How Did I Get So Lucky?

Having established that I am probably the mentally healthiest of the family, I started to wonder why that was.  What was so different about my childhood that allowed me to be a dramatically healthier, more functional person?

Well, the short and obvious answer is, I was raised by and identified with the healthy parent.

My parents were married for almost 30 years.  For more than 20, my father’s job was one where he was traveling most of the work week.  This is not automatically a recipe for disaster — plenty of military families make it work, for example.  But it does require a mother who is competent and capable of running the family and the household by herself — not one who wants to be taken care of and doesn’t like to work too hard.  It requires a mother who is a part of a team, who is the glue that holds the family together.  Our mother was not that mother.

When my dad was 18 or so, he enlisted in the Coast Guard in WWII so that he could send money home to his mother and the younger kids.  His own father had died before he was 40, and after that they struggled for money.  Dad became the hero who went off to work and sent money home to provide for his family.  I have gotten his old military records, and there is a letter in there written by his mother, explaining that he was indeed the main provider for a family, so that he could qualify for extra pay.  And he came back to a home run by a mother who did her own job properly while he was away, and appreciated what he did.

I have wondered if my father stuck with the marriage as long as he did in part because he convinced himself that he was doing what he was supposed to be doing  — providing for his family — and if it was easier for him to be gone all the time, well, at least the kids were not at risk.  Maybe he thought that by him being the scapegoat-in-chief, that protected the children from the unholy, unhealthy ways of my mother.

Of course this is not the case.  The narcissistic mother poisoned all her kids to think the same way she did, to shift blame whenever possible, as she did, onto Dad for everything.  Dad was always the bad guy.  My siblings were systematically alienated from their father by a mother who had to have someone to blame.

I believe that when the family moved, and my father’s job became one where he was home every night instead of only on the weekends, he began to see how things really were.  What he learned from my mother’s psychologist after I was born probably added the weight of professional advice to his decision.  My sister said that our father once told her, “Your mother is crazy, and you’re going to end up as crazy as she is.”  To me that indicates that he understood the depths of our mother’s mental health problems, and he also understood that she had probably passed them on to their children.

And I believe that once my father really understood what was going on, he chose to do whatever he could still do to not allow the caustic pattern to continue.  He figured out (correctly) that the only way out was, well, out.  So, he divorced her, and instead of just walking away, which he could oh-so-easily have done, he fought for custody of the minor children that were left.

Thus I was protected by him, more than any of the others — because I was the youngest, and had experienced the least of my mother’s unhealthy influence and parental alienation.  It was much harder for her to alienate me from a father who was home every night, and who loved me, and took care of me in the ways she didn’t or couldn’t.

I believe I am the only one of his children who really, wholeheartedly, loved him.  That doesn’t exactly make me special — it just means my mom didn’t get to work on me the way she did the others.

But to Dad, I was special.

A few days before Dad died, we had a conversation — one of the few where I ever saw my dad cry.  He knew he was dying.  He told me, “I’m going to miss you.”

I said something about how I would miss him too, and that for those of us left behind, it would be years and years, a long, long, time — but for him maybe it would only be a blink of an eye until we saw each other again.

He said, in a muffled voice — because his head was on the kitchen table, on his arms, because he didn’t want me to see him crying — “Yes, but you’re special.”

I still have that kitchen table, and the chair he sat in when he said it.

I believe that in me, he found his redemption, his proof that he really could be a good father, away from the sick influence of a woman who hated and blamed him.

 

One of my biggest regrets is that I never figured any of this out when he was alive — of course, it took his death for the truth to bubble up, so as long as he was alive, I could not have done so.  I suspect that is just proof of what he sacrificed:  not telling anyone about all of this, just doing what was right, and enduring years and years of blame and infamy from almost all his children.

Almost all.

There was one who was different.  And I am so grateful to have been that one.

I wish like hell that I could talk to him, even just for a few seconds — it just has to be long enough to tell him, “Hey, Dad, I figured it out.  I get it.  I understand. And I love you.”

 

Dramatis Personae

Without using actual names*, the cast of this drama can be a little hard to follow.  Here is a guide.

