Extreme Ambivalence

I am writing this from my mother’s house.  Visits to my mother are always a little weird.  I feel weird when I’m with her – ricocheting between enjoying her company and wanting to run away from her as fast as my feet will carry me.  I love her, and yet my disappointment and anger with her run as deep and mysterious as the ocean.

A little background.  My father was an alcoholic, and not a very nice man, who died of cancer almost 18 years ago.  I have spent YEARS and unknown tens of THOUSANDS of dollars in therapy, processing my childhood, unpacking my relationships with both of my parents, dealing with certain events, and trying to move on, to become my own person, to forge my own path, CHOOSING and working like hell to be healthy rather than stay stuck in self-destructive unproductive patterns.  I am proud of myself and the work I have done.

My relationship with my mother is complicated.  I love her – there’s no denying that.  I wouldn’t want to deny it.  She herself had a difficult childhood with an alcoholic father, and grew up in a generation that didn’t believe in therapy, or talking to anyone about “personal” problems.  History unexamined, un-dealt-with, tends to repeat itself.  She has done her best in her life.  I think BOTH my parents did the best they could with the coping skills they had.  BUT…

The older I get, and especially since I had children, the more disappointed and angry I have become with her for not doing more to protect my brother and me from our father’s behavior.  I know she was doing her best, but her best wasn’t good enough.  I know that’s not fair to her, but my childhood wasn’t fair to me.  And I can’t help how I feel – I just feel.  I spent years trying to sweep my feelings under the carpet by explaining and understanding things away.  One of my former therapists told me “You understand too much.  Your understanding of everybody’s actions allows you to explain their behavior away and make them unaccountable.  And because you can’t be angry at them because you understand them, you direct your anger towards yourself for feeling the way you feel.”  Angry at myself for feeling angry, because the people I wish I could be angry with don’t deserve it (even though they really do).  Ouch.  That therapist was right. And it’s a nasty nasty cycle to recognize and stop.  Even today I have to watch out for it, because it’s easier to be angry at myself than the flawed people who have hurt me – I risk less in the short term – less open conflict, less fear of rejection.  But in the long run it’s very self-destructive to stuff anger or direct it inward.

So, yes, my mother was doing her best – but she still failed to protect my brother and me from my father – and we deserved to be protected.  We deserved better.  I love my mother.  But I am also angry as hell with her – an anger that is profound, to my core.  This is a huge step for me – to direct the anger out instead of in.  But I’m not at the point where I want to do a big confrontation with her.  I just don’t have it in me.  With me in my late 40’s and her in her mid 70’s I just don’t feel like expending the energy required to do the thing “right” or risk it ending up badly.  That’s just how it goes.  Thank goodness we don’t live near one another, so we only see each other for quick visits perhaps four times a year, and talk on the phone maybe once a week.

So I am here, visiting her with my two younger children, for a two night sleepover (as my kids call it).  And like I said, it’s weird.  All the unspoken feelings, the going through the motions, the love I feel for my mother, the earnest desire I have for my kids to love their grandmother mixed with the equally earnest desire I have to run away from her – the love and disappointment and anger all mixed together in a strange stew whose taste is good one minute and bitter the next.

I wish I could stay longer, but I can’t wait to get the hell out.


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