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Memoirs of an 11-Year Old

October 25, 2009

When I was 11 I was a trouble-maker. I stole. I stole food. I stole postcards. I stole coins.

In my memory, I stole the food because there was only enough food made at supper for my dad to have seconds, and for my step-brother and I to share a second helping. I was still hungry, so I’d come upstairs at night and make myself a peanut butter sandwich.

I stole postcards in my desire to get my Collector’s badge in Girl Guides. Needless to say my dad pulled me out of Guides because I obviously couldn’t live up to the ideology they were trying to teach little girls.

I stole coins from my dad’s change jar and bought massive amounts of candy with it. And I stole coins from my step-mom’s collection of coins from around the world – because they were cool.

We had just moved in with my step-mom, step-brother and step-sister the year before when my dad and step-mom got married. I didn’t get along with my SM (step-mom for short – gonna get sick of typing it). It wasn’t an issue of her replacing my mom as my mom and dad had been divorced for years, I hadn’t lived with my mom for years, and she had just passed away the year before. It was probably something like I just didn’t want to share my dad, since I’d had him to myself for so long.

I started Grade 7 on a Thursday. A new school, since I was in Junior High now. New school, new people, a whole new routine. I honestly don’t remember what I did that weekend that got me in trouble. Whatever it was, my dad had had enough. He didn’t know how to deal with me anymore. He packed up my stuff, packed me in the car and drove me 3 hours away to my grandma’s house. I lived with her for the next 15 years. It was explained once upon a time that in a few years I would move out and live my own life. My dad would be with my SM forever. He made his choice to be with her and save their relationship by not having me there.

17 years later, I’m still facing the actions of a lost kid and her frustrated parents. When I see my parents now, I still feel like I did when I was 11 and on my way to my grandma’s. I feel like no matter what I do, it’s wrong. I feel like I can never to anything to please my dad, and I can never live up to his expectations. I still feel like a disappointment to him now.

It doesn’t help that my dad and SM are very critical. They have very high expectations of their children. They have sharp tongues and a pressing need to make us learn through their experience. They have done better than most people in life, and they wish that for us kids too.

Combine my 11-year old mentality, and the whip-fast lash of their tongues, and I leave their presence almost every time upset and wondering why I let them get to me. They like to share their advice with us, about absolutely everything we could face in life. But their advice comes across as demands, and ‘this is the way it must be.’

I have been told not to let Penny play with pots and pans, or she they will always be toys to her. I’ve been told not to let her play with her food or it will always be a toy. She’s not allowed to play with phones or remotes either. I’ve been told (before Penny was even born mind you) that I should wean her by 9 months. And I got eye-rolling tonight when I was talking about co-sleeping.

Their advice isn’t limited to my parenting either. We walked through our new house today and received quite a few comments there as well. I commented that it didn’t look like there was alot left to do, that it shouldn’t take the builders another month to finish. My parents started listing off all the stuff left, and how long it takes to install individual pot lights. They act like we should know this information, and you can hear the unspoken question in their tone of ‘are you stupid?’.

Last summer, when I was still pregnant, the conversations with them revolved around Court getting his drivers license so he could drive me to the hospital. Every time we talked to them, every time we saw them, it was brought up and hashed over yet again. My dad would look at me and ask me when Court was getting his license – with him standing right beside me. It was a major point of contention, and the way they hounded us about it upset me every time. Eventually during one visit with them, as soon as they asked about his license I explained that it was a subject that greatly upset me and I’d prefer we didn’t discuss it. You see, I thought I was doing the mature, adult-like thing by saying this. And let me tell you it took ALOT of guts to be able to say it. And needless to say I stormed out in tears because they brought it up again a while later and wouldn’t drop it. In the end, Court never got his license because as soon as he does, our insurance doubles and we can’t afford that.

I don’t know how to deal with this problem. I don’t know how to say to them that we do value their advice. They have more experience than us, they’ve been through things that we’re just starting to experience. They have valuable information to pass along to us. But advice is meant to be taken or ignored, depending on the receivee’s viewpoint. I want the freedom to ignore the advice if that’s what we choose to do. I know we’d be more receptive to what they have to say if they’d just word it differently, if they’d use a less critical tone of voice, if they weren’t oozing condescension. I don’t know how to approach them about this and not have it taken as an attack on them. I don’t know how to diplomatically tell them to *@&% off. Sometimes I feel like telling them if they want to raise a kid so bad, go have their own. And today my grandma said to tell them when we get to be their age we’ll have that much knowledge too. I don’t know how to say what I want to say, and be treated like a mature adult while doing it.

