How do I put this into words………
While I am not proud of how I behaved, last weekend I finally lost it with my parents. After spending the past year, hell – my entire life – trying to keep them happy, do the “right” thing, meet their needs, I lost it. I was accused of being rude and indoctrinating my children to be rude, “simply because of who they voted for”. (my mothers words)
While dealing with my own personal hell, I’ve spent the past year and a half trying to calm the waters, avoid the sensitive topics, and get everyone to talk to each other. To be accused of being rude, and indoctrinating my children to be rude, was simply more than I could handle. I lost it. Essentially I told them both they are fucking assholes, they have been my entire life and I’m done with them.
Now I’m wracked with guilt. They, on the other hand, are “bewildered”. Where did this outburst of mine come from? Why does everyone hate them so? Why is our family falling apart at the seams? And, why are we victimizing them?
I have so many thoughts and feelings about all of this, but the one I can’t shake is this: Why is it up to me to grovel? Why are they allowed to say any horrible think they want, yet I’m to shut up and take it? Why is it ok for my mother to say “just so you know, you are a member of the group my friends all hate”, even though I’m the only child talking to them, and I’m supposed to say nothing?
Last night I had some cousins and my Aunt over for dinner. I’ve just moved into my new townhouse, and I’m so excited to have people see it. My Aunt is my mother’s sister. I suspect she had already heard that I left my parents home dropping F bombs along the way; she probably knew we were not speaking. She didn’t push the issue that night, so in the morning, when she left a message asking me to call her, I did. Silly me.
I was met with the arguments I’ve heard my entire life. They include:
- I can’t understand them, as they are a product of the 50’s. (What does that even mean?)
- They are older and could die any day, and then how would I feel?
- They try their best, they just don’t know any better.
- It’s up to me to smooth things over because they are too old to change.
- Look at how they were raised.
I think it is that one that really gets me. “Look at how they were raised”. So, let’s do that.
My dad was raised in a home of privelage. He was raised by nannies. He had everything he wanted. When it was time for college he was accepted in the University of Pennsylvania and his parents paid for him to attend. Later he earned his MA from the Wharton School. He went on to work as an investment banker. He earned a great living. He worked 9-5 Monday through Friday. He took the same trains every day. He was home for dinner every night. Within an hour of his arrival home he’d consumed 3 martini’s. He then consumed enough beer to pass out on the couch.
My mother’s life was decidedly less upscale. She was raised by 1st generation immigrants. Her father owned a junk yard where he dismantled US War Ships. (he later died of asbestos related cancer). Her mother died of “female cancer” when she was 11. With 2 younger siblings to care for her father called in his mother. His mother, an immigrant from Poland, was crazy, no doubt. After 2 years my mother kicked her out and took over. My mother also got into the University of Pennsylvania and earned a 4 year degree, paid for by her father. My Mother is her story. Every time my mother acts terribly, which is quite often, we are all reminded of her “story”. Poor mom, lost her mother, had to raise her younger siblings, yada, yada, yada. Put aside the fact that she had an ivy league education paid for by her father, she was catered to by her father and she was regaled among her cousins as the “it girl”. Forget how beautiful she was. Poor her.
When my Aunt got me on the phone this morning I heard all of it. I’m supposed to remember that my parents are a product of the 50’s, which I can’t understand. I’m supposed to be lenient with them because they are old and might die. I’m supposed to be the one to mend fences because…….poor them.
All I can think is this:
- My parents embraced their stories and told them, over and over again, to justify really shitty behavior.
- My siblings and I used our stories to become better people.
This is what I’ve come to believe: Those who came of age in the 50’s were a generation of narcissists. When I look back over the literature, listen to the stories, watch the tv shows, it is so clear that these young adults were taught to focus on themselves and their spouse, to exclude all others, and to think about no one’s welfare except their own. The father who went to work every day was to be catered to when he came home. This is where most people stop. What about the women though? The women were to focus on themselves. They were to put the children in a playpen and focus on their own clothing and makeup and cooking. I’m not really sure why any of them had children, because the only part we were to play was to look nice and create a beautiful family portrait.
A few months ago I came across an instruction manual for a Singer Sewing machine from the early ’50’s. When I first read it I was horrified. The opening paragraph essentially said make sure that when you sit down to sew you are free to focus on your sewing. You should dress well, make sure you won’t be interrupted, and focus all of your attention on you and your sewing machine. At 1st glance I thought this was disgusting. What a pathetic way to make women slaves to societal expectations. Lately, I’ve been looking at it differently.
I’ve raised 4 children and there is one indisputable fact: the children come first. The idea of setting aside a time in which I’d be uninterrupted by anyone, including my children, is self indulgent. I can think of no other way to describe it. Children require attention, love, assistance and presence. The idea that I would take time out of my day, while my spouse was at work, dress up and make sure I could indulge in an uninterrupted hour of creative endeavors – well seriously – ludicrous.
Yes, we are all products of the era in which we were born, but honestly, the callous, cruel way I and my siblings were treated is horrendous.
What we lived was the difference between overt and covert abuse. Those living with overt abuse could point to their scars and say “see – I’ve been abused” and everyone knew it to be true. Those of us raised with covert abuse though; holy shit. My cousins talk about how much they loved my mother, how they idealized our family, how perfect we were. They had no way of knowing the words being said after they’d left. Countless therapists talked about how lucky we children were to have to such supportive parents, with no realization that the second we left their room we would be berated and chastised for whatever we said during the family therapy session.
In the end my question is this: Why am I more liable to keep the family peace than they?
Why is it up to me to accept bad behavior from them, than for them to walk on eggshells around me? Why don’t they sit at their kitchen table, wrapped in remorse and concern, because they didn’t handle a situation appropriately?
Is it up to me because they are old and might die? The reality is that I will most likely die before them. They are in terrific health while I am dealing with a shot immune system, crappy lungs and intestines that could burst at any second because of the harsh chemo I went through. Any one of us could die at any moment, but at this time, the odds are in my favor that I will go before them. Yet it is I that should smooth things over? It is I that is supposed to not only forgive them for their latest accusations, but “manage” their insane accusations going forward, while remaining calm, holding them accountable yet not upsetting them.
And all I can think to ask is why? Why is their life experience so much more relevant than mine, that I have to be the grown up?
I’m tired. I need a break. I need to stay away from the world that revolves around them, and focus on the world I need to cultivate – a world that cherishes and loves ME.
Unfortunately, they don’t fit into that world.