Playing Parent

Posted: October 1, 2010 in anxiety, childhood, depression, hoarding, OCD

Today, I’m playing parent…to my parents. I HATE playing parent. It’s like an added slap in the face for the non-parenting they did while I was growing up. Not only did they not let me just act like a kid while I was growing up because their inability to take responsibility for having a daughter, but now, as a twenty-something, they still expect me to take responsibility for things that I shouldn’t have to worry about. It’s one thing to have to take care of your parents as they get older. But it’s hard to accept taking on that role when your parents have, for the most part, never taken care of you.

It gets hard to separate out my emotions regarding my parents. It’s very hard to define how you feel about someone when on the one hand, you have to give them the benefit of the doubt for doing the best they were capable of.  My parents didn’t try to be neglectful or absent; I know that deep down, they loved me the best they could. How do you make sense of that? How do you say, “I know you loved me and did the best you could…but it wasn’t enough”?

With my dad, it’s a little easier. He loves me, but he’s incompetent. The hard, cold, sad, honest truth is that he never should have been a parent. Mentally, I haven’t quite figured out what’s going on with my dad. I’m guessing it’s some combination of manic depression and OCD.  There was something just a little bit mentally off about my grandmother on his side of the family, which didn’t really become apparent to me until I was an adult. I blame his side of the family for how I turned out genetically…

Therein lies the crux of my anger as I learn to manage and understand myself. My whole life, when I had panic attacks, or anxiety, or obsessive compulsions that interfered with daily life, I was punished. I was constantly told to “get over it” and that I needed to “learn how to behave.” I was made unequivocally responsible for any issues that I had – no one ever stopped to take into account the fact that I was just a little girl and if little girls act the way I did, there’s a reason behind it. My parents never once stopped to consider the impact their behavior had on me. Even as I’ve gotten older and started to bring the issue up, there has never been any acknowledgment that their hoarding and the condition of the house played a role in how I learned to respond to the world around me. This isn’t something I’ve been able to articulate until recently. In a sense, I’m moving through the five stages of grief for my childhood – or lack thereof. I’m on the anger one right now…

So that sums up dad. Incompetent, but well-intentioned. He was the main hoarder in our family, and I do still harbor a lot of anger toward him for what he put us through. I’m learning to find healthy strategies for managing it, and working with my therapist(s) to get on the path toward true acceptance, where I acknowledge that there is nothing I can do to change either the past or the reality that is my relationship with my father. Being angry isn’t the answer. In the long run, it’s a waste of time. But I also think it’s healthy to recognize that there are valid reasons behind my anger, and learn to understand them.

Things get more difficult when it comes to my mom. I’ll spend more time on her in future posts, because she is the nexus where all the complications of dealing with a family member who hoards come together. I don’t have any sympathy left for my dad. I love him, but I’ve learned to find a place where I can let go of the painful realization that I’m never going to have a healthy relationship with him. Mom is harder to explain.

The difference when it comes to mom is that she legitimately did try. Dad wasn’t capable of that. Mom didn’t always succeed, and she didn’t always do the right thing…but she gave it an honest effort. And I recognize how much she sacrificed to get me to where I am. She was the one who worked two jobs to keep food on the table and clothes on our back. She was the one who drove me to the ice rink for skating practice no matter how tired she was after work, and she was the one that tried to understand me when I confided in her. She was the one who encouraged me to go to college, and was willing to let me go when I started to make my own way in the world.

But she still made me responsible for things that never should have fallen on the shoulders of a little kid. Since my dad always acted like a third child, she was constantly in the role of mediator, trying to placate him even when it was obvious what he was doing was hurtful to me and my brother. There were very few times when she stood up to my dad and did the right thing for us; those times were some of the most central and formative in my life, and I give her credit for that. It gets hard to reconcile that with all the other times when she wasn’t there for me when I needed her because she felt like she had to give more attention to my dad.

On that note, I’m off to their house to load up their garbage and take it to the landfill…because they refuse to pay for garbage service, and have no back up plan for dealing with the situation aside from taking for granted that I will take responsibility for it for them. I already hauled 1,500 pounds of household trash to the dump for them last week. It’s very hard to find the balance between helping them out and finally standing up for myself and for healthy boundaries. I can’t stand to watch the house fall down around them like the one in California did (more on that later), but I also can’t stand to pretend like what they’re doing is acceptable. Unfortunately, it takes competence to recognize incompetence. And we still have a long way to go.

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