Family are a lot like goldfish. Their affections grow to endure only what fits comfortably within their own environments. I watched what felt like helplessly as the family I thought I knew mutated into something wholly unrecognizable.
As a grandmother, there are life-wisdoms I wanted to leave … those things that we only see clearly through a grandparent’s age and experience. There is one ‘wisdom’ in particular to which I hope you will give special caution.
Leaving this in my burial planning records, it started as a simple paragraph or two when it dawned on me that this really is my last chance to “chat” with you. No pressure or anything. There are so many things I wish I’d been better equipped to speak to over the years, when it might’ve made a difference. And no one wants to be forgotten or, worse, remembered in a poorly shed light of the less loving.
I kept believing the opportunity would come when our family would want to set differences right, but the time for that has passed; and it is clear by now, ‘setting things right’ defeats the purpose of all their years’ hard work. “It takes two to Tango” and here I am with the bulk of a productive life behind me. It is important you know what others don’t speak, else a life of unspoken truths die with me.
I’m sure this is much less relevant to others than to me, but it might mean something when you find yourself confronted with similar dynamics. I always took a back seat, never standing up for myself; convincing myself another’s feelings were more important; that I had bigger shoulders; that some day when it was most critical someone would do that for me. It’s been a long wait. So it seemed especially important now.
Knowing your spouse’s appreciation for genealogy, I began this by adding simple bits & pieces of personal history. The next thing I knew it had morphed into a book rather than a ‘few last words.’ In perfect hindsight now, how these tragedies unfolded speaks to surviving this family’s dysfunction more than it does the ill-equipped child turned matriarch who still struggles to navigate that terrain.
Stepping Back in Time
Not so long ago generations of family lived in one home, so learning from one another was an effortless occurrence. Oh, the richness of that life. I wish you & I could’ve had that, I’d like to know you better as the full-grown adult you are: What weighs on your mind and heart; your spiritual and worldly convictions; your ambitions and memories and regrets. What you think, why you think it and how you reach your conclusions. I very much cherish the intermittent blurps we do occasionally share. Those are very special to me, especially when we find laughter in them.
While trying to put cautions in written word, it occurred to me how much I don’t know about the whole person you’ve become and, given likely differences between our generations, maybe my ‘grandmotherly’ vantage would seem to underestimate you. The 40-some years between us allows you to be generally better-informed about the world than I was at your age; and your upbringing was considerably less sheltered than mine. I’ve always regretted that, for you, but being overly protected in formative years isn’t the blessing it’s intended to be, either. I speak from experience.
I can’t know where the potential overlap of ‘underestimating you’ starts & my naivete stops. School records reflected an IQ of 150, but I was emotionally stunted by an overly-protective authoritarian that demanded compassionate blind-faith in the face of everyone and everything that confronted me. Being reared to believe those principles were an integral part of being a good person, I lived them, they became who I was. I accepted everyone at face value and that staunch principle misguided me for countless years.
A normal day of my formative childhood is no keener visualized than an episode of the old “Leave It To Beaver” TV series. That is a perfect snapshot: Living in a quaint safe town, the child of upstanding parents; the expansive sterile home with a father always in a suit or ironed khakis, a mother homemaking in flowing skirts and the only problems to solve being ironing out wrinkles of idealism. The stark difference in mine was a brother bearing intense resentment that I ever came along in the first place, but nothing’s perfect.
In the end, I also know that your age cannot possibly afford the knowledge it took a lifetime of experiences to gain, so I trudge forward with my ‘wisdom’ quest. Somewhere in between the differences of our personal histories are the twains where youthful inexperience and elderly wisdom intersect.
Ahh, To Be Young Again
When we’re young life is full & busy as we try to realize all of the dreams built into our eager hearts. Over time life can come to feel so endlessly mundane many of them fall-away or we find ourselves blindly following their crumbs wherever they lead us. Old age seems so off of our radars we don’t concern ourselves. It comes so much sooner than any of us envision, despite how we convince ourselves we’ll conquer that, too.
When that part of life happens all that’s left are memory snapshots of the journeys undertaken with people we loved dotting their landscape. We always think of ourselves as the vibrant person we were in our youth, defying the ‘old person’ we inevitably do morph into and even after we already have. No one who lives long enough escapes that. That is when we need family’s affections more than ever. It’s natural to expect that the loved ones of today will be there then.
