This is a repost, as I am in the process of restoring my lost archives. It was originally published January 7, 2015.
Last week, my dad sent me an email. Like every email and message he sends, it contained a demand: he wants me to stop saying that my parents are keeping my siblings from me.
Let me reiterate this very clearly: My parents are keeping my siblings from me.
It started in February of last year, when I posted my series about same-sex marriage. My parents and I strongly disagreed on the issue, as I described in Monday’s post.
My parents never talked about it again. I still visited my family often enough, but something was different. My 14-year-old sister avoided me, and insulted me whenever she had the chance. My brothers were standoffish.
We were standing around a campfire in the backyard, and I asked my brother what was wrong. “Did you post on your blog about gay people?” he asked.
I admitted I had. I asked if he’d read it, and he said he hadn’t. Did mom and dad say he couldn’t?
“We’re not supposed to read your blog anymore. Why would I want to read it?” He asked.
My parents didn’t just make a rule saying my blog was off-limits – kids break rules. No, my siblings needed to believe I had betrayed my parents’ trust and forsaken family values. My siblings thought my blog was full of liberal propaganda that I’d heard at my secular college. I eventually learned that my dad had called a meeting with the older kids to tell them just that.
Keeping up a relationship with my siblings became a tedious job of cleaning up messes. I’d come over, and the kids would avoid me. I’d ask what was wrong, and find out something else my parents had used to make me into a villain. My parents said they technically weren’t lying about me – after all, I chose to do what I did, so I brought this on myself. If I would just behave acceptably, there wouldn’t be all these family meetings to tell the kids what I was doing wrong.
As Lydia and I began to see our parents’ manipulative and abusive behavior, we wanted to warn and help our little siblings. For the first time in our lives, we formed a support system. If dad made my little sister angry and frustrated, I could take her for a drive and let her vent. Lydia slept on the floor at my parents’ house more often than she stayed with me, and took the girls for walks. I had long talks with my teenage brothers about questioning authority, both in Christian teachings and at home.
Lydia and I weren’t allowed to cry, get angry, or even feel and express a sense of unfairness with how our parents treated us every day. Happiness was the only acceptable emotion. For a while, we were an outlet. I encouraged my siblings to talk about their feelings. When my sisters were traumatized by a haphazard purity talk and description of sex, Lydia taught them what she and I didn’t discover until adulthood – consent.
At first, our parents told us we weren’t allowed to talk negatively about them to our siblings. We tried to oblige, and made time for the kids where we could. I took the younger ones out for cheesy fries and shakes one weekend, and took my 5-year-old brother to the park after work another day. I planned to give each of the kids time a special outing.
I never made it through even half of them before my dad said we couldn’t take them for drives anymore.
Lydia talked about bringing the girls to her new house for a sleepover, but dad said they’d never be allowed to do that. Then Lydia wasn’t allowed to go for walks with them, then one-on-one conversations with us were prohibited.
One day in August, the 13-year-old sent Lydia a voxer message. It said that my mom had thrown a cooking spoon at the 7-year-old, during one of her fits of rage. When the older one said that she couldn’t wait to move out, she was sent to her room. Mom came in later and said, “I’ll always control you, even when you’re an adult, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Shortly thereafter, Dad told the following story in an email to Lydia:
We listened to and read the Voxer messages you and [sister] shared, and we see how betrayed you feel. [Sister] loves you so much, and she is torn between you and us. Don’t read the other sibs’ appeals to you as betrayal; they’re not, they love you just as much as [sister]. Please realize that when she complains about us she is trying to salvage the relationship she has with you.
Proof: She lied about being sent to her room. That didn’t happen. She said that to paint a picture of us that she thought you would like to hear. When we talked on the porch about it, she broke down crying. She then said something much closer to the truth than what she has been telling you:
“I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to lose another sister. This hurts so much.”
I hope our counseling can help make sense of this. Are you receiving counseling? If you are, share this story with him/her. I’m curious what they would say.
By the way, I said “never” would the girls stay over night at your place. That’s not true. If we ever return to the happy, loving, forgiving, gracious, fun family we were a short time ago, I’d love to see you have a deep relationship with your sibs.
My dad’s words speak for themselves – even from his perspective, it’s easy to see what happened. He made my sister cry and denied her story, and when she said something satisfactory, her words were affirmed. His image of the family we needed to return to was “happy, loving, forgiving, gracious, and fun,” because nothing else was allowed. When Lydia and I were upset about being kicked out, our parents said we were unforgiving, and that we were making a big deal out of one out-of-character blowup.
A week later, this particular sister said mom and dad were what they said they were – kind, loving, and fair. She insisted that Lydia and I were wrong to say anything negative about our parents. We were relieved. Back in survival mode, it was easier for our young sister to succumb to the gaslighting than to see through what was going on.
Dad used this line to both Lydia and me, about why we couldn’t visit their home anymore: “Our love is unconditional, but our welcome is not.”
In mid-September, we were invited to the Birthday Bash. Lydia went. I didn’t, because I’d spent the previous day in the hospital for a self-inflicted injury. My friends banded together to supervise me (I’m the unnamed friend in this article about self-harm by my friend Eleanor), and helped me find a therapist to help me deal with my depression and relapse into self-harm.
My parents received my hospital bills and opened them, and said nothing about them to me. I found this out fourth-hand.
I had nothing left to lose – my parents didn’t even care about my mental health, and I couldn’t see my siblings anymore. So I started telling the story on my blog.
My dad really wants me to stop talking about how abusive he is. To get me to retract what I’ve said, he has offered me money, the chance to see my siblings, my choice of therapist to “reconcile” with my parents, and used countless other forms of manipulation. For her part, my mother hasn’t made any effort to contact me since September.
In October, we were invited to the twins’ 8th birthday party. Lydia and I knew it would be all fake smiles, and we wouldn’t be able to talk to anyone individually, and since we hadn’t seen any of the kids in over a month, they’d be confused. It was also an emotional risk to try and interact with our parents, and we were both suffering from anxiety after getting out. It was a double bind: show up, abide by the rules, do what our parents wanted. Or, if we didn’t, we looked like terrible sisters who didn’t care enough to celebrate our siblings’ birthday.
So last week, my dad asked that I stop saying my parents are keeping my siblings from me. He didn’t say we could come over anytime. He said we were welcome at the Birthday Bash, and at the twins’ birthday.
It’s not true, dad said, that we haven’t been welcome, because we got two invitations in four months. According to our dad, we’re choosing to stay away from our parents’ house because we haven’t sought to restore our relationship.
I was told our family was loving. Now I’m being told I was welcome. If this is welcome and love, I don’t know how to label anything. My parents use words they don’t mean.