Today my mother, when pressed, apologized for not honoring my conditions of friendship. I’ve grown up knowing my whole life I was Me, myself, but not being able to express that Self in my family without being punished, lashed out at, vilified, or ultimately labelled in some very unflattering way (“difficult”, “selfish”, “uncivil” – a series of adjectives most people I know are always surprised to hear was part of my family’s lexicon). I’ve found living in her house again that although I can in private articulate something I want for myself, or something I feel, it has been hard for me to bring these to her attention.
For instance when I confronted her a couple weeks ago about continuing to come in, unnannounced and unwelcome into the two rooms my family has to ourselves – after she’d promised to stop two weeks before that – she immediately grew angry (but underneath, I think, frightened and embarrassed) and defensive. The first thing out of her mouth was, “Why do you have to make this so hard?” For the past month or so she has decided I diskile her boyfriend (which is true) because of reasons linked to my father (which is not). In fact to hear my mom’s reports about my feelings (which she gives me when I confront her about something I’d like different in our household) she has guessed at and clung to all sorts of things about why I feel the way I do – without ever asking me how I in fact feel.
This gives me great pain because, as I told her this morning in our kitchen over a cup of coffee, I want her to know me. You’d think she would, as I grew up in her household; but in many ways I remain guessed at. When she has (correctly) assessed I am angry or tense she has imagined the reason why, avoided at all costs a discussion around my anger or upset, and then taken people aside to either talk about her distress or my feelings – all of which not only dismays me deeply but must be very hard on her as well.
This morning’s conversation went far better than the one from two weeks ago. Toward the end of our talk I told her I wanted both of us to be able to make requests of the other, knowing that at first it will be hard for both of us (both to say, and to respond to). In fact when I think about it, my family of orgin was so unbelievably nonconfrontational it is a wonder I have made my way in the world to the extent I have. Even today after my mom apologized (something she has a very hard time with) it was so overwhelmingly reflexive for me to dismiss my initial request – by saying, “It’s OK,” – in other words, quickly “saving” the Apologizer from the pain of being wrong and acknowledging it. Instead I said, “Thank you”, and swallowed hard, and didn’t say another word.
It was almost excrutiating for an apology to pass between us. But I know it was right.
I’m envious that the two of you could even have that conversation, as hard as it was. I haven’t spoken to my mom in over a month and have no plans to pick up the phone. I keep joking to Seth that we’ll end up buying a house or finally setting a date for the not-wedding, and the only way she’ll know it happened is when we invite her to the housewarming or reception broo-ha-ha. I honestly don’t even know where to begin in changing that… but frankly, my life is much less stressful when she’s not in it much. So maybe this is good.
Thank you for the compliments.
I know so many people who just DON’T have a relationship with their parents; either that, or so little of a relationship to be essentially a non-relationship. I think for many people it’s easier to just leave family behind, because they’ve hurt or misunderstood us too many times.
I admire my mom and my efforts in this regard. It hasn’t been easy. Frankly, it would have been easier many times to cut her out of my heart (and I believe she’s sometimes felt the same way toward me). We’ve both had a rough time in how we were raised. Having a relationship now, and toughing it out now, has not only helped really heal me (and hopefully us) at a deep level – it has also allowed me to get to know the woman who gave me the gift of life, and who has labored so hard on our behalf. With lots of mistakes, sure.
One thing though, if you ever want to tough it out with restoring familial relationship, proceed with caution! Just because you may be ready to heal, forgive, move on, or stand your ground, does not mean the other person(s) will respond well or gracefully. One thing that helps is to feel secure in your participation, and don’t try to restore anything unless you have HEAPS of compassion and empathy (even amidst disagreement) for the other party.