Author Topic: How to deal with family after cutting off a toxic family member?  (Read 8800 times)

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StareDecisis

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Hello, everyone!  This is my first post.   :)  I have read the advice the members here give, and I am in need of some myself! 

My husband cut off all contact with his parents a little over a year ago.  They are truly terrible people; this was not a decision made in haste or over one incident.  Without going into too much detail, they were extremely abusive to him as a child, and continued to be verbally/emotionally abusive to him as an adult.  They do not respect him (or me, but that's not really the issue here!), and lie and manipulate whenever it works to their advantage.  After our wedding, at which they behaved terribly, my husband cut off contact with them.  They know why he did this, and have not attempted to apologize for anything.  I do not believe that they understand that they are in the wrong.  Please let me know if more background information would help. 

Although it has been difficult, things for my husband as an individual and for ourselves as a family (no kids, other than our dog!) have been MUCH better without his parents in our lives.  We have two main issues, which I will try to keep brief (brevity is not my strong suit!):

1.  His father's extended family live in the area, and we have had a little bit of a struggle regarding family gatherings.  His grandma/aunts/uncles/etc. seem to understand the situation, and appear to support our decision for the most part (other than a few teary "Please call your dad"s in the beginning, it is no longer brought up).  They have been very accommodating, and have generally arranged things such that whenever there is a gathering (e.g. holiday, out of town relative visiting, etc.), they hold two gatherings, and invite us to one and his parents to the other.  I'm not sure how feasible this is as a long-term plan, and it does mean that we don't see them on the actual holiday (for example, his parents will attend Spring Holiday dinner on the holiday, and we will attend dinner the night before or the night after).  His parents are not invited to the event we attend; we are invited to the main event, but everyone knows and understands that we will not attend because his parents are there.  We are not willing to attend events with his parents, as it would be impossible to avoid them. 

2.  My husband's younger sister (a minor teenager) still lives with their parents.  They are not model parents to her, but they do not abuse her as they did my husband.  She doesn't really know the extent of how poorly they treated him, because she is over ten years younger than him, and he has not really felt that it would be appropriate to tell her, as they do treat her fairly well.  She has taken to sending him text messages, saying things like "Mom wants you to call her."  We aren't sure if their mom actually says that, or if his sister is trying to play peacemaker on her own.  Regardless, my husband generally just tells her that he will call his parents when he is ready.  Then his sister will say something along the lines of, "I'm not telling her that.  Tell her yourself."   ::) We are looking for a way for my husband to say, nicely but firmly, that she needs to stop doing this.  My husband and I have a good relationship with her, and we would like it to stay that way.  I think she slightly blames me for the rift, as the cut was made after our wedding, but that's mostly just a vibe I get from her - she has never actually said anything of the sort.  I am sort of the opinion that it might be good for him to sit down with her (in person, not via text) and explain what lead to the cutting off of the parents (maybe not in great detail, but enough to say "It wasn't just the wedding.").  He is uncomfortable with that, mostly because it is really hard for him to talk about his childhood and we're not sure how she'll react (e.g. she could say she doesn't believe him, which I don't know if he could handle). 

I would love any advice/opinions/success stories you may have.

Outdoor Girl

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Re: How to deal with family after cutting off a toxic family member?
« Reply #1 on: August 30, 2012, 12:27:46 PM »
Regarding issue #1, I don't think you really need to do anything.  If the relatives are agreeable to holding two events, great!  If it gets to the point that they aren't, you and DH could invite some of them, in rotation, to events at your place around, but not on, holidays.  Or any other time, just for the heck of it.

For issue #2, I would tell DH to ignore any overtures from his sister, as if she did not say/ask it.  Don't respond; continue on with whatever conversation was happening beforehand.  I do think it would be good for DH to sit down with his sister and talk about why he cut them off.  He doesn't have to go into any detail but I think it is important to let her know that the wedding was just the final straw and not the only reason.  But he should be aware that anything he says will likely get back to his parents, which may escalate the 'Mom wants you to call her' texts.  But just continue to ignore them.
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VltGrantham

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Re: How to deal with family after cutting off a toxic family member?
« Reply #2 on: August 30, 2012, 12:45:50 PM »
First of all, let me say how sorry I am you are in this position.

