Blog / Mental Health

How I Interact With Disengaged Parents

I’ve built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

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Many, many times when I talk to either one of my parents I get this Simon and Garfunkel song stuck on replay in my head, behind our conversation. Both my parents are islands. I don’t think they’ve always been that way – or I hope they haven’t – but, from where I’m standing, and I think it’s on the main land, they are a few miles away… and they’re not reaching out for me.

Do I want them to reach out for me? Sure I do. An only child and two distant parents makes for a strangely lonely home life. I’m not discounting the fact that I am still incredibly grateful to know and have both of them in my life – I am. I am so grateful for that. And, yes, I live in a different city and I still see them both regularly (especially since my bike accident) but the time we spend together is less penetrating and useful than ever. I don’t know what they get out of it and maybe I should ask, but I sometimes wonder if visiting them does anything at all.

What I want for them, I’m learning, is not what they want for themselves. They both tell me they’re content with living alone; that they’re doing what they want and that they don’t need to change for anyone. They both tell me about their sordid health history and doctor appointments. I offer up casual advice about diet and nutrition and exercise but that bounces hard off the brick walls around them. I don’t talk about the future with my father but I tell my mother, who often asks excitedly about the potential of grandchildren, that she should pay attention to the needs of her body and her health if she wants to be around and be active with these “future grandchildren.” I laugh at this, as if to cut how serious I am about this idea in half. I know my mother is trying and I know it’s not easy to deal with a disease like Crohn’s, but I need to accept that how hard I want her to try is not my choice. And, of course, who would listen to their daughter regarding these things? She is young and frivolous. She can’t be right.

Whenever I talk to either of my parents, I always wonder if I come off as bossy or intrusive. It’s no secret that taking care of yourself is important and, to me, it’s starkly obvious that they could both do much better jobs. Is it wrong to hold them accountable to that? No one else is. As a twenty-six year old, I’m still looking to them for guidance; for the belief that my parents can succeed in health and nutrition and positive lifestyle choices. But if my goals are so different for myself, in my own life, then perhaps I need to look for guidance elsewhere. I mean, it’s obvious that I need to. The problem is, I’ve never looked anywhere else.

Okay, I’ve studied Wicca and Buddhism. I obsess over the idea of yoga and the mental health benefits of meditation and stretching. I post inspiring quotes around my apartment like it’s my high school locker. I pretend people like Lena Dunham and Virginia Woolf are my friends. “Positive change!” I pretend we say together. Over tea. See? I’ve looked elsewhere. But nothing beats a tangible, touchable, relatable being right in front of you.

I’m being idealist. I recognize that. I have a problem – I believe it’s a common one – of asking too much of the people around me. The thing is, the way I succeed is through expectation and reassurance. I’ve always placed a certain expectation on myself and so have others, on me. Myself and these others continually reassure me that these expectations are achievable. My mom is my biggest support and she is amazing at doing so. But who’s supporting her? I am. I am trying to because the feeling of believing you can accomplish something is an incredible one, and one I’ve been trying to pass it over to both my parents for the past couple years. Maybe I’m not doing it right, but I’m not sure why anyone wouldn’t want to feel like they can accomplish anything.

Again, I get it. What someone else does with their life is not my decision. But I can still have faith that what is happening now could get much, much better. And that possibility lies within each of us individually. It does. My parents taught me that.

Yesterday I stopped by my aunt’s house and she said: “They say the most powerful word in the English language is ‘hope.'” I don’t know who they are but I can see why hope is important. I guess. But what about ‘do?’ Where does acting on these hopes happen? To me, ‘to do’ logically trumps ‘to hope.’ What’s better than hoping? Doing. And doing is something we can all… well… do.

It’s Thanksgiving weekend. The weekend where we’re taught to eat too much food and spend time with our families. Be thankful. Think of cornucopias. Maybe Halloween. I think about Halloween a lot. Neither of my parents cared to eat much or to do much this weekend, and that’s perfectly okay. I don’t know why I have a hard time accepting it, though. I chalk it up to the bad habit of wanting something different than what you’ve got. We all experience that, or most of us anyway. I’m assuming I’m not the only one. And there it. The entire reason we have Thanksgiving: to feel grateful for all this misaligned love… And, of course, for the rain that came to end the drought in 1623.

Doesn’t everything always boil down to communication? Talking to your loved ones, your friends, your colleagues about the ways certain situation make you feel and how, if you work together, you can better then for both parties? If it were that easy, the world would be a much calmer less restless place.

I guess what I’m struggling with is coming to terms with all of this. I don’t need to be in control. I don’t need to worry about other people’s decisions. But are we just supposed to keep saying the same things, despite people listening… or not listening when we speak up? Do we just give up and go on to something else? Do I scribble this all in a journal (ahem, blog), and wait to see the big picture when I’m my mother’s age? I know the lyrics go together but I always separate them: I am the rock. My parents are the islands. The rock can be moved, shaped, changed, painted. It can come from the island. But the islands stay stationary. They can be flooded or sunk, or made bigger and built on. Boats and planes can get there, but they’re still a ways away. I am the moveable, tangible, pocket-able rock… And all I really want is to connect all the dots. All the islands. And all the lovely lonely people out there that sit and wonder how they got there. (“This isn’t your responsibility!!” a voice is yelling in my head, but) I’m halfway in-between all that. And as cliche and ending as this is, I have no other thought save for: I guess this is what we dub ‘life.’ Am I living it right?

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I am thankful for my mother, whose festive spirit always brightens my holidays – and every day in between. I’m thankful for her positive outlook and unending support… and her jokes. Her laughter. I am thankful for my father, whose quiet disposition and need for perfection has sparked the organized and proactive side of me. I’m thankful that he still calls me, and that he occasionally wants to share a meal with me. I am thankful for a partner who supports me; who’ll take time out of his day with his family to read what I write in his childhood bedroom; who’ll answer every minuscule question I ask, from “Am I wearing too many pumpkins?” to “Do I sound like an ungrateful twat!?” For the simple notion of taking the time to listen to someone else, I am eternally grateful. On that note, I  am grateful for anyone who reads this, or part of this, or anything that I write, really. I am grateful that you took time out of your day to listen to my thoughts or stories and I hope that even the smallest (hopefully positive) notion emerges from your experience. Either way, I am grateful for you, choosing to spend time with me. I am also grateful for your thoughts and experiences, and will happily listen if you want to share them.

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