  • My Dad
  • My Mom, a narcissist
  •  My sister, 17 years my senior, who “refuses to get involved”
  • My oldest brother, 16+, who thinks I need to “just get over it”
  • Next brother, 14+, Joe Henchal, who is married to Susan Henchal, an even worse narcissist

I refer to the three siblings above as “The Triumvirate”.  I suspect that my mother considered her family to be finished at this point.  They certainly are given to think that they are the ones whose opinions matter, who run things, who are in charge, and who get to tell us younger siblings how we should act.  I am 45, and as recently as within the past year, I have been reminded by one of them that “I used to change your diapers, you know.”  Because that gives him some kind of authority over me.  *eyeroll*

They also have a fierce loyalty to each other that does not extend to the rest of us.

(7 year gap – I assume my parents had no sex at all, probably because my mother felt her family was finished, and there’s no reason to have sex other than for having kids, right?)

  • Next brother, 7+
  • Last brother, 3+, who told me that there is no point in me “digging up the past like this” and that I am “tearing the family apart”.  (Guess what?  I’m not the one who started THAT project.  Although, just possibly I will finish it.)
  • Me

* I have deliberately left out names of everyone but two people:  the ones who treated me so horribly when my father died, and who have continued to maintain that they did nothing wrong.  Decide for yourself.

Me and My Dad

My dad and I were a lot alike.  I believe we thought in much the same way about many things.

I recently looked up the results of an old Meyers-Briggs test — possibly the first one I ever took, at my first job.  I was typed as an ESFJ.

Reading the description I found here made me think about whether Dad might not have been an ESFJ, too.  I’ll never know, of course, but it is kind of comforting to me to think so.

The bold remarks below are from the original; my observations are in italics.

 

Male ESFJs

As a type, ESFJs probably personify “motherhood”. Their gentle, caring nature, in its Extraverted way, takes them beyond their own needs to serve the world around them. As a result, they are the hosts and hostesses of the world. ESFJ males, who have less need to be “in charge” than to be concerned with others’ needs, may be torn between expressing the more conventionally masculine parts of their personalities and giving in to opposing tendencies. The male’s Sensing-Judging temperament, sometimes described as “stabilizer-traditionalist”, demands macho, objectively cool, yet aggressive behavior, while the Extraverted-Feeling preferences demands a warm or more caring and gentler role.

Certainly my father took on a traditionally female role when he took custody of his three youngest children.  If you read the testimony I gave our lawyer, it is clear that Dad’s idea of taking care of someone included service and concern with others’ needs.

This also makes sense if you ask why on earth this man would have chosen to — fought to! — take on the role of parenting three small children, one of them a 6YO girl, in an era when it was far more expected that he would cut and run.  (My siblings have various other explanations, from “he did it to hurt Mom” to “he fought for custody of the kids because whoever got the kids got the house.”  Yeah, right.  The house he sold in the fall of 1989, when I was in college, on my first co-op, and it became clear that I would never come to live at home again.  But maybe this acknowledges, in a twisted kind of way, that the HOME was important to him, as discussed below.)

This could also give a clue as to why my parents even got married — if Mom liked to be taken care of, and Dad did indeed take care of her — until there were children, at which point her job became to take care of them — well.  I just bet she’d resent that change in the arrangement.  And maybe for good reason, sort of.  “All conflict is caused by differing expectations” and if Mom somehow expected not to have to get her hands dirty once she had a house and kids to take care of, while Dad clearly expected exactly that — it’s a recipe for disaster.  It’s a mystery to me where she would have gotten that expectation, though.  Who thinks running a house by yourself all week and taking care of kids is an easy job?  She came from a big family of mostly girls, so maybe the older ones did most of the work?  I’ll never know.

Female ESFJs

If the ESFJ male is something of a fish out of water, the ESFJ female, in contrast, often represents the epitome of femininity. She always wears the right clothes, says the right words, and behaves the right way. ESFJ girls are the perfect children who never get dirty, and even as adults, never seem to get mussed. There’s something about an ESFJ — especially the female — that just reeks of appropriateness in all aspects of life.

I’m not too sure about this for myself, but I do know I have always been neat and tidy, even as a child.

