Sunday, February 19, 2006

Family, Friend, or Foe?

In my last informative post, I talked about how depression feels to me. I also mentioned there were two major things that affect my depression. Work and family. Because I am a wimp, I chose to speak about work first. I didn’t really mean to wait a month before I tackled the next issue, but here it is, February 19, 2006 – and I’m just sitting getting started. I’m feeling compelled to tackle this issue, because I’m hoping someone out there has an insight for me, and my upcoming travel schedule is forcing me to confront this issue. I guess I really need to give some back story. I’ll start-off saying I love my Mom and Dad. I know they love me too. I grew up in a pretty typical “50’s Family” – even though I was born in the 60’s. (I am 8 years younger than my brother ... and so I had “older” parents, and trust me … it was a 50’s atmosphere.) Intellectually I know my parents were the best parents they knew how to be. Emotionally? Well, I guess none of us grows up unscathed. I think it’s funny (not ha-ha funny, but “isn’t it odd” funny) that the parent I felt most remote from as a child, and who I wanted to win their approval from, is the parent who supports me the most as an adult. As a child, my Dad was a 50’s dad. He went to work, provided for the family … and left the family rearing to my mother. I can remember very specifically when I was in High School sitting down to write what values/attributes I’d want in a husband. This was prompted by a church discussion about what type of man would you marry? I clearly remember writing I didn’t ever want to marry a man like my father. His shortcomings? He was only interested in what HE was interested in doing. He didn’t share in the housework. He had a temper. He wanted me to be a “proper” girl – which I internalized to mean a, “traditional girl”. My dad never told me I was pretty – or gave any compliments at all on my appearance. He never said, “I love you”. He had high standards for me. Standards I thought I could never meet. I think the most difficult was his standard for my dates. It’s not as if I had a long line of boys waiting to take me out. I worked hard to get a date (does that sound weird?). However, none of the boys I was able to induce to take me out were good enough for my dad. They were:
  1. Loud
  2. Obnoxious
  3. Liars
  4. “Different” (read not white Caucasian)
  5. Not “smart enough” for me
My Mom is also a 50’s mom. Her job was to raise my brother and me. To take care of the house – and make sure my dad’s life ran smoothly. She was involved in the community and in our schools. She went back to work when I was in second grade – and I never regretted it. (Not that anyone was thinking about the child’s viewpoint at that time.) In fact, I LOVED her working. It gave me space and allowed me independence. I admire my Mom because she is always willing to try something new. She took me to Sacramento to see the ballet, to San Francisco to see stage productions. When our community college put on productions – or touring companies came to our small hamlet, she always made sure we attended. She’s a strong person – and has some non-traditional skills. She’s an amazing fly fisherwoman – and out fishes most men. She wades the water by herself, can match a hatch on the water, and tie on her own leaders and flies. She can tow a 32 foot trailer (5th wheel or not) – and BACK it into any trailer slip. She frequently told me she loved me – “but”. And there was always a “but”. Her compliments were always like this, “That’s a good grade for that class, “but” I didn’t try hard enough. So-and-so was a nice friend, “but” …. (insert flaw). It was a cute outfit, “but” it would look cuter if I lost weight. I had a nice personality, “but” why did I need to be so (insert flaw)? From a young age, I declared I’d never wanted children – and I wasn’t too sure if I wanted a husband either. I didn’t want to be a parent like my parents. And kids, – just not my thing. I didn’t like babysitting. I don’t enjoy children … they frighten me. They ask for more honest emotion, understanding and patience of me than I can give. As far as husbands went? Well, I didn’t want to be in a relationship to make the man’s life easy – and only follow his interests and goals, while subjugating my life and goals to his. My mother told me as I got older, I’d change my mind. Here I am, 40+ and still single. It’s not that I wouldn’t ever want to be married, not that I didn’t have the opportunity once or twice to have a husband. Marriage just hasn’t been a priority. The men who were interested, struck me as people who’d never match my ambitions and never stand up to me as an equal partner. There are also legions of men I have been interested in – who weren’t “that into me”. (In fact, I continue to find it amazing that some of my closest male friends tell me I’m intimidating, and no wonder it’s hard for me to find dates!) It wasn’t until I got older that I realized my declaration to be childless, and single, invalidated everything my mom thought was important. Where is this introspection leading? It’s