Random Musings: The bad daughter

“When your mother asks, “Do you want a piece of advice?” it’s a mere formality. It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway.” (Erma Bombeck)

The UK is currently basking in a mini heatwave. It is glorious. All around me women are casting aside their winter boots and snuggly jumpers in favour of linens, colour and shades. I have cast aside my cardigan. Being overweight I do not have the luxury of selecting from the new spring ranges as they are rarely made to sit well on someone of my bulk. Frustrating though this may be I dare not complain. After all, I only have myself to blame for my excess weight.

Next week I will be flying to Belfast to visit my parents. I am not looking forward to it. My mother has been unwell and I have not been across the water since the summer of 2012. I know that a visit is long overdue but I have been putting it off, mainly because of my weight.

The last time I visited I was a UK size 12. Now I am a UK size 16. It took me nine months of severe food limitation and strenuous, daily exercise to get to the size I was then. When my mother saw me she was so happy, delighted that I had become the shape that she thinks a woman should be. She congratulated me on my weight loss with more enthusiasm than she had offered when I graduated from university or gave birth to my babies. She reflected on how pleased my husband must be to have a slim wife. My husband knows me better than to comment on my weight. I am what is inside.

That is not to say that I did not enjoy being slim. It was a revelation to be able to go into clothes shops and easily buy almost any outfit. I had so much more energy, understandable as I no longer had to carry around a 30lb sack of fat wherever I went. The problem was that I could not maintain that weight. As soon as I started to eat more normally or neglected to spend two hours a day at the gym the weight crept back on, slowly but incessantly.

Yes, I now eat too much of the wrong sorts of food but in the early stages of my weight gain I was simply eating what was recommended rather than subsisting on one small meal a day. With a little self discipline I could be less fat but it takes a huge amount of effort to be slim. It takes over my life.

I feel sad that I avoid my mother. I know that she loves me but looks have always been important to her, much more so than they have ever been to me. She wants only what is best for me but as a means to this tries to mould me in her image. I resist as I have always done. She believes that I am being difficult, feels hurt that I will not agree with her point of view. It is easier to stay away.

The easy option is not always the right one. My mother is elderly and has many health problems. It is right that I, as her daughter, make the effort to visit. She is, however, also a worrier. I wonder if seeing me as I am now will trigger ongoing concerns that negate any good that my visit may do. I wonder if her well meaning comments, the inevitable but unasked for advice, will trigger my own anxiety.

In the middle of all this is my sister who, as the only sibling now living nearby, shoulders the burden of care for our parents. She is good to them in a way that I could never be. I am not a good daughter but this does not make me a bad person, just not the person that the family I grew up with wants me to be.

Families are tricky because we care so much; the hurt we can inflict cuts deeper. If I could easily lose the weight for my mother then I would do so. Perhaps this is why I have stayed away for so long. Perhaps I wished to give her that gift and have been avoiding facing up to her reaction to my failure.

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The bad mother

Perfection Pending

This post is part of a parenting Blog Hop over at Perfection Pending

I felt like the world’s worst mom on Friday, and I suspect that my youngest son may concur with this opinion of my mothering skills. I would ask him except he is fast asleep, snuggled up in bed with his favourite teddy bear, on a Monday morning in term time. Even teenagers taller than their mothers benefit from a favourite teddy bear when they are ill.

On good weather days my son will sometimes cycle to school. As he is one of those computer game playing, stay holed up in his room type teenagers, we actively encourage this rare exercise. On Friday he set off in the morning with a friend, the second time in the week that they had cycled in to school together.

Being early in the year my son has had a full winter to lose whatever semblance of fitness he managed to acquire last year. As we live on a hill he finds the final mile home tough. After a busy day at school he just wants to get back to his computer, and the prospect of traversing that steep hill is off putting.

The routine has been the same in previous years. When his fitness levels are low he will sometimes phone to ask me to rescue him; to drive down to the cycle path, load him and his bike into the car, and bring them back the easy way. As I am not easily persuadable, especially when I know that he will benefit from the exercise, he will claim that he feels ill.

