Why were my parents so disinterested in fixing the family?

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Aspie1
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16 Oct 2022, 9:45 am

The whole time I lived with my parents until the day I moved out, they fought with teach other CONSTANTLY! And with me too!

Well, when I was in 6th grade, I saw a flyer: "Family Reading Night". It was basically an evening at school for students and their parents. They could read books together in the school's library, talk, eat some simple snacks, and/or attend breakout activities, like "Is poetry art or literature?" or "Dr. Seuss parodies". In by 6:30, out by 8:30.

That's where it occurred to me: I could invite my parents to the Family Reading Night. We'd all read books together, talk about them, share our thoughts, get brought closer as a family, and fight with each other less. And I'd be happier for it in the end. My parents went along with it, since it was school-related.

Like 99% of my other helpful suggestions, it backfired on me. My parents and I arrived at the school. It was mostly younger kids there, and the few older kids were probably brought in by their parents, not vice versa. I persuaded mine to attend the "Is poetry art or literature?" session, which I found mostly uninteresting. But I hoped that listening about something poetic would make my parents nicer to each other. Then we went to the school's library. I found a book on jungle animals. My parents started reading some historic newspapers from the shelves, along with a newspaper they bought along. That's where the trouble started.

Me: "Mom, dad, look at this book I found. I just read that lion prides function similar to wolf packs. That's so cool."
(Note: I didn't actually care; the lions/wolves comparison was my attempt to start a convivial family conversation.)
Mom: "This is a family reading night, not family talking night. Take your book, be quiet, and read!"
Dad: "Listen to your mother. Read your book, tell us when you're done, then we'll go home after!"

I WANTED to explain that "family reading night" wasn't a literal name---it didn't mean "JUST reading alone in dead silence"---but I knew my explanation would fall on deaf ears, and I'd probably get punished at home later for "talking back". We read without talking until about 8:00. Throughout, I heard other families' quiet conversations, although a few read silently too (maybe they planned to talk on the way home). Then my parents drove home in tense silence. That night was never spoken of again.

WHY were my parents so disinterested in making the family better and/or happier? WHY weren't they disgusted with the constant in-fighting? AND WHY didn't they take advantage of a convivial activity like family reading, that I put effort into finding, to make the fighting stop?

I never attempted a stupid idea like that again! And I never told my therapist, because I knew she'd laugh at me.

P.S.: Did my parents ACTUALLY not understand the point of Family Reading Night, or only PRETENDED not to?

P.P.S: It just occurred to me that I was attempting to do a job as a child that adults with Psy.D.'s sometimes fail to do.



Juliette
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16 Oct 2022, 7:35 pm

That’s so sad a memory, that you tried in vain to pave the way for a closer family moment/life. It could have & should have been a wonderful night …in an ideal world. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as you’d hoped, at all. Why is this? Sometimes, there’s so much hurt & resentment over situations that can occur in marriage, that can be kept from family members, or unresolved past traumas. Sometimes, sadly, the family disintegrates, where it might have been saved, had the couple held on in there & worked on things. But, perhaps they simply weren’t able to make it work & staying isn’t a healthy option for them or the children in the family.

Your parents apparent disinterest in fixing things between them, for the sake of the family, may have involved more effort than you’re aware of. Maybe there was too much pain, or lack of trust. Whatever the reason, it’s painful to think that you weren’t treated better by them in that moment, that they were unable to be warm, attentive, giving parents, aside from their own personal issues. These things have a massive impact on a child or an adolescent, even the adult children in a family.

I think the best outcome considering all you & they have gone through, is that you go on in your life, with a deeper appreciation & hope for a better, happier life, than the one you had. There’s no reason that history should necessarily repeat. My aim, would be to strive for the opposite of what I’ve known, especially if it caused unhappiness or harm.



CockneyRebel
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16 Oct 2022, 8:22 pm

You tried your best to mend your family and that's all that you could do. Your parents didn't have the same interests that you had in fixing the family and that's very sad. You've got a future full of happiness waiting for you.


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IsabellaLinton
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16 Oct 2022, 8:23 pm

I'm sorry it was disappointing for you and that you still feel affected by the family dynamic.
Do you think your parents knew how upset you were?
Do you think they knew you were hoping for more interaction on Reading Night?
Some families have a really hard time communicating their needs and feelings properly.

My parents didn't do anything "parental" like going to Reading Night at all.
They didn't teach me to read, or read me bedtime stories.
I was never tucked into bed, pushed on a swing, taken to therapy, or asked how I was.
They didn't go to any of my parent-teacher report card meetings, ever.
From the time I was five or six I walked to and from school by myself.

We didn't eat dinner together or talk about "How was your day?"
My brother and I ate separately in our bedrooms except on big holiday meals.
My mother didn't even help me buy my wedding dress.

I'm not trying to say it was worse for me.
I'm just saying that I didn't speak up or tell them that I wanted more.
They didn't speak up and ask why I was so .... (autistic) (different) (mute).

