Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Beating My Parents -- by Laura

My mother hates my father. She has hated him for years. Like so many women of her generation, she got married thinking it was the cure for her loneliness and unhappiness. She thought my father would fix her, that he would be her therapist, that he would be her best friend, and, of course, that he would be her knight in shining armor. And like many women her age, she is resentful that he could do or be any of those things.

But unlike many women of her generation, my mother elected to stew in her anger rather than get counseling. Instead, she used me as her therapist. Throughout my childhood my mother gradually poisoned me against her husband. From age 12 to about age 20, I thought my father was a cold, neglectful, indifferent man. I refused to listen to him, I deliberately disobeyed him, and I was mean, mean, mean to him at every opportunity.

When I was 23, I moved to a part of the city that was only a few blocks from my father’s office, and on the nights I was not waiting tables, he would call and ask if he could stop by. He’d bring a six-pack of Coors beer, and we would sit on my patio even on the coldest of days, drink a brew, and play fetch with the dogs. My dad loved dogs. And he especially loved Labrador retrievers, and I had rescued two of them from the pound where he sometimes volunteered. They were the magnets that helped draw my father and I back together, and in my heart I have built a glorious memorial for those dogs.

On those evenings I got to know my father really well. And what I found was a man who was very much like me. He loved books, the outdoors, gardens, hiking, dogs, beer, and he especially loved his children and his life with them. He even loved the woman who had berated him all of his life, alienated him from his brothers and sisters, and tried to turn his own children against him. “She can’t help it,” he told me once. “She didn’t grow up with anyone loving her.”

To say I dislike my mother is an understatement. But over the past 20 years, I have tried to remember his words: That no one loved her, and that’s why she is the way she is.

I struggle with her more now that I am a parent myself. I look at her behaviors toward her family, and something deep in me bubbles up into my throat. My mother drove a wedge between my father and his twin brother. If a woman ever did that to my twins, I don’t know what I would do, but my wrath would be severe. My mother also liked to be divisive with her own children because she learned that if we were angry with one another, we would go to her to talk about the sibling we were disgusted with at that time. It was her way of guaranteeing attention. And saddest to me is that I bought into her lies and lost precious years with my father and siblings. It’s something I have not forgiven myself for.

Last week my mother found a letter I had written my father more than 10 years ago, and she sent me a venomous email in response. In the letter I discussed my mother’s accusations of his affair, and I suggested to my father that if the accusations were not true that my mother could be experiencing delusional episodes due to her own childhood. I also suggested that after 40 years of emotional abuse it might be time to leave my mother. I recommended he divorce her and go live with his twin brother. It was the right advice to give.

I was particularly worried about my father because he had just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and I knew as the disease worsened my mother would not take care of him. I knew she would let him deteriorate, she would not help him with his medications, she would not want to take him to the doctor, and when she did she would not participate. She would only hinder. She was angry with him and felt he had done this to her on purpose.

My mother is furious with me for writing that letter. She should be. But I am not sorry I wrote it. I am, however, finding myself angry with my father for sticking with her. If he had left, he’d be getting better care right now. If he had left, maybe he could have reconnected with his twin brother. If he had left, maybe he would not be declining so quickly. Sometimes I blame his disease on her entirely. Living with her constant criticism, her accusations, and her lies has to take its toll. I know it did with me.

It’s a fight, really, not to be a bad parent when you are raised by someone like my mother. Every day it’s a fight, so to ensure I battle in a good way, I am committed to picking up the phone and scheduling an appointment with a counselor. It’s good to have someone walk me through it so I can understand my mother and her hatred. I am not going to repeat this with my sons and my husband. I want them to love me as I love them. But sometimes I hear myself saying the things to my husband that my mother said to my father, and it knocks the wind out of me. And that’s when I pick up the phone and call.

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Blogger Robin Gorman Newman said...

Wow Laura. I am so struck by both your pain and candor. And, I applaud you for so clearly recognizing all the you don't want to become and for having the awareness and taking the initiative to seek out professional support. We are all a product of our upbringing, whether we recognize it or not. And, some might even be in denial about it. and, our children push our buttons like no one else. Your twins are lucky to have a proactive, loving, empathetic mom who truly wants the best for them now and in the future.

9:26 AM  
Blogger Laura Houston said...

Thanks, Robin. I emailed the blog to a list, and some of those people must have passed on the URL because I have been getting emails from people I don't know who want to talk about it....similar stories, etc. I think my mother comes from a generation of women who really thought marriage would save them. And it ruined their lives when it did not happen. In the mean time, I am picking up pieces. I am heartbroken over my father and how he has ended up. Just heartbroken.

10:54 AM  
Blogger Cara Meyers said...

Laura, your mother sounds exactly like my Mother-in-Law. Maybe that is why my husband is so messed up.

3:16 PM  

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