Wednesday, March 15, 2006



My family makes me crazy.

Here's the dynamic in my family, been this way since I was two and a half and my brother was born. He is the Golden Child, king of all he surveys, never wrong. I am the one who lurks in the shadows, who isn't listened to, who has spent her whole life feeling she was "less than." As adults, this plays out this way -- everything revolves around the needs, schedules and desires of my brother and sister in law. Paul and I arent allowed a say in how things go when we all get together, and if we do dare to voice an opinion there's a strong sense that we're just deliberately being a pain in the ass and why can't we just go along no matter how inconvienient it is for us?

I spent most of my life struggling with the idea that I was entitled to my own feelings. It's one of the biggest benefits to therapy for me, because that's where I learned that I had a right to feel the way I did about things. That my feelings were valid, even acceptaable. Moxie
had a great post the other day about raising boys, and she said that she always treats her sons with respect because that's the only way they'll learn to respect other's feelings as well. It really hit me, because I have destroyed so many friendships over the years because of my sharp tongue and quick temper. It wasn't until I began to respect my own emotions and accept them as okay that I began to be more responsible about how I used them. That, and the patient love of my husband, helped me get better although I am still far from great at it.

All this to say, I had a stupid fight with my mother yesterday and it's still pissing me off.

She turned 60 this year, as did my dad. I suggested we all go away somewhere for a weekend--both parents, my brother's family and mine. to celebrate. I further suggested a place on Lake Erie, which would be halfway between both families and easy for us to get to. I asked my sister in law to look into some places as her family vacations there a lot.

My sister in law is the daughter my mother wishes she had--ie nothing like me. Thin, pretty, affluent, competent. I feel absolutley eclipsed around her, despite the fact I consider her a friend and like her a lot. The upshot is, a weekend away turns into a week, and my thought of a nice cottage type place turns into a luxury condo which would cost each family, well, far more than we can afford. This was presented to me by my mother as a pretty much a done deal, although based on a conversation with my brother yesterday that wasn't in fact the case.

So, I talked to my mom yesterday and she asked if I'd had a chance to look at the website listing the condos. I replied that I had and needed to talk to her about this, that my sister in law had not consulted me before talking to her and that these prices were far beyond what we could afford. So, could she talk to me about what her priorities were for the trip so my SIL and I could talk and figure something out.

Se flew off the handle so fast and far she may still be orbiting the earth. Absolutley not, she refused to get in the middle of this "again" (what the f--- she was talking about "again" still baffles me). I tried to explain that we simply could not afford what my sister in law was proposing and I didn't want to talk to my SIL about alternatives and present something to my mom as a fait accompli that wouldn't make her happy. She just kept getting angier no matter how much I tried to explain what I was doing, and finally says "I don't want to do anything." ie cancel the trip entirely. Fine, I say, and hang up the phone as a)the conversation was NOT going to get more productive from there and b) I could feel my own fury rising to the point I could not speak.


First of all, if anyone was in the wrong here it was my sister in law, for proposing an expensive vacation without checking with us about a budget first. And based on the conversation with my brother, it seems that wasn't actually what she did, she just suggested a web site to my mom. But here's my family dynamic: I get to be the bad guy for first, being honest about our inability to afford such nice accomodations, and then, for pissing Mom off and ruining everything, althouh what i was in fact doing was trying to get input from her about she really wanted --nice place/shorter trip? Or less nice place, longer trip?

In my family, the biggest sin is pissing Mom off, even if the person who does it is in the right. It's going to be my fault the birthday trip was canceled and God I am so horrible for stirring up trouble. "Stirring up trouble" meaning being honest about our need to live within our means. I am SO ANGRY right now. How dare she marginalize our financial difficulties like that, how dare she treat me as if I were deliberately being difficult when this is a REAL problem, and how dare she treat me as her emotional punching bag.

I am writing this here because it's all I can do to not tell her "You treat me with respect or we're DONE. You deal with me calmly and rationally and you stop taking out your shit on me. I have been your emotional punching bag for 35 years and it's TOO LONG. Do not marginalize my feelings, my needs, my opinions in favor -- always -- of my brother's. Just. Stop."

I often play with the idea of cutting off contact with her. It's just too hurtful to always be treated like this, and certainly anyone who wasn't my mother and behaved in this way towards me would have been out of my life long ago. But it feels so disrespectful, so wrong, so FINAL to tell her I have had it. I would lose the rest of my family too, as I have been placed in that Bad Guy role for so long that no one would acknowledge her toxic behavior, only my drastic reaction. Plus, as craptacular a mother as she is, she's a wonderful grandmother and Maggie loves her.

Ugh, again. Let's recap my year so far: Editors hate me, working my ass off for NO MONEY, my favorite girlfriend moves to Florida, discover things in my marriage are far worse than I suspected and I didn't think they were good, and NOW get to play my role as the family shit dump. HOW many more months in 2006?


tripmom827 said...

Well, I think you're cool and awesome :). Any way you can do something in between taking your mom's crap and totally writing her out of your life? I've had to erect some pretty strong boundaries with my MIL in order to have some sanity. Hang in sounds like things can only get better.

MegS said...


I should read your blog more often. I had no idea Maggie was walking, OMG, how exciting! Go, Maggie, go!

And you and DH are having trouble? That's horrible! But mostly I am writing to say I can totally not imagine you as the bad guy. I think you're a very sweet person. I wish I knew what to tell you about you're family other than I'm sorry. Hang in there!

Amy in KC said...

First, I am sorry you are going through a crappy time. There are times I have to distance myself from my family and remind myself that it is my own opinion of me that matters most. Passive-aggressive is the name of the game with my mom and sister. I refuse to play.

Second, you bring up an interesting point about "staying within your means." We have 12-week-old twin boys (whew I love writing that!!), and I took a 10-week unpaid maternity leave. My husband is now staying home with them (unpaid) for four weeks so I can return to work.

We have friends with kids who went out and got brand new minivans/SUVs when they had a new baby, or bought a bigger house, etc -- how did they do that? We drive two paid-for cars (a 97 Pontiac Grand Prix and a 2000 Chevy Blazer) and have no plans to "upgrade" as everyone seems to think we should do. We live in a small, 30 year-old home and have no immediate plans to move. We are slowly working on finishing our basement (not paying someone else to do it for us).

In our consumer-obsessive culture, why aren't people more respectful of those of us making an effort to stay within our means?

It is perfectly acceptable to me that you would let your family know that the trip they chose is outside your means. Why on earth are they offended by that? It's not like you asked them to pay your way!