Usually I respect Joshua Coleman’s work, but this talk at AGA–Alienated Grandparents Anonymous, the mothership of batshit stalker grandparents–is a horrorshow. Only 20 minutes in, and already I want to scream.
There’s some good analysis of cultural influences, but he’s already ticked the boxes for “we gave them too much self-esteem,” “parenting standards have changed,” and “they estrange because it’s the only way they know how to individuate.” While I was typing this post, someone asked him a question about the role of in-laws, and he asked everyone to put up their hands if their estrangement was due to their sons- or daughter-in-laws. He glanced over the room and joked, “Everyone?” Then he went into a discussion of the delicacies of the parent-in-law/child-in-law relationship, and so far it’s good, but… really? He didn’t do anything to undercut the idea that it was always the child’s spouse? He did mention that often the problem–
Just a minute, now he’s saying kids have trouble with parents badmouthing their spouses because they’re immature. If they were mature, their identities would be more solid, and they’d be able to brush the criticism off. That’s true if the criticism is sporadic and mild, but he knows damn well that when things have progressed to estrangement, it wasn’t.
Back to what I was saying. Coleman mentioned in passing that often the problem with the child began before their partner came into the picture, but as of 34 minutes into his talk, he hasn’t returned to it. Kind of important in getting perspective on the estrangement, don’t you think?
I get the impression that he’s aware of the deeper issues, but he also knows the Society for Batshit Grandparents is paying his speaking fees, and he’s had long and exquisitely detailed experience with how sensitive his audience is to anything that could be construed as criticism. In a word, he’s pandering.
I’m leaving this up because of a point he made early on, which was going to be the focus of this post until everything went sideways. He says many, many parents tell him their own parents were awful.
But he never does anything with it. As far as I’m aware, it’s not something he talks about elsewhere, either. Neither do the other estrangement experts I know about. The members of estranged parents’ communities are keenly aware that most of them were abused as children, but they don’t go anywhere with the idea either.
If the majority of people with condition X also have condition Y, people take note. It’s basic. It’s so basic that we have to remind people that correlation isn’t causation, because otherwise our human minds weld condition X and condition Y together. We’ll do it about the stupidest things, too. When bird flu hit China, people were reluctant to go to the Boston and New York Chinatowns because bird flu… can be transmitted via race? But for some reason, no one has made the connection between people who were abused as children and people whose children desert them because of alleged abuse. It’s bewildering.