Weak points

Don’t think that ESFJs have found perfection, however. As EJs, for example, they are given to quick, abrasive comments whenever their routines are interrupted. As SFs, however, they are critical of their own EJ behavior and compensate for their abrasiveness with extra sweetness. To paraphrase Isabel Briggs Myers, they have many “shoulds” and “should nots”, and they express them freely. They may especially overlook facts when they find a situation disagreeable or a criticism hurtful. As a result, they may sweep problems under the rug rather than seek solutions.

Dad hated it when dinner was late.  And I can remember there were certain things that happened every week, such as me cleaning out the refrigerator.

Routines weren’t always about chores, though.  The last summer I spent at home, we cooked a T-bone steak out on a little hibachi grill on the back steps every Sunday evening.

And perhaps this helps explain why my dad continued to work at a job that made him an absentee father for years, even as the marriage apparently deteriorated.

Home life

Photo.aspxThe ESFJ’s home is the center of his or her universe: it is the focus of family life, the place for entertainment, the bastion against the harshness of the outside world, the ultimate womb for all family members. The ESFJ’s home is generally neat and orderly, however much activity takes place there. It isn’t advisable to tell an ESFJ to relax as long as there are unmade beds or messy kitchens. Relaxation for the ESFJ comes both from doing such chores and from knowing that they are done. (As an EJ, they may complain about the mess and about how much work must be done, but they nevertheless are happiest in serving others in this way.) Like all Js, ESFJs schedule their relaxation whether it be reading a book or being with friends.

As a rule, home can be a place of fun, happiness, and affirmation for the ESFJ. These things must take place on schedule, however, and in an “appropriate” manner. Parties, for example, are great, but only when sufficiently planned; “spontaneous fun” is a contradiction in terms. “Appropriateness” extends to dress, decor, and behavior. ESFJs mete out assignments to family members and expect them to be done correctly and in timely fashion. They readily impose behavioral “shoulds” on other family members, and when disappointed in their expectations of others they become either hurt or upset.

In my younger adult days, I always had a difficult time leaving chores undone.  Over the two decades I have spent running my own home with my husband, I have learned to relax on this a bit.  But I still have a hard time, say, walking the dog after dinner before all the dishes are cleared away and the kitchen is spic and span.  I hate to come home to dirty dishes on the counter, whether we have been gone 5 minutes or two weeks.  When we travel, the house has to be neat and everything in its place before we leave.

This phrase is me all over:  “Parties, for example, are great, but only when sufficiently planned” — and “spontaneous fun is a contradiction in terms” could be tattooed on my forehead.

If Dad thought this way too, then when he came home from a long work week to find the home in disarray, it is not hard to imagine that he would find this a betrayal of how things were supposed to be.

Parenting

This need for appropriateness also drives ESFJs’ parenting style. The child of an ESFJ parent probably feels loved and generally satisfied, albeit somewhat restricted by the “shoulds” and “oughts”, coupled with the constant need to put work (homework, housework, etc.) before play. ESFJs are generally very patient with children, although even patience can be subject to other demands and responsibilities. An ESFJ parent is likely to be looked upon as being somewhat strict, but still very loving and caring.

My older siblings have complained about how they never could have any fun on the weekends, when Dad was home, and of course this got blamed on Dad’s presence and his insistence on doing chores first before fun — chores that apparently didn’t get done while he was gone all week.  What gets left out is that if Mom had disciplined herself, and them, to do the chores during the week, there would have been opportunity to have fun on the weekend.

Relationships

The same, in fact, may be said of ESFJs in relationships. They are very loyal, almost to a fault, often sacrificing their own needs in favor of the mates’. This, combined with with their drive for harmony, often puts their personal welfare low on the list of priorities and can result in their feeling more like hired help than lovers or mates. The paradox is that while it is difficult for them to acknowledge their own needs, they may resent those who take them for granted.

Growing up

ESFJ children bring the same graciousness, caring, and punctuality to their young lives. They tend to be neat and easy to be around. At school, ESFJs like teachers who stick to a lesson plan and generally “follow the rules”. They respond well in such situations with good work habits and punctually completed assignments. In one study, ESFJs were rated by teachers and school psychologists as the ideal type to have in the classroom. Many of the qualities desired by teachers come naturally to ESFJs: they are helpful, cooperative, and eager to please.

