My father came from a family of origin that had no boundaries and would aggressively butt into their children's, grandchildren's, and great-grandchildren's lives. My father and I had a falling out because he made our relationship conditional on me caring for his parents and my mom's parents. These were sexist, verbally abusive, emotionally manipulative, grandparents from whom I kept a distance as I got older. My father became more progressive gender-wise as I grew up, but when the hands-on grandparent care started, he fell into his old family dynamics. My mom didn't intervene much because she wanted to save their marriage. My father's siblings are all divorced because that was the only way for their spouses to set boundaries with their in-laws. Then, in my 20s, my father would become uncomfortable with me wearing short track shorts and sports tanks (normal girl attire I grew up wearing). He said he was uncomfortable with women's bodies. And every time, I wore makeup or modest tanks or well-fitted work clothing, he would turn around and avoid eye contact. I felt betrayed because I came to trust him and saw him change his views on gender during my childhood, and then, he reverted to his old ways during the grandparent caregiving, when he was trying to accommodate them and make sure they lived out their years in peace. He would insist that I observe the religious mourning rituals for my grandparents, but I couldn't because they were either verbally abusive, never accepted me for who I was, or we just never had a relationship to begin with. I feel that my father neglected my needs. We gradually stopped talking over the years. My parents never met the new friends I made in my 20s, they weren't invited to my grad school graduation, they never met my husband, they weren't at my wedding, and they never met my kids. I've been in therapy for years, and finally accepted it. I spent most of my 20s after the estrangement being angry, but then I accepted it. I focused on the ways that I survived without my parents and family, instead of on the anger. And I learned to accept the pain, I guess when your parents die, it lessons but there's always a twinge of sadness on holidays. I realize that my parents were limited people who did the best they could. After the estrangement, there were times I didn't have enough to eat or didn't have a bed to sleep on, but I survived by myself, on my own. I learned to build a life for myself. I have a successful career, a great house, a wonderful husband who treats me like an equal, and a son (12) and daughter (11) whom I am raising in an equal way. We live about 30 minutes away, but I've never seen my parents in years. I've been teaching both my son and daughter how to cook and do some minor fixing around the house. Both are really into sports. I've taught my son to respect women. I've taught my daughter to be proud of her gender and body. We have a childless elderly couple living next door that have served as surrogate grandparents, and my friends have been great aunts and uncles. My husband's family is close-knit, and my kids are a part of their lives. I think my dad saw some photos on a social media account I have and found my phone number online this summer. He said he wants to meet his grandchildren before his death (he's in his early 70s, Mom in her 60s). He asked that I please dress modestly without tank tops and makeup. He also asked that my daughter not wear shorts above the knee and the sports tank tops that girls her age wear. There are no restrictions on my son's clothing. My dad told me that my grandparents are now dead, and he wants to keep the past in the past but not discuss it. He's seen his brother who's in his 80s spend his last years alone because he never re-married (caregiving consumed him). Dad doesn't want to die alone, and he said it would make him feel happy if I helped him with mowing the lawn and gardening. This brought back painful memories.

Find Care & Housing
He calls after so many years and the first thing out of his mouth is "mow my lawn". That is a hard NO. Why would you subject your children to this? Maybe when they are adults revisit it, if they want. Your father hasn't changed.
Helpful Answer (11)
Reply to lkdrymom

" My father and I had a falling out because he made our relationship conditional on me caring for his parents and my mom's parents."

Did you do the caregiving for your grandparents? Or did he?

"Dad doesn't want to die alone, and he said it would make him feel happy if I helped him with mowing the lawn and gardening."

I think he's circling in to get you to be his caregiver. He only mentions yardwork for now, but you can bet there would be mission creep!

Don't undo your years of therapy. Stay far away. Your children have healthy relationships with your husband's relatives and they have your neighbors as surrogate grandparents. They don't need a relationship with your parents, considering how you were treated.
Helpful Answer (9)
Reply to CTTN55
sparkielyle Oct 18, 2021
I agree - he is angling for caregiving. Maybe he is feeling lonely. It is about him. Boundaries and a strategy is important. I have made a longer post below.
See 1 more reply
Stick to your guns, daughter. Stick to your guns. Your gut is telling you to continue staying away for a reason.

