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LeavesNoTrace's avatar

Dealing with badly behaved parents at important events?

Asked by LeavesNoTrace (2532 points ) April 9th, 2012

I love my parents (well at least my mother) but they are…intense to say the least. My father has an untreated personality disorder that often manifests itself in rage, not to mention a myriad of physical health problems which keep him in a perpetually rotten mood. My mom is a stressaholic who tends to dwell on negativity and takes a cocktail of medications which I think exacerbates her tendency to say inappropriate things. Needless to say, they can be very difficult to be around, especially if you aren’t used to them.

I brought my new boyfriend to their house over Easter and he said they made him uncomfortable. My mom did nothing but complain and of course, my Dad was pissed off at everything as usual. I was really disappointed with how it went and I started thinking…

Like most girls and women, I hope to get married someday and have a nice wedding. This might sound silly but every time I see stuff for weddings on TV or pass by a bridal shop I get almost unreasonably depressed because I know they would just ruin that day for me.

I’m not near getting married yet but their behavior is starting to affect me in other ways. I graduated from college in December and have decided not to go back for the ceremony in May because I know they would behave badly that day. Every event or accomplishment I have, they manage to suck the joy out of and just bring the mood down with their soul crushing negativity.

My brother excluded them from his wedding. I’ll admit, it was kind of a dick move but of course they’ve never gotten over it.

Has anyone or someone you know dealt with a similar issue? How do you deal with negative parental energy on important days? Do you just avoid celebrating altogether?

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21 Answers

SmashTheState's avatar

I had no contact with my parents for seven years straight at one point. Guilt is the coin that you’ll just have to pay in order to preserve your sanity.

Sunny2's avatar

Elope. End of problem with a wedding. Your brother did what you would need to do to have a wedding. You saw the result of that. If you elope, they’ll probably be mad, but you can explain that you wanted to save them the trouble of a big event, when you get back from that lovely place you went to say your vows and make it legal. Your parents, in my mind, don’t deserve to be involved in something so meaningful to you. Don’t feel bad. It isn’t you. It’s them.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

@SmashTheState I can understand why some people need to do that but I don’t think cutting them off completely is a viable option for me. My Mom, despite her flaws does love me and has been very supportive of me as I start my adult life. Being around my father makes her worse because she tends to play off his negativity and stress. Sadly they’re kind of a packaged deal since they are still (unhappily) married until further notice.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

@Sunny2 I guess you’re probably right. It just sucks because I still want a wedding with the dress etc. I don’t even want anything crazy just a fun party at a nice venue someday. But this is about so much more than a wedding. It affects so many other aspects of my life, I’m skipping my graduation because of them, I’m dreading getting into grad school and even the birth of my first child someday because I know they’ll make that depressing as well…

6rant6's avatar

I don’t think it’s a dick move. As you reap, etc.

I might suggest that you just expect to elope. If you want the dress (and don’t need them to pay for it) then have the dress. You don’t have to be coy with your imagined mate; he can know what trouble you are avoiding.

Then if things change, you can revisit the issue. But in the mean time, you have my permission to leave the badgers at home.

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

I guess what’s bothering me is I want to have something for my friends and those people who have been a blessing to me WHILE being well-behaved.

6rant6's avatar

Well… how about if you chose to get married some place you had to hike into? Or had a reception starting at 1 am? Or got married in a Buddhist temple? Would any of those separate the wheat from the chaff?

LeavesNoTrace's avatar

@6rant6 LOL Possibly… It looks like there’s no easy way around this. Just have to accept that not all girls get fairytale weddings. Then again…running away to Fiji or France doesn’t sound terribly unromantic.

Jeruba's avatar

Right now, the idea of getting married is an abstraction, with “to whom?” being a great big unknown, and so it’s easy to focus on the knowns. You have a very conventional wedding picture in your head, as so many of us have had, to begin with, and it’s all too plain what you’d be coping with as far as your parents are concerned.

But wait a while, @LeavesNoTrace. This isn’t something you have to worry about right now. Wait until you have the all-important someone in mind. That can change things. Who knows? You may not (together) choose a conventional ceremony after all. Maybe you’ll get married at a beach, at an amusement park, in an airplane, on a mountaintop. Maybe you’ll have a setting and structure in which their behavior won’t have much effect on anyone else. Maybe they’ll love it and act pleasant. Maybe you can hire a pair of actors to keep their attention diverted with some kind of low-key drama while everyone else has fun.

And maybe your groom-to-be will partner with you to help solve the problem.

I’m sorry about your disheartening experiences with your parents. But the big message is that there is nothing you can do about an unknown future situation at this point, so there’s no use in fretting about it.

6rant6's avatar

Fiji! SOOOOOO much better than fretting and spending all that money for things that you don’t really want but are de reguer, but not nearly as memorable as Fiji!

__and if they are really your friends they’ll buy their own tickets.__

Pandora's avatar

When the time comes let them know they can come to the wedding if they take some xanax.. You must see them take the medication on the day of the wedding or not come. In the mean time before that ever comes to head, see if they will go to a family group therapy sessions. Tell them the truth, that you love them both but their behavior is extreme and you are not the only one to notice.

JLeslie's avatar

I am kind of on the same road as @Pandora. They obviously need to learn about anger management. They probably have some upsetting experiences in their past, or regarding their marriage, and it seethes out of them.

