Category Archives: Parents

More Thoughts on Ambition, Depression, and An Otherwise Ambivalent Life

When I was a child, I was remarkably judgmental. My parents raised me as such. For them, having grown up in households with parents who were not college educated, who were bluecollar workers or clergy, who lived only slightly above the lifestyle afforded by poverty, I understood their hatred of all things they worked so hard to escape. Although my town was quite diverse, as a child I always felt better than many of my peers. My parents created and reinforced this notion. I never felt better in the sense of actually liking myself or better in that I was able to make and maintain friendships, but I was told time and again that there is a large faction of others in the town, and while I was allowed to be friends with those people they were not like us.

To be clear, this was not a racial issue, as my parents looked down upon people of all ethnicities – though, of course others “like us” – Jewish families, typically got a pass. It was horrible, and yet at the time it made sense –  was our shared values of education and working hard to achieve goals, with a general disrespect for cultures that, by stereotype and outcome, didn’t have the same type of lifestyle. It wasn’t their fault, or at least it certainly wasn’t the fault of the children, and yet there was still this sense of sameness and otherness that pervaded our view of our town. It is how I, despite being miserably depressed and empty as a child, was able to find some solace in going shopping with my mother and purchasing hundreds of dollars in Nordstrom Brass Plum shirts and pants and skirts and dresses. It is how I managed to push myself harder to get where I am today, because deep down I was terrified of becoming one of “them.” I could never truly envision myself a starving artist or struggling parent. It wasn’t in the vernacular of my limited foresight. It was the only truth I knew, which now I know to be no more truth than any other dream or goal.

We were never rich, but my mother dreamed of great wealth and my father wasted away his life eating himself fat and working long hours to provide for our family so we could maintain our illusion of happiness in the shape of comparative success. My mother would frequently go on and on about how she wished she had married someone richer, not once considering returning to work herself. That was somewhat normal of a train of thought at the time. My father, meanwhile, earned a rather high salary for his middle management consulting role, and we lived a very comfortable life. My father liked to purchase “nice” things, although I didn’t always agree with his taste. My mother, for the most part, liked to purchase whatever QVC or the Clinique woman happened to be selling her. And I grew up with this painful sense of privilege compiled by the guilt of knowing none of it was deserved. Through each year, that guilt grew stronger. When my mother made an off-putting comment about a friend at school whose parents rented instead of owned, I cringed inside, knowing that criticism was completely unjust, especially against a child who had no choice to whom she was brought into this world.

I do believe that so much of your ambition is tied to how your parents wired you for reward. My reward came from meeting and surpassing expectations of this illusion of our stability and relative superiority. If I wasn’t to be a math genius, I was to be a great painter. I had to be something better than the others. I had to be special to matter to my parents at all. They certainly didn’t appreciate when that special came with a fragmented mind and a hyperactive, mess-creating child who longed so desperately for the attention and approval of others, unless, of course, this need for approval resulted in something they could brag about.

As an adult now, having been through enough sociology classes and life to know that everything that I thought was real as a child is a complete clusterfuck of a post-war generation and immigrant family mentality tossed down through the ages, I want out of this. Out of trying so hard to prove something to someone when no one is even listening anymore. Sure, my mother still shares every thing I post on Facebook as if I had won the freaking Olympics, with pride acceptable for a 12 year old daughter, perhaps, but not a 31 year old. And in my little puddle of psyche so empty and ambivalent I kick myself together trying to find the shape of a person who has some motivation, some drive, some reason to exist beyond merely existing or earning a paycheck. And I can’t find it. I can’t find anything that tastes real anymore, except the incredible and overwhelming love which my alter-ego of a boyfriend – warm, quiet, sensitive, needing no attention or approval – bequeaths to me in ample supply.

But one cannot live on love alone. And I often think if I didn’t have this love right now, I would be so fragile, I’d have nothing to keep me going. Thank god for his kind heart, his deep compassion for all the people of the world and all that is unjust and cruel. I am happy to have a safe place to go, wrapped in his arms, far from the judgmental warfare of my suburban family home.

