The Rational Basis® of Happiness Podcast

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Abandoned Mom

My kids shun me due to the influence of my con-man ex husband.

(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)


Dr. Kenner:      Let’s go to the phones and welcome Caroline. Your question is about being divorced and the kids wanting to be more with your ex?


Caroline:          They just have a better relationship with him. He has spent time in jail. He’s a con artist by trade. He doesn’t really honestly work and I have never gotten married from this marriage. I absolutely dedicated my life to my kids. Obviously they’re grown [inaudible 00:00:36] whom I do not know. My children just absolutely have no tolerance for me and it’s breaking my heart. They hang on. They have no forgiveness. I can say something that just irritates them and they won’t talk to me for a year.


Dr. Kenner:      So what do you think is going on there?


Caroline:          I’d like to know.


Dr. Kenner:      How many children?


Caroline:          I had an epiphany and thought, “What I’m going to do is I’m going to call all three of them and say, tell me everything that I’ve ever done wrong. Anything. That I’ve ever hurt you, hurt your feelings. Tell me what annoys you about me.” And I will just listen. I won’t justify, rationalize. I will just listen and apologize. Just get it all out in the air and I will accept it. And then maybe we can move on. My youngest one that hasn’t spoken to me said I will not be participating. The middle one, my son, said, “That’s just the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” The oldest one, for two and a half hours, she just kind of told me that I’ve been [inaudible 00:01:48]. I’m very enthusiastic, that irritates her. When I get around her kids, I act so excited about them all the time and it’s really annoying. She just kind of said … she didn’t really come out and say, “You’ve got a stupid personality,” but virtually that’s kind of what she said.


Dr. Kenner:      So she just sees you as overbearing? Too much energy, too vivacious or too over –


Caroline:          Basically yes. And that’s why my friends like me, I have a ton of friends that enjoy that about me, but apparently … I can give you reasons that my children say I annoy them. But they don’t ever give me anything really substantial with them. I honestly don’t know.


Dr. Kenner:      You’ve got a huge question mark that you’re dealing with and you’ve got partial answers from your kids. One won’t even talk to you. One thinks it’s very silly. One’s not going to participate – that’s the one not talking to you – and one gives you two hours worth of you’re too rambunctious. Too much like a vivacious, energetic kid. An ADHD mom, rather than a hyperactive kid. Some people absolutely love that. I know we have family members and I adore being around one of them because they have that type of energy. And sometimes I would prefer not to be around that person because I'm more in a quiet mood. Sometimes I would want to be around me because I’m in a high-energy mood, and sometimes I’m too low energy for them. I think we all monitor that. Kids tend to be extremely sensitive to their parents, especially the mother. Because who do they differentiate themselves from? Who do they get their independence from? We say we want kids to become independent – from who? From the parents. And if your ex is a con artist and in jail and he obviously has bad moral character and good for you for divorcing him, the kids might like his personality and that is tragic, because they may be roped into a relationship with somebody who tends to be a little more charismatic or something that appeals to them.


Caroline:          They said what appeals to them is, “He just doesn’t care. You care too much. He just doesn’t care.” He absolutely does not care.


Dr. Kenner:      So he is just indifferent to them, so they value him and reach out to him, but they can breath a little more around him maybe because he doesn’t value them as much, so they can do whatever they want without him having a raised eyebrow. It sounds like he could also con them. I mean, they’re all at high risk of being conned.


Here’s what I’m hearing so far, Caroline, is that you know how they say, “It’s too bad you can’t pick your parents. You’re stuck with them for life.” Well, it goes two ways. You can’t pick your kids. Sometimes we’re lucky to have kids that we have good relationships with. Sometimes we have periods of bad relationships and then it changes over time. How old are your kids?


Caroline:          37, 34 and 30.


Dr. Kenner:      So it’s unlikely to change.


Caroline:          That’s exactly right.


Dr. Kenner:      Partly, when you cannot pick your family, you can’t pick your kids, you can influence your kids and it sounds like you put in an enormous amount of work both protecting by getting a divorce and by caring for them. I can hear myself caring too much for my son and my daughter. My son just left to drive to Virginia and I said, “There’s going to be a snowstorm in Rhode Island,” and he said, “Mom, it’s not in Virginia!”


Caroline:          My mom has said, “Quit being such a mom.” I say, “I would love to, but you don’t turn it off. It’s not like a faucet.”


Dr. Kenner:      It’s really hard. But how he handles it does matter too. We’re trained for how many years to make sure they cross the street properly and everything? There’s a woman who studied relationships between mothers and daughters – I think you have two sons and one daughter?


Caroline:          I have one son and two daughters.


Dr. Kenner:      She’s written a book, her name is Deborah Tannen, called Between Mother and –


Caroline:          I’ve got the book!


Dr. Kenner:      Okay. Then you can see the interplay between independence, the kids wanting their psychological independence, but they also want that connectedness to you and you never know when the kids are in the mood to connect and when they’re in the mood to say, “No, I’m not interested Mom.” I think you need to cherish yourself. I think that offer to the kids is wonderful. Tell me anything I’ve ever done wrong, or if you want to give me some feedback kids, I would love that. If you ever do want to connect, I’m available. You can’t force yourselves on them. You don’t want to use pity card or the guilt card. You want to reach out to them and offer yourself as a value, if they ever feel like connecting, that you have an open door. But it isn’t an open door that lets them in if they’re going to be mean to you. Thank you so much.


Caroline:          That’s good. Thank you very much.


Dr. Kenner:      And thank you for the call. I wish you the best and I wish you a lot of cheerful, vivacious moments, enjoying yourself and your friends. Your good buddies. The family you can choose. Thank you.


Caroline:          Thank you so much. I appreciate it.



Movie clip

Female:           You concocted those mendacities in order to take advantage of me! All you had to say is, “I don’t love you and I don’t want to see you anymore.” That at least would have been respectful.


Dr. Kenner:      And that’s from Back to the Future Part III, and Doc is about to leave and he tells the woman he loves that he has to leave because he’s from the future. And so she, rightfully in her context, assumes what? She assumes that he’s spinning some yarn. He’s telling some story, just to try to keep peace and she feels very used. And obviously she is very, very angry and that brings home a few points.


Number one, she obviously doesn’t have the full context, nor would she believe it if he gave it to her, which is what’s happening. But sometimes we jump to conclusions and we get really angry with a loved one when we don’t just take a breath and pause and listen a little more or inquire a little more to get the full picture. The second point is, I don’t think anyone, any of us, like little white lies that people tell to protect us. They think we’re so fragile that if we say, “Do you like my hair this way?” and they say no, it’s not my style or something, that you’ll be crushed. You won’t be able to look at yourself in the mirror anymore. Now, this wasn’t a small little white lie. She was thinking that she had been used all along and my gosh, the betrayal when you feel like somebody has just been using you is enormous. So how do you deal with betrayal in a way that gives you self-justice? That if you’re the victim – and she obviously hadn’t been betrayed but she didn’t know that – but in a real case of betrayal where someone has lied to you, maybe someone has had an affair for over a year, your loved one or former loved one, and you have to deal with that fact, that they’ve concealed that, how do you treat yourself well and not treat yourself like you’re damaged goods or not write love off forever in your life, but really pull yourself together in a way that’s so self respecting and figure out a way to deal with the other person? Sometimes it’s just saying goodbye and not seeking any vengeance, because then that ties you to that person.