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Responsibility, fault and blame

rco-2
Something comrade_cat said in the comments tickled a thought I frequently have.

Blaming the crappy part of my life on my parents' divorce is so fucking
cliché though, and I don't want to penalize my parents for making what I
feel was the right decision at the time.

Maybe this is what msagara means about not blaming people.


It’s exactly what I meant.

When we’re adults, when we’re parents, we have responsibility and power over the lives of our children. I take that as a given. But we aren’t, and can’t be, perfect people. No other adults are expected to be perfect or to be flawless - and given that parenting is often thankless and exhausting for notable stretches at a time, expecting perfect from parents is unrealistic.

Expecting perfect from anyone, including our children, is equally unrealistic.

I think it’s easy to buy in to the Hallmark Moment version of the mother. (I don’t have a Hallmark image of a father that readily comes to mind). But it’s a fantasy. Or, if I’m being generous, a snapshot. One of the things I really liked about the movie The Rookie with Dennis Quaid (I think), was that it showed the early months of a newborn’s life pretty much as it’s actually experienced. I don’t think we get a lot of that in our various forms of media.

What we get is romance - and there’s nothing wrong with that - and a sense of “happily ever after”, or conversely, romance followed by endless relationship angst. In either case, our lives as individuals with longing & desires of our own abruptly leaves the common narrative when we have children.

It doesn’t, of course, leave us.

But: I think it’s easy to buy into the hallmark version of motherhood as the normative version. This causes the obvious problem: if we assume that that’s what motherhood is, or is supposed to be, we compare our own experiences - both as mothers and as children - and find them hugely wanting.

Our parents aren’t supposed to be people; they’re supposed to be perfect parents.

One of the things I started with my ASD child the moment I knew he could understand (and this happened before he could speak) is give him fair warning when my mood was - through no fault of his - terrible.

My bad moods did not have an impact on him when he understood that they came from a source that had nothing to do with him. I didn’t scream at him; I didn’t hit him - but I was not a cheerleader mother on those days. In the early years, I frequently used the term “headache” to describe those days when I wanted and needed a bit of quiet. I wanted him to understand that my needs had nothing to do with his behaviour, but that his behaviour - really loud play - could adversely affect me.

I didn’t want him to take them personally, but at the same time wanted him to understand that while I had a headache (he once asked me if I had a headache, and I said yes, and he said, “You have that headache face”) his actions could make it worse.

If I was upset about something professionally, if I was stressed about deadlines, I made that clear at the start of the day. Again: it was important to both of us that he understand that my mood was not because of something he’d done.

This was important because he developed theory of mind so late. Without theory of mind, the universe is solipsistic. It revolves around the child. This is not proof of some sort of egregious egomania; it’s the outcome of a developmental state. Therefore, it would be natural to assume that if I were in a bad mood, it of course had something to do with him, because everything did, to him.

I needed to own my imperfection so that he wouldn’t feel that any mood of mine was somehow his fault.

And it’s easy for children to feel that it’s their fault, somehow. When their parents are angry or upset or disappointed they often feel it’s because of something they, as the children, have done - and usually, when we express this openly to children, it is. Their sense of cause and effect when it comes to their parents remains fairly heavily grounded in themselves.

They are the centre of their own universe; being the centre of ours is almost unquestioned.

But it’s also easy for children to carry this sense of their own guilt and culpability going forward. To feel that when someone is angry or upset, they are angry or upset at them; that if things go wrong, it’s their fault.

It’s complicated by the need to instill some sense of responsibility. If, for instance, my child breaks a glass, it doesn’t matter that he didn’t deliberately break it; I, as his mother, expect that he will a) tell me immediately and b) help clean up the mess. I want to make the act of clean-up, which is necessary, uninflected: I don’t want to make him clean it up because it’s his fault, but because it’s his responsibility. I don’t want him to blame himself, feel worthless or guilty or stupid or destructive - because that doesn’t help and it doesn’t change anything. I just want him to help clean up the mess he inadvertently caused.

