If you have read any of my blog posts on my childhood family dysfunction I am positive that you’ve realized I have had issues with both my parents. It isn’t hard to miss and I purposely focused on it knowing I would eventually get to this point and approach the subject of healing those wounds.My issues with my father have been the most prevalent and consistent in my life, my mother issues, on the other hand, were almost always a complete blindside and often sporadic.
My father is a silent, intense force and wields a death-stare like no one else I know. I also found him to be quite controlling and truthfully a bit of a bully and guess what? This little acorn didn’t fall very far from that mighty Oak. Surprise? Surprise! We share a personality type. We are both introverted, self-authoritative, autonomous, and determined, which made for a War of the Wills. I suppose I should have recognized how much alike we are but sometimes it is hard to see the forest through all of the trees.
I was also a bit terrified of my father, most people are, and when I wasn’t afraid of him I was angry with him. That fear and anger became a vicious little vortex because as angry as I was I wanted his approval and as terrified as I was I wanted him to (unconditionally) love and accept me. No matter what I did or how I did it I was never quite living up to his expectations, and eventually mine. I was never good enough and I didn’t like how that felt. I was also extremely exhausted and frustrated with all my attempts to be the perfect child and failing, again and again and again….
My mother and I are complete opposites, she is an extroverted, free-spirit, that happily drifts through life. She is a nurturer but she herself has never set boundaries and she therefore over extends and ends up resentful. She smothers you by trying to micromanage every detail of your life and when you try to set limits/boundaries, she guilt-trips you (or tries to), manipulates the situation (and those involved) and if that doesn’t work she throws you under the bus or disowns you and denies knowing anything about well…anything. All the while smiling a saccharine sweet smile and cooing gently that all will be alright as long as you let her take care you and all your problems (never mind that what she sees as a problem, you don’t and the problems you do have she instigated). Mother knows best, except when she doesn’t and that was most of the time.
As a child I couldn’t please my father, as a teenager I couldn’t please either of them, as a young adult. I wasn’t speaking to one of them and wishing the other one would stop talking to me. In my 30’s I got my wish because mom disowned me and I therefore had no clue what my father was up to (mom being our go between). Now, in my 40’s, quickly approaching 50, I have accepted myself and them. My Father and I get along, we talk, we actually enjoy each others company, my mom is my mom, I have accepted she is who she is, she probably isn’t going to change, neither one of them really will at this stage in their lives. I have (having healed my own parental wounds), seen theirs and how they have been shaped by those wounds. This has allowed me to navigate my relationship with them more successfully. We still have our moments but it has become a matter of choosing the fight I want to fight and some things just really aren’t worth the energy expended.
So, how did these issues manifest in my life? I became horribly incompetent with setting boundaries, I found myself creatively stagnant which as a creative person was frustratingly maddening (Creating is my way of reaching a Zen brain state). I also felt a bit schizophrenic trying to please two parents that are polar opposites (I had long ago forfeited trying to please myself in a feeble attempt to make my life easier). I also became aware of the fact that even when my parents weren’t directly involved in my life people just like them always managed to pop up which resulted in the same issues rearing up once again. You can’t run away from your problems; they always have a way of finding you.
The heart of my problem was two-fold; expectations, from all parties involved and me recognizing that it is my life and these are essentially my issues not my parent’s. My parents expected me to be a certain type of child (they both had radically different ideas as to what that perfect child should be like), and as their child I expected them to provide a safe, loving and harmonious home environment were I could be nurtured, thrive and grow into a successful human being. Not one of us was having our expectations met and we weren’t communicating any of this in a healthy manner with each other.
I asked myself the hard questions, eventually; “If I chose my parents, and my parents are radically different from each other, what is the lesson I am to learn from all this chaos?” “What am I supposed to discover or remember about myself, and/or my parents from this parent-child dynamic that is playing out?” “How do I feel about each of my parents as individuals or as a unit?” “How am I like/different from each of my parents?”
I, initially, couldn’t answer all of these questions (plus more that popped up as I went along) but I did understand that I needed to drop my expectations of my parents. The truth of the matter is I chose them for a reason, and I needed to discover what that reason is. That is on me, not them. I began to view my parents as a Spiritual Boot Camp puzzle. A mystery that needed to be solved and as such I needed to leave my biases out of the equation and focus on the facts.
The facts are I chose them for some reason; discover that reason. Since I chose them, I must accept them for who and what they are, not who and what I want them to be. I can not control them, only myself, therefore I must focus on who and what I am, want to be, or want from life. It matters not what they want me to be, they were simply a conduit into this life. It is my life! Things became much easier after that. There is something very freeing about dropping the expectations you have of another person and just accepting them as they are.
I won’t lie, I still had some hurt feelings that needed to be healed. My parents didn’t always respond in a positive manner when I started living the life I wanted but we did get past it. They can and do still push my buttons but I refrain from fighting with them or squash the urge to put my two cents in, a fight can’t continue with only one person hurling insults. I also realized that by figuring out myself, I have a better understanding of them, and that it really doesn’t matter what they think of me.
My father had the same strained personality clashing relationship with his father and my mom feels her mother is smothering and an overbearing bully and I now find myself in the role of mediator/peacekeeper. I am certain that there are several lessons that I still need to learn via my parents but I can look back on my life and see why my relationship with them benefitted me in the long run. I needed things to be exactly as they had been in order to become the person I am.
Photo: The Hierophant (St Francis). Santa Fe, New Mexico, U.S.A. taken: by Pamela with a camera phone