I haven't been in your exact situation, but I know the pain of having a toxic parent. You are doing the best thing you can do for your children. They're at such a precarious age, and you are right to protect them from a man who would either make them feel shameful or model bad behavior towards women.

You have a beautiful life, and everything you have is because you stayed strong and didn't let yourself get dragged into his idea of what you should be. Honor that young woman who once stood up for herself and went out and built a family and a life.

You don't need to see him to know if he's changed. Of course he hasn't. They never change; they just get older. His letter even tells you he hasn't changed, with his attempt to dictate what you and his granddaughter will wear. I mean, really? That's his olive branch? It practically screams into a megaphone that he hasn't changed.

There's also no setting boundaries with parents like this. That's a trap. There's only being sucked in more and more. You and I know this.

I know it's really hard to ward off the feelings of guilt. Societal expectations don't help, even in our supposedly modern Western society. But you'll regret it if you cave now. You're not being a bad daughter. You're being a good mother. Stick to your guns.
Helpful Answer (8)
Reply to NightHeron

I know someone who tried more than once to connect with abusive family members and regretted it every time. Don't connect with this man. It's very likely that this will not go well for you.
Helpful Answer (8)
Reply to vegaslady
LittleOrchid Oct 30, 2021
It is possible. However, many changes need to occur first. I moved away from my parents and family as soon as possible after I turned 18. When I was in my 60's I returned to the area where my mother lived. By this time I had been through many years of therapy and was confident about my own self-worth. My mother had become somewhat softened in her age. Important points, though, were that I made the contacts and the (somewhat) renewed relationship was on my terms. I visited my mother, took her to some lunches, and we got to know each other a bit in her final 6 years. I spent almost no time in her house, but we did have some conversations that did help me understand what had been wrong in the family when I was a child. It did not in any way make up for my wretched childhood, but I didn't expect that.

I did help my sisters with caring for my mother in small ways. I picked up prescriptions, I took Mom for rides in the car, took her to lunch. I did not do any cleaning, or other housekeeping and I never touched her except for a few awkward hugs. I am glad that we did have some good times before the end and I love the new relationships with 2 of my sisters.

What is not possible is to ever hope to have the kind of family feelings that one hears about from others. If you were abused as a child that leaves a huge internal scar that will never go away. I learned to live with it and to make a new life that made the old scars irrelevant to my new life. For decades that was enough. For me, at least, part of returning to a kind of relationship with my old family was a new thing, not an attempt to revive and mend an old thing that was broken. To know my sisters and enjoy doing a few things with them has been worth the return. I will admit, though, that I did not shed any tears when my mother died. I spoke to her an hour before she passed and her regret was that I was not my older sister. I wished her a peaceful day and left. I do not hate her, nor do I miss her. However, I am at peace that we did spend 6 years knowing each other and telling each other the stories that the other missed. It is a form of completion that is not exactly love. Not every dysfunctional family can heal, but I think that it can only happen if the one who was abused can call all the shots when reconnecting and that those who abused or were complicit in the abuse become gentled and accepting.

In the case of the OP, her father seems to be totally unchanged and no good outcome is possible. In many, probably most cases of abusive childhoods that is probably true. It can happen, though. Once in a while people do change.
No there's no reason to reconcile. "Hi daughter I realized that I might have lost access to free lawn service and someone to clean my house and change my diaper in my old age so how about you cover your body and your daughter's body up and come over". Holy cow, no. And you're not "depriving him" of grandchildren, who is owed someone elses children?? And ditto for "depriving" your kids of grandparents. All families are different who the heck goes "I had a loving family but I suffered from not having a grandparent".

I might be off base here and I do not mean to offend or trigger. Skip this next paragraph if my concerns about sexual issues don't apply or will make you unhappy to read.

