Jane Goodall & The Mavrick Aunt

It is a strange and delicate thing, being both someone's child and someone's parent. There are things I understand only because of these duel roles, like the fact that no matter how old I get I will always be my mothers “baby”. But knowing this does not always do as much good as I would like.

There are people who can move between these two roles with grace and dignity, I am not one one them. My relationship with my parents in rocky and fraught with complications, including the fact that they own the house I am living in. It is a long, strange story how this all came about; suffice it to say, if had it been a straight-up proposition to be a tenant in a house owned by my parents, I would have turned it down in a heartbeat. But life is rarely so simple as that.

It may be true that I will always be their baby, I am not the heir they had in mind: The tone my parents use in talking about “cob building” is equivalent to the one I use when discussing “toxic waste” or the "Third Riche"; they look at Nature Scaping as an excuse to neglect ones duty to the community ( a perfectly manicured lawn, saturated in chemicals and pollutants, is part of one's duties: otherwise known as “keeping up with the Jone's”). We just have very divergent perspectives.

My mother imagines, inexplicably, the I would be happier living in a condo. Cant you all just see me in a condo? Ester, I suppose, would live on the balcony? But of course, in this fantasy my mother has of who I am, there is no Ester, just as there is no garden. In this fantasy I have a corner office, and a seemingly endless collection of suits and “leisure ware” that mask any indication of individuality or creativity I might ever have had. And if, parish the thought, I were to insist on this ridiculous notion of being an Art Therapist (never an artist mind you) then I would be one of those therapists who charges $400 per season, so that I can afford that condo, and the corner office, and the seemingly endless collection of imported suits and “leisure were” that mask any indication of individuality or creativity I might ever have had. The Boy would attend some over-priced private school, and my bike would live in the dark resese of a closet, and rarely if ever be ridden, because in my fast pasted, chaotic life I would never find the time (think Mellissa Etheridge's “American Girl”) I am not that girl.

So, my parents have been here most of the past week to “help” with the yard. They seem to believe that I need a great deal of help in a great many areas of my life. yeah. In addition to my failures in landscaping and lifestyle, my parenting skills are apparently also lacking.
The Boy is an amazing kid, and I am not the only one who thinks so. Bachelor curmudgeons known for their intolerance for children have stopped me to tell me how remarkable he is. Brilliant moms who I hold in high regard have asked my advice on parenting, and even hired me to care for their kids. People tell me I am a good mom. The Boy tells me I am a good mom. Sometimes I even believe them.

But all these voices combined do not hold the weight of my parent's thinly veiled disapproval. My parents self described parenting style was “Benevolent Dictatorship”. I never wanted to be a dictator, benevolent or otherwise. My psychology studies and participation in Compassionate Communication workshops have combined and percolated into a parenting style that more closely resembles a worker-collective than a dictatorship; or perhaps it resembles lenient, liberal, indulgent, minimally sufficient parenting deeply lacking in structure, discipline and limit setting, depending on one's perspective.

Jane Goodall has myriad stories of her lenient, liberal, indulgent mother who nurtured and encouraged her. I think I could do worse than having the next Jane Goodall as my offspring. For that matter, I have one aunt (who married into the family) who was just enough of a maverick to insist on raising her with an egalitarian, attachment parent approach. At family gatherings, when The Others would descend on her with 'helpful observations' about how she should lay down the law with her kids a bit more, not let them try to negotiate with her about The Rules. She would calmly defend her approach, explaining --in part--that she believed that encouraging her kids to participate in decision making not only improved the odds of them adhering to the family rules, but also gave them life skills. Negotiating is a life skill, as is working with others and problem-solving together. Her kids grew up to be amazing. Really amazing. The other kids in the family, raised in their respective dictatorships, grew up and rebelled. They became drop outs, teen parents, and arrant thieves. So there you go.

It doesn't help that I am feeling very judged and under siege, from all sides, at the moment. In an effort to make co-parenting go more smoothly, I am in mediation with the Boy's father. There I get to hear how I “failed” to sufficiently prostrate myself to his friends and family, that I was hostile, unyielding, on the offensive, and (wait for it) that I am responsible for his less than fully satisfying relationship with his grown son & step-daughter from his previous marriage. He had 18 years, before I showed up, to get those relationships right, and 2 years since he left the Boy and I, to smooth any ruffled feathers. The fact that I know, intellectually, that his relationship with his grown kids is between he and they, does not make the aligation any less painful. I can not imagine a worse thing to be accused of than alianation of affection between parent and child. No matter how wrong-headed or obtuse the charge may be, I feel like it is the most hurtful thing The Boy's father could ever have said to me. ever –I who value family above all else.

I wonder who he will blame for the rifts in his relationship with The Boy?

Anyway, it feels like it's just me (and perhaps the Maverick Aunt) against the world. Come to think of it, I like our odds.

1 comment:

zilla said...

I like Jane Goodall.

I like a democratic commune-type family. Everyone participates in decisions; everyone contributes to the household according to ability.

You're onto a good thing.

Parental criticism, however well-intendedly and lovingly offered, can be equally difficult to decypher and difficult to deflect.

I've got a saying: There're three ways to do anything -- the right way, the wrong way, and MY way. I've recited this saying to my mother more than a few times by now. She takes it with the spirit in which I offer it: ain't nothin' bad going on here, we're just different people with different approaches and it's all okay.

Hang in there, girl.