I can certainly sympathize as DH is in the process of cutting off contact with his parents.  The final coup d'etat is set to come when the last of his Grandparents pass away.  He has already cut off contact with his sister and her husband.  His brother and he are in agreement about cutting off his parents once his grandparents are no longer around to be made miserable by the state of affairs.

Your brother needs to have a heart to heart with his sister, in person if possible.  Since she is a minor and still living with them, it's hard to say "stop acting as a go between period" since her parents may be telling her to text him and she must obey them.  He can tell her that he will say "O.k." which is translated as "message received" not "I will do as requested".  After she is no longer under their control, he needs to make it clear that he doesn't want to hear about them.

Regarding extended family, if they are open to hosting two events, that's great.  I think however that I would encourage them to host their event, to which you will show up either early before his parents have arrived and depart before they do or come after they go.  And I would be tempted to host alternative events myself which they can attend to which his parents of course will not be invited.

Currently my sister-in-law hosts the holiday parties and we attend them, with his parents.  We are aware that when his grandparents die, she will continue to host, only his parents will no longer be invited.  This works for us, it may not work for you.  We switch off holidays and tolerate his parents, but for the most part, we simply go to the other family parties either after they leave or before they arrive.

Above all, refuse to get drawn into any conversation about them--no matter what it is.  Immediately change the subject and refuse to discuss the issue.

jmarvellous

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Re: How to deal with family after cutting off a toxic family member?
« Reply #3 on: August 30, 2012, 12:49:57 PM »
On the first one: It sounds like things are actually going great here. I had to cut off all my dad's family (not because I hated them but because they don't do boundaries) along with my dad, so I sort of envy you here. You will have to make some tough choices -- like, say, future weddings. Sometimes you will have to not go to something you'd rather attend, so long as you don't want to be in the same room as them (though I think that'll get easier with time). And you might have to keep making lame excuses, but it's worth it as long as you're determined not to see them, in my book. And while it might hurt some feelings, people DO understand.
I have an uncle who (for unrelated reasons) I will never speak to or even make eye contact with, and I have been able to make it through events with him there as time has passed. It's exquisitely uncomfortable (especially when he's been sprung on me by surprise) but it comes down to what you're willing to avoid or make awkward for others -- in my case, my grandmother's funeral was too important to miss because of his presence.

On the second: It'll get easier sooner rather than later. I cut off my dad when my sister was 16 (we're about 9 years apart) and he tried his darndest to get her caught in the middle. I found the best tack was to tell her I didn't want her to be a messenger, and as long as she didn't pass things along from him, I'd never ask her to pass anything along from me. She most appreciated not being put in the middle by me (though my dad still hasn't given up). Now that she's an 'adult' and not at home (as of this week!), I imagine it'll only be easier to not make her feel put upon.
That said, if she wants to 'mend fences,' and doesn't want to understand your husband's issues, then just redirect, redirect, redirect. Talk about anything and everything else, but refuse to engage on the parent issue.

Piratelvr1121

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Re: How to deal with family after cutting off a toxic family member?
« Reply #4 on: August 30, 2012, 12:55:11 PM »
Having cut off my parents as well, I can kinda relate. I say kinda just cause the situation isn't exactly the same but in the same ballpark at least. 

1. If they're willing to have two events, that's great that they're so willing to accommodate so that you're not having to worry about running into your parents.  If not, well if going on a different day and perhaps having someone (other than the host) letting you know when your parents will be there so you can plan around it would be great.  I haven't been able to attend big family get togethers (Thanksgiving/weddings) in the last 3 years just for trying to avoid my folks, so instead I've made arrangements to visit family at non-holiday times.  Since many on the extended family of my dad's side live in NJ, they usually tend to get together when someone from out of state is visiting.  And they're respectful of the rift so I can trust them to not invite my parents up when they know I'll be there.

Thanksgiving is tricky though because my parents are the ones who organize it so they're there for the whole weekend and there is no avoiding them.