You can see why it’s difficult. I wanted to make certain that my child understood that I did not think he was a bad person for making a mistake or having an accident. Accidents happen. Mistakes happen. They do not fundamentally alter who you are. But at the same time: they happened, and they frequently required some sort of response. So: It wasn’t deliberate, but it still needed to be addressed.

For a child, there’s no physical difference in outcome between the accident and the deliberate destruction: in either case, I expect him to help clean up the mess. The difference is entirely emotional: I am not angry with him if he broke the glass accidentally; I am very angry if it was a deliberate act of destruction. Intent matters.

One of the ways I made this clear was that I explained that I had not broken the glass, which was self-evident. I emphasized it. I was absolutely willing to help clean up, of course - but if he broke the glass, even by accident, it wasn’t fair that I would then be expected to do all the work. The work still had to be done. It had to be done by someone. We did it together.

But I have seen children who feel that if they did not deliberately do something, it’s not their fault. If they did not deliberately run you over with their bike, they don’t feel a need to apologize or help you up. It was an accident. Their entire responsibility begins and ends with intent.

Well, no. It was an accident. But accidents don’t suddenly mean that you have no personal responsibility in the aftermath. They don’t mean that no damage was caused. You are not malicious. But…you should still offer the person a hand up. If you’ve actually done serious injury, you should get help for them. You are not a terrible person for having an accident (although it’s possible the person with the broken leg will not think kindly of you in the moment), but you are IMHO negligent and irresponsible if you then ride off and leave them lying on the sidewalk with a broken leg.

It is difficult for children to go from “I did it on purpose so I have to attone” to “bad things happen and I have to help out”. It’s easy for them to conflate actions dictated by circumstance as punishment.

It’s easy for them to feel that cleaning up the glass is a punishment rather than a necessary outcome. The punishment for breaking something is you have to clean it up.

It is not a punishment, though. It’s an outcome. A responsibility.

That sets up a whole set of later responses that I don’t think leads to overall happy people.

One of these is: we become a culture of blame. If things are someone else’s fault, it absolves us of having to take action; everything rests on their shoulders. I don’t think you can build a healthy, long-term relationship if that’s your worldview. This is because I’m writing from my own experiences, though. I know I couldn’t.

I think, when emotional pain is involved, it’s much harder.

Let’s go back to the statement “intent matters”. I think, sometimes, that we flip it around. If we are hurt, we assume there was intent on the part of the other person to cause pain. We aren’t hurt in a vacuum. In our minds, pain = intent; our pain = their intent.

But…objectively, in my experience, this is frequently not the case. It is the case in some circumstances. But it often isn’t. It’s like my mother and my sister. There was no intent. But there certainly was pain.

It doesn’t seem fair that we have to untangle our pain on our own. It doesn’t seem fair when that pain clearly came from somewhere. It certainly doesn’t seem fair when the power imbalance of parent/child interactions is involved.

But frequently, parents, being people, see what they themselves intended. They take adverse reactions to a lack of intent to harm as a huge, personal criticism - and they deflect. They tell you you shouldn’t have been so sensitive. They are trying to protect themselves, all these years later, from blame. From guilt and the certain sense of their own failure. Failing one’s child is profound. It is the edge of a colossal void. It is one of a parent’s greatest fears.

Terrified people seldom behave rationally or sanely.

I think blame/fault gets in the way of productive conversation; it impedes understanding.

But…I also feel that lack of intent doesn’t somehow magically make the pain go away. My sister’s pain did not magically go away. So I think it’s really, really important to acknowledge the source of the pain. I don’t think there is anything wrong - at all - with saying, “My parent’s divorce - which was the only solution for the two of them - totally bottomed out my emotional life and my ability to trust or rely on people” or a similar variant.

The inverse, “Husband and I were living in a war zone; we had to split up - but it really undermined my child emotionally, and she’s still paying for it” would also be the same: it acknowledges two sets of unhappy facts.

Saying that the divorce was the best option for two adults who couldn’t live together is true. Saying that it caused enormous pain and isolation is often also true. The one truth doesn’t obliterate the other. Acknowledging the difficulties caused by adult inabilities does not make them Evil Villains.

