“With my daughter and my parents, I feel caught in the crossfire!”
“On the one hand I see my daughter juggling between her work and her two young children. She would really need me to be more present with her to help her. And on the other hand, my elderly parents ask me a lot, less and less independent and more and more demanding. When I’m with some, I feel like I’m betraying others…I feel caught in the crossfire!” Evelyn, 66 years old
Should we put loyalty to our aging parents before loyalty to our children, or vice versa? We will all one day be confronted with such questions worthy of a high school philosophy exam! “To remain calm and not get lost in the impossible resolution of such conflicting loyalties, It is better to accept that we will never be able to fulfill all of our loved ones’ expectations of us. We will inevitably be tricked into disappointing them and they will then feel betrayed. But the more we recognize that these behaviors are inevitable, the better we can experience them and make them less painful for others,” says Nicole Prieur, psychologist and philosopher.
Indeed, this is the crux of the problem: how to choose the loyalty of one family over another without causing too much suffering? “It’s about finding the right words to support our choices that seem right to us at a given moment, made in our conscience,” suggests Virginie Megglé, psychoanalyst.
Today I feel it is more important to take care of my feverish grandson so that my daughter can go to work than to spend the afternoon with my elderly parents. But tomorrow my choice may be different depending on the circumstances. “Retaining flexibility and not deciding that one family’s loyalty will forever trump all others allows for ethical betrayal.” emphasizes Nicole Prieur.
“He criticizes me for sacrificing our couple”
“Since my husband and I retired, we obviously don’t have the same desires. He dreams of long journeys, always going uphill and downhill! prevents me from walking too often and for too long. He blames me for sacrificing our couple for the benefit of strangers. I feel guilty for betraying his expectations…” Valerie, 70 years old
Should we be unfaithful to our own desires in the best interest of the couple? Nothing is less safe! “Revealing what we are and what we aspire to rarely brings happiness to the couple. Because this willingness to make sacrifices often leads to bitterness and resentment. Responding to one’s own wishes is not egoism, but an essential prerequisite for being able to generously respond to those of others,” says Nicole Prieur.
“Rather than playing off those loyalties that tend to bind us against each other, maybe we could try to let them coexist more harmoniously in our lives. With a little imagination, we can invent a third way between being true to ourselves and satisfying our spouse’s expectations,” Virginie Megglé estimates.
For example, before doing voluntary work, negotiate regular break times so that they do not prevent further investments. “By daring to question and redevelop our loyalties, we also give our couple a chance to evolve and keep moving,” encourages Nicole Prieur. An undeniable benefit to the health of a long-term union!
“I feel like I betrayed my dreams as a young man…”
“When I was young, I dreamed of becoming a musician. But since I wanted a steady job to start a family, I passed administrative competitions. Looking back, I tell myself that my professional life was interesting nonetheless, but deep down I regret not having quite the life I wanted, feeling like I betrayed my dreams as a young man…” Alan, 72 years old
A few decades ago, this question of fidelity to the ideals of youth did not really arise: our elders lived their lives with duty and common sense as their main beacons, without too many scruples. “Today, staying true to yourself seems to be the condition for a successful life. Initially more popular with people in their mid-thirties, this design has now also won over seniors,” says Nicole Prieur. But it shouldn’t be a dictation!
“We can certainly regret sacrificing certain desires along the way. But weren’t these renunciations necessary to achieve other equally important goals? Let’s avoid repeating our betrayals in bitterness mode and reflect on what we’ve also won,” recommends Virginie Megglé.
And if a dream from a bygone era still retains its full vibrancy after all these years, it is undoubtedly worth hearing. “Perhaps under pressure from certain directives, especially from his parents, Alain gave up on becoming a musician. If they just took him away from them, it’s high time they betrayed them,” suggests Nicole Prieur. In fact, it’s never too late, if not to become a musician, then at least to have fun playing an instrument.
“I dare not tell an old friend that seeing her upsets me”
“For some time now, I have not felt at all comfortable with an old friend: we met at university. She accuses me of talking too much about my grandchildren, of not paying enough attention to news and politics. I don’t dare to tell her, to be honest, that it bothers me to see her. So I lie, I make up setbacks, obstacles. I’m not very proud of myself for betraying such an old friendship in this way…” Alice, 60 years old
We often think that we must stay true to a friendship against all odds, under the pretense that it’s old. “We can agree to cheat a little to maintain a friendship that no longer fully satisfies us, but that makes sense to us because it connects us to an important part of our past. But only up to a point… Because if we have to give up all authenticity, sometimes even forget our values, in order not to betray a friendship, in the end it’s us who we betray. emphasizes Nicole Prieur.
To end a long friendship that meant a lot to us, Do not leave us to lead without regard for apostates! “A form of elegance can be to distance encounters so that the relationship loosens itself, without a bang, without words that could hurt,” says Virginie Megglé. We can also side with openness when we feel we owe it to the other: I no longer recognize myself in our friendship, I’d rather end it. “You then have to assume that you are making your friend suffer and that you are being called a traitor to history,” warns Nicole Prieur. A position that requires a certain courage.
“I blame myself for being so close to my mate’s grandchildren
“My companion has three grandchildren who we pick up from school every day and look after on Wednesdays. My own grandchildren live 500 km away and I only see them two or three times a year. Distance doesn’t make it easy to build intimacy… I often blame myself for being so close to my stepchildren and my few as if I’d betray them. Claire, 75 years old
“Mixed families test our loyalty, often pitting ties of blood against ties of heart. The guilt that this grandmother feels comes precisely from this antagonism, as if loving her step-grandchildren prevented her from loving her grandchildren,” analyzes Nicole Prieur. However, feelings can add up perfectly. “May this grandmother fully experience the happiness of everyday life with her companion’s grandchildren and the joy of being able to hold them in her arms, without judging herself. And that she draws energy and inspiration from it to invent a close relationship with her grandchildren despite the distance. states Virginie Megglé.
Make a weekly appointment with them to read them a story via Skype, write them letters, send them books about their passion, etc. The possibilities are endless.
– Nicole Prieur is the author of “Necessary betrayals: yourself to be yourself” (editions by Robert Laffont, 21€); Virginie Megglé is the author of Hyperémotifs: Surviving the Inner Storm (Eyrolles ed€)