Category Archives: Interviews

Interview with Paige: “a 45-year healthy relationship”

Here’s one grown adult who rates both parents at ten!  Awareness of their own shortcomings and a devotion to heart-to-heart intimacy with their daughter were vital parts of the equation.  She writes, “I kept thinking about my answers and not trying to imagine my parents reading them because I wanted to be totally honest. And yet, at the end of writing it, I think they’d be happy to read my true thoughts on my relationship with them.”

I want this for my kids.   –Zipporah

What’s your age?  

36

Are both of your parents living?

Yes

What’s their marital status?

They’ve been sweethearts since high school happily married after 40 years.

How many siblings do you have?

Three

How often do you see your parents?

Weekly

What are some of the ways you spend time together?

Dad – Talking, eating, laughing, discussing serious topics, talking about books we’ve read.

Mom – Talking, cooking, doing crafty projects, gardening, discussing homeschooling (since we both homeschooled our kids), talking about our children with special needs since we both have one, laughing until we wet our pants.

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

Dad – 10

Mom – 10

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

Only slightly. They’re both very much themselves whether together or separate. The only thing that crops up is that I sometimes see my mom get a little snarky with my dad. That kind of bugs me.

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

Dad – He’s always interested in the things that interest me. He’s a servant at heart, so he’s always ready to do anything for me.  He makes me feel superbly important, but without giving me a bloated sense of self-worth in the process. He’s hard working, smart, committed, gentle, humble, and funny. He has a solid and indisputable relationship with Jesus and he’s honest to a fault.

Mom – She is very creative in many areas. She finds ways to do things that I wouldn’t think of myself, and I learn a lot from her. She gives much of herself and her time to help others even when there’s no benefit to herself.  She has her priorities established and they seem to be very much in line with standards set in the Bible. She practices what she preaches.

Together, I get to see a relationship that’s functional and healthy and that’s lasted for about 45 years. They’ve been together since they were young teenagers and they still enjoy each other’s company. They’ve set a wonderful example for all of us kids.

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

Since I’ve been an adult, I can’t say there are any negatives. When I was a kid, of course I thought they were too strict and expected too much from me. Now those rules and expectations make perfect sense.

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

When I was a kid, I thought they were too much in my business. They controlled so many areas of my life that I was sometimes resentful. When I was in my late teens and very early 20’s, I made a full turn away from everything they’d taught me, and they cut me out of their lives for a while. It was a terrible period in our history, but I think they came to a place where they realized that they’d rather have a relationship with me on some terms than no relationship at all. After a  year, we were back on speaking terms, and it wasn’t long before things were comfortable between us again. They no longer tried to make decisions for me. They didn’t tell me what I should or shouldn’t do, even when I knew they had an opinion and thought I was making bad choices. If I asked for advice, they would give it, but I don’t feel that they disapproved of me even if they disapproved of my choices.  My mom once told me that she didn’t want her mom telling her how she should treat her husband or raise her kids, so she was going to give me the same respect and not try to tell me what I should do either. I know they pray for me all the time and support me in any way that they’re able, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

It would have been easy for the friction that we faced when I was a young adult to ruin our relationship long term. But one of the things I most admire about them is their ability to see that sometimes the choices they thought were right, weren’t. They’re not afraid to admit that they were wrong and make adjustments. Rather than making me see them as weak, I think this makes me admire them more because we all have to change our paths sometimes. Despite our best intentions, we’re all wrong at times and our pride shouldn’t stop us from turning around.

What do you appreciate most about their parenting?

They stuck to their guns, always. If they said I was grounded for a month, I wasn’t getting out of it even a day early.  They taught me to think for myself, but to look to God for answers to the hard questions.

What do you wish they had done differently?

I wish they’d let me mess up more often when I was a kid. Maybe then I wouldn’t have had to mess up so hugely once I was old enough to make my own choices.

How well do you relate to your siblings?

My brother is one year older than me. he lives in another part of the country and we don’t speak very often, but when we see each other, we get along. My next sister is 11 years younger than me and we are very close. I love her and love getting to hang out with her often, especially now that she’s an adult too. We are able to really talk about the family dynamic and relate to each other in a very healthy and enjoyable way. My last sister is 22 and has mental disabilities. I see and spend time with her often, but we’re not as close. I love all my siblings and look forward to the times that we all get to spend together.

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

For the most part, I think we all share the same basic perspective on our parents.  I think my parents did a better job with my sisters than they did with my brother and me. They had us when they were young and made their mistakes on us, so they were ready to do an even better job on the second set of kids.  Interestingly enough, I remember more about how my parents parented the girls than I do about how they started out with me, so I get to see that as my example when I look back and figure out how I can be the best mom possible.

Can you share a defining moment with your parents?

I remember late one night after a huge fight when I was 17, my mom told me something deeply personal and unflattering about herself. I was shocked. It changed my perception of her and eventually, it made me like her more.  It’s easy to see your parents as perfect examples and it’s good to see the flawed human aspect sometimes.

