This is a blog prompt I latched onto because I’m running low on self-motivated inspiration since the release of the last novel, and boy, did it work. I’ve actually had good luck writing from prompts for as long as I’ve been writing. As long as after the prompt, I get to be unconstrained and honest. So here we go.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR PARENTS: HOW ARE YOU LIKE THEM? HOW ARE YOU NOT?
Oh boy. I don’t have the closest, most loving, admiring relationship with my parents, and that is going to become very clear here. This was not us, and it’s still not:
So I guess my disclaimer is that I love my parents, but I can look at them now, as an adult removed from their daily presence and influence, with realistic eyes. And I’m going to describe them that way.
I know how mothers and daughters are depicted and I have a lot of friends, men and women, who have amazing, close relationships with their mothers. They were close as kids and they are close now. I have friends who have lost their mothers and are devastated. J lost his mother and it still affects him nearly 20 years later. But that’s not what I have with my mom. I actually envy the people I know and the fictional and journalistic depictions I see of mothers and daughters in media.
My mom is a passive-aggressive, judgmental, cold and critical workaholic who enjoys being a martyr in her everyday life. She projects an image of a selfless do-gooder with an unbeatable work ethic, and when people disagree with her, she likes to paint them as a villain, which is easy, because of the angelic image she’s cultivated. She is in reality fairly self-involved and values her own time over everyone else’s. She’s constantly late to appointments SHE made with people. And I’m not talking 5 or 10 minutes late. I’m talking 45 minutes to HOURS late. And will then ask without irony, ‘Why are you so upset?’
She is quick to point out what is wrong with a given situation or person instead of looking for positives. We’ve had a contentious relationship for almost my entire conscious memory, and I often wonder why she ever wanted to have children. The only way she knows how to show any love is by buying people things…often things they don’t even want or need, but things she wants them to have or thinks they need. Or by overfeeding them. It’s annoying, but I try to accept it the best way I can for what it is, because it’s the only thing she knows.
Before anyone thinks I hate my mother and I’m blaming her for everything wrong in my life, first of all, I love my mom. There’s just been a lot of hurt and misunderstanding between us that has barely improved even after a lot of time and effort. We’re just very different people, but I guess I do have her ability to use critical eyes on people once they’ve hurt me enough. Second, I know without a doubt, based on her own childhood, she did the absolute best she could and she’s certainly eons ahead of her own parents, as far as nurturing and acceptance and lack of violence as a tool goes. Her aloofness, while I admit I often resent it even now as an adult, DID result in me becoming very self-sufficient and capable and able to survive in a harsh, critical, affection-less environment, and I know some folks who don’t have that capability. I wish it wasn’t a skill set anyone needed, but sometimes, unfortunately, it is, and I can do it. And finally, my life is currently amazing, so if I’m going to ‘blame’ my mother for my amazing life right now, that’s not really me insulting her at all, right?
I’m opposite from her in that I very consciously want to show J and our son and my friends love and affection in the ways THEY need and want me to show it, and that I’m usually blunt and either wholly passive or wholly aggressive. Ha! I tend to remove myself from toxic relationships entirely rather than try to ‘win people over’ to my side of things, without making myself a martyr or someone else a villain. I don’t like confrontation, even (actually probably especially) the passive-aggressive kind, and I’d rather just be done. I’ve always valued people over material things and money. I don’t admire rich people for simply being rich, and I’m not quick to see their virtue and everyone else’s flaws. And I (often stupidly) seek out the positives in people and events, while sometimes totally overlooking the negatives. Like I said, I do have her critical eyes…I just don’t naturally use them unless someone’s hurt me or someone I care about. It takes that transgression to make those things come out in me.
I’m just like her in that I can definitely be judgmental and I come across cold to a lot of people, especially upon first meeting, and those are things I constantly work on improving about myself. And I do like to think that I’m a hard worker, and I do my best to do quality work. And I want people to appreciate the hard, quality work I do. I probably got that from her.
My dad and I don’t have a typically depicted father/daughter relationship, either. Again…this isn’t us…
My dad rarely smiles, with me or maybe not ever, and he hasn’t held my hand or touched me, other than walking me down the aisle at my wedding and the father/daughter dance at the reception (which was going on 15 years ago now), since I was 6. Really.
He’s a high strung, anxious, introverted, nerd with passions other people see as ‘pointless’ or ‘childish.’ He’s really smart, but most of his knowledge is in the ‘trivia’ genre, because he has a really sharp, crisp memory, and his practical knowledge about people and life skills are pretty lacking. He yells a lot, particularly when he feels overwhelmed with life changes or decisions or tragedy (no matter how minor…leaving the milk out on the counter too long is a tragedy to my dad, so imagine how he handles say…job loss or surprise medical complications). My mom seems to enjoy pushing him to limits when he’s shows signs of being anxious and uncomfortable to achieve the yelling. It helps her paint him as the bad guy in scenarios. ‘Look at him. He’s crazy and yelling.’
He’s also cold and keeps to himself. Every single guy that ever met my father (except for J, notably) was genuinely afraid of him upon first meeting because of his clearly readable quiet mistrust of most other human beings. ‘I don’t think your dad likes me,’ got said a lot, and this wasn’t just from ‘dates,’ it was from guys (and some girls too) who were decidedly ‘just my friend.’ But my dad isn’t really a man to fear. He’s not a violent man. He’d never be that ‘Rules for Dating My Daughter’ dad, because while he never trusts anyone, he did trust ME, and he always figured if I liked that guy, he must be ok…because I didn’t really ever like anyone. He never threatened a friend or a date. He never threatened anybody. Even with the yelling. He just wants to be left alone most of the time. (Those guys all should have been way more afraid of my mom and her phony smiles and ‘can I get you some more dessert’s?’).
I’m just like my dad in almost every way. Even sometimes the yelling, although I’m much more likely to withdraw and isolate myself when I’m feeling overwhelmed instead. I know I’m just like him for a lot of reasons besides just my own observation and notes on self-awareness. Other people who are now decent friends of mine have admitted to me over the years that I used to intimidate them. Because I was quiet and smart and would just simply walk away from people who hurt me and never return. Some of them are still at least occasionally intimidated. Quiet and smart, in a lot of people’s heads (and I guess for good reason) are the first two ingredients in ‘potential super-villain.’ Also, my parents fight a lot (surprise!), and I fight a lot with my mom (also…surprise!), and in at least every other argument (if not more frequently), she says in an insulting way, AHEM, ‘You’re JUST like your father.’
The only ways I’m really opposite of my dad is that I’m a more positive person than he generally is. I see more good in other people and in life than he sees, and I’m more tolerant of imperfection and events that go ‘off plan.’ And maybe because of that, I can usually get along easier and better with most people most of the time. I actually credit a lot of that to J. Because J is a generally positive person, and he’s not only leading me by example, but he’s filled my life up with such calmness and consistency, that I rarely get to that ‘overwhelmed’ phase. And when I do, J doesn’t antagonize me; he tries to steer me to a more positive place.
So yeah…this prompt went to a ‘not rose colored glasses’ place with my parents. Now that I’m 40, I can really do some in depth self analysis outside of their daily influence and see how much they informed who I am. I’m not perfect and neither are they. That’s okay. You can love people even with the rough parts. And you don’t have to be extra close and idealize your parents in order to love them, either. They’re just people.