This has worked on a fair few occasions. However, when he started to get ill from just cycling three miles along fairly flat terrain, and recovery took about fifteen minutes from entering the house, I grew wise to his cunning. When he called for assistance I refused to collect him, an act that caused a great deal of complaint but no lasting damage. As his fitness improved so the calls for help diminished along with his journey times.

I guess we all know Aesop’s fable, ‘The boy who cried wolf’. Last Friday he texted to say that he was ill and I told him to cycle home. He told me that he had a headache and couldn’t cycle so I told him to walk. In my mind I was being harsh but fair, tough love. Except this time he really was ill. He tried to get home and couldn’t do it, so he phoned a friend. Friend’s mother rescued him, a kind and generous act that I humbly thanked her for the next day. The guilt I felt cannot be expressed.

As soon as he got home son went straight to bed and slept through until the late morning, a straight seventeen hours of sleep; it was obvious that I had messed up. He has had a fitful weekend, barely eating, with long periods of rest. Every time I see his pale face and dark ringed eyes I inwardly berate myself for not taking notice when he called me. What sort of a mother am I that I will not believe my own son?

My other two children are more circumspect. They remind me that their brother is one of those people who cannot seem to cope with illness. Whereas they will generally be stoic, he fusses and complains over the slightest ache or pain. It has always been hard to know when he really does have anything wrong with him; there is the regular suspicion that he simply wants to avoid the training session or have the day off school. He certainly claims illness more than anyone else in the family, yet is clearly not an unhealthy child.

I feel guilty for not believing him and guilty that a lovely neighbour had to rescue my son. I know that neither of these things are major issues, but mother guilt is so hard to cope with. I messed up and my son suffered.

Have you ever made a decision about your kids that proved wrong? Finding the correct balance between offering support and teaching personal responsibility can be a challenge.

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A small postscript to this sorry tale. Lest any of you fear that my son may be spending his recovery time playing on line games, worry not. For no reason that we can fathom, the hard drive on his computer died on Saturday afternoon. It will take at least three weeks for a replacement machine to be delivered; he is not a happy boy.

Guilt

I am feeling guilty. This is what I associate Christmas with now, guilt and obligation. How bah humbug is that? I am a miserable person, a miserable excuse for a person. And I feel guilty about that too.

This year I made a concious decision not to send many cards. It used to be that I would send out quite a few dozen, many containing my carefully crafted annual update full of news and family photos. I knew that round robins got a bad press so I tried hard to make mine an honest letter to my friends, to people who I thought would be interested in how we were doing. And then I was asked by one of the recipients to please not send her the update. I felt crushed.

Why did such a simple request hit me so hard? Naturally I acquiesced to her request, but sending a card that said nothing more than To- and From- felt impersonal, sterile, unnecessary. So this year I haven’t. This year I have sent only a few cards, plus even fewer brief notes pointing people to my on line life. This is where I hang out now. If anyone is interested in how I am doing then they are more than welcome to meet me here.

Except not everyone has a computer, not everyone is comfortable interacting on line.

I got a card this week from an elderly uncle who has, in the past, been a recipient of my annual update. His card said more than just To- and From-. He also told me how much he enjoyed reading my update each year. This year I do not have one to send and I do not know if he ever goes on line. He will hear from me, but may be disappointed at the shortness of my message.

I feel guilty that I have allowed the comments of one person to knock me down. Others will miss out on something they enjoyed receiving because I could not grow a thicker skin. How can I ever expect to be a writer if I cannot cope with negative feedback?

Next year I will produce a round robin, even if only for the two or three people who have specifically told me that they enjoy receiving it. I will not feel obliged to send cards to those whose only contact with me is a To- and From- with no news. I will not feel obliged to send cards to those who follow me on line and who require no update as they have access to my news in real time. I will endeavour to keep in touch with those who eschew social networks but who make the effort to talk to me in other ways.

I am not happy with how my card writing has gone this year, neither am I happy with my present buying. Yesterday I wrapped all the gifts that I have been amassing over the month. My elder son did not give me a list and I have neglected to hunt out the little puzzles and oddities that normally fill his stocking. I have placed a few last minute orders on line, but his space on the floor on Christmas morning will look bereft if these are not delivered before the big day. There will be nothing to keep him occupied as the others tear into their parcels, ordered early with the help of lists.

