Every now and again I think about children. I don’t have any children of my own although I have two terrific stepchildren… both now married, and both lawyers – one in Texas and the other in Minnesota. I love them dearly and I couldn’t be more proud of them!
As a matter of curiosity, I note that the popular television show “Father Knows Best" debuted the year I was born and ran until I was 8. Perhaps this is where he got the idea but, like the show, my dad knew best. He knew the best way to drive from point A to point B in the city; he knew the best way to put a garbage bag in the bucket so as to make maximum use of the space; he knew the best and proper channels to watch on TV; he knew the best way to fold socks and underwear so as to make full use of drawer space; he knew the best way to navigate a shopping cart through the grocery store to get maximum coverage in a minimum amount of time; and he knew the best way to play off my mother’s need to satisfy in order to fulfill his own needs.
My dad has emotional needs… manifested most clearly and strongly in his need to control. My mother, although better educated and the higher wage earner, was totally subservient to my dad – fulfilling her own need to please others. Her whole life – to the exclusion of almost everything else – revolved around his needs and his happiness. I always hoped that she would stand up to him, but it never happened. Even when dad had an affair (at age 63) and told mom about it, I hoped she’d divorce him and learn, finally, to depend on herself and her own strengths to carry her through. It never happened. She may never have forgotten, but she forgave just enough and life resumed much as before.
Neither mom nor dad were very good at expressing themselves emotionally. I don’t ever remember hearing them say that they loved me; I don’t ever remember hearing them say that they were proud of me. I do remember that just about every Saturday mom had one of her “sick headaches" and would drug up before dad came home from work and they both went out to a club with their friends. I also remember their emotional indifference to me and Michael. I’m sure the feelings were there – at least, I hope they were – but growing up with them was like living in an emotional wasteland… indeed, we lived in an emotional vacuum because it was more draining than nurturing.
Of course, it took many years of living on my own to fully appreciate the impact of growing up in an emotionally neutral environment, but I came to realize – after some time – that my brother and I were both the victims of emotional abuse. With the help of Susan Forward’s book “Toxic Parents", I came to realize and understand what had happened. In her own words, the book was “written for adults who are coming to realize that they were raised by parents whose own needs were allowed to overshadow the responsibility of rearing independent self-confident children." Never were truer words spoken!
Well, my brother and I were such adults. Michael eventually married and raised two boys. My nephews (aged 15 and 10 as I write) are adorable children – thanks mainly to the intervention of their mother. Aside from that though, they are a mirror image of my brother. Michael, like my dad, has developed strict guidelines for living; strict guidelines for the way things should be done! And even though Michael knows and understands and has fully rationalized what happened while we were growing up, this has not stopped him from raising children in much the same way as he was raised. I see it every time I visit, and I think about the choices we each have made in our life!
My nephews at age 13 and 8!
My nephews at age 13 and 8!
I chose to stop the cycle of abuse... I chose not to have children – but every now and again I think about children. I think about the “what ifs"; I think about how proud I felt when my stepchildren graduated from law school; and I sometimes regret that I never had children of my own. Those regrets, fortunately, don’t last too long because, in the end, I’m absolutely certain that I made the right decision for me.
My mom, at age 76, developed ovarian cancer last year and had a hysterectomy followed by 6 rounds of chemotherapy. Dad's overriding concern during this time was "who is going to look after me while she's in the hospital?"
Yes, I may have deprived my parents of grandchildren… but to further indulge their needs would have been far too great a cost – a cost I'm no longer willing to pay.