Thursday, September 23, 2010

Breaking Sad

'Something's gotta give.'

So Beloved declared last night, as we found ourselves half-seriously considering a suggestion that we move to Cairns. She'd caught up with a friend who lives there, having moved from Brunei after her Aussie pilot husband explained that cheating was just part of the pilot lifestyle and shrugged.

The friend had offered to babysit, all the time, as she loves kids but is over the relationship game for a while, and frankly that's the best offer we've got on the table.

I've been a bit perkier lately, since starting a new job in which I'm well over my head but at least feel stimulated and surrounded by what seem to be *touch wood* nice people. I still talk to my father, though despite the great 'offence' he took last year, where I 'got him wrong' and mistook his words for criticism, he has since made several nasty attacks on my career (a topic I don't even discuss with him any more) and dug up his intense dislike of music with the suggestion that if I encourage it in the kids they'll wake up in a gutter somewhere with a needle hanging from their arms.

I'm attempting to keep him at arm's length without cutting him off completely, and the idea of counselling to find ways to deal with this is becoming attractive.

But Beloved is also disappointed. Her parents keep making excuses to find other things to do on their weekends, watch aeroplanes or dig garden beds or other priorities. They are choosing not to be a meaningful part of the kids' lives, and I think we are both still struggling with this.

My birth mum used to talk of moving to Melbourne. She has a great bond with Bear, and makes a great effort when we visit. If she came up, even for a couple of years, she could be part of their lives, and ours. But I know for a range of reasons this is improbable.

I think being wandering, independent types we probably underestimated the amount we would want family. Now we have kids, and see other families where everyone gathers around and is involved, even families where everyone is interstate where the effort, and enthusiasm, is on another level. I think also because they banged on for years about how much they'd like grandkids, we never imagined Beloved's mum choosing to potter in her Canberra house weekend after weekend, instead of spending the mortgage-free largess on a few 1 hour plane tickets to Melbourne. Or my mum choosing to stay in Bundaberg when my dad refused to come down for Christmas.

So. Why don't we move to them? Well, in the case of my birth family, in Hobart, I would have too much guilt, it could wreck the already uncertain relationship with my parents in Bundaberg. Unfortunate, as I get the sense we would get some support there. Parents in Bundaberg- my mum would try, but you don't have to read back far on this blog to get a sense of the ongoing poison that drips from my dad. Despite hints of caring and reflection coming through in recent times, as he works through the darkness of chemo. That might work well for years, only to have him tell Bear she needs to lose weight when she's 9 or something similarly in-character, whereupon I would probably do something that would risk my incarceration.

Beloved's dad and stepmum make a pretty good effort, when we're there, but apart from my concern that their love of money, expensive aeroplanes, cars and the like might rub off, they live in the middle of nowhere near a small, sad, violent town. Beloved enjoyed growing up there, but the ball might bounce differently next time around. And Canberra, her mum, sister, other family? I probably could have been tempted, but the ongoing mediocrity of interest shown by her mum has not only put that option to bed, but is slowly but surely pushing Beloved further and further away.

Perhaps, as it is for me and my dad, what was previously tolerable now just looks unpleasant in the light cast by small children.

We work, relentlessly. She works about 4 and a half days and gets paid for 3. Late night phone conferences are frequent. There are no breaks. We go out maybe 3 times a year together. Time with the kids is lovely, there is never enough. It is lost standing on crowded trains that are stuck, yet again, at Clifton Hill. We get up, we process the day, we flop into the couch, we sleep. Day after day, week after week.

I know you might say what people always say, what we already know, that we just need to get over it, stop expecting more from family, adjust. I know. We want to. It just isn't easy, the disappointment clings on hard.

Last night I watched a show about kids who are selectively mute. A granddad was taking so much time out to be with his granddaughter, taking her boating, chatting to her, patiently trying things until one day she speaks into a phone and leaves him a message. His eyes watered. So did mine. At him, his devotion and care.

So. Cairns? Adelaide? Volunteers Abroad on a small island? The UK?

Or just hang in there and hope it gets better, easier, one day...?

Something's got to give.


Dan said...

I know this might be a bit twee, but what about "adopting" a family/grandparents to create the inter-generational care and closeness that you seek. I know that there are some formal organisations that organise 'adopt a grandparent' type situations, but you could also try to harness the same sense of family and community from connecting in to a community organisation which favours lonely and/or isolated people.

There are plenty of people out there without family which might appreciate such a connection, even if your blood relatives aren't as into it.

Armagny said...

Same suggestion was just made at a lunch I went to.... I've heard worse ideas!

I will say though, thank god for friends...

