Saturday, March 19, 2011

Parental Alienation Soundrack

Have you listened to "When Doves Cry" lately? There's something brilliantly therapeutic in dancing to such sad sentiments.

I am my father's daughter in more ways than I can count, temperament not the least among them; and yet I'm female and the oldest child, and I feel a strong kinship with my mother as well. We have lots of interests in common despite major differences in our outlooks. I've always felt that I was a blend of my parents, and even as I've alternately struggled with relationships with both of them, I love them deeply.

However, in times of discord my mother has attempted Parental Alienation. I'm confident that she would say given the circumstances, it was in my best interest and completely justifiable. My mother is a painfully honest person; her opinions are just that, but I don't argue when she says, "This happened," because her track record is pretty reliable. There's no denying that my dad was a terrible husband to her in very significant ways - even he has said so. But growing up and even now as an adult, the comparisons she makes between me and my father have rooted a deep struggle and hopelessness in me.

I've always known that my mother loved me - though mostly I felt her definition of love was "commitment," not love -  but since I was 12 I have also believed that she did not and probably would not ever like me. I am too much like my dad in her eyes. Now that he is gone from her presence, it has often felt as though she views me as his stand in.

She has given me ultimatums when I've pressed certain subjects. She told me several years ago that if I ever brought a certain topic up again, namely that I believe there are two people responsible for every marriage's outcome, that would be the last time we would ever speak. Wait, what? Did my mom just threaten to divorce me? It sure sounded like it. I've been on the merciless end of her honesty before. I guess she's the only one who's allowed to dole it out.

Now that my dad and I are estranged, my mom and I get along wonderfully. It's always been that way: I've never been able to have peaceful relationships with them both at the same time. Fighting with one was frequently rewarded with closeness from the other. Now that I'm a parent of two kids, I see how easily that lapse in judgment could happen. If I look honestly at myself, I know I'm already guilty of it in some sense. If I feel my partner's come down on our son too hard for something, I'm probably likely to draw my child closer.

I'm less clear, though, if that's what my parents were doing - if it was essentially a parenting disagreement. There was definitely loneliness involved for both of them, and perhaps the comforting rebellion of adopting me as an ally. Maybe they didn't even know they were doing it.

And that's why, when I told them about my unplanned first pregnancy and they swiftly and bilaterally swooped me into their care I was so stunned. And also perhaps why when their separation interrupted that season in my life, I became so thoroughly undone. Maybe I'd be better off if they'd responded separately and I never knew what it was to have two parents' love at the same time.

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