30 July 2010

Motherhood, aging, and resentful adult children: Shirley Anderson's story

Updated Jan 1, 2013
Feb 3, 2013 - Edited and 4 additional references added

Shirley Anderson is suing her adult children for support. An ancient law based on English poor laws throughout Canada, except for Alberta, regards this as the children's duty (Payback time, MacLeans, June 24, 2010). The media has picked on an example of bad parenting, committed by Ken Anderson's mother and father when he was just 15 years old to support the argument of the four adult children being sued, that they shouldn't have to pay support (A bad mother's right to support from her children, National Post, July 27, 2010).

Ken was left behind when his parents moved from Osoyoos to West Kootenay in BC - abandoned, as they describe it. Shirley Anderson took her second-youngest son, Darryl, with her, apparently against her husband Gary's wishes (What do we owe our parents, Vancouver Sun, July 24, 2010). Shirley Anderson raised five children, developed lupus along the way (Payback time for parents, MacLeans, June 24, 2010), and never worked. At age 71, she now has nothing. Gary, her ex, gave her alimony when they divorced, though his boss, Labbatts, needed encouragment to split his pension with her. He has since died.

Shirley went into debt with her credit card. Her attempts to get support have been going on for ten years now. Darryl has been in and out of jail and is not being sued. Ken is 46, married with children, not wealthy but hard-working, and resents the additional burden supporting his mother presents. Daughter Donna Anderson "breaks down in tears when she recalls her tumultuous childhood with the 'mother we never had' " (What do we owe our parents, Vancouver Sun, July 24, 2010). She went to university and is raising two children.

Son Brian bought her a fridge once, in an attempt to build a relationship. Donna and her mother attended counselling together. But nothing worked, the children say. Keith hasn't talked to her in years. "She doesn't even know we're alive," he is quoted as saying (What do we owe our parents, Vancouver Sun, July 24, 2010), though it appears she does. He adds, "She never worked and she's never worked at her family either."

It's suprising that she managed to raise such enterprising children - none got put into foster homes, only one in trouble with the law. They have educated themselves and worked hard, formed relationships and raised families. They also seem to have little tolerance for women of that era, who often did stay home with the children while the husband worked - cooking, cleaning, driving the children to school functions, community events, and to the doctor and dentist - shopping, sewing, mending, filling out forms for school, getting them their shots at the doctor's, putting on birthday parties, and so on. And she had five children to worry about! At the time Shirley was raising her family, the one-salary family was the quite typical, the man being the breadwinner, his earnings enough for the entire family. That changed, in the 70's probably, until we reached this time where it takes two incomes for a family to feel they have enough.

There is uncertainty about this kind of law, though Surrey, BC, lawyer David Greig says that a child must have means to pay support before they are made to (Payback time for parents, MacLeans, June 24, 2010). Unfortunately, it's part of the human condition for people to always think they need more. And whether the reason the children are so critical of their mother is, in part, due to their not wanting to have to pay her, we don't know. Whether it should be the children's responsibility or the system's, is the larger question.

Shirley's lawyer, Donald McLeod, says "My interest quite frankly is to see that someone is treated right, and that's all I care about . . . I don't know very many people that would not be happy to support an aged parent. The duty to support and assist an elderly parent transcends everything else" (What do we owe our parents, Vancouver Sun, July 24, 2010). And finally he says, "What kind of mother she was, or is, shouldn't matter. To engage in any analysis of who is at fault, I think that is a useless exercise."

"Do vengeance and vindictiveness have a place in the lives of otherwise decent people?" is the question asked in another piece on this subject (Forgiveness for an errant elder, Vancouver Sun, July 29, 2010). If Shirley was as bad as the children's stories suggest and this was not simply about money, the eye-for-an-eye retribution seems to be a little extreme. It is a symptom of our times - this hatred towards the older generation, especially women or anyone who is isolated and cannot defend themselves. Read the comments with the articles, for an idea of how our society thinks about them. It makes one wonder just how civilized we are.

