Why do I still want to protect my parents? Because I always have is the short answer.
Before we moved abroad at the age of 7 I was not aware of any tensions between my parents. As far as I can remember, it started off with my mother saying “we’ll do things his way, because it’s easier”. She referred to him as “the big bad wolf” and talked about the need to protect me from him. She and I very quickly got into the habit of having things we would do when he wasn’t around and wouldn’t approve of, like watching rubbish on television when he was out for the evening. There was that feeling that we had to dance attendance on him and be formal when he was at home and could only relax when he wasn’t.
But at the same time I was trying to forge my own relationship with my father. He used to take me out for a meal every 3 months or so and we would talk, about me, about school, his work, world affairs, many things. I would be on my best behaviour and there might be a stern talking to if necessary. I also persuaded him to take me climbing, as something he enjoyed doing that I wanted to. It didn’t last long as I realised that he was so scared for me that he was just transferring his fear to me so there was no point in continuing as he was just teaching me to be afraid where I hadn’t been before. I was protecting him then by not giving him a cause to be afraid. Even when we went out for dinner I was protecting him by not repeating anything my mother had said and I was certainly protecting her at the same time.
As I grew older it got worse. My mother talked more about her marriage and also her feeling that she was “piggy in the middle” between me and my father as well as most of the other relationships in the family. Eventually my father started asking me how my mother was and how he could help, sensing that there were issues he didn’t understand and that she couldn’t explain or wasn’t willing to. I would give him little bits of advice that I thought he could understand.
Some of all this stopped when we moved back to England. We were all miserable and all stopped talking to each other it seemed. My father got ill; my mother got depressed and went on anti-depressants for the first and only time in her life but it only lasted six months as she “pulled herself together and got on with life”. I think she gave up therapy far too early as she was scared of what might have happened if she had continued. The my father started his affair. Both 1sis and myself knew about it early on although neither of us said anything to either parent, protecting both of them against discovery. In fact I remember 1sis helping support his alibi when the climbing friend my father was supposed to be away with rang up to check on details for meeting the following day.
But still, I developed into being “piggy in the middle” between the two of them, listening to my mother complain about him and, as I grew older, tell me more about how difficult she had found being married to him. Discovering his affair made her think about leaving him but she was too scared at the prospect of starting life over and was worried about the lack of financial security that would come with. My father would carry on asking me about my mother, what he could do to make her happier.
1sis as a teenager threw tantrums and the occasional plate that would end up in floods of tears. My mother would leave these to my father to deal with although she could manage 2sis’ epileptic fits. 2sis as a teenager did argue with my father a lot at mealtimes but that always ended up with her leaving the room in floods of tears. When we were younger my 2 sisters used to fight, at first physically then it became verbal abuse. It never resolved anything and they still don’t get on particularly well but now solve that by hardly seeing each other. My parents never shouted at each other, never raised their voice. Any issue would be calmly discussed and options examined.
It has taken me now to realise that we simply didn’t do emotions. Emotions are messy things that can get in the way of five year plans. It took me a long time to realise that while my mother was warm and cuddly on the surface, she didn’t do emotional problems, simply couldn’t handle them. The only emotions she allowed were on the surface.
I really fell out with my mother a year into therapy when two things happened. I told her that I didn’t want to hear her moan about my father any more, that she should either accept him or deal with him. She told me, laughingly about 1sis’ suicide attempt when she had to have her stomach pumped and that my mother hadn’t gone to her bedside. That horrified me and still does. We barely speak now, my mother having chosen to withdraw and I’m not willing to make the effort. My father is a lot easier than he was when I was growing up, and at least is aware that many things in life seem to have slipped him by, although he doesn’t see the point in having friends or being happy so he’s only at the start of his journey. He thinks that life is pretty wonderful, that my mother is simply perfect and that he has succeeded at life and I’m scared to burst his bubble.
I have the feeling that if I could get them to see any of these truths that their whole lives could come crashing down around them and I would feel responsible and guilty. I would be the one who had rocked the boat. The fact that the boat is imaginary in the first place and they’ve just been pretending all their lives wouldn’t enter into it.