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How normal is it to play a role with your parents?

(16 Posts)
Elephantjuice Sun 27-Jul-08 20:42:04

Was just wondering.

I have come to realise that the person I am when I'm with my mum & dad is totally different from the one I am with everyone else. I didn't really think about it all that much before I had children. The way they are is nothing like the way I am now. The way I try to bring up my dc is far from the way I was brought up. I think I must be so scared of offending them that I dare not be myself. When I was growing up I thought I had the perfect family because there were never any arguments or confrontations. Now I realise it was a massive act of suppression in the name of peace-keeping.

I think it's so sad as when I look around me I seem to see people who have lovely open relationships with their parents and who genuinely enjoy spending time together. I don't expect them to change and for us to suddenly have this, but I wondered how common this is?

ElenorRigby Sun 27-Jul-08 21:11:05

I so know what you mean!

We rarely had arguments or confrontations because my mother repressed them. To this day she still pulls the strings. My poor dad does not realise he's completely controlled by her. My siblings seem only dimly aware of her tactics. So yes I have to suppress myself too to keep the peace. It drives me nuts!

girlnextdoor Sun 27-Jul-08 21:14:52

Do you want it to change? if so, you will have to start by changing how YOU behave with them.

Don't we all behave differently with whoever we re with? I am a different person with colleagues, close friends, not so close friends, kids etc etc.

ElenorRigby Sun 27-Jul-08 21:20:30

GND it's very hard to deal with parents, ime they have an ability to hurt and control more than anyone.

Elephantjuice Sun 27-Jul-08 21:30:24

girlnextdoor, I go between slipping into the role (child role I suppose) I always play and small attempts at saying what I think, which has always resulted in offending them. They never say that, but I know. On one occasion my dad has stormed off muttering under his breath (when I asked him not to interfere with how I was dealing with dd's tantrum) but that's as direct as it ever gets. It's all there, bubbling under the surface.

I have always cared what they think, too much probably. I was a very passive, compliant child, and they pride themselves on this. I think I was rebelling inwardly for years, but they never realised.

I read that we often analyse our own childhood once we have children ourselves. I don't like the effect they may be having on my dc.

What would you suggest I say, girlnextdoor?

SwissCheese Sun 27-Jul-08 21:47:42

Same here. Esp with my mum. I always feel terrible even when I'm trying to do something for my DS and she doesn't approve, all she has to do is sulk (and it's a sulk that cuts me in two!) and I feel about 5 yrs old. I am also expected to be the 'funny' one in the family and they look, waiting for me to entertain them ... it really hard work when I just want to be normal but yes, I role play my part.

I have many times said how her behaviour affects me, but she gets so upset and digs her heels in further, so it's a no-win for me!

ActingNormal Sun 27-Jul-08 21:54:23

ElephantJuice, I SO know what you mean. I said to my dad recently (and even saying this scared me) the ActingNormal you know is a very different person to the ActingNormal everybody else knows.

Our parents' repression had a very bad effect on me and my bro. There was a 'sacred normalness' in our house which must not be broken by any displays of emotion. We must always act normal (hence my MN name) whether bad things were happening to us or not, to preserve the respectable family image. So when bad things did happen to us and we weren't allowed to talk about it, and if we did, our feelings were dismissed, we swallowed the bad feelings and stored up long term emotional problems for ourselves.

Recently I wrote a letter to them with details of bad things that happened, which they should have noticed signs of anyway, and how it made me feel, and I said I wasn't going to keep it secret any longer to preserve the family image. Guess how they reacted to the letter - they acted normal, they acted like nothing had happened. They didn't feel enough about me, or about what happened to me, to react. I don't have very much contact with them now as I don't see the point of them in my life. I'm still angry and sad but am starting to deal with it.

Do you have things that eat at you, that you would like to say to your parents? If you do I would really recommend finding a way to say those things because the relief is enormous and it helps you feel better about yourself.

Are you looking to improve your relationship with your parents or break away from them?

It is hard trying to please people all the time and keep the peace. Do you think they can change and have a more honest relationship with you so you could relax and be yourself more around them?

Elephantjuice Sun 27-Jul-08 22:03:25

swisscheese, well done for trying to change things! I haven't got nearly as far as you.

I know what you mean about feeling like a child. I think that's why I find it so hard to be a parent when I'm with them!

