Family Dynamics and Breaking Old Habits
Sunday, June 01, 2008
May was a busy month. A few too many projects at work resulted in missing some deadlines, so I was stressed about that. Then I had to leave the office stuff and leave town - a week-long trip to visit family and attend a conference. Had a stressful time and came back home with a rotten attitude and needing a lot of therapy. Since I spent $2200 in the last two weeks on significant unplanned dental work and scheduled car maintenance, there are no funds left to hire a shrink. Ultimately, I chose to 'unplug' for a while to get a break from all the e-mail, chats, and other demands in favor of more relaxing activities.
The hardest part about the last few weeks was spending time with family -- specifically, my parents. Last year, they moved from the house into a senior apartment complex. It’s a nice place, but without the space afforded by the 4-bedroom house, it's awfully compact and there's nothing to do there. My folks want me to stay with them and consider it 'home' but the passive-aggressive behavior and control issues going on there are amplified in such a small area. Mom is thrilled to have me around so she has an audience for griping about anything and everything - constantly - and I was a wreck after a few days there. It was a terrible visit for a number of reasons, and I've decided that I have to break the cycle and make a change to save my sanity. I simply cannot stay with them anymore.
I also have to figure out a way to change the pattern of how I react when dad tries to force food on me. He has to make a point of offering me the food on the table and for years I've been frustrated with him for trying to force me take food that I don't want. This last visit, it happened again at an Italian restaurant. Dad ordered 2 trays of garlic cheese bread (with dipping sauce) for the table as an appetizer. I guess I was the only one who didn't take a piece. He had to make a point of telling me he ordered 2 plates for the table and I was welcome to have a few pieces because he ordered it for everyone. OK – it sounds polite on the surface, but it's a sore point with me and he doesn't grasp subtlety. I was feeling awful (including major dental work a few hours before) and I snapped at him. Not pretty.
With plenty of time to reflect on all the family issues as I drove back home, I think I finally figured out why he pushes food on me. My brother was always mom’s 'golden child' and I remembered an incident when I came home from some high school activity and was looking for something for dinner - mom told me I wasn't allowed to have x because my brother might want it when he got home. I wasn't allowed to have y because he might want that. I wasn't allowed to have z because he might want that. Dad must have been listening because he grabbed the car keys and told me he'd drive me wherever I wanted to go for dinner. I don't recall any further incidents like that, but I do know that he was pushing food on me after I moved away to attend grad school. A friend still teases me ("you want ribs with that?") about an episode she witnessed where dad tried a dozen times or so in the course of a meal to get me to eat ribs - which I didn't want and wouldn't take. Over the years I've talked to him about this, trying to assure him that I will not leave the table hungry, that I'm not deprived of anything – but he still interrupts the meal several times to offer me food that's well within my reach and that I've chosen to not take. After a lot of pondering, I've come to the conclusion that he's simply trying to take care of me, and food is the only way he knows how to show he's still watching out for me.
I can't change my parents' behavior towards each other towards me, so I'll have to change. The first problem will be solved by La Quinta – although telling my folks that I booked a motel will be difficult and I'm sure it won't go well (my next trip will be Father's Day weekend). The second problem is going to be even harder because I have been reacting negatively to food pushing for a long time. I think that simply putting the offered food on my plate and saying "thank you" might be the best solution. Even though I don't want it and won't eat it, accepting it might be enough to satisfy dad's desire to take care of me. (If I get the "clean plate" lecture in return I'll just have to deal with that when it happens.)
On the bright side, I signed up for after work yoga/pilates classes this summer, so maybe it will help me deal with everyday stress and help me focus on losing those next 30 pounds (I gained a few back in May – ugh). Life is a journey that involves changing and growing (heh - both of which are usually painful). I'll take a deep breath and then I'll be ready for the next chapter.