leading to the reason for my crumpled relationship with my mom. It came to a head this summer when I went home for vacation. It’s been building for years. She never understood why I had to move to Arizona. I always said it was because I wanted to experience something different – and prove I could make it on my own. Then I moved back to California for two years. She had all these wonderful dreams and plans laid for our mother-daughter relationship. All the things we could do together. All the advice she could give me. All the “help” she could provide me to become a better person. My move to CA was a disaster. The job bad – and I was working more hours than any human should. It’s not just that I was stressed out because the NYCE market was moving against me – and the VP of US operations was having his own personal crisis. It wasn’t that at work I was trying to overhaul an antiquated software program. One, which all other employees LOVED because it was ALL they knew. It was also that I made the mistake of living in the same community as my extended family – and forming relationships with them outside of my mother. She was continually disappointed that I wouldn’t/couldn’t drive home the 3 1/2 hours to visit, but I could travel 2 ½ hours to San Francisco. I’d drive 5 hours to meet friends in Laguna Beach or 6 hours to San Diego, but never drive north of Sacramento. As soon as a job offer came along outside of California, I was gone. I was so happy to escape the expectations. I was happy to distance myself from the endless “helpful” advice, the fighting, the suggestions, and the angry accusations that kept surfacing. I assumed that moving to North Carolina would allow our relationship to move back to the more harmonious plane it occupied when I lived in Arizona. It didn’t. She came out to help me unpack my house – and criticized the first house I’d ever purchased. When my parents celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary, I didn’t send a card or call. (Because I’m bad that way, never sending cards on important occasions … those days just seem to escape me.) She called and told me I was thoughtless to do nothing for their anniversary, and I’d better do something for their 50th. Another time I came back to CA on business – and didn’t have time to spend alone with her – and she raked me over the coals. I flew her and my aunt to NC for her 71st birthday. I paid for the airplane ticket; I used my frequent stay points for the hotel on the Outer Banks. I found all the great antique stores and picturesque places to visit – and I was accused of having to “be in control” of everything. The morning they flew out, she blew up at her sister and me. So, I tried harder. I organized a 50th wedding anniversary party from the east coast. I invited a 150 people, family members plus their closest friends. I spent vacation time to fly home. A friend and I spent a day buying food, then two days cooking the food. I organized a slide show and guest speakers. I paid for it all. What was the problem? I didn’t ask her to help. I didn’t consult her beyond the guest list. I was the “general” organizing everything and everyone. The implied criticism there is that shouldn’t tell people what to do. I shouldn’t take on such big projects – and I shouldn’t succeed in pulling them off. And once again she was upset because I didn’t have time to spend with her and my dad alone. The next time I knew I was going to be in California for a cousins wedding I asked my dad if they had time to go camping with me for 3 days - alone, away from the rest of the family. That trip was the final straw for me. It was a horrible, horrible trip. We fought – everything was wrong. When we were alone, I didn’t tell her enough. I was too quite. Although I’d worked with my dad to plan the trip for 2 months, she was unhappy because I didn’t want to spend 3 hours traveling BACK north to Yosemite. Granted, it was a wet year in CA – all the news stations were reporting how spectacular Yosemite and the falls were that spring. I would have gladly gone – had it been decided BEFORE I’d driven from San Francisco to Visalia to meet up with them, and not after I’d arrived there and we already had plans to see the Sequoias and Kings Canyon, plus visit with other family members. When I left to fly home, she wouldn’t talk to me. Actually, it was a relief. I didn’t have to feel guilty about not calling on weekends, about avoiding telling her what I was doing at work and hearing her criticism. I didn’t have to talk about my friends and listen to her insights and criticisms. I realize we’re responsible for our actions and responsible for how we react to things at some point. I wrote this letter to her, “I know you’ve been waiting a while for this letter. I haven’t quite known what to write – or how to write it. I want this letter to be fair – not just a list of everything little petty thing that I don’t like about our relationship. I know it takes two people to have a relationship – and I am not trying to say I play no part in any of this, I’ve just come to the point where I can’t control/change my