Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Painful Truth

If your family can't tell you the unedited truth, then who can?

I used to think that I always want to hear the ugly truth, rather than the sugar coated half-truth version, but after today I may reassess my opinion.

Savta Shira called me this afternoon, first she apologized if she seemed distant and less communicative than usual at our most recent visit yesterday.  She explained that since the Summer she has been on the road to burn out, between dealing with her son (who moved to Israel with his family this Fall), her other son who got married in August, several clients and friends who died of cancer, and her other adopted families.  Turns out, she did not really want company this past weekend, she needed to be alone, but "it cannot be avoided on the holidays."  And, she added, I should not take it personally, she didn't want "people" around her in the general sense.

[So it was all a lie?  She was not happy to celebrate Raphaela's birthday?!]

Then she continued and told me that the real reason she called is because she has become extremely concerned about both myself and Raphaela.  She had noticed at the last few visits that as Raphaela gets older, she shows less and less of an ability to play with others when I am to be found anywhere in the vicinity.  That she has me "wrapped around her finger," that "I don't sit for a minute because I am so busy taking care of her,"  and that this connection to me is becoming objectively unhealthy.  While Raphaela is a "sweet girl," if I don't change my behaviour as a parent, I will hurt us both, and Raphaela will turn into a "manipulative and spoiled child."

"Not everyone knows how to be a mother.  You need help, though it's not your fault you don't have any family who will support you."  [Bells went off in my head, Savta Shira cannot be there for me!]  She continued, "And it's better that you hear it from me than from your own family, when you see them in November in the States."

Just to make me feel better, apparently I am clearly physically and emotionally exhausted all the time. Savta Shira noted that the person I was before Raphaela, the woman who exercised and went to movies and hung out with friends, has gotten completely lost;  in addition, my clear road to parenting has gotten muddled because of the "modern garbage" in which you give children a certain amount of choice.

Now for the cherry on the icing on the god damn chocolate cake of f***king honesty:  I was a topic of conversation throughout the weekend, between Savta Shira and her children, Savta Shira and some of her friends, and between Savta Shira and her daughter-in-law, an Occupational Therapist who specializes in kids. They all want to "help." I love being talked about behind my back, though I give them points for informing me after the fact.

I thanked her, because I know that it comes from love and caring for our welfare.  I have already expessed to myself, to Savta Shira, and to others that I feel a great need to reclaim some space and to take better care of myself.  I am aware that I sometimes give into Raphaela rather than hold steadfast, because the day must move along and I am indeed a single mother.

And yet, this hurt and pressed buttons deep within me.  Because I have spent most of my life feeling like my presence was unwelcome among my family, that I was too much of a burden to be loved unconditionally.  That's a large part of the reason I moved to Israel, to redefine and strengthen my inner self in a clean setting, but the old wounds remain, closer to the surface than I would like to believe.

When I get attacked like this, even when it comes from the best of intentions, I turn inward and shut myelf off from others.  I stop eating and I lose my enthusiasm for even the most simple daily tasks.  I cannot feel emotionally safe in an environment where I feel less-than or judged.

This event took place in the shadow of a difficult day; my first full day back at work in over a week, Raphaela's Gan called me take her home at noon, because she was complaining of severe pain in her right ear.  How am I supposed to take care of myself, create a safe space for myself, when I have a child who is conveniently ill as soon as the holidays end?  Is it better if I dump Raphaela in a field somewhere and hope someone takes her home, like a stray kitten?

Savta Shira tried to soften the blow of this important conversation by providing her own  theory:  "With your history with your family and the abuse, it is natural that you would overcompensate in raising your daughter.  You have become over-protective because you have forgotten that Raphaela is not you, and you are not your Mother."

Whatever.  (That's the word that appears when I shut off my feelings and go into Zombie Mode.)  I am going to have to work very hard to not shut myself off from Savta Shira and her family, a place where right now, I quite simply don't feel safe.


Midlife Singlemum said...

The fact is that Savta Shira and all other well meaning savtas have no experience of being a single mother with no family support whatsoever.
I happen to know at least three other single mothers in exactly our situation, all with older daughters and every one of them is a credit to their mother and themselves. Every one of them had a similar upbringing to our daughters. It's not the same as an upbringing with two adults in the house and an extended family but it's not a cause for concern.
As long as she feels loved and valued (which she obviously is/does) everything else will fall into place.
For the record, my 3yo is also clingy when I am around and of course I no longer go out much as babysitting is so expensive. We are at a certain stage in the life of a single mother, that's all.

Amy Charles said...

Savta Shira's words are about her. They are not about you. She is a grieving, exhausted woman, with her own sense of what she's responsible for, and she made a serious mistake in unloading on you like that. If she wants to talk to you again about any of these things, tell her -- without going into details -- that she hurt you deeply and that you believe her delivery had much to do with how she herself is feeling these days, and while you will eventually forgive, you need to be left alone right now -- and, in the meantime, you appreciate the offer of help, so long as the help comes with respect and a sense of boundaries. RR is, after all, your daughter, not her children's daughter, and you, not they, are the mother.

It is normal for a single mother to be deeply exhausted in every possible way. This is part of the reality of the situation. That SS doesn't know this is nice for her, but her reaction is ignorant and unhelpful. This is just one of the many injustices heaped on anyone who is suffering in any way -- the people they meet are unlikely to understand, but are likely to judge.