I don’t want to just set out to help others when I’m not ready for it yet. One can easily do more harm than good. If I fuck up in business it’s terrible for sure but, at least in the communications side of things, a fuck up here or there never killed anyone. But to dedicate my life to helping others, I don’t want to do it for selfish reasons, because that won’t go over well. I need to find something deep within me, something so true, which I can become passionately obsessed with, something which can become my intention for life. It could be motherhood. It could be psychology. It could be design. It could be writing should I ever muster up a plot, realistic dialogue and the tenacity to draft more than eight pages. For someone who writes so much as I do it should be easy, but my stunted empathy has made it quite impossible to dream up others. I’m still trapped deep within myself, this little, weak, shell of a human being who attempts to claw out of her flesh to find her guiding light.

Do You Really Want Kids? The Case for Being Childfree

The term “childfree” is all the rage these days. A new book “Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed – Sixteen Writers on the Decision NOT to Have Kids” is getting its spin in the spotlight. Not surprisingly, everyone – and their mother – had an opinion on whether or not any woman should become a mother. If you don’t have kids, as the book’s name suggests, you are called various derogatory terms, as if somehow the choice not to bring another human being into the already overpopulated, resource-strained world is the most selfish thing a person can do. I for one acknowledge that the choice to be childfree is anything but.

That said, I do want children. I don’t think there is a logical reason why beyond biology; I’m absolutely terrified of my ability to be a good mother – judging by my management skills and hatred of confrontation and overall disorganization and poor time management ability, one could easily make the case why I should not be a mother. I’m 31.5 and it would be just as easy to spend the next eight-and-a-half years of my life doing what I’m doing now, until it’s too late, at least naturally, to have a kid or a litter. I could just say, you know what, I don’t want kids, and I’m not going to have any (my parents are expecting me to say this any day, especially since I’ve been in a relationship for nine years and have not yet so much as gotten engaged.)

I don’t know if there’s every a good reason to have kids or to not have kids. If you live a non-religious life, as I do, there’s no god from above throwing shade at me and my partner for not popping out the maximum number of new psyches one body can produce. There are people out there who love kids and people out there who loathe kids in equal parts, and some who love kids never have them by choice or by default and some who hate them have a gaggle to their own dismay. Some who love kids have them and then secretly hate them, and some who secretly hate them, have them, and realize that the meaning of life is seeing the world through their child’s eyes.

Perhaps if I had some sort of outstanding career where I was happy jet-setting around the world, creating art or performing on broadway or directing films or writing novels which leave no time to be distracted by little brats screaming bloody murder in the background, I’d think that a childfree life would be the way to go. But I’ve gotten to this strange point of limbo in life. At 31, with nearly $350k in savings (on paper, anyway), and a career that, while sucking up the majority of my waking life, inspires me less than a calculus class, I know that I am fortunate to have options that few have, but I there is something horrifyingly missing from my life today. It isn’t a big fancy house or even a big fancy job. It’s family.

Family, of course, can mean many things. I grew up with a large extended family – myself being the oldest cousin – with just one sister and two parents, but well over 15 attendees to any holiday family gathering, my childhood was filled with the dramatics of a family mixed with Tri-State Jews, Italians, and Cubans, which was lively to say the least. Of course as a child I never really appreciated this, it was just the way life was. It was yet another holiday, another family event to go to, and as I transformed from the only child of the whole family, cute and the center of attention, to the oldest cousin who was meant to behave and help entertain the young ones or be bragged about relentlessly by her narcissistic parents who would overstate her accomplishments, I didn’t have what one would call a healthy relationship with that family. Still, it was family – a family I’m sorely lacking today.

Even though I doubt my maternal instincts and abilities, I also feel inspired to build a strong, solid family filled with love and care. One where perfection is not the expectation and flaws are equally rewarded and cherished. My boyfriend and likely future husband is such a quiet, calm, introverted individual, I fear our family will be so small, mellow, and quiet without the organic melding of a localized large extended family. I’ve considered moving back to the east coast just to be near family — my parents are having a portion of our giant clan over for seder tonight, and I will yet again miss it — but I don’t know if that would really help or hurt my desire to set up a healthy family dynamic sans the consistent crazy of my own parents.

