Thursday, July 14, 2011

The prodigal son drags his family north

I have blogged about my father. Hit 'personal', go back, it's there. I am now in a better place. He has received the all-clear after an encounter with cancer followed by enough chemicals to kill the Great Barrier Reef. They are both pretty unwell, and against some better judgement we are paying them a visit.

Despite the one-sided nature of the effort involved, I feel I have to give the possibility of a relationship between grandparent and grandchild a chance. A small, guarded, chance. And my poor mother, stranded in a town she never wanted to go to, deserves something.

I have not fought with him for many months. I refuse to talk about work. Or asylum seekers (or anything touching on race, not that he's a racist, but..). We have some ongoing contact and it is tolerable.

As once suggested on this blog, by Zoe I believe, I took a few sessions of counselling directed specifically at our relationship. It was good. Partly from that, and from reflection, I can see things from a slightly removed place. I have additional perspective and it helps. In particular I spend less time fretting about whether our relationship is part of some adoption issue. That may be there, but it is also a lot clearer to me that I am only part of an immovable story of control and inflexibility.

Counselling helped me see wider patterns. Anything that can't be controlled becomes a threat. The only child he could have raised and never fought badly with would be one who never fully grew up, never pushed out and became an individual. No matter how similar their wiring (to use his phrase), one decent step towards independence and it would be on. My mother's acquiescence in so much of his crap frustrates me, yet I can see that it is a survival mechanism for their relationship. As he gives no room, and offers no mediation between positions, any serious push back would be like a car hitting a wall. No give. A mess.

I know what I would probably do if I were her... well I know because I have effectively done it. I said 'no thanks', 'stop saying that', 'I don't want the same things you do', 'I disagree'. Started saying it at the end of my teens, and have had a turbulent relationship since. The normal adjustment into the adult-adult relationship is not possible, because there can be no adjustment. So where I have learned from those fights at 18, 19, and long since moderated many things that led us there, he has barely changed one iota. He has pulled out insults long since buried, as if we hadn't done the burying by going through a hostile, stressful, awful process of razorblade iteration.

But. Months of carefully circumscribed conversation, the insights of counselling, and my own reflection have brought me to a better place. There are limits to our engagement, and I know I can't improve on that.

Visiting is not ideal. I need to consciously avoid both trigger-topics and opportunities, which usually come in the form of initially-benign conversations, in fact often pleasant, a glass of scotch in front of each of us, with my mother and Beloved wandering off to do other things, and my defences going down, and then the poison comment arriving like a concealed screwdriver through the ribs...


Mindy said...

One day, when your kids have fond memories of visiting their grandparents, or perhaps memories of what their grandparents were like and make a comment to you that lets you know they understand, it will all be worth it. At least you know that you tried.

seepi said...

good on you - it sounds like hard work.

one thing we tried was flying visits - or visiting nearby towns and visiting daily, but not staying in the same house. You just need to think of some good excuses for why you need to do a particular trip (farm stay etd) that is near them but not in the same city.

It is good for kids to have a sense of family. And they will have a trip to sahre with their fri3nds when their friends are visiting their grandparents.

Ann ODyne said...

wishing you calm and pleasant times. Your mother will be thrilled, so concentrate on making her happy ...
you are clever enough to succeed with this challenge.