I just know I’m hurt and upset after almost every encounter with my dad or my step-mom. I dread going to see them, but know that I can’t avoid it. It feels poisonous. I don’t want Penny to pick up on those feelings from Court and I, and I’m not sure what to do.

Advice is welcome and solicited, but may be ignored.

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8 comments

  1. It sounds to me like they’re missing a crucial piece of giving advice, and that is using tact and balance. Nobody wants to hear about how everything they’re doing is wrong-wrong-wrong. Also, it is not true that the decisions any one or two people make are right for everyone.

    Having adult relationships with our parents is HARD. I am not all that good at it myself. But it sounds to me like your parents are passing off their ‘experience’ as fact, when it really isn’t. Each of us is different, and we need to make different decisions. Maybe we make some mistakes along the way. So what? This is how we learn things for ourselves. We can’t just rely on other people to tell us how to live, even if they have the very best of intentions.


  2. With my difficult sister I control the conversation and keep visits short and low stress. I avoid topics I know will lead to her getting worked up or I dominate the conversation. If that doesn’t work, I make my excuses and leave the room, “I’ve got to use the restroom” is a good one. By the time I return she and her hubby are usually talking about something else. You can’t argue with her or convince her of your point of view, so you just have to talk about stuff you agree about. I also keep our visits short or make sure there is a place for each of us to escape to if things get tense.

    The only advice I have about stuff that happens in your childhood, is that it helps to realize that your parents are just people, like everyone else. They can be jerks, saints, criminals, supermoms, and everything in between. It sounds to me that your Dad failed by not making the effort to be a Dad, which he comitted to before your step-mom came on the scene. All kids steal stuff from their parents. I stole Ludens cough drops, my mom had to hide them. Getting a sandwich in the middle of the night is NOT stealing; I ate 4 meals plus snacks during puberty! I wonder if you would have been worse off staying in a house with parents like that, than having left. You might try asking your grandmother or another relative about the situation back then, now that you are grown. She might tell you stuff that she couldn’t back then.

    I hope this is helpful, otherwise please do ignore.


  3. Aw, I’m sorry.

    Um, this is what came to me as I finished reading…

    Everybody wants to be validated. In my doula/mentor training we are learning to validate parents thoughts, beliefs and experiences. I’m far from an expert but this is an example I shared with my mom:
    My grandmother is against breastfeeding. She has never said anything to me personally – nor do I think she would BUT it is common knowledge and she does make comments to her children about the fact that she thinks it’s gross, formula is better…

    So how could my mom validate her feelings along with sharing how breastfeeding is not those things?

    “You know Mom when you were having kids the doctors were telling you that formula was a better choice and it was maybe the only information you had. But now science is telling us that breastmilk is the best thing for babies – so we really want to support new moms now to give their baby the very best food possible.”

    I don’t think we need to hold a whole bunch of facts and stats in our head about all the choices we make – the point is to validate their intention/experience (either in the past or present) and then let the person know/realize that you have made an informed choice.

    In your situation an example might be:

    “I do think that today some parents have a difficult time placing some natural boundaries with their kids, which didn’t seem to be a problem 20 or so years ago. I definitely don’t want to hear banging on pots and pans day and night – that’s for sure…but I rarely see many kids playing with pots and pans when I go and visit my friends – so I’m sure we’ll figure it out.”

    Validation is not about agreeing – it’s about acknowledging intention – which even if a bad decision/action has been made, could have a good intention behind it.

    Also, people deal with guilt in many different ways. It sounds to me like there could definitely be some underlying guilt on both their parts and to make sure you never feel comfortable bringing up those issues, will continue to treat you in a demeaning way.

    I’m sorry – I know from experience that it’s difficult to deal with the parent/child relationship. Hugs.


