Monday, November 5, 2012

Ohhhh..... A-ha!

I have not written about my parents on this blog yet....but today something has come up, and so they receive their debut.

I love my parents, and they love me.  But it has been difficult to reach peace in my relationship with them: my childhood was filled with name calling ("moron" and "cretin" were among the most used, and it didn't matter how many As I got in school, whenever I made a mistake the names were trotted out like ugly ponies), slaps, and what I now recognize as inconsistant parenting: the same action on my part could receive very different responses one day to the next, based on my parents' moods.  What might merit a laugh one week would merit a slap on the next, and I never quite knew how to judge which it would be.

It wasn't all bad.  We had fun together camping and boating and such, and they didn't phyically abuse me (though slapping and spanking is NOT a parenting technique I'd recommend, and I don't hit my daughter, ever).  They told me that they had high standards for me because they knew how capable I was.  They told me they loved me.

When it was time for college, they informed me that there was no money to give me, and then they took a trip overseas.  When it was time for my brother to go to college, they offered to pay his whole way.  (Ironically, I worked my way through school, graduating with multiple higher ed degrees and no debt and no help, and my brother never finished community college.)  For my 16th birthday, I got a tote bag with a built in umbrella.  For my brother's 16th birthday, he got a car.  (I could not make this up.  I can still picture that ugly tote bag.)

Writing it all down makes my stomach hurt.  When I would point out the inequalities my parents would mumble that they loved me very much and tell me not to be so sensitive.  When I told them that I hated them calling me names, they told me that I was "persnickety" and that I wasn't happy unless I got my own way and couldn't I take a joke?

Eventually, I proved the persnickety thing right.  I spent most of my twenties avoiding my parents.  In hindsight, I also spent most of my twenties proving to them that I was smart, capable, and worthy.  I got a degree in the subject they respected, and worked in a field that made people say "wow" and "you lucky girl" even though it wasn't really my thing. 

I tried to live my life opposite from them - my more-than-I-needed degrees were at least a partial response to the fact that my mother never went to college; waiting until I was almost 30 to get married was a response to the fact that they got married when my mother was still a teenager.  (My parents called me an old maid.  Seriously.)

I like to believe that I have set aside my anger with my parents for some of their behaviors, for their inability to parent me the way I wanted or needed to be parented.  Forgiveness is sweeter than anger, and I have tried to drink sweetness.  I thought I had gotten so, so far from those roots that I was no longer influenced by them, and my path had proven that.

Which leads to my latest telephone conversation with my father.

My house is in a state of disrepair, all that deferred maintenance, and my refi money is only going to go so far.  My dad called me - a nice phone call, at least at the outset - to check on me and see how I was doing.  I said, "Well, sometimes it's a struggle, because I can't do everything I need to do."  My dad said, "If there is anything I can do to help you, please ask," and I said, "Have you ever installed a garage door opener?  Mine broke and I'd have to pay an installer several hundred dollars to replace it, on top of the cost of the new equipment."  My dad said, "Yes, I gave one to your brother and installed it."  I said, "Could you help me install mine?" and he said, "You know, I'm pretty busy."


For one of the first times in my adult life, I did not just say "Okay."  I said, "Dad, it hurts my feelings when you say you want to help me and then when I ask for help you just repeatedly" (this was not the first time we've had a similar conversation) "shut me down.  If you don't want to help me, please don't offer and then say no, just be up front about it and don't offer help when you don't mean to follow through."

He said, "What?  When did I ever do that?" and I rattled off a couple of recent times.  He said...

....and here's the clincher, folks, so please pay attention....

"Oh!  I guess my words and actions don't line up, and I'm sorry for that.  My heart is in the right place, you must know that!"

Let's repeat that.  "My words and actions don't line up."  Yes.  That is the definition of my childhood, of the home I grew up in.  And as I thought I was running away from my family of origin, choosing a man so different from them in so many ways.....I chose a person whose words and actions did not line up.  And then the breezy "My heart is in the right place," as if that makes it all okay, as if it didn't matter what he said or did at all and I should be thankful that he thought about helping me at all even if he had no intention of following through.

A giant, rude, sudden a-ha! moment.

Bryan knew how to say the right thing in a pinch, but then when I asked him to follow through he would get angry and tell me I wasn't being reasonable or that there was no pleasing me.  I think that sounds a lot like "persnickety" talk.  I would try harder and harder to please him, and he would tell me that he loved me and he wanted our lives to be great, and then he would continue doing whatever he wanted even though we'd agreed on a different path, and then he'd actually be mad at me for pointing out the discrepency, and then I'd feel bad about myself because maybe I was just a persnickety brat after all.

Damn.  That is a giant load of baggage right there!

In love, words and actions need to line up.  Actually, not just in love, but in life.  Integrity means saying what you mean, and acting on it.  If you offer help, you mean it sincerely.  If you say "I love you" you can't call names or yell.  I am very, very clear about this, but I hadn't realized that I was choosing men who didn't live by that credo (Bryan was not the first).  I hadn't realized how deeply my family of origin was in my bones, that all my running away hadn't gotten me that far after all.

I had been running around trying to please Bryan, trying to make him love me, the exact same way that I tried to please my parents, being who I thought they wanted me to be.  Oh good grief!

It has taken me 43 years to realize that this is my problem, and it's all summed up in that little conversation with my father.  I have chosen to be around men whose words and actions did not align, because that is how I was raised.


I am not the little girl who was informed I was bright and capable one minute, and belittled the next, so that I never know how to feel...I am a woman who knows her own value much more than that little girl did.  I am strong and smart and kind, and I've proven it many times.  I do not take my self worth from my father, or from Bryan, and I get to choose who I spend time with.  I am allowed to have boundaries.

I feel very, very good about calling my father on it.  I wasn't rude, I didn't start a fight, but I said, "No."  I will probably have to repeat myself many more times, because I don't think my father is particularly enlightened.  But it's not about my dad, it's about me.  It's about how I view myself in relationships to others, and it's about making sure that the men I invite in have words and actions that align.

I feel like someone just opened the door to the jail, and I've stepped into a pool of sunlight, blinking.

I choose to be around people whose words and actions align.  Period.  If they screw up, I'm allowed to say, "That's not okay with me" and stand my ground.  I don't have to be rude, I don't have to fight, but I don't have to go along with it either.

And I can't be sure, because the proof is in the living that is to come, but I do believe I've just learned a very good lesson, maybe even THE lesson for me.  Free at last! 


  1. OMG. We are our own support group. My baggage is so similar to your baggage it is scary. What is with people?

    Whatever. They can adjust to the new me. Which means they will learn to hear the word 'no'.

    Wish we lived closer!

  2. I read your blog because I am struggling with my own situation and it helps me feel less alone. So first thank you for that. This post hits home for me so much and that twisty way you can feel bad because they aren't holding their end of the bargain and somehow it gets turned on you is exactly what has been going on with me. I am working really hard on myself and owning my part in everything but I think this is such a hard thing. when actions aren't congruent with what is spoken and agreed upon it is incredibly hurtful and messes with your mind. Thanks for expressing it so clearly. It is the bright spot of my day.

  3. This is a big "aha" moment.

    Been there, done that.

    The knowledge will carry you far. Use it well, especially in future relationships.