Parent-child dysfunction

Last night, Chris’s parents gave Ben, Chris’s younger brother, a call to see how he was doing. He’s still living at their house in Melbourne while he continues his job search, and for lack of better words, he has a pretty simple, easy life right now. He’s bickered quite a bit to me about how overbearing their mother can be, as every child does at some point, but generally I cut him off by reminding him that he doesn’t even know what the meaning of “overbearing” is. How does Ben define “overbearing?” It actually played out quite illustratively last night. This is how the conversation went after his parents were able to get through via dialing their land line:

Mum: “Ben? Can you hear me? Yes? Hi! Hi! How are you going?”

Ben: “Yeah! Everything’s fine! Nothing’s wrong! What do you want?!” (Proceeds to ramble a few other cutting comments to his mother that I can’t quite hear clearly)

Mum: “Oi! Ben!”

I never realized that saying hello and asking how one’s son is doing was overbearing and excessive. Ben says something else rude to his mother, which his mother responds with the same “Oi!” as she raises her eyebrows. They needed him to do something on his end in their dad’s office, and so when their dad got on the line, Ben barked impatiently, “What do you want me to do?! Just tell me!”

Wow. So I texted him via Whatsapp afterwards and said, “Just FYI that you sounded like a dick on the phone to your mum.” Ben, the ultimate mobile device addict who is on his phone even during meals, didn’t respond.

I thought about this for a bit, as I remembered mumbling something to my therapist about how someone really needed to see a therapist. She smiled when I said this and responded, “Everyone needs a therapist. Everyone needs someone they can talk to.” And to add to this, as I’m sure she thought this, too, perhaps everyone needs someone in their life, voluntarily or involuntarily, calling people out on things that they could improve on, or terrible habits or behaviors that are not conducive to real maturity or development. And I realized I couldn’t figure this guy out.

It makes sense to have this sort of fussy, irritable, even childish attitude as a teen full of angst, or even as an adult if you have a poor relationship with your parents as a result of years and years of dysfunction and mistreatment. But Ben’s had a pretty good life because of his parents. He’s had worldly indulgences at ages that the rest of us have never even dreamed of… because at those ages, we were so young that we didn’t have the awareness that a world outside of our house or neighborhood even existed! He gets love and attention and money from them, even when he doesn’t want it and avoids it. He even gets a roof over his head while he’s unemployed, doesn’t have to pay rent, and doesn’t even do his own laundry. He barely even has to wash a dish at home because his mother will take care of it or load it into the dishwasher. So why does he have to act the way he does with his parents? It’s as though he’s been wronged in life by them, and I can’t understand it. Maybe only a therapist if he were to ever get one (and he probably won’t) could break it down. Or perhaps a smart woman who may consider him as a potential life partner may call it out for him or even dump him because of this bad attitude. No sane, self-respecting woman wants to marry a guy who treats his mother poorly. I’m a strong believer in the idea that men will end up treating their wives just like they treat their mothers, perhaps not during the courtship phase of the relationship, but many years down the line when things aren’t so romantic and snuggly anymore.

As someone who’s come from a family of generations of dysfunction, I am always extremely cognizant and observant of how people interact with their parents — in public, in private, whenever I have the opportunity to observe it. It’s very telling when you see how people treat their own family members, particularly the two people who have given them life. And as someone who has dysfunction with her parents, I still treat my parents very well despite that because I recognize that they gave me life, a roof over my head, the education I’ve had the privilege to go through, among many other life gifts. There are sacrifices they have made to raise me and terrible things they’ve had to endure to make sure I had a decent life. I didn’t grow up in luxury, but I grew up with far more creature comforts than either of my parents could have ever fathomed. So as a result of all this, I get this visceral anger when I see people like Ben treating their parents as though he’s some ungrateful teenager as opposed to a nearly 30-year-old grown man. I can’t empathize with his constant impatience, annoyance, and attitude. It’s like attitude for the sake of attitude, which is immature and almost painful to observe. If anyone here really wanted to act out against their parents, it should be me or Ed, not Ben.

Don’t get me wrong. He and I get along really well. I look at him like a brother (younger brother to be honest, even though he’s technically four months older), and I talk to him like we’re siblings. But as with all siblings, we disagree. And with his treatment of his mum, I disagree the most and have no issue voicing it.

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