My poor husband. I hear about his childhood, his recollections are like this…
I remember building model planes with my dad and then taking them into the garden. We got air rifles and shot them all up, it was great fun.
I remember my dad sitting with me watching Open University programmes early in the morning at the weekend, I’m sure this developed my interest in maths.
One year my dad said he’d buy me a new computer game if I could write a short computer program. I made up this simple drawing program. He was really impressed!
After I got terrible sunburn on the beach my dad took me to the shower and stood me under it for ages to soothe the blisters.
When we went to France on the ferry my dad and I would stand on the deck spotting all the navy boats at Portsmouth.
He wasn’t raised by his single parent father, he has a mother. These are the things he “fondly” remembers about his mother…
My sister and I were a bit naughty one day and she shouted at us then sat in front of the drinks cabinet and drank G+Ts until our father came home.
One time she kept turning the hose on me over and over, even after I said no she still did it and thought it was funny. In the end I ran off down the street and stayed there.
Mum had her way of organising the cupboards in the kitchen. They were crammed full of things in rows. The herbs and spices were organised alphabetically. I hated the cupboards being like that. If you didn’t put things back just the way she had them she would go nuts.
We would go and visit her mother. We were scared to touch anything and the atmosphere was always really tense. Mum would cry in the car all the way home.
I met my maternal grandfather once, in the service station of a motorway. I don’t know what his name is. I don’t know why she wouldn’t speak to him.
Mum would choose my clothes, right up until I was 17 years old.
When I told her I was going on holiday with my girlfriend and her family she didn’t speak to me for two weeks.
I’m not selectively editing this, these are the things he reports to me and a whole load of other things too like being forced to eat pureed food left over from the previous meal. Every nice memory he ever relates is of his father and every memory of his mother is of her controlling him, controlling others or being in an unpredictable emotional state. I don’t think he is aware of this. He thinks he is remembering good and bad from both parents in equal amounts.
He has a few other memories of her shouting and ranting at him for doing things wrong (telling his grandmother he had passed 11 exams when he “should” have only said 10, not counting the AS in maths taken early) even though he recalls more occurrences of his father coming and reassuring him afterwards and checking he was OK than he does of the ranting itself.
He has abuse amnesia. I wouldn’t believe such a thing existed if I hadn’t seen it myself. When our eldest child was born MIL refused to hold the baby. I overheard some of the conversation that took place at the foot of our stairs while I was in the bedroom. My husband was very hurt by this, he came and spoke to me about it right away, I was resting in bed after the birth. He talked about it for weeks. Three years later we started to seriously address his mother’s treatment of us and her behaviour around us. I mentioned the baby-holding incident and he had no memory of it. Only after describing everything I could about what he had said had happened, after repeating what his words to me had been on the various occasions he had discussed did he say he had a vague memory of it but couldn’t recall the details. I was, in fact I still am, gobsmacked by this. It’s not the only thing he can’t remember.
Getting memories of his mother’s behaviour to stick in his head is like taking a weak magnet and trying to stick it to a fridge door. It stays for a short time then slides inexorably down until slipping under the bottom edge of the fridge. Under the fridge is my husband’s subconscious; dark, rarely inspected and home to nasty bits of forgotten debris. Even recent conversations with her are erased. He struggled to recount the specifics of a conversation with her to his dad just a few weeks after it occurred even though he could remember feeling upset by it he couldn’t accurately explain what had been said.
A great deal has been written about the Adult Child of…. phenomena. It started out as adult children of alcoholics but as many therapists found similar behavioural patterns in other non-alcohol soaked families the Adult Child descriptors have been extended to cover the grown up children of different groups of dysfunctional parents. You can apply the adult child coping mechanisms to drug/alcohol/personality disordered families.
Children learn rapidly and very early how to best relate to their disordered parent. If the parent is mum and you need her to feed you, keep you warm and safe then you do what she wants, her way. You. suck. it. up.
My husband does this by people-pleasing and rescuing. He takes on responsibility for the happiness of others in a way that is out of proportion to any actual responsibility he has for it. He won’t buy sandwiches for a picnic when hand making the bread would make it nicer (in his opinion). He will twist himself in knots anticipating what another person would like rather than just ask them outright. He apologises for things which are not his fault. He jokes to lighten the atmosphere, he hovers over his NPD mum to provide her with what she may want before she asks. He is a compulsive over-achiever.
His sister is more reserved. As a child he tells how she would go off in her room and read for hours. She retreated from the nastiness of her mother’s behaviour. Now she is absorbed in her work which takes her all over the world. She is away a lot and recently moved abroad, the ultimate in getting away from mum. My husband tried over and over to do it right for his mum. He still does this. He thinks that one day he will get it right and she will be warm, appreciative and loving in response. Ha. Yeah right.
What’s that old joke? Denial is not a river in Africa.