2. As for his sister? Well, I know with my extended family who have encouraged me to mend the rift, I've simply said "I have my reasons" and bean dipped.  Or perhaps a "They weren't as nice to me as they are to you" might work, with something said to let her know that you don't hold that against her or that you're bitter, but rather just stating it as fact.

I've got a younger brother who is 8 years my junior, but he has seen to some degree how DH and I were treated by our parents so he doesn't push me to mend fences, neither does his girlfriend, nor do we really talk about it at all.  In fact, the brother is the only relative who comes to visit us. Everyone else says "We miss you and we'd love to see you!" but even though we've invited people to visit us, no one comes.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars.  You have a right to be here. Be cheerful, strive to be happy. -Desiderata

Hmmmmm

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Re: How to deal with family after cutting off a toxic family member?
« Reply #5 on: August 30, 2012, 12:57:47 PM »
I agree with the PP's that it sounds like the first one is going fine.

For the second, I wouldn't discuss the issues with his underage sister yet.  I would address her passing on requests from her parents. "Sis, I love you, but you know I'm not having anything to do with mom or dad right now.  Please tell them to not try and get you to contact me for them. Or you can tell them you did pass it on to me but I didn't respond.  Because I won't be responding to these texts anymore."

TootsNYC

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Re: How to deal with family after cutting off a toxic family member?
« Reply #6 on: August 31, 2012, 12:07:29 AM »
For the first issue: Be the one to issue some of those invitations or to host/organize some of those events. Don't let the burden of two events fall on them. Do your part.

For the second issue: I agree with the idea of simply ignoring all such comments from Sis. Just don't respond at all. Pretend it never was said.

Since she is saying, "tell her yourself," it may be that the message IS coming from mom & dad; it might be worth sounding her out in a single conversation and then saying, "Sis, it's completely not fair to you for you to be in the middle here. I'm making every effort to not do that to you. Please don't do it to yourself, and don't let them make you feel pressured to do it. I'm going to be ignoring the comments from you. You handle Mom in whatever way works for you; if she asks, did you tell me what she said, you can say, 'Yes, I did, but he didn't really answer.' And then say to her, 'Mom, I can't speak for him, don't put me in the middle.' over and over."

StareDecisis

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Re: How to deal with family after cutting off a toxic family member?
« Reply #7 on: August 31, 2012, 12:01:53 PM »
First of all, let me say how sorry I am you are in this position.

I can certainly sympathize as DH is in the process of cutting off contact with his parents.  The final coup d'etat is set to come when the last of his Grandparents pass away.  He has already cut off contact with his sister and her husband.  His brother and he are in agreement about cutting off his parents once his grandparents are no longer around to be made miserable by the state of affairs.

Your brother needs to have a heart to heart with his sister, in person if possible.  Since she is a minor and still living with them, it's hard to say "stop acting as a go between period" since her parents may be telling her to text him and she must obey them.  He can tell her that he will say "O.k." which is translated as "message received" not "I will do as requested".  After she is no longer under their control, he needs to make it clear that he doesn't want to hear about them.

Regarding extended family, if they are open to hosting two events, that's great.  I think however that I would encourage them to host their event, to which you will show up either early before his parents have arrived and depart before they do or come after they go.  And I would be tempted to host alternative events myself which they can attend to which his parents of course will not be invited.

Currently my sister-in-law hosts the holiday parties and we attend them, with his parents.  We are aware that when his grandparents die, she will continue to host, only his parents will no longer be invited.  This works for us, it may not work for you.  We switch off holidays and tolerate his parents, but for the most part, we simply go to the other family parties either after they leave or before they arrive.

Above all, refuse to get drawn into any conversation about them--no matter what it is.  Immediately change the subject and refuse to discuss the issue.