Added Jan 1, 2013
A recent international news piece in the National Post, about Palestinian women being denied their rightful inheritance, raises a related matter. It may apply to Shirley Anderson’s situation, or may not. It simply is not mentioned – and why would it be – if the children received an inheritance from one of their mother’s relations through plans made for it to skip a generation. Such plans would no doubt be legal, though if some coercion had occurred, of an elderly relative, to perhaps ensure that certain descendants be left off the list of beneficiaries, then could this be considered an ethical digression, if not outright illegal? (see Tradition, social pressure keeping Palestinian women from their inheritances, Dec 27, 2012).

It is easy for people on the outside to judge, especially if they don’t know all the circumstances. False accusations or distortions of events made against the mother may hold little if any truth. It is far easier for those who hold power to have their word taken as truth than a mother fighting for survival. Some of what has been said I find shocking, particularly as one who found it necessary to leave the marriage I was in, the effects of it following me for a long time afterwards. No one is a perfect parent or spouse, but the odd one may cause harm that lasts. So much is talked about of women being able to choose to be stay-at-home mothers, but that works if she has a husband who will treat her like a human being, during the marriage and if it should end for some reason, then afterwards too. As we see here, from children who surely must have taken a huge amount of their mother’s time to raise, Shirley Anderson deserves more than what she got, from her family and from the legal system.

A bad mother's right to support from her children
By Adrian MacNair
National Post, Full comment
July 27, 2010

Adult children won’t have to support mom, court rules
By Ian AustinThe Province
Jan 31, 2013http://www.theprovince.com/news/Adult+children+have+support+court+rules/7896113/story.html

Anderson v. Anderson, 2013 BCSC 129 (CanLII)
Court case result

Forgiveness for an errant elder
By Catherine A. Mori
Vancouver Sun
July 29, 2010

Payback time for parents
By Nancy Macdonald
June 24, 2010

Runaway mom who sued adult children for support after abandoning them as teenagers NOT entitled to money: judge
National Post Wire Services
Feb 1, 2013

Shirley Anderson, Mom Who Sued Kids For Support, Loses Case
The Huffington Post B.C.
Jan 31, 2013

Tradition, social pressure keeping Palestinian women from their inheritances
By Diana Atallah
National Post - The Media Line
Dec 27, 2012

What do we owe our parents?
By Denise Ryan
Vancouver Sun
July 24, 2010

Links updated Feb 3, 2013


Anonymous said...

Shirley may be entitled to some support in her ailing senior years, but her approach of not maintaining a relationship of any sort with 4 of her 5 children, and then serving them with papers out of the blue suing them for support seems to indicate she never had any interest in her children beyond what they could do for her. The law may be in her favour from a cold hearted financial standpoint, but she should feel deeply ashamed as a mother for seeking to rob her grandchildren of a happier existence than the one she was able to provide for her own children. Shame on Shirley. She is the definition of heartless apathy.

Sue McPherson said...

We have only the children's word that she did not try to maintain a relationship. I suspect she would have, since she never worked and her children would have been a major part of her life, along with her relationship with her husband. And would she not have wanted a relationship with her grandchildren? As far as her not being able to provide her children with a happy existence, it looks to me as though they have not only turned their childhood into something negative but are blaming it all on her. Donna recalls a "tumultuous childhood with the 'mother we never had' " (What do we owe, Vancouver Sun, July 24, 2010). She was one girl among 4 boys - 4 brothers. I can see that her childhood might have been tumultuous, and I can understand how she might have felt her mother was not there for her. I only had one brother, but like Donna, it was at a time when it was mainly boys' self-confidence that was being boosted, and at the expense of daughters. From the sounds of her children, they are the ones who are apathetic.

Maria said...

I understand wanting and even deserving some support for giving birth and providing a roof and food.

But, is it true that she is asking for 750 dollars a month from each of them? And the lawyers comment was that it's a small amount? Some articles say 350 and some say 750. So i'm not sure of the facts.

Either way, that's insanity. For most people I know either one is a large chunk of money. In fact, 750 is almost the rent for my one room apt.