And sometimes just accepting it means it is something you can work with. You can examine it in all ways, free of anger or guilt or resentment; you can see how seeds planted then have grown roots that you weren’t aware of. That’s the thing with pain: you can’t always see how deep the roots grow if you’ve been incubating it for a long time. But if you can’t acknowledge its source - at least for yourself - you can’t figure out how far down you have to go to uproot something that you never wanted planted in the first place.

Let me close with something personal from my own childhood. I adored my father. I adored him. From birth on. I would wake up with him in the mornings and eat breakfast with him before he left for work for as long as I can remember. When I was a toddler, he woke me up, because if he was gone when I did wake up, I was disconsolate - which was not a kindness to my mother.

My father, like so many fathers of our generation, was required to travel for work.

He was in Germany when I was five. For ten weeks.

He came home. I was overjoyed.

But. I started to have nightmares, and I had these nightmares until puberty. In them, my parents died or, more frequently, were killed. Every. Single. Night. Usually the older of the two brothers died, and half the time, my sister as well - I could almost always save the baby because I could pick him up and run. No matter what I did, I could not save my parents. I could warn them - but I couldn’t save them.

I had serious, serious abandonment issues. My parents were part of my entire life. They did not leave - but he left for ten weeks when I was young. He had to, if he wanted a job; we had to eat, and we had to have a roof over our heads, and I understood this. But I still had issues.

I didn’t realize what the cause of those issues was until high school. I was out with a friend and we were in a bookstore. It was a used bookstore that defined the term “fire hazard”; you could not take two steps without almost tripping over piles of books on the floor. I had been looking at mythology books, and I looked up--and realized that my friend was gone.

I had a moment of hysterical panic. I was sixteen years old, but I could barely breathe. I forgot about the books, and I leapt up and ran around the store looking, heart in my mouth. And of course: he was there. He was looking at books in a different section of the store.

I didn’t let him out of my sight until we left the store; the books were forgotten - and that says something. But…I started to think about it, because: What the Hell?

It was the moment at which I understood why I had these really destructive fears: it was a child’s response. It was the terror of being deserted. And from that point on, I could examine many of my emotional responses in a new (to me) light, and I could almost speak to myself as child and pull that part of me into the present.

I don’t want to say “let go”, because that’s a mischaracterization. If something has fish hooks in your psyche, you are not exactly holding on. But…at that point, I could begin the task of pulling them all out.

Comments

( 31 comments — Leave a comment )
karenmiller
Jun. 27th, 2012 01:11 am (UTC)
I don’t want to say “let go”, because that’s a mischaracterization. If something has fish hooks in your psyche, you are not exactly holding on. But…at that point, I could begin the task of pulling them all out.

Wow. Thank you for that. Since I'm slowly but surely wrestling with some crap, you really help to define for me what it is I'm doing.

And the rest of your post is of course made of win and wisdom.
msagara
Jun. 27th, 2012 01:18 am (UTC)
Wow. Thank you for that. Since I'm slowly but surely wrestling with some crap, you really help to define for me what it is I'm doing.

Thank you!

I dislike the phrase ‘let it go’ because I really don’t believe that we’re holding on to these things on purpose; we’re caught by them and in them, but it’s not like we want to be there, which “let it go” implies to me.
deire
Jun. 27th, 2012 01:16 pm (UTC)
Yes. I was betrayed by someone over a series of years. I don't talk about it much, but when the name comes up, I am still bitter, and if I say anything I hear, "You have to let that go." Maybe. But sometimes it comes across as, "what you felt isn't important enough to still have an effect; you shouldn't be so weak as to be bothered by it."

Edited at 2012-06-27 01:17 pm (UTC)
karenmiller
Jul. 2nd, 2012 02:02 am (UTC)
So maybe the phrase should be, disentangle yourself. Because even though we're caught up against our wishes, it's still up to us to change the situation.
msagara
Jul. 2nd, 2012 06:57 pm (UTC)
So maybe the phrase should be, disentangle yourself. Because even though we're caught up against our wishes, it's still up to us to change the situation.

