Estranged elderly relatives

My grandparents are in their 80s now and I haven’t talked to them in a few years. We used to be close. Up until I was around 12 (I’m 31 now) I would say we were very close. At that time, they were young enough to take me out and do fun things, but also, I was young enough to not be offensive to them.

I’m always kept up-to-date on my grandparents by my mom, who I am extremely close to, and I know they’re kept up-to-date on me. So we aren’t strangers. But they are getting very old and won’t be around forever, and yet I feel (and I am correct to feel) that they have never been supportive to me. I won’t even say some of the things because I don’t like to talk about them (I’m not saying they’re heinous, but just things that are hurtful to me to bring up…it’s completely typical stuff from their generation).

They’re the ones who are wrong here. They will never accept that. So what do I do? Keep in mind these are not small things, like my grandparents have always been racist and my daughter is biracial. But they aren’t hateful. We can visit them and be the second-class citizens if we want and we’ll get hugs just like everyone else. Or we can do nothing and I can be the asshole who refused to see them. And eventually they will die and I will probably die of guilt.

How bad is it? And how old is your daughter?

I just ask because honestly if it is stuff like saying races shouldn’t mix in an academic sense or whatever I might say let it go, especially if your daughter won’t really remember it. But you say they’ll treat you like second class citizens, which implies treatment your daughter would notice in that case I’d say stay away.

Hell my dad was very old, almost 80 himself when he died. He was never openly or obnoxiously racist, but he did become very cold and withdrawn in the years before he died and he treated me like talking to a customer. Sometimes I wonder if I should have noticed more and asked him why, or maybe I’d be happier not knowing.

I understand how you feel, but since they are getting older, I would see them and focus on the good things about them. Perhaps they have changed somewhat, and will be more understanding. In addition, if they are on any medication, some medications can cause personality changes (for the worse), so please keep this in mind. Possibly if you see them, for the first visit, just keep the visit brief, and talk about “light” things, such as the weather, etc. Good Luck

You don’t have to like everything about them in order to be in contact. And they don’t have to approve of everything about you either.

You could try to get in touch with them again, give it a chance. Perhaps they have changed their attitudes over the years or at least stopped saying hurtful things. I know it’s very easy for someone else that doesn’t know you or the situation as well as you do to say this, but give it a shot. If it turns out to be a bad experience then you don’t have to spend any time with them.

I don’t think you are being an asshole either way. Simply because someone is family that doesn’t give them the right to treat you or make you feel horrible. You wouldn’t put up with it from anyone else, so there is no reason to put up with it from family either. As you get older yourself, you might have wished you spent some time with them and have a regret by not giving it another try. But after you have done this and it turns out to be a bad experience, at least you know you were the bigger person by doing the right thing and reaching out to them. I do hope this helps.

It depends on what you mean when you say they’d treat you and your daughter like second class citizens. I wouldn’t willingly expose my child to people who are going to make her feel bad about herself.

I would give them a chance and be willing and ready to leave the first time they did or said something inappropriate.

You can seek treatment and through that process forgive them entirely for being them. That journey might also alleviate your guilt, which is an unnecessary feeling (and just a feeling). The trauma they’ve inflicted on you IS real, and should be addressed.

Then, you could make the decision with clear mind and emotion on whether or not to deal with them. That might also help you confront them on the things they say, instead of accepting your role as a second class citizen.

But all the work has to be done by you, for you. They won’t change. Is it worth it? You’d feel better and have more autonomy in the relationship. But you can’t decide to pursue this on their behalf, or on your daughter’s.

My Dad was a kind person, and quite smart and interesting. He was prejudiced about certain groups, tho. VERY prejudiced. And yet other, even similar groups, got absolutely no notice from him.

For example, he never seemed to even notice at all if someone was Black. Not one of those “Hey! I have a friend who is Black!” type of things, which shows some inner issue imho. But, truly never indicating in any way at all that their skin color or their culture had any impact on his view of them.

But, he only tolerated certain family friends who were Mexican. And those Orientals? Good grief!

So, even a nice person can have severely troublesome attitudes which may show up at a moment’s notice. I can understand the OP’s reluctance to be immersed in that type of situation. I wonder if a short visit, that one can leave at any time, might work.

And then there’s people like my hateful, hate filled Mother. Ain’t no one got time for that!

If you try visiting them, don’t take your daughter on the first couple of visits, so you can “test the waters”. If the visits go well, then you can bring her. No need to expose her to bad treatment if the first meeting ends up badly.