I would have loved them to go to a Reading Night even if I had to read quietly.

I hope you can forgive them and / or move on like Juliette suggested.
Sometimes all we can do is live the way we want, today.



Aspie1
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17 Oct 2022, 5:16 am

My family wasn't close. They didn't think my emotional problems or my physical pain were "real", so I had no motive to respond in kind. Well, other than this Family Reading Night thing, to "trick" my parents into not fighting with each other, which failed. As long as I obeyed them without question and brought home good grades, they didn't care about anything else. And my therapist was their flying monkey: she laughed at me when I talked about them fighting.

Around age 12, about the same year as the Family Reading Night, I discovered alcohol, which helped me quite a bit.

Well, the joke is on my family now. I decided decades ago to never have kids, as to stick it to them by killing off an entire branch of the family tree. And several months ago, I got diagnosed with an illness than has a low survival rate unless treated. I'm getting it treated now, and unlike the butchers passing off as pediatricians in my past, my doctors today are amazing. But now, I have a plausible excuse: I have [illness]; there's no way I should have kids! So I win!

What's ironic is that I'd have sold my soul to have the same illness that school year, because it'd stop the fighting.

As for stereotypical family/parent things, like "how was school?" during dinner, I wanted no part of it! More often than not, it was my parents fishing for "punishment material" (but not during genuine holiday dinners, at least), like me getting a bad homework grade or accidentally breaking something at school. We usually ate whenever. They'd serve me, and go about their evening, then eat when they got hungry. And when I got old enough, I simply served myself.



timf
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17 Oct 2022, 6:31 am

Selfish people may tend to strike out when hurt and can frequently sustain a cycle of hurting and being hurt. A sort of equilibrium can be achieved to which each party can find tolerable.

The WWII generation had a social interaction that often included insulting each other as a type of camaraderie. If someone younger took offense, they were often chided with, "What's wrong, can't you take it?"

This was an interesting question. It presumes that one has a social obligation not to object to offensive behavior. One usually ends up avoiding people who cause discomfort even if it is one's own parents. However, for those who come from an environment where hurtful encounters are not avoided but maintained in balance by responding with hurtful reactions, it may be the only way they have learned to live life.

These sort of dynamics are difficult to "fix". The phrase, "better the devil you know" captures some of the difficulty. Short of a religious conversion or major catastrophe, most people do not change.



Aspie1
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17 Oct 2022, 10:49 am

I think one problem is that I took on a task that's beyond the skill level of many Ph.D. and Psy.D. psychologists, let alone a kid with a 6th-grade education. (Although my therapist, a Master's LCSW, more "refused" than "couldn't", as she had no intent to help me.)

While my intentions were honorable, I was too naive to realize that a beaten-down kid with nobody on his side could NEVER successfully win with two adults who didn't even love him very much. (Or each other, for all I knew.)



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17 Oct 2022, 6:22 pm

If I had known back then what I know now, and could go back in time to that FRN, I'd go about it a different way. Instead of picking a jungle animal book, I'd pick this one: "[State] Family Law Made Easy: Protecting Our Children" * by [State] Bar Association. In other words, a digest for the general public on divorce, abuse, CPS, etc. Then I'd quietly read it, holding it up so my parents could see the title. Then again, I'm 99% sure my school library hosting the FRN didn't carry such books----most kids don't need them---although my high school library did carry a small set of law books.
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* Not a real book; it's a fictitious example of what I should have picked.



Aspie1
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06 Nov 2022, 12:54 pm

I stumbled upon this thread, and came up with an explanation why my parents acted so distant and dismissive that night: they thought I picked too childish of a book, the one about jungle animals, which they thought made the family look bad. They just didn't want to call me out for "immaturity" in front of others in the library. Which is strange, since the animals on the cover were photo-realistic, not cartoony; it looked more like a science encyclopedia than a children's book.

I suppose my parents might have acted more engaging if I picked something like "Three Musketeers", "Animal Farm", or at least "Charlotte's Web". Or hypothetically, that book on [State] family law I mentioned in my previous post; you can't get more "mature" than that.



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07 Nov 2022, 6:57 pm

I think trying to get inside your parents' heads is inevitably an exercise in futility. The things I know about them from what you post here don't add up to a cohesive whole that can give me a starting point for understanding them. The easiest explanation for you to go forward with might just be that they were flawed people battling so many of their own demons they didn't always realize how much harm they were doing to you. Or they realized and were so absorbed in their own private headspace that they either couldn't care, or actually got some satisfaction out of feeling your life was just as miserable as theirs. We'll never know, but you can grasp onto the fact that their reality does not have to be yours, that your childhood does not have to define your adulthood, and that creating your own path that makes you HAPPY will always be the most satisfying revenge you could ever concoct. You don't have to give them bandwidth anymore if you don't want to.

PS - I think your last post in the pediatrician thread is a good one to allow the discussion to end with. I do want you to know that I read it.


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