Yes. I think there are a lot of things, rightly or wrongly, that we have to deal with on our own -- but "letting go" implies -- to me, I hastily add -- a lack of effort. A lack of work.
estara
Jun. 27th, 2012 04:22 pm (UTC)
I should have read this and simply added ditto. It seems I needed to vent, though.
You say it so much shorter without emptying your own whole can of emotional crap, I'm in awe.
mieza
Jun. 27th, 2012 04:30 am (UTC)
Wow
Michelle -- This may be one of the best essays I think I've read about responsibility vs blame. The mix of objective observation and personal history really makes it: speaking as a mother and as a child, speaking as human being who is a mother who is still fallible ... so much here resonated for me.

I got the link from Alis (Kate Elliott). I'd like to post a link to this on my own Facebook, with your permission (and I'd even like to bookmark it for possible use with students who seem unable to make the distinction). I realize you made it public, but didn't want to have a virtual stranger swoop in to share without making sure it was okay. :-)

Thanks again for a careful, and honest, essay.
msagara
Jun. 27th, 2012 04:54 am (UTC)
Re: Wow
I got the link from Alis (Kate Elliott). I'd like to post a link to this on my own Facebook, with your permission (and I'd even like to bookmark it for possible use with students who seem unable to make the distinction). I realize you made it public, but didn't want to have a virtual stranger swoop in to share without making sure it was okay. :-)

Please feel free to link to it :). Thank you for asking, but it’s not necessary; these posts are public, and if any of them resonate for you and you want to link to them, feel free in the future.
comrade_cat
Jun. 27th, 2012 04:35 am (UTC)
Hey, cool, I'm famous! ;)

I have a lot of trouble with this because I really want to believe there is some way to act in each situation that is good. And how can it be good if people are hurt? I certainly know it won't always happen, but I want to believe it would be possible, if everyone tried really hard and we had good luck and the winds were right.

I also strongly feel that there is a difference between my parents' divorce, which I believe became helpful to my parents, and some things my mother did, such as not acting like my touch issues were real or worthy of acknowledgment. If something *is* somebody's fault, it bugs me if the blame is not assigned correctly.

That doesn't mean I don't want to understand it too. (I *always* want to understand things.)

No other adults are expected to be perfect or to be flawless - and given that parenting is often thankless and exhausting for notable stretches at a time, expecting perfect from parents is unrealistic.

Thank you. That is very clear and makes sense to me. It's sort of like how all predictions need a margin of error. And a hypothetical parenting career such as has to be posited for an instant to comprehend that sentence is a hypothetical thing like a prediction.
bohemiancoast
Jun. 27th, 2012 08:59 am (UTC)
Hey, Michelle, are you writing a book here? Because it's definitely starting to look that way.

This all resonates so much with me, and my experiences with my 11 year old who still hasn't worked out that you don't have to have intended to do something malicious for things to go wrong as a result of your actions.
jenwithglasses
Jun. 27th, 2012 02:29 pm (UTC)
Yes please! This would be an excellent book. These posts have really made me think and unlike many parenting/interpersonal relationship topics they let me find my own way rather than hand me a list of expectations.
msagara
Jun. 30th, 2012 08:44 pm (UTC)
Hey, Michelle, are you writing a book here? Because it's definitely starting to look that way.

I'm not.

Part of the problem with a book of columns like this one is: if I don't have a shingle of expertise to set above its title (and I don't; my 'expertise', such as it is, is just experiential), I won't be able to sell it.

If I had a large platform of people interested in the columns, I wouldn't require the degree - but "large platform" is "John Scalzi" level, and I don't have that :).
la_marquise_de_
Jun. 27th, 2012 11:29 am (UTC)
I, of course, was brought up in such a way that I automatically accept blame for everything. And let people pound on me, because, well, I don't get to have rights in my own head. Which is a huge pain for me, and for others, which I regret.
I don't have a solution for myself, but I wish more parents were like you.
estara
Jun. 27th, 2012 04:17 pm (UTC)
Wow. I guess I had to throw this up. It had built up. - Part 1
Yes.

