DEAR AMY: After an abusive 25-year marriage, in which I worked two jobs to help support the children, I finally left after my husband threatened, at gunpoint, to kill me and our son. At that time, our two girls were in college and the military, respectively. We went to a shelter and later moved in with various family members out of state. Eventually, my son, then 14, opted to return to his father’s home. I lost contact with him for the next four years, due to his father’s threats. I’ll always regret allowing him to return to hell. I later discovered his father had kicked him out and he was living with a girlfriend and her mother. The girls survived on their own during the time I was getting my education. They started families and live successful middle-class lives. Each has two beautiful children. At 50, I graduated into a lucrative field and brought my 18-year-old son to live with me. While working, I supported my son through several bad ventures. He eventually matured and is now living with a good woman in a home he purchased. (I gave him and his sister the down payments.) My three children live all over the country. They act very distant to me. One daughter accused me of not protecting her, and told me not to visit again. My other daughter is cold and abrupt. My son says we can never be a family again. I am bewildered by their anger. I have tried to be supportive. Do you think my family can ever be repaired?
DEAR SAD: You have worked very hard to escape your abusive marriage and rebuild your life. But — all of your children spent the entirety of their childhoods in the household you describe as “hell.” Surely the fact that they are functioning at all should be considered a triumph on their part.
You have been financially generous with your children, but money has absolutely no meaning when what they really desire is the decent childhood they were denied.
You don’t mention being willing to talk with your children about their childhoods. You might feel that their abusive and violent father is solely to blame for everything, but they look at it this way: “We had two parents; why didn’t you protect us?”
Children who witness violence experience the effects of this trauma in various ways for the rest of their lives.
It is not too late for you to reconcile, but you will have to allow each of them to express their own pain without reacting defensively.
Professional counseling would help all of you.
DEAR AMY: My stepchildren are grown and have children of their own. I have always tried to be a great stepmother. We always make sure we give the grown children and our grandchildren birthday and Christmas gifts, but when our birthday (mine especially) rolls around, we do not receive anything. We sometimes get a “Happy Birthday” text, or an “Oh, we don’t buy gifts for adults” reply. I don’t give in order to receive, but anything would be nice. It could even be from the grandchildren. I want an outsider’s opinion: Am I being a petty stepmonster?
DEAR STEPMOTHER: Birthdays are one day when each of us has the opportunity to feel recognized and appreciated. Being “seen” in this way is important and affirmative.
The gift-giving in your family is imbalanced.
Give gifts if you want to, but because it seems to make these adults uncomfortable, you should dial down your recognition to a card and/or phone call or text.
Reserve your gift-giving for the grandchildren.
For your birthday, your husband should prompt his offspring with a heads-up: “Mary’s birthday is tomorrow and I know she’d really appreciate a call from you and the kids.”
If they continue to ignore you on this day, it speaks poorly of them — not you.
DEAR AMY: “Cheap Childcare” was a 17-year-old complaining about being paid $8 to watch four older kids. She was paid minimum wage for a minimum wage job, plus she received a meal. The kids were not toddlers, so no diapers, baths, toy cleanup or bedtime stories. She was there to provide a semi-responsible presence. I feel your advice added to the entitlement this generation is steeped in.
DEAR DISGUSTED: The marketplace should set the wage for a baby-sitter, and if she is assertive enough to ask for more, then her clients can decide if her efforts are worth it.