They are like that at home too. But difficulties may arise with ESFJs, as with all Js, if some of the demands placed on them conflict with strong inner needs. Bedtime, for example, can be difficult for the gregarious Extraverted child, whose social needs may conflict with the night’s hour and parents’ demands. Still, ESFJ children think “parents should be parents” and appreciate rules and regulations imposed by those in authority. Like their SJ adult counterparts, they may protest such authority, at the same time respecting and expecting it. Role clarity is important.

Hell, I still have a hard time going to bed at a decent hour.

Careers

ESFJs’ careers often lean toward those that serve humanity: nursing, public school teaching, clergy, and psychology. Sales and other public service-oriented jobs also have particular appeal. More impersonal tasks (related to computers, for example, or bookkeeping) and jobs that demand theory and speculation (such as college teaching, consulting, and especially investment brokering) can be particularly stressful to an ESFJ.

I have thought for a long time that I should have gone into psychology.  I am only partly joking when I quip that what I do now — teaching knitting — is about 1/3 therapy.

Late in life

In their later years, ESFJs may mellow somewhat, but they still are guided by the same values that shaped their earlier years. After a life devoted to meeting the needs of those around them, they may turn their attention to more abstract, universal concerns. Even in retirement, however, they tend to be driven by “shoulds” (and, perhaps, a few “shouldn’ts”), though the “shoulds” may be of a more leisurely kind, with perhaps less emphasis on service ideals — for example, learning a language, tending to neglected hobbies, or meeting some self-directed needs. In general, home, children, and grandchildren play central roles; they prefer to have family nearby and accessible, and may also enjoy the occasional unexpected visitor. For them, the ultimate symbol of security may be the continually replenished woodpile for the fireplace around which the family gathers.

Custody Battle?

Once upon a time, I spent a fortune for some clerk at the county courthouse to photocopy everything they had from my parents’ divorce and mail it to me.

At 50 cents a page. The stack is over an inch high. The worthwhile stuff is about a dozen pages out of all that. But it was worth it.

I believe I am the only kid in the family who has actually read these documents.  Everyone else “knows” what happened and has their own story all neatly packaged.  I chose to go after physical evidence.

There were three lawyers involved:  my parents each had one of course, and then they had a third one to represent us minor kids.  He interviewed us and we each were supposed to choose which parent we wanted to go live with.  Family lore says the older brother picked Dad, the younger brother picked Mom, and I picked Dad.

Thus I was the tiebreaker.  The unassailable hierarchy of age that exists in my FOO always puts me last.  And of course if you are looking for a place to put the blame, and already have a habit of doing so on a certain young child, whose fault it was that Mom got sick in the first place, whose birth was the “beginning” of all the bad things that happened later on — well, obviously it becomes my fault that Mom lost the kids.

In reality, it appears that younger brother couldn’t actually bring himself to make that choice.  NONE of us actually picked Mom.  What does that tell you?

My older siblings insist that there must be some nefarious reason that Mom lost the kids.  One believes that her lawyer was bribed to “throw the case”.   Another conspiracy theory is that Dad was so valuable to his employer — a family of some repute in that town — that one of them must have “had a word with the judge” to ensure that Dad didn’t lose custody and then simply leave town.

One of them quotes Mom’s lawyer as saying that “she wasn’t going out to the bar and leaving the kids in the car — THAT’S neglect.”  They believe that is what she’d have had to be doing in order to lose custody of her children.

“HER” children.

To me, this viewpoint has in it the very seeds of narcissism:  that “her” kids are something that she “owns” or has some kind of sovereign right to, and that she’d have to behave very badly indeed to have them taken out of her custody.  The idea that Dad has some similar right to his own children just isn’t even in there.

Fortunately for me, anyway, the lawyers and the judge were looking at it from the viewpoint of, “Which parent is best able to care for these children?”  I think the legally filed statements speak for themselves.

Respondent prefers to minimize her responsibilities in the rearing of the three minor children involved

The interview was devoid of any expressed desire to have custody beyond visitation rights

I find it particularly telling that Mom apparently found it more important to badmouth Dad, than to express any wish for custody.  Again, it is as if she assumes the children are hers by right — something she already “owns”.

