A mother's love is measured by her devotion to her children. That devotion is defined by the life she provides for them, the path she guides them along, and the choices she makes for them to reflect their best interest. More often than many would like to believe, those choices can be more difficult to make, and to achieve, than any of life's challenges they may face. Imagine being forced to prove your own devotion to your children, not only to your peers, but to your own self. Imagine the uphill battle that would ensue in rising above the influence of shame and the perceived guilt of unfit parenting. Imagine fighting for the right to raise your own flesh and blood your own way. Imagine your most ruthless opponent in this battle is the one who should have fought you in the beginning. This is the story of one mother's fight to protect her children from her own mother.
"Annie" would have never wished her childhood had on anyone. She and her brother Andrew grew up facing the abuse of their mother, Ellen, and stepfather, Greg. When her Annie was 15, her parents kicked her out, leaving her on her own. Yet, the abuse did not end.
While Ellen and Annie were on very rare speaking terms, Ellen would find time to visit her daughter. She would show up in an expensive car with no intention other than to scream shameful obscenities to her, but was at least generous enough to give her money, by means of violent tossing in her direction. The abusive nature of Annie's life may have been heavily influenced by Ellen, was not limited to that.
Not yet at the legal age for employment, Annie had to pretend she was older to get her first job, but that was not enough to avoid homelessness. To cope with poverty, she turned to substance abuse and self-harm. Sometimes she would reach the point at which she wanted to give up on living on at all and there were a few times that she tried to end it. Broke, homeless, and emotionally scarred, Annie led a road with no redemption in sight, until she found hope in the man who showed love for the first time in her life.
Annie had been friends with Patrick for two years before they became more. She had only been in abusive relationships up to that point and could barely comprehend how he could love someone like her, but he did. Their romance had not lasted long, a mere four months, before they found they would soon be having a family of their own.
Annie's pregnancy was both a thrilling and frightening discovery for her and Patrick. Job security was out of reach. A mountain of debt stood before them. The couple had not even been living together at the time. However, for their love to result in the creation of a new life was such a beautifully overwhelming sentiment, the light at the end of the tunnel that Annie believed she had dug herself into was shining brighter than ever. Ten weeks into her pregnancy, she decided to take this as an opportunity to break the seven-month silence with her mother to tell her the news.
Upon learning she would be a grandmother, it was as if Ellen had a sudden change of character. She was ecstatic for her daughter and soon-to-be son-in-law. In that moment, she made Annie a promise to put her horrid ways behind her and support her in any way she would need. Annie finally had the relationship with her mother that she had craved all her life and Ellen could not wait to take care of her grandchild.
Her eagerness would soon prove to be troubling.
Annie was about eight months into her pregnancy when she found herself overcome with doubt of how she would handle motherhood. Initially, she blamed the stress on typical prenatal hormones, but given the recent rekindling of their relationship, she felt it would be of great use to confide in Ellen for guidance. Suddenly, the Ellen of her past reemerged.
"Obviously you are not ready to be a mother," Ellen proclaimed to Annie during a boisterous car ride. "You have nothing to offer your child. You should not have even gotten pregnant."
Ellen discouraged Annie from even keeping the baby for herself, adding that it would be selfish for such a mess of a person to do so. Instead, she believed that Annie should sign the rights to her unborn child over to her and Greg.
Annie felt blindsided by this. What happened to Ellen's newfound supporting nature? Was it all a façade she was waiting until this moment to break, revealing her true intentions?
She promptly refused her mother's request, which soon became a fervent demand. Instead of taking Annie home as she originally promised, Ellen continued to drive her around in circles, loudly pestering her about giving the child up to her. It was not until Annie threatened to call the police when she reluctantly stopped.
"Drama queen," Ellen sniffed.
A month later, Annie was in labor. Patrick notified Ellen and Greg and they soon arrived, but not for support. Instead of standing by her daughter through the birth, Ellen stood to opposite her, down by the action, badgering the nurses with questions about the birthing process while they were busy helping Annie through it.
Soon, Annie became a mother to her son. She and Patrick named him Alex. Memories of that day would only remain in her mind, for Ellen snatched Alex away the first moment she could. She kept the baby all to herself for smothering and photo taking. No photos of that day included either Annie or Patrick. This was only the beginning of Ellen's manipulative coddling.
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Annie's birthday was only a couple of weeks away when Ellen asked if she could have Alex for that night. Her mother had already offered to take the children for her many times. Annie was unsure if she wanted to let Ellen have them for that night, but she accepted. Perhaps she could have that night to herself and Patrick. Maybe they could go out to dinner. When the day came, she was immediately consumed with regret. She did not want a night to herself. She had only been a mother for short time and wanted to enjoy it. She told Ellen she was retracting the offer, but she only persisted, claiming she had the right to see Alex. She gave in, ashamed of the decision, but perhaps Ellen was right to have the boy when she wanted to. It would have been selfish of Annie to deny her that time, right?
