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Can I talk about my parents, and get some perspectives?

(27 Posts)
iwillnotwatchtheocean Tue 11-Apr-17 08:08:05

I've already posted once in 30 days but I could really do with going into more depth as I couldn't sleep last night, just kept thinking and thinking about old stuff. I know it might sound self-indulgent but I feel like if I can get to grips with my parents' relationship with me then I might be able to address some stuff today which is, I know, dysfunctional and wrong.

I think what I came to realise last night was what I lacked growing up was consistency. My parents were 'older', they couldn't have children and then they had me and they really did love me but my mum in particular discovered she struggled with a small child so she would give me to her cousins (she was an only child but had a huge extended family) and aunts a lot. Because their children were older i was expected to sit and watch TV and I was only little and then they would complain to my mum that I didn't sit quietly (!) and she would be embarrassed at what she perceived as her poor parenting. So she'd go on and on at me, telling me how naughty I was and how disappointed she was in me and how bad it was I wasn't like Caroline or sarah or Emily. These girls were mostly eight or nine, though, while I was only about four.

My parents were also religious; I was expected to attend church twice a day on Sunday although I did go to the Sunday school but again my behaviour would be reported back to them. I remember being reported for yawning once hmm

Mostly my parents would just go on and on and on at me, which I know doesn't sound that bad but it was just a total barrage of criticism and so I grew up with this idea that other kids were better than me, because they weren't me. They also smacked me quite a lot, but it was always in front of other people. Mostly just smacks on the bum over clothes which didn't hurt but they would nearly always threaten to pull down my pants and smack my bare bum in front of everyone. It did happen a handful of times, once at a concert where I'd been playing in the first part and then in the interval I think I got a bit off on the adrenaline and was really cheeky and I definitely deserved a stern telling off but I always remember it as everyone looking shocked at how naughty I was. Now I look back and think everyone was shocked that a nine year old was being disciplined like that in front of everyone? I think this perspective again is something that's stayed with me, like I take on something bad someone's done and feel people are judging me for it.

I think the one release I got was school, because my parents never picked me up so I was pretty much free to do anything and looking back I was quite badly behaved at school, not anything really terrible just lazy, chatty. I wasn't ever rude to the teachers and I think they really liked me, they seemed fond of me anyway although they got exasperated with my lack of homework and disorganisation (I do sometimes think I might have a mild form of ADHD.) I was a little bit of a class clown because it felt like school was the only place I could properly let off steam and be silly.

I went to a private secondary school which was pretty strict in a lot of ways and I know I did really "hit the hormones" at 12/13; I remember I used to cry all the time for no reason and was moody and sulky and snarly. Anyway I must have crossed the line one day as a letter was sent home. But honestly my parents acted like I'd committed murder, that was one of the few times they did actually hit me at home, but the thing was I was about 13 then and it seems really wrong and a bit fucked up to me now that I was belted by one parent while the other prayed for me telling God how sorry she was I was such a bad girl hmm and I was screaming and crying and begging them to stop which was obviously because it hurt and I was beyond embarrassed at having my pants down at that age! The only way I could get them to stop was by repeating a list of things about me that were bad like 'I am lazy and rude and I need God's help' that sort of thing. But that's obviously what they thought about me.

I suppose it was just so hard going to them, well I couldn't, for comfort or reassurance as although I don't think I was smacked after that occasion they just turned it round and blamed me, so if I fell out with a friend and said to my mum 'Jenny isn't speaking to me' she would say 'oh that's so typical of you, you fall out with everyone, I can tell you now you need to watch that as no one likes you now and you'll have no friends.' The thing is I DID. I always had loads of friends, but I grew up with this idea that I was unpopular and people didn't like me even though I had evidence to the contrary so why did I believe my parents?

Yet other times they were incredibly loving, they definitely spoiled me materially, would cuddle me, and it wasn't like it was above all the time, sometimes if I had a bad day at school my mum would take me to the shop and buy me Just 17 or Bliss which I wasn't normally allowed and a bar of chocolate. And they tried to help with my homework and schoolwork but they were a bit pushy I suppose and would end up screaming at me even when I was really little.

My mum unfortunately got very ill and died later in my teens, and my dad had a bit of a breakdown and then lost God (it emerged he'd never really believed but had gone alone with it for my mum!) don't really see him now.

But I feel like a legacy is still with me, of being treated not like a person in her own right with feelings but as an extension of parents who can use humiliation to keep me in my place, of unfair comparisons and unfair statements. Then I think I'm exaggerating as this was all thirty years ago and things were very different then.

