Wednesday, April 6, 2011


I was the oldest of four children, and Mom worked hard to challenge me to be my best. So, when I proudly showed her a picture I had drawn as a preschooler, she informed me she was ashamed of me, I knew the sky went down to the horizon, but I'd only put the blue sky at the top. I didn't know what horizon meant, but I knew I had disappointed Mom, I wasn't good enough.

When I started school, she wanted me to be my best. I'd come home with my report card, and she'd tell me it was a same I had ruined a beautiful report card with a B+ in math. As high school graduation approached, I discovered I was going to be co-valedictorian. She was delighted an gave me a hug. After reflection, she told me it was a shame I'd let my class down. If I'd worked a little bit harder, and improved one grade, the girl who had bypassed calculus for an easier math class senior year wouldn't be co-valedictorian with me.

I could go on, but you get the idea. The message I got was that I wasn't good enough. If I wasn't perfect, I wasn't good enough. That wasn't the message Mom intended to give, but it was what I heard. I finally decided if I couldn't be perfect, at least I could be needed, so I threw myself into being the third parent for Sister and Brother, who were 10 and 12 years younger than I am. My senior year of high school, Mom went to work, and I was usually the one who stayed home to take care of Sister or Brother when they were sick. I struggled with severe depression for years, and still experience it occasionally.

Sister wants to challenge Short Niece to do her best. She is in first grade, and because Sister has identified her as gifted, her teachers give her extra homework. Sister works with her on the homework, which has to be perfect. Short Niece is gifted in manipulating Sister, and so she does none of her homework independently. The other night Short Niece was doing homework. Sister stepped into improve it, making her add things to her report and finally erasing and rewriting some words for Short Niece. Sister's Ex-Husband (they still live together thanks to the real estate slump) intervened, scolding Sister for doing Short Niece's homework. He said she'd done the same thing to him when she typed his college papers, rewriting them because what he did wasn't good enough. She called me to tell me how terrible Ex-Husband is. I reminded her that Ex-Husband loves Short Niece, too, and wants what's best for him. I told her she needed to be careful, and told her the story of what Mom's attempts to challenge me had done to me. She was shocked. Surely Mom would never have done that! I explained that Mom was intending to tell me I wasn't good enough, and that when she saw what her messages had done to me, she changed the way she parented Sister and Brother. She was also adamant that she wasn't doing anything like that to Short Niece.

I called and warned Far Away Sister that Sister was mad at me and would be calling her. Far Away Sister is the mother of Tall Niece, who has genius level IQ and is headed off to a prestigious university. Tall Niece is a remarkable young woman, and very balanced. Sure enough, after work Sister called Far Away Sister to complain about how terrible I am. Far Away Sister didn't acknowledge we had talked, but suggested that Sister was walking a fine line, and it was important that she didn't push Niece too hard this early in her academic career. She told Sister that the best way to handle Short Niece was probably somewhere between Sister and Ex-Husband.

I hope Sister listens and examines the ways she is pushing Short Niece. Daughter has helped me overcome my perfectionism. I've realized that Daughter is wonderful and valuable and I love her not because of what she does, but because of who she is. I'm grateful that Daughter has taught me that, and that I've been able to apply it to my life. Sure, my perfectionist tendencies still get in my way sometimes, but I am no longer paralyzed by deep depression.


Miz Kizzle said...

Was your mother a first-born child? Did she have unfulfilled dreams that she wanted you to accomplish?
A number of my colleagues whose parents came to the U.S. from Asia had an upbringing similar to yours. They say they feel grateful to their parents for pushing them to succeed.
Maybe the difference is cultural or possibly it's the result of changing times. Back in the sixties and seventies the focus was on finding one's self more than on material and professional achievement.

Reverend Mom said...

She had and older brother and a younger sister. She was the only one who went to college (BSN-- she was proud of being a 5 year nurse. I think she wanted me to be a doctor-- Dad wanted to be an engineer. I obviously did neither!