Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Please Sir, May I Have A Bit More Space?

Some people, like my adoptive father, take up a BIG space. They demand all the attention, do all the talking and all the emoting. The rest of us are bystanders to the drama...pushed to the corner where we nod and listen and react to "them." My adoptive mother was like that in a different way. When I was around ten and went in for surgery to remove a benign forehead cyst, it was she who was undone by a fit of nerves. I sent her home and stayed in the hospital by myself. It was calmer that way.

Certainly, there are plenty of biological parentified children out there. But is there something about being adopted that adds to the risk of becoming one? When couples adopt, there is an enormous hole in their lives that they are trying to fill. Often, after much loss and heartbreak. In a way, it seems that adoption itself - which is a very odd and complicated institution - by its very nature sets up the child as an emotional caretaker for adults. For their happiness and wellbeing and sense of "completeness" as a human being rests on one person. Of course, there are some amazing adoptive parents who seem to understand this - expressly verbalized or not - and grip the reins of parenthood and act that way...allowing their adopted child to be what they are...a child.

In any case, my adoptive parents lacked the education and the sensitivity and the EMPATHY and, as a result, as an adult I have a very warped view of space. How much I am allowed in the day-to-day world of interactions. Friends talk about themselves and their lives way more than I would dare. As soon as I open my mouth to talk, I begin to feel guilty. I am being too self-centered. Or, in my confusion about space, I talk too much...trying to cover up my discomfort. I am always trying to accomodate other people...their feelings...their needs...their schedules. Them first. Me last. "Oh no no no," I'm apt to say, "Whatever works for you." Perhaps it's a lack of sense combined with a lack of sense of me. Parentified children know who their parents are and what they want. What we want is not a part of the equation.

The great thing, when one is finally aware, is that this is a behavior that can be changed. I've outgrown the little space that was doled out to me back in the early sixties. Space inflation? When I called my dad last night, he dispensed with the "Hello" and "Are you are" and launched straight into reciting every single item he'd eaten that day. Of course, what I ate would be of no interest to him. Apparently, I'm supposed to be fascinated by his every meal and latest encounter with the toilet. While it's maddening, it's also useless to try and change that relationship because he can't change. But I can. Learning to emotionally detach and learning to take up a bit more space in my other relationships. A square inch is rather claustrophobic!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dementia makes the "recipient" self-centered. I think it has to do with information overload. It takes so much effort for them to remember their own lives and recount them to us family, that extending thought into OUR lives is just too much, or too hard. They get lost.

I've read many of your Dad entries. I don't think your feelings are without merit, but for the sake of you and the pain you are going through, try not to personalize his growing self-centeredness. It surely echoes his earlier self-centeredness and pushes your buttons, but now he really can't help it. As it all becomes too much, demented parents like yours have to let go of things mentally and hold on to what little they can.

Somewhere inside he is probably aware of what he is losing (his mind, and any chance of a better relationship with you) but he is powerless.

10:21 AM  

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