The gift that keeps on taking

2010-06-30 15:46
Like most relationships, it’s a power struggle, an unlimited overs arse-kicking contest that begins with a territorial pissing: first with warm uterus fluids, then freezing baptismal H2O, then the tepid tears and spittle of adoring fog monsters, who turn out to be your wardens in this fresh prison. It’s all very touching, if you don’t think about it.

It’s a power dynamic that begins with Stockholm Syndrome – or "love", in the popular dialect. Good parents are dog people who wallow in the total dependence of their shitting, screeching ego extension. It’s a DIY pet, a status symbol to be hauled out and proudly displayed to barren friends, preferably when it’s unconscious, so it won’t regurgitate sour milk over everything. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that parents are sometimes tempted to have their sprogs laminated.

And that’s the easy part. Then the kid learns to talk and tie its own shoes, and as it dawns on the child that its parents are cramping its style, parents begin to realise that they may have wanted a baby, but now they’re stuck with another person. Their options are to emotionally withdraw from the child, or get medieval on its ass. This is why family-values types say a child needs two parents: so they can do both simultaneously, often while having another baby to fill the vacancy left by the first.

As the child gets older, the power struggle intensifies. This is exacerbated by the onset of puberty, a stage that wounds everyone within screaming distance and doesn’t really end until everyone involved is dead.

It’s about this time that the war switches battlegrounds, from the emotional to the financial, and you’ll hear choice phrases like, "It’s my life!" countered with "Not under my roof!" Notice how both parent and child refer to their assets as the last line of defence. The life vs roof argument (a telling illustration of the capitalist condition, if you want to get pretentious about it - which, of course I do) continues until something gives, and if everyone is fortunate, it’s the roof. The adult child finally gets its own goddamned roof, and can drink whiskey from the bottle while playing computer games and tripping on LSD for two days straight any time it wants.

But a luta continua, or as the Romans say, the struggle continues. With financial dependency no longer a part of the parents’ arsenal, they turn back to the emotional, this time in the form of guilt. With the final stand in their campaign to claim possession, parents get to complain about how you don’t give them enough attention, and when you do, you always take them to a crappy restaurant. Some might moan about the fact that you’ve never given them any grandchildren, so you can suffer too. Or they might just settle on telling you how brilliantly fantastically successfully well everyone they know in your age group is doing.

"Mom, I just discovered a cure for Aids!" you might say.

"Your cousin Annette just opened a bead shop," she might reply. "She’s doing brilliantly fantastically successfully well."

Even in the most functional families, parents often come to see themselves as their children’s victims, and it’s so easy for resentment to kick in, on both sides. Of course, nobody ever shares this, so it’s fortunate that you have me.

It’s also fortunate that we have a built-in propensity to put up with each other’s bullshit. This is extremely handy at family dinners. Notice how so few of them end with someone leaning across the table to rip someone’s throat out? Give yourself a pat on the back for being part of such a resilient species.

But family dynamics don’t always go so swimmingly. The anonymous teenager who was granted what the media is calling a "divorce" from her parents (I think "restraining order" would be more accurate) shows us what can happen when parents refuse to grow up with their children and shift the battlefield as it becomes appropriate. At this stage in her life, any normal, functional set of parents would have started treating her like less of a pet or possession, and begun warming up to the idea of guilting the shit out of her.

That’s what any truly loving, caring parent would do. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

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