I bought into my parents needing to be the perfect parents, especially my mother, my father was far too volatile as soon as we developed our own personalities and anyway he didn't want to be disturbed when he returned from work or at the weekends (or maybe, in hindsight, this was just one of the many ways for my mother to regulate his contacts with people, which he preferred, as he had decided for himself - I know this because I was there when he talked with some old friends about the time when we were children - that my mom's responsibility would be the family and he would be responsible for bringing in the money, and he did bring a whole lot of that in comparison to other fathers I knew).

So my mother knew everything better and her tips bore out again and again (in the vein of "if you touch that, you'll burn your fingers"). When I was a teenager and I realised that a) she didn't know everything about everything (school broadened my mind), and b) it wasn't always the case that was the right decision for her was the right one for me BECAUSE I WAS NOT HER - a worldview broke down for me and I was devastated.

And for my mother, a refugee from East Prussia at 12 who is now 78, there has never been a moment's doubt that her view of the world is the right one and all the advice in the mean time has always been to become the daughter she actually wanted, whether weight, work or interests.

Will you believe that I have thought we had found some sort of equilibrium now I have a steady job (one she wanted as well, because teacher over here used to have a sort of prestige - just recently she even said maybe she shouldn't have pushed me towards the job: in response to the fact that I haven't bothered to censor my frustrations - and that she can't really see the accomplishments when they happen) in a town an hour away?

What I just realised this May at my last visit home is that my acceptance of the fact that I take occasional meals she has frozen, that she bullied me with her indignation about the fact that I don't mind when my bed linen isn't ironed, as long as it's clean into letting her use her mangle machine to iron my linen, to mean that I can't do without her help, therefore she doesn't need to respect me.

I'm 45 and she keeps interrupting me in public, without asking what I'm doing first (I was asked to stand-up instead of a sick relative at my nephew's confirmation this year - my mother didn't know because my sister-in-law had just asked me in church to do so - so she started dragging at my clothes so I should sit down), she keeps dragging my clothes into the position she wants, she keeps telling me to be careful with the ice cream so nothing falls off.

My brother, who divorced himself emotionally from the family as a teenager (by avoidance - he was always with some sort of club or team) and who married (and whose wife eventually gave them their longed-for grandchild), would get that still (and avoid it) if my mum weren't very careful with my sister-in-law's views, as she adores the grandchild.

She wasn't happy with the marriage, and when she isn't happy you hear it again and again because she keeps using small needle pricks to make you change, and when you call her out on them she says she was only joking and you should be able to take a joke and you know her, so why are you taking it seriously.

In my case they started out when I gained weight as a teenager and they've kept it up ever since (my father is truly disgusted - although he is as much overweight as I am these days, but he wasn't at my age. My mother doesn't like that I don't look as slim as the kids of her friends and relations AND I will believe that she's also worried about my health) - but you know, whether I was overweight 4 kilos or 25 kilos never made ONE bit of difference in the nagging).

It's taking me till this May when she did two of these passive-aggressive turns in short order, to actually figure out that this is something I don't have to take seriously, because it is just her trying to guilt me and keep me in line with her view of me as a child.
estara
Jun. 27th, 2012 04:18 pm (UTC)
Re: Wow. I guess I had to throw this up. It had built up. - Part 2
What I had taken as a compromise for permanent nosiness and me accepting certain bits of stuff because I like her cooking and it's a way she can show her version of love, was actually a way of confirming to her that I needed her permanent nagging and direction, because I was at child level.

I take the blame for this, because it was ever so much easier to not protest the interference all the time. I'll see them this weekend (at least I didn't feel any guilt telling them not to come last weekend, when I had to do the big corrections for the final exam, but I didn't manage to tell her not to come until July when I actually have a breather), and she'll be bringing something frozen BECAUSE THERE IS NO WAY SHE WILL CHANGE HER VIEWS ANYMORE.

What I can do, is see her manipulation bits for what they are and not feel guilty about clearly stating what I take and what not in public or in private, no matter how much I'll be made to feel the heartless child. And realise that, in my case, unfortunately, my mother can't be someone I confide in, because she will use everything she hears to confirm her worldview and to manipulate me into doing what she feels is the only right thing to do.

