I grew up in typical 1960’s middle class family. Dad worked, Mom stayed home… very much the standard in those years. We were involved in the usual school and church activities and the welcome mat was always out, as they say. Looking back, I can see that my Mom’s identity was wrapped up in the type of home environment she created for us. She cooked, she cleaned, she baked and she sewed. Her life was all about her family.
The family unit is meant to be a safe place… one filled with love and with acceptance which is what I grew up in. But what happens when this safe place is filled with anger, with abuse, with hatred?
In chapter eight, Lee writes of two women who are (as adults) dealing with the aftermath of living in such explosive environments. Kristen and Alison grew up in homes where verbal abuse was the norm. They wanted so much to feel love and acceptance, but in both cases, their parents were emotionally distant and narcissistic and were unable to love them as they so badly wanted and needed. Their relationships with their families deteriorated over time and eventually, both women cut off any contact with their parents. Their emotional health and the “health” of their own families were dependent on that severing of the ties.
My childhood home was filled with love, but I still felt, at times, as the odd man out. As I have shared, I was the middle child and at times, felt invisible. When we got married, I knew we would not have the 1960’s type of family that I grew up in. I worked as a teacher at the time and have worked full time for the almost 40 years of our married life. Aside from my work outside the home, it was important to me to maintain a safe and comfortable place for our family. As an only child, Kyle did not have to “compete” for any attention from Wayne and I. We wanted him to grow up feeling loved and supported in whatever he chose to do. Angry words and physical abuse were not present in our home and I made sure his friends always felt welcome and cared for when they came by.
In the case of Kristen and Alison, the focus of the family was on the parents. Their parents did not have the capacity to support and to be proud of their children’s accomplishments. Kyle is a gifted athlete and musician and I am extremely proud of the child he was and of the man he has become. I do realize, however, that at times, I became too wrapped up in what he was doing to the point that his accomplishments fed my need to be accepted and to feel wanted. I saw his strengths as proof that we had done a good job raising him and that made me feel better about myself. I thought that when people saw what he was able to do that they would see me as accomplished as well. This was an unfair burden to put on him… I needed to accept his accomplishments for what they were… his and his alone. This does not diminish my feeling of pride in him but what he does and accomplishes in life are no reflection on who I am as a person.
I am a work in progress, so to speak, in regards to my identity outside of my roles. I am a mom, a wife, a sister, a daughter…. But most of all I need to see myself as a woman with unique talents, characteristics and emotions who is worthy to be loved. For reflection:
1. This chapter was about unhealthy relationships between parents and children. Did this chapter cause you to think of a relationship in your own life that might need boundaries?
The most important relationship I have in my life is my relationship with Wayne. Due to his diabetes, we have struggled over the years to maintain a healthy balance between my “over-nurturing” him and allowing him to handle his own self-care. Those boundaries have become blurred at times and we have had to work hard to keep them in focus.
2. How do you think the Christian principles of honoring your parents, loving your enemies, praying for those who hurt you and similar commands apply to situations in which you or your family members are being hurt?
I do agree that we are to honor our parents and I had no trouble doing that as they did nothing to betray the trust I placed in them. However, I believe that God wants us to draw healthy boundaries for ourselves in our relationships. He cares deeply for each of us and I am certain it grieves Him when we allow ourselves and others to be hurt physically or emotionally.
3. In what ways do you look to other people to fulfill your need for approval, belonging, self-worth and nurturing? What to you need to do to make God the source of these important things?
When Kyle was in the eighth grade, he was invited to try out for an elite soccer program. He was reluctant to “give it a shot” but I encouraged him to at least try-out for the team. It came as no surprise to me that he passed the try-outs with flying colors and made the team. He was less than thrilled, which baffled me as he was an outstanding player and I thought he would see this as a great opportunity. Before every practice, he grumbled about going and finally I had reached my limit. I told him that he could quit the team but that I was very disappointed in him. I realized that it was more important to me than to him to be on that team. It fed my self-worth but to him it didn’t matter whether he was on the team or not. When I saw that this is what was happening, I apologized to him for pushing him into something that he really didn’t want to do.’
I am part of a women’s Bible study group and spending time with them has helped me in dealing with my self-esteem and with feeling that I belong. Allowing myself to be transparent with my feelings has helped me in my emotional growth as well.
4. What makes it hard for you to establish or enforce healthy boundaries in your own life? Who might be able to be your ally in your efforts.
As a young adult, my need to feel accepted made it hard for me to set boundaries. I think this is what led me to become sexually active in those years. I wanted to feel loved and to feel pretty so I gave of myself even when in my heart, I felt it was the wrong thing to do. Setting boundaries is not so much an issue now, but I still occasionally find myself slipping into the old habit of doing things so that I will be liked.