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Sins Of The Mother




So far I've just described a few of the 'high' points in my relationship with the mother. Those were a few of the climactic moments. They don't shed light on the day-to-day neediness, the constant mixed messages, the emotional blackmail, and the just-plain strangeness.


Like I said before, my parents weren't bad people in the sense of being purposefully cruel or negligent. They weren't alcoholics. With the possible exception of two questionable incidents, they were never physically abusive to me.


(They'd mellowed with age by the time I came along; I'm given to understand that my older brother got whoopings every day. I think he was paying for all the ways my father hurt my mother, in taking those beatings. After all, he was male and had the same name.)


But emotional abuse and emotional selfishness.... at this, they were skilled. Especially my mother. So I'm going to list snapshots, examples, and memories (in no particular order).



* Every year my elementary school put on a Xmas operetta. Every year, I participated despite my stage fright, being one of a group of dancing ballerinas, or snowflakes, or little scotch girls, and I especially loved the sing-a-long of Xmas songs at the end of the program. Older kids, of course, got the better parts, so I'd been looking forward to my sixth grade year. But when the time came, my mother decided she didn't feel like making the costume... so I couldn't participate. During rehearsals, I had to sit in the classroom with the only other kid who wasn't involved, the class 'retard'. (I know that's not a kind thing to say, but that's how he was viewed at the time.)


* She very often told me how lucky I was to be a girl in that time period (the 70s) because women had so many more opportunities than in her day. I could be anything I wanted; she only wanted me to be happy. However, the only activity that received anything like emotional (much less financial) support were all music related. I could be in the band, but wasn't allowed to be on the softball team, or join a sorority, or get a job. Or go roller skating. Or learn to drive (until college and only because it freed my mother from driving me there every day, since I wasn't allowed to live on campus).


* In college, I had to major in music and become a music teacher. The thought of switching majors - to philosophy - was unceremoniously shot down. Plus I couldn't live on campus or join the band sorority or have a job. And I had a curfew.


* Once I hit puberty, I was constantly told that I was fat and lazy - in both direct and indirect ways. But I never weighed outside of my recommended weight range for my height; looking at pix of me from then I'm quite thin and lanky; and I was the one almost always out on my bike or walking to a friend's house, or doing anything I could rather than sitting around the house - meanwhile they were sitting on the couch, smoking a pack of cigarettes each per day, literally watching TV for 16 hours a day.


* When I said I wanted to start jogging, they laughed at me. Then when I tried it anyway, they laughed at me some more. When I found jogging more difficult than expected and had no idea how to train, I quit. Then they could be like, "I told you so."


* When I had the opportunity to join a softball team, and was even willing to walk the two miles home after practices so no one would be inconvenienced by coming to get me, I wasn't allowed to join. (Yet, I was fat and lazy.)


* I wasn't given a regular allowance, and only begrudgingly and rarely given any pocket money of my own after begging for it, but (with only a one short-term exception) wasn't allowed to have a job to earn my own money, either.


* And the only time I was allowed to earn money by working in a small store they managed for about 6 months, 2/3 of that money was stashed away in an account for me. I never got it back, either, even after I was 18 and it supposed to be mine.


* Getting an education was repeatedly said to be the #1 thing I should do, but then they moved me every year and finished me off in a po-dunk high school that barely had a fledgling band program (and no arts, drama, or foreign language classes). Plus I was always told I was too smart for my own good, and uppity, and asked too many questions.


* Oh, and I can count the times I was taken to a library on 1 hand. And the number of books I owned (or read) prior to the age of 18? I count them on both hands.


* When I was about 10 years old, I got a globe for Xmas. I noticed that South America and Africa would fit together like puzzle pieces. I mentioned it to my mother. She laughed at me. The continents couldn't move. That was silly.


* I loved my Daddy. One time I told him that since I didn't have a boyfriend, he could be my boyfriend until I got a real one. Mother pulled him away and said I couldn't have him because he was hers.


