Carolyn Hax: Kids cut off mom over stepdad’s ‘tough’ upbringing

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Dear Caroline: I’m in a real dilemma with no good choice. I went through an ugly divorce when my kids were young and remarried fairly hastily. My husband brought his son into the marriage.

My husband took it upon himself to help discipline all the children and tended to be temperamental and harsh. There was screaming but no physical abuse.

Over 30 years later. My children are in therapy and blame my husband for their unhappy childhood and me for not doing more about it. I’m also in therapy because I never realized it was that bad and I don’t seem to have much of a relationship with my daughters and son anymore. But I get along well with his son, his wife and their two children. Mother’s Day came and went: barbecues.

My kids feel like I never chose them when they were younger, just wanted to keep the peace with my husband. Other than divorcing him, I (and my therapist) don’t know what better way to do it. But I don’t want to be alone, which is probably why I got married so quickly.

I can’t undo what’s been done and wish we could move on but I don’t know how. Please be blunt to me: what would you do?

Damn if I do that…: I hope I would own what I have done.

I hope I would apologize to my kids for not protecting them.

I hope I would admit to them that my fear of solitude was in control, more so than my parental instincts, and that I lacked the courage to risk my own safety to ensure theirs.

I hope I would admit that I let her down in this most basic of ways.

I hope I can now tell you, without ambiguity, that I understand my failure has led to her verbal and emotional abuse at the hands of her hastily, ill-chosen stepfather. That a constant diet of “irritability,” “hardness,” and “yelling,” especially to a child, is abuse. No hitting necessary.

I hope I would tell them I didn’t see it clearly then, but I see it clearly now and I’m not going to undo it.

I hope I would tell them that I love them and understand that they need to find their own ways to make peace with their childhoods. If keeping your distance from me is your best bet for healing, then I accept that.

I hope I would tell them that my door and my heart are always open to them anyway.

I hope I’d stop portraying this as “not a good choice” for myself because accepting our behavior and its consequences, even if it hurts like hell, is always a good choice.

And I hope I would find a way to forgive myself.

I say “I hope” those things because I appreciate the first-person and gut-level self-protective measures our minds take when we’re confronting soul-crushing hard truths about ourselves. I cannot say for certain that I have it within me to hold this truth in full force. But I hope I would.

If you can do that, you’ve made the leap from fear atrophy to a braver person than most.

You say your children “blame” you – but that guilt is the template for your salvation. You’ve formulated the apology you need. There is no dilemma; just give it to them whole. (Under the care of a new therapist, if you’ve gotten everything you can from them.)

That might not bring your kids back, but it’s also important to get yourself back. Carolyn Hax: Kids cut off mom over stepdad’s ‘tough’ upbringing

Chris Estrada

Chris Estrada is a 24ssports U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Chris Estrada joined 24ssports in 2021 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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