Being from a family where several members find themselves on the far side of normal has made us appreciate the fine art of blending in. Sometimes, as small children, we preferred not to be singled out for being the kids with the “crazy mom.” Nor did we want to stand out within our mother’s sphere of awareness for fear of becoming her target of the moment.
Being young and somewhat naive about the world around us, little did we know at the time that there were other kids with troubled parents too. We felt from the start that our troubles with Mother took the cake!
Years later, we learned that these feelings – shame, isolation, and a sense of having the worst possible situation – were quite common with children of dysfunctional families. But at the time, my sister and I felt certain that we were in a uniquely screwed-up position with regard to our mother.
Mother loved to monopolize conversations and was an absolute control freak about having the last word. Any dialogue with her quickly turned into a monologue by her, full of muddled recounting of events in her past, and always concluding with her insisting on having the final say. I would challenge her more often than my sister Abby and would often mumble something under my breath in the hopes she wouldn’t hear me. It seemed her radar hearing was ever ready to catch the signal of my response and she would once again have to say something to win the war of the words. I found this trait annoying and wished she would just shut the hell up. Well, that never happened.
The conversations were always self-centered and seldom about anyone else, unless it was unwarranted criticism of others (quite often, the targets of her criticism included the other party to the conversation). There was no give and take in the conversation and wouldn’t you know it, when Dad remarried, our stepmother Beatrice also had the same traits. She once said she didn’t like silence which I guess is why she talked continually.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to get a word in edgewise with individuals like this so it becomes a one-sided conversation all about them and their hurts, grievances, and hyper-critical opinions of others. You become almost mute from never being asked how you are, what you think of something, or any other invitation to an actual dialogue.
I learned at an early age how to tune Mother and, later, Stepmother out. I did this so well that they often wondered if I had become deaf. Never ones to believe that their endless chatter was anything but stimulating, they never figured out that people were bored to death.
The fine art of conversation and the give and take in normal relationships was missing from their trunk of tricks.When my sister and I were young, we used to think one of the greatest insults was:
When they were passing out brains, you missed the boat and so never got one.
I guess you could say, when they were passing out manners, Mary and Beatrice not only missed the boat, they missed the entire fleet.