  4. I can understand your frustrations to an extent as I have my own issues with my father and I, too, strangely feel as though I turn into a little girl whenever I am around him. I have tried countless times to share my feelings and concerns with him but it seems to fall on deaf ears. I am now at a point where I am trying my best to accept him as he is and focus on the positive aspects of our relationship. Soooooo much easier said than done. My other thought for you is to not engage in these discussions (if that’s possible). Let them say what they have to say, but not give any response. This won’t change the way they are acting, but maybe it would be (slightly) less stressful for you.

    However you handle it, I wish you luck and hope in time it resolves itself!


  5. One smart woman I know helps to get through these things by focusing on breaking the cycle and not making the same mistakes. For example, her mother meddled in her wedding plans and she swore she would keep out of it with her kids and let them have their own weddings. And she did.

    It can be frustrating to be on the receiving end of sharp tongues and incessant advice. But I don’t think you are likely to change them at this point. Focus on yourself. Focus on Penny. Do your best to ignore their hurtful words.


  6. wow, first of all, i’d hug you if you were telling me this face to face.
    I went from a horrific childhood,to a extremely unhappy teenhood when my mother remarried my stepfather.
    I know the tones you speak of, the advice in that acerbic tone… etc. My mother didn’t send me away, but she said, to my face, she was choosing my stepdad over us, my brother and I. taht alone is a knife in the gut.
    You were left with a lot of soul wounds that dont’ just go away.
    If it helps, know now, that none of that, was any of your fault… you were doing what all 11year olds do.. being an 11 y.o. Majority of society believes (still) some version of the old children should be seen and not heard… etc and that goes with that idea. Just because it’s decades later, doesn’t mean that asinine idea evolved.
    You should have been loved and supported through that, or at least “tolerated” rather then “put out” as if you were no better than a dog.
    the mere fact that you co sleep, leads me to think that you are already much more in tune with the natural, gut level way of parenting than the way you were parented. GOOD FOR YOU, KEEP IT UP.


  7. I wasn’t done, but it kicked me off.. so please email me, and I’ll tell you the rest.
    Keep going, you are doing well! Remember, what is right, for you, isn’t always popular.


  8. One day when my mother was running through her usual “you should …” speech it occurred to me – I was a failure in her eyes. A disappointment. I had grown up not doing anything right. I had always done what she said yet I still fell short in her eyes every time.

    When she paused to take a breath I said, “Thanks for your concern but I don’t think I will be taking your advice.” She looked shocked, and said “why?” I explained. “Well YOUR kids (meaning ME) turned out to be failures and disappointments. They obviously can’t do anything right otherwise you would not still feel compelled to constantly tell them how to live and what to do. The way you raised them obviously did not work or you would now be confident enough to let them be the people you raised them to be – after all – once you push them out of the nest if they can’t fly it is too late, right?

    The reason we don’t agree now is because I have started asking advice from people who ARE pleased with how their children turned out – and their advice is very different from yours. So since we obviously won’t agree from here on out about very much of anything I am willing to cut you some slack and just agree to disagree, and avoid those topics so you won’t be frustrated.”

    She was stunned. I kind of was too (I couldn’t figure out where that whole thing had come from) She had three choices at this point;

    1) She could deny that I had ever listened to her so she had to keep telling me at which point I would have pointed out that effective parenting would have worked long before now and that if constant repeating was necessary then it must not have been effective parenting so of course I ignored it – who wouldn’t?

    2) She could have tried to convince me that she WAS proud of me at which point I would have said “fine then we wont have to have these YOU SHOULD conversations any more – what a relief!

    3) She could have tore into me and told me just how bad and ungrateful I was – but then again – that would just be confirming my previous statement. I would have replied, “Don’t blame me I wasn’t raised right!” In that scenario the best we could agree on was that I was somehow a flawed human being who did not listen to her advice. I would have replied – you are right – I never going to listen – you can STOP now!

    When it comes right down to it – if she wanted to be in control of my life forever without having to take responsibility for how I had turned out since I had been under her control then she was delusional – and she finally realized it. You don’t learn how to win from losers; you learn how to win from winners. From that point on if she offered advice it was in a much kinder more positive way. The occasional relapse was met with, “sorry, taking advice only from those whose children turned out right.” To put her back on track.



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