Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Power of Prayer: Or How I Started Setting Boundaries With NF

Now that I look back, I can only ascribe it to an act of Divine Providence - because I sure as hell didn't know what I was doing at the time when I had my first and only serious confrontation with my narcissistic father. And yet it worked out quite well. I still shiver at the thought of all the ways in which I could have messed it up. I had very little understanding of how NPD works at the time and only a suggestion made by a member of a family forum that my father might be suffering from it.

My father, who had had almost no interaction with us since we got married almost five years prior to that, and showed little interest in his granddaughter in her infancy, suddenly started noticing her when he dropped by to "see" us (to while away the time until his GF's class is over and he can pick her up). She was now 3 years old and, I see that now, a budding source of narcissistic supply. He started playing with her, in an irritating, controlling way that had me saying "Let her put that Lego where she wants to" and "She CAN TOO paint the sky that color if she wants to" often, but overall, I was happy. I'd felt orphaned until then and I felt my child had no maternal grandparents at all.

I mostly let them play for the hour or two twice a week that he was at our place. As I had trouble communicating with him, I basically just didn't engage him in conversation at all and surfed the net while he was here. I was also pregnant with our second child and, as we spent almost 24/7 with our daughter, I actually welcomed the opportunity to relax a little while she was playing with her grandfather. Usually, there's nothing wrong with that, right?

Then, once, once, we needed him to babysit for an hour and a half. 90 minutes. When I got back home, he was playing with her, and then he abruptly and arbitrarily left, in the middle of the game. She cried. She was three and the game was cut short abruptly.

But his narcissistic brain had another explanation cooked up. He phoned me later and said that we were obviously neglecting our daughter, depriving her emotionally and turning her into a mentally unstable person. We kept her in a prison where she was lonely and deprived and this is why she was upset to see him leaving. Apparently he meant to say he was the only one who ever paid any attention to this poor soul and this is why she didn't like to see him leave.

He dared conclude we were neglectful parents based on observing what we did while he was playing with her for a total of, say, 10 hours? My father somehow thought it proper to attack me as a bad mother, annihilating the basis of my parenting, while I was 30 weeks pregnant with my second? And based on nothing?

I shouted that at him, said 'thanks for your concern, good bye' and hung up.Then I posted this on a family forum with a little back story about my own childhood (which I then saw as somewhat too controlled but mostly too coddled with him as the overly doting, active, involved father) and his own childhood (which I even then clearly saw as dominated by a narcissistic mother - my grandma was the textbook case no one could miss). A wonderful woman who had a narcissistic husband diagnosed my father in one short post, and wrote so many things describing him so thoroughly that I thought she must be psychic.

He came by later that week and I only had time to read up a little bit on NPD and still wasn't convinced he had it. I had no idea how to confront him. I mostly detached from him emotionally and was basically interested in establishing some very important boundaries. And even that was fuzzy in my head.

So I prayed. I prayed like mad to be able to say the right things.

When he came, I was calm, collected, somewhat cold. My voice was strong and deep. I did almost all the talking. I didn't argue or defend or justify or explain. I attacked. I said "Your comments were completely out of line. You have no right to criticize another adult's parenting, and without any solid concrete evidence whatsoever. I am not interested in hearing anything like this again."

He might have mentioned something about his own parenting, which prompted me to confront him, for the first and last time, because it made sense only then, about it. I told him the only things I remembered from my ideal childhood with all the walks in the park and whatnot were a few unpleasant instances. Like the time he was angry because I went for a walk with my maternal grandparents at age 5 instead of with him. (Because, apparently, I was supposed to remember we'd "agreed" to go together, and then I was supposed to tell my grandparents, who were watching me, "No, I can't go with you, I'll stay home alone, or you can't go either, because Dad has to take me out!")

He went pale. Then red. Then pale again. He was going to say something, but I didn't let him. 

"That doesn't matter now. I am interested in having an adult relationship with you. I love you and respect you now (I did feel like it at the time, mostly; it felt like the right thing to say at the time) and I'd like to see us interact like the two adults we are." 

He made a feeble attempt at protesting this: "But you'll always be my child. I can't see you as an adult."

It failed. "You'll have to", I replied.

He never mentioned parenting again. Over the time, there were other topics I forbade (whether or not we took the children out for a walk today, what happened to what old blanket in the other apartment, whether or not we're going to install another landline) and he obliged every time. He may sulk a little, but he never mentions it again. And I ascribe it all to this critical first confrontation. And the power of prayer.

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