Facebook is a funny thing. If you just had to read your FB timeline you’d think everyone that you knew was deliriously happy. The smiling faces shining back from uploaded photos, the smug updates and the happy bliss which gets broadcasted regularly. Twitter on the other hand is a little more real. People say a little more of what they are honestly feeling but not everything.
Blogs give us the freedom to let it all hang out.
There is a topic which I cannot discuss with most of my friends (they genuinely won’t understand) and can never post on FB.
I grew up with parents who were extremely hard on me. I cannot explain it any better than that. My sister has special needs and so I have always received double the pressure to do everything well. I learnt from an early age “if you don’t do something properly then don’t bother doing it at all”. This pearl of wisdom was from my mother. My father was extra hard on me but firmly believes he was a “strict but loving father”. He was strict and he was a father. I’ll leave it at that.
My parents had (and still have) a set of rules for me and no matter how hard I tried I always fell short of their expectations. Their undiluted disappointment in me was never hidden. For everybody else there was a different set of rules and in their eyes – nobody but me could do wrong.
I was 10 years old before they told me that my sister was special. So for quite a number of years they just repeatedly told me what a horrible and impatient sister I was to their second born and never tried to explain to me why she was different or why it took her longer to grasp certain things. I know that I would have been a better and more patient sister if I had known that. That guilt I felt was really heavy.
When I was in Matric I was keen to study journalism (it was my dream from the age of eight). My Mother told me one day that she had heard from a cousin’s, friend’s, sister (who had studied journalism) that it was very competitive. This girl had apparently finished her studies and was finding the job hunting very difficult. “And she is clever” my Mother helpfully pointed out implying that if a clever person cannot make it, well then there really wasn’t terribly much hope for someone like me.
I was in my last year of schooling and the thought of dedicating a further three or four to studying for something that might not pay off was daunting. So I signed up for a secretarial course “as there are always jobs for secretaries”. I ran into my cousin’s, friend’s, sister a few years back. She isn’t a Journalist. She is a Pharmacist. I asked my cousin if I’d maybe heard the story wrong (I wanted to believe that I had…give my parents the benefit of the doubt…). Still waiting for an answer. Obviously my mother got very defensive when I asked her about this.
Same as when I pointed out that I have a curved spine. Growing up my parents went on and about my slouchy posture. The amount of times I had “sit straight” shouted at me….my father would even mock me when I sat in a hunched position. They knew it was an issue but never once had a professional look at my back. It is too late now to have an op or have it corrected and I get bad back pain occasionally. I told them this, and they got angry and defensive (their favourite modes when dealing with me) and told me I should focus on what they HAD done for me growing up. They actually reminded me of the time they rushed me to ER with a terrible bladder infection at 4 in the morning. As if being cared for by ones parents was a privilege not something I should ever take for granted.
Nothing has ever been allowed to be about me. Not even my wedding day. They took that over as well. Couldn’t get married in the church I’d attended since I was five. Couldn’t invite my best friend’s parents (her dad irritated my father). Had to have my parents friends there though. Didn’t even get to celebrate afterwards with a reception. My parents were irritated with my future in-laws and getting the last word with them was more important than giving me the day I’d dreamed of since I was little. My mother-in-law organised tea and cake for after the ceremony. My parents contribution was money to put towards the deposit of our first home and I am grateful for that but shaving off interest on our bond wasn’t what I fantasized about when I was growing up. I married the man of my dreams and that was the important thing but my parents taking over our wedding was hurtful. My father-in-law helped us with our invitations and my mother rubbed in my face that when her and my father got married, they did everything themselves. Our invitations were beautiful – I just wish I could forget my mothers cruel words. They didn’t want to get involved but they resented anyone else who did. I can never win.
We lost a relative a few years back – she died after bravely fighting Leukaemia. My boyfriend at the time (now my hubby) could not attend the funeral. He tried to get time off and the office was just too busy. We weren’t even married so it wasn’t considered ‘family responsibility leave’. My mother couldn’t just let that go. She didn’t care that I’d had to work on a weekend so that I could attend the funeral. She didn’t care that I’d spent the rest of that weekend with her grieving family “because family comes first” she kept saying. She just carried on and on about how my boyfriend wasn’t at the funeral. I was also grieving but she didn’t even ask how I was feeling. I pointed out that he had to work and when I grew tired of her carrying on and on I reminded her that one of our cousins hadn’t attended and my mother got really angry saying “well she had to work”. This cousin didn’t bother attending the church service the day before with my grieving Uncle and Aunt. She didn’t spend the day with them and have lunch while watching two broken people sit there in shock after their daughter had died days before. But she saint in my mothers eyes. She got the easy set of rules to follow.
You see there is a set of rules for everyone else and a set for me and I’ll never be good enough in their eyes.
And yet every time they treated me like rubbish I crawled back and thought that one day they would realise my worth. That I did mean something to them and they just had a ‘different’ way of showing it.
This year after 31 years of this hurtful treatment, I told them how wrong they treat me. I spelt out to them what it is like for me. I gave them examples of how they have been awful to me. How they endlessly fund and feed and are there for everyone else but all I’ve ever wanted is a bit of their time and a shred of respect and EVEN that was too much.
They told me to stop living in the past and grow up. My husband sent them an e-mail and they replied running his family into the ground and pointing out every gripe I had with his family.
When I point out a relative’s rude behaviour (from giving my cell number out to companies who then cold call me, to not wishing my husband for his birthday) my mother points out that she isn’t responsible for other people’s behaviour. When I asked why she treats my husband and I like rubbish I was told to stop being so negative and she got my dad to answer her e-mails. I’m not allowed to contact her until I have something nice to say. It is going to be a long wait.
But I can never put this on FB. And I can never tell most of my friends. And it isn’t something you broadcast on Twitter. And I could never admit it to colleagues.
And so the world continues believing my parents are amazing people who would do anything for their eldest daughter. Except phone her. Visit her. Act like they care. Treat her as if she means something to them. Respect her. Be a loyal parent.
They got away with it. And I wonder how many other people’s parents and family get away with things simply because it is just too uncomfortable to say the words.