Interview with Penny: “I remember verbatim every time my dad said he was sorry.”

This interview reflects my hunch that the best thing we can give our kids is our acknowledgement of our failures.  I hope I say “I’m sorry,” to my children enough.  

Whats’ your age?


Are both of your parents living? 


What’s their marital status?  

They are married.

How many siblings do you have?

Two, a brother and a sister.

How often do you see your parents? 

They’ve moved a lot in the past ten years. Right now, twice a year.

What are some of the ways you spend time together?

Dad and I typically talk intensively.  He’s a thinker, a professor.  We share books. He was my speech and debate coach in high school.

Mom’s crafty.  We might share patterns, music interests.  We’re both moms, so we share mothering experiences.  My kids are her only grandchildren.  And cooking—we both love to cook.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you enjoy your father’s company?

It’s changed over time.  He’s changed after some extra education.  Right now it’s about a three, when in the past it was an eight or nine.  He’s changed theologically and politically and is very different from me now, so there are just things that we can’t discuss anymore.  And that’s kind of the only thing you do with your dad. He now sees me as his stay-at-home brainwashed daughter.  Also, my mom is very domineering and he’s always wanted our respect.  This higher education now is his way to do that.  He doesn’t understand respect outside of agreement.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you enjoy your mother’s company?

That’s complicated.  Maybe a five, and that’s hopeful.  I think our relationship is getting better, and I think it’s because of me.  As a mom, I’m getting a more compassionate view of her.  After you become a mom, it’s easy to see how ugly you can be without sleep, etc.  She’s always been closer to my sister, and I’ve always known that.  I’m not combative though, so I bottle it up and I don’t confront her.

Does spending time with them together affect the dynamic of the visit?

Yes, because they fight.  I think it’s usually better with them separately.  It changes things.  It could be better, could be worse.  They don’t have the best relationship; they love each other but don’t relate to each other in a way that’s consistent with their beliefs.

What are some of the positive aspects of your relationship with them?

For the most part, we are an open family and we don’t play a lot of games.  No social games.  Things could get ugly, but they got dealt with.  My mom tells you what she thinks.  Dad can have diarrhea of the mouth.  We also have autism-spectrum issues, but the good part is there is no worry about what other people are thinking.  They are comfortable.  They are the only people I can really let my hair down around, outside of my husband and kids.

What about the negative?

I’m the oldest, and parents put more pressure on the oldest.  I do the same thing with my kids.  In our family, I played the role of the one who had it all together.  More was expected of me.  I was responsible for babysitting after school even at eight since we had hard financial times.  I became the homestead and now they all center around my family.  I have to remember that I’m not in charge and it makes for weird family dynamics.  It’s nothing for me to have a brand-new baby and do all the work for Thanksgiving.  My mother would like to be in that phase, but hasn’t for a variety of reasons.  I would imagine that’s strange for them.

Being transparent gets hard.  If I need something, it’s not instinct for them to step in.  There’s no understanding of hints, so I need to be direct with them.  I think my mother struggles with depression.

Honestly, which weighs more?

The positive.  I think it’s grace and forgiveness.  All parties involved want to love each other and want to be doing a good job.  We’re all struggling with our own issues, but in the past couple of years I think things have gotten much better.  Even with my dad, he needs my respect.  Loving and respecting him could produce change, but if it doesn’t, then it’s not my responsibility.

If the relationship is positive, what are one or two of the most important aspects of their parenting that contributed to a healthy relationship?

Their transparency of their own failures.  I remember verbatim every time my dad has said he’s sorry to me.  It’s not a lot, but that means more to me than anything else he could ever do.  Seeing my mom trying to build bridges between the two of us.  It makes me more hopeful about change.

What do you wish they had done differently?

Growing up, less now than then, they were isolated and we were, too.  They were embarrassed about the state of their house and marriage. They didn’t want to open up to people, but they needed other parents to come along side of them.  My mom needed other women, but she was intimidated.

What do you most appreciate about their parenting? 

They were thoughtful.  They did things because they thought it was the best thing to do.  There was a parenting book my dad read that was awful, but he was very consistent.  They were sincere.  If they felt that something was the right thing to do, they genuinely tried to do it.  They loved us.  Even if it was the wrong thing to do, we knew the motivation.

How well do you relate to your siblings? 

Pretty well now.  Things are comfortable.  My sister and I have had a historically tense relationship.  She struggled with ADD and had difficulty in her relationships.  She has hard feelings toward me.  Even though my mom relates to her better, I was her right hand lady.  My brother was really young as was everything the youngest is.  We get along now pretty well, but he’s very different from me in regard to beliefs. But we navigate that better now.

Do they share your same reflections about your parents?

Similar, but not the same.  We are all either on the outs or ins with my parents, and right now he’s on the ins and my sister is on the outs.

Can you share an example of a defining moment with your parents?

When we moved to Florida, it was tense.  We were living in a townhouse with an iron spiral staircase that went up to my sister’s and my room.  She said something really taunting to me while we were on the stairs, and I pushed her down the stairs.  She was hurt, but not broken.  I was nine, and my dad came and spanked me.  He spanked me in anger.  He still brings that incident up and talks about me like I was horrible.  We had just moved across the country and were under a lot of emotional stress and my sister was very difficult at the time.  This taught me that I was not allowed to be a kid.  I was held to a higher standard than my siblings.  It was a hard year and everyone was stressed, but I wasn’t allowed to make mistakes.

Has anything happened in recent history to change your relationship?

Just being a parent myself has helped me see how difficult parenting is and no one does it perfectly.  It helps me to be more gracious.  AND they’ve apologized for a lot of things.  That helps.

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