My daughter is about to turn 14. She doesn’t have a clue about the racism of our relatives and I want to keep it that way forever. It’s not like they would ever tell her, so we’re on the same page there. But generally I don’t like to keep secrets from her and I don’t appreciate being put in the position where I have to.

We could talk about light things all day, but I guess I just don’t *want *to. But I feel guilty not to. They’re more than willing to, so if I refuse, I’m the one causing conflict.

They wouldn’t say anything inappropriate. It just seems like, if we’re all being *so *fake, what is the point?

And actually, like so many rightwingers, some of my relatives *are *getting more extreme. I wasn’t there and don’t know exactly what was said, but recently my daughter was left feeling bad at a family event because she thought my uncle was being offensive. When I asked her exactly what was said, she didn’t want to talk about it, but she just said that she didn’t think he liked her anymore :frowning: (which I’m sure is not the case, but I hate for her to think so).

Oh, didn’t see your reply.

You can’t do this. She’ll find out one day, and 14 is old enough to handle it (unless you somehow think she’s never dealt with racism in her life, which is *beyond *naive).

I don’t think you owe your grandparents anything, but you owe it to your daughter to let her meet them while she’s old enough to remember it.

Focus on what you can change: your guilt. Why do you feel guilty? Putting your daughter’s needs first is the right thing to do.

I had similar grandparents, though not as bad. After another unsatisfactory phone call one day, I decided I’d never speak to them again. Why bother? They wouldn’t miss me, and I could keep up on the news with my mother. Grandpa lived another ten years, but I never regretted that decision. I was as close as it was possible to be given who they were.

She has known my grandparents for her whole life. It’s just never been a relationship based on anything genuine.

I guess it’s just hard for me to be the one refusing to be fake-polilte, when everyone else is willing to be. My grandparents are not bad people and we were close when there was nothing to have conflict about. But ever since there has been, we do, and they are certainly not willing to discuss it and never will be. So it is impossible to be close to someone under those circumstances. But I just feel really bad about it. I feel like I should call them every few months and have a fake pleasant conversation and ignore everything real. But I just don’t want to.

Perhaps write them letters, instead. It’s nice and old-fashioned, so they might appreciate it. You also control the conversation a lot more, and you can be a bit more genuine about the politeness: how are you? Here’s what we’re up to. And you’re still in touch.

They can’t call you on it, because it’s a nice thing to do that’s MORE effort than making a phone call, and you can do it a few times a year.

My mom wrote them a letter several years ago about me (about their unfair treatment of me [and that was a big step for my mom because she does NOT like conflict with her parents]) and they never responded. I just feel like the ONLY option we have for a relationship is VERY superficial. There’s nothing I can do about that no matter how much I may want to. But to just choose NOTHING over that? How do I not feel guilty about that?

I had an unhappy childhood, and avoided my entire family as best I could for many years. I’m a habitual hider and evader of familial expectations.

However, the older I get, the less interested I am in doing what makes me feel the most comfortable right now, vis a vis my relatives, and the more interested I am in doing what I believe I can live with when they are gone. That is, making the effort to connect, at whatever level they and I are capable.

I no longer despise polite, banal conversations, or what seem to be empty gestures. They are still conversations, they are still gestures, and you simply do not know what matters to them – you don’t even know what will matter to you. Nobody does.

I am at the age where all around me, my friends are losing their parents. You don’t actually get another chance to do this, it isn’t like other major life transitions.

I am not saying put your daughter in the way of harm, of course.

I think it kind of comes down to what it is you’re not saying to them. If they have been hurtful to you or your daughter (or her father), then certainly it’s reasonable to stay away. I guess I would draw a distinction, though, between someone who has hurt you vs. someone who has disappointed you, in that I don’t see intentional harm in the latter, and I’d be inclined to offer more slack.

I do think you should let your uncle know that he hurt your daughter’s feelings, and ask him to clear the air and apologize if appropriate.

Use this time as an excuse to ask them about things that happened long before you were born. Learn your family history before it dies along with them. When my grandfather died we discovered he had been writing down his memoirs for years in a spiral notebook. My cousin made copies for everyone and had them professionally bound and that book is one of my most precious possessions. Get together with them and use the time to listen to them talk about the past and you will probably find that you don’t feel like you are being so fake and they will probably feel very loved and appreciated.

The potential relationship that you describe sounds like the relationships I have with all of my elderly relatives, so I’d go along with it. It sort of bothers me, because it feels kind of patronizing and fake to ignore major issues that I would bring up if it involved someone younger, but my family’s idea of respecting your elders means letting them have their own way, so it’s easiest to keep things light and superficial.