With my dad, I can’t say there was a specific moment. At some point, since i’ve been an adult, I was trying to figure out what made my dad so likable. I finally figured out that he doesn’t expect me to meet him where he is. He comes to me and shares in whatever matters to me. He does that with everyone he loves, physically and emotionally. He’s willing to sit by your side and talk or listen or laugh or cry or sit silently. Whatever you need right then. And you never have to wonder if you’re a burden because you always feel like he’s happy to be there for you. He thanks you for letting him help when really, you should be the one doing the thanking. But he means it.

One day last summer, I was on a road trip with my parents. We were in the car together for 13 hrs and they got in a little snit with each other about something. There was nowhere to go. They could have both ignored it or fought more. Or waited for some privacy before addressing it, but instead, they sat there and talked through how each of them was feeling. They listened calmly while the other explained their viewpoint and reasoning. They both expressed frustration and a desire to prevent the same thing from happening again. They loved each other with their words through the whole thing. It’s beautiful to see the insider’s scoop on what makes a 40 year old marriage work and thrive.

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

Becoming a mom has certainly made me appreciate them more than ever. Watching them raise my disabled sister and knowing that they’ll probably have to take care of her forever shows me how dedicated they are to their family.  I’ve always loved and appreciated them, but I do even more than ever now. I’m so grateful to have such wonderful parents and to be able to spend a lot of time with them on a regular basis now that I’ve moved close to them again.

Interview with Nick: “The Pathologies of my parents”

I’ve known Nick a long time and am pretty close to his family.  Unconditional acceptance and love, mysterious disapproval, and openness (or lack of it) are big themes here.  –Zipporah

Interviewee’s Age:

39

Are both of your parents living? 

My mother is alive, but my father recently passed away.

Marital Status of Parents: 

Married

Number of Siblings: 

Three

How often did/do you see your parents?

Two to three times each year

What are some of the ways you spent/spend time together?

(Dad:)  As a child–Sailing, playing basketball, playing cards, driving cross-country; as an adult–playing cards, hanging out with my children together, hiking, kayaking, little work projects

(Mom:)  As a child–driving me places, around the dinner table.  As an adult–in the context  of group and family settings.

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

Ten

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

Three

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

Yes.

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

(Dad:)We enjoyed each other a lot.  We could just spend hours comfortable together

(Mom:) I enjoyed her often in the presence of my father.  We share a common faith, my mom is artistic, so I can talk to her about aesthetic things (music, theatre, beauty) that I couldn’t discuss with my father.

What about the negative?

(Dad:)There was an awkwardness about some decisions that he made in life and a feeling that I couldn’t talk to him about that.  He was not as open or accessible in the midst of my mother or professional contacts–in their presence.

(Mom:)Lack of flexibility, grumpy, distant, irritated.  Living in fear and worry of the deeper layers of my mother being revealed, bursts of anger and frustration.  As a child, I felt subservient to her whims, but as an adult, I fear being sucked back into this tension and how it will affect my own family.

Honestly, which weighs more?

(Dad:) The positive.

(Mom:) The negative.

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

(Dad:) He enjoyed me.  I felt unconditionally loved and accepted.

If the relationship is negative, what are one or two of the most important factors that contributed to a fractured relationship?

(Mom:) An inability to please her.

What do you wish they had done differently?

I wish my dad had held my mom accountable for her behavior.  I wish with Mom there were acceptance, transparency, love without conditions, the ability to bring up any topic that I want to with her.

What do you most appreciate about their parenting?

My father taught me to love the outdoors and love work, physical activity.  Mom influenced me artistically. Both had some influence in my faith.

How well do you relate to your siblings?

My brother and I relate on a superficial level.  My first sister is very distant, but the only we are the two family members that could speak about the pathologies of my parents and understand each other because we grew up amidst it.  As for my other sister, from my perspective, I’m on guard against her tendencies to use me.

Do they share your same reflections?  

My brother would share the same reflections on my father and mother.  My first sister would share my feelings about my mother.  My youngest sister only thought my parents as vehicles for her own needs.

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

(Dad:) While hiking in Maine with my children, my dad and I talked about everything, even awkward, difficult topics.  With ease and enjoyment of each other.

(Mom:) The summer I was engaged to my wife and I was in Maine, my parents said it was okay for my friends and I to stay in the family’s vacation cabin for the summer after I graduated college.  I told them I was planning to leave early to join my fiance, but realized that I had made a commitment to my friends.  My parents said it was okay, but then a year afterward, my mother had an attitude of utter anger, contempt and accusation without room for discussion or space to tell my side.  I felt lambasted.  That incident personifies how I feel about my relationship with my mom.  There is always some undercurrent of disapproval.

Interview with Matthew: “the emotional storm”

I can relate to Matthew’s experience, having a parent who so obviously needed psychological help but never sought it out.  To make matters worse, people in our parents’ lives who could have lovingly pointed out the problems just chose to back away.  It takes a lot of courage to confront someone about psychological issues, but so many stand to benefit from it.  In this case, five children could have enjoyed a restored relationship with their father.  –Zipporah

What’s your age?

36

Are both of your parents living?

My father died in 2003; my mother is still living.

Marital Status of Parents: 

Married, never divorced.

Number of Siblings:

Four

How often do you see your parents?

