Thursday, April 05, 2007

Raising Parents Is Not Easy

I am really, really close to both my parents. I've read that Foreign Service families tend to be really tight because you are the only constants for each other, country after country. And this was true for us, moving at least every four years.

Sometimes they are too much in my business; sometimes I am too much in theirs. It's not all positive. Or easy. But it is what it is.

It's taken a long time for my dad and me to come to an understanding of each other. What I've realized is that the things that really frustrate me in him, the things that infuriate me in one hot second, are the things that frustrate me about myself. We are very similar in many ways. We can have a great time together. But we can hurt each others' feelings quite easily without intending to. And we can make each other really, really angry.

Realizing this has been immeasurably helpful for me. In the past couple years we've started to communicate pretty well. And that has improved our relationship immensely.

Those of you who know me, or who have been reading for a while, know that my mom, Betty, is my favorite human on the planet. I love my dad, but Betty is my best friend. She's incredibly supportive, we like a lot of the same things, and we make each other laugh.

My dad, I think, is just learning how to BE. Without having to DO all the time. Betty is very easy to just BE with. If this makes sense at all.

Which is not to say that she approves of everything. She read this post, even though it had a parental warning at the top. My dad, thankfully, stopped reading after he read that. But Betty ignored, even after my father pointed it out, and plowed on through. And, as you may imagine, was less than delighted.

The other day I told her that Dad said she read that New Yorker on the plane post.

And you know what? She got that same disapproving, pursed lips looks on her face that her mother used to get. I could see my Gramma Lillian sitting right in front of me. It makes me wonder if I will make that face too, one day.

But then it was gone. And we were back to talking about my date, or her garden, or whatever it was we were chatting about right before that. There was no, "I wish you would change that." or "I wish you wouldn't write things like that." No implication that she wishes I were different.

I am who I am, and she loves me and leaves it at that.

My dad, on the other hand, is full of, "Why don't you do X like this?" and "That was good. But it would be better if you did X." I take this, whether he means it that way or not, and more and more I think he does not, as "I'd think more of you if you were different."

He is kind, and he does love me. We just don't always communicate well. And so I am very used to being on the defensive with him.

He reads my blog every day, and I often get emails about it. Sometimes they are about my grammar. Sometimes I make him laugh and he lets me know. Sometimes he is expressing concern because I'm so down and he wants to make sure I know they love me.

A frequent impetus for an email, though, is my language. He hates what a terrible mouth I have.

"Why do you have to use the F word?"

"Dad. I write the way I speak. My friends who read my blog love that I write the way I speak. They can hear my voice in my writing. And you know how I talk."

"I know. And I don't know why you need to talk like that. It's so unattractive. And you put it in writing! On the Internet!"

The thing I had to say was, my blog is mine. My place that I'm using to both improve my writing and sort out my existential crises, to be dramatic about it. I want to be a better storyteller. And I want a place to get my angst out. And this works for me. But it's mine. For me.

If I want to be unattractive or inappropriate or pick my virtual nose or pour my whole soul out to strangers in cyberspace, I am going to do it. And I cannot spend my time worried about whether or not my dad approves. I've spent my whole life worried about that, in every single arena of it.

So last night I got an email from him. And it said the following:

"I did read your two new blogs. I liked the haircut blog a lot. The kids one blows my mind. What is going on? But why I react to the F word that you are so wont to use is my problem. Also the Christ word. So I need to make a choice. Read and just shut up, or don't read. Hmmmm."

And I wrote him back, not unkindly, and said that yes, he was right. That's precisely his choice. Although the truth is, it's not in his character. What I think will happen is that he will keep reading and bite his tongue half the time. How do I know this? C'mon. I'm my father's daughter.


  1. Aw, I can totally relate to your family closeness (and frustration), being an Army Brat and finding that my older brother is my best friend on the planet. Also, even though we haven't met, I feel like I know you enough to not think you're a stranger! So use the "F word" like crazy :)

  2. Wow. It seems like I've heard the Beta test version of this post somewhere before ;)

  3. You could've written this post about my relationship with my parents. Doesn't it feel great when you stand up for what you believe in, and they just have to deal with it? Good for you, Lisa!

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  5. Moosie - Thank you! I'm glad! And I will keep using the F word, since I'm among friends. :)

    HIN - Yes, in fact, you helped me process it!

    G&D - It's always a delicate thing with my dad. We get our feelings hurt by each other pretty easily. I've realized we're much more similar than I ever thought. Is this the case for you?

  6. Some day, in whatever form exists, The Eldest will be writing or saying or whatever the same thing about her dad. I see the arc of the relationship and we're in the "not getting along so well" portion of it.

    I have to work hard to not interfere. Does Betty find herself acting as a buffer or intermediary?

  7. No, my mom has always stayed out of it. It's the things that are so similar in my dad and me that make things difficult. If you are good at facilitating communication and feel like you can objectively pinpoint what triggers them, I think that could be really, really helpful.

  8. I've experienced similar frustration and break-down in communication with my Dad. I see myself in him, which is, just as you explained, often times infuriating.

    Parent-child relationships are complicated, all those years under the same roof. I dislike being defensive, have learned to be more aware of this reaction and try to ask myself what I really want from my Dad at that moment.

  9. My relationship with my parents seems to be the same as your relationship with your father... In my case, I'm similar in some ways to my father, and in other completely different ways with my mother. These similarities are/were a huge source of tension between us since my early teenage years, so a bit more than half my life. Since it was both my parents, and because I am far more stubborn with them, and easily hurt by them, our relationship devolved to a pretty acrimonious state for a while in my early twenties. My older sister plays the role of my best friend. She'd often end up being the peace maker between my parents and I.

    Thankfully, time, a desire to get along better, and a willingness to put in the hard work to make that happen has made our relationship worlds better than it used to be... But I don't think either of them will ever be amongst my closer confidants. :-\

  10. HKW - I think you're right - better to not be defensive and figure out what it is you're really thinking/feeling.

    VVK - It's great that you have your sister to smooth things over. It's not easy with parents, it's really not. You're so close, and there's so much emotion involved, and so many ways to get hurt by things even when they're not intentional.


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