Trading in secrets.

Dear Amy: My adult sons are so estranged from my ex-husband that neither invited him to their weddings.

While I still have difficult feelings toward my ex, I try to have some level of civil interaction with him.

He often asks for updates as to what our sons are up to and how they are doing.

He is their father, and it seems to me that he has a right to know at least a bit about what is going on in their lives.

Is it inappropriate for me to share general information, such as buying a house or changing jobs or is that something that only they should share?

Since they want no contact with him, without some information from me he would have virtually no knowledge of them.

While I do hope that at some point my sons’ feelings toward their father will soften, I have never pushed them to have more interactions with him.

Still, it does seem sad to me that he should not be able to have any knowledge of what is going on in their lives.

He rarely tries to contact them, although I know he has in the past.

I don’t pass along anything I would think of as a confidence. But sharing basics doesn’t seem wrong to me.

Am I off base?

— Unsure

Unsure: You don’t say why your sons want no contact with their father (and perhaps you don’t know), but this is an issue you should run past your sons.

What might seem like benign “general knowledge” to you might strike them as private and intrusive.

Your compassion toward your ex-husband is commendable, but you seem to be placing his desires and “rights” over those of your sons.

You could use this as an attempt to build a rickety bridge between all of these men: “Dad often asks about you; I don’t want to violate your privacy, so I want to make sure it’s okay if I share very general knowledge with him — just to let him know the basics?”

Respect their decisions. (c) Ask Amy

Wow. I like Ask Amy’s advice, but I would’ve been firmer about it. This is a major pet peeve of mine, given my dysfunctional family. There are people in my family from whom secrets must be kept, you know.

Anytime I hear from my brother or find out anything about his life, I have to be completely mum when talking to Mother. She’ll try to drag it out of me and use it against one of us. It’s become rote now that whenever she asks if I’ve heard from him, my answer is no. She sees the answer coming and will ask, “But what if he’s dead?” to which I often reply, “I’m sure he’s fine. He’s going to pull through whatever… you think might’ve killed him.” (For seriousness?!)

Likewise, I recently asked my dad if my sister ever asks about me. Apparently she does, conversationally, like, “What’s Meg up to?” or, “What’s up with Meg?” And darn it all, he tells her. [Eyeroll.] None of her stinkin’ business. On the other hand, he pumps me with info about her, too. Yeah. I guess it works both ways.

(I often take the info and file it away in my brain for future reference. Just in case she commits anymore violent crimes, or whatever.)

And then–this is dreadful–whenever anyone from my extended family talks to my mom about me, my mom always goes this route: “Meg is doing as best as she can with her severe mental illnesses. Oh! Oh! What did I do wrong to have a daughter who’s schizophrenic? Why has this happened to me? I never did anything but smother her with love. Oh! Oh! She can barely function, and it’s all my fault.” (Naturally, she never admits to having been abusive.)

She’ll continue unencumbered: “Just crossing the street is hard for her! And did you know her father has to get her medications for her at the pharmacy? She can’t handle interacting with pharmacists. And just the other day, she told off someone at the grocery store. Oh! My heart, my broken heart. My life is ruined.”

I suspect my mom gets a lot of sympathy this way, but it seems ridiculous to me. It would be nicer of her to discuss some aspects of my writing: my books, my contest participation, etc.

(Oh hey! If anyone wants to enter the next contest, it’s time to register! Here’s the link! Let me know if you enter, and we can help each other with our stories!! Write for glory!)

This really offended me:

While I do hope that at some point my sons’ feelings toward their father will soften […]

[Facepalm.] This letter writer needs to release any attachment to that and come out of denial about whatever her ex did to her sons. It was probably pretty darned bad. Gruesome, even. Horrific. I can’t help but wonder if the letter writer is clinging to some sort of hope that she herself wasn’t to blame for whatever he did, because as long as she can persuade herself that her ex is a decent person, then she won’t have to face what she was complicit in. More often than not, if one parent is abusive, the other parent shares some guilt… or they should. Looking the other way when your spouse is abusive is so not cool.

Also, it’s pejorative and condescending to suggest that it’s the sons’ faults for being unforgiving. I hate that insinuation! I hate it! They’re under no obligation to let their feelings “soften”, and even that word sounds patronizing to me. “After all this time, you haven’t gotten over it yet? I figured your feelings would soften as you matured.” No. Just no.

This is an issue you should run past your sons.

Oh, Ask Amy!

I’d wager anything that she has ran it past her sons. They’ve probably both tried to shut her down, and she’s having none of it, so she wrote to Ask Amy. Or, here’s another possibility: she likes having the power to give info to her ex, and so there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that she’s going to ask her kids if it’s okay. (It’s not okay.)

I’m normally a believer in moderate discretion; i.e., choosing what’s “public knowledge” (and therefore not gossip fodder) to share with people. Like, “Yeah, Maisie got the job! YAY!” However, that level of discretion flies out the window when someone has committed heinous acts against someone. The letter writer doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

But even if she were to run it past her sons, that would just create more drama. “How can you be so heartless? The man is your father, and he has every right to know what you’re up to. I can’t believe you’re not more mature already.” Um, go jump in the lake, Mom.

He often asks for updates as to what our sons are up to and how they are doing.

I hate that level of hubris. Yuck. If you’ve “earned” the estrangement, then you have no right to be nosy. And both parents are showing hubris here: the dad, in asking behind his sons’ backs; and the mom, in feeling powerful for being the source of all intel.

Since I doubt this letter writer is going to discuss this with her sons, her litmus test should be this: Would my sons be upset if I shared this? If that means that nothing gets shared (which would be the ideal outcome here), then so be it.

Oh no, I have another childhood tale of woe. When my periods started, my mom told my dad because, “As your father, he has a right to know.” Um. Uh-huh. She used similarly ridiculous justifications for reading my dairy (“I have to make sure you’re not doing drugs!” even though I’d never seen any drugs and my friends were squeaky clean).

This reeks of control. The letter writer needs to quit boosting herself up as the trader of intel. Surely there are ways she can boost her ego without its being at her sons’ expense.

2 thoughts on “Trading in secrets.

  1. What really got me was this line: “He is their father, and it seems to me that he has a right to know at least a bit about what is going on in their lives.” Nope, that’s not up to her to decide.

    Liked by 1 person

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