Monday, May 05, 2008

An ethical question....

I have a question for all of you, something I've been grappling with intermittently over the past few weeks.

Anyone who has been reading here knows I do not have a relationship with my mother and why. For those who don't yet know, I'll simply say that my mother was my primary abuser growing up. No need to go into all the details any longer. I no longer have any need or desire to wade through that stygian marsh.

Mothers Day, whether here or in Thailand, is a designated day to honor our mothers. The rituals are different but setting the cultural practices aside, what do you believe is a son's or daughter's obligation to honor his or her mother?

I went through the cards yesterday at Target, trying to find one that would be even remotely appropriate (something like "thank you for giving me life"), just in case I decide to do what my spiritual practice encourages. There was not a single card that felt "real" to me and I didn't buy anything.

The position of my practice is basically that we can always find something to be thankful for. In general, I agree with that. I can thank my mother for giving birth to me and that's authentic enough. Let's face it, I wouldn't be here if she hadn't carried me for nine months.

Being somewhat of a purist, I insist on authenticity. I can not send that woman a sentimental card that says how wonderful she is or that she was always "there" for me. She isn't and she hasn't. This isn't meant to be a slight to her. In this case, it's all about me. It's not about her. But the fact remains that she's getting old and probably only has a few years left to live. Looking at it from that perspective, if my taking the minor action that her culture values (sending a card), perhaps it will help her pass away in peace. When all is said and done, she knows she screwed up. I forgive her but I do not trust her enough to have a relationship with her.

So.. what do you think? Do you believe we have an obligation to honor parents who were abusive? Do you think we should stretch ourselves far enough to find something to thank them for ~ or is it better to just let it go?

(I'll tell you my conclusions before I post next time. :)



Anvilcloud said...

Another tough one: I don't know what I'm about to reply. Not exactly anyway.

I guess I don't think you need to honour her as a parent, but it's okay to do something thoughtful for another person. My wife's motto is "Always be kinder than you need to be," and maybe that applies here. But I understand that you don't want a false card. How about flowers?

blooming desertpea said...

I'm pretty purist in this matter. I don't even think I want to thank her for giving birth to me because I didn't ask her to and I'm not even sure giving birth to me was a good thing altogether. I don't think we owe our parents just because they are our parents. I'm on the "be authentic side", too - but - having said that, your point about her becoming old and her days being counted, I might do something like you suggested. If you didn't find anything in terms of cards that really was you, why not draw your own with your own words, words that are your authentic you.

Christine said...

oh man, i really don't know. i am lucky to have a mother who was kind and good to me and with whom i have a decent (if not complicated) relationship.

i think the idea that sending her something for mother's day as she gets older to help her finish life in peace is a thoughtful and kind sentiment.

i guess the hard part would be to find the right card and that seems very difficult.

no good answers to this. . .

Amy Y said...

I think you have absolutely NO obligation to send a card to an abusive parent. I think you should do what is going to make you happy... If moving on and not doing something that will encourage a relationship you do not want will make you feel better, then you should do that.

If, on the other hand, you feel that giving her peace and comfort in what might be her final years would be beneficial to YOU because it makes us feel good to give to others (or whatever reason you might find), then you should do it.

What feels right to you is what's key here, in my opinion. She gave up her rights to thoughtfulness when she chose to abuse you.

Julie Pippert said...

To which obligation do you refer? The one to you? To your beliefs? To the cultural holiday? Or to her? All?

Do you contact her at other times?

If you choose to do it, I'd send a photo postcard of a magnolia or gladiolus (flowers for dignity and strength) (or similar) and be yourself.

It sounds like you sincerely wish her well. Perhaps that's what you say, something like wishing her peace and joy.

If you feel it is the right thing to do, I encourage you to send something honest like that.

I admit, though, that I don't send a card of any sort to Evil granny because not only do I not trust her to have a relationship with, but I don't trust her to not use it as a weapon against me.

So if it is something that can harm you, I say don't.

Curious what you will say!

jen said...

ah. i think we have an obligation to honor authenticity. In this case, I might say your honoring of your authenticity is respecting the tradition itself.

but of course, i'll be curious as to what you decide.

thailandchani said...

Anvil, I think that's a really valid point.. and I do want to be kind ~ as long as my integrity isn't compromised in the process.


