Yelling at the TV

Posted: December 15, 2010 in active neglect, childhood, hoarding
Tags: , ,

It has been a crazy couple of weeks. Grad school does not believe in time off, so as usual, I’m trying to find a balance between getting projects checked off my to-do list and finding time for me. Lately it seems that most of my “me time” is consumed by worrying about what I’m going to do when I finish grad school and worrying about what I’m going to do when I have to deal with my parents next…

The holidays are always hard. Since I’ve been dating my current boyfriend, I’ve spent Christmases and most other holidays with his family. I appreciate the time I have with them, and I’m grateful that I have them in my life. At the same time, it always brings to the forefront how dysfunctional my own family is.

I realize that no childhood is ever perfect. What my parents, and lots of other people surrounding this whole dysfunctional family fail to realize, is that I’m not upset that my childhood wasn’t perfect. I’m furious that my parents didn’t live up to the responsibilities inherent with having children – protecting me, and providing a safe, healthy, nurturing environment. After years of therapy, I’ve arrived at a place where I’m not even so much angry anymore that it happened…I’m angry that they still don’t think they need to take any responsibility for it.

One of the terms that stands out to me as  I learn more about hoarding and parenting and the strange combination that results from mixing the two is “active neglect.” As I understand it, this basically implies that parents are present and meeting the basic needs of the child – food, warmth, shelter – etc. at the most fundamental level, but failing to remedy problematic situations that arise from hoarding, like cleaning the house.

I spent most of my life believing that I couldn’t have been neglected…how could I have been “neglected” when both my parents were at home with me every night? It has been a process of learning that neglect is more complicated than that. My parents were physically present, but emotionally unavailable; they provided me with shelter, but it was a shelter that was unfit for human habitation, hazardous, and unsanitary. On some level, they knew there was a problem; how many times was I told that it was my responsibility to “clean up this house a little bit,” in my dad’s favorite way of putting it? All the hours my mother and I spent commiserating about how filthy the house was were times when my parents should have taken responsibility for fixing the situation. Active neglect.

When I see it on the TV, it brings up a lot of the anger I’m working through. The last episode of “Hoarders” on A&E featured a woman who threatened to leave her family and move out of their hoarded house if it wasn’t cleaned. Then the cleaning crew came in, and it was the mother who refused to let any items go. She wanted the house clean, but wouldn’t take any responsibility for letting go of the things that made it filthy in the first place. I wanted to climb through the TV and smack her for not being able to take responsibility for what she was doing to her family in much the same way that I feel an overwhelming urge to smack my dad for exactly the same reason.

Back to the same conundrum…how do you explain to someone that they’ve hurt you when they aren’t capable of understanding why? How can I explain to my parents that even though they were physically present, they neglected me? I’m continuing to ponder this as I try to work through the experience of going back to my childhood house in California, and the process of grieving for my grandmother. Sometimes, yelling at the TV in lieu of my own parents really does help.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s