Maybe someday your generation will restart family reunions and you’ll find yourself gathered around a table with loved ones you all-too-rarely see, catching up with memories of old times like we used to do. Dad loved our family reunions and God bless him for keeping them going as long as he did. They stopped (in terms of inviting me) when he died and that speaks better to my reasons for leaving this than any other could.
You’ll be the only one of your generation knowing this side of our family history. Others have invested themselves in rewriting it and, to great regrettable degree, they’ve accomplished that in trying to shed themselves in better light. When someone seeks to pull themselves above the rest, there’s always another who pays the price. For reasons you may innately understand, I was this family’s easy target.
We never know other people as well as we think we do and family is at the top of that list. If you don’t appreciate the ‘wisdom’ in this now, save it for when you find loved ones inexplicably disappointing. That day will come. In one form or another, the ‘wisdom’ interwoven here is at the core of all we find perplexing about humanity. Entire industries prosper from the subject, attesting to just how real and captivating those mysteries are. We never truly appreciate the evil within them until we’re forced to live it.
During my productive years, which are the bulk of everyone’s lifetime, I routinely denied myself to give to those around me, even when I had very little to give materially or emotionally. Your mother is the prime beneficiary. Dad’s second family and you boys rank right up there at the top. The list goes on … siblings, in-laws, husbands, coworkers, friends, and acquaintances.
A few stories that never get told because, in accordance with the values I was taught, I’m not prone to talking about my good-doings. I hoped by adding them here they’d better demonstrate my heart. (Doing this makes more sense when you read further):
As a young, struggling single mother, at Christmas I waited to pay on a layaway. A very old man ahead was placing a few dollars on an $8 pair of slippers he’d laid away as a gift for his wife. It was his second payment. The love he showed with what little he had was so absolutely touching, after he left I paid off the balance.
In a grocery line a few months ago a mother ahead of me with her three boys spent $30 more than she had. She began removing all of the boys’ favorite items. I put the balance on my card and the lady had tears in her eyes in hugging me. I hoped it gave the people behind thought for the day, too. “Pay it forward.”
Then there was the young woman with a baby stranded at an interstate rest area to whom I gave $50 for gas and food. As soon as the money exchanged hands she ran to her boyfriend hiding in a nearby car and with a day’s bounty in hand they zoomed away (I can only hope not to buy drugs). We can’t get them all right.
I do love giving, of feeling love, of being able to make someone’s life a little happier or less burdensome. Praise God for the opportunities. That is the real me and with the same humility I was taught to love I’m not prone to tooting my horn. I give because I love giving, including emotional sacrifices when someone else needs those and which are often the hardest for any of us to give. I am confident in the goodness I am. I certainly am saddened by ‘my family’s’ efforts to pose me otherwise. But God & I know better.
Chapters that follow are written from the emotional angle of those endearing endeavors, whether anyone ever acknowledges them or not. That coming so naturally to me is what made it so easy for those less generous to take advantage.
Each family is different but I’ve heard of a lot more who share the traits about which I write than those who don’t. I assure you, in your generation of our immediate family the dilemma I caution is also thriving, alive and well. This identifies those danger zones. I write of a family dynamic, but the same principles apply to work and social situations.
We think ‘who we are’ is defined by the principles we live, but it is not that simple. That is not necessarily so. To others and especially those within a family, ‘who we are’ is a lot more about them than it is about us. After giving all of my productive years so loyally to so many and for so long, their abandonment of me in the end was an unfathomable outcome. In my overly-naïve state, I could never have foreseen that coming.
This is my true story of how that life trauma evolved and, I hope, how to not let it happen to you. I attribute my ludicrous naivete’ to being taught unrealistic ideals as a small child but when I came of age to practically apply them to life I was left grossly deficient of any parental guidance. My idealism never merged with application. Those unadulterated values lived in my soul, blindly guiding me from one life tragedy into another and none were more tragic than those of the last four-years.
Please peruse embedded videos, identified by “Video” in chapter titles. A couple are critical in understanding the psychology at play.