My mum thinks she knows me and my dc so well. It was always the same. They have always been quite controlling. One example that springs to mind is when I told them what I wanted to be when I grew up (at the time it was a prison officer - I was all into Prisoner Cell Block H at the time!)they just laughed in my face and said no way, you're not doing that. Then they said I should be a lawyer because I was always arguing with them. I NEVER argued!

When I met dh's family I was shocked by how they said what they thought. I thought they must be a very dyfunctional family! They could go out for a meal and say if they thought the food wasn;t that great. We could NEVER do that, and still couldn't. My dad in particular always puts a positive spin on everything, and presses everyone else in such a way that they have to agree or he'll be mega-offended. My dc are already quite direct (hooray!) which causes problems with the gps. Today's example: dad decided we were going to a park of his choice. I dared not say no. Mum didn't want to go but obviously couldn't say that directly so managed to come up with the excuse that she had to clean up after cooking lunch for so many of us (ok, ok). No swings or anything, so just a walk for the dcs really, after which ds declared "I didn' t really like that park." Dad's immediate (annoyed) response was "well you had a nice walk in the sun didn't you?"

Sorry, just realised how long this is, but get the picture?

Elephantjuice Sun 27-Jul-08 22:12:35

Actingnormal, your post is very helpful and helped me clarify what I am looking for. Well done for confronting your parents.

Nothing really bad happened to me. It has been more of a gradual realisation that I was not allowed to be myself as a child, but instead had to fulfil the role they thought a child should fulfil. I don't feel angry with them, just sad that our relationship is so superficial. I am thinking of limiting contact, partly because I don't like the way they are with my dc (just like they were with me). My dc are quite noisy and very strong-minded. My parents have hinted that they think they need a firmer hand and "joked" that they must be just like their father. They always talk about other children as either "good" or "naughty" so I know what they think of mine!

I have grown up completely unable to deal with confrontation. I am working on this! Also I think I have learnt to be a bit passive-aggressive which I hate. My mum is master manipulator in a PA kind of way I think. Just small things even - today after lunch she said "THANK YOU for cooking that Grandma." Oh come on!

girlnextdoor Sun 27-Jul-08 22:30:42

elephant- it is hard to know what you should say,in any given situation, but in many situations, being assertive (NOT aggressive) is the answer. The trick is to say how their action makes you feel- rather than blaming them or insulting them. You aren't going to change them but you can change yourself and how you react to them.

I'm afraid that in my family we are the complete opposite- have had lots of rows over best way to bring up children - which is why I find it hard to empathise .

There are "taboo" topics though- my parents were very strict with me about boyfriends, so I grew up deceiving them and even now as a middle aged parent of grown up kids, I cannot discuss my marriage and my feelings over it with my parents. But that is my choice- rather than feeling that I mustn't.

Elephantjuice Sun 27-Jul-08 23:11:56

Goodness, girlnextdoor, I can't imagine discussing my marriage with my parents!

I do try to be assertive with them (and in general although it is something I have had to learn) but only as regards saying what I want and what the dc are allowed etc. I have never told them how they make me feel. I know 100% they would be offended. It would need to happen in a very small way at first. Because they never say what they want or stand up for themselves in any direct way (but in a very passive-aggressive way)they have hinted that they think I am a bit bossy nowadays.

Yesterday I had asked them if they would look after ds and dd2 for a couple of hours to let me have time alone with dd1 who doesn't get much 1 to 1 (dh working away). Don't know if they minded but they said yes. Plan was to drop me & dd off in town and we would go for lunch, they would take other dc for lunch then to the park. When my dad dropped us off he said "we're all here now so why don't we have lunch together?" The whole point was that dd would get some attention so I said "No, I would like to have lunch just me and dd today." This is a BIG deal for me to say such a thing, and my dad said tersely "OK, then" and drove off.

I know that they tot up these offences and talk about them later because I have heard them.

girlnextdoor, did you mind all the rows? Equally, I find it hard to imagine that! I think it must be a nightmare for my dc - normally me & dh can quite happily have a disagreement. Sometimes this happens in front of the dc and I wonder what they think. It must be weird for them seeing me become another person who doesn't stand up for herself when we visit the gps.

girlnextdoor Mon 28-Jul-08 08:02:18

Elephant- i think you were very assertive to say what you wanted to do over lunch.

