Monday, 7 November 2005

And the beat goes on

This post re-published December 2012

When I was seven my darling baby sister was born. My mother so wanted a boy (such that my sister ended up with the feminine version of the boy's name chosen) that I vowed to myself that I would protect my sister and love and take care of her so she wouldn't end up like me. In the end I needn't have worried quite so much. She was everything I wasn't and so ensured a better place in life.

My sister was born beautiful. She was blue-eyed and became curly blonde haired and the image of Shirley Temple at the age of three. I loved her so much but she was utterly gorgeous, care-free and fun-loving that her future was assured though she had her own problems. She became a 'musician' at six years old and was hot-housed by our ambitious mother. It wasn't easy for her, just different. And she had an inner strength and resources to deal with our mother most of the time.

She has two children of her own now. What bothers me intensely is that our parents live next door to them, well actually, on the same property, and have been for some years now. My sister and her husband are both busy musicians and need to come and go, so our parents have become useful child carers at all hours. They get to live rent-free but then do so much in the way of house developments and DIY and buying bits for the house/s. There are no clear lines on anything. Not helped by our mother who has no clear boundaries on anything in life.

It has long bothered me the way my mother treats my sister's children. These are children of the modern era and they will not accept the sort of messed-up bad treatment that my mother gives. On the other hand, she has bought their love and once I chatted to my ten year old nephew and he more or less told me that he loves his Gran because of all the things she buys him that he wants.

Yesterday I spent the day out at a musical event at which the whole family was there. Even my temperamental teenaged daughter was there for the weekend helping out and was a star having to put up with my mother who was obnoxious and thoughtless towards her. Coming home in the car very late last night my daughter (who at times barely grunts at me) took the entire two or so hour drive talking to me about it all. Debriefing in effect. Showing so much more maturity and understanding than my mother ever has. It is all very poignant.

Yesterday I witnessed my mother go overboard with her grandsons.... my son and my sister's son. I had already "told them off" and sorted out things and then she feels the need to go in overly heavy when my back is turned. I didn't say anything to her because it is wrong to undermine someone because maybe I didn't know the full story. I also can't trust that I won't just flip at my mother and land her with my lifelong anger towards her rather than just the event at hand. Also, she is one of those people with whom it is incredibly difficult to have a sensible and reasonable conversation. She wants to be perfect and ultra wonderful and would take it as a complete offence. Worse still, there would be consequences and she would no doubt take it out on everyone else around her which would mean my father and my sister and her family. Worst of all my nephew and niece.

The two boys are so close it is like they are in love and it broke my heart to see them split up during the last concert. (Yes, I know they can be a pain in the backside but I was prepared to handle them sitting together.) My nephew was with me in the row behind and my son was with my sister in the row in front and both us sisters spent a lot of the time holding the boys tight with hugs. My nephew just couldn't understand and it was as if his heart was broken too.

It is evident my nephew holds so much anger towards my mother. As for my own kids, they only have periodic meetings with my mother so it is not so bad - but bad enough. From being a kid worried about my sister I now find myself being worried about her kids. It is difficult talking to my sister about such things because of course it is convenient for her to have our parents around for the childminding. And then there is a part of her that chooses to not take on board the effects on her kids. I've talked to my brother-in-law too. At times both have acknowledged what is going on but they all have coping mechanisms, and things go back to the same, and maybe they will all just cope and get through it.

There are enough people around who can see what is going on. Everyone can see that my mother is just not right although there are plenty of times when she can seem extremely helpful and wonderful and will sit and tell you stories of her own terrible childhood. She is in her mid-sixties but I can't see any signs that she has moved forward and found some resolve or inner peace. She is like a viper. You can be having nice moments and then suddenly she verbally strikes and you are left confused and hurt.

In the car my daughter revealed that she was left thinking she was starting to imagine things, but then admittedly, my daughter does have an imagination for things that haven't really happened! But on this I could assure here she wasn't wrong... it has my mother's mark all over it. Talking of which, there was a point during the last concert when my mother couldn't take the music and left clutching her head in her usual dramatic style. It turned out that both my daughter and I had both simultaneously thought at the time that my mother might throw herself down the stairs of the concert hall in order to get the whole hall to turn their attention on her instead of my brother-in-law on stage!

Even my daughter wants to help and resolve the situation but thankfully she has realised that it is not her job to do so. Sadly this is a lesson I missed out on as a kid growing up and it still sits on my shoulders.

I can be temporarily smug because my daughter is delighted to be home and appreciates us and my son is reinforced that home is best. They are glad to be home and I am very glad to have them both. It is awful that my niece and nephew have this mixed hell and that my mother continues to wreak havoc in this world.


Cheryl said...
Do they know you know? It must make a world of difference to know they can turn to aunty Doris to moan about their miserable, unfair, batty old gran - I guess saying too much to mum and dad must have an element of guilt involved.
Thank heavens they have you! :-D
MrsDoF said...
I like that phrase "hot-housed" about parents doting on a child's talents. Must be British, I haven't ever come across it before here in the States.

It's nice that all your youngsters recognize you as the anchor of the family. It must be quite your burden to hold, but they will come up stronger for the knowing.
Jo said...

Poor old you and your kids and your sisters kids. I can relate to some of your story. The word 'viper' is a good description for how my mother can be too. Bitter, widowed and lonely, she attacks first and asks no questions later. She sounds different to your mum because she is socially isolated (through her own behaviour) locked in a time warp of twenty five years ago where the family structure was headed by her and the world revolved around her. She has simply never been able to move on. Myself and my brother are the only people who see her regularly, and wow is this tough sometimes.

