She Said, She Said: Advice on Crisis Pregnancy Centers and Abusive Family Members

citizen-ruth_C_jpg_594x334_crop_upscale_q85Previous installments of The Toast’s advice column from two disparate and imperfect persons can be found here. Last time: Advice on Relationship Inertia and Past Badness.

In a post-Christmas cleanup effort, I’ve been trying to rid myself of excess baby stuff, including a huge box of diapers my daughter growth-spurted right past, and a bunch of formula that my OB-GYN pushed on me. I kept it in case breastfeeding didn’t work out, but it did, and I know that stuff is expensive, so I’d like it to go to someone who needs it. Ditto the diapers. 

I attempted a donation to the local women’s shelter, but was told they don’t go through baby stuff fast enough to accept diapers or formula. She gave me the name of a local crisis pregnancy center instead. So now, I have a dilemma. This crisis pregnancy center is definitely the type of place that claims to be nonjudgmental but will absolutely pressure women not to have an abortion. On the other hand, they do appear to provide desperate new moms with donations. I hate to support manipulative pro-lifers, but on the other hand, maybe this is the best way to get expensive baby stuff to women who could use it? 

What say you? And if I shouldn’t donate to the crisis pregnancy center, any ideas for how to pass this stuff on to someone who needs it?

Nicole: I can delightedly direct you to the National Diaper Bank Network, which has a list of diaper banks in the United States who would love to take your extra diapers. Hospitals are also happy to take closed packages like yours, and so are churches and most childcare facilities. As for formula, your local food bank is a great choice, and the Feeding America network can help you find one (when you call, ask if they want diapers too: they probably do.) Your impulse to give your things to new moms who are in desperate straits is very laudable, your hesitation to support organizations that lie to pregnant women is as well. Congratulations on your baby!

Mallory: There’s nothing else for me to say. Nicole used up all the links and the helpful mom advice. I think you should fling diapers and baby accoutrements into a crowded piazza at noon and become famous for your neonatal largesse. Tip in formula instead of half-dollar coins and those little libertarian tipping cards. Press bags of wet wipes into the laps of grateful bus drivers, then dissolve into the afternoon.

It recently came to light that my cousin was sexually abused by my uncle when he was a child. His parents separated when we were teenagers (we’re both in our early twenties now) and were not on particularly good terms leading up to this revelation. My cousin, since finishing high school, has been dealing with depression and other health problems as well as taking a fair bit of drugs (nothing too deathly habit forming, more weirdo hippie drugs I think). He has attempted suicide at least once. We’re related through our fathers, and he’s been conspicuously absent from our family gatherings in the past five years, and even skipped out on my cousin’s wedding in the town where he lives. So while hearing about the abuse was really shocking, for me it fit in with a lot of the behaviour going on in the past few years. 

There is disagreement within my family about whether he’s telling the truth or not, which is absurd to me, but I understand that people react to this kind of news in very different ways. My aunt stands by my cousin, while my uncle denies that he abused him. My parents, also separated, are also split – my mom sides with my aunt and cousin (my aunt told her the news and my mom told me in turn) while my dad believes that the accusations are doubtful given that my cousin has a drug habit and has been mentally unstable in the past fews years (which I see as a result of abuse, not as evidence of a false accusation). I have a feeling my dad’s siblings probably see things the same way as him, as it is undoubtedly easier to side with their brother than to agree with my cousin who they’ve barely seen in recent years. They have decided not to tell my grandparents. 

My problem is that I will probably have to see this uncle soon. I’m moving back to my hometown and he usually pops up when we go to visit my grandparents and see other relatives. He is already one of my least favourite people because he has been a huge asshole to me and other family members for years – saying thinly veiled homophobic comments to gay relatives, picking fights with me when I was a teenager, and generally being an overly aggressive burnt out stoner. I already didn’t enjoy seeing him, and I really, really dread seeing him now. How can I explain to my grandparents that I don’t want to see him without sharing a secret that isn’t mine to share? I’m not keen to devastate them for my own comfort. He’s the kind of person who would pick a fight with me and cause a scene if I tried to avoid him at a family gathering. Having to grit my teeth and exchange pleasantries with this person makes me feel sick to my stomach. Besides the issue of seeing my uncle, I’m generally feeling pretty lost on how to deal with this within my family. I’m feeling really out of my depth and would really appreciate any advice. 

Nicole: You told me to go ahead and cut up your letter for space, which I appreciate, but chose not to, because I think what’s great about your letter is how it shows just how FUCKING COMPLICATED and difficult this kind of situation is. Family ruptures run deep, they have different fracture points, and trying to support your cousin while not devastating your grandparents can be really tricky. This, like the vast majority of real human problems, is beyond my paygrade, but I would start by talking to your cousin, if that’s something you do (it’s not super clear how close you are.) I think that just saying “hey, I believe you, and now I’m not sure how to act around our uncle, how can I best support you in this?” and being really, really upfront with your parents (together, ideally) is the first step. You don’t have to be an avenging angel, sometimes you can just be the person who goes to the store to get cigarettes when your uncle shows up, and who has been 100% supportive and trusting towards your cousin.

Unfortunately, of course, this question is about more than “how do deal when I visit,” because it’s about what to do with the knowledge that there is a sexual goddamn predator in your family. The ability to quietly tiptoe around your elderly relatives on this point goes to shit when you have to say “NOPE, Uncle Johnny cannot come over if my kids are here.” And not just your kids, kids in general. Your family is going to have to have a Come-to-Jesus talk about this, and I would start with your mom and your cousin and work outward.

Oh, and, as per usual, if you don’t already, and if it’s financially possible, find a great therapist to talk to about this.

Mallory: Oh, my god. Yeah, this is a very tangled sort of thing, and it’s easy to get caught up in secondhand righteous anger and lose sight of what really matters here: supporting your cousin in the way that he wants to be supported, which it doesn’t sound like many members of your family have been doing.

It’s horrible because it seems like most of your family has decided to prioritize happy-smiles-together-times over truth and justice — sometimes it feels like most families choose that, when somebody’s being abused. And circumstances like that can be so infuriating and crazy-making that you want to bust the whole disgusting charade open and rub their faces in the truth and say “Fucking look at it, put down your fucking drinks and stop pretending everything is fine and you’ve successfully papered over this garbage secret pit.”

But as tempting as that can be, you have to remember that your supporting your cousin is more important than bringing the hammer of realness to your shitty grandparents right now. And that means talking to him — depending on how close you two are — and asking what he wants. Maybe he wants you to draw a hard line and refuse to associate with your uncle. Maybe he just wants to be left alone; maybe his own family has disappointed him for long enough that the idea of a cousin making a scene for him ten or fifteen years later just reminds him of how much no one was there for him when he needed them to be. Maybe he just wants to talk about it with someone who doesn’t think he’s crazy and he’s not sure what else he wants from you yet.

If, for whatever reason, your cousin doesn’t express a preference for how you behave around your uncle or says that he feels comfortable with your telling your grandparents, I say go nuts and draw some boundaries. It is amazing what can happen if you explain warmly but firmly what you’re going to do — namely not be around your uncle because he has committed sexual assault — and then just stop talking. You don’t have to justify it any further than that. You don’t have to get drawn into an argument. Just no, followed by silence; let the others wear themselves out with talking and debating just who did what and who’s to blame for it and wasn’t it long enough ago now and don’t you think you’re making too big a deal out of it and how could we know for sure really. That’s not your business. Your business is No and the silence that comes after it.

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