ThirdCat said...

As tempting as moving might sound, I can promise you it isn't the panacea it appears to be...

mind you, Adelaide is a good city to live when you have little kids. We were able to afford to live quite close to town, with only a 15 minute commute for either of us (it's got more expensive lately of course, but still nothing like the eastern states).

Tatyana said...

You're describing a very familiar situation, one that many couples with young families experience when they have children—isolation, lack of support, erosion of the extended family and the community around us.

My own experience is that these things are so much more acute when the children are very young. Speaking to friends, I can see that the rosy picture of tightly-knit families gathering around grandchildren to support them and guide them through life is actually quite rare, and it's also unrealistic.

I've heard so many stories of grandmothers preferring to travel, or garden, instead of babysitting or being available to mind their grandkids during school holidays. Who can blame them! This child rearing business seems to go on forever, they probably really enjoy their hard-won freedom. My kids are at school now, and I sometimes wonder if I will be available for every call and childcare need, if my children end up having children.

Moving to another city or country can be quite exciting, but my feeling is that it works best if it's done for one's own (selfish) reasons, such as wanting new experiences, interesting work, etc.

There are many people in Melbourne going through very similar feelings, with fragile family connections, tempted to long for some picture-book idea of an extended family, while flopping on the couch with exhaustion in the evening. We all need some TLC, but the big question is how to get it, and where to get it from.

My own tried and tested philosophy, after some pretty sad experiences, is that one has to create one's own community, and not have too many expectations from elderly parents and relatives. Friends are so much more fun anyway.

Clifton Hill is fun too. Have you ever tried flying a kite around the adventure playground?

Penthe said...

Yes, moving to another place brings its own stresses (but Canberra is wonderful for school-aged children and public servants!). My own in-laws have become much more involved as the kit gets older. I think they were much more nervous or reluctant when he was a baby and a toddler. Once you get past those years, your flexibility increases and so on. But we too are feeling very isolated at the moment.

If you have good friends in Melbourne I would be reluctant to up-stumps for a possibly unreliable family member.

Anonymous said...

After struggling with similiar family issues. I would strongly suggest counselling. Its the best money I ever spent. You can't change the way other people are but you can change the way you feel about it.

Elisabeth said...

i sat in the xray department of Cabrini hospital today waiting to get another photo taken of my broken leg.

Across the way from me I watched a couple of men, also waiting. At first I thought they were maybe about the same age-friends. Both in their early to mid fifties. Then I realised that one was older.

Turns out they were father and son. And like you watching your film on TV, watching the dedication of a grandfather towards his grand child, my eyes could have misted over watching the dedication of both father and son.

'You would never have sat with your father like that,' I said to my husband who sat waiting with me. 'Nor me with mine.'

It made me feel sad in a bitter sweet sort of way because here at least there seemed to be evidence that sometimes good relationships between fathers and their sons exist.

Maybe the same can be said of father's and their daughters.

You can have both with your children, Armagnac. It's not the same as extended family though and it's sad you have to learn it all the hard way, but at least you're trying.

seepi said...

Councelling could be a good plan, but beware of councellors that want you to 'get everything out in the open' and tell the other person how you feel. With older parents who are convinced they are right, this technique will probably just inflame t he situation.

but finding a councellor who will sort through your own feelings would be good, if such can be found.

On family - we have some and they are keen and involved, love the kids and are close to them, which is fantastic. Alas they do not offer to babysit. Ah well, perhaps when the kids are older...

- I watched the selective mutism show too. Such a fascinating glimpse into another world.

Armagny said...

Thanks all, as always your feedback is thoughtful and helpful...

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

I got nothin', except to remind you that family get-togethers can be quite as frightful as an absence of family get-togethers, but I just had to tell you that the WV here is "later". Perhaps it's trying to tell you something.

Marshall-Stacks said...

yes, what Kerryn said.
As I read down the comments I was thinking of young parents with Mediterranean-born parents and family events that smother them.
They dream of a life like yours.

Honour your Melbourne employment, and remember that it is not economical to sell that new nest till you have been in it at least 4 years.
Just make sure you inherit any real estate owned by those who prefer gardening to grandkids.
(I do have some sympathy for the burden of your Qld mother)

Your children don't pine for grandparents, and most grandparents are needed to fill voids left by sloppy parenting, which you two do not create.
You have no voids. Your greatest assets are yourselves. Take heart from that. peace and love

Another Outspoken Female said...

There's a difference between disappointment and resentment. The latter is most poisonous, eating away at the host, then by osmosis the hosts loved ones. Concentrate on the love you have for the family you've created, so your family of origin can feel faintly envious :)