Talking with children about difficult extended family issues and painful past events - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 10 Old 07-19-2014, 05:04 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Question Talking with children about difficult extended family issues and painful past events

Hi all,

My DD is almost 6 and at the moment is full of questions about my own childhood. I'm finding it very difficult to answer many of them as I have a lot of painful memories from my childhood. (My childhood wasn't the worst ever by any means, but I can't say it was blissfully happy either.)

So far I've tried to focus on positive stories about my childhood but they're rather thin on the ground! And it seems a bit insincere to me to try and give the impression that everything was rosy when it really wasn't.

I expect she'll probably start sensing - if she hasn't already - that something is 'off' in my narrative. She's already been asking why we have so little contact with my siblings, for example. I don't want her to feel that she can't ask me questions about the past or about my family of origin, that it's a taboo subject.

On the other hand, I don't want DD to feel burdened by all this heavy sad stuff or that she has to prop me up emotionally. That would be terrible. So I really don't know what to do.

Another thing that makes it delicate is that DD really loves my mother but a lot of the sad childhood stuff has to do with my mother too. I don't want to tell DD anything about my mother that might trouble her and make her feel caught in the middle between my mother and me.

A related issue is that DD would like to see my mother more often, but it's very hard to figure out the logistics of this as my mother has a serious alcohol problem which means I can't let DD go and stay with her without me being there too. (She lives in another country and we see each other three or four times a year. I can't really take any more time to visit her partly because of work commitments but also because it's hard emotional work for me to spend a lot of time with her).

Any thoughts would be very much appreciated.
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#2 of 10 Old 07-19-2014, 05:36 PM
 
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I think that the sensitivity that you are showing your daughter just in your thought process mean that you probably can't go wrong. In times where the simple truth (or the truth with the hard stuff omitted) isn't enough for my DC is the time to share a bit more. I do think that kids can tell when we aren't giving them the whole story and it's better to be honest than have them try to guess to fill in the blanks. But, yea, always with sensitivity and only when you sense that they need more information.

Big hugs to you for a difficult situation. <3

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#3 of 10 Old 07-20-2014, 04:55 AM
 
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HI-
I can relate. I have a 7yo DD and a brother that is severely mentally ill, refusing help, and living on the streets on the other side of the country. My parents have pictures of him up in their houses and as she got older I was so tempted to tell them to take the pictures down, never mention him, etc. I just didn't bring it up, and one day last year she asked me who was in one of the pictures. I told her that it is my brother, that he isn't a part of the family anymore, he lives far away and we can talk more about it when she's older. That was a sufficient response and she hasn't asked since.

In your case, I'd focus on your far away you mother lives and tell her that is why you can't visit more often. As far as you siblings, etc. I'd explain in generic terms that sometimes siblings are close when they grow up and sometimes they are not, similarly to how friendships work (not everyone is friends with everyone else, etc).

It's important to trust your gut, as you know best what your DD is ready to handle. I was reading DD's summer reading list and choosing some books to bring home, and decided to pass on a picture book talking about a child's experience as a slave. I just don't feel she's ready to know about that topic.

-Jen
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#4 of 10 Old 07-22-2014, 05:46 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks, that's very helpful. I'm sorry about your brother. It can be hard when the reality is so far from the ideal of having a close family.

I also am very careful in terms of what I expose my DD to. She'll have plenty of time later on to find out about all the horrible things that go on in the world.
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#5 of 10 Old 07-27-2014, 07:05 AM
 
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I wanted to share a different point of view that works for my family.
My de is v sensitive. I have found early exposure helpful to her before she got the emotional maturity to handle all the nuances. So for instance she learnt about slavery and Hitler in when she was 6. She had a lot of questions and I answered them to the best of my ability. I find her suffering less when she trilogy understands the full implications.

I am so sorry about your childhood. This is always a tough Question to answer. The good thing is there is a whole country between you. I would hold off sharing any of ur pain right now coz its hard for kids to take something might have hurt their mother. Use the logistics to answer her questions. Distance. But she loves her tks. Keep it to that. She will soon get to know and understand. As she gets older she will notice things and then you can share a little at a time.

