Saturday, December 1, 2012

Sacrificing Your Life?

Come down from the cross, we need the wood.

People love to nail themselves to the cross, it seems.  And in this regard, one of the biggest problems I see with folks is in their relationships with their parents.  Even here on retirement island, there are folks in their 70's who whine and bitch about their controlling parents who are in their 90's.  Mom is in the nursing home, weak as a kitten, and yet their aging children are still afraid of her.   It makes no sense to me.

(Thankfully, my parents had the courtesy to do the right thing and take a dirt-dive in the churchyard at a relatively young age, leaving me in peace.  It is good to be youngest).

Sadder still are people who sacrifice their lives either trying to please their parents, or "get even" with them.   They will turn to drugs and crime, as young adults, either to punish their parents, or get attention, or whatever.  It is such a waste.

The thing to remember about parents is that they are schmucks like yourself.  They have no special skills, or even maturity.   It takes no diploma or certificate to become a parent.   Ten awkward minutes in the back of a Camaro and that's it.

And yet, some folks like to think that being a parent has endowed them with special wisdom and knowledge.   I saw this, yet again, in Wal-Mart the other day.  The fat trailer-park girls, pushing around their strollers and acting as though being a "Mom" was some higher calling.  They act as if they split the atom, as opposed to spreading their legs.

And parents such as that are often quite immature, and often damage their children.   Let's take aside for the moment, the horrific parents who beat their kids and emotionally torture them.  I'm just talking about average people, here.    A young mother sees her daughter, full of hope and promise, so young and beautiful with perfect skin, and well, she hates her.  Not in a direct sort of way, but the child represents the promise the parent no longer has.    So you see this, for example yesterday at Wal-Mart, a parent running down their children and calling them "stupid".   Yes, it is fun to lord over small humans.  Fun, but disgusting.

And yet most parents are this way.   My Mother was very immature, up until the day she died.  She was prone to teenage fits of jealousy and envy.  She was an alcoholic, bi-polar, and a closeted Lesbian.  And a funny thing, when you are a kid, no one says, "Oh, by the way, your Mom is crazy, don't pay attention to all the bizarre shit she says!" 

As a child, you tend to think your parents are Gods who know-all and see-all.   And if you don't believe this, they will spank or beat you.   And as you grow up, you may hang on to this sense of their superiority.  It is hard to shake.  But shake it you must, lest you end up a shadow of their accomplishments in life.

I was fortunate in that, being youngest, I saw my parents at the end of their careers and end of story arc of their lives.  They were not so intimidating to me as they were to my elder siblings.  I felt sorry for them more than anything.  And parents really don't like that, let me tell you. 

But I was able to break free of the cycle of parental dependency.  I stopped seeking their acceptance and validation - which is never likely to come from any parent.   And I stopped engaging in self-destructive behavior as a means of retaliation.

What do I mean by the latter?   Well, I have used two examples in the past of this:

Suzie was beaten by her abusive Father, and when she got pregnant at age 16, he paid for an abortion, but not before calling her a "slut" and a "whore" for weeks on end.   Suzie turned to drugs and petty theft, and pretty soon became a full-blown drug addict.   And I suspect part of this was the low-self-esteem induced by the treatment by her Father, but also an act of revenge.   She would embarrass her Dad and his Country-Club pals by lowering herself into the gutter.

Francine is another example.  Her parents groomed her for life as the wife of a young executive.  She was sent to a girls' boarding school, and then to a women's liberal arts college.   This was back in the 1960's when careers for women were largely unheard of.  You got a job as a secretary, until you met some handsome young executive and then you married him, had four kids and a station wagon, and hoped he didn't beat you - too much.

Francine rebelled against this grooming.   She would live her own life and show them!   Unfortunately, she really didn't think it out very well, and married the first guy that she knew would piss off her parents.  And she lived pretty much in poverty for the rest of her short life, ironically asking her parents for money, nearly every month.   She thought about divorcing her alcoholic underemployed husband, but she didn't want to do this, as it would be admitting "defeat" to her Father.  In trying to break free of the parental bonds, she bound herself even more tightly to them.   And for most of her short life, whenever we talked, the conversation inevitably turned to her Parents.  She was obsessed with them!    How Sad.

We all have our crosses to bear, it is said.   But before you drag yours another foot, ask yourself why you are doing it.   Are you nailing yourself to this cross and sacrificing your life for purely emotional reasons?   Can you in fact, just drop the cross and move on with life?

It is possible to view your own life as an independent person, not as a victim in some distorted perpetual parent-child relationship.   And yet few people have the wherewithal to break free of this childhood grip.

My late Sister once went to a "free" seminar that turned out to be put on by some cult.  They had her hold two coffee-cans connected to a galvanometer and then asked her questions like "How do you feel about your Mother?"  The galvanometer would then measure conductivity, which is often a function of how much you sweat.  And asking most people about their parents is one sure way to get most people to sweat.  Profusely.

And what do these cults do?  One of the hallmarks of the cult is that they separate the initiate from his family.  He is surrounded by a "new" accepting family, and for the first time in their lives, they feel happy.  Perhaps pimps use this same technique.   But of course, over time, the cult initiate starts to realize they have traded one dysfunctional family for another, and eventually wants to get out.   But of course, they can't, as that would be admitting defeat to go back to their family - just as Francine stayed married to a jerk she couldn't stand, rather than admit defeat to her Dad.

A better idea, I think, than being beholden to your family as an adult - or joining a cult (is there much difference?) is to be your own person.   This does not necessarily mean having to give up on your family (but if they are self-destructive, drug users, abusive, or all of the above, perhaps) but rather making your own life and your own family (your spouse and your children) the centerpiece of your life.

It is very sad, but I run into a lot of people in their 50's, 60's, 70's and even beyond, who are waiting for their parents to die so that they can be "free" - financially, emotionally, or both.   And that is sad, in so many ways.  To begin with, if they predecease their parents they may never find peace and freedom.   Second, the best years of their lives may evaporate while they are waiting for Mom to kick the bucket.   And finally, even after they are dead in the ground, folks who obsess about their parents never seem to find that final peace and freedom.  Even from the grave, they feel controlled.

Being your own person is never easy.  It requires that you have some idea of who you want to be - and not some stereotype your are acting out or some parental expectation you are fulfilling.   Very few people are able to do this.  And this is why very few people are wealthy in this country, I believe.   The vast majority of Americans are so weighted down with emotional issues as to be suffocating, slowly.  They have neither the time nor the energy to devote to their personal economics, as they feel that emotional "issues" are more compelling and important.

They sacrifice their lives.  And for what?   Nothing.