The interviews with us:

Hockenbury_Interviews_1_comp Hockenbury_Interviews_2_comp Hockenbury_Interviews_3_comp

 

The interviews with our parents:

 

Hockenbury_Visit_1_comp Hockenbury_Visit_2_comp

 

 

Wake Up Call

I have wondered many times whether my parents would have stayed married if my mom had had a resource like Flylady to help her get her shit together.

Now I wonder what my mom would have made of this essay by Flylady!  LOL. No one in our family has ever dared tell it like this.  Holy shit, Mom can’t possibly be responsible for any of the problem!

I have used the phrase that, “my mother liked to be taken care of, rather than taking care of anyone else.”  Flylady uses the rather more straightforward and less delicate word, “coddling”.

My mother also was not good at solving her own problems.  Her idea of doing something about a problem was to pray about it.  It worked about as well as you might think it would.

At first when I came across this essay I found it sort of funny.  Now after a second or third reading, I am finding it rather sad.

————————————————————————————-

“Anger has a way of eating at you and it really only scratches the surface toward the person you are angry with. If the truth be told and we never like to hear the truth; you are really angry with yourself and just trying to put the blame on your spouse or children. Now don’t email complaining that I have no clue how much they can mess up; because I have seen others deal with this problem and find success at setting the example for them and before you know it; they are picking up after themselves.

“So what is your problem? YOU ARE STILL PLAYING THE MARTYR ROLE! And no one loves a martyr! Even you!  I am not about to hold your hand and say there there! It will be OK, because it is not! unless you get off your Franny and do something to get rid of your martyrdom and anger toward your family!

“Yes I am tough! I have never pretended to be anything else! But I am this way because you need an attitude adjustment! Your anger is pushing your family further and further away from you and if you don’t stop this behavior you are going to be a bitter old person with no one! And do you want to know something else! YOUR HOME WILL STILL BE MESSY! All because you never learned the most important lesson I am trying to teach you!

“You should bless your home for you! Not for your kids, husband or wife! But YOU! You deserve to live in a home that is comfortable and inviting! NO WHINING HERE EITHER!

“You married your husband or wife because you loved him/her! You did not have your babies to be slaves in your home! Hold your horses here! NO WHINING ALLOWED! Finish reading this before you blast off an email! It is your responsibility to teach your children respect and love; if they see none of this from you, how are they ever going to learn it!

“Just look at the example you have been setting for them; whiny, anger, ugly hurtful words. No wonder no one wants to be around you! You have become an ogre. Your family is walking on eggshells around you and they run to keep from making you mad! Is this any way to live and treat your family! Do you want to know why you are doing this?

“It is all because you don’t love yourself enough to stop! YOU are constantly blaming others and not taking responsibilities for your own actions! If you will look around the room you will see your stuff every where too! I can hear the words coming out of your mouth now, “but I am going to get back to that in a bit!” So how long has it been there anyway! 6 months! A year! When we don’t pick up after ourselves we tell the rest of the family that it is OK to leave things lying around! Mom doesn’t mind she does it all the time. You may not say the words, but they are coming through loud and clear! It is only when you set the example and quit trying to preach what you are not practicing that your family will begin to take notice and start helping!

<snip>

I have tried every way in the world to get this across to you! Holding your hand just doesn’t do it! Because you will continue to refocus the blame! It is up to you! I didn’t make the rules either! As women we may not like it, but guess what we wouldn’t want it any other way either! So accept your responsibility for setting the tone in your home and just quit whining about it! NO SULKING or POUTING either! That is whining without spoken words.

“In the south we say, “If momma ain’t happy; ain’t nobody happy!” and I am going to add something new to this phrase! I am the only one that can truly make ME Happy! When you realize this you will be FLYing!

“Bless your home for you! Quit blaming others and set the example in love you will see a remarkable change in your attitude and the attitudes of everyone in your home!

“I love you all, but I won’t coddle you!”

 

Mr. Clean Married Mrs. Messy

Years ago, I came across an essay, probably on Flylady, about how SAHMs need to change their thinking about doing their jobs.  The basic idea was, being a SAHM IS YOUR JOB, and when he goes off to work all day and earn the money, your job is to take care of the kids and the home.  When he comes home and sees dirty dishes and a mess everywhere, he feels like you aren’t keeping up your part of the deal.  Biblical principles were invoked.