ETA: you know, if you don't have the time to read this, that's fine. This post just crystallised even more of what is going wrong in my relationship with my parents for me (I have had some illuminating conversations with my brother on the phone recently) and what I have to do for myself.

Edited at 2012-06-27 04:20 pm (UTC)
salanth
Jun. 27th, 2012 05:35 pm (UTC)
:( Rough, rough, rough.
estara
Jun. 27th, 2012 09:38 pm (UTC)
Thank you for your commiseration.

Better late than never, is something I tell myself. I'm annoyed at myself for realising so late.
green_knight
Jun. 29th, 2012 03:15 pm (UTC)
Re: Wow. I guess I had to throw this up. It had built up. - Part 2
This post just crystallised even more of what is going wrong in my relationship with my parents for me

[Error: Irreparable invalid markup ('<lj-user=msagara>') in entry. Owner must fix manually. Raw contents below.]

<i>This post just crystallised even more of what is going wrong in my relationship with my parents for me</i>

<lj-user=msagara> has a real talent for that. I had an epiphany of my own. Also I find it tremendously helpful that people talk about issues and problems without assiging blame. I hope that you can find a way to renegotiate your boundaries with your mother.
estara
Jun. 29th, 2012 11:34 pm (UTC)
Re: Wow. I guess I had to throw this up. It had built up. - Part 2
Realistically, I don't think at 78 there is a lot of hope that she will change - recently when she was at my uncle's (her older brother and also a refugee and war survivor) and aunt's (who unfortunately is currently undergoing treatment for cancer and it's not looking so good), they got to talking about the war and about the last time her brother had seen their father, looking down at him on his way to school through the window - and her brother started crying.

When she told me about it she was basically disgusted for him breaking stiff-upper-lip behaviour. I think the fact that she really feels her age now (and had a successful breast cancer operation herself) makes her cling to her beliefs and usual world-view even more (probably because things are changing that she can't influence).

If I had started with open eyes in my twenties, we might have achieved more, but at least with my realising my own push buttons and the mechanism of what happens between us should make avoiding major flare-ups easier.
green_knight
Jun. 30th, 2012 02:23 pm (UTC)
Re: Wow. I guess I had to throw this up. It had built up. - Part 2
It does not sound as if she will change - but you can, hard as it may be to raise your boundaries, but you have every right to walk away, to say 'I want to see you under these circumstances but not under those' (my grandmother once used her key to walk into my mother's flat unannounced. Once.) or 'please don't say [hurtful things about others] in front of me. You (generic, I don't know your mother) can't avoid relatives being racist or homophobic, but you can stop them from being racist or homophobic in front of you, even if only by walking out on them when they are.

And virtual <hugs> to your uncle; that is such a traumatic experience to recount.
estara
Jun. 30th, 2012 04:33 pm (UTC)
Re: Wow. I guess I had to throw this up. It had built up. - Part 2
Indeed.

And I hope to be able to see him this year and hug him myself (and hopefully my aunt).

I hadn't even added (which I should to give the full perspective of my incomprehension at my mother's disapproval) that the final view was when my uncle was returning to boarding school as he had for a few years by that time, and my grandfather being back on one of his last visits home from the forester/park ranger post they had sent him to in Poland very early on (Foresters being civil servants had to go where they were sent, and of course had to prove they were Arians and their kids had to get into the Nazi youth clubs) - to be sure I have no idea if my grandfather might not have been a convinced Nazi, he certainly looks fairly military-type on the surviving pictures and he was in WWI - he was quite a bit older than my grandma. My mum talks about Prussian officer behavioural standards for the kids at the table, etc.

But the forester house they grew up at was five kilometres into the woods in provincial East Prussia, so I personally think my grandfather chose to keep his job and therefore did what was asked.

And then he never came back, and then my grandmother, mum and her visiting grandparents had to flee the Russians - mum will allow that in hindsight they should have left weeks earlier, when the last German soldiers were moved out.