When I think about my life, you know, the next year or ten years or thirty or eighty of it, I no longer have this crazy desire to be the next Idina Menzel or Ellen Degeneres. All my life I thought what I wanted was fame, to just be someone who people knew and loved and would be willing to talk to, someone who wasn’t this oddball in the corner hoping for her shot to be not only accepted by lauded for her esteemed personality and thoughts. I thought that was core to who I am, something that would never change. I dedicated my early 20s to auditioning for local productions, sacrificing potential jobs which conflicted with evenings off for rehearsal, not because I thought I’d get the lead or because I really believed I had the talent to ever succeed in the performing arts, but because the drive was there. It was gnawing, visceral, relentless and the only iota of a self-propelled intention I knew to be true. Even that, the one thing I thought I knew about myself, it seems, is fleeting.

I wouldn’t mind being known for doing something great – writing a best selling novel or, heck, one day the grande reveal of this blog once it becomes more than just a never-ending self-absorbed tale of depression, anxiety and poor career choices (I’m surprised anyone actually reads this thing, but if you are reading, hello) – but what I really want to do, what I really want more than anything in the world, is to be able to go to the park with my kids and watch them run around and laugh and fall down and get up all over again. I want to have teenagers who I can relate to deeply due to my extended, perhaps pervasive adolescence, and help them grow into their own. I want to raise children who learn that they can do anything they want, that it doesn’t have to be something worthy of bragging about. That their destiny is their own. You know, I’ll never be a great employee. I’m not built to be an award-winning corporate, execution-oriented, results-driven robot. I think I might be built to be a mother. Well, I guess you can say, of course I am.

My Parents, My Aunt’s New House, and Taxes

If my father were to find out that I hadn’t filed taxes for four years, I would never hear the end of it. He would basically tell me I’m a horrible, disorganized person who is so irresponsible. I hear his voice now, sighing my name in judgement-filled disappointment. And that judgement would kick me straight in the stomach yet again, because I’d believe that there is something truly wrong with me, and that I’ll never be able to resolve my deep-rooted mess of a self.

But when it’s my own father who hasn’t filed the taxes, well, then the world is out to get him. He is being kind of enough to co-sign a loan for my divorced aunt who is attempting to purchase a house, and in order to do this they’ve asked for two years worth of back taxes documentation. Well, he doesn’t have that because while he’s paid what he believes he owes, he’s never actually filed for 2011-2013.

The reality of the situation is that both of my parents could be in very big trouble for not filing taxes. It sounds like he has actually paid the amount owed, but he can’t know for sure because he hasn’t actually filed and filled out the paperwork. My mother is concerned about this, of course, but whenever she brings it up with him he will go off on her and call her a jerk. He really likes to call her a jerk.

It’s so unfortunate for her to be in this spot where she has absolutely no control over the finances. If they were to be audited they could both be thrown in jail. Now, you could say that she should be more pro-active in ensuring her own taxes are filed on time, but my father keeps all of the financial information in boxes that even he isn’t able to find easily. He’s been procrastinating on filing taxes because everything is a giant mess. I wonder where I get this being a mess thing from, hmm.

To be “fair” to my father, he does have terminal prostate cancer, and I’m sure he doesn’t want to spend his remaining days doing taxes. Maybe in his mind, since the doctors told him he would die five years ago, he was putting it off so that he’d never actually have to deal with it. Who knows. It’s hard to task a dying man with filing paperwork to the IRS, but he’s lived much longer than the doctors have thought and he typically spends his days not schlepping up to Sloan Kettering in NYC watching television or napping.

I’m concerned about my parents, but there really isn’t anything I can do. My dad is so ridiculously stubborn and he won’t change that. He spent a good ten minutes yelling (over the phone) at my aunt’s loan officer because he thought that he only had to show two years of taxes for 2013 and 2014, and in fact they need 2012 and 2013. Well, he just loves to yell. He’s just so angry and I don’t know if I’ve ever met a person with more anger in his heart – no empathy at all for other people just trying to do their job – no concern for his own wife who he could be setting up for jail time. No, he’ll just spend all his time screaming at everyone else, because the whole world is against him, clearly.

