09 October 2012 ~ Comments Off

parents

I’m angry at my parents for getting divorced when I was 2 years old.

This is not to say I wanted to live my life with fighting, spiteful adults hissing and spitting at each other from opposite sides of the house. Nor do I want to think how terrible life would’ve been for them personally, living through that.

But I’m still angry.

There have been a slew of repercussions from my parents’ failing/failed relationship and split. The impacts on my siblings and me are so clear, it’s painful. And they’ve only gotten more striking over time.

Today, though, I’m thinking about parental roles. When parents divorce, they are forced to take on and give up various duties and joys they’ve held over time. In our case (and I’m only speculating here, because I was too young to know for sure) my dad left our home, moved into his own apartment and – during court-mandated weekly dinners and bi-weekend overnights – probably tried to be a more attentive parent than he had been when he was still living with us. He still worked like crazy, but that time at the office affected us much less than when it hurt my mom’s feelings, strained their relationship and left her to wonder why he was there so long every night. My mom, on the other hand, had to pick up a lot of slack. Not only in terms of us kids, but working, keeping things running smoothly, trying to make it feel like he never left.

At the time, my sister was turning 18 and starting college, and my brother was 11. My sister, a homebody like I eventually became, decided to live at home while attending college. She became a second mom to me while my mom dabbled in the working world, at Kmart, the local pharmacy (I loved to help stock greeting cards – one fond memory of that time) and eventually as a preparer at a big chain of tax offices. At that point, she came into her own and made a name for herself doing something she was truly good at. But that didn’t make it any easier. And it didn’t change the fact that, when my sister finished college, met and married her husband and moved away, I was left alone a lot. It wasn’t long before my brother disappeared, too, after being a typical adolescent boy who didn’t want his little sister up in his face every minute of the day.

So there I was, waiting up at night for my mom to get home from late nights at a tax office about 45 minutes’ drive from our house, before cell phones and in the dead of a Michigan winter. In retrospect, it was pretty torturous. And I had no concept of chilling out or not worrying that she might be dead and I might be left alone completely.

Phew. Such horrible memories. Sorry I got a little off track there…

This morning, I found myself reflecting on what it means to be a mom or dad. A man or woman. And while I’m all for interchangeable gender roles and the belief that not every man needs to be a meathead who loves tools and not every woman needs to don a gingham apron and make a perfect roast, there are some things I feel like other people in the world understand about moms and dads that I just don’t, because I never got to see my parents being typical parents, sharing responsibilities and caring for their children as one cohesive unit.

This comes out most strikingly in my inability to trust people and the feeling that I need to do everything myself, otherwise it probably won’t get done at all, let alone properly. It’s not that I don’t trust my husband to do things, but 1) I feel bad asking him to do anything; 2) sometimes I’m annoyed that I have to ask; 3) while TV has taught me about those male stereotypes, I can’t say I fully grasp them because of my lack of real-life experience within a family; and 4) I do sometimes get pleasure out of fixing problems and not having to rely on others to help make it happen.

I also developed a totally skewed, unrealistic sense of parents and family by spending my childhood watching shows like “Full House” and “Family Matters” rather than witnessing a real-life family operate. In fact, the void left by my parents’ divorce and my siblings’ growing up and leaving the house actually caused me to develop my entire definition of family from these ridiculous sitcoms. Better that than today’s fodder of “16 and Pregnant” and “Jersey Shore,” but nonetheless – it’s pretty darn unrealistic. And it makes me feel like a failure when I can’t immediately (or at least within a half-hour) solve problems; have a quick, meaningful chat with my spouse and then hug it out with intense, sweeping music in the background; be the most perfect, caring, selfless human being I know on a regular basis; or keep my house spotless while never missing a beat with my awesome job (eh), perfect husband (he tries) and darling children (none of those).

My childhood and lack of familial interaction also bred in me an unhealthy dislike for children. I look at a cooing, drooly baby and see almost nothing redeeming in the slightest. I try – really hard – to understand and want that in my life. And maybe it’s just because we’re newlyweds who haven’t gotten to that “rut” stage yet, where a change of pace in the form of a clothes-ruining, eardrum-shattering infant might be welcome, but having babies has no appeal. It never has. I’m afraid (because my husband would like to see himself copied onto a kid) it never will. The whole “it’s different when it’s your own” thing assumes you’re not already anti-kid with a probable lack of reproductive success, who will require medical treatment in order to conceive in the first place, which means no happy accidents that change your life (and perspective on kids) forever.

It’s pretty clear my parents’ divorce impacted our family deeply. This lack of understanding of what it means to be a parent – and how cool it probably is – is just one of those results. I’m sure I’ll explore the others as they come to mind and nag at me. Hopefully this particular one I’ll be able to work through before it’s too late to create a Mini Us.

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