It sounds like this woman should most likely have been put into a group home at some point in the last couple of decades.

The sad thing is we can not choose our families and sometimes families are the most toxic thing in your life. Also, don't give me the whole "women of a certain age and time" malarkey. I know plenty of older women who are a product of those time and have not worked a day in their lives. But they also weren't neglectful, abusive or brutal people and don't -demand- others take care of them.

At what point does this woman take responsibility for her own actions and words? It sounds like she never did and now wants to spite those that she spurned because they in fact did escape her reach. And maybe, only now in her old age is she seeing what she did to herself.

This woman shouldn't be left out in the cold, that wouldn't be human, but at some point it sounds like she became greedy with the thought of winning against her own children.

Maria said...

I also want to say that I don't think simply being a "bad parent" with "resentful" children is what is going on here.

There's plenty of bad parents with children who feel empathy and understanding, even love for them. Plenty of bad parents that provided something to the equation, even if what they provided was long after childhood and inside the context of adult relationships.

As adults a reconciliation occurs, understanding that their parents, while bad where doing the best they could in the circumstances they had. Many "bad" parents reconcile with their children enough so that the children, as adults, understand their childhoods and the issues their parents faced. The understanding that their parents where human.

It sounds that Shirley never got around to accepting her own as deserving of anything. Is there no one that knows Shirley who can come to her defense as a mother, as a person? That's one of the oddest things about all this.

Again, as a human (not as a mother) she deserves the basics of care in her old age. Medical care, food and a roof. But I really don't think that at this point, it is up to her to define what or how much she deserves.

Sue McPherson said...

I wonder about the money part too, Maria. Doesn't BC have Canada Pension Plans and Old Age Pensions?But the idea amy be to ask for more, knwing one will not get all of it.

What is odd about all of this is that it is the mother who is being blamed for all mistakes and wrongdoing. But the father was also around during the children's growing-up years; in fact, it was his decision to move to another city (for his job). If it really was the Shirley who said, Let's leave 15 year-old Ken behind when we move, wasn't that the time for Ken to say something? Stay-at-home mothers generally didn't have the power to make such decisions. They just didn't have a say in it. Nobody would pay attention - husbands included - because being unemployed and never having a career, she would be treated as incompetent, greedy, negelctful, and abusive - as a non-person, just as she is being treated now. We don't really know whether she "became greedy with the thought of winning against her own children", or whether the children became greedy with the thought of winning against her.

Maria, you question why no-one has come to speak out on her behalf. It is obvious she has people against her. But since she was someone with no career, and since one's job is one's identity, then she is, virtually, a non-person. As even her own children have said, she didn't work; IOW, she didn't do anything. But I suspect they are oblivious to the way things were back then, and the ways women lived their lives as carers for their children and husbands.

Unknown said...

Before you say that I am identifying with the children because I have experienced an abusive childhood, let me clarify. I do see your point and I would have great empathy for this woman if your spin on the story was correct; as I had great empathy for my own mother despite her bad parenting.

I had 2 kinds of parents, one who by her choices was often a bad parent and 2 abusive parents (my father and my step father). Despite her failings, I was the first to defend my mother on this very basis. My mother, born in 1940, was a woman of a certain generation and all she wanted was a home and a family like her mother’s. Unfortunately she was also a weak, sometimes very selfish human being with a number of character flaws. Despite this, my brothers and I took up our duty, to take care of her when she fell ill of a serious neurological disorder for over 7 yrs until she died 5 yrs ago. We did this not only out of a sense of duty, but out of love and gratitude as well. Because despite her many failings, she was there for us throughout our whole lives. She did cook, sew, clean, and generally take care of us. She also owned up to her mistakes and sincerely apologized when, as adults, we needed to confront her and deal with things.