Thanks for sharing your experience.   :)  I'm sorry that you and your DH have to deal with that.  We pretty much refuse to engage in any conversation about them; sometimes my husband's grandma (his dad's mom) will mention things about them (I believe innocently, as they are more like "Your mom said she had a good time on her vacation to XYZ City," not "Your dad misses you" sorts of things). We just sort of say "Ah" or "That's nice" until we can change the subject.  It's a delicate situation, and I find that most people who haven't experienced something similar don't really understand... most of my friends/family who know how my inlaws are don't understand why the rest of the family talks to them, and they don't understand why we want to deal with family who still talk to/see them.  Others are "family is the most important thing in the world, no matter how poorly they treat you" types, and don't understand why we are so mean.   ::)  So I really appreciate hearing how others in similar situations deal with it... it makes me feel sane  ;D

StareDecisis

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Re: How to deal with family after cutting off a toxic family member?
« Reply #8 on: August 31, 2012, 12:35:05 PM »
For those who suggested hosting at our home, it is difficult for us to host as we live in a third-story walkup, and my husband's grandma (the matriarch of their family) is frail and has recently had a hip replacement.  She can walk up stairs, but it takes her a very long time and it causes her a lot of pain.  There is no other way to access our condo, and she has declined invitations to visit us due to the stairs.  We could host other family members in smaller groups, I suppose, but generally these get-togethers involve all of the family, and grandma would be really hurt to miss out on an event due to her hip.  We don't often have the opportunity to invite smaller groups of the family (e.g. Aunt A, Uncle A, and Cousin A) as they mostly seem to prefer the whole family to get together at one large event.  Some of the family live a plane ride away, so whenever a far-away family member is in town, or there is a holiday, everyone gathers at grandma's house.  I would really enjoy hosting, and we are hoping that when we buy a house, we will be able to host.  I'm not sure what we can do until then... if you have any thoughts, I'd love a solution to this! 

Thanks for all of the suggestions re:  his sister.  How much do you think is appropriate as background information if DH sits down with her and says "The wedding was just the final straw, not the only reason" and she asks what other reasons he has?  He wants to balance telling her the truth (this does impact her, and she's 16, not a little kid) without sharing too much personal information (hard for him, plus she's not an adult yet, even if she's not really a kid).  Should he just keep it to something like "They have not always treated me the way they treat you"?  She is a nice enough girl, but doesn't really get boundaries yet (hoping that comes with age!), so a phrase that manages to convey a boundary in a gentle way would be great.  As I said, DH has a really hard time discussing this topic in general, so he would really like to find a phrase or two to practice before he talks to her.

StareDecisis

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Re: How to deal with family after cutting off a toxic family member?
« Reply #9 on: August 31, 2012, 12:45:06 PM »
Having cut off my parents as well, I can kinda relate. I say kinda just cause the situation isn't exactly the same but in the same ballpark at least. 

1. If they're willing to have two events, that's great that they're so willing to accommodate so that you're not having to worry about running into your parents.  If not, well if going on a different day and perhaps having someone (other than the host) letting you know when your parents will be there so you can plan around it would be great.  I haven't been able to attend big family get togethers (Thanksgiving/weddings) in the last 3 years just for trying to avoid my folks, so instead I've made arrangements to visit family at non-holiday times.  Since many on the extended family of my dad's side live in NJ, they usually tend to get together when someone from out of state is visiting.  And they're respectful of the rift so I can trust them to not invite my parents up when they know I'll be there.

Thanksgiving is tricky though because my parents are the ones who organize it so they're there for the whole weekend and there is no avoiding them.

2. As for his sister? Well, I know with my extended family who have encouraged me to mend the rift, I've simply said "I have my reasons" and bean dipped.  Or perhaps a "They weren't as nice to me as they are to you" might work, with something said to let her know that you don't hold that against her or that you're bitter, but rather just stating it as fact.

I've got a younger brother who is 8 years my junior, but he has seen to some degree how DH and I were treated by our parents so he doesn't push me to mend fences, neither does his girlfriend, nor do we really talk about it at all.  In fact, the brother is the only relative who comes to visit us. Everyone else says "We miss you and we'd love to see you!" but even though we've invited people to visit us, no one comes.

Thanks for sharing your experience.  I'm glad your brother seems to understand.  :)  We are not exactly opposed to attending the same event at a different time, but DH is worried that if his parents know we'll be there at a given time (whether told by accident or intentionally, it is likely that someone would mention it to them), they will show up at that time and cause a scene by attempting to guilt him/us in front of all of the family.  I like your phrases for explaining the rift, and I will pass them along to DH! 

