I have long found it interesting that when you search for blogs or posts about family, almost the only thing that appears are things on parenthood – mostly written by mothers, with a few fathers mixed in for good measure. I rarely, if ever, see anything relating to other family issues, and certainly nothing from the perspective of younger adults (late teens through early thirties) dealing with difficult parents (there are, of course, plenty of blogs about parents dealing with difficult teens).
Do we, the disgruntled children and/or siblings (etc) not feel the necessity, the impetus, to share our feelings and experiences? Or is it that we don’t feel we have the right, or the safe space, to do so? Do we all fear, as I often do, what will happen if/when our families see what we write?
I often joke that I could never write or publish a memoir about my family until after my mother has died. And that I would, of course, fittingly title such a memoir “Not Until My Mother Dies.” She will not appreciate much of what I have to say. My whole life, even when I was very young, my mother has been a very private and, I daresay, paranoid people. She has warned me constantly, ordered me really, not to talk about her to my dad (they’re divorced), my friends, or other family members. Throughout high school, she would make random (generally unfounded) accusations that I was saying horrible things about her to my friends. “Talking about her behind her back.” She has warned me against, and accused me of, talking about her on Facebook “because what she does is no one else’s business.”
This kind of privacy never went both ways, of course. Anything I did, or said, or thought was, of course, always her business. And she told my grandmother, my aunts and uncles, her co-workers, all sorts of random things about me and my brother without permission or thought.
As recently as last week she has approached me out of nowhere with the complete non sequitur demand to know what horrible things I’ve been saying about her to my friends. I learned a couple days later that the catalyst for this particular paranoid fit was a friend of mine who stopped by the house and didn’t think to stay and talk to my mother because, shocker, we were running late for a show we had tickets to. Because my friend (my friend, not my mother’s) had the audacity to just say “hello” and run, I must have said something horrible about my mother to make my friend hate her.
And, of course, anything horrible I could possible say would, naturally, be made-up or grossly exaggerated to make her look like an evil mother and to make me look like some poor victim or martyr. My mother is, after all, perfect and has never done anything deserving of censure or complaint.
Do I talk about her? Of course I do. What child, what teenager, what adult could completely avoid talking about (and whining about) their mother? Do I sometimes accuse her of doing things that I believe to be ill-advised, or unfair, or occasionally downright cruel? Yes. Yes I do. But I do not believe I have ever made anything up. And I try my best (though I no doubt fail) to represent her fairly and accurately, and admit when I might be culpable for some of our clashes. I think about the line: “if they didn’t want you to write about them, they should have treated you better” – I can’t remember where that quote came from, who said it. It makes a certain amount of sense so far as memoirs and creative nonfiction are concerned. But I don’t know for certain that it is an accurate summary of my situation.
I don’t know for sure that I’m representing my mother, or myself, accurately. I don’t know for sure when I’m just being whiny, or self-involved, or, as my mother has been wont to call me: “a cold heartless bitch.” Maybe I am a cold heartless bitch. I don’t know. The problem is, no one can ever know for sure. Some kind of invisible third party would have to be secretly watching our interactions all the time to determine that.
All I can say is that I try to tell my truth as honestly as I can manage. All truth is relative. Period. And this is mine. These are my feeling and my memories and my impressions, and that’s all anyone can ever expect.
In the meantime, we’ll just keep all this between us until my mother dies.