I have four children (ages 37, 36, 13 and 11), two girls and two boys. I had my first two children 11 months apart, the first a year after I married at 16.
I left home in a desperate attempt to escape a raging alcoholic father who was abusive in every way imaginable, and a mother who was too immobilized by fear and insecurity to do anything about it.
As a young wife and mother, I was plagued with haunting flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, depression and more. I was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder because of the extensive childhood abuse I endured.
“‘I tried to self-medicate with alcohol, other men, and occasionally narcotics at night when their father was caring for my children.’”
I’ve never had any other mental-health diagnosis, but I admit that in the five years that followed the exit from my parents’ home I tried to self-medicate with alcohol, other men, and occasionally narcotics at night when my children’s father was caring for them.
The spiral of my life hit rock bottom when, at 19, I had gotten divorced, willingly left my two children with their father and attempted suicide multiple times, and was sitting in a jail cell for writing bad checks.
Fate stepped in at that time, and through a series of extraordinary events. I was able to get the long-needed counseling I needed, graduate high school and college (first one in my family to ever go), reconcile with my children, and become a successful businesswoman.
Part of my healing has involved taking ownership of my own decisions and how they’ve affected others, and making amends. None has been more important to me than with my children.
“‘I’ve gone out of my way to be honest and transparent about my behavior without blaming, minimizing or justifying it.’”
I’ve gone out of my way to be honest and transparent about my behavior without blaming, minimizing or justifying it. In addition, I’ve lived a life that has been consistent with my words since that time. My children came and lived with me and I provided them with a stable, loving home. My son, who is the younger of the two oldest, forgave me and we have a very close relationship.
My daughter, however, is very religious and looks down on me because of not only the things I took responsibility for doing as a teen, but for a number of things her father claimed I did that never happened. In fact, sharing her faith, he has been an ever-present voice in my children’s ears condemning me to hell, calling me all sorts of horrific names, and repeatedly telling them I can’t be trusted because of that time.
My son decided long ago to shut him down by telling him who and what he was describing did not reconcile with the mother he knows and loves. My daughter, on the other hand, has never wanted a relationship with me and has been very cruel.
While being kind to me to my face, she’s repeatedly told others she only wants money and material items from me. She has told anyone who will listen about my sins as a teenager, parroted the lies her father has invented, and told her brother the only thing she wants from me is my jewelry when I die. When I asked her about saying these things she admitted to saying them and said, “People have a right to know.”
“‘I love my daughter in spite of how she’s treated me and I know it is, in part, unresolved pain from my mistakes as a young mother that has caused these issues.’”
I love my daughter in spite of how she’s treated me and I know it is, in part, unresolved pain from my mistakes as a young mother that has caused these issues. She has always refused every attempt I’ve made to bring healing to our relationship, including but not limited to counseling, meeting with her religious leader, etc. Her religious perspective is that she is not to associate with me since I don’t share her religious beliefs. Thus, she hasn’t spoken to me in the last 10 years.
My question revolves around how to handle my estate in my passing. I have been very successful in my career choice, own investment properties, and have substantial savings. Help me understand the best way to handle inheritance in regards to a child who wants nothing to do with you, except your money or jewelry.
Still Paying for Sins of the Past
Dear Still Paying,
There was something so moving about your letter and, when I reflected upon it, it struck me: It is written with compassion for yourself and your family, and with no small amount of dignity. You have made a decision to live your life free from the secrets and shame of the past, but also in an open-hearted and understanding manner. For that reason, I believe you have already answered your own question.
I understand that it must be hurtful and frustrating to deal with a child who has not only hung rigidly on to one narrative about your life, but has also failed to let go of her own anger and bitter recriminations — so much so that she is intent on telling other people about your past and her feelings about it. But that is her journey, and even with her own religious affiliation, her harsh words only reveal her own inability to show forgiveness.
“One of the most powerful aspects of your letter is how you have owned your past, learned from it and sought to understand it.”
One of the most powerful aspects of your letter is how you have owned your past, learned from it and sought to understand it. You went back to school and realized that — yes — you were worth something, and you are not defined by your worst actions, but you can strive to be a person who asks, “What would my best self do in a given situation?” What would your best self do when writing your will?
My take, for what it’s worth, is that your best self would split your estate equally and give your daughter a piece of your jewelry, but also include a message in your will or with the piece itself to say that this represents your love for her; your wish that she lives her best life and finds it in her heart to think the best of people, and perhaps not the worst; and your last act of love — something that you hope she has plenty of in her life.
As your life has shown, action triumphs over self-pity and regret, and love trumps anger and resentment. The best thing you did in your life was give yourself a clean slate, and allow yourself the good grace and opportunity to try again — against all odds — to build a life for yourself that you and your children, and their children, could be proud of. Perhaps this is your greatest message to your children, and the best lesson for us all.
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