Desertpea, of course your birth was a good thing! Think of all the lives you've touched throughout your time on the planet. Seriously. On the microcosm, think of what you've offered me on this site.

There is a purpose ~ and that purpose is your intuition and what you give to those who surround you.

If you hadn't had an incubator, you wouldn't have happened.

So.. yes.. it is a good thing.

I can't draw a straight line. No kidding. I have no spatial or visual skills.. but I can write.

If I do this, it will be a handwritten note on a small blank card.


Christine, somehow that is what feels important. At least according to my belief system, if we don't do it in this life, we might be stuck together in another life ~ which would bring suffering to us both.

She doesn't like me any more than I like her. It's a contentious and cold relationship. But this can't be about her or my grievances. It has to be about the Right Thing, one way or another.

I just have to figure out whether *any* cultural tradition, mine or hers, is important enough to stir those stagnant waters.


Amy, it's about what will be beneficial in the large picture. If we all hang on to our grievances, then nothing will ever change. It's the Butterfly Effect. If I do something that hurts someone else, then that person does something that hurts another person - stream to lake to river to ocean, as I've mentioned before.

The obligation part is another issue though. :)


Julie, in some respects, it is obligation to tradition. My tradition. She really needs to evaluate her own traditions and culture to determine what she wants to do about things. Yet I am accountable to mine. (Oof! These fiberglass nails are wiping out my ability to type LOL).

I do not contact her at other times. For all intents and purposes, we have no relationship at all. She doesn't know anything about my life and I know nothing about hers.

She can't harm me. She doesn't even know where I live. She has a Yahoo email address.. and if I mail something, she will have my post office box number. Beyond that, no, she can not harm me.

Sending something honest.. something that is within her cultural framework (so that it makes sense to her) is the only thing I can do. I won't lie - or pretend we have a loving relationship - because we don't.


Jen, yes.. I think that's correct. I have made a very strong and deep commitment to my culture. When I picked it, I didn't say I was only going to honor the easy stuff - or the feel-good stuff - or the pretty stuff. This is one of the harder traditions.


heartinsanfrancisco said...

I always buy blank cards and write something of my own inside, which is more authentic than trying to find a Hallmark card writer who can express my thoughts for me.

I think that in honoring your mother for giving you life, you are really honoring the process of life itself, and why would anyone choose not to do that?

Your mother may have messed up terribly in raising you, but she also gave you many genetic gifts which should also be honored, and which ultimately have allowed you to survive your less-than-optimal upbringing. So in honoring your mother, you are also honoring yourself and perhaps God, and I think that is a beautiful thing to do.

I suspect that you fear she will interpret a card from you as a blanket acceptance of her bad mothering, but in truth, it is less important how it affects her than how it affects YOU.

When we give gifts, we cannot determine how they will be used, so giving them has to be enough.

Olivia said...


My mother was also my primary abuser. She's now dead. However, my father is living and so is my brother and my sister. I am currently estranged from all of them.

This past Father's Day I called my dad and told him I wanted him to know I loved him and for him to have a good Father's Day. That was it. Nothing more. I didn't want to reestablish a relationship. He couldn't understand that, but I felt okay about it. It felt really good because it was authentic. I don't know if/when I'll contact him again, but don't care or worry about it.

I think that your "obligation" is to do what is real and authentic for you. You can love and honor your mother in whatever way seems safest and best. If it feels good to you to reach out to her and to send her something---good. If not, if it would twist you up or take you somewhere you don't want to go---I don't see an obligation.

I think we are obligated to forgive as soon as we are able (for our own good) and to send love in the most healthy way possible. It might be simply loving thoughts.

One thing I thank my parents for is that they were powerful teachers for me. Sometimes our abusers are our most powerful teachers. We learn so much of what not to do, of what we don't want to be. I wouldn't necessarily tell someone that---that's a whole different issue.

I can be grateful that I had my parents because they made me who I am today. I am also grateful that they didn't abort me (which was a strong option).

Being grateful and appreciate and forgiving is one thing. What you communicate is a whole other thing...I will be curious to see what you write next!


Lex said...

I don't think doing anything solely out of obligation to anything or anyone is authentic. If it's not in you to send a card don't. Next year might be different if she's still here. If she's not, you'll have been true to yourself.