And my uncle at 16? I think? Had to flee ON HIS OWN from his boarding school!! And he did so via the Baltic Sea under threat from being bombed on ships (and of course that was because the Germans had torpedoed other countries's boats with their submarines, I know).

He only found my grandma and mum half a year later in Westfalia via the Red Cross.

I think he should be allowed to cry when he talks about that day in hindsight.
green_knight
Jun. 30th, 2012 07:50 pm (UTC)
Re: Wow. I guess I had to throw this up. It had built up. - Part 2
to be sure I have no idea if my grandfather might not have been a convinced Nazi

That's such a difficult question to answer. I think a lot of people were... well, look at the GOP of today. Honest, hard-working folks who are suffering thanks to abysmal economic circumstances and who are longing for a better world - one that isn't so confusing, that isn't so filled with uppity [insert group], where everything and everyone knows their place and where they can thrive and prosper.
The underlying meme of 'you can only prosper at the expense of others' is quite toxic, of course, but that's what most of those people were - not evil, not even actively nasty or bullying, just very casually racist, and very, very afraid.

I can highly reccommend Wibke Bruhns: My Father's Country (Meines Vater's Land) - it's the memoir of the daughter of Hans Georg Klamroth (who was executed as a traitor in 1944) and it captures the whole Prussian mindset and the society so well. (I've edited a couple of narratives dealing with that time, but this... nails it in so many ways.)

Your mother has never gotten past that loss. My grandmother was the same - she was bombed in 1943, and lost everything but a suitcase - but even though she had a good job and did not lack, in many ways her life ended on that day. I can understand that a little, after losing the piano that had been in the family for nearly a hundred years and which was a victim of having to empty my mother's flat after her death and not having the money to bring it with me (and now that I myself have to move rather suddenly, I could not keep it either, so it's twelve of one, a dozen of the other). But that was one item, not the whole flat and every memory.

And that's not an excuse for your mother's behaviour - here we are back at the responsibility again - but an explanation, maybe.I don't think my grandmother talked to five people in her life about how she really felt and she had no tools at all to deal with mental challenges.

Your uncle's response sounds healther, and I wish him and your aunt all the best.
estara
Jul. 1st, 2012 09:08 am (UTC)
Re: Wow. I guess I had to throw this up. It had built up. - Part 2
My mother told me she talked about the trek west with her age mates once she started going back to school in Northrhine-Westfalia (she and my grandma ware taken in by a farmer family, where my grandma helped in the house and on the farm and my mother did so occasionally and went to school again otherwise).

She talks about her early childhood in East Prussia with no hesitation, but the events of the trek are censored to the bare bones.

The scariest things she is willing to talk about is the day before they fled - when they were hiding in the cellar from the Russians checking the house, and the fact that when a group of female refugees were in a train (many females among them) and waiting for a Russian patrol to go through, someone was bright enough to hang a notice outside the train doors that this cabin(?) had a really bad disease which easily spreads (can't remember which one). She attributed the fact that none of the women were molested to that stroke of genius.

So basically, near misses is as far as she is willing to talk to us. I do hope she was able to talk it out better with her age-mates. It certainly wasn't anything she talked about to her friends when we had moved to Bavaria (in her late 30s).

So all in all, I did think it rather unusual for her that she came across indignant (on the phone) - and expected me to feel similar - when she told me of my uncle's tears.

Thanks for the book tip, I really have no concept of the Prussian mindset, especially as I grew up in Bavaria mostly, and the rest of the extended family that made it to the west stayed in Northrhine-Westfalia.
msagara
Jun. 29th, 2012 09:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Wow. I guess I had to throw this up. It had built up. - Part 2
ETA: you know, if you don't have the time to read this, that's fine.

I read it all, of course :). Love makes it hard to set boundaries. Boundaries are necessary, though.