What you can do is focus on directly answering her questions as pure observation instead of saying and interpretations. Take one step at a time. By the time she is 10 or 11 she will slowly start understanding the nuances. So instead of saying my mother was not there growing up, u cld say just relate the instance. I would tell ur dd that gma is sick if she wants to know more. My de grew up knowing dead members of my family before she got anything about my own childhood.
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#6 of 10 Old 07-28-2014, 01:03 PM
 
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I used an approach of balance. I balanced how toxic the person was with the natural and positive desire to know about family members. I would balance: "My dad used to say [this]" or "Grandfather liked to go [here]" with "My dad was a dangerous person sometimes and I have mixed feelings about him. I try to take the good and leave the bad. But in general I feel that he isn't up to the standard of behavior that I expect from family which is why we don't see him " or "Grandfather has had a lot of trouble in life and he has acted badly much of the time. Although I knew his best side, I don't think that having him in your life is necessary and so I give you my best memories, hoping that you can appreciate how important he was to me without the difficulties that he brought to our family." When I relate how important or cherished those memories are I don't hold back. I mean it. But I also mean it when I say "I tried for several years to work out a way that your Aunt [So-and-So] and I could have a good relationship as adults and we just couldn't find common ground. But sometimes families don't always agree and although she isn't in our lives any more I hope that she is doing well."
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Last edited by pumabearclan; 07-29-2014 at 03:19 AM.
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#7 of 10 Old 08-01-2014, 06:40 AM
 
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I have found that dd who is now 7.5 understands a lot more than I think/thought she does/did. I try to be honest as much as I can.
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Cheerfulness enables us to remember no problem lasts forever ~ Unknown
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#8 of 10 Old 08-08-2014, 01:35 PM
 
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We don't have anything that serious in the immediate family, but I have an uncle who is not speaking to any of his siblings but is on good terms with me. I've explained to my 9-year-old that Uncle got so mad at Grandma that he just didn't want to see or talk to her anymore; it's very sad because Grandma is so nice and Uncle is really missing out, but this is his decision and we need to respect it.

We also had a friend, who had been one of my partner's best friends since elementary school, who got mad at my partner when our son was 4, had lengthy arguments with my partner and me while mostly ignoring our son (with whom he previously had an uncle-like role), and finally after a year of this came to see us and acted ready to make up and told our son he'd see him soon--but then changed his mind and cut us off. This still comes up every few months, 4 years later, whenever something reminds our son of this friend: "Why won't he see ME? Why doesn't he send me birthday cards anymore? He never had a fight with ME!" I tell him the guy just got so mad he wasn't thinking straight, and now, we don't really know what's going on with him, but maybe he's embarrassed by how he acted. Also, I've said that although there are many things we liked about him, he really really hurt our feelings and that's hard to forgive, and I bet he feels the same way about us. Sometimes it's better not to hang around with someone who keeps hurting you.

My other uncle (not the one cut off from his siblings) was married for many years to a woman who gradually became an alcoholic and tranquilizer addict and dangerously neglectful mother. I would have appreciated more explanation of what was going on there, when I was a child. What I overheard from adult conversation about her was perplexing, and some of the things I saw her do worried me. When I became an adult, my parents and other relatives began disparaging my aunt when talking to me, but they still didn't really explain, so it was not until I was about 25 and her son came to visit me that I realized just how horrible their nuclear family's situation had been for years. I wish I had known. My son has never met my now-ex-aunt, but I've done my best to explain addiction to him so that it won't be such a foreign and shocking concept as it was to me. I've also told him about my special visits with my grandparents when I was a kid and how they were sometimes marred by my bratty younger cousins coming to stay for several days, and how I understand that better now that I know they were there because their mom couldn't take care of them and their fear about that was probably one of the reasons they acted the way they did.

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#9 of 10 Old 08-14-2014, 09:58 AM
 
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I find when DD asks me a question that floats around touchy things for me I have a tendency to want to delve in to it more then what she really asked. Sometimes they aren't looking for a whole story just an easy answer. I feel like I can't give an easy answer because it is a hard issue for me but DD hasn't had the experiences that I have had and she would gladly except an easy answer. It doesn't have to sit on your conscience. Give her that easy answer. Ask yourself what did she really ask me find the simplest answer and await the next question if it doesn't come then that is it. If there is another question find the simplest answer. and keep going. If it starts to delve in too deep tell her it is an topic for another time. Hope that makes some sense I feel like I'm rambling a bit.

Addiction is a hard subject to talk about with children. There are all sorts of resources out there I have not done enough research to suggest any but Al-Anon would probably be a good place to start.
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#10 of 10 Old 08-15-2014, 10:08 AM
 
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That's strange--I got an email quoting someone's response to one part of my post, but her post isn't visible here.... Anyway, her impression was that this
Quote:
I've explained to my 9-year-old that Uncle got so mad at Grandma that he just didn't want to see or talk to her anymore; it's very sad because Grandma is so nice and Uncle is really missing out, but this is his decision and we need to respect it.
is disrespectful of my uncle because he doesn't feel he is missing out. I understand why you would assume that, but in actual fact my uncle asks wistfully what his siblings are up to and expresses regret that he "can't" know the good sides of them anymore because he's unwilling/unable to get past his strong feelings that they wronged him and/or their late father.
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