I have learned useful lessons this year. I have learned that I should be concentrating my efforts on those who offer me support throughout the year rather than those whose relationship to me makes me feel an obligation towards them. I must also try harder to shrug off mental setbacks, although that is easier said than done.

I still have time to write a few cards, to contact those who enrich my life. There is still time to set aside my guilt and allow myself to try for a merry Christmas. I can only hope that those who seek to bring me down have more pressing matters to divert them. I really must try to grow that thicker skin.

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Guilt

I feel the pressure of so much guilt weighing me down. I am unsure if there has ever been a time when I have been able to live my life without feeling guilty. I wonder if this guilt is a result of the successful imposition of other’s will upon my psyche, or if it is an alarm system that I have developed to ensure that I function as an acceptable citizen in the community in which I am required to exist. I suspect it is more the former, but fear there may be a little of both at play. I sometimes wonder if I would find more contentment with a hermit’s lifestyle. The guilt I feel can, at times, overwhelm me.

It is my own response to other’s perceived expectations that can floor me; I so desperately want to please those I care for. Some days I will pour the time and effort required into being the good wife, mother, daughter, friend; but it is never sustainable at the levels demanded. I cannot be the person that other’s appear to want me to be.

Growing up I was taught how I was expected to behave. I should eat my food and be grateful because there were hungry children around the world. I should follow the rules set out in the bible and preached at church because God and my neighbours were watching me all the time. Bad people went to hell to burn and suffer for eternity; they also embarrassed their families. In my head each was as bad as the other. I should be kind to my parents, obey them and make them proud, because they had done so much for me in so many ways. I picked up a subliminal subtext here, that they could have led a better life if I hadn’t been me. I knew that I was loved, but could never quite live up to that which was expected of me.

Sometimes the demands were clear and vociferous, more often they were passed on through the anger or sadness that my wicked actions created. As a child I was desperate to please and impress. It felt impossible.

My mother would voice her admiration of other children and I would hate them with a fierce jealousy. I would offer up my own tokens of achievement that rarely generated more than a ripple of praise. Whatever reaction I expected, it never felt enough. My accomplishments, looks and behaviour fell short; the disappointments I generated in those I cared for washed over me in huge waves of resentment and guilt.

How does a child live with such negative emotion? I rebelled. When I realised that I did not want to be the girl that my mother was bringing me up to be I changed direction. I could not leave the guilt behind though. The feeling that I was letting her down, that I was an embarrassment and a disappointment, bubbled on below the surface. She would express fear that other’s she knew would notice my behaviour and that I would bring shame on us all. I did not care what those other’s thought, but I did still care about fostering her good opinion. Not enough though, not enough to change the way I was. The guilt gnawed away at me but I fought it, suppressed it, rejected what it was telling me.

I changed my view of the church. I discovered a loving God who forgave and accepted. I could not believe that he would send me to hell for rejecting a rhetoric that inspired so much hatred. I lived in a country full of hate and violence, perpetrated in the name of the God who threatened pain and suffering. I rejected that deity and found my own; a loving and supportive being who would accept me as I was and then help me to be a kinder and better person. Knowing my bible became less important than knowing how to support a friend in need. No longer would I reject people for their wickedness; I would hold their hands and show love and practical support as Jesus would have done.

My guilt is a construct of the muddle of thoughts that developed in my formative years, but that has been built upon since. It worries me that I have the same desperation to please my husband that I once felt towards my father. Both men are quiet, kind and supportive; neither demonstrate emotion unless sorely displeased. I fear that displeasure.

I skirt around my mother warily, trying to offer her contact that will please whilst holding back that which may not. I do not wish to hear her judgement; I do not want her to worry about me. I am not a good daughter because I do not give her my time. How can I spend time with her when it may allow her to see me as I am and then open up the floodgates of her efforts to mould me into the person she has always wanted me to be? I am not that person; I do not want to be that person. Neither do I want to let her down.

I live with the guilt of my failure to fit the moulds that others place before me. The hardest to climb into is the one that I have created for myself.

Inner Demon