When I read that essay a light bulb went on in my head and I realized this is probably how my parents’ marriage started to fall apart.  I believe their two big issues were over cleaning and sex, and if you spend any time googling and reading mommy blogs, you’ll quickly find that these are two of the big issues for a LOT of marriages.

Now, I’m not a SAHM.   I get that the job is a tough one — as many jobs are.  And to me personally, the above biblical-based wifey thing sounds pretty old-fashioned.  But apparently there are a lot of people who still think this way even today — there are plenty of articles and sermons out there, written well after the 1950’s, that take an extremely dim view of the woman who does not keep her side of the bargain.

For example, this one, based entirely on Proverbs, calls it “lazy”.

My parents were married in 1948, and my mom was nothing if not traditional and religious.  So, it is a pretty reasonable assumption to think that these were the expectations on both sides.

The social contract of the 1950’s + traditional religious views = a woman’s job is to raise the kids and keep the home.

What makes absolutely no sense to me at all is that that whole biblical view of how a wife should be OUGHT to have been my uber-religious mother’s guideline.  And I say “ought” meaning that being religious was her choice — so if she was going to be consistent, she should have stuck with the whole program, right?  You don’t get to pick and choose which bits you follow and which bits you don’t!

For another example:

Here’s the thing, though: when you married, you promised that you would now be “one flesh”. That doesn’t mean that you cease to exist, but it does mean that what he wants needs to be important to you now, too. And we are called to consider others interests ahead of our own (Philippians 2:4). We are even called to submit.

So if your husband isn’t happy with the home, that should matter to you, because HE should matter to you.

I agree with that last concept, although I have to say I don’t need a 2,000YO book to tell me that.  That’s just what love is.  My father’s definition, which has always served me well:

Love is caring more about the other person than you care about yourself.

But, as far as I have ever known, my mom never lived up to her job.  She was a lousy housekeeper and a terrible cook.  As long as I ever knew her, she lived among piles of newspapers and stacks of magazines.  A fair share of the time I spent at her apartment throughout junior high and high school was spent doing her dishes, cleaning her bathroom, or clearing off her kitchen table “so we could have a cup of tea”.  I vacuumed, I tidied.  I dusted, I stacked books neatly.  I cleaned out the moldy food from her fridge, and took out her garbage.  She was a master at getting other people to do housework for her, and for sure that included my sister, who I once compared to an unpaid au pair.

Mom once told me a story about my oldest brother, that when he was an astonishing 2 or 3, he made his own bed, and was very proud to show her that he could do so.  Mom said, “So from then on, it became his job.”  She seemed rather pleased with herself when she said it.  She did not see the incongruity of dumping her responsibilities on a 3YO.  One of her lifelong excuses was that she had 6 kids, so she didn’t have time for housework.  Well, at that stage she only had 2 kids, so I fail to see what the time crunch was, that she couldn’t make her kids’ beds.  I could see LETTING him make his bed when he wanted to “show off” to her, but making it his job from that day forward?  Just not right.

My dad came from a home that was neat and clean whenever I saw it (granted, at that time there were no little kids in it), and from that home he went into the Coast Guard.  There is a reason for the term “ship shape”.  You just don’t have a messy ship, especially in the service.  I had a friend in high school tell me once, “Your home looks like no one lives in it.”  I admit, I have inherited or learned the “neat freak” side of my dad.  I like a neat home, and a messy one makes me uncomfortable, to the point where I would rather clean it up than spend any time “relaxing” in it while it is messy.

Come to think of it, this trait is probably what my mom used, consciously or unconsciously, to get me to do her housework.  She knew on some level that if the place was a mess when I came over, I’d be compelled to clean it for my own comfort.  Wow.  Now there’s a loving, thoughtful manipulative mother for you.  A mother who actually cared about her child more than about herself would realize this, and instead of letting it happen time after time, year after year, she would do something about it.  She would decide that it was more important to do some cleaning up beforehand, so that her child wouldn’t end up doing it, and they would be able to sit down to that cup of tea right away and spend some time together, instead of it being too late for the tea by the time I got the dishes done and the table cleared.  But hey, it was no skin off her nose to wait and see if I would do it.