My "someone has sexual issues" alarm bells are ringing pretty loudly. Won't even look at you if you're wearing properly fitted clothes? That's either crazy manipulative or he knows he can't handle it. Honor the fact that at least he realizes he has sexual issues by not putting temptation in his path in the form of your daughter. Yuck.
Helpful Answer (8)
Reply to Slartibartfast

Far, welcome.

I have a suggestion.

Go meet your parents by yourself and see if the temperature of the water has actually changed.

"Wants to meet his grandchildren and some help gardening and mowing" sounds incredibly manipulative to me. Maybe I'm imagining that. But if I wanted to meet my estranged grandchildren, desperately, I wouldn't be including a request for chores to be done in the same breath.
Helpful Answer (7)
Reply to BarbBrooklyn
Elle1970 Oct 20, 2021
It seems to me like he's lining up the OP and her children to be caregivers to their parents/grandparents. The OP may be well aware of that and that could be one reason she is staying away.

If she wants to see her parents again it should be on HER terms. She goes and takes her children and they wear what THEY want. No chores and no getting sucked into caregiving as there will be no thanks for it. It seems like she comes from a very religious family of origin that would consider caregiving to be a daughter's responsibility.

If she doesn't want to see her parents again that is ok. After all her father previously made their relationship conditional on her caring for both sets of grandparents. The OP walked away. This time a relationship with her parents is likely to be conditional on her caring for them.
I think you have made up your mind you just want someone to say yes you are justified in saying NO. So, I will say yes ur justified.

I think this is a cultural thing. Doesn't look like Dad has mellowed out in his old age. You are a daughter and like most cultures, even here in the US, daughters are the ones expected to care for parents.

Tell Dad sorry the answer is NO. If he is having problems with mowing the lawn and gardening, then hire someone or downsize to an apartment. That you live in a world so different from his and you are not willing to enter his. Without his help you have a career. Two children and DH who take up your spare time. With the responsibilities you have, he cannot depend on you. And that seems what he wants.

I think if you allow him in, you "will" regret it.
Helpful Answer (7)
Reply to JoAnn29
FaroffDaughter Oct 19, 2021
Thank you JoAnn29!
So your re-entry to his life would be laid out all on his terms? Nope. There has to be mutual give and take in any relationship and it doesn’t sound like he’s willing to do anything other than have it his way. Decide if a visit or meeting your children just briefly is good for all. It’s unfortunate and sad that you and your family can’t have a decent relationship with him, but never sacrifice your own emotional health for others
Helpful Answer (6)
Reply to Daughterof1930

It would make me feel happy if you helped me mow my lawn..and you can wear whatever you want.
He wants to meet grandchildren yet he places restrictions on what you wear, what your daughter wears. Yeah, that's a hard no from me.
What does your mom say about this or does he lot let her voice her wishes and opinions?
Many kids learn from their parents how to be a successful, independent person. Most learn because the parents set a good example how to live, how to treat people.
Then there are the parents that set an example of what not to do, how not to act. the child/ young adult makes a choice as to the path they follow.
You have spent time in therapy.
You, in your heart know what the answer is.
If you want to meet though I would suggest on "neutral" ground and do not subject your children to this until you can establish boundaries. And before you meet tell him what your boundaries are and if he crosses, you get up and leave.
Helpful Answer (6)
Reply to Grandma1954
FaroffDaughter Oct 21, 2021
Mom was just preserve their marriage and didn't say anything. When her mother (who was verbally abusive) asked for help and I refused, my mom lectured me about it, but didn't pressure the way my father did. I offered grandmother assistance in terms of fixing stuff or ordering stuff, but no hands-on care. Grandma had met the eligibility for Medicaid and home health care. My mom kept lecturing me how helping an elder go to the bathroom is nothing, even though I kept telling her I was not comfortable with that. But she didn't want to do hands-on care either and had the (free) home health aide do it. She made sure her mother was cared for and helped from a distance.
Thank you all for your words of wisdom, encouragement, and support! Family estrangements are tough, and it's good to know that forums like this exist for support.
Helpful Answer (6)
Reply to FaroffDaughter

See All Answers
Ask a Question
Subscribe to
Our Newsletter