actions/reactions to our interactions – and at this time I choose to not continue trying. I know you want specifics and reasons. I don’t really feel comfortable telling you much. I guess that’s one of the things. I’m afraid to tell you things, because when I do, I feel you use them as ammunition for a later date. All too many times when you get angry with me you say, “I’m not surprised you don’t a) have any friends; b) your co-workers don’t like you; c) you’re not successful … if you treat them the way you treat me”. You always pass these statements off as “loving and well meaning,” but when you yell them at me; it’s hard to hear the love – or constructive criticism in the statement. Another thing I find that I can’t deal with any longer is that although you write positive sounding things to me in birthday cards and holiday letters, you rarely TELL me I do anything well. When you do, I discount the compliments. Unfortunately, the messages I always hear in my head is “you’re not good” messages – and I discount all the written evidence you send stating otherwise. I’m finding it hard to believe in myself these days … that I have any skills or abilities that anyone would desire – and I don’t know how I can write a resume, much less look for a different job, with those voices and thoughts floating through my head. So, I’m trying to get rid of those voices in order to find a better job. I’m sure it’s not that you mean for me to have a crappy self image, perhaps it’s just you never wanted me to be “big headed” or “full of myself” or what ever it’s called … but that’s not how I’ve processed those messages. I know that not talking to you is not the way to resolve this dilemma in our relationship. But until I can learn some skills/tools to not let these things bother me – I don’t want to continue. I don’t know why I can’t over-look these issues anymore, but I feel like you’ve turned into Grandma W. She was never very nice to me, and I did all I could to stay out of her way, and now unfortunately I feel the same way about my mother. It’s not a feeling I like. I know I do things that bug you and set you on edge too. I know you think I’m controlling – I agree. Unfortunately it’s a trait we share. I guess I feel if everything is planned out/organized – there’s less likely hood of being exposed for criticism. I know it sets you on edge when I stick up for Dad. You’re right; I realize he’s not perfect. I hate his temper. I dislike that he’s not willing to very many new things that interest you, but not him. But I love the fact that he only offers his opinion when I ask for it. He never takes someone else’s side when I present a situation – he always sticks up for me. Unless of course it comes to you and me having a disagreement – then he just steps out of the picture. I have been praying that maybe I’d have a change of heart, or begin to feel differently about our relationship. I am at a loss of where to go from here. After all this time, trying to write this letter, I still haven’t found a way to express myself very well, or come to any solutions. But I don’t want you waiting on pins and needles any longer to see what I have to say for myself. I am sorry things are this way between us. And I’m sorry this is interfering with your enjoyment of the holiday season. I hope you are able to be joyful around Strech and his family – and the extended family down in the SJV. I do not want to ruin anyone’s holiday. I will keep praying for a resolution to this estrangement that I’ve perpetuated, – and trying to figure out what makes me tick. As I learn – I will let you know. In the meantime, I ask for your forgiveness. I still love you very much – I just can’t get past this right now.” This was her response … "Thank you for taking the time to write. I will have to think about it a bit before I answer. I was a bit blown away by your feelings - but feeling are real and something that needs to be addressed. I do think the strain of your job situation has added a tremendous burden and worry on you. I understand that. I really agree with you that this is a situation that would be far better served by talking face to face - not email or phone. Have you talked to anyone back there about your feelings or are you keeping them all bottled up and trying to put on a good front ? I will sleep on this, think on it, and I, too, am praying for some sort of satisfactory resolution to our relationship. I am just heartsick about all of this. Mom" I wrote to “Stretch”, my big brother, "Well it will be interesting to see what she has to say, and , I sure as hell hope she's not planning on flying out here to talk about this face to face!", because quite frankly I don't want to see her until some of this gets worked out. In the middle of January, I got a great, long letter from my Dad at the house through snail mail. When I first got it out of the mailbox, I didn't realize it was from him because the address on the letter was by the computer printer, and not hand written. The letter itself was thick. I thought, "Oh no, here it is, Mom's reply." And so I put off reading it for a couple of hours because