Have you ever, in a calm way, said to them how much you love them and how bothersome it is to you to think about spending less time with them because they upset you so? Instead of telling them they suck, tell them you want to want to be with them and share time with while with with your friends and boyfriend. Try to word it so they are not on the defensive that you want to include them, want a closer family. They may not ever get it, but they might.

I have a question, are they much worse at home then when out at a restaurant or special event?

Akua's avatar

First: I don’t think what your brother did was a dick move. It’s called self preservation.
After I had my son my mother showed up at the hospital drunk with an open can of beer. She proceeded to argue with the nurses who told her to be quiet because new mothers were resting. She made passes at my husband and several times tried to shove her tongue down his throat. I could go on and on about my dysfunctional family but it would take up too much fluther space. Don’t feel guilty about not including them in the special moments of your life. Why should you feel bad about it if they don’t feel bad about ruining it for you? Make yourself happy.

Aethelflaed's avatar

My parents are sort of the same way. They don’t get invited to special events. I’m estranged from one, and have a very…. tepid? relationship with the other. My special events are about me, and celebrating me – not, about them, or about praising what a good job they did raising me, or about how they envision this day for me. And I check to see if they’re still making things about them, if they’re able to behave properly, during one-on-one time. If they aren’t able to behave when it’s just the two of us getting a quiet dinner, they won’t behave when it’s a big event. And I make it known why we aren’t going out to dinner, why I’m leaving in the middle of dinner, why this phone call is ending in 2 seconds, so that they have to option of changing the problematic behavior.

Find ways to make these days special for yourself without them. I think about how much I want close friends there, and other, well-behaved and well-loved family members there. I think about what this day will mean to me, apart from the existence of everyone else (in the case of the wedding, everyone else but future spouse).

BosM's avatar

Have you tried family counseling? First, have a family meeting and tell your parents how you feel. If they want to avoid a replay of your brothers wedding they need to stop bringing the party down. Let yourself off the hook, crazy parents are not your fault.

All families have issues, but this is big since neither parent appears to be the “rational” one. Remember, they only have the power of guilt if you grant it to them. To ease your conscience tell them both that you love them, and what you expect of them, and if they can’t behave in an acceptable way then they’ve made the decision for you.

marinelife's avatar

You can celebrate without them. If they object, tell them frankly (but without anger) why. Tell them that you are contemplating excluding them from your wedding as your brother did because of their behavior. Tell them your decision regarding graduation.

Use examples from this Easter (which will be fresh in their minds). Tell them that they have the power to change your decision by their behavior at future events.

jca's avatar

It sounds like a psychiatrist is in order. It seems like some anxiety or something, causing them to be tightly wound up. I had a boyfriend once who was similar, and it turned out, after we broke up, he was diagnosed as bi-polar and is now on all kinds of meds for anxiety, depression and bi-polar illness. You could try that and then if they refuse, then start excluding them from events. If you don’t tell them about the event, they won’t know they’re missing it and they won’t be upset about it.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Screw em, Don’t invite them. It’s your day. If they’re that screwed up, maybe a second slap will help them see what screw ups they are.

JLeslie's avatar

If you talk to them sometimes soon I personally would not bring up the wedding issue. You aren’t even engaged right? It will be too much of a threat I think if this will be the first time you really calmly explain to them how this all makes you feel. Your dissappointment in feeling like you won’t be able to be with them as much as you would like.

I have found, and this is a big generalization with no statistical information, that people with high tempers, especially those who stay married when they are unhappy, or stay in touch with family that has been verbally abusive, those people have a really really hard time understanding or believing family would ever cut themselves off. Even if a child or sibling has already done it to them once, they think that one doesn’t care about family, will regret it, and is horribly extreme. I kind of find it extreme myself, there should be some sort of modified way to interact I think, but that is just me. My point is, you might have to explain it to them more than once, you have to show them when they went to far, you have to tell them, without anger. They are most likely clueless when they have crossed the line. Ask them if that is ok. My dad for the longest time did not understand what “stop” meant. He would be saying shit that was really upsetting, we would stay “stop,” and he would keep going. Years later he said he didn’t understand, “stop what?” I explained, “stop that subject altogether, at least for the time being.” Now if I say I don’t want to talk about something because it is upsetting me, he is not perfect at stopping, but it is much much better. For whatever reason he is compulsive in the behavior, I think it is his own anxiety.

Family therapy could help you discuss all these things, if you had a good therapist. She can be the mediator in the discussion to try to prevent hurt feelings and stay on topic, be constructive.

If your parents have no interest in changing or making the relationship better, then there is nothing you can do, everyone has to be willing participants. If that is the case, you will have to accept it probably won’t change.

6rant6's avatar

Oh, I know a wedding where one sibling assigned another sibling the duty of keeping the problem parent out of the way. Your brother would certainly appreciate what you’re asking him to do.

SmashTheState's avatar

Have you thought about having two ceremonies? Have a large, pro forma “wedding” where everyone and their siblings is invited, then have a smaller, private, more intimate ceremony for just the people you want to be there. No one gets left out, and you get your storybook wedding without feeling guilty about excluding your parents and the weird uncle no one will allow to be alone with their children. You could even have fun with it by being delightfully tacky with the public wedding: polka band, Elvis impersonator, bubble and fog machines, mandatory sideburns, whatever.

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