If the issue is what the card says, as opposed to succumbing to the tradition, I agree that you write a note in a blank card.

I believe we have an obligation to honor our parents, but I don't think honoring them means complying with cultural expectations, neither does it require interacting with them--especially the abusive ones.

What's your gut say?

meno said...

why not get a blank card and write what you want?

Like "You were adequate."

Those flowery cards are icky.

liv said...

Sometimes I go with something like, "Best wishes for a happy and prosperous life" because really? you can wish someone good things even if you can't feel it for them. or you could do what meno said. that's often how i feel about mommy dearest.

Chanda (aka Bea) said...

I think the answer to that question depends on the individual, and only the individual can answer it for themselves. Personal healing would have to be the bench mark for me. Abusive parents have already squandered any honor that would have been theirs by violating the sacred bond of parent and child. I think that any reaching out the child does as an adult should be for their own sense of health, healing, and closure.

Anonymous said...

I think meno & liv hit the nail on the head ~ nothing off the rack will fit this situation.

Janet said...

I would have a difficult time sending a card to someone who was abusive towards me. I hold a grudge; it's something I need to work on.

That said, if it feels authentic to your value system to send the type of card you describe, I think you should. I can imagine that it's hard to find a card like that in the mainstream stores, though. Julie's suggestion seems like it would work.

Rebecca said...

It seems like a lot of comments mirror my own advice, but I'll give you my experience, strength and hope. I always went for the "neutral" cards that were along the lines of "Thinking of you on Mother's (or Father's) Day." I could not bring myself to send gushy, flowery, sentimental cards, but I did want them to know I thought of them on those days.

A blank card or postcard would do the same - it doesn't have to be specific to the "Day."


we_be_toys said...

Tough call - only you can know what feels right. I'm with Chanda on this: whatever you choose to do has to feel right for you, and it shouldn't emanate from some social sense of duty. Trust is hard thing to rebuild, especially alone.

MsLittlePea said...

I have very loving feelings for my own mom and still I find those 'gushyblushy' cards corny and obnoxious. I would tell my own (hypothetical) kids not to get them because they are ridiculous. Anyone who tells their mother 'I love you' more than the obligated once a year shouldn't feel the need to buy any of those 'overdone' cards. This is where the question you pose gets complicated for me. I hate the word "obligation" and anything related to it. Things done because one feels "obligated" don't necessarily come from the heart. So if you're asking if one should honor a parent (whether or not said parent was abusive or loving) because cultural traditions "obligate" it then no. Not if it means not staying true to your feelings and/or moral code. Who would want to receive gift given out of "obligation" anyway. That's not an honor it's an errand. If I want to do something nice for my mom or buy her gifts(both things I love to do anyway), I do it because I want to and I love her not because someone made up a holiday telling me I'm a crappy daughter if I don't--but see I have all these different ideas about holidays and gifts. The more I think about if I were in a similar situation, and I felt I wanted to do something, I think the nicest thing I could do without feeling like I was compromising too much would be to say a prayer for that person. And maybe just send a blank card that says,"I said a prayer for you. Have a great day."

Defiantmuse said...

That is a very difficult spot to be in. I can see it from both sides, the positive as well as the negative.

I, personally, would be of the frame of mind that there is always something to be thankful for. There is always some positive that can be gleamed from a stinking pile of shit. It's fertilizer, right?

Just my two cents.


crazymumma said...

I think that honouring someone can only go so far. If words do not speak it perhaps a gesture that means something to you. A flower in a specific colour perhaps. A candle signifying something to you. I am not sure.

Suki said...

Been through this thing with my father.
Chucked him out of my life exactly as soon as I legally could, and I don't regret it.

My ethic is very simple - I do what furthers my interests. That includes self-preservation. At this point, he can hurt me. So I keep away.
Your culture involves being kind, but that includes being kind to yourself. If you feel that sending her some token makes you feel false, don't do it. But if you can do it simply as a gesture, or as a recognition of the fact that you wouldn't be here without your mother - in short, being true to yourself - go right ahead!

That said, your decision is your own. I hope you do/did what feels right.