Piratelvr1121

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Re: How to deal with family after cutting off a toxic family member?
« Reply #10 on: August 31, 2012, 01:00:32 PM »
My mother did once invite me, by email* to a surprise birthday for my brother that his girlfriend was holding at their house.  Mind you, the party was at 7:30 on the Saturday before his birthday, and she was inviting me at 6pm on the day before.   I was pregnant, a month from my due date and my parents live an hour away.  Even if I wanted to go, it wouldn't have been a good idea, and I'm sure they knew I was pregnant and very close to the end.

But even if I could have gone, I wouldn't have.  Much as I would have loved to celebrate my brother's birthday with him, it just seemed like a very bad time to try to extend any olive branches, since that wasn't the purpose of the party and I didn't want to take attention away from my brother.  Or potentially have things turn ugly (which was a possibility) and thus ruin the day for him and his girlfriend, who had gone through the trouble to set up the surprise. 

*didn't have my cell phone #, but she has my old email from college, which is set up to fwd to my current email.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars.  You have a right to be here. Be cheerful, strive to be happy. -Desiderata

StareDecisis

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Re: How to deal with family after cutting off a toxic family member?
« Reply #11 on: August 31, 2012, 01:02:07 PM »
On the first one: It sounds like things are actually going great here. I had to cut off all my dad's family (not because I hated them but because they don't do boundaries) along with my dad, so I sort of envy you here. You will have to make some tough choices -- like, say, future weddings. Sometimes you will have to not go to something you'd rather attend, so long as you don't want to be in the same room as them (though I think that'll get easier with time). And you might have to keep making lame excuses, but it's worth it as long as you're determined not to see them, in my book. And while it might hurt some feelings, people DO understand.
I have an uncle who (for unrelated reasons) I will never speak to or even make eye contact with, and I have been able to make it through events with him there as time has passed. It's exquisitely uncomfortable (especially when he's been sprung on me by surprise) but it comes down to what you're willing to avoid or make awkward for others -- in my case, my grandmother's funeral was too important to miss because of his presence.

On the second: It'll get easier sooner rather than later. I cut off my dad when my sister was 16 (we're about 9 years apart) and he tried his darndest to get her caught in the middle. I found the best tack was to tell her I didn't want her to be a messenger, and as long as she didn't pass things along from him, I'd never ask her to pass anything along from me. She most appreciated not being put in the middle by me (though my dad still hasn't given up). Now that she's an 'adult' and not at home (as of this week!), I imagine it'll only be easier to not make her feel put upon.
That said, if she wants to 'mend fences,' and doesn't want to understand your husband's issues, then just redirect, redirect, redirect. Talk about anything and everything else, but refuse to engage on the parent issue.

Thanks for sharing your experience - I'm sorry you ended up having to cut off other family as a result.  Where's the hug emoticon?  :)  We have been fortunate in that so far, there hasn't been an event which can't be duplicated (wedding, funeral, etc.), so we haven't had to deal with that yet.  I think those sorts of events might be big enough that we could attend and avoid his parents.  At any rate, it will be easier than avoiding them at grandma's dinner table! 

DH has not asked his sister to pass on anything to their parents, but it can't hurt to mention that to her directly.  I think refusing to engage on the issue will be good after he has one discussion about it with her.  Thanks :)

Mikayla

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Re: How to deal with family after cutting off a toxic family member?
« Reply #12 on: August 31, 2012, 09:02:55 PM »
Welcome to the forum!  On the first one, I think you need to find a gentle way to get the extended family to stop feeling responsible for making sure you see out of town relatives.  It's not their job to keep you in contact with them - it's yours (if you even want it).  Maybe your DH could find a way to thank them for being so accommodating about this, but you're more than ready to take on the responsibility for maintaining your own extended and/or long distance family relationships.   

And on holidays, the way I see it, each generation gets to start their own traditions.  For now, you and DH could go to a resort or B&B for that weekend (dog friendly, of course!).  Have an "orphan" holiday and invite friends stuck in town.  Many of my Thanksgvings have been like this!

