Posted by fxckfeelings on April 28, 2014Share This Post
Everybody knows that parenting is a tough job, but like any job, you do it because you have to, regardless of whether you feel like it (and when your children are toddlers and teens, you often feel like throwing them off a bridge). What fewer people know is that having parents is also a job, so no matter how much you feel like staying away or sticking permanently by their sides, you have to consult your basic principles and figure out what you need, not want, to do. Give weight to the time and energy a parent invested in the job of parenting you, even if they couldn’t do it well, and don’t make yourself responsible for pain you can’t ease. You may not be able to ration your time in a way that feels right, but you can always do it right by your standards, and do your job right, whether they did their job or not.
I was getting coffee with a friend recently and when it hit me—and it hits me quite often—that I am going to have to see my father in the very near future, and whenever it hits me, I have an anxiety attack. My relationship with my father is basically nonexistent…I don’t like him, how he behaves, or what he says because he always makes me feel bad about myself and always has, but I don’t hate him, I think? I don’t know if it’s my fault that I feel this way, because I’ve tried to have a good relationship (my parents split when I was very young), but maybe not hard enough. I just don’t like being around him or talking to him. Anyway, when I was getting coffee with my friend I was complaining about the fact that my dad is coming to visit me and she said I shouldn’t feel that way. She told me how one of her friend’s parents committed suicide and that I should feel lucky to have him, even though I don’t like him. When she told me this, I didn’t actually feel anything, and if he died, I don’t know if I would feel anything, either. I don’t know if I should try to make a better relationship with him and try to numb myself to his manipulative victimization or if I should just maintain this distance and feel like a jerk when I don’t reply to his texts.
Since you and your father seem to have unfinished (maybe unfinishable) business, try seeing your relationship through a business lens. It’s like a family lens in that it enhances positive engagement, but with extra filters to block out all the messy emotional stuff.
When you strip away the crazy feelings, you get to use the same approach as customer service; positive interactions that promote business-like behavior, within defined boundaries, no negatives allowed.
Ignoring whether your feelings for your father are permanently numbed and disengaged or temporarily disappointed, give thought to what you, as his rep/daughter, owe him. Ask yourself whether and in what ways he contributed to raising you, remembering that some fathers can make positive contributions without being emotionally connected. Think like a parenting supervisor and judge for yourself whether he cared about being a father, did the hard work, and deserves respect for that.
If not, you have no reason to obligate yourself, and can let him know that you appreciate his interest, but are not available to see him at this time. Then thank him for his time and, like any good rep, hang up without waiting for an answer.
If you do feel he deserves a response based on his contributions, then give him the amount of time and attention you think he deserves, regardless of whether you can’t stand him. After all, parents sometimes can’t stand their kids, but they’ve still got a job to do, just like you do as a daughter.
Of course, if you think there’s some way to get on the same wavelength, it’s worth a try. You seem to be saying, however, that your feelings about him aren’t reactive to any particular issue that might change if it could be talked out, they’re just chemistry and there’s nothing you can do about them.
If he makes unreasonable demands or sends dumb emails, treat him like a client within the guidelines you’ve already created. You’re the one who decides how much time and attention to give, and otherwise, guard those limits with politeness. If he complains, tell him that you’ve given lots of thought to your availability and sometimes you just can’t respond. Then, again, refuse to discuss it further. You’re the one who has to decide how much is enough and stick with it, assuming his thoughts will always be different.
So don’t put too much weight on your feelings as you decide the best way to be your father’s child. Consult your own experience and ethics and give yourself extra credit for doing a good job with someone you can’t like. Remember, being helpful and professional with a difficult parent is the best way to avoid needing professional help.
“I don’t feel like I love or care about my father, but I respect fathers who do the job, and will behave with my father in whatever way I think is appropriate.”
I hate how much I hate to be with my mother, now that she has Alzheimer’s. We were once best friends, and I loved to lie on her bed and tell her everything that happened to me…she’d always listen and give me good advice, or just make me feel better. Even when she was unemployed, I knew she’d always find money for the things that mattered. She was patient and generous with everyone. Now she can still remember me but is fuzzy about what happened yesterday and asks the same question 10 times. It’s torture. My goal is to figure out why I hate being with her so I can stop being such a bad daughter.
Knowing why you have negative feelings seldom makes them easier to control or live with. Almost everyone who’s been through the experience can tell you, with sorrow and shame, that the more you love and have relied on someone, the more disappointed and angry you feel as you lose them.
Losing someone to quick or just predictable death is relatively easy, because you can show of up the funeral, acknowledge everything you’re missing, and not be confronted by a ghost who looks like she should be able to respond. Watching her fade by inches means you want to leave the room or snap at her just when she needs you most and you know she can’t help it. The more support you have to provide, the more negative feelings you have to suppress. But everyone knows they’re there.
Unfortunately, you have to get used to the idea that it may never be easy to see your mother again until you can talk to her in your heart, after she’s gone. Meanwhile, your job is to be the parent and examine her needs. You can’t take care of everything and wouldn’t want to, but you should know what care is necessary and who can provide it. The more actively you look into her needs, the more carefully you can limit your own support to what’s necessary and likely to do some good.
One blessing of dementia is that, when there’s not much you can do, there’s not much responsibility, either, so don’t criticize yourself for having bad feelings that don’t do her harm or interfere with her care. Instead, respect yourself for living up to your own standards of caregiving in spite of the complicated resentment of watching someone you love fade to dementia. You still love her and always will, you just hate watching her become somebody else.
“I feel like I hate the one person I would most like to love, but I can’t help the tangled feelings that dementia causes. I have the strength to take good care of my mother, in spite of those feelings, and that’s all that matters.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname