My brain has been a complete whirlwind the past few days surrounding the issues of emotional abuse, how I was parented, and how I’m parenting my kids. I know I still have several comments from yesterday’s post waiting for a reply, and I will get to them. I’m so grateful for all of the different experiences and perspectives that you share in the comments. Each one adds to my understanding of where I’ve come from, and where I want to be headed. Thank you for that.
I just finished a long, emotionally draining conversation with my parents. It started with a very specific goal – to share my concern over my older sister’s depression and her drinking. I have been very worried about her, since I recognize all too well what it looks like when you’re deep in the hole. But I’ve also realized (thank you, Therapist!) that I can’t fix her, or save her, or let my interactions with her drain all of my emotional energy. I’ve been concerned, though, because while I’m establishing better boundaries with my sister, I’ve wondered whether my parents really take seriously the state that I think she’s in. The good news is that they took my concerns to heart, and my dad assured me that he checks in with my sister a few times a week. My mom only shared her frustration and anger over my sister’s inability to just up and change her life, but that’s pretty much standard Mom.
The conversation then reached into more difficult territory. My dad confessed that he feels like he didn’t give my sisters and me the tools we needed in life. That we have ended up looking to external sources for validation, rather than from within ourselves. That if he had to do it all over again, he would do some things differently – even though he doesn’t know exactly what that would look like. I had a bit of a hard time figuring out exactly how to respond. Do I say, “Yep, you got it – you didn’t give us the tools we needed. Here – read this latest blog post of mine and it will give you a better idea of where you dropped the ball.”? Or do I say, “No, Dad, you did a great job. You did the best you could, and that’s enough.”? As it turns out, I didn’t say either of those extremes, but something in the middle. Something along the lines of “You gave us lots of great tools pertaining to our learning, academic success, self-motivation. But you didn’t learn as a kid how to deal with your feelings, so you didn’t know how to give that to us.”
He listened, and he didn’t get defensive. My mom listened, and emphasized that no, he hadn’t gotten those skills as a kid and that the depression and alcoholism both come from his side of the family. Yay for Mom for deflecting any responsibility that she might have. Sigh.
I listened to my dad, and watched the emotions on his face, and felt something inside of me relax a little. Like maybe I could let go of some of the pain surrounding my childhood and my parents. Mom is a thorny issue, as I suspect she always will be, but just being able to say these things out loud to both of them was momentous for me. I didn’t say all that I wanted to say, but I didn’t back down from all of it either.
At the end of the conversation, I told them both that I love them very much, no matter what. This is rather “touchy-feely” for my parents, but when I put my arms around them, they each hugged me back like they meant it. That may not seem like much but it’s significant for me.
My brain now hurts like hell, but the whirlwind in there is less intense. I feel like there’s been a shift inside me somewhere. I don’t understand it and am too tired at the moment to think about it. But I think it’s a good thing. I think I’m on my way to becoming my own person.