There is a running joke in the mental community about just blaming everything on the parents. Having a bad week, must be something your parents did when you were three. Having trouble communicating with your husband, not a problem, your parents probably never taught you. I have had more than one therapist who literally starting salivating when we began to talk about my parents.
I suppose my parents might be exciting news to someone but to me they are two complicated people who did their best, and with all their love, to try and raise me to be the best possible person they thought I could be. I do the same with my children. I want them to be better and often from the wisdom of years I can see places I wish I could push them towards in order to make the journey towards happiness easier. It almost kills me to keep my mouth shut when my children neglect those things I think would make them exceptional.
My parents are as normal in my opinion as the next ones. But it is, and has always been, my mother that has given me the stomachache I am currently suffering from. My father being flamboyant and a child in a man’s suit is so easy to understand I don’t even need a degree to do so. Many of my past therapists, many who I would leave over the topic of my father, felt that he and his egotism was the cause of some sort of fault within me. I often left those therapists because I knew one truth above all, it has been and will always be my mother that holds the power in my parental relationships.
To understand why I wrote this post, you have to be able to see my version of my mother. She is stoic to the point that I don’t know if she has so many emotions she doesn’t know what to do with them all or she simply doesn’t have emotions. She believes in fairness to the point that we spend so much time on trying to be fair that we forget to actually be anything else, like friends. She doesn’t have a capacity to understand the feelings of others, and I have never once seen her laugh so that tears trickled out of her eyes. She doesn’t get the joke. Ever. In any situation. And this defines her. To her, the sister she literally spends all of her time with is as much of a puzzle today as she was sixty years ago. So she tries to guess how to act, how to be around all of us, and often gets it so wrong that she leaves the rest of us in tears.
She isn’t mean. She isn’t cruel, she is simply clueless. Give her a complex math problem and she is all yours. Give her a fight between two people she cares about and she becomes so lost that she does nothing at all.
I understand these things about my mother. I deal with these things about my mother. And each and every time she shows once again the inability to connect with me, her flesh and blood I try to remember all of her little quirks. (Truth be told it is usually my husband reminding me about the quirks and asking me to be the one to give her the lifeline.)
As a child I always assumed that it was my parents that were smarter, stronger, more capable and were given the responsibility of taking care of me. They are supposed to be my lifeline, the person I turn to when things get hard; the shoulder I can cry on. But my parents missed that class and textbook. They read faithfully Dr.Spock’s dictionary on child care, but they forgot to read the one about the emotional care. Both of them did this. And neither one knows it or did it with purpose.
Maybe that is the hardest part of dealing with parents, at least mine. They are human as we are and as clueless and fighting in this life as hard as we are. They might hide that fight from us, but their abilities aren’t any greater because they carry the title of mom or dad. Their quirks, their little unexplained definitions make them human, but cause so many therapists to jump up and joy and point fingers. Whether we are pointing the fingers because the joke is on us or because they really are that much of a burden is up to each soul.
My grandmother recently died. This was a huge blow to me because I was so close to her, and even more importantly I have always related myself to her first. I have bipolar, she had bipolar. I have struggles with the disease, she had the same struggles. She knew without being asked what I was going through and it was often her words that showed me how not to react. She taught me to live and survive with this disease. And now she is gone.
For my mother, she lost a mother. Good or bad, and most of my mother’s memories are not good, she still lost the woman that created her. Despite the fact there is ample evidence that not once did my mother ever understand her mother, she felt duty bound to love and honor the woman as much as it was possible. And because her life with her mother was the emotional roller coaster she has always hated, my mother’s relationship with her mother has been ridden with complexities and even the hurt of two very different people.
I am beginning to understand that my mother doesn’t know how to help me with the death of her mother. I am beginning to understand that while my mother truly wishes that she could give to me the comfort I need, she knows she can’t. I am beginning to understand that because my mother can’t comfort me she is doing the one thing she knows how to do; duck and weave the situation completely. Rather than talk, hug, cry, or even laugh in memory my mother is so lost on how to handle my feelings that she is simply ignoring them.
And I am starting to realize that this isn’t a cruelty. This isn’t my mother being purposefully mean or uncaring. I am once again being forced to understand that those we are made from, those that should love and understand us the most, aren’t often the ones who can. They may try or like my mother, they may just ignore the situation but the reason they can’t give us what we need isn’t because of our own problems and situations. It is literally on them. My mother can’t give me what I need in this situation because she is incapable of understanding or even guessing what it is that I do need. (And I get too stubborn to tell her).
Relationships are complicated. We all know this, it’s a bumper sticker on the car in front of us. But where we go wrong is in assuming that because we are talking about our moms or our dads that they have some secret understanding of our heart and our agony. We assume that because the world states that parents are vitally important to who and what we are, they must understand us.
But I think the opposite is true. I think our parents are designed to never understand us. I think life creates a very real barrier between mother and child, so the child can exist without the mother. Life defines the chasm between the parent and child so the parent can exist without the child. It is a chasm that grows through time. A chasm while small when we are so dependent on our parents, grows into canyons as the world is faced not with a pair but with a single dream. As our own dreams are defined we must lose the comfort of our parent’s arms in order to survive.
This doesn’t mean I wouldn’t give my left arm for my mother to understand me. Rather, I think it means that life determined long ago that this could not be possible. This could not be held tightly no matter the bond that is there. We must separate from our parents and in times of crisis we recognize the true loss this is.