My family tree is large and its roots stretch across the globe. I don’t even know how many second cousins I might actually have, much less their children’s names.
But I’ve often wondered if having relatives even matters.
You see, I have struggled for a long time with family expectations and standards. As the eldest grandchild, I was expected to set an example and my mother pushed me to excel in school and in other activities.
When I did well, I was praised and my mother was pleased. When I didn’t, which was more usual, it was always explained as, “Well, she never studied/practised hard enough” or “she’s not naturally bright/talented so why should I expect anything from her?” and ending with “she’s useless!” or words to that effect. So I buried my feelings, avoided the stares and resolved to try harder next time.
But school got harder, extracurricular activities got more demanding, the days seemed to grow shorter and my grades got no better.
I stopped trying. I hated school. Hated the other kids (heck, they hated me but that’s another story). Hated always being the one never chosen for the good groups or interschool competitions. Hated always having to play the piano at family events. Hated being my mother’s chance to outshine the kid of Aunt This or Uncle That.
Because my mother also skillfully kept all relatives’ attempts to chat with me at bay, nobody ever knew how I felt. One of my aunts once encouraged me to write to her (she lived in another state) and my mother found out. “Why are you so stupid? Can’t you see she just wants to assess how you write then teach her children? Do you think she cares about what you have to say? You’re so stupid.”
Back then, I knew nothing of narcissism or Tiger Mums. I only knew what lay ahead if my mother didn’t look good, or if I didn’t do things her way. I remember telling her off once: that she treated me as a performing monkey more than as a daughter. That conversation didn’t end well.
Conversations with my mother never ended well. She and I are different personalities. And my father was never strong enough to support his child against her.
I stopped speaking to my mother 15 years ago. She tells everybody that, followed by a litany of all she has done for me and how much money, time and effort she has wasted on me. And how I am unfilial, worthless, undependable, untrustworthy or whatever.
Family occasions are weird because we’re both present but we stay apart. It works for me because I have nothing to say to her, and she can’t call me any names.
I have started seeing a therapist to help me deal with the unreleased fury and grief I have within me. I want to learn how to cope with how I feel now and how I felt then.
What has this post got to do with branches? Well, there are countless branches on my family tree. Yet not one provided shelter or shade. I don’t want to blame anyone because narcissists are that good at camouflaging the truth, so they probably saw only what she wanted them to see. Or they didn’t care anyway.
I have so much to say about my mother. I might share more stories. We’ll see.