* When I was about 15 or so, my mother decided we needed to have a 'family meeting' in order to fix our problems - her perspective on what our problems were, I don't know. So, a miracle happened: the TV was turned off. We all sat in the living room and I don't remember how the meeting was started, but then it was my turn to say how I felt. I felt very pent up and anxious, and had no experience at all in expressing my feelings in words to anyone, much less my parents, so after a long hesitation, all I could spit out through tears was, "I'm not happy." My father, rolled his eyes and gestured and exclaimed, "What have you got to be unhappy about?!" That was pretty much the end of the meeting. Take away message (as usual): I wasn't allowed to have feelings.


* My mother only had an 8th grade education (ala Louisiana in the 30s). She didn't understand math and didn't attempt it. Poetry made her feel stupid since she didn't 'get it', so she didn't like it. Fiction (eg novels), since it wasn't true, made her feel like the author was lying to her, so she didn't read those either. She wouldn't play games of any kind because they made her feel stupid. She never helped me with homework (not that I needed much very often, but it wasn't even a possibility), played games with me, nor took any interest whatsoever in anything I was learning at school or anything I was interested in.


* One time after a summer visit with my grandmother to my aunt and uncle's in Louisiana, my aunt sent me some snapshots they'd taken. I'd left them on the kitchen table and when I came back in the room, my mother was looking through them. I said something to the effect that those were MY pictures, and took them away - I may have come off like a brat or something, I don't remember. But my mother was hugely offended and sent me to my room without my pictures and wouldn't let me come out until I'd apologized. I remember sitting in my room a long time, very indignant. They WERE my pictures after all, and I certainly got in trouble for touching things that weren't mine without permission. Finally, I did apologize, but I didn't mean it, I only wanted to be released from my room and to have my pictures back.


* Often, I was told how special I was, how loved I was, how I wasn't an obligation (like my older siblings had been, I was led to believe), how I had been a wanted baby, how she couldn't live without me, and she only wanted me to be happy. But when I didn't follow her program, or wanted anything at all of my own that didn't fit in with her thoughts of what I should do-be-want, then woe-to-me - no way would it happen. Her tools: silent treatment, sulking, instant guilt at a glance, flat refusal without discussion, long lectures about how disrespectful, irresponsible, lazy, or unworthy I was.


* And finally, when I ultimately rejected their program for me by eloping, or being unable to commit to Jesus in the same way my mother did... I was shut out altogether.


Maybe you had to be there.



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Maybe I was there Natural Mary but in a different time and in a different place. If you get what I mean.


I think that my mom and dad were both anxious about intimacy. For whatever reasons mom and dad could not accept their feelings even though they both behaved overtly as loving parents who always did the right thing. I think that they tried to control their anxiety by controlling the closeness between themselves and us (me, my two brothers and my sister). But because they could not admit their anxiety, even to themselves, they both had to hide important aspects of their communication, that is, their own anxiety or hostility, therefore comments about mixed messages were forbidden. I could not ask "What do you mean?" or Are you serious?" Such questions and comments were threatening to the both of them. Their injunctions were contradictory and obscured. Contradiction and obscurity occurred on every level of communication.


As the result of growing up in a double-binding family I gained no skills in the ability to communicate about communications. When I left the family I was unskilled in determining what people really mean, and unskilled in the ability to relate. Just ask my first wife!


Yes, Natural Mary I was there once upon a time. And in many ways I'm sill there.


Simply by knowing from whence we have come:


May we both be peaceful.

May we both have ease of well-being.

May we both reach the end of suffering...

And both be free.


A fellow struggler and friend


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Maybe I was there Natural Mary but in a different time and in a different place. If you get what I mean.




As the result of growing up in a double-binding family I gained no skills in the ability to communicate about communications. When I left the family I was unskilled in determining what people really mean, and unskilled in the ability to relate. Just ask my first wife!


Yes, Natural Mary I was there once upon a time. And in many ways I'm sill there.




A fellow struggler and friend




Yes, Saner - it does sound like you know exactly what I'm talking about. Thank you, as always, for your kind comments.



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