I just didn't know if I wanted to deal with what she wrote. But when I summoned up my courage, whew, what a relief, it was Dad's letter, not Mom's. As I wrote to my brother, Dad did say many wonderful things in the letter that were upsetting to me, but only because I don't understand why he can't say those nice things to us face-to-face, not because they were mean things that he wrote. Still I waited for something from Mom. Then I got a FORMAL thank you note from her the other day for their Christmas presents. (And I won't even go into how weird that is...) These were her words in the T.Y. note. She said, "We had a nice Christmas. Someday I hope you can get yourself together, so we can all share a Christmas together". Immediately I wrote to Stretch, because he’d been encouraging me to work through this. In my e-mail to Stretch I said, “Hello? "Get myself together??!" What about, "I hope WE can get this sorted out!???" Now I’ll fast forward to the beginning of February after I sent another long e-mail to my parents. I was feeling bad that my dad is doing so much to stay in touch, and I hadn’t reciprocated; I wanted to catch them up on what was going on in my life. I had heard nothing further from my mom … she just keeps sending me “poetic” e-mails. You know, the mushy ones that someone copied from a card or a bad poetry book and are sent endlessly around the world. Her e-mail really set me off, and I fired this off to my brother, “…Then today I open up her response to my e-mail from this week. Among other things, this is what she said about my job search stuff, "I do wonder if the counselor has said anything to you about losing a little weight for a better first impression?? Or maybe you are already doing that?" Like really! Why is my fucking weight the topic of EVERY conversation? Apparently it doesn't consume my every-waking though as it does Mom. And Hello! Can we talk JOB DISCRIMINATION??! I believe the ONLY person who has any right to bring up the topic of my weight, is ME or MY DOCTOR. I'm not trying to say here that I'm the perfect weight - but come on! After 40 years I am SO SICK AND TIRED of this topic. Is that the only thing she and stupid GRANDMA W could focus on? Would the world really be a better place if everyone was their perfect weight?Her next topic, said, “I really miss talking to you on the phone. Everybody is asking if we've heard from you? (Aunt P, Cousin C, Aunt J & Cousin K) You must be really behind in your correspondence. Is one of the reasons you don't call because you cancelled your long distance program on the regular or cell phone?? Without talking one to one, it's hard to keep up on the little changes. Love you and hope all works out well for you." As I wrote to Stretch, “Doesn't she get it? The reason I'm not talking to her long distance is BECAUSE OF WHAT SHE SAYS! And apparently she doesn't do it any better by e-mail. I guess the bottom line is that it's apparent to me she's written this all off as being things "I need to fix and work on", and la-la-la-la, she's just fine and has NO responsibility for any of this. :( With that in mind Stretch, I don't know what to do. Actually, that's not true, I do know what to do. Like you suggested I need to get counseling. I just know I can't do that until I get a different job and restore my income. And I’m afraid of how long that will take. I miss Dad. And I know they're old. And I don't want to have this hanging over me - like you pointed out earlier. After that I signed off as, “Your erratic, hot tempered little sister”. Well dear internet, I’m sure that’s more than you ever wanted to know. I guess, to me, it explains a lot. Why I feel like I’m on the edge of a pit … whose mouth is yawning bigger and bigger. I think it explains why my self-perception is so different from the one most people seem to have of me. The latest issue to complicate all these messy feelings? My travel schedule! I find I will be in California the first two weeks of May – ending on Mother’s Day. In the past, I have flown home to surprise her. Or driven north to cook a special meal. Now what do I do? I can’t just see part of the family – and ignore her. That’s not fair to anyone. I don’t want to waste an opportunity to see my Aunts, Uncles, cousins, brother and dad. But I sure don’t want to see her – with this unresolved. I don’t talk much about God in my life on this site, probably because I am still like that Christian soldier during the crusades. I’ve dedicated my life to God … while holding my right arm and sword out of the baptismal waters so I can do whatever I want with that piece of my life. I know God has a plan for me. I know my life would be better if I would just SUBMIT or OBEY (you have no idea how much I hate those words). I think God has been trying to get my attention for a while with numerous events in my life. And me? … I’ve been like a small child watching a scary movie. I keep covering my eyes with my hands and peaking through my fingers to see, “How bad is it, really?” Not only do I have people continuing to ask me for a resume – and encouraging me in my job search. I know