It was a conversation that I had over a year ago with Claire, 32, that sparked the idea for this blog. We share a belief that one day all things will be made new. Her commitment to bear in love with her parents until that day was an encouragement to me as I work to bear in love with members of my family, as well.
Are both of your parents living?
What’s their marital status?
Married about 36 years.
How many siblings do you have?
Two sisters. I’m the middle.
How often do you see your parents?
About five times a year.
What are some of the ways you spend time together?
It depends on where we are. When they are here, the main thing I do with my dad is household projects, outdoor and around the house kind of stuff. He likes to do things, he likes to constantly be fixing things and working on some project because he gets really bored. The same is true when I visit them–he always has a project we can help him with. He’s very self-directed and doesn’t need anyone to do it with him, but I’m kind of that way, too. I like to be doing things.
What I do with my mom is mostly sit around and talk and drink coffee. She’s more involved with the kids, she’s nurturing, helps me with baths and laundry. She’s more support when she’s here. The thing that we still do, that we’ve always done, is she’ll take me shopping. Her way of showing love was taking us girls out shopping. When she takes me shopping now, she buys me whatever I pick out, not what she wants to buy me. It’s awesome. My mom is sort of my companion in parenting, and that is really nice.
On a scale of one to ten, how much do you enjoy their company?
When my dad is not doing well and is manic, it’s a 1. When he’s balanced, he’s a joy to be around. Not a perfect joy, but I would say an 8 or 9.
Then my mom, when she’s in one of these moods where she’s (not too subtly) trying to drop hints on what I should do, how to relate to my husband or kids, it’s irritating. It puts her at about a 4; I don’t want to talk to her. When she’s being really sweet and gracious, she’s a 9. It’s really restful to be with her. It’s easy when she’s not being negative, but [sometimes] negative stuff comes out of her mouth.
Does spending time with them as a unit affect the dynamic of the visit?
Definitely. I don’t ever spend time alone with my dad, only my mom. She takes off sometimes and comes up here alone. When it’s just her, it’s laid back and nice. She makes statements about how she feels like she’s coming out of crisis mode and relaxing. I don’t want to undervalue her hurting and pain from being married to my dad, but she has a lot of choices and resources, and she hasn’t made good choices about extracting herself from his mania. She always says she’s going to, but she never does. I think she’s really dependent on him.
What are some of the positive aspects of your relationship with them?
I would say the most positive thing is that they really, truly want to seek God and are faithful in their desire to follow Christ. As flawed as they are and as dysfunctional they can be in the way they relate to each other, if you speak truth to them, they accept it and don’t argue. They are willing to humbly submit to the truth of the word.
What are some of the negative aspects of your relationship with them?
What would a redeemed relationship look like with them? Something that’s hard for them is any difficulty that one of their daughters has in her life pertaining to money, spouse, work or health. They worry a lot. That actually becomes a burden on us, how much it weighs them down. For example, when my sister and her husband were more or less homeless and unemployed for a year and a half (but still taken care of) my parents were in crisis the whole time. They let my sister know that, and it added to her burden. My parents would become emotionally volatile, and it would make my sister not want to tell them anything. It would make her question everything, and I would have to talk her down and tell her that she was fine. But, my parents would become obsessively negative. It would take them all the way to the worst scenario.
Which is weightier, the positive or negative?
The negative. They are both people who despite their commitment to their faith, don’t trust that God is in control and let their thoughts run wild. That’s been passed on to me, and I don’t want to pass it on to my children. It leads to depression.
What do you appreciate most about their parenting?
Their loyalty. Their love, generosity and loyalty feels really genuine. It’s not tied to something, not like they expect something. It’s very free.
What do you wish they had done differently?
I wish we were more involved with other people, in more community. We went to church and school, but they didn’t really spend time with friends. I missed out in having relationships with adults other than my parents who could have broadened my life. I wish they had encouraged us to work. That would have given us confidence and skills that would have done a world of good in our college years. I had no clue. I didn’t know what I liked. My whole experience was what I had done in high school. There were no other adults in my life where I could have learned about other occupations. I wish I had worked in high school–it would have done a lot for my self-esteem and confidence. That’s something I really want for my kids.
How well do you relate to your siblings?
Very well with one and fairly well with the other.
Do you think they share your same reflections on your parents?
The one I relate to very well, yes. The other, not exactly. I just think she doesn’t think about it as much. She’s sort of emotional and reactionary to the way they are rather than reflective.
Can you share a defining moment with your parents?
This sums up my mom in particular. I went with my high school choir to Germany. We were falsely accused of harboring a guy in our room one night at the guest house where we were staying. The choir director was absolutely convinced that we did it and that we were lying. She was friends with our parents, our piano teacher. As you can imagine, being in another country and told that we were lying escalated into yelling. I was being very combative. This was a fiasco for our prep school: these three girls caused an uproar in a German hotel and the school sides with the music teacher, of course. Though she cannot prove our guilt, we’re suspended anyway because there has to be some recourse. We had to pay for it. My parents were livid and made special appointments with the headmaster to tell them that they completely believed their daughter, and they didn’t accept the punishment, and that we girls were free to go to the beach and have fun on our suspension. That was the most dramatic story, but it was typical of my mom and dad’s relationship to me. They always took my side. In that case, they were right. I was telling the truth, but there were probably times they should have challenged me more rather than trying to make everything easy and in my favor. It was like, “Our kids can do no wrong.” But, it was an example of their fierce loyalty for me.
Has anything happened in recent history with them to change how you felt about them as a child?
As I’ve aged and matured, I don’t pick fights with them anymore and I avoid topics and arguments that make me annoyed with them. I’m much more inclined to smile, nod, agree and avoid a conflict. Not because I’m trying to avoid something important, but to avoid the things that aren’t important. I’m secure enough and old enough to just let it be.