Friday, June 26, 2015

Happy Father's Day

And you think you have issues with your Dad....

I know this posting is a week late.  So what.   Some of the postings here that seem to resonate with readers here involve family relationships.   Getting over family issues is important to getting ahead in life, as you will always be behind the eight-ball if you are constantly trying to please your parents instead of yourself, or let your older siblings succeed in destroying your self-esteem.

What sort of things am I talking about?   Well, for example, a friend of mine just went on his annual vacation from hell.   Every year, he feels obligated to go visit his children and his in-laws.  And every year, he has a miserable time, and shouting matches ensue, and they come home days early.   And every year, he repeats the process.

Why, oh why, would someone do this to themselves?   Why does it happen?   The latter question is easier to answer.   Once you are a parent, it is very hard to shed the parent attitude, even after your children are older than you were when they were born.   You are now peers, as adults, but you still treat them like children - and they react as children.   So arguments ensue as the perpetual conflict between parental authority and children chafing against it, is repeated over and over again.   Only this time, of course, the "children" who are now adults, rightfully feel they should not be treated as chattel.

So my friend goes through this from both ends.   He visits his kids, they chafe at the authoritarian comments he makes, arguments ensue.  He then goes and visits his in-laws, who in turn treat him like a child and this time he is on the other end of the stick.

The same problem can occur in adult relationships between siblings.   I know all-too-many big brothers or big sisters who think they still are smarter than their younger siblings.   Hey, when they were in in 7th grade, and their kid sister was in 3rd grade, they were so much smarter, right?   So it still must be true, right?   And sadly, many a younger sibling has fallen into this trap, thinking, often subconsciously, that their older siblings must be smarter than they are.

I was lucky, in a way, that my older siblings were drug-addled morons and/or were mentally ill.  And ditto for my parents, although their drug of choice was alcohol.   It was a lot easier, for me, to say, "Gee, I used to look up to these people, but their personal lives are utter wrecks.  Maybe they don't know it all.  Maybe I shouldn't be taking advice from them!"

For others, it is harder.   And I have seen this firsthand.  The son of a rich and famous doctor, for example, feels intimidated by the success of his parents.  They have achieved so much, and he has done nothing yet with his life - and moreover, it doesn't seem he would ever achieve the success of his parents - something they continually remind him of.   So he lives down to their expectations.   It happens.

So, how do you "fix" this?  The short answer is, you can't.   Parents will always be parents.  Children will always be children.   And older siblings will be real jerks and steal your paper route money to buy drugs.

My friend, for example, is almost old enough to be my Dad.   I am hardly older than his children.  Yet he and I get along really well.  Why is this?   Simple answer:  He's not my Dad.   I never sprang from his loins.  We don't have a half-century of history together, and moreover, when we interact, it is on a peer-to-peer relationship.  I respect his abilities, and he respects mine.   He doesn't try to tell me how to run my life, my career, my finances, or my choice in spouse.  Parents, on the other hand, will try to do all of that, even if they don't do it consciously.

Trying to establish that peer-to-peer relationship with a parent is downright difficult, if not impossible.   Many parents (or older siblings) simply cannot "give up" on what they perceive to be power in the relationship.

So trying to "fix" this is likely to be futile.  If you try to establish a peer-to-peer relationship with your older siblings or parents, it will be rejected, outright.  It is human nature.  It cannot be done.   It violates the first and third laws of thermodynamics.

However, what you can do is manage these relationships so that these types of visits don't devolve into shouting matches.

My friend goes for several weeks to visit his children, in-laws, and other relatives, often staying in the houses of these relatives, in order to "save money."   I know other folks who fly to visit relatives, get picked up at the airport, and then stay in their childhood bedroom.   All of these are bad ideas.  Here are some better ones:
 1. Stay in a Motel:   Yes, your Mom and Dad bought a five-bedroom retirement home so you would all come to visit.  Stay in a Motel anyway.  And Mom and Dad?  Save yourself the money and buy a retirement home with one bedroom and no pull-out sofa.   It is cheaper to put your kids up in a Motel than to pay for the extra Real Estate.   If you aren't sleeping, eating, showering, and shitting in someone else's house, the amount of tension is a lot, lot, less.   Plus, you have time alone with your spouse and less time spent with relatives.

2.  Limit Exposure:  With my late alcoholic Mother, I found a two-hour visit was optimal.   Anything longer than that, well, she'd be in the bag and start raging.   If you have to travel a long distance to visit, stay in a Motel or Hotel, and visit relatives only for two hour intervals or so.   Beg off on the grounds that the spouse needs a nap, or you always wanted to visit the Toothpick Museum nearby.  Anything - anything - other than laying around the house for hours on end with relatives.

3.  Have Your Escape Pod:  Never ride in the back of your parent's car, once you are an adult.   Bring your own or rent one.  That way you can get away without a hassle.   Staying in the house and not having a car means you are trapped with crazy relatives and bad things will happen.
4. Be Prepared to Walk Away:  If you have relatives who abuse you physically, sexually, emotionally, or financially, just be prepared to walk away and move on with your life.   Your childhood family really ends when you turn 18 years old and reach the age of majority.  At that point, you should be living your own life and starting your own family.  For some reason, our generation seems "stuck" in Brady Bunch mode, and unwilling to move on, even 20 or 30 years after they have left home (of course, some never leave home!).
Of course, this presumes you really want to change things, and don't just secretly enjoy talking about your family problems in order to get attention.  And yet, sadly, many folks do just that, regaling their friends for hours on end on how awful they have it, as adults, because their parents or siblings are mean to them.   You can just walk away, you know.  Just as you wouldn't hang out with "friends" who were mean to you (who by definition are not friends) why would one hang out with family members - as an adult - who try to push you around?

But sadly, some folks simply cannot see this, and they keep going back to the well again and again, their whole lives long, being miserable and as a result, often making poor financial choices as part of the bargain.

It is sad.  And what makes it really sad is that it is so unnecessary.