Happy families

My parents are arriving today from interstate for a short visit - they fly home again on Monday afternoon. I have mixed feelings about their visit. I'm anxious and I don't particularly want them here, which makes me feel guilty and mean. But given our history, I'm not sure my feelings are entirely inappropriate.

I have an uneasy relationship with my parents, for different reasons that tend to morph together. One reason is fairly ordinary parent/child relationship stuff. My parents are tremendously bothered that I'm not married, and therefore they tend to assume that (a) I'm missing out on... just about everything; and (b) I'm not a real grown-up and need to be looked after. These assumptions tend to manifest themselves as my parents treating me like I'm a little girl playing house. When I was still living in Sydney my father once dropped around right on dinner time to repair something for me. I was just serving up my dinner-for-one - as I recall, something fairly boring like fish and steamed veges - and he looked at it and said, "So... you cook for yourself, do you?" (Actually I've had a similar question from a number of people - the assumption seems to be that people who live alone get by with just a can opener and a spoon.) With my father, though, the question implied amazement that I cook for myself and that I'm able to cook. He expresses similar amazement when I do things like arrange for my car to be repaired or... move interstate... and every time I do something 'grown up' he grills me with the most ridiculous questions to try to catch me out and prove I don't really know what I'm doing after all. I know there is genuine concern and care behind it, but there's only so long a person can put up with hearing things like, "When you put your car away in the garage make sure you've turned the engine off before you shut the garage door" (so I don't die of carbon monoxide poisoning in the 3.5 seconds it takes me to get from the garage roller door to the side exit door that leads to my backyard). My parents must be constantly astonished that I've managed to live this long without serious injury.

My mother tends to assume I'm missing out on everything and must be compensated. Actually my father thinks that too but he's too busy trying to keep me alive to do anything else. In my family we have stopped giving Christmas presents now - I have 4 siblings and they all have families of their own so we decided it was a ridiculous expense and was only causing us stress. I'm fine with it; in fact I was one of the instigators of this move. My mother, however, is horribly concerned that I won't get ANY presents for Christmas because I don't have a partner to buy me anything... so she said recently, "Well, I suppose we'll have to buy you a present this year, won't we?" Yes, that's verbatim. I assured her that I am very likely to get Christmas gifts from friends, and as a Christian the gifts aren't the most important part of the day for me anyway, but I think she remains unconvinced. I'm thinking now I should just milk this... "I'm soooo lonely and unfulfilled, but I know I'd feel better if only I had that red couch from Ikea... and maybe a flat-screen TV too. That would help to ease the pain..."

The other reason for my difficult relationship with my parents is more serious. Many of you who know me in real life are aware that I experienced long-term emotional abuse and bullying at the hands of one of my brothers. All siblings fight and disagree to a certain extent, but in my case my brother's behaviour was calculated, pre-meditated, sadistic and quite deliberate. - and it went on for about 15 years. In a few instances there was physical abuse - I once sported a particularly spectacular black eye - but for the most part his weapons were humiliation, belittling and disempowerment. (There's an okay article here about sibling abuse.) He was very good at what he did and I know there was a great deal that my parents didn't see. I think my father was probably oblivious to just about everything anyway as he was a shift-worker and was often at work or asleep during the times we were awake. My mother, on the other hand, was there and I know she saw at least some of what was going on... yet never intervened. It's possible she dismissed it as normal sibling fights and didn't really understand the extent or impact of what my brother was doing - this is one of the reasons sibling abuse is so little recognised or understood - but even so there are a few painful incidents where she simply failed to protect me.

This abuse has had a profound effect on my life. It's affected my self-worth, my ability to trust, my confidence; and it contributed to the depression I experienced earlier this year. Praise God I have a great counsellor who has experience in abuse recovery and has been tremendously helpful. Healing is a slow process but it's definitely possible and I'm happy with the progress I've been making. As far as my parents are concerned, however... there's a lot of anger there and other mixed feelings. I've never discussed this with them and I don't intend to because it wouldn't be helpful (they would never recognise my brother's behaviour as abuse and trying to make them recognise it would completely destroy our relationship) but that means that when they decide to visit I am processing a lot of stuff and it tends to be a very anxiety-inducing time for me.

Wow, this post is longer and more intense than I had intended.... sorry to make you sit through a counselling session! Many of you already knew this stuff anyway and I continue to be enormously grateful for your love and support.

For those of you who are the praying types, please pray that I can get through this visit without unnecessary trauma. They're here for five days... and I think I'll be taking comfort in blogging a lot during that time. You have been warned!



Hippomanic Jen said...

I'm so sorry that a family visit ends up stressful, but I can see why when you've outlined all the reasons. Heavy stuff, and navigating the relationships doesn't put you in the best place to deal with the heavy stuff.

Also, you can tell your mum that being married doesn't necessarily equate with gifts (if your beloved isn't a gift giver). I have some lovely things my beloved has given me, but not usually at specific occasions. I don't expect anything for birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries, but we were visiting a pearl farm on holidays...

All that aside, I like the flat screen and read lounge option you've outlined.

Femina said...

What's hilarious is that my mother thinks the worst part about being single is that I might miss out on gifts. She's not concerned that I might be lonely or want children or get sick of doing all the driving and paying all the bills or not be able to afford a mortgage on one income... no, it's that I might miss out on a Christmas gifts. Very strange.

Dee from Downunder said...

I am sorry you went through that abuse, I can relate in some ways. I actually don't want christmas presents, just a box of chocolates I am happy with, prefer to concentrate on teh girls, but the girls dad gets annoyed if I say that and it ends in an argument(seeing as he is materialistic).

But milk it if you feel the need!

Walk in the Woods said...


Long dark hair, blue eyes said...

It sounds like you are going to have a stressful few days. I will pray for you.

Can I suggest that you try to enjoy at least one part of each day with your parents? Even in the most fragile and broken family relationships there is opportunity for times (however short) of enjoyment and friendship. If you really focus on creating and enabling those moments, when they leave, you will have some fond memories of the time you have spent together to focus on and be more able to forgive and forget the awkward/upsetting ones.

I hope it goes well.

Red Flashlight said...

I'm nonplussed. I survived the same, verbatim, from my sister. I want to jump up and give you a pile of un-asked-for advice and tell you what to do, but that would be disrespectful. So I won't do that. Rather, I want to acknowledge you for surviving all that and seeing it for what it was. Cheers.

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