Resisting the Urge to Explain

We all want our family to understand us. We assume they love us and want to know who we are – our inner selves. But one of the most difficult realities to accept is that we have family members who simply do not care.
Recently, a young man received a gift from his mother. The gift was also from his stepfather and he was urged to offer thanks directly. But the older man could not – or would not – accept the gesture. Instead, he made a “joke” that he surly knew was offensive. After all, he’d been the boy’s stepfather for twelve years.

The young man, sensitive and idealistic, could not let the troublesome remark go. Later he pulled his stepfather aside and explained why the joke was offensive. He expected an apology, having been taught that acknowledging mistakes was necessary for healthy relationships. It should have been a simple thing.

He should have known it was not. He should have known that the older man would not accept any blame for any wrongdoing. That he would explode, scream and yell and reverse things to cast the blame on the boy. The stepson was clearly at fault. Not only for causing his stepfather’s explosion, but for being ungrateful and spoiled. But that was not the end of it. The boy’s mother and aunt blamed him too. Both called him out – accusing him of selfishly disturbing the family gathering. The boy was entirely at fault.

Had the mother known that this was the likely scenario that would play out when she sent her son to her husband? They had been married for twelve years. Surely she knew her husband was volatile? Surely, this was not his first outburst. More importantly, didn’t she know, after twenty years, that her son was sensitive and mild mannered? The answer could only be yes. And yet the mother set her son up – telling him to wake the proverbial sleeping bear – and then blaming him for the bear’s rage.

Why? There are many reasons, but for this article, the short answer is that mom (and aunt) knew that the young man would tolerate the blame and that they would escape the older man’s wrath if they sided with him. But the young man – what did he expect? He expected his family to care – despite all evidence to the contrary.

They’ve told him they love him ~ and love means caring. Our culture, books and movies, even his mother, describe love as being interested and concerned about another. It is only logical for the young man to assume his mother and stepfather, a man she repeatedly claimed to love him, are interested and concerned about his feelings. Accepting the reality that they are not, that they will willingly sacrifice him to preserve their own egos, is a difficult lesson to absorb. And yet, the truth is self-evident. They simply do not care about his feelings. This young man will have to accept that explaining himself to these people who profess to love him, will only cause him pain.

Parents Who Hate Their Children: The Truth No One Wants to Admit

I watched The Graduate with my children the other night. (We are working our way through classic films). It was painfully obvious to me that Mrs. Robinson despised her daughter Elaine.

She seduced the person her daughter had feelings for (in her daughter’s bedroom!) and then denied her daughter that very relationship she stole. Later in the movie we learn that Mrs. Robinson (a woman without a first name and therefore without an individual identity) was forced to leave college and marry after she became pregnant with Elaine. Elaine, now at college, has all the opportunities her mother lost. So mother, in her anger and hatred, took something from her daughter.

This is classic passive aggression. Sadly, I see it often. Parents deny their children things that are reasonable and easy to give, simply because they can. Of course there are seemingly legitimate excuses, but the real motivation is control; and worse, to squash their child’s spirit. One young man I knew wanted his bar mitzvah party at a particular restaurant. It was not expensive and he was confident his dad would agree (his parents were divorced). In fact, I overheard him assure his brother that their dad would not host the party at an ethnic restaurant that the father liked because, the boy said confidently, “Dad knows I don’t like that place.” The party was, of course, at the ethnic restaurant.

Why do parents make choices like this? Mrs. Robinson hated Elaine for what her daughter took from her (the opportunity to finish college) and for the opportunities Elaine had (to graduate college and to marry a man she liked, Ben). Elaine also represented the accumulated years of disappointment that characterized Mrs. Robinson’s married life. Some parents hate their children because they are the embodiment of everything the parent is unhappy about with his or her life. Some parents hate their children for who they are not – the fulfillment of all the dreams that child represented when he or she was just a baby. And some parents hate their children for who they are – more capable, more charismatic, smarter, or simply different.

When pushed by Ben, Mrs. Robinson admitted that she didn’t want Ben to date Elaine because Ben wasn’t good enough for her daughter, and that is partly true. She sullied Ben and if Ben and Elaine were to hook up, his presence in her daughter’s life would be a constant reminder of her own despicable behavior. His presence would further reflect her self-hatred and she wouldn’t be able to stop herself from directing that hatred at Elaine and Ben.

Children can be a parent’s lightening rod – absorbing all the parent’s anger and self-hatred. Whatever love the parent feels for her child is marred by the negativity as well as the guilt associated with such socially-unacceptable feelings. The “I love you” is accompanied by a sharp blade that no one is willing to admit exists and the children, who sense that something isn’t quite right, don’t begin to understand until they break away.
Elaine’s escape on the bus with Ben is only the beginning of her journey to understanding. She will either endure years of analysis (professional or not) to make sense of her relationship with her mother. Or she’ll repeat the same mistake her mother made, and marry Ben for all the wrong reasons.