When my father was alive, we lived far apart. So, every 6 to 8 months.  My mother–We see each other two to three times per week.

What are some of the ways you spend time together?

(Father)–A good portion of our relationship was based on disagreement; we saw each other at family events. We’d hang-out, make casual talk.

(Mother)–We see each other at events that I am hosting, talk about things on the phone, do things together–usually something activity-based

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

Three.  He could be fun, but the majority of the relationship was based upon fights. There were two phases of my adulthood–the last three or four years, we got along better, but I was living abroad.  The last 1.5 years were times of consistent, healthy interactions, enjoyable.

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

Seven.  When she’s not being self-righteous or sanctimonious.

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

Yes, very much.  They rarely came alone, but together, they each had their roles.  My dad would be goofy, then intense and throw a fit.  My mom would try to be caring and present, a good mother.  She would often shut down when my dad threw a fit.

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

(Father:)  Periodically, we could have fun, but rarely.  He was always doing something crazy, which made for an interesting dynamic.  I think it’s why I enjoy lots of different types of people, because it forced me to find something interesting rather than being depressed and stuck in an abusive relationship.

(Mother:)  More recently, it’s a lot more open.  There is a fair amount of honesty, which is still relatively new.  We can talk about most things.  This, again, is all very new in the context of our relationship.  I feel like my mom gets me more than my dad did.  He thought I was weird.  He had no basis for understanding my life.  My mom is a bit better of a listener and an understander.

What about the negative?  

(Father:)  It was just a highly complex relationship based upon a tumultuous childhood.  It was a pattern that he knew and passed on to us.  Of the kids, he was very difficult on the oldest and a lot easier on the youngest two.  I’m the fourth.  The second in line was obviously his favorite.

(Mother:)  We have the ongoing morals, ethics and worldview dilemma.  She’s very much a puritan and that becomes challenging.  There are many things that we do the same, but for very different reasons.  We are often trying to align on “letter of the law” and “spirit of the law.”  She lets people take advantage of her, too, and it makes me crazy.  Part of that is because I’ve helped her a lot and it’s frustrating.

Honestly, which weighs more–the positive or the negative?  

(Father:) negative

(Mother:) Overall, my mom is positive.  I feel like, with my mom, growing up, it was like, “Mom is good, dad is bad!”  In my 20s, I had a backlash of thought and a bit of resentment; I felt like she had done so much bad.  Now, I feel like I see a broader picture that includes the good and the bad.  I think part of that–which is key–is our (my siblings’ and my) ability to relate to them.  We tend to look at them as “they did this and that”, but with emotional maturity as an adult, the way I relate to them is more based upon me and how I interact with them.

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

Acknowledging mistakes that they made.  Asking for forgiveness.  Listening to understand what the barriers to a healthy relationship are.  Those are the two things my mom has tried to do.

If the relationship is negative, what are one or two of the most important factors that contributed to a fractured relationship?

Propagating a bad relationship is knowing that there are tensions and ignoring them.  Continuing to do the same things year after year after year.

What do you wish they had done differently? 

Humility allows you to change.  One thing that addresses that would have been to have a counselor or good friend who was deeply involved in their parenting. Someone they sought out on a regular basis for help.  Secondly, trying to have consistency or to apologize a lot.

What do you most appreciate about their parenting?

They were strict.  We did not run the house.  We knew our place and we had roles.  We had jobs to do, but unfortunately, it was one-sided.  My dad had zero coping or emotional maturity.

How well do you relate to your siblings?

It ranges from medium to well.

Do they share your same reflections?

No, because most of them are still caught in the emotional loop, or storm, that we had with my parents.  In our 30s and 40s, though, I see some of them coming out of the storm.

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

I was around 12 and we couldn’t afford new clothes, so we got a lot of hand me downs, trash clothes.  We always looked like ragamuffins.  My parents had bought a new shirt for  my brother and for some reason I had borrowed it.  I had short sleeves and buttoned up with blue and maroon stripes.  I was sleeping in that shirt because we never had pajamas.  My dad got home and he woke me up and slung me across the floor.  It broke the buttons off the shirt–I was more upset that the buttons were broken than the fact that my father slung me across the floor.  My dad has been dead for 8 years and is fading from my memory, but that moment will never fade.  Another one–Dad and I went crabbing in Texas City, but the waves were coming in so we just spent all afternoon picking up shells.  They all had hermit crabs in them and died.

I remember my mom getting mad at me for not getting good grades at school.  She kept yelling, “You can do better than this.”  I knew that I could do better, but I just didn’t want to.  I didn’t care about school.  Also, Mom making us go to creative dramatic summer courses that she taught.

Has anything happened in the recent years to change your relationship?

When I realized that I had to take responsibility for the relationship, my relationship with both of them completely changed.  My dad and I fought all the time, but at least we were talking.  In the last few years, I feel like a sense of maturity that I have something to offer people when it comes to relationships, which has come through the difficulties of my familial relationships.

I don’t think parents understand that their parenting programs their children in a way from which they may never deprogram.  The fortunate few see it, and only a small percentage of those are able to get out of it.

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