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Erin Grace

Monday, January 30, 2012

Role Reversal

Again, I am not trying to be hurtful to anyone's memory by writing about my life. It's difficult when people talk about growing up because when I say my childhood wasn't normal, people say, "Well, no ones family is 'normal'." I just end up not saying much of anything. What could I say? I'm tired of  keeping quiet. I've had therapists encourage me to write about how I grew up but I have been so afraid of being disrespectful, plus, my memories before age 10 are very spotty. I've noticed, compared to other people, I don't remember much at all. Pretty much all I remember, is what I talk about here. As much as I want to write about this, I'm having a lot of trouble focusing, I try not to jump around too much in my writing, if I do, I apologize. 

I don't get jealous of much of anything but when it comes to hearing about people from much less troubled families, I can't help but wish I knew what that was like. There was really no semblance of normalcy in my family, at least by the time I came along. It wasn't difficult to see my family's issues...there wasn't much hiding that something was wrong. I've heard stories that things were a little better before I was born, that the up's and down's were more spread out.

I'm actually quite a happy person, I don't like to dwell on the past but I don't think we should ignorantly forge ahead without trying to break harmful family patterns. There is always something we can improve upon. I hope my children will learn from my mistakes and dare to do something differently than I have done. I've told them if there is something that you didn't agree with, change it, do it differently. Don't be afraid. If parents love you, they'll respect your choices. I do my best but especially in a family like mine, it's a tall order to not repeat the past.

There are terms in psychology called "parentification" and "spousification", forms of role-reversal between children and their parents. Parentification involves an exploitative relationship in which the parents' expectations exceed the child's capacities, the parent ignores the child's developmental needs, or the parent expects nurturance but does not give it reciprocally: the relationship is not a truly supportive one because the parents' emotional needs are being met at the expense of the child's. When my mother wasn't in bed, she leaned on me emotionally. If I was away from her for long, she would cry and beg me never to leave her again. I could see the desperation. My mother was scared to be abandoned. I felt torn between her and my father.

Spousification is another exploitative form of compensatory closeness or child-as-mate, between an unhappily married parent and a child of the other sex. Blurring of the boundary between the marital and child subsystem can lead children to become inappropriately involved in their parents' marital problems. Although spousification is often considered to be a form of role-reversal, it is distinguished by the fact that the parent is seeking a special kind of intimacy, or it can be hostility towards the child, meant for the other parent. My relationship with my father was both of One minute my father could be so kind and generous and the next, so furious and terrifying. I learned to change gears quickly. Nothing really shocks me. I tend to tolerate too much, even now, because it's all I ever knew. I'm not scared of what I should be scared of and I'm scared of things I probably shouldn't be scared of. I notice that has made it easy for me to let the wrong kind of people into my life, if I'm not really careful: people with no boundaries. Especially men. Other adults would joke that I was like the little wife to my dad. I'd cook and clean and I was never physically far from him. He eventually insisted on sleeping in my room. I remember I hated when he whispered in my ear. It gave me the creeps. The only time I'm not bothered by people whispering in my ear, is when it's my children.

My father hated that I was close to my sister, or rather that my sister tried to be close to me: she knew how bad it was for me because she lived it too. When she turned 18, she told my father that she wanted to adopt me. His answer was an angry, "No! She's mine!" I was his possession. I didn't see much of her after I started living with my father. She tried to keep in touch with me but he wouldn't allow her to visit. I really missed her, I wanted to be with her. As much as I could, I would skip my bus ride home from school and walk into town to her apartment. She was always at work but I'd sit outside on her porch, waiting, watching the neighbors and the wildlife...when my sister came home, usually 2 or 3 hours later, she'd warn me that dad would be looking for me but she kept me there as long as she could. She's a fabulous pianist, artist and cook. She would play classical music for me on her baby grand piano and read the bible to me. I'd help her with chores, do my homework, play with her pets and eat dinner. Then my father would come and pick me up, angry at her because I wanted to be there.

 My sister's place was such a nice escape from my fathers dungeon of a house and his daily rants that I could still probably recall, word for word, if I tried. It was like listening to the same recording...over and over and over and over. It was scary and sad and like clockwork. "Your mother is against me, your sister is against me. They're out to get me. I think the mob is after me. You need to be careful who you talk to. I think I was followed yesterday." On and on. If I tried to change the subject, I heard, "Yeah, you don't want to hear it, you're going to grow up and leave me or turn on me just like them." When he was especially stressed, it all went into overdrive.

When I lived at my father's house, I remember being sick, a lot. I missed school constantly because of strep throat, kidney infections, urinary tract/bladder infections, even surgery. I've had therapists point out that it's unusual for a child that age to have had so many infections and to be acting out sexually, as I described doing a lot, at a young age. They said it is a sign of sexual abuse. Like my fathers' tenant, who took me in his van, the other few memories I have of being left with people (always men), are fairly clear at the beginning and then they just stop. Before I started to have the memories of the guy in the van, I had a huge panic attack when I was "parking" with a boyfriend, in his van. I remember the look on the poor guys face. I scared the shit out of him. It's very frustrating because I can remember feeling very scared of those people and not wanting to go with them but I was so afraid to say "no". As a child, you figure, if mom or dad wants you to go, it must be okay. I was raised in a family of manners and politeness, I wouldn't want to offend anyone, now would I? 

Still, no clear memories of any sexual abuse....until I went to live with another relative. Those years I have no trouble recalling.

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