It soon became a weekly occurrence. Ellen would continue to take Alex and Annie's daughter, Milly (who was born two years after Alex), for her own time with them, claiming it was meant to give Annie "a break." Annie never felt she needed a break, or even wanted one, but her mother had the finances that she and Patrick did not, allowing her to afford to take the kids to an amusement park or provide other delicacies that her parents did not allow her to experience growing up, including her nurturing kindness.
By the time Milly was 5 and Alex was 7, Ellen had fully immersed herself into the family's lives. She would unabashedly insert her opinion into Annie and Patrick's parenting methods, keep the children to herself longer than promised, and even go as far as cutting Annie off from communication with her own children while they were in her care. She began to fill their heads with ideas that would only distress them. For instance, Ellen once told Milly that Annie sent her away as often as she did because she "needed a break from her" while all Milly wanted was to be with her mother. The children would come home from a day (or who knows how long?) at Grandma's with a look in their eyes that brought back memories of Annie's own childhood.
That was the final straw.
Annie informed Ellen that Alex and Milly's visits would be supervised by her more explicitly and would only occur every two weeks. Ellen, furious, balked at such a command. She threatened to acquire Grandparents' Rights. Annie had had enough of her threats and promptly hung up.
However, that term that Ellen said stuck with her - Grandparents' Rights. Was that a legitimate basis of entitlement? What more would there be to learn about it?
A Google search found that in the United Kingdom, grandparents are legally able to apply for custody and visitation of their grandchildren, referred to as Grandparents' Rights. She also learned that Grandparents' Rights has a history often associated with several personality disorders, among them narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD. It all made sense now. At that moment, Annie realized that all of her self-doubt and obligation to grant her mother unsolicited visitation was purely by Ellen's perpetuation. She was not afraid of her anymore. She was ready to take her down.
Two months later, Annie discovered that Ellen and Greg had been granted permission to apply for Grandparents' Rights, which would require court proceedings. They gave Annie and Patrick the incentive that if she were to allow them access to see the children and contact on their terms (which meant whenever THEY saw fit, not Annie and Patrick), the case could be dropped immediately. The couple felt the best way to respond to this offer would be to make a motion to discontinue all contact with her parents.
After seeking legal counsel, their lawyer informed them that if she and Patrick did not offer Ellen and Greg any contact with the children, the judge would likely decide the degree of contact to grant them himself. But, if they were to offer her a degree of contact she would refuse (such as the supervised, bi-weekly visits from before), the judge would be unable to overrule it. After all, Annie and Patrick were good parents. Just as they expected, Ellen turned down the offer yet again.
The battle was on.
The court case ensued. It was a exhausting time for Annie, Patrick, and the children. Ellen and Greg submitted salacious statements at the couple's expense, painting them neglectful, self-serving, and abusive. Who better to understand those characteristics than Ellen? They pleaded their case, stating that they should be granted contact with the children for all holidays, involvement in medical decisions for them, you name, they wanted it. Essentially, they were formally asking for Grandparents' Rights, but were truly seeking Parents' Rights.
Unable to afford legal representation, Annie was forced to be her own lawyer. The pressure of standing up to argue against a person trained to argue professionally was paralyzing, with only the fear of losing Alex and Milly as motivation to persevere. In one attempt to settle the dispute, the court suggested that Annie set up a parenting plan with Ellen and Greg. In the most professional manner she could conjure, Annie firmly informed the court that conducting parenting plan with people who do not have the right to parent would be out of the question.
The day before the final hearing, Annie and Patrick received a preview of the court's decision. The independent mediator, the judge, and child services collectively agreed that contact with Ellen and Greg would not be best for the children on the grounds that Annie and Patrick had offered them bi-weekly contact on numerous occasions only to have it rejected. Ellen and Greg kept insisting on unsupervised contact each time, their demands were deemed unreasonable and unlawful and they were granted nothing. Ellen and Greg did not show for the hearing the next day. They withdrew the case.
It was over.
The relief from the emotional and physical toll of the case was a burst of pure joy. The bliss that followed was not without its hiccups, however. Two weeks following the verdict, Ellen and Greg broke the no contact rule, telling Annie and Patrick that supervised time does not sound too bad anymore. It was too late, but that did not stop them from trying. Annie and her family then became victims of stalking, incidents of public rage, and disrespecting boundary limits with a hint of Ellen's greatest specialty: guilt.
The conflict eventually subsided and contact with Ellen was rendered nonexistent, a muting that has lasted ever since. Annie, Patrick, Alex, and Milly could finally be the normal family they had always wanted to be, the children had returned to joyful, settled children she them as, and she could be the close, loving mother to her children she wished she could have had in her life.
Despite the victory, Annie still could not help but feel overcome by guilt. Falling prey to her mother's manipulation led to a battle she regretted allowing her kids to be involved in. She felt that it would be a fault she would continue to make up for for the rest of her life. But, in truth, she would not need to. She had already made up for it by protecting her children from the ruthless, harmful influences of their grandmother. Shedding sweat and tears to keep them safe was more than enough to prove her love to them, because a mother's love is measured by her devotion to her children.
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