident,’ but we can say sorry even if we didn’t mean it. Let’s sit her for one minute and calm down.”
We sit together for a minute and then it’s back to play. Children have a hard time regulating their enthusiasm at times and it’s good to help them calm down periodically, especially if they’re trapped in a smallish place because it’s raining.
I got a hug from the little one at bedtime last night – the first – and my heart melted. [ii]
It was probably one of the best hugs I’ve ever received because it broke through the noise that my daughter’s words generated in my head and reminded me of something I’d forgotten.
I’m pretty good at parenting. I’ve made some mistakes. I’ve made some awful ones I regret – I once yelled loudly at my daughters when they were two and three. I was so frustrated. That, however, was the first and last time I yelled at kids like that. What I learned from that is that parents can need timeouts too.
It wasn’t vile. I didn’t scream epithets or attack on a personal level. But it was loud and they were upset and scared. Never again. I don’t yell at kids. I’ve never hit a child.
I’m a good parent.
It’s funny how some people can target our soft spots. I’m vulnerable to parenting criticism because I struggle with my mental health and because I was a single parent. I’ve always felt apologetic about those things.
But it has been a good four days. I’m tired – parenting little ones in your fifties is different from your thirties – I fell asleep on the couch twice this weekend after getting them down, and before nine. But I remembered something her words made me forget – I’m not perfect, but I’m not a monster either, and parenting is something I do well.
Don’t believe everything people tell you.
[i] This isn’t the first time she’s done this to me as an adult. She wants a relationship when she wants help and usually burns me when it’s been given. This is the first time she’s been this abusive, and the first time she’s done it with a child.
[ii] I’m big on not forcing children to ignore their bodily autonomy. You don’t make them kiss or hug other people. It comes from them or not at all.