I've started to be okay with me but I feel so sad and upset that for such a long time my sense of self worth and identity were so low because that was what I grew up with. Or am I being silly?

Lottapianos Tue 11-Apr-17 08:16:14

'But I feel like a legacy is still with me, of being treated not like a person in her own right with feelings but as an extension of parents who can use humiliation to keep me in my place, of unfair comparisons and unfair statements. '

I would say that you're absolutely spot on with this. My parents were very similar, but with much less intense public humiliation than you experienced.

You are not being silly at all OP. I found your post really upsetting and I'm so sorry that you had to go through all of that. Your parents sound like they loved the idea of having a child but didn't cope so well with the reality of having an actual child who is difficult and inconvenient at times, as all children are.

My parents were also very loving at times, prioritised education and bought us lots of lovely things, but were also highly emotionally abusive. It's hard to reconcile those two sides to their behaviour. I guess i just wanted to say that i hear you and your feelings are entirely valid. You are not being silly or overdramatic in the slightest.

SummerHouse Tue 11-Apr-17 08:30:02

Heartbreaking to think of you or any child in this situation op. flowers

But you have come through as an articulate, deep thinking, caring, understanding person.

I think you can find peace. You seem a long way towards this but its a tough uphill climb.

Is there something that helps? Works for you. I mean walking, running, meditation, yoga, counselling... If you find your thing I think it will help.

iwillnotwatchtheocean Tue 11-Apr-17 08:32:10

Thank you Lotta I'm sorry you went through it too! In some ways it's almost easier to think of them as out and out villains not misguided but well meaning.

One of the main things is I don't think they liked me. That was the impression I had: we love you because we have to but we don't like you because you are a bad, naughty girl.

0nline Tue 11-Apr-17 08:36:04

I don't think you are being silly.

This bit stood out to me.

I do sometimes think I might have a mild form of ADHD

I was diagnosed at 48. At the less severe end of the spectrum, but there is no doubt that growing undiagnosed was a ..

There is a video test here. It is lighthearted and had me roaring with laughter as it became ever more evident that I was "passing" the test with flying colours. It's by no means an official diagnosis, but it can go a long way towards firming up, or knocking on the head, any suspicions you have.

This is merely anacdote, as opposed to a road plan, but even before the official disagnosis recognising what I had put a lot of my past (particularly my past as it relates to my parents) into a much clearer context. Using strategies aimed at taming the ADHD gave me a stronger sense of control over my destiny than I had ever had in my life. Which left me better placed to confront the past and the ramifications it has had in the present.

I'm not saying you have it. But if you do, exploring that side of the equation IME can go a long way towards paving the way in terms of making sense of the past, the people who featured in it and raising the chances of some more permanent forms of healing.

And, <big fat hug> I wish there were far fewer of us who had to look back recognise that things were far from what they should have been.

iwillnotwatchtheocean Tue 11-Apr-17 08:38:00

Strangely, the thing that DOES work is working with children, my own and other people's! I mostly do voluntary stuff as I have own young children but every time I show patience and understanding to a child, every time I speak quietly instead of shouting, every time I say to a child how brilliant they are or how clever or funny it's like it undoes some of what I went through. It's like saying 'this is not the right way, THIS is the right way!'

I try to talk to my son as well (primary aged children LOVE telling you about other naughty children- does anyone else find this!) and say 'why do you think joe argued with the teacher? What do you think joe was feeling at the time?' I want him to try to understand behaviour is a language of sorts.

I wish I'd realised all this earlier though as for years I hated myself and thought everyone else was prettier, cleverer, funnier, more talented and just 'right.' sad

Bananamanfan Tue 11-Apr-17 08:48:19

Op, you sound lovely. I am sorry you went through those things and I'm sorry your mum isn't around to have an adult conversation with you now. I suspect she would be in awe of your parenting skills & your relationship with ds & perhaps confide to you that she found motherhood incredibly hard.
Yes, you are right about the naughty child thing, my dcs are always obsessed with the naughty ones, particularly ds1, a few playdates ended with my living room being trashed :-/

iwillnotwatchtheocean Tue 11-Apr-17 08:48:43

I started watching that video and got bored smile I don't have a lot of ADHD symptoms but I do have some. Maybe everyone does, I don't know. But ADHD or just normal childhood stuff, I don't know why my parents thought they could humiliate if out of me sad

SummerHouse Tue 11-Apr-17 08:50:38

Amazing positive perspective op. You get back what you put in 10 fold. We are struggling with our 4 year old DS. He can even drive my DP (most patient man in the world) to distraction. But the other day I just had an extra ounce of compassion and I showed it. (We are talking scenarios like going through 7 pairs of socks before a pair will do...) Anyway he said "thank you mummy. I am so glad of you." And I remember its not bad behavior. He is just him and I can't be in his mind to understand his frustration. I will now think of your approach and celebrate each time I manage to get through without shouting which I hate doing.

iwillnotwatchtheocean Tue 11-Apr-17 08:53:39

I worry with my children that I'm so keen to avoid situations where they might feel pressured that I don't put enough pressure on them. I also find it hard not to instinctively side with the child. I know MN warn against that!