God is trying to get my attention because I also have a church family that will be following the “Purpose Filled Life” for the next 40 days of Lent. After that, I will participate in the “Emmaus Walk”. What do I need to do to get beyond this? How can I come out on the other side? I started writing this, hoping someone would give me the answer. Now that I’ve written it, I know the answer. The answer is composed of those scary words. I see God responding to this with this missive. “Discipline yourself to hear my words, submit your desires to me, and follow me … to where I want to lead you. Ignore your desires, they are what distract you when I’m trying to show you my purpose … the purpose I continue to hold for you, the purpose I keep reminding you of in Jeremiah 29: 10 - 14 “…I'll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. 11 I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out--plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. 12 "When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I'll listen. 13 "When you come looking for me, you'll find me. Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, 14 I'll make sure you won't be disappointed." So if you’re into prayer … pray for me. Pray that I will LISTEN to God and hear what he is saying to me, NO MATTER HOW SCARY IT IS. Pray that I will forget my pride and I will open myself up for the pain of reconciliation. Pray that I will do as He calls me; that I will follow where HE leads me – because it’s got to be much better than where I’ve led myself. Pray that I not only will I LISTEN, to Him, but I will TRUST Him. Pray that I will ignore those voices in my head that defeat me and predict my unworthiness. Pray that I will stand fast, and not fall into the pit – “because I want to do this on my own.”


Hazel Hazel said...

While I cannot identify with you concerning your relationship with your mother, I have a sister with many issues with our mom. I will pray for both of you and hope that each of you can accept each others' shortcomings and appreciate the assets and goodness that you have to offer each other.

Donna Watts said...

It is the Sunday after Mothers Day and I just read this. My whole heart goes straight to you. I lost my Mother 23 years ago last month and not a day goes by that I don't think about her and somehow wish that I could be that loving and forgiving person that she was. It's just not in me. I am estranged from my Dad and two of my brothers for reasons of my own chosing. I have one brother who loves me and that I love dearly. This choice of mine has made me the bad person who wants nothing to do with the rest of the family in the eyes of all of those aunts and uncles who have listened to what has been said about me. The truth is that I would love to go up to each and every aunt, uncle, and cousin whom I dearly love and hug them and say, "I love you, but you gotta quit listening to J." I came to a point in my life where there was peace after doing a Bible study by Beth Moore. It was about getting rid of the obstacles in your life and giving forgiveness. I came out one night at the study because I had just broken down and knew that the core of my inner being was about to erupt. I felt so much better. I told my study group everything that I had been through in my miserable life with my family and to my surprise, nobody judged me. For the first time in my life I was able to put the past where it belonged and get on with my life without feeling guilty that my Dad lives 10 minutes away from me and if we see each other in Wal-Mart we go the other direction!!! I too was a broken vessel. T.D. Jakes writes a lot of good books for women. The one that helped my was "Woman, Thou Art Unleashed" (I think that was the name!) It was a real help. Just remember that no family is perfect. If it were, there would be a 50's TV show about them. You are not Marcia Brady with Carol being your mother and in 30 minutes time you have done something bad, but mom made everything all better. She is her own person, and you are yours. You each march to the beat of a different drum and what difference does it make that hers is a "bongo" and yours happens to be a "snare". There are good times buried far beneath the bad times and those are the times you should treasure and not beat yourself up over the times that were not so great. I'm sure you mother loves you, but just doesn't want to admit that she is a strong willed woman who doesn't want to have to back down and get back to your level and say, "Yes, we do have differences, but we can work this out. take all the time you need and when you get ready, I'm here." I say all of this because I am a friend and I see your personality as being vibrant, smart, fun, loving, kind, and considerant, and in my heart, I think she's missing out on some really great things that you are accomplishing. Never beat yourself up because you're your own person and your life is mapped out the way you want it to be and not the way somebody else thinks it should be. Continue on the way you are and in time, with lots of love and prayer, things will come together.