And I think the hardest boundaries to set are the boundaries between child and parent (being both). Because we start from no boundaries. It’s how we were raised. It’s how we raise, as well, because at the beginning, it really is 24/7.
estara
Jun. 29th, 2012 11:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Wow. I guess I had to throw this up. It had built up. - Part 2
I'm really grateful for the tools you're (inadvertendly ^^) handing me to understand myself and my parents better. The way you lay it out and illustrate your own experiences with examples lets me reflect on what I'm doing and not doing and have done.
It makes a difference to me, even if I probably find myself unable to effect change in them. I can effect change in myself and my view of my relationship.
starcat_jewel
Jun. 28th, 2012 05:01 am (UTC)
I was lucky -- I found a piece of wisdom at exactly the point when I needed it most, in Reader's Digest of all places. It went something like this (paraphrased from memory):

If you insist on blaming your past for your present troubles, you are saying that there is nothing you can ever do to overcome those troubles, because the past cannot be changed.

It's fine to say "I have this trigger because of X thing that my parents or teachers or classmates did to me," but that doesn't eliminate the need to do something about it if it's having a negative impact on your life NOW. I've succeeded in defusing a number of my old parentally-caused hot buttons; others I'm still working on, long after they're both dead and gone. Knowing where the problem came from is an important first step, but it's only the first step.
msagara
Jun. 29th, 2012 09:40 pm (UTC)
Knowing where the problem came from is an important first step, but it's only the first step.

Yes, absolutely. I think it’s part of the responsibility/blame paradigm. Where we blame, we put the weight of solution on someone else’s shoulders. Where we acknowledge, we can take the responsibility of changing our own responses - but to do that, the responses have to be understood.
book_wench
Jun. 28th, 2012 05:42 am (UTC)
I was an only child, and much beloved. I was a Daddy's girl when I was little, but later, when his health began to break down, it was my mother and I who joined forces. The three of us all loved each other and we got along. My parents were mostly always reasonable with me, always strove to explain their decisions in a way I could understand. Sometimes my parents fought, sometimes they fought with me, sometimes two of us would gang up on the third. They weren't any more perfect than any other parents and I was no more a perfect child than any other child. But our family worked and we enjoyed the good times and got through the bad ones together.

After I grew up, we all discovered bit by bit that we actually liked each other, quite apart from our familial relationship. They were proud of me, of the person I'd grown up to be, and I was proud of them. A lot of my friends dreaded introducing anybody to their parents, but for me it was always a joy. It was fun to have parents that were interesting in their own right, that I could introduce my friends to knowing that my friends would like them for who they were rather than just because they were my parents. And I genuinely looked forward to time spent with them--it was never a case of "having" to see them because they were my parents.

I don't know you or your sons, of course. But from what you've been writing here about your approach to parenting and your understanding of familial relationships, I have a feeling your children are going to grow up to feel about you and your husband the way I felt about my parents. And I can't think of anything better.
msagara
Jun. 29th, 2012 09:41 pm (UTC)
I don't know you or your sons, of course. But from what you've been writing here about your approach to parenting and your understanding of familial relationships, I have a feeling your children are going to grow up to feel about you and your husband the way I felt about my parents. And I can't think of anything better.

This was lovely. I don’t know, because we can’t, what the future holds--but I hope.
green_knight
Jun. 29th, 2012 03:04 pm (UTC)
I had serious, serious abandonment issues.

I cannot thank you enough, because I haz them, too. And it's not because my parents were only together for a short time - that was normal, I didn't know that kids were "supposed to" have a mother and a father by default until i was seven or eight - so many kids I knew didn't - but at around that age, my mother had to undergo cancer treatment, so I was living with a friend of hers for a while, and then with my grandmother (which I hated), so maybe having them isn't entirely, you know, unreasonable.

It has taken me a very long time before the reaction to someone being late to a meeting was 'oh, they're late' (and if they're very late, 'I hope they're ok') rather than 'they hate me and have decided not to bother turning up.'
rdi
Jul. 9th, 2012 12:56 pm (UTC)
Found this via Making Light. You may yet get that Scalzi level readership if this goes viral.

Thanks for posting this. It's incredibly thought-provoking and provides some great framing for thinking about the dynamics in my own family. I'd like to make a more cogent comment, but I have to go off and unpack some stuff first...
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