Dandelion seeds said...

my husband's mother was absent for much of his life (due to some pretty destructive demons of her own) and he was raised by his father. When we got married, he struggled with whether or not to invite her to the wedding (his father passed away a few years ago). In the end, he felt it was good for his own soul to acknowledge, as you said, that she gave him life and she was part of his experience good bad or indifferent. He did this by inviting her and I know it meant a lot to her. And while their contact is still limited, I think it healed something for them both.

just my perspective~

slouching mom said...

oh, lord. this is tough.

i would assume the culture you feel most a part of would want you to be authentic to yourself, on the premise that you cannot be authentic in a collective until and unless you are authentic to yourself. does that make any sense? i don't know, it's late.

does it feel authentic? or does it feel hypocritical?

painted maypole said...

i think you are going down the right road, and I hope you find a way to send a card or do something that is authentic and still meaningful.

Carla said...

This is a tough one. I've thought about it and as I've never had an abusive mother am not sure how I would feel. I was at one point in an abusive relationship and I found (find) it hard to let the anger go at times. I know that I would never trust that person again. I don't know that we can ever truly re-establish trust with a person who had been abusive towards us. That's not to say we can't find something to value. I learned some important life lessons...not happy I had to go through what I did to learn them, but at the same time, there were things I needed to learn. Good luck with coming to terms with all of this.

niobe said...

I think a lot about the Right Thing to do in my vaguely similar situation. My mother is, for reasons beyond my comprehension, furious at me and refuses to have anything to do with me. I made her a card from one of my photos -- one that was almost an abstraction, so that she could read whatever she chooses into it. Then I signed my name.

Chatty Crone said...

I too was in a situation of abuse. I must say the work is for you to become stronger and not for her. I agree a lot with Olivia.

You can get a blank card and thank her for what she gave you. I'm sure you love her as a person.

You can thank her for your strength (pain makes us stronger), the wonderful ability to love others (by seeing how not to love others), etc.

You are a wonderful person - I can tell. I appreciate your mom for that.

Both my parents are gone - I'm glad I stuck it out - for me and them.


Angela said...

Is it possible to truly honor anyone or anything if we are acting out of obligation alone? This is only my opinion, and I'm sure others will disagree, but I only feel I can truly *honor* someone when I gift them because I want to. Not because I feel some sense of duty.....

Ian Lidster said...

I feel we have no obligation to honor a parent or anybody else who has been abusive to us. Blood does not excuse cruelty, pure and simple.
To me, it's better to let it go.
I am grateful to my alcoholic and aloof mother for introducing me to the wide world of literature at an early age and enabling me to appreciate the arts at all levels.
But any good teacher could have done the same.
As a maternal figure she was a dreadful failure. I don't, in retrospect, hate her. Mainly, I feel nothing. When she died I was confounded by the fact I felt no grief whatsoever. Still don't. Yet I am a very loving person.

Stephanie said...

Though we have different faiths, we have in common a deep desire to authentically live out our faith. So in that sense, I understand what you mean about obligation. But how do you honor someone who is so undeserving of honor? Finding some part of her life to be thankful for - the fact that she did give you life - and being genuine in that makes a lot of sense to me.

I don't think you have an obligation to a relationship. But I do understand your sense of obligation to your faith, even in (especially in) such difficult circumstances. If a Mother's Day card helps you do that, then that makes sense to me.

The ongoing relationship with an abusive parent is incredibly difficult, and I respect that you would even consider what might bring her peace at the end of her life. That says a lot about you.

Molly said...

I think a blank card, or one you make yourself, would be best. "To err is human, To forgive divine." You can be kind and send her a card since that is important to her. It doesn't wipe out all the harm she did to you, but taking the high road always feels better....

Angela said...

I'm so glad you posted this, Chani. I have experienced similar thoughts/emotions. (Again, I'm sure you'll be surprised to hear it!!) ;) I, too, have gotten to the point where I won't purchase a card that says something I don't mean. That being said (and this is just a suggestion as I think that the answers to your question are as individual as the indivuduals themselves), what about buying a blank card and writing something that feels appropriate?

I don't do much for my dad because of similar feelings I have for him, but I do try to do what I feel when I feel it for exactly the reasons you mention. He won't be around forever, and I don't want to have regrets. That being said, though, I'm really on a kick lately about not forcing things, including sentiments and actions that I am not feeling.

