INTERVIEW WITH OLIVIA: “We were in the same house, but we didn’t see a demonstrated relationship.”

It was very interesting to interview another woman whose mother has Borderline Personality Disorder.  I could relate to a lot of it, especially the part about her mother hijacking conversations when she couldn’t relate to them.

What’s your age?


Are both of your parents living?


What’s their marital status?

They’ve been divorced since I was 15.

How many siblings do you have?

Two younger brothers.  We are close in age with less than 4 years total among us.

How often do you see your parents?

Mom, 2 each year. Dad, 4 times.

What are some of the ways you spend time together?

Really, since my daughter was born, they tend to come down for a weekend or we go up there for a big holiday.  We spend time at home cooking, catching up, or things related to my daughter.  My stepfather is the school social worker and he helps to manage my mother who has Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder.  She has variable energy for things.  If she wants to do it, we all have to go, but if shes doesn’t, we’re all stuck at home.  So, the thing in common to do is cook.  We can talk about books, but if it’s not in common, she hijacks it.  There is never a question about me or how I’m doing, but if there is, it’s a gesture to talk about she is doing.

After my parents got divorced and then, my dad came out.  He and his partner have been together for 12 years.  His partner is younger and closer to me in age.  My dad sometimes has the abilty to have an emotional conversation.  His partner can always do that.  My mother, never.

On a scale of one to ten, how much to you enjoy their company?

Mom:  Before my daughter, a 1.  I spent time with her because I thought it was what I was supposed to do to be a good daughter.  The time was spent taking care of her, so I hated it, but it was the obligatory check-in.  Since my daughter, a 4.  My mom is very childlike in her mental illness, so she and my daughter interact in a way that I never did with her.

Dad:  In an almost unhealthy way, we were best friends growing up.  I was his sidekick and he treated me like a little adult.  I’d run with him starting at 5 or 6.  He has a PhD in English literature, and when I started reading early, we’d have all these intellectual discussions.  But the goodness of our relationship was contingent upon my doing what he wanted me to do.  When I was in high school and started making different decisions, things became a bit stressful.  Now, I enjoy him as a 7.

Does spending time with them as a unit effect the dynamic of the visit? 

Nobody really spent time with them as a unit, my brothers nor I.  We were in the same house, but we didn’t see a demonstrated relationship.

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

Mom:  I don’t feel that I have to be as perfect around my mom as my dad.  My mom is really passionate about geneology and family history, so I learn a lot of stories from her that I wouldn’t otherwise.  Helping my mom deal with her issues makes me more empathic to my patients and develop patience.  I practice medicine a little differently because I take time to understand each person as a whole emotionally.

Dad:  It’s hard to say. His love wasn’t completely unconditional.  He would be there for you if you did what he wanted, but if you wanted to choose differently, he wasn’t.  I think he was so personally unhappy and had a tendency to be narcissistic.  But is less now than he used to be.  He has a lot of valuable insight to offer, but it’s still a bit touchy if it’s something you know he doesn’t want to hear.  Very intellectual.

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

Mom’s jealousy.  One time she told our neighbor that my dad was having some kind of relationship with me.

Which is weightier, the positive or negative?

Currently, I still think talking to my mom is a chore that I have to do.  We talk every two weeks.  I do the assessment of her current psychiatric status to see if she needs her meds adjusted before she goes out to spend $50,000.  So, negative.

Dad, positive.  When he comes into town, he’s really focused on my daughter.  We’ll have conversations on the front porch while she naps.  Conversations that I actually get something positive from.

What are some of the aspects that contributed to a healthy relationship as adults? 

He’s able to listen and more able to take me where I am instead of shutting down if it’s not a conversation that he wants to have at that moment.  More supportive.

If negative, what are some of the aspects that contributed to a fractured relationship as adults? 

The unpredictable moods and the constant self-centeredness.  Any time I spend with her, I still feel like I’m five years old and at her mercy.

What do you appreciate most about their parenting?

Mom was so fun.  She’s a teacher, and in the summers she would take off and use her child-like nature to plan a curriculum and summer experience for my brothers and me.  It was crazy, but we didn’t know any better.  I was 10 or 11 when that fun wore off. I noticed other moms in the neighborhood didn’t want to spend time with her, and she had snide remarks about “other women.”  She was really pretty and thin growing up and she learned over time to get a lot of attention from men.  We’d be a the neighborhood pool and she’d be in the skimpiest bikini flirting with men.  She had a few suicide attempts and would set it up so my dad or I would find her.

My dad was really responsible.  Thank goodness he made sure the house was clean, we had meals on the table, and bills were paid.  Our rooms were clean, our homework was done.  I did all the cooking and took care of my brothers.

What do you wish they had done differently?

They both did the best they could, but neither was cut out to be a parent with three small kids in rapid succession.  They had a very dysfunctional relationship themselves.  They both could have gotten some counseling on issues from their upbringing.  Maybe they should have separated earlier in life.

How well do you relate to your siblings?

Pretty well.

Do you think they share your same reflections on your parents?


Can you share a defining moment with your parents?

This is fairly recent.  My mom wanted to host Christmas for everyone.  She is not a very good cook or event planner.  Easily stressed and overwhelmed.  I offered to do all kinds of things I would normally do since I grew up cooking in that house.  She declined.  My grandmother was in town.  My mom reached a point of such anxiousness and was off schedule. My grandmother wound up doing most of the work and while my mother sat down with a glass of wine.  When the meal was served, she hopped up and took credit for it all.  She asked me to make coffee and publicly declared the meal as a failure because she didn’t like the coffee that I made.  She spilled lasagna on the table and blamed it on my grandmother.

My dad has been asking me for years about my marriage and when I announced to him that I was getting divorced, he was worried about being embarrassed for himself.

Has anything happened in recent history with them to change how you felt about them as a child?

Having my daughter.  At first, it was stressful with my mom because she had a vision of what she was going to do—come down and take care of all the cooking and cleaning—she thought she was capable of that.  We had a falling out after 2 weeks.  She knew what she wanted to be, but couldn’t.  It got better when my daughter was a year or so and she could sit and interact with her.

My dad became a lot more supportive when I was pregnant.  Wanted to know how I was feeling wanted to see ultrasound pictures.  He’s always said he looked more forward to grand-parenting than parenting.

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