At one point she was capable of this kind of empathetic, maternal thinking and action.  She once told me a story about a vase that I had never seen before — my best guess is that this happened when I was unpacking her stuff at the assisted living place.  She told me that there were once a pair of these vases, and she really, really loved them.  One day my sister broke one.  Of course my mother was upset.  And of course that upset my sister.  My mom said she saw what that did to my sister, and she told me, “So I decided that I wouldn’t let things be that important to me any more.”  In other words, she made a choice to care more about my sister than about herself.  Something obviously changed by the time I knew her.

I have looked for that original Flylady “light bulb” essay several times since then, but have never found it.  Instead, I found this reader question on another blog which expresses some of the same ideas.

I have a really hard time cleaning, I hate it and my definition of clean is more like tidy. Even that, though, is a stretch for me. When I was living at home I used to fight so hard with my dad because my room was always a disaster and many times it trailed out with me. Even at work, I am messy as I go about my business but I clean everything up at the end of the day.

Once my husband and I were married, I would pick up after both of us. I was constantly picking up his dishes and socks. So many socks. Doing our laundry, cooking our dinners… Everything that I figured would make him think I could be a good house wife.  But that’s not me. So when my husband would travel on business, I began living in my house the way I normally would. It never really got to the point that I thought was terrible but when my husband would come home on the weekends I would make a mad dash on Friday to clean the house because I knew he would freak out. With my limited time however, it never really got “his clean”.

Now we are having it out because he is home and gets to see that my daily routine doesn’t really include cleaning. He’s really upset by this and wants me to clean more, but I don’t feel like that’s me. And we can’t seem to come to a compromise. I think it’s my house, too, and I need to be allowed to set some of the standards. What should we do to get past our conflict over housework?

What’s especially pertinent about this woman’s situation is that for most of their marriage, my dad traveled for business a lot.  While I don’t know for sure — because none of my siblings will discuss it rationally — my sister has gone so far as to say, “I wouldn’t call it [the way we lived] ‘haphazard’, but…”

You have to understand that even this faint criticism of my mother is extremely unusual for my sister — so coming from her, it probably translates as “it was pure chaos.”

My dad would leave on Monday, and it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out how the end of the week probably went.  Between her aversion to housework and her habit of blaming, I can easily picture my mother saying something to the kids like,

“Well, now we have to do all this work to clean up because your father’s coming home.

Not, “because I don’t want to do it myself” or even “because we all live here and we all need to pitch in and make it nice for everyone”.

Because your father’s coming home.

I know for a fact that she would keep track of all the punishments the boys earned during the week, and make my father administer them when he came home on Friday.  So many swats with the belt for this, so many swats for that.  I personally saw this happen with my two younger brothers, so I am fairly certain it happened with the older ones as well.

Is it any wonder that my oldest brother stated frankly,

“We hated to see him come home on Friday, and we were relieved to see him go on Monday.”

He says this in a recorded conversation, as though this is the most normal thing in the world.  It is clear they have no idea just how utterly fucked-up that sounds.  They hated to see their father come home at the end of the week — but they never asked themselves why, never asked themselves where that idea came from, who put it into their heads.

It’s called “parental alienation” and it usually happens AFTER a divorce, not before:

Children instinctively love both parents and identify with both as part of themselves. They feel immense stress when that love is threatened. Therefore, when a child is told that one of their parents is bad, they feel as though they themselves are bad. This arouses in them feelings of shame, uncertainty, fear and guilt.

It is critical to a child’s sense of security and self-esteem that they be allowed to love both of their biological parents. This doesn’t mean you have to condone bad behavior. It does mean though that you have to allow the child to love who they love and feel what they feel without shame or punishment or control or manipulation.

 It’s also common for people with Personality Disorders to launch distortion campaigns about the other parent and involve the children either directly or indirectly. This is toxic and highly destructive.

It is a stunning testament to the effectiveness of subtle blame-mongering over a lifetime that my nominally-genius-level sister can write to me,

“If you had a bad relationship with Mom, please think about the fact that Dad certainly colored your opinion — and as a 6-,7-, or 8- year old, you would not have even been aware of it”.

Yet she seems completely unaware that the reverse was also true — and to a far, far greater extent.