I grew up in a simpler time, not necessarily a better time, but a simpler time. In retrospect that simplicity is easy to see as ignorance and denial, but at the time it was the way things were. The three pillars of North American society were family, God, and country. All the way through primary school that ideology was everywhere, from the Lord’s Prayer and the National Anthem in the morning to your reading primer that featured Dad going to work and Mom staying home to care for the kids, clean and cook.
The two kids, one boy and one girl played with their dog, played baseball, and they learned important life lessons like looking both ways before crossing the street. When we weren’t in school, television would perpetuate the examples of family, God, and patriotism for all to see.
Growing up and seeing and reading this around you all the time built expectations of how things were supposed to be. Dad is stern, but loves you, Mom takes care of you and makes you feel better when things go wrong, and God will be looking out for you over their shoulders. Anyway you live in the best country in the world so nothing can ever go wrong.
But what happens if just one of those three pillars that are the holy trinity of society should melt down for any reason? What happens when the expectations aren’t met and things turn out differently than they were supposed to?
A few years back, I was working on a novel that ran out of steam and is waiting patiently for me to get around to picking it up again. Like myself, one of the characters was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse that occurred during those simple times of black and white. I used her to try and articulate the reactions a person might have to expectations not being met.
Everything was gone. All that conditioning and indoctrination shattered. No matter that it was outmoded and strange, it was still the framework that her life had been built around. It all began with nothing and then was created and evolved up to where it stands in present day, modern civilized times. But it was all a lie. That left a whole lot of nothing. (Richard Marcus, The Trees Were Singing 2003)
“It was all a lie. That left a whole lot of nothing.” What can you believe in when a parent betrays your trust? The people who are the ones supposedly protecting you from the dangers of the world and ensuring you grow up in safety end up having been the ones who hurt you.
You’re going to believe that there is something wrong with you. The reason they hurt you is that you don’t do enough to make them happy. You try harder and harder to make them appreciate you or at least leave you alone. But nothing you do makes it better and you’re left feeling worthless.
On top of that is the guilt for not loving them because of the way they treat you. You know that makes you a bad person because everybody is supposed to love their parents. It doesn’t matter if they give you no reason to love them or not, because everybody but you love their parents.
Of course, you don’t stop to ask yourself why is it you have to love your parents. That’s just what you are supposed to do. But, on the other hand, would you love someone else who treated you like that? If it was somebody outside your family unit, who ignored you and only had time for you when it suited them, what would you do?
If another person molested you, would you be in a quandary as to how you should be acting? But when it is your parent you feel an obligation towards maintaining the myth. Even thought there is nothing in Dick and Jane about daddy copping a feel. That’s the standard you have to live by and if you can’t there is something wrong with you.
So what are you supposed to do if its years later and your parent still treats you like dirt, or your memories of the childhood abuse return and the abusive parent is still alive. There’s really no right or easy answer to that question. But the most important thing is to rid yourself of the feeling that they are more important than you are.
You must take them off the pedestal that society puts the parent on and see them as just another human being. Then you have to decide upon whether you want that human being as part of your life, and how big a part, if any, you are going to want them to play in your life.
They surrendered the right to call you child when they first mistreated you. The old rules about roles no longer exist and you are under no obligation to love or have any feelings for them other than those that their behaviour evokes in you.
Once upon a time there were happy families dotted through out the land and the boys were all princes and the girls princesses. But that was as much an illusion as the fairy tales you were read as a children. Fathers are not Kings and Mothers are not Queens, they are just human beings who have no more right to mistreat someone then anyone else.