My father on the other hand was not only neglectful and outright physically abusive; he couldn’t be bothered to be a father in any way. He also did nothing to support us financially after my parent’s divorce. My mother eventually took him to court, when the maintenance board came into being for non-payment of child support. Despite being the victims, all of us did make the effort to forge a relationship with our father but eventually had to cut him out of our lives. In the over 20yrs that we have had no contact with him, he has never once tried to reach out to make restitution, to know us or his grandchildren. For my mother, I did all I could to help; to my father, I feel no such obligation. If he ever chose to go the route that this woman has, my response would be the same as the Anderson children. Donating sperm and giving birth do not make you parents. Shirley was obviously not a mother to children and deserves nothing from them.


Anonymous said...

I think that loving, supportive, parents that have sacrificed for their kids should be taken care of and honored. But not all parents are like that. I can sympathize with the kids in this case because I grew up with 2 cold, abusive, selfish parents. I've never heard a kind word in my life from my 86 year old father and 72 year old mother. I've endured years of mental and emotional abuse and belittling, constant criticism. And my mother physically abused me when I was a small child, one event dislocated my shoulder when I was 5. As I approached puberty, the emotional abuse escalated and I was not allowed to have friends or go out of the house except for school.
They have always been comfortably middle class, yet they hated to spend a dime on me as a kid. I remember having holey sweaters and not having a warm coat many cold winters because they didn't want to spend money on school clothes...even though they would buy themselves $80 pairs of shoes and had 2 refrigerators constantly stocked with beer and wine for themselves.
Oh yeah, to add to the dysfunction my dear old parents are related. 2nd cousins. I guess being nasty runs in their family.
Of course, even though they could have afforded it, helping me pay for my university education was out of the question, so I did the best I could to put myself through college.
I am 33. He is 86. She is 72. They chose to have me late in life, and they are bent out of shape that I will not have anything to do with caring for them. At this point in my life, I couldn't even if I wanted to.
I don't feel that I owe them anything. I don't think Shirley's kids owe her anything.
Shame on Shirley, and shame on a society and legal system that elevates parents onto a pedestal regardless of how they treat their children.

Anonymous said...

I am a member of the family, not one of the children. But a family member and I find it sad, that when her son Brian passed away, that is, his and her last memories of each other, very sad

Sue McPherson said...

Response to Anonymous from Mar 9:
It happens all the time, in different ways. There were also the children in Germany who, as members of Hitler Youth, betrayed their parents for supposedly having the wrong political views. Sometimes the sadness can be tinged with something else too.

We were all once "one of the children". Resentment is part of that. But you know, and I know, that it takes some working through.

Lukiftian said...

I just wanted to clear up some of the misinformation in your post. I know Mrs. Anderson well, and in my opinion she is a very decent, reasonable individual who decided to do what she had to do. The testimony of her children are lies, mostly. For example, we have Ken Anderson's tales of 'abandonment' at 15. Apparently Mr. Anderson can't remember how old he is, because 'A.J.' as he was called due to his interest in muscle cars was born in 1964 and moved to Oosoyoos from Creston with his parents in 1979 at the age of 15. He was left in Oosoyoos in 1982 shortly before he turned 18 when his parents moved to Castlegar to follow his father's work. He refused to come, as he had a job, a girlfriend, a car, and a life in Oosoyoos. Some of the allegations of abandonment may be from the period following Garnet Anderson's semi accident in 1966 when Shirley spent much of her time in Rossland learning how to care for a critically injured man. This period lasted around four months at which time her children were fostered out to relatives and friends. After Garnet's recovery in 1969 the family became well-to-do enough to afford the usual luxuries a family in the 1970s could expect, cars, boats, motorcycles, etc, in fact far from being abandoned her daughter received a brand new car for her graduation from her parents. In fact all of them benefitted in some way from their father's income, so I imagine it comes as no surprise that despite their father's infidelity 4 of them backed him in the divorce. Afterward things became rather complicated, and I'll be happy to send you a document I wrote outlining the particulars of her case against her children, which she lost, and why she lost it.

Sue McPherson said...


I know how much money can come into it, where family is concerned.

Yes, if you would like to send the document to me, or a link to it, I would like to read it. My email is listed here somewhere, s.a.mcpherson - sympatico.ca