I look forward to reading what conclusions you came to.

Bec said...

as you know my own father passed away 6 weeks ago, we didn't have a great relationship, he was a selfish man, no abuse but a lot of indifference, he was the kind of person who would go out of his way to help a freind but barely acknoledge his own kids. The fact of us having a relationship at all is down to my sister & I including him in our life, he would have just faded away thinking, probably, that that was best. I chose to not go see him straight away when I new he only had a few weeks to live & he died before I got bank from thailand from an unexpected anyurism (sp!) & I am regretting it greatly. Even if it is to get something off your chest then do it, who cares what it does for her or what she will think or feel but if you have thought about it enough to be sourcing cards & writing this blog then you need to do what ever it is you need to do. For you. Not her. I should have gone to see my dad for myself not really for him as I am the one left. I will sound very selfish but we are the ones left with our thoughts & guilt at the end of the day, so be selfish, write the card. It will provide YOU with something that you obviously need.

Sorry to ramble but this post really hit a nerve.

Bec said...

oh & sorry for the poor spelling. I really need to brush up my touchtyping skills!!

Anonymous said...

Okay, kinda strong on this one. I've lived it through to the end with my father.

But the fact remains that she's getting old and probably only has a few years left to live.

Which, to me, is meaningless. I do not make a connection between the state of someone's overall wellbeing and their responsibility for their actions. I also do not make a connection between someone's actions and my own choice of actions. I am responsible for my actions.

Bottom line: you must be true to whomever/whatever YOU are--independent of any other variable--and act from this place.

One day, when time allows, I will write privately and share how I kept my word, held a line, a vow, put forth as a teen. When all was said and done, others might not have understood my actions but I did and that's what mattered. I am authentic, and congruent and there is integrity in my fabric's weave.

my taking the minor action that her culture values (sending a card), perhaps it will help her pass away in peace.

How someones passes is not up to me in my Tao.

Just sayin'.

PeterAtLarge said...

Chani, sorry to be so late with this response. I'm all in favor of forgiving, if it can be done without harm to yourself. There's a certain toxic effect in the energy of holding on to past wrongs, and it's healthier to dump that stuff, as I see it. As for that card, I honor the wisdom of those who have suggested a blank card and whatever few words you find in your heart. They should be healing, first and foremost, for yourself...

Aliki2006 said...

I guess it would depend on the level of abuse, and on whether or not you have any type of relationship with her now. But I agree with what others have said: you have an obligation to yourself.

Gillian said...

Firstly, I won't weigh in with a comment on your post until I tell you email is still broken~ is a temp addy for me...please email me there Chani. And I have not forgotten your blog banner, I want to use authentic Thai photos, so I am searching for some I can use with permission. Hang in there! Sorry it's taking so long honey, I was sick all week. Back in the game now though. ;D

Your question, let it go. Is my answer.
Let it go. Anger, and other feelings destroy only YOU. You have been abused in some fashion by your mother and so your anger at her is almost like a continuance. Don't do it. Just don't acknowledge her. You have to be true to yourself. You can't stretch something like that! But that is my opinion. If you are interested in sparing her feelings, (as love for our parents is unconditional and that makes it difficult to not love them even when they do rotten things...) then just the email wishing her a "hey, hows it goin?" will suffice.
She'll get the message.
Maybe you need (and I say this without knowing your story) to get that ball of fire out. Tell her how she has treated you and how it has affected your life. Perhaps the greatest mothers day gift you could give her would be your honesty.
Just know this, at the end of the were an innocent child and you've done nothing wrong here.
Much love to you Chani. I hope this sorts itself out for you. You have the power to deal with this!

Anonymous said...

No, I don't. I don't think simply giving birth or donating hte sperm for it makes you honorable. Children don't ask to be born and if you have them, you are obligated to do all that you can to be a good parent to them. hen your children will honor you because they want to.

Rebel said...

Um... NO! I don't think there should be an obligation to honor a parent who abuses their child.

I think your authentic gratitude is the best you can offer. "Thanks for giving me life" on a blank card would be perfect. That can be an act of kindness towards her as well as an act of gratitude for you. But if you chose not to recognize her or this holiday in any way I think that would be fine.

We are ALL flawed humans... but not all of us decide to deal with our pain my inflicting it on others.