When parents act like children

This week, I’ve unsurprisingly been thinking about my family and their behavior over the last weekend. I opted out of an extended family dinner because my uncle refused to eat at any Asian establishment, fearing that Chinese people would be there who have Coronavirus (yes, my uncle is Chinese. Yes, he’s racist against his own kind). My cousin, who was trying to not create any drama and except the stupidity for what it was, didn’t understand why something like this would bother me. I am not sure if it’s because my cousin is just not a particularly intelligent or deep person, or if he just refuses to acknowledge problems (it is likely a combination of both of the above).

While this was transpiring, my mom was thrilled that I wasn’t going to the dinner at my aunt’s (upstairs). She hates it when I spend time with extended family members. She thinks they always want her to pay for dinners and food and “expect” this of her. My dad was being his usual hermit self, refusing to interact with me and throwing tantrums when he was dissatisfied with anything. I started thinking about all these behaviors and how toxic they all are. The “normal” that Ed and I grew up with is not normal and doesn’t really make for future independent, happy people. It actually makes for what Ed actually became: highly insecure, immature, dependent, paranoid. When I come back from these trips and inevitably experience episodes such as the ones outlined above, I try to decompress, read psychology articles about how all of this is wrong, unhealthy, and how I’ve emerged stronger in spite of all this. It seems to be the only thing that really gives me comfort when I’ve come from a place of total paranoia, lack of common sense, and dysfunction. My uncle always used to say that every family has its own level of dysfunction, so our family wasn’t much different than any other family. While it’s true that every family has its level of “dysfunction,” it’s not true that our family is just like every other family. We have generations of dysfunction, anger, resentment, and lack of relations. Even if you wanted to define that as “normal,” it certainly is not “right.”

A recent article I read about how to raise happy, independent children stated:

“We found that people whose parents showed warmth and responsiveness had higher life satisfaction and better mental wellbeing throughout early, middle and late adulthood. By contrast, psychological control was significantly associated with lower life satisfaction and mental wellbeing. Examples of psychological control include not allowing children to make their own decisions, invading their privacy and fostering dependence.”

The first sentence is funny to me because… well, duh.

That’s funny because that last statement is 100% our mother. We were rarely allowed to make our own decisions. When I was 13, I used to get into loud shouting matches about how to even wear my hair. “Privacy” as a concept never existed; door knocking did not exist: my dad or mom would barge into the bathroom or my bedroom without asking, expecting me to be fully clothed.

Ed used to recount that he had vivid memories as a child of trying to get our dad’s attention, but our dad would be so caught up in the basement, talking to himself constantly, a nasty habit that Ed himself picked up, that he’d completely ignore him. After years of neglect, lack of attention, and constant criticism, Ed gave up on our dad and stopped speaking with him at all intentionally. Our dad picked up on this, and instead of addressing the issue, did the exact same thing back to Ed, not even referring to him by name and only by “him,” “that guy,” and even “that.” He never acknowledged Ed’s birthday from Ed’s teen years until after Ed died.

My mom said a few days ago that if she died tomorrow, “You would have nothing! You’d be so poor!” So in other words, these are words she uses to make me feel dependent on her, for her to feel like she has control over me and my life. I’m 34 years old today. I work, have my own income and place to live, and am married to someone who also works and is able-bodied. I would not have nothing or be poor if she were to die tomorrow.

These words used to affect me a lot more when I was actually living at home or in college, depending on her and my dad. Now, 12 years after graduating from college, they don’t make me numb the same way they used to. Now, I just feel sorry for them.

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