What is a grown adult daughter to do in these situations? My mother is dealing with her own mother’s finances and taxes, which is quite ironic given she doesn’t have a handle on her own. My mother doesn’t get sad, ever – as the daughter of a narcissist herself she was not allowed to have emotions – but she is clearly frustrated by my father’s failure to just pay the taxes. She laughs it off with her nervous laugh, because her only emotion as far as I can tell is “anxious.” There is nothing I can do, but it upsets me that my father, even after all of these years, even after he has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, even after his children have grown up and removed that stress from him, is still as bitter, selfish, and full of rage as he ever was. I’d like for there to be a day when he finally realizes that the world isn’t out to get him, that criticism can be constructive, that people deserve to be treated with respect. But that will never happen. I only get to hope that my parents do not end up in jail and my dad finally files the taxes.

The Emotional Reprecussions of Narcissistic Parents

No one has perfect parents, and by 30-something you’re supposed to be well adjusted enough to forgive and forget any of their misgivings. I don’t know why I’m still holding out for the day my parents learn how to care about anyone other than themselves, yet that faith consistently proves futile.

When my father was diagnosed with cancer seven years ago and told he had one to two years to live, I spent an evening collapsed on the floor with my friend holding my hand and praying to Jesus for me – which despite my being an atheist Jew was somewhat comforting. Despite growing up as the child of narcissists, and despite being quite self absorbed myself, somehow I’ve managed to learn how to care about others. I’m not very good at expressing this, and I certainly don’t know how to manage these feelings within the context of my family, but I’m learning.

Dad is still alive and kicking. While I had hoped that somehow the stars would align for him to both kick the terminal disease and for having a terminal illness to turn him into a man far less self-centered, I’ve realized this will never happen. The more amount of time I spend away from my parents, the more I can observe their great narcissism. To be fair, they financially took care of me throughout my childhood and then some, and I had a very comfortable childhood, at least on paper.

But that comfortable childhood was spent listening to hours upon hours of my father telling my mother she’s an idiot, throwing curse words at her, screaming and berating her, while my mother nagged about one thing or another, setting him off over and over again. My parents, in many ways, are perfect for each other. There is no satisfying their narcissistic supply, and it would surely drain anyone who actually cared to please the other when such pleasing was impossible.

I may be the type to over dramatize a lot of things in my life, but my parent’s crazy is not one of them. The definition of narcissistic personality disorder defines my father perfectly. My friend from childhood came to visit today and said she was not looking forward to coming over to the house because of my father, as he was never kind to her. She was a bit of a troublemaker as a child, but that was due to her parents both working and leaving her home alone from a young age, alongside her father’s alcoholism and abuse (which I did not know about at the time.) We both had crazy situations at home which is why we bonded, but my father always made it very clear that he looked down on her and her family. Today when she came over, he didn’t greet her in anyway. Yet, when my boyfriend comes over and doesn’t say hi to him, it’s the absolute worst possible disrespect. In short, my father is a great hypocrite, proven time and again, as he constantly cuts others down for faults that if he’d only look in a mirror for once he’d see so clearly in himself.

My father is the more violent type of crazy. He’s what I’d call a bad person. He has no care about how his actions make others feel. It is true that my mother has no care about how her actions make others feel, but typically his actions make others feel unsafe while hers are just annoying or embarrassing at worst. Wouldn’t it be nice for my father to, at least for the short time I’m home to visit, make an effort to make the household hospitable? No, in just 24 hours I’ve listened to him spurt more variations of “Fuck you” and “You’re an Idiot” at my mother than I’d care to count.

Thank goodness my mother has no heart inside of her to care. It’s just same old, same old with her. He seems to no longer physically shove her or grab her anymore, largely due to her calling the cops on him finally years back. Of course, after the police came to pick him up and take him to the station she had to go down and pick him up once he was released. That was the day I was terrified my father might actually kill my mother. She’s always been petite and weak, he’s always been obese and strong – which is a bad combination with a man who has no ability to control his temper and a woman who has no ability to realize she ought to not nag – or suggest any of her own ideas – in order to keep peace in the household.

