I like to believe nobody has a perfect relationship with their parents, but at 35 I’m wondering when my relationship will shift from the constant power play to one of harmony and trust. I’ve done the transactional analysis on it and stopped accepting the role of child in our relationship. Changing actions and attitudes is one thing, changing the accompanying feelings built up over a lifetime is another thing.
I have been asked to tell all about my general election run earlier this year and eventually I will get round to developing a coherent singular voice about it; what I can articulate now is the huge pressure and fear that enveloped me as soon as I got my papers in my hand, and also how liberating moving past that fear was.
Should I start by telling how I sobbed in the shower every morning so that I could be an emotional stone when I read what trolls on the internet wrote about me? But it was my father’s initial response which hurt the most. I told him what I was about to embark upon and his face darkened with a look that I knew too well, the look I that greeted report cards or pregnancy or partners or breastfeeding, oh yes, my dad can be disappointed in all manner of choices I’ve made. And while I did not storm off, as I am likely to do when faced with that look, it still hurts. ‘We are a Fianna Fail family, you cannot do that’ was his eventual spluttered response when he regained enough composure to answer me. I need not tell you I found this assertion ‘objectionable’ and quite possibly the most succinct rationale for the state of Irish politics I could muster. You are your parents’ child and you shall do as they did, for this family’s very identity is tied to a party. I won’t bore you with the rest of the conversation; suffice to say I left him to ponder what he had done to deserve such an offspring as myself.
They did eventually see the light in my decision, but the fear of my parents’ disappointment has been an anchor round my neck for long enough. In the last six months I’ve changed a great many things in my life, and I feel empowered to do just about any damn thing I feel like, but there’s always been that little niggle, that little deference to the two people who love me more than anything but simply refuse to let me go. I understand, I was a terrible teenager, I was headstrong and pigheaded and they tried to control me ‘for my own good’, but somehow that got corrupted into being not good enough. So my actions were never good enough, and I was never good enough, and a lifetime of emotional headfucks were born. For no matter how far I come in showing them my competence and abilities, it is short-lived and there is always the threat that at some stage we will all be regaled at Christmas dinner with tales of how Ann got suspended or some other fantastic mistake that befell me. If only they know of all the other mistakes that I treasure, the terrible events and nights that I want to forget, the places that I would never allow them to go for fear that it would break their hearts.
I told them last week I finished my psychology degree with a 1:1, the highest in the class and the only clean A1 on my thesis. I believe the correct term for their reaction is ‘meh’. My mother sent me a text message where she thanked god I passed, for after all it was god that sat my exams and did my stats, my father looked up and said ‘oh is that good?’ because apparently top of my class is too relative a description. After 4 years of juggling work and study and a family meh, only person in my either of my parents families with a degree, meh, top of my class, meh.
My psychology degree did achieve its end, I understand the situation from a variety of perspectives, it’s given me enough confidence and power to say ‘meh’ back to them. If what I achieved is not good enough then nothing really will be, and the problem is theirs not mine. It still hurts, I can honestly say their reaction ruined my day, but at least it was just a day, not a week or a month as it would have been previously. So as I am now about to grow the hell up, I’ve booked that tattoo; they’re not going to like it, but I will. I love my parents and I know they love me, but I can no longer allow myself to feel as much as they demand of me through manipulation of guilt. My son’s coming up to that age when it was easier hide things than share them with parents, and while I give him space I’m still awestruck when he says ‘mam, I need to talk’ and spills about any manner of problem. I feel like I have moved past them by parenting a different way, without expectations, without ever using the dreaded ‘I’m disappointed in you’ because I never am. I might get cross, I might get stroppy but I will never be let down. Anger passes, but guilt hurts more, and lasts longer. I choose not to parent through guilt, and even if somebody else wants to continue to play that game with me, I am choosing not to play it anymore.