Lottapianos Tue 11-Apr-17 08:55:55

OP, yes i agree that there's something very comforting about seeing your parents as 'villians' - it's the part of you that is rightfully very angry at how they treated you.

I saw a psychotherapist for a long time and I can't tell you how helpful it was. It's very hard to fully understand your past all by yourself, although you do sound like you have a very good understanding of their behaviour and possible reasons for it. I found professional help absolutely invaluable and would recommend it very highly

SummerHouse Tue 11-Apr-17 08:56:45

I think my 4 yr old just needs that. Someone to side with him. I think you are spot on. There are some things that you have to deal with like hitting out. But others not important.

iwillnotwatchtheocean Tue 11-Apr-17 09:00:38

That's so lovely Summer I tend to take it from the standpoint that children are just naturally annoying and it isn't their fault and they will grow out of it! I just though can't even contemplate doing what my parents did. I mean, I can sort of understand a quick slap in the heat of the moment or shouting something you don't mean but I can't imagine making my child sit down and screaming at them when they don't understand academic work that's years too advanced for them anyway, I can't imagine undressing my 4 year old for her bath and smacking her soft skin until it's red and laughing at that, I can't imagine humiliating my son in front of his friends - if ever a child goes wrong like a rugby tackle doesn't work out or they go off key when performing an instrument, you SEE how fragile the self esteem there is surely? And don't most adults instinctively try to put that together? You quickly say 'hey, everyone does it, what about <insert famous persons name> to try to make the kid feel better, not add to their humiliation by bloody whacking them!

iwillnotwatchtheocean Tue 11-Apr-17 09:37:17

Would people here actually say my parents were abusive? Or was this sort of about right for the time? No one to my knowledge ever said anything when I was smacked in public and so that makes me think maybe it was normal.

SleepyHay Tue 11-Apr-17 11:07:27

Op, so sorry you went through this as a child. The damage this kind of abuse does can last a lifetime. It definitely was abuse, I think people are often very reluctant to get involved and was certainly more accepted years ago. This doesn't make it right and it doesn't mean that you should just sweep it under the carpet.
From your mother's point of view I guess she thought that if she believed in God and did the 'right things ' by sending you to church then you would grow up being 'good'. By good I mean what would be perceived as good but it's actually just being compliant.
As she clearly had no clue how to parent, a naturally curious and outgoing child was probably her worst nightmare. The only way to make you act how she wanted was to try and crush those parts of your personality and tell you that you were bad and wrong.
None of it is your fault and it sounds like you are trying to be the best parent you can be now.
Also to be bought up with religion shoved down your throat and then for your dad to turn his back on it as soon as your mum died must have felt a bit like a betrayal. Sort of like you were bought up on a lie. I'm making assumptions here so feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.
Have you had any counselling? It might help to discuss it with someone in RL.

iwillnotwatchtheocean Tue 11-Apr-17 11:27:42

It did feel a bit like a betrayal! Or at least like I'd been tricked a bit. One thing to not 'spare the rod' (or belt hmm) if you genuinely believe that's what God wants, that's how God thinks a child should be raised, but if you don't believe that for a moment but are publically humilating your child anyway - what does that make you?

I think my dad was enabled by my mum, I guess my mum did believe I was 'bad' and needed 'correction.'

But I find it very hard to talk about. It's over twenty years since the belt incident and I still just am utterly humiliated.

Lottapianos Tue 11-Apr-17 13:19:31

Yes OP, they were abusive. In my experience, when you grow up with parents like yours (and mine), you question yourself all the time and don't value yourself enough, because your parents have never helped you to learn how. So you minimise what you went through, convince yourself it 'wasn't that bad' and that other people have it worse. But you have every right to feel how you are feeling.

What would you say to a friend who described a similar childhood to yours? Would you tell them to stop being silly, or would you feel sad and angry for them? We're often a lot kinder with other people than we are with ourselves.

