Believe it or not, there are several benefits to being part of a dysfunctional family. The main benefit came to me when I was listening to a so called “normal” mother explain the difficulties of having a child who suffered from nightmares. Now, of course, I completely understand what nightmares are, but have I ever experienced one as a child? Make that a no. You see, my sister and I were sometimes living in a nightmare with our mentally ill, alcohol abusing, pill popping Mother, so sleep was our great escape.
Who needed nightmares when you were living with one?
Another benefit of Mother’s dysfunctional parenting was that we learned at an early age we would not be coddled or babied or spoiled. No way! Mother made sure of that. The rules were quite simple: looking for sympathy? Try another house. Want to hear how great you are? None of that superficial ego building from her. Need some validation? Who in the hell doesn’t? And the list goes on.
Mother prepared us, without knowing it, for the real world. We knew how to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps, although we usually didn’t have any boots. We found our self esteem from our accomplishments. Just getting through the day with Mother was sometimes a rather heroic achievement. School was a place where we found confidence in our ability to learn new skills. My sister learned how to square dance, I learned how to spell and we both learned the comfort found in books.
We also learned how to problem solve. Trouble with bullies? Don’t look for sympathy from Mother. Figure it out yourself. She let us know, in no uncertain terms, that she had enough problems of her own and didn’t have time for our “silly nonsense”. I learned to use words (OK threats) when necessary to handle the bullies. If that didn’t work, I was known to resort to physical violence. My sister could throw a mean punch if necessary, but being much more of a pacifist, usually opted for a more peaceful resolution.
Today we are confident without being arrogant. We are articulate without being boastful. We are loving, kind human beings who find joy in simple things. A good book, good conversation, good friends but most of all sharing our journey together knowing there is someone who always has your back and her name is sister.