I cannot help noticing that the last three years' blogging is punctuated with parenting advice and directives with threats that RR will somehow be RUINED if you don't do xyz. Maybe you have to be 8000 miles way to see how laughable this is. You are dealing with hysterical Israelis who think they're experts. Everything has to go to 11.

RR is fine, RR is fine, RR is fine. You are not fine, because you are carrying an inhuman burden. But other people do it and so will you, and one day things will start to get easier, and your beautiful daughter will show you why it was all worth it every time she walks into the room.

I would strongly suggest that you have a side-trip built into your November trip, and that you leave early and spend some time with RR in America if your family is treating you and RR poorly.

All that said: it is normal for a parent to go on seeing a child as being younger than she is. We're so well-trained to attend to them, and they grow and change so fast that sometimes other people see it first. It may be time to practice with RR -- if you're about to get up and do for her, stop and ask if she's big enough to do it herself. Then ask if you have the energy to let her do it herself, because frankly that can be more work for you. You don't have to make every moment teachable.

Treat it as though you were walking in the park and an old woman suddenly crashed into you with her cart. It hurts, she didn't mean to, but go take care of yourself and stay away from her and her cart for a little while. If she keeps insisting on telling you how to raise your daughter, start giving her advice on what Israel does wrong [in some context] and how it can improve. Just talk right over her. Be full of advice. And when she finally gets mad, talk to her gently and say lovey, this is my child. You have your children, you raised them as you thought right, and every one of them can tell you where you went wrong, if they want to. This one's mine and she'll be the judge, not you. Also, she loves you and wants to see you.

Amy Charles said...

On second thought....

You know, I don't know that it's such a good idea, being the object of "help" among SS's friends and family. The fact is that they do not understand how chronic the needs are, and that when one gets involved in a child's life to "help", one has to commit to staying in that child's life, rather than doing something to make oneself feel good ("oh, I helped") and raising expectations and making bonds with the child, then deciding one hasn't the time or energy -- and deciding that's all, that's plenty to have given. It hurts the child; it doesn't help, and it works to destroy a child's sense of trust. It's not like lending a hand temporarily in a two-parent family with lots of relatives around.

If you wind up talking about this again, make it clear to SS that this is not a trivial offer -- and that if it is, it shouldn't be made. The reality is that few people are willing to commit longterm to other people's children. You know, I have some very good, close friends here, but I also know that if I needed chronic help from them I'd be out of luck. Even one-off help is hard to get -- suddenly they're busy, they're exhausted, this is inconvenient. Which is all true, they are busy and exhausted, and it is inconvenient. By making the gesture they're showing love and affection, but they don't really want to have to come through.

Midlife Singlemum said...

A couple of further points. What happens when you are visiting isn't the same as what goes on at home. I would never have a stand off with my daughter in someone else's house as the resulting tantrum isn't fair on them. So it may seem that DD is the boss when actually it's a decision I've made to choose my battles.
And, we were at home just the two of us for the entire summer and the chagim. I thought there might be some invitations that didn't happen. So in the end I sort of invited myself to my cousin in Netanya for Shabbat when he had sort of hinted that they needed a quiet weekend. I know we imposed and it could have ended similar to your story. However, I needed one Shabbat with other adults and a change of scenery... There are few people who can fully understand this.

Commenter Abbi said...

How singularly awful. I'm sorry to say, it sounds like you were looking to SS as a kind of "replacement mother/savta" but I think you might have placed too much trust/love in her. How sad to let your guard down to a person like this.

First and foremost, seriously, why does she need to tell you she didn't really want you at her home for chag? Why was this necessary? Talk about boundary issues! The only purpose served by this announcement was to hurt you. Then to follow it up with armchair psychobabble is just beyond absurdity. And to finish it off by telling you that you were the talk of the neighborhood is just beyond belief.

You must be really aching right now. I completely agree with Amy. This is about her not you, it's about her. I would definitely put some distance between you for a few weeks. Take care.

Ariela said...

Commenter Abbi nailed it on the head - I totally agree with her.

Sarah said...

If Savta Shira is Israeli, there is probably a cultural issue here. She's from a country where kids run around on the street by themselves when they are 4 years old (just a little older than Raphaela), and you are from a country that Israelis see as having over-protective parents. From your own standpoint you are, I'm sure, being a fantastic mother. Israelis will think you are overprotective, that's just the way it is. The question is how much you want to let that bother you, given that you live here on the one hand, and that you need to be yourself on the other.

I've been thinking about your post for a couple days now. I know how hurtful her comments were, but I hope you will try to be forgiving. Perhaps the stress of the holidays and having her own biological family around pushed her to her limits and she didn't feel she has anything left for non-biological family. Or the holiday stress just put her in a bad place. If she's been so good to you all these years, I hope you will try to just chalk this up to letting her have a bad moment, and not lose a relationship because she gave you advice you didn't want and don't agree with.

Doc said...

I have been thinking about the whole forgiveness story, because when you forgive someone else, the primary purpose is to allow yourself to let go.
There is the American phrase, "forgive and forget," and that is where the larger issue rests for me. I can forgive, but I cannot forget how it made me feel, and I find it hard to regain a full level of trust and vulnerability.
The next time (after a suitable break of course) Raphaela and I spend time in their house, I will be much more careful about what I do or say, and I will feel judged on some level, and that makes for an uncomfortable visit, no matter how much I have forgiven.