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Heartfelt Letter to my Mother
Something’s been on my mind since our last conversation, and I feel like I need to express those thoughts to you now, before we get together in October.
The MOST important thing I want you to know, is that I love you and am not trying to hurt or upset you. Rather, I am trying to share my heartfelt feelings with no anger or desire to harm or offend.
I’ve been wrestling with whether to write this or not, because I don’t want “drama”; I very much desire a smooth, happy, satisfying get-together with you and my siblings – one where we all get along and perform the great task of clearing out the stuff in order to have you ease into the facility comfortably.
I do not intend to be a trouble-maker, never have. However, I WILL speak up for myself when I feel jilted or misunderstood in some way.
Our last conversation caused some anxiety in my heart. As a parent of adult children who don’t get along, I understand why you said what you did. You don’t want to point out one child as a culprit or instigator of all the “drama”, (and actually, it’s rarely just the same one all the time) but find it easier to simply lump all the characters together: “You all do this, you all do that…”
My issue is this: I have never asked you for money. I have never asked you for any help whatsoever, EXCEPT after my baby died. I’m sure you will agree that that was unusual times, and I really, really needed your help. There was no place for me to go. Whenever you have needed anything, I have done all I can to help.
I have never made any demands on you. I have never asked you to control what you say to me, for example, “Don’t talk about so-and-so in front of me”, or have demanded you do such and such. In every way, I have respected you as an adult with your own free agency, to make your own decisions.
So, why this line of thinking? It bothers me - that you continue to see us as a group and not individuals. We are all very, very different from each other. There are many reasons for that.
One reason is we didn’t appreciate our differences. We saw each other as annoyances. We were placed in a childhood mold – labels placed on us. Sadly, much of the time, we haven’t broken out of those molds as adults.
We all (I hope) long for better relationships with our siblings – people we often hate and love at the same time. Sadly, adults from conflict-ridden families tend to have a harder time changing their perceptions of their siblings.
There is no doubt that the underlying childhood dynamics are STILL in play. I believe an obvious example of this in our family is this: As a teen, I naturally turned away from the family and towards the outside world - a natural occurrence for every teen, important for my independence. My siblings felt abandoned and thought, “She doesn’t want/like me anymore.”
Because I didn’t realize the pain I caused, I became confused & resentful towards them because they were unreasonably angry. If only we could figure out all our resentments towards each other, the impact on each other, we could increase our empathy towards each other! I pray for that, but know it will happen eventually, if on the other side.
If you don’t get what I’m saying, think of what June has done for me with Daddy’s family.
As adults, we consciously work to “be nice” to friends, etc. But we take siblings – people whom we didn’t choose to be around – for granted. I’m sure people are more aggressive with sibs than anyone else! If we could all become aware of this tendency, it would smooth out.
With a canyon between us filled with all the perceived wrongs done on each other through the years, it feels like we’ll never find common ground. Old wounds, genetics, parental attentions, and life differences alter our relationships.
We must stop keeping score! Stop competing. Get over being angry. Stay calm & communicate nicely. Even be vulnerable to each other.
Really, communication is the answer to healing. I pray that we can all come together someday and talk it all out. It’s so easy to hold a grudge, because we get hurt by someone we love and are supposed to trust. Then we allow all that hurt to swallow us up by our own bitterness or sense of injustice. I, like you, am praying that we all find compassion and understanding.
Sadly, the attitude of “only on MY terms” continues to squash any attempts of peace. Parental preferential treatment creates resentment, walls. If we could all sit down and have an APOLOGY-FEST, and mean it - that would do much to heal old wounds. We need to build peer-to-peer relationships between co-equal adults, so that all that sibling baggage, especially the older-to-younger baggage doesn’t get in the way.
Family wounds are deep! It only takes one to start the healing, but it takes the others to actually complete it. One person, no matter how much they want unity, cannot fix it all.
Being vulnerable here: For me personally, I need to stop acting like the older, surrogate parent. I need to start having fun as a co-equal peer. Watch for the old family dynamics and birth order to rear up – and stop it. There was a terrible breach of trust I experienced with both. June with Daddy, Edele with Carl.
One of the heartbreaks of adulthood is that you can’t “get” someone to be interested in relating to you, no matter how loving, understanding, patient, forgiving, remorseful, you genuinely are.
Sometimes siblings don’t feel the need for a relationship with one another and THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT.
I found this a few years ago, and I think it applies here:
I Will Light Candles
by Howard Thurman
I will light Candles this Christmas;
Candles of joy despite all sadness;
Candles of hope where despair keeps watch;
Candles of courage for fears ever present.
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days;
Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens;
Candles of love to inspire all my living,
Candles that will burn all year long.
What does this poem mean to me? Holidays bring a desire for more joy, connection and love. This desire lives in my heart always. Someone once said, “Create or perish is the eternal mandate of nature.” We mask over pain we carry from un-reconciled relationships that have grown cold.
I’ve made it a ritual to recite this poem, especially at Christmas, because that’s when my thoughts and grief of the condition of our family dynamics are strongest. It causes me to think of joy, hope, courage, space, grace, forgiveness and love, which keeps the holidays from being ruined.
Setting boundaries are important because it creates emotional safety between people. But when those boundaries are trampled on by mistreating or disrespecting you, the only sane option is to set reasonable but strict boundaries on the relationship.
Personal boundaries are really, healthy limits set by one person to prevent someone else from taking advantage or acting disrespectfully. It’s like saying, “I’ll respect you and I’m asking you to respect me.”
Using “I” statements are best, such as, “I did this…”, or “When you did this, I felt…” Once you peacefully share your feelings, if she starts to fight, just restate and end the conversation. No matter the response, stick to the reasonable boundaries you’ve set.
Of course, boundary-setting can become extreme and unreasonable. “I’m going to walk out of your life forever, if you…” That’s a control issue. Heavenly Father placed us in this family for a reason, perhaps just to teach us how to get along. It’s wrong to not keep trying to work on improving our relationships, especially with our family members.
So, if you’re asking yourself why I am writing this to you, here it is. I would like for you to stop lumping us together when you complain. We are all different, with different desires, needs, and relationship with you. It puts us in a position of jockeying for your attention, or throws us in an “me against them” mentality. Also, it creates anxiety for the more innocent (in that situation) of the group.
I suspect you might be thinking of your own feelings of mistrust. As an example: when June told me about your behavior that worried her, and we attempted to have you come to California. My intention was, if I saw this disturbing behavior, I intended to get you some help. After discussing this with Wayne and “getting his support”, he promptly alerted you.
Mama, my only concern was your health and wellbeing; I did not do this to cause you any distress, whatsoever. I wanted you to get better and I’m sure that was also June’s desire. Think of it: I hear wild stories and act to help, not to punish or control. Wouldn’t you do the same?
I know you’re uncomfortable with me bringing this up, but we need to heal from this experience. You naturally felt threatened and devastated. Because of that experience, there is a lower level of trust between us. We know you had a horrendous experience earlier in a mental facility more than 40 years ago, and what happened fed your fears & trauma.
If you can acknowledge that my/our intentions were good, but perhaps misguided, then that trust will repair itself.
Mama, I only wish that we can somehow heal and learn to draw closer to one another in a healthier manner. We all need to lay down our weapons of war, our words and actions, and reach out to each other in a more loving and compassionate way.
I love you and hope that my words are taken as intended, that of gentle admonition to help our family grow closer in the years to come.
With All My Heart,
© 2016 Shirley Ulbrich