Friday, March 31, 2006

Mommy Dearest

I remember a few years back having a conversation with 2 disabled friends of mine. We ended up talking about our mothers and realized that we all had something in common. Our mothers were crazy. Overbearing, dominant, guilt-giving, unrealistic crazy. It started me wondering about how many other people with disabilities had crazy mothers. And of course the question that comes from that is.. which came first, the disabled child or the crazy mother? Now, in defense of our mothers, I must say that a) I am certain it's not easy bringing up a disabled child, b) everybody has a bit of craziness in them. Lord knows I do! But my 2 friends and I noticed that our mothers were very similar in this regard.

I think this would make a very interesting study. I love my mother, but I can't be around her for too long before she starts driving me crazy. Bang your head on a brick wall crazy. My mother feels that in order to make friends, I have to be extraordinary. She always said she had hoped I would be an artist because everyone would be in awe of that talent and just naturally want to be around me. That is wrong on just so many levels. First of all, that is naturally coming from her own biased viewpoint. She values art. I do draw. Sometimes quite well. I have a glimmer of talent which my procrastinating nature never really nurtured. But it doesn't matter to me. It's a hobby I dabble in sometimes. Whatever. When I chose social work, she wasn't happy with that. she felt life was hard enough for me, why would I want to listen to other people's problems. It's funny, I see her point to an extent, but it is still narrow-minded. I don't have the patience in my personal life to listen to people who only talk about problems or heck, even only talk about themselves. I used to be able to deal with that, not anymore. However in my professional life, I quite enjoy it. I can separate it because it is my role to listen to them. I am in control as I chose to do this. In your personal life, when you have friends who are too needy (and for a while those were the only type of friends I was attracting), it feels beyond your control. That doesn't mean that I don't want to listen to my friends talk about their problems. Of course I have patience for that, but to a point. I am there for my good friends as they are there for me. But I will also challenge them. If they are whining about the same crap, I will tell them that they are not doing anything to change their situation and I won't be as patient. If they are trying to change their situation and it's just not working, I'll be very compassionate. But, that was a tangent. Back to mothers...

What my mother really didn't and doesn't get is that all her talk about having a great talent to draw people to you affected me negatively. It made me afraid to be who I am, whoever that is, for fear it's not good enough for "normal" folk to like. I was always told to cover up my legs and feet because they are deformed so I'll "look pretty". Same with my weight. "You'd be so pretty if you were thinner". I had to hide as much of my disability as possible and overcompensate for it by doing extraordinary things. I wasn't allowed to be just a normal girl with a disability. I feel like I'm repeating myself as I think I talked about some of this in an early post. But, I am wondering how many of us have mothers who had trouble dealing with our disability. I'm sure most have trouble, but how many have mothers like I describe, who put the onus on us to do 90% of the work to draw others to us and make fulfilling relationships? If someone runs out of their way to open a door for me (which I hate) my mom replies with "I'd love to have someone do that for me, you should just accept it." I find that funny. I'm supposed to be as independent as I can, and possibly more, yet not complain when others help when they think I need it. Her response when I was in high school and had no friends was "keep busy, act like you're too busy to spend time with them."

