My sister once exclaimed to me regarding our parents, “you take so much from people who have so little!” Why was I accused of “taking?” Because at 18-19 years old I was, against my own choice, living at home while attending college full-time. Because she was jealous and bitter about the fact that at the same time in her life she was living with our grandmother and ‘paying her own way.’ That of course had nothing to do with me and wasn’t my problem. But the reality is, that statement should have been said to our parents, if not to herself. They took so much from me, when I had so little, they took my virginity, my self-esteem, my sanity, confidence, and indeed, my ability to be independent when I was a young child with no defenses. They should have gone to jail, I certainly did not ‘take’ from them some joy and freedom they were deserving of.
That there could be some shame in my living at home when I was paying full tuition costs myself through loans (or even if I wasn’t!) is preposterous, and if my parents were upset about it, they could certainly have come to me themselves instead of sending this bitter marionette in their place. The moral hatred she threw at me while keeping a jealous vigil over my life looking for any treatment I might receive that would allegedly be ‘better’ then what she had was truly pathetic. But my sister also considered herself entitled to be an equal parent of mine when it came to making decisions, despite the fact that she took no responsibility for my care herself, let alone my feelings. She was cold, indifferent, and uncaring, but just loved exerting control behind the scenes of my life. I really couldn’t care less if after years of neglect during high school, my mother bought me some nice clothes for college and continued to feed me. That’s a normal thing for a parent to do, it’s nothing special. I would do much more and go much further than that if I had a child, and with no guilt-tripping for the fact afterwards.
The idea that I should feel guilty for accepting something willingly offered to me was one of the poisonous messages that my family tried to drill into me over the years. I particularly remember being on the receiving end of it from both of my siblings. When we were very little, my brother and I got off the bus into the pouring rain with no coats or umbrellas, but when a friendly neighbor that we knew who was picking up her own kids in her car offered us a ride, he immediately said no. Our parents didn’t come to get us themselves, but taught that it would be rude to accept such an offer; that we should deny ourselves and common sense in favor of a random and wandering guilt. That we should isolate, as if the neighbors were the abusive ones. Similarly, if we were offered sodas by our parents friends, he would immediately turn it down for the both of us. While he found his own way to rebel against our parents, my brother was extremely conservative when it came to regulating me…
They told me that I was greedy, selfish for having needs or desires; and they made it difficult for me to accept a gift or (even worse) an offer of one long into my adult life. I would become nervous, afraid if someone offered and unable to easily accept. I was afraid of rejection, afraid of being made a fool of, afraid of doing the wrong thing. Of course, there are genuine people in the world, who will just give someone something because they want to, and not as part of some complex and artificial social game where people are supposed to go back and forth with offers and refusals in a battle of wills. If this was what my parents had in mind, they were insane and out of touch with modernity and the place where we actually lived. But the idea that according to my sister I was even supposed to take this tactic when dealing with my own parents is ludicrous, as are my sister’s accusations about my “taking,” given the reality of my childhood.
Shortly before I moved out, my mother, rhapsodizing about how ‘great’ my childhood supposedly was said “well, you never had to ask for anything…” She should have ended that sentence with “…because even if you asked, you wouldn’t have gotten it” if she wanted to approach the actual truth. I had to ask, if not beg for everything that I ever got. She would not buy me new clothes at the beginning of the year during high school, she would not send a check to the school to pre-pay my lunches (let alone the school breakfast program!) unless I came to her, prostrate, and begged for these things, thereby subjecting myself to emotional abuse in response, to her expressions of what a bother it all was, to her empty promises of ‘I’ll do it later…’ Sometimes she would top these phrases off after the fact with “You could have gotten more…” to not only shame but make me feel stupid and deprived anyway.
There was no attentive parenting here, no attention being paid to my needs. Just arrogance, neglect, and denial. I had to ASK for my life, and I was so sick of rejection that I just didn’t do it most of the time, and I died inside. Ironically, this was the exact phrasing she used with me, that she “shouldn’t have to ask” for me to do various chores she wanted done. But I was given no services as a matter of course, I was punished in various ways for asking informational questions, let alone making requests for things I needed. My mother projected her own dystopian ideal of ‘no communication required’ onto me and my life when she made that absurd assertion that I didn’t have to ask for anything. She wanted as little to do with me as possible. In a sick, twisted attempt at praise years earlier my mother had said to me “you’re the good one, you never ask for anything…” which shows that indeed, she was aware I went without.
I was shamed for asking for my needs or simply accepting their fulfillment from my parents, and even more-so if I got them from someone else. What did that belief system leave me with, where could I turn? Nowhere… They wanted me to be alone, they wanted me to see no way out, to have no one to tell what was really being done to me, how much I suffered. This programming nearly destroyed my life. It must be said, I never asked to be abused. Despite the fact that my father would sit at the dinner table and insist that by making certain comments I was “asking for it.” I was given sexual, emotional, and physical abuse simply for existing, simply for being born in that house.
But my sister told me it was certainly my fault for being born there. And how guilty I must feel for being a burden on our poor pedophile parents–after all, by 18 I had grown out of the age at which they would find me most attractive, surely I shouldn’t bother them with the task of keeping me from sleeping on the sidewalks while I suffered acute social anxiety, an eating disorder, insomnia, PTSD…but was attending college anyway. She was not only wrong, she was deluded, abusive, ugly, and cruel. I told her so. I reject this entire sick pogrom that they raised me in, I would never treat anyone like this, and I believe in generosity, in absolute human rights from both parents and social welfare systems that will ensure everyone has the basics, whether their families want to provide them or not.