My mother is no angel. She doesn’t have an ounce of mothering spirit in her body. A friend of hers came over tonight, a woman who was my Hebrew School teacher long ago, and as she asked how I’m doing I explained to her my concerns about having a child and maintaining a high-powered executive job, she briefly stroked my hair in a very motherly sort of way — this was completely off-putting to me, but the motherly-ness of it was kind of nice. She does call my mother out at her self-centeredness from time to time, not that my mother actually internalizes any of this feedback, but sometimes it’s nice to have a third party’s opinion organically in the mix. Makes me feel a bit less crazy.

Then there’s my sister, who, just graduated from college, is thank goodness a good person, yet broken as much as I am from growing up in an abusive household. While my seventeen jarring years at home pushed me towards my bipolar medley, she has also sought help for her depression. She has also been, just recently, leading quite the promiscuous life, because she has no sense of what a healthy relationship is, or how to respect herself or her body. And I feel horrible as her bigger sister not being able to provide any guidance to teach her that she deserves to be loved, and what that means. The fact is both of us have been formally diagnosed with depression, and I’m confident that the root cause of this was more nurture than nature. Who can come out of a household filled with so much selfishness and hatred and lead a healthy, normal, successful life – at least without being heavily medicated?

The Beatles said it best – all you need is love – and for the first 20 years of my life I had no such thing. During my 20s I struggled to learn how to love with a very patient, mild mannered, soothing boyfriend who came from his own broken background. His neglect and my physical and emotional abuse seemed to create two fractured creatures made somewhat whole together. There are days when I look around at other people in society who are perhaps more “normal” or socially able and I wonder what it would be like to be a person who can go out to events and socialize, but then I have to remind myself how completely awkward and abnormal I am, and why we’re the perfect fit for each other, till death do us part. And I remind myself that the only thing I really need to be happy is the love I never had as a child, the forgiving, relentless, eternal love that manages to find equal parts beauty and annoyance in even my many faults.

When I began my career, I had no one. I had never experienced love, I never valued myself enough to be in a healthy relationship with another person I fully respected or who respected me. Sure, I had a few relationships, but these were short lived – a girlfriend who, despite being kind and giving, was far too simpleminded to be a long-term match; a boyfriend who, a risk-loving midwestern guy with a horde of giant dogs and bad jokes and no emotional depth, was no fit for my sensitive side; and another boyfriend, a professional who, despite at the time earning a hundred thousand dollars more than my intern salary, and having been dating for nearly two years, made it clear that I would be paying for everything on every date, down to a $7 movie ticket, and then I’d be sleeping on the living room two-person couch for the night. I was so hungry for love and looking for it in all the wrong places because I had absolutely no respect for myself. I didn’t know how to be loved, or how to be worth being loved.

This is why I threw myself into my career. I wasn’t great at everything I did at work, but I had nothing else to focus on, even when my relationship with my current boyfriend begun, as I was unable to let him in. I found myself, typical as a child of abuse, trying to start fights at every turn, not feeling comfortable just existing in love. I needed the chaos, the ups and downs, the rush of the pain I was so used to. I pushed him away harder than one should be able to push a man and yet he stayed. He stuck he out. He knew I was hurting and lost and we both knew we were perfect for each other even though I tried so hard to break us apart.

Now I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve grown up a bit. I still have a lot of aging to do with wisdom to gain. But now all I need to find happiness is to be hugged tightly in his arms. I don’t need money or a fancy house or nice clothes or a new car or even to travel the world (though I enjoy traveling) because I could spend the rest of my life in a room with him and it would be ok. Suddenly, all of my motivation to focus on my career at the cost of avoiding my broken self shifted to my desire to be able to create a healthy, positive family with him. The years began to fly by and suddenly I was in my late 20s and then 30s. We didn’t get married or have kids, we just kept on watching the years go by, having fun together, but making little progress in terms of starting that family I began to see clearer and clearer.

