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It eats away at you when you don’t have a strong enough belief in yourself to throw it off.

My mother was not a critical person but she also didn’t stand up for herself either. We, that is my mother and I,  seemed to frequently do things his way, just to keep the peace, because it wasn’t worth arguing about and my mother didn’t like upsetting him. I didn’t realise until years later how much she would fade into the background rather than say “I…” and my father still talks about those 3 or 4 occasions in their life together when she did.

She also had huge problems with her image. She was overweight since I was about 10 and could never shake it. She tried endless diets but was never really committed to them, nor did she look at the underlying reasons. I went on them with her, although usually with double portions, which led to some interesting packed lunches. My father never really supported her in this and never stopped taking her out to restaurants. He really didn’t see how difficult it could be which is why I felt the need to support her in this. But over the years she lost confidence in herself. Only later did I understand more about other issues that may have contributed to her own lack of self-esteem. She once had six months or so of counselling, but I think she dipped her toes in and found the water icy.

My father on the other hand pushed us all to succeed academically and was always critical. It was always the bit you hadn’t done that he would pick up rather than all that had been achieved. He would quite literally ask what happened to the 5% lost marks rather than comment on the 95% earned. I remember well getting my O’ Level results and him saying “well that’s what happens when you don’t put the work in”. I did do quite well, although certainly not as well as I could have done.

We also spent a lot of time talking politics, economics, and the way the world runs. I would like to call them debates but they were more like arguments. Rather than comment on the points that I, or sis2 raised in her own talks with him, he would always just point out the things you hadn’t considered. He would of course say that he wasn’t being critical, just pushing us to think harder and that his vastly greater experience and knowledge meant that he knew the right answers. He didn’t like losing arguments and would never ever admit that he was wrong, which on the rare occasions when he was, made it very frustrating. I remember walking away sometimes, saying “I know I’m right; you know I’m right, you just won’t admit it”. He didn’t know how to teach, merely how to lecture.

Nothing was ever good enough because it could always be better according to my father, or just not valued, as with my mother. I struggle with this now, particularly with things like child rearing, which is never 100% and one can always do better. “Good enough” is not good enough. This is why I can be pleased to finish finite tasks, where you do them or not, but with other tasks, which are open-ended, I find difficulty in getting a sense of achievement out of progress.

 

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