Monday, November 12, 2012

the other F word


In many respects, I'm lucky for how I grew up. I always had food, shelter, clothing, and sometimes extras. The early years were pretty lean sometimes, but we never went without.

In other respects, things were tough. My parents divorced when I was 3 1/2 and my brother was less than a year old. The split was not amicable, to make an understatement. There was joint custody, which was no treat for any of us. The following three DECADES have not made things any better; my parents still do not and can not talk to each other. There is still manipulation and guilt-tripping done by both sides. I was around eight years old when I realized that when one parent asked about the other one, it was to glean info that would then be used against that other one, and I had to tell both of them that I was not the post office to pass messages between them. I remember feeling angry and frustrated and sad that the grown-ups were acting so ridiculously. There continued to be a lot of drama and issues for years after that. A lot of unhappiness and stress.

Once I got to college, I was old enough and removed enough to have better relationships with both of my parents (it started in high school, but I was still angsty and teenager-y) and in general things have been pretty good since then. Together (well, not literally--that would imply they worked as a unit), they paid for my college (though I did work for three years to cover books and living expenses)--I have zero student debt, and for that I am extremely lucky and grateful. They are both supportive of the life decisions I've made and have helped me in different ways.

However, the drama still rears its ugly head. That was one huge benefit of living across the country for so long--I could stay away from the nonsense. I could stay in New York or travel for the holidays and not have to hear about how much time I'm spending with one parent versus the other, or carefully schedule holiday days to make it as equal as possible.

I have a photo of myself with both of my parents when I was a baby and they were still together. The next photo of the three of us together is from my college graduation. That photo was maybe a minute of being close to each other, in strained silence, before one parent escaped as quickly as possible.

The biggest issue in the last few years was our wedding. Both of my parents would be there. In the same space. For most of a day. What would happen? How would they act? What kind of drama would occur with all of my family in one place, something that has literally never happened? I worried and fretted and cried about it for pretty much the entire planning time. (Thank god it was only four months. If we'd had a year-long or more engagement like many people, this may have given me an ulcer.) I'm tearing up thinking about it even now.

Happily, and to my huge, huge relief, things were fine. They didn't speak to each other, they stayed out of each other's way, there was no drama. I got a third photo of the three of us together.

There was a lot of worry for that one day, a lot of stress hanging over me for what is supposed to be a magical, wonderful day about me and my new husband.

And now there will be grandchildren. What kind of worry and drama does there promise to be for the next eighteen years?

I hate the way I had to grow up. I hate the fact that I'm still crying about it, as a mature and married thirty-three-year-old. I hate the fact that it's a legitimate worry to have even now--the drama and stress has subsided over the years, but it's very much still there, under the surface. Now that I'm so much geographically closer to them, and seeing them more often, it's not taking much for that bullshit to come back up.

I would not wish this on anyone. I want to avoid this kind of thing for any child, let alone mine. Thinking about the future of holidays, fighting between three sets of grandparents who want to see our kids--it makes me almost sick with dread and sadness and anger. I don't want this! I don't want to have to deal with it! I really, REALLY want to shield our kids from this nonsense. But I don't know how. I don't know how all the grandparents will act or react to our limited time and schedule. I don't know if they'll be more forgiving or more demanding. I just don't want to deal with it. For god's sake, I shouldn't have to deal with it.

I want to remember--and remind them--that Mister M and I and these babies are now my primary family, and will be our focus. Our needs as a unit will have to come first. I am excited about my parents being grandparents--despite all this, I think they will be good at it. I really just want to do whatever it takes to avoid them having to live with the kind of stress and secret-keeping that I have lived with for so many years (yes, even now! I'm an adult and it still hasn't stopped!). I'm not sure if I can make that happen without causing even more problems. Again, it makes me sick. And quite frankly, that is the absolute last thing I need to worry about right now or in the next couple months!

I need to focus on myself, on getting these babies as big as possible, and hope that I'm cooking them properly so they will be healthy when they come out. And then we'll need to figure out life with brand new babies and figure out how to be parents. Those are big enough changes and worries. But the other stuff continues to lurk in the back of my mind. For now, I think we've got a good excuse to bow out of Thanksgiving, and hopefully Christmas too--I can only hope that it won't be much of an issue this year, since everything and everyone will be so new. The pessimistic and realistic part of me says that oh no, there will still be Issues and Drama and Stress and Goddammit.

I don't know what to do except worry and cry. I don't want to do either of those things. To be clear, it's not like I sit around thinking about this all day every day. But it lurks in the back of my mind, and any mention of the holidays brings up at least a little of it, and sometimes I let it out enough to start upsetting me.


Maggie said...

J, I'm so sorry you have to deal with this! It sounds awful, and also like you've learned how to manage it in the most responsible and respectful way possible.

I trust that you and Mister M are equipped to make responsible and respectful decisions for the future of your family, and you'll be strong enough to enforce these decisions.

BIG hugs! And cheers! YOU CAN DO IT!

(Also, babies, keep growing strong!)

Karenina said...

Though the history sounds like it will probably be worse than usual for your family, I would like to assure you that even families which don't have divorced sets of grandparents have this kind of stress-- because there is only one of you, and there is only one holiday.

And consider this: though getting together with family for the holidays is wonderful, it is also sometimes equally wonderful to not. Having a quiet Christmas with just my husband and my babies is not a bad choice, and it is always a choice you can make, and you don't need any excuse except "This is what our plans are this year for the holidays. We would love to see you in the summer-- what days would you be free?"

Good luck!

Jules said...

Thank you for your encouraging words, Maggie. :)

Karenina, those are excellent points and reassurances. Thank you. :)

Jaclyn said...

When I was pregnant with my son, I called my parents and my husband's parents to tell them it was a boy after our 20 week ultrasound. There were two distant relatives who were upset that I didn't think to call them with the results - one called me, and congratulated me and was so genuinely happy for us that I made more of an effort to call her with baby news, and she has become a surrogate grandmother. The other distant relative was passive aggressive in complaining about the fact that she wasn't told directly about my ultrasound, and I tried to limit contact with her since I didn't need any extra aggravation while I was pregnant or later while I was taking care of a baby. Some relatives will step up in ways that surprise you. And others you may need to limit contact with. You are having twins, so there is a lot of work for three sets of grandparents. And the ones who come over, ask you how you are doing, bring food and help with laundry will be the ones who will get more phone calls and invitations in the future. You just need to focus on your children and providing a better environment for them than the one you had growing up. If any of the grandparents can't get on board with that, then they will need to have more limited contact. Its a really good sign that everyone was able to be mature and not ruin your wedding by not making it about them. So perhaps they will be able to come on separate days to help, and will not interact with each other much in the beginning. Best of luck to you.

Jules said...

Ugh, I'm sorry that you had to deal with drama too, but sounds like you found a way to ignore it! You make good points about making sure the families are helpful to us and the babies. Thanks. :)