‘The Wisdom’ Within this Wisdom Quest
Family are a lot like goldfish. Their affections grow to endure only what fits comfortably within their own environments. I watched what felt like helplessly, with new spouses and newborn children growing into adulthood, as the family I thought I knew mutated into something wholly unrecognizable.
‘The wisdom’ I leave for you is rooted in manipulation. Don’t think you know enough about this already — you do not. Manipulation is, by its very nature, secreted deep within the bowels of each generation’s search for importance within their family hierarchy.
Manipulation stems from insecurities and within a family unit requires crafty, deceptive rumormongering of more than one to make it work. Willing gamers are always the least secure. A more independent, concentrated form of manipulation is within the marriage itself and the gamer is always the spouse. Those types of spouses are, however, always on the prowl for a hierarchy weaker link, drawing in others to give their prowess strength of numbers.
The larger a family the more insecure personalities there are in it and the more dangerous their game. My biggest failing was – I was not insecure. I ignorantly loved and trusted, forcing myself to do that even when I sensed otherwise … because that pure grain of idealism is what was so staunchly etched into guiding me. That over-trusting unawareness, the confidence it mustered and the successes it achieved made me the natural, easiest family target of scapegoating.
Manipulation and rumormongering work to erode all we thought we knew about our family’s fishbowl. If we are secure in ourselves and especially when we’re young, it’s too easy to dismiss red-flag behaviors as mere glitches when they are anything but. When you sense a ref flag, it is a red flag. Pay attention to it. Never ignore your gut instincts – never.
My family being fragmented at an early age brought all the insecurities of a second stepfamily. Even natural families have their over-indulged favorites or diabolical gamers. It may be too early for you to see this in your immediate family, but it is lurking. Trust me on that. You may already have a sense of the red flags you’ve ignored because you don’t know how to commit to handling them yet. Trust your gut. Gut instincts are always reliable. Never ignore a red flag. Explore it. That’s your instincts telling you “wait a minute, you really need to look at this.”
A late-comer in our family had a keen knack for charismatic persuasion and that was the sustenance for all that was to go bad in the years that followed. Those less secure found The Persuader a keen means to filling their emotional needs. It could be equated to a football game, with the more-experienced coach directing cunning plays while youthful offense & defense on the field carried them out. A couple could only observe from the bench trying to figure out red flags and what the score was.
With these tactics always employed clandestinely and, by that, uncontested, over time it develops into a dizzying, whimsical beehive of plotting and counter-plotting that had no scoreboard and no end. The game itself became ‘who’ the family was. Those less-secure tirelessly schemed to unseat those naturally born into the hierarchy in trying to gain an elusive place they perceived as more self-important. A seat they perceived as being self-entitled. They had to have it. They had to be it. The only way to get there was to unseat the subject of their insecurities’ disdain.
To people of so little self-esteem, it is of no consequence when their goals damage others’ lives. There is no “for the good of the whole” mindset. Damaging others is a deliberate intent. Scheming and plotting is a reflex like breathing. They’ve learned it innately and perfected it all of their lives. It’s second nature. In family it becomes a giggling whimsy of self-aggrandizing in who can impose the most cunning. Moral conscience does not apply. Those of moral conscience are the “weaker” prey. Depriving another of moral conscience is essential to reaching their goals.
The underlying dilemma is that people trying to fill an internal void this way cannot possibly accomplish what they seek, precisely because the hole they try to fill is innate insecurity that’s permanently built into their psyche. It’s like trying to fill a pitcher with a hole in the bottom. No amount of gamesmanship can fill their sense of void and unease about themselves, making it all the more necessary for them to try.
Just like trying to fill that pitcher with a hole, when the water coming in is greater than the water going out the pitcher begins to refill. Similarly, gamesmanship replenishes the manipulator in feeling good about themselves again. But because of the hole (their insecurity) that sensation cannot last, so they keep taking their psyche back to the well to replenish that feel-good feeling. The process continues never ending else the pitcher becomes a useless vessel.
Much like an addiction, manipulation offers a temporary satisfaction in sensing power, relief and feeling-good. Like an addiction, the more successful manipulation is and the more people they can bring into it the more they need those highs and the more practiced they become at attaining them.
Lesson One: Do not be a silent player observing from the bench. Your gut instincts are always telling you something important.
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For general information … video may contain foul language.