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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.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    No wander that you lost all that weight---you are looking within instead of blaming the food!!!!! Your a brave woman. Sounds like your a busy woman too.
    It is funny how we try to show our love to our kids through food, I guess it is because somewhere along the line we figured out that we can never be their friends, food is safe for us to talk about. Children want us simply to smile, and not have personalities, unless it is like Leave it to Beaver type of a mom. It is hard on everyone.
    Your solution of taking the food that your dad offers is a great one!! You understand that he is simply trying to do what he did as he was raising you --working hard to put food on the table for his child. You are a wise women--You are winning this battle!
    4740 days ago
    You've won half the battle already by reflecting on the situation and beginning to make plans to change it. It is great that you are able to go back and remember WHY your father offers food so much and it's even heartwarming to know that the offers are coming from a place of love for you, not from a place of control or effort to sabatoge you which would more appropriately call for confrontation. Your plan to accept the food and push it around a little on your plate is a better way to go, IMHO. Love the line about the La Quinta---very funny :)
    4758 days ago
    My mom is kinda like your dad. She doesn't know she's doing anything wrong but she does and I dread going home because of it. Last time a few days before I went home she told me we could go to this buffet and I made a point to tell her no. Everytime I come home we eat out like 5 times in 3 days and all my hardwork goes to crap. She actually made a point of buying me groceries so I could eat at their home if I wanted to. Maybe you should just tell him that his comments make you wanna visit less. They might not think anything of it cuz it doesnt cause them issues. My mom weighs 172 lbs, never really been big in her life. So eating at buffets for her 4 times a week is not a big deal. On the other hand I lose all self control lol
    4765 days ago
  • TRIGIRL0821
    The yoga class sounds like a perfect solution. Sorry about the dental work - hope June is a great month for you.
    4766 days ago
    Oh Girl! Sounds like you had a ruff time away. We really missed ya! Congrats on the new class and on your insights into what's going on around you -- and the ideas for solutions. Have you told your DD about your weight loss goals? If not, I think you should -- calmly and directly tell him that this is important to you and that you'd appreciate it if he wouldn't push food onto you. Wait... I got a better idea... I gotta call in a friend whose good at coaching in these situations... hold the phone....
    4766 days ago
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