Well, I survived the weekend with my NMom and NMIL. The birthday party went well (which isn't really the right word, but I believe that I honored my son as best I could). By Saturday afternoon, my older son and I were both sick though, and I'm sure it was that the adrenaline finally released and my body gave up. Luckily, this encouraged NMom to go home. No fun for her with us all being sick.
At first, as I looked back on the weekend, I felt confused. I hadn't felt the overwhelming anxiety. I hadn't had the pit in my stomach and heart pounding I usually had. I hadn't felt strung out. And this lack of feeling anxiety caused me anxiety. Maybe I had been wrong. Maybe they weren't the narcs I had thought them to be. I felt back at square one. The problem actually was me. They were fine, I was oversensitive. All these light bulb moments, all these revelations, all these answers I had seemed to find seemed void. Maybe if I had just been nice all these years, let things go, not stressed so much, things would be fine. I felt sick again.
So, I re-examined the weekend. Yes, there had been no blow-ups. My anger and annoyance hadn't bubbled up at my mom and MIL. I hadn't feel the extreme helplessness I usually feel. But was that because they hadn't been their narcissistic selves? Nope, they had launched narc attacks at me all weekend.
My MIL had started out the morning by compounding my stress and making things difficult. This was to be a small, intimate party to celebrate my son's first birthday. A milestone, a big birthday, something important. She calls two hours before the party and "asks" my husband if it'll be alright if her Uncle stops by. He's travelling up from another state and wants to visit and she's asked him to come by. Now, this is not a close relative. This is not someone I have met more than once in my 14 year relationship with my husband. He could not tell you my name, nor do I think he even knows we have a son. Technically he is "family", but very distant family. But he had called her and wanted to visit HER. And instead of saying "oh, I'm sorry, we'd love to visit, but today isn't going to work for us" she invites him to our house. I felt it to be extremely rude. I felt that she was taking focus away from my son. This was a milestone birthday. Something special. Time to focus on celebrating this child. We didn't have time to have a family reunion. We didn't have time to entertain virtual strangers. We didn't have time to give them a tour of our home, which she kept hinting at. (And by the way, every conversation she had with these people was her bragging about OUR home. She gave all these details. She discussed every design choice. She revealed in the glory of what WE had.) And she gave us no choice. She gave us no option. She 'asked' if it would be OK, but did we really have a choice of how to respond? When the "party crashers" (as they called themselves, loudly announcing as they came into the room) showed up, she ignored them. My SIL had to push her to go greet them. She then made a big deal out of them and proceeded to introduce them to all of HER family. HER grandkids, HER sons. I had to introduce my self. My stepfather introduced himself. It was uncomfortable for everyone. But I let it not bother me. They were HER guests, so she could entertain them and I didn't feel one ounce of guilt as they sat around staring. Not my problem. This was about my son. Too bad that the woman who claims her grandkids mean so much to her couldn't see that. After the party was well over with and I had cleaned up much of the food and party stuff, my MIL wanders over and offers to help clean up. Really? Now? You didn't offer any help as I ran around putting on the whole party myself. "It's done." I said. She blinked at me. "Well, I could help." Well, it was done, I stated again. And besides, they were wheeling her very elderly MIL out the door to put her in the car. What was her MIL to do why she cleaned up? Sit in the car like a dog? Again, MIL"s trying to look like the good guy while sacrificing everyone else. She then says "Well, sorry about my uncle stopping by. He called and...." and she trails off in a big phony laugh. "And what?" I wanted to scream. First of all the uncle didn't just stop by. YOU invited him. But you don't seem to take any responsibility for that. There is no "I"m sorry if that inconvenienced you." No true apology or consideration for me, my husband, or my son. She didn't even offer up a valid reason as to why she invited him. She just laughed. And although I got angry for a bit the next night, it didn't consume me. In fact, just the fact that I allowed myself to be angry about it was big. To say that what she did was wrong, was a HUGE step for me. To not feel guilty and play hostess and fix problems she created was big. I only wish I'd told her that what she did was rude and disrespectful.
My mom was a bit more restrained. She knew that she was on shaky ground with me. She watched herself. As she is such a textbook narcissist, it is interesting to watch how well she can hide it. But there were signs. She shows my sons tons of toys on her computer. And then she criticizes him for wanting all of it. "Don't you think you have enough toys? Shouldn't we be happy just to spend time together?" To watch her set up my three year old like that sinks my heart. She lays out the toys and then tells him he shouldn't want any. And this is the same woman who brings down the whole toy store every time she comes. She plies my kids with materialistic things and then whines that they don't appreciate her for her but rather what she brings. "I wonder what your mom thinks of that?" She asks my son, implying that she finds it interesting that I would condone such greed. A little jab at my parenting. But I don't bite. "He's three, mom. That's what 3 year olds do." And in fact, he's actually a very thoughtful and conscientious kid.
She makes a big deal out of always trying to get the kids to come to her when they are with their dad. Trying to prove they like her and want to be around her more. She makes a big show as my in-laws leave, proclaiming she's going with them, and getting my son to get worked up stating "you can't go." She's trying to throw it in MIL's face that my son wants her to stay but doesn't care MIL is leaving. This was something I actually found funny. Well, not funny, but very interesting to watch. My MIL does this to me all the time. Letting the two narcs duel it out was easier than dealing with it myself.
Mom made a big deal about how I was doing all the work for the party. But she really didn't offer to help. In fact, she kept trying to distract me with conversation. At least, she wasn't constantly rearranging my decorations like she usually does.
I accidentally caught my son's ear while combing his hair. He told me not to do it again. I apologized and tried to be more carefully. My mom snapped "And SHE used to complain that I braided her hair too hard." Well, not exactly the same thing. She did braid my hair tightly and never cared that it hurt and in fact did it on purpose. It had to be tight or it wouldn't stay put, she claimed. And god forbid she have to re-braid my hair. And never mind the fact I didn't want my hair in braids in the first place. The fact that she couldn't see how my accidentally combing my son's ear was a completely different situation is beyond me. How she couldn't resist the zinger was annoying. But I didn't take the bait.
She had snarky remarks to my step dad (taking the opportunity to take him down a peg while she had an audience), she gossiped about his kids, and the more she drank, the nastier she got. The more the masked slipped. But I tuned her out. There were a million little things, but none of them bothered me like they used to. I actually could see her as a very pathetic, lonely, sad person with nothing of value or substance in her life. But that is her problem, not mine.
In the end, after much introspection yesterday, I realized that, no, they are still the same old narcs they always were. I was the one who had changed. I am becoming different. The cloud of depression and anger and inner rage is leaving. I feel some level of peace. I don't have to rise to their bait. I don't have to take their crap. I don't have to react to them at all. Did some of it hurt? Yes. Do I worry about my children? Yes. In fact, this is my biggest struggle still. But I don't feel I'm under their spell. I don't feel their power of me. They can do what they want and I don't feel the guilt of not responding how I "should". Well, mostly. It's a work in progress. I'm a work in progress. I know it'll be two steps forward and one step back. But I'm done letting them have so much control and power in my life. And I am not the problem.