Then there's the discussions about my brother that comes up a couple times a year. My parents have been divorced for 30 years. My mother still blames my father for not helping my brother more financially. My brother is 3 years older than me and lives with my mother. I take my father's side. He's not perfect by any means. And yes, he and my brother have issues. They are not close. They dont' fight, have no animosity toward each other, but they are not close. I've always been helped financially by my father. I lived with him from mid-teens to mid-twenties. I got more, it's true. But on the flip side, my brother has always been very irresponsible with money, whereas I haven't. My brother worked with my mother. Long story short, he doesn't anymore, but hasn't found a job for himself. He is living under her roof, spending her money. And she likes it. She needs that. She would never admit it though. It's a self-serving relationship, however if my mother were to die tomorrow, my brother would be lost. She doesn't think so. She thinks she's helped him get his self-esteem. I disagree. Whatever the situation, it is wrong to blame my father. My father was harsh with my brother, but he had to be. My brother had his deviant phase and needed to prove he could be trusted again. Anyways, there's lots more to it, but all this to say that when we talk about it my mother always said "the doctors told us when you were born that you'd be fine, that it was your brother we'd have to worry about, being the sibling of a disabled child. He will get less attention and it will be harder for him." I'm sure it was very hard for him at times. And I used to spend nights awake worrying about him and what I needed to do to fix it. I won't do that anymore. I won't go there with my mother. But I really resented her telling me that. I'm a 35 year old woman with major problems to my self-esteem. I have trouble connecting with people. I have few close friends, none male. All male friends I've had have not lasted long, with the exception of one. I have dated one person for a period so short he doesn't even qualify as a boyfriend. I'm insecure, have issues with my weight. Low self-confidence. I yearn for approval. Even with friends I do have, I am never secure they consider me as good a friend as I consider them. I don't say this to get a collective "awww" out of you. I say this to explain. When my mother told me the doctor said I'd be fine, I'm wondering what freaking planet she's on if she thinks that I'm so much better off than my brother. My brother still lives with my mom and has no job of his own, yes. But he has friends. And he is well liked. He hasn't had a lot of girlfriends, as far as we know (he doesn't talk about it... but it's been about 12 years since we've met one), but it's not for lack of interest from them.

Any of this sounding familiar to anyone?


Anonymous said...

As the mom of 2 young adult children with disabilities, I thank you for your honesty. It is tough to raise a child with a disability. I guess it feels scary - I want so much for them to be happy, successful, independent, etc, etc. and this disabled world doesn't make it easy. It has taken me a long time to realize that for my children my concerns can translate to them as my being disappointed in them. Nothing could be further from the truth - but I have to do better, especially as my "children" move into adulthood.
Thanks for sharing your feelings and insights.

Book Girl said...

Oh, yes, it sounds very familiar.

My situation is an extreme version of yours though, my parents were out and out verbally abusive, blamed my difficulties at school on me, harangued me constantly about being independent - something I naturally am any way - but they made it *impossible* for me to connect with others as I expected the same level of abuse from everyone else. And it all was justified by the old saw - "It's so hard to raise a child with a disability".

Well, yes, it's not easy, and there isn't enough support from society, but I'm met other PWD's now, with the same disability as me, with more severe disabilities to me, and I've met their parents, and seen the way they've treated and talked about their children, and it is completely different to the way my parents treated me. They treat their kids with respect, love their children for who they are, and you can tell the difference with these people. They have more confidence than I do, and can trust that people will care about them and support them.

The disability is often used as an excuse for others treating us sub-standardly - but it's just an excuse.

Whoops, sorry, I've rambled a bit!

I've been reading your blog for a while BTW and have really been enjoying it. Especially identified with your recent dating adventures, they rang more than a few bells. I'm going to get around to writing about my abortive attempts in the area soon, I hope.

Hg said...

I have just started teaching kids with a range of disabilities and it's a big eye opener for me in lots of ways.

There are all sorts of different parents with their own issues as well as learning to deal with their kids lives. The stuff happening with you and your brother happens in all sorts of situations, unfortunately.

I read your blog regularly to get an idea of what the future may hold for the kids I teach and the things they will have to face that I have no comprehension of.

Thanks for sharing your world.

Anonymous said...

In the book, SECRET GIRL, author Molly Bruce Jacobs describes how she learned about a sister who was "mildly retarded" and institutionalized by their parents from birth. She meets her sister for the first time at age 38, and begins a process of integrating her sister into her own family. There's an excerpt from the book here:

miss tango in her eyes said...

All mothers are crazy! Yes bang your head against the brickwall crazy!

As for male friends, lots of women do not have male friends. It is strange, but sometimes that's just the way it is.

Most Canadian men are weird, they look at the ground even when a non-disabled girl walks by them, they have no balls. It's like all mothers here in Canada raised them the same way.