I know having children is going to be a massive challenge due to my PCOS, and I don’t know how I’m going to manage to maintain my job and go through infertility treatments when the time comes. I’m going to have to make a lot of sacrifices and I will have to be strong enough to do this, not on my own, but as a team of two, us against the world. I’m quite frankly terrified because I don’t want to have kids and be a bad mother – I know I can be a horrible boss sometimes and while that’s not good either, at least with work you don’t always have the same employees throughout your career. One wrong move as a parent and it haunts you and your child for the rest of your life.

My teen self never dreamt of becoming a mother. Now, there’s nothing else in my life that seems more desirable or real. I’m afraid of what happens when I have children and introduce them to my parents, especially to my father’s rage, and how to explain to them that he thinks he’s right all the time even though he isn’t. Then I remember that chances are he won’t even be around when they’re born, or old enough to understand anything. Then I get sad over that, because I do want them to meet their grandfather, even with all of his volcanic anger constantly erupting. And I want them to meet my mother, as she far better plays the role of crazy grandmother than mother, taking pictures of her grandchildren and buying them presents to later be photographed with as well.

I can’t believe how fast time is flying — I’m nearly 32 and I’m not even married yet. I don’t feel behind mentally yet I know biologically the door to have a family is rapidly closing. Between that and the challenge and cost of going through the procedures needed to even children while also maintaining my high-pressure job is frightening. I’ll need to make some big choices about giving up massive savings potential in order to have a family. But at the end of the day, what is the point of saving if you never have a family to share that with (if that’s what you want to do, that is.)

 

My Parents, the Snow Birds

I never thought the day would come. Sure, all the other Jewish parents from the Tri-State area eventually buy a winter home in Florida, but my parents weren’t like that. They were just too east coast. They were too cultured. They were too… not that.

But, after a trip to Florida and dealing with the long cold winters, they’ve decided it’s time to take the plunge and purchase a winter home. Property in Florida is relatively cheap, so I don’t think it’s a terrible decision, but it’s just kind of unsettling to me that clearly it’s that time in life when this choice makes sense to them. I’m also perplexed by the amount of money they’re putting into fixing up the northeast house (and seem to be ignoring any set budgets) while now planning on spending half the year in a whole other state.

I’m not actually surprised by my mother’s interest in the half move – she loves her summers and long days by the beach and hates winters. She also grew up in Southern, California. But my father didn’t seem to be the type. I get that he has trouble getting around now so being in a place where snow and ice isn’t an issue also makes sense, even though his cancer doctors are in NY. This whole situation is rather surreal and yet another step in everyone getting older, myself included.

This also means that I will no longer be able to take a side trip to visit my parents on work trips, which most often occur during the winter months. It’s just the end of an era, and one that I wasn’t quite ready for, despite being over 30 and needing to get over this whole ironic nostalgia for my, in reality, quite unhappy childhood.

To Invest or Not to Invest?

Another surprise from left field – after offering to help front the money for my father’s credit card bill and have him pay me 50% of the interest they would charge, and him blatantly refusing such a preposterous suggestion, now he’s throwing around the idea that I should invest in their Florida condo. And he’s not joking.

The thing is, they have the money to pay for it outright, he just doesn’t want to pull his funds out of his 401k at the moment. And it wouldn’t hurt for me to have some investment in actual real estate. I haven’t run the numbers but logically it doesn’t seem to make any sense at all. Since I’d be investing in property owned by my parents, in the long run half of that property theoretically would be owned by me whether I invest in it or not. More importantly, though, is that if I were to purchase property in Florida for my parents to live in, the tax situation would get tricky. I’m not sure how it works – would I make them pay me rent? Pay me back for the loan with interest? Or would I just remain co-owner, or heck, buy the entire thing outright?

I’ve considered buying rental property before, but not property to rent to my parents. That just sounds overly complicated. And I’m not that interested in buying a condo in a 55+ community in Florida. The other piece of the puzzle is that while I haven’t been the best at saving liquid funds for a down payment of my own, if I put money into the property in Florida I don’t think I’ll ever be able to afford a house of my own. So it seems like a really bad idea, even though it would provide the opportunity to diversify my portfolio a bit.

In any case, I have to get used to this crazy new world of my parents as “Snowbirds.” I’m not sure I ever will, but they sounded happy calling from the state, happier than I’ve heard them sound before. So that’s a good thing.