Anyway - different to your mum, but maybe equally tricky. The connection perhaps comes in the effect on the children. My children 'know' that Gran can be poisonous. Some years ago she kicked off criticising them. It was part of her attempt to restore the power model that she felt comfortable with - she did it unconsciously but the intent was clear. It's the only way she knows to relate to people in her family (and as far as I can gather she was taught it by her father.)

I simply would NOT have this happen. And I told her so. Not in an angry way - though I was angry often, and hurt and disappointed by her and still am...but in a clear and simple and assertive way. I just said, several times, that it was not appropriate for her to speak to my children like that (or - her other typical behaviour at the time - to have a go about them to me privately as if I was supposed to support her view against theirs). She eventually laid off.

In fact I had to do the very same thing when I first got married, when she tried to impose on my wife her regime of emotional blackmail and vicious words that she's been using with me for years. She is regularly snide and unpleasant about my parents in law (who are by contrast a fairytale grandpa and grandma to my children) - it's a diversionary tactic to try and get at my wife without alerting my 'defences'. I stonewall her on that too.

Critically, I have built an emotional moat between her and my kids. I take it as my job to shield them from her, until she proves to be worthy of their trust. Which isn't ever going to happen now. If she ever tries to 'get at' them, she meets an absolute brick wall from me.

It didn't have to be like that, but she made me choose emotionally between her and my wife and children. I chose my wife and children. I still see her,but I do it through duty and because she is infirm and elderly now. But no easier for it.

Sorry for the ramble...I guess this is just about taking the chance to say 'Enough' to someone who you think might be hurting your children? If you think she is, (and of course you have 'previous' with your mother so you are feeling every remark keenly and personally I bet) you may need to draw a line. And it it is possible to do such things assertively - not in anger, but clearly setting out what is permissable and what is not in how she behaves and how she treats your childen and your sisters' children.

How does your sister deal with her?
jane said...
My gosh, after reading that I am almost speechless. It's so sad what all of you are going thru, what you obviously have had to live with forever & now your niece & nephew now will be raised with this.
Your daughter sounds like a godsend, able to be objective & realize her limits. It's obviously heart-wrenching for you to have to re-live when around your mom.
I'm so happy for your kids that they have a safe & loving home to return to. This brings to life the saying, "There's no place like home."
You're one in a million, Doris
doris said...
Cheryl That's a good point Cheryl. I feel I have tried to indicate to my nephew who is older but am concerned that he will re-write what I have said and throw it back at his Grandma as ammunition! But this last weekend I certainly acknowledged to him that I could see what was going on. I've long had an arrangement with my sis that my kids know that at any time they can talk to her confidentially ... now her kids are older I think it is about time I reciprocated and she told her kids there was a safe other adult they can talk to.

Mrs DoF The Americans have a simialar word but I can't think of it. I almost have the feeling that the whole process of speeding up a child's abilities or "forcibly growing them" is an American thing! In our case, I would say it might have started out as 'doting' but got way out of hand.

Jo You've written in a different voice you know and I love it too! Thank you for your very powerful comment and talking about your situation especially in relation to your kids. I guess I just have to become more assertive with her at some point and then keep that up. I guess it is going to be like jumping off the highest diving board and once I start it will get easier.

But as I said, the complication is any knock-on effects she decides to throw at my sis. As for how my sis deals with her, occasionally there is a mega blow-up of an argument. My sis is then fine, my mother withdraws and then whinges on to me (I try and draw a fine line between allowing her to express herself but not letting her go on snipe attacks at whomever has upset her) and then things eventually get back to how they were. My mother is a lot better than how she was when we were kids but she has this habit of getting out of line.

I rather suspect that another big mega argument is long overdue and that the likelihood is that my sis or her hubby will be the one to do it. That's all very well (so to speak) but doesn't really get at the heart of it and I wonder if that is ever possible.

Funny what you say about your wonderful in-laws.... sounds like my in-laws and they make more wonderful grandparents and are not even blood relatives.

Jane Thanks for your kind words. The upside of times like this is that I get to see and hear a lovely side of my daughter and my daughter appreciates me more! As for my niece and nephew, at least they are not subject to my parents 24/7 so things aren't quite that bad and they have parents who clearly love them and another grandma and uncle who are special and close to them so they hopefully do not feel alone.

Something funny though, my kids and I have always been exceptionally close to them and I'm called Aunty Doris. So when Mr Doris came on the scene they were quite young and still learning their words and so assumed Mr Doris was called Aunty too :-) We have that as a family joke now.
MattyD said...
the only thing that ever happens to people that perch themselves that high is the inevitable fall. i really hope that if that happens, she doesn't bring anyone else down with her!
ella m. said...
I suppose with the drama queen tendencies, nipping the individual incidents in the bud as they happen is out of the question, as she'd just make a larger scene.

A mega blow out would'nt seem to help either, as it's just more of the attention she craves.

It's a tough situation but you all are dealing with more grace than I would. my condolences.
mrshellonheels said...
Doris, I really am speechless, for once I dont know what to say. I know for me and my sisters, and brother, we kicked that in the butt as soon as we started to have kids. Each and every one of us let our parents know, its our way or no way. When our children were small they would even have to ask our permission if they could give them candy. We had to be that way, even tho it sounds cold. otherwise, I think we would be dealing with what your going thru now.
I can remember looking my mother straight in the eyes and telling her. Mom you raised your kids, these are MINE. You did things your way, Im doing things MY way.
doris said...
MattyD I reckon that people like my mother don't fall because they don't see it as a fall. I suppose there is something to be learned there!

Ella M. That's pretty much how I see it. What's more, I don't have to live with it 24/7 so I can just turn my back on it which makes it easier.

Mrs Hell on Heels You have given me some food for thought there. I reckon I shouldn't be quite so complacent about it all!

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