Maybe you need to be more open but in a light way- eg above example- could you have added "Don't be offended- still love you- just want some time with DD...byeeeee"- that kind of thing?

I think it is vital that you don't allow your behaviour to be controlled by your parents. They obviously have issues, but they needn't become yours as well.

I think you have found the answer *it would need to happen in a very small way at first*.
On the other hand, can't you actually confront their behaviour- can't you say things like "I can tell you aren't happy about X,Y,Z- let's have a chat about it- say what you are thinking".

I can't see that would equate to being bossy- more acknowledging their feelings.

They sound very non-confrontational. I'm afraid it is up to you to make a stand and bring your feelings about it into the open. They might be offended- but,no pain, no gain - they will re-adjust, but I can see they will be upset to begin with.

You see, you have been colluding with them all these years and reinforcing their behaviour. They won't see it as that,but from the outside that is very clear.

If you hear them talking about issues behind your back ( do they WANT you to overhear perhaps???) then why don't you tell them that you have heard and say you want to talk it through- that's why I mean you collude- you accept how they behave and don't challenge it.

As for your other question- yes, I did find the rows upsetting, but they clear the air. I can't imagine anything worse than bottling it all up and not communicating. It's a case of having "words" then having a hug afterwards- and that's how I'd like to think it is in my house now with my own DCs.

maidamess Mon 28-Jul-08 08:06:58

Elephant, I made the same realisation as yuo a while ago, and whilst I realise I cannot change my parents, I can change how I am with them.

And most importantly of all I know I will never be like that with my children!

I want to treat my children as individual adults when they are grown up, and would be mortified if I felt they couldn't talk to me or I couldn't learn from them.

I think its easy for parents to put their child in a 'box' when they are youn, and they can never break free of that 'role' the parent has given them.

I am, according to my Mum, always late, stubborn, stroppy and wilfully argumentative. No other person in my life sees me like that, because I'm not!!

Elephantjuice Mon 28-Jul-08 14:53:00

Thanks, girlnextdoor and maidamess, you give GREAT suggestions.

I like the idea of being a bit lighthearted, I think that might dilute the offence a bit in their eyes. I think I could also try getting them to be a bit more open by suggesting what I think they want/feel. They would be uncomfortable but not offended I don't think. Not sure about telling them I overheard conversations - I really don't think they intended for me to hear and I think they would deny saying it actually. If I ever did have a little outburst as a child, either me or them would leave the room then come back later as if nothing had happened. No one ever said sorry and I was never asked to say it, things just got "forgotten".

You're right about not repeating this with my dc - I am acutely aware of this. I always make sure I apologise to them if appropriate, and we talk about all incidents. You should see the looks my parents give each other if I openly disagree with dh! In the beginning of our relationship I used to go along with whatever dh wanted (he is very assertive!) and then suddenly realise that wasn't what I wanted to do and get all stroppy with him, leaving him puzzled as apparently I was fine with the idea!

They definitely have issues from their own childhoods. I don't think they will ever explore them.

girlnextdoor Mon 28-Jul-08 17:00:15

I think your parents' behaviour shows they are insecure- and maybe were as children- in that they feel they cannot show their true emotions, otherwise "love" would be taken away.

They have never learned that love is deep and strong- and does not disappear just because people have differences of opinion.

They control you and others by hiding their feelings so that you, in turn, will hide yours and protect them from criticism of them or their beliefs.

This is typical of people who have low self-esteem/self-worth.

I hope you can raise your DCs to be vibrant, confident adults, who can speak their minds without fearing the consequences, but who, at the same time, are considerate of others' feelings. It IS possible to do both!

Elephantjuice Tue 29-Jul-08 15:54:26

That's exactly it, girlnextdoor. I love the "Unconditional Parenting" approach but have had to work really hard at it - it just wasn't at all what I was used to and a real revelation. I still find it difficult to not always make threats like my mum & dad would do, e.g. today at soft play when ds was attacking another boy (!). Instinctively the pathetic empty threats my parents always use just pop into my head, like "You know what's going to happen if you do that" or "ice cream is only for good boys." My parents are really shocked when I get down in front of ds and tell him "That is not okay, STOP hitting." I think I'm craving clear communication!

My dc are 100 times more confident than I was, thank goodness. Unfortunately my parents often interpet their assertiveness as rudenss and hint that they need a much "firmer hand."

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