The second one is really tricky, but since she's 16, your DH needs to find a way to explain to her that as siblings grow up, they're not going to have the exact same relationship with parents.  He needs to resist the temptation to belittle his parents, or give sordid details.  In fact he needs to put all of this in general terms.  His mom or dad are very probably pulling strings here and this 16 year old doesn't need to be a pawn.  It's almost like what you tell kids in a divorce - just because he is estranged from his parents doesn't mean he doesn't love her.

And then let her figure out the rest on her own.

StareDecisis

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Re: How to deal with family after cutting off a toxic family member?
« Reply #13 on: September 05, 2012, 05:14:31 PM »
Welcome to the forum!  On the first one, I think you need to find a gentle way to get the extended family to stop feeling responsible for making sure you see out of town relatives.  It's not their job to keep you in contact with them - it's yours (if you even want it).  Maybe your DH could find a way to thank them for being so accommodating about this, but you're more than ready to take on the responsibility for maintaining your own extended and/or long distance family relationships.   

And on holidays, the way I see it, each generation gets to start their own traditions.  For now, you and DH could go to a resort or B&B for that weekend (dog friendly, of course!).  Have an "orphan" holiday and invite friends stuck in town.  Many of my Thanksgvings have been like this!

The second one is really tricky, but since she's 16, your DH needs to find a way to explain to her that as siblings grow up, they're not going to have the exact same relationship with parents.  He needs to resist the temptation to belittle his parents, or give sordid details.  In fact he needs to put all of this in general terms.  His mom or dad are very probably pulling strings here and this 16 year old doesn't need to be a pawn.  It's almost like what you tell kids in a divorce - just because he is estranged from his parents doesn't mean he doesn't love her.

And then let her figure out the rest on her own.

Thanks for the suggestions!  DH is fairly shy and non-confrontational to a fault, especially with his family; I have been trying to encourage him to work on this, but it has been slow going.  He does like to keep in touch with the out-of-town relatives, but isn't too interested in keeping in touch with them himself (drives me crazy, but that's probably a different thread!).  I like the idea of phrasing it as a thank-you for having been so accommodating... sounds like less of a "problem" :)  I also LOVE the idea of a Thanksgiving B&B trip with our dog, or an "orphan" holiday! 

The situation with his sister is tricky, but I guess most situations are with teenagers  ::)  I will pass all of this along to DH.  It is easier for him to deal with situations like this if he has a lot of time to sort of mentally prepare and have responses to likely questions/comments ready; not rehearsed, exactly, but more so that he isn't thrown for a loop, if that makes sense.   

I realized while writing this that DH sounds like a bit of a pain in the rump.  I'm not trying to make him sound that way; he is a great guy, and I love him to pieces!  His issues with his family are pretty much (thankfully) contained to family.  It really breaks my heart to see how much his parents' abuse has impacted him. 


FoxPaws

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Re: How to deal with family after cutting off a toxic family member?
« Reply #14 on: September 05, 2012, 06:56:37 PM »
How about something like this, either spoken or emailed:

Mom, Dad, and I have a long history of serious issues. After my wedding, I realized I could no longer ignore those problems and that the healthiest thing for me to do was cut off contact with them. I'm glad that our parents treat you well, but I am ten years older than you are and there is a lot that went on before your birth and when you were too young to remember that have factored into this. I'm not going to discuss the details with you, as the subject is very painful for me and dredging up the past won't change it. Just know that my decision was made after a lot of thought and that I am fully confident that it is the right thing to do.

I'm sorry if you feel caught in the middle of this. I don't know whose idea it is for you to keep texting me to call Mom, but it needs to stop. If Mom is putting you up to it, you're free to tell her whatever you need to to get her off your back, but understand that I will NOT be calling her, ever. If you're doing this on your own, please stop. It isn't helpful and it won't change anything. From now on, any texts of this nature will be ignored.

I love you and having a good relationship with you means a lot to me - I would hate to lose that because you won't respect my decision.

I am so a lady. And if you say I'm not, I'll slug you. - Cindy Brady