There's no magic switch that gets flicked when you turn 18 or 21 that takes the pain away or helps you to 'get over it' (awful phrase). So I'm not surprised to hear that your feelings of humiliation are still raw

iwillnotwatchtheocean Tue 11-Apr-17 13:56:58

Thank you. 'Raw' is a good word. I guess I've grown up thinking there was something really badly wrong with me. And also I do sort of wonder if it's almost like a sexual assault in some way and I am REALLY sorry if that comes over wrong. But surely forcing someone to remove their clothing and then causing hurt and harm against their consent has some parallels? Or am I being awful?

OnTheRise Tue 11-Apr-17 14:11:54

Having read through your original post, and having done a lot of research into abuse and family dynamics, I would say your family was definitely abusive, and not just a little bit either.

You are quite right that shouting, humiliation and punishment are not things which children (anyone!) should have to put up with.

I recommend counselling or therapy if you can access it, because it really helps to unpick the problems they've left you with. But I have to say that you sound absolutely delightful. I hope things work out for you.

Lottapianos Tue 11-Apr-17 14:16:18

Yes, i totally agree, it does have parallels with sexual assault. The removal of clothing adds an even more damaging layer of humiliation. It's really disturbing behaviour on your parents' part.

Do you have any thoughts about seeking professional support? You are dealing with the legacy of some very toxic and damaging behaviour from your parents, and you have a really good level of insight already, but wading through this level of murkiness is seriously tough on your own

iwillnotwatchtheocean Tue 11-Apr-17 14:32:18

Thank you! I have had a bit of counselling as I found it so hard with first DC especially, I think you do when your upbringing hasn't been great. But I don't know if I would be able to actually talk to someone about it, I feel embarrassed even on here.

I think that's the thing with the removal of clothing because it was done purely to degrade, no other reason. And a way to get additional compliance I guess because sometimes I would be told something like 'you haven't done your homework so we are going to smack you and if you still haven't done your homework by eight o clock we will smack your bare bottom.' Obviously nine times out of ten it worked but in a sulky and resentful way. And when I was little I was keen and compliant. So it didn't do any good at all really?

The more I think about it the more it is like a sexual assault, I mean I kept crying and saying no, please no, don't, I'm sorry?

I'm really sorry to go on blush I never talk about it to anyone as I'm not really in touch with anyone from those days and so no one knows. My husband does but I don't think he realises how much is affects me.

purpleprincess24 Tue 11-Apr-17 14:37:18

I read that thinking, this was my childhood

I was very much loved and looked after very very well but I also remember the strict times and the pants down smack.

I will however say in their defence that at that time and place that is what happened and no one found it unusual in the slightest.

Looking back, my DD had OCD, everything had to be in it's correct place and what other people might think governed my childhood. If my Mum had been dusting, he would move the ornaments slightly back to how they should be.

I remember:

Age 8 having to have my hair done in a wash and set, seriously hideous and you can imagine the teasing I got.

Not being able to wear anything fashionable as my dad didn't approve

All toys had to be put away before dad got home from work

iwillnotwatchtheocean Tue 11-Apr-17 14:50:28

With my parents there weren't really strict rules like that, but it wasn't consistent. I mean say on Friday I could leave my toys out and no one would say anything, Monday I could leave my toys out and be told off for it and to put them away, Wednesday I could be over someone's knee with my pants down being smacked for leaving my toys out. You just never knew. This was 80s/90s by the way I was 12 in 1994 which was when I was given the belt for being naughty at school.

Lottapianos Tue 11-Apr-17 15:43:16

'The more I think about it the more it is like a sexual assault, I mean I kept crying and saying no, please no, don't, I'm sorry?'

That's a really disturbing image. A young child being smacked is incredibly vulnerable, a young child with their trousers pulled down even more so. Its a really horrible thought OP. I would suggest that the adult in that situation is getting a lot out of the feeling of power and control and domination

It sounds like your parents were highly inconsistent in how they responded to you. I read some time ago (when I was trying to figure out my own upbringing) that an inconsistent home is the most damaging of all, because the rules are never clear. Children desperately need to know that the adults are in charge and to know what is expected of them - not having that security is terrifying as a child.

purple, my mother cut my long curly hair into a severe short 'boyish' cut when I was three or four. I never did find out why exactly but I used to absolutely pine for long hair when I was a little girl. My sister was allowed to grow hers long - again, no idea exactly what was going on there. I grew my hair long when I was an adult and my parents absolutely hated it and were pretty vocal about that at times. Weird.

Lottapianos Tue 11-Apr-17 15:44:40

You're not going on at all by the way! You have as much right to share your story on here as anyone else does smile I hope its helping to share your feelings on here

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