Early Thoughts on Dysfunctional Parents

These were all written in my journal for 1965-66.  I had travelled in Europe with my friend and classmate Bettie Cartwright, and was spending the year in the house where I grew up in Cincinnati.

Dec 25, 1965
Thoughts on relationships between parents and children.  Now that birth control is possible, the parents have full choice in whether or not to have a child and therefore full responsibility for it.  Food, shelter, even decent clothes and an education are the child’s right, and therefore he owes his parents no gratitude in return.  (“I didn’t ask to be born”)  If the parents wish, they may give the child affection and encouragement — but love asks no gratitude.  A child’s gratitude is more fully expressed and should be more joyfully accepted as his own living as fully and deeply and generously as possible.
[Added in March 1975   “so clearly a reaction to one of mother’s guilt routines.”]

Jan 3, 1966
Jesse has come back from the airport, refusing to go back to prep school, arguing with father.  Father should help him decide what is best:  “you are unhappy, let’s see what can be done…”  But instead he forces him to choose on his own and distorts the choice so that it is no true choice:  “Taft is my choice, Indian Hill is yours, therefore if you choose against Taft you are choosing aginst me.”  What is the weakness in a man that prevents him from seeing his children’s problems in terms other than as a reflection of his own selfishness?

April 10
Children — don’t push but do encourage — give them a living example of the values you want them to have — then let them grow by themselves — be there when they want you but don’t ask them to be there when you want them.

April 11
Warning from a 23-year-old girl to herself should she ever become a mother:
Don’t play the martyr.  People will be more willing to help you if you look cheerful and make the work seem fun.  (Best of all, of course, would be to know yourself that the work is fun, otherwise you are a martyr on the inside & that’s bad for the stomach.)  Encourage whenever you can.  If you catch yourself saying “no” without really listening to what others are saying it’s time for an upheaval.  If you have a problem, & don’t seem to be getting anywhere, watch out that you are not playing “yes-but” — don’t let all your energy go into finding excuses for not acting constructively.  Teach your children not only to pick up after themselves, but also after each other — as you are responsible for them, so they are responsible for each other.  Never, never make an issue out of leaving a mess until the offender returns in order to reproach him with it.  (Incidentally, beware that a criticism is not, in fact, a reproach and therefore unjust.  Criticism, to be helpful, must be in a tone of voice that says “I love you and so I am unhappy…”)  Never, never use a criticism to hurt.  Do not be so frightened, and un-self-confident, and suspicious that you must know what everyone has just been talking about.  Try to notice your children at times other than when you want affection from them or when they annoy you (i.e. when they need affection and help).  If your children seem to dislike you, ask them honestly why, but remember that this is natural during adolescence and don’t let it destroy your self-confidence so that you lose their respect.  How about a few positive examples:  Mrs. Cartwright with her amazing cheerfulness and youthful interest in everything, Aunt Sally with her sense of humor that turneth away wrath and her depth of simple wisdom, Nora Lynch with her immense fund of generosity and her ability to make the best of everything.

April 13    portrait of my mother

Portrait of my mother:  when I am talking to my sister on the phone, she comes by with a timer, as though a few words of conversation were worth less than a few pennies.  If I wash all the dishes in fifteen minutes, she will spend an hour “finishing up”, just to let me know that I’ve done only a superficial job.  When she wants my father to come to bed late at night she calls him in a harsh whining voice which sounds calculated to repel rather than attract.  In fact, whenever she wants anything she will whine and moan, hoping to get you to do it out of pity.  She took my sister’s passport “for safe keeping”, then tried to tell Jo it was in her own room, and to top it off, after Jesse and I saw Jo look through her desk drawer, Mother tried to tell us she had found it in Jo’s desk drawer.  A few days later she twisted something I had said, and then said “I don’t make things up” — methinks you were feeling guilty, Ma.  Well enough of this sewage.  I hope and pray that I will never be like her, I hope to refer to this page often enough to check any tendencies that might appear, and I hope to end this last tendency (to bitch and run somebody else down) right now.  I will never honor her by writing about her again.

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