Family Dynamics (part 1)

Family dynamics are a touchy subject for many and one that most people try to hide. Some people consider the family a secret society, and what happens within the family unit must remain a secret. If you let the outside world know what has transpired, you are breaking a family code. Someone might chastise you if you venture outside your family circle for comfort, friendship, or love. A lot of shame is associated with the inner workings of some families. The skeletons in the closet are hidden and passed on from generation to generation. On the other side, you have families that share everything. They crave attention and are happy to go on Jerry Springer and air their dirty laundry for the world to see. Both ends of the spectrum are similar to the far right and far left of politics, a little too extreme for my taste. In life, there needs to be more balance. 

I grew up in a family that I would characterize as dysfunctional; most families are. I didn’t fully recognize its effects until much later in life. My parents met in college, and nine months later, I was born. They both left school and were married. They divorced, and my mom remarried and had my brother by the time I was three years old. My father remarried when I was five and moved to the Bay area. I remember visiting him during the summers, but we never had that father-daughter relationship. My stepdad at the time acted like my dad; we lived together, he coached my softball teams, I called him dad, and my mom unofficially changed my last name to his. Deep down, I knew he was not my real dad, and my little brother knew, which caused problems. My dad loved me, sent me gifts, and took me places like the Zoo and SeaWorld. A dad that wasn’t an alcoholic, one that didn’t yell, hit, or chase people down in his car if they pissed him off. My mother’s second marriage ended when I was eleven.

I knew from an early age I needed to be strong and in charge. I learned how to take care of myself and protect my brother. A child instinctively knows what is dangerous, learning how to defend themselves against harm, but a child doesn’t realize how to save themselves when their own family or friend is committing harm. As a child, you trust your parents. You want to believe what they do for you is best. I don’t remember everything that happened to me as a child, but my mother told me a few stories. At the time, they thought it was funny. I beg to differ. I think it was a form of child abuse. All the “funny” or “not-so-funny” things that happened sculpted how I feel and act today. My mother did her best at the time, but I wonder how I would be if things were different. Today I take responsibility for who I am. I evaluate my thoughts, feelings, and actions and look for ways to improve myself. I consider my past and family dynamics and try to walk a path representative of my core beliefs. I choose to be open and honest about my experiences so that I may heal and help others along the way. I am not perfect, but the beauty of that statement is I own my imperfection and strive to improve.

After my mother’s second divorce, we moved to a new area, which meant a new school and friends. Since I played sports, I never had a problem making friends. What did present a problem was being a latchkey kid. My brother and I were different people. He was nerdy, and I was a jock. He was the little brother who liked to tease and annoy me, and I wanted to be left alone. I spent the afternoon locked in the bathroom or my bedroom if I wasn’t at practice. My mom was gone quite a bit. She worked all day and then would go out after work. There were no cell phones in those days, so you couldn’t call and check on anyone or find out when they would be home. I remember waiting up all night for my mom, and she never came home. The following day I found out she had been in a car accident. This memory is still vivid in my mind to this day. The environment I grew up in forced me to mature and grow up faster than a child should have. I worried about my mother and felt responsible for her and her well-being. This dynamic created a strange relationship between us that has lasted most of my life. 

My mother married for a third time (my softball coach). We combined families and moved to a new city, new schools, and new friends. We were a Brady Bunch of sorts with no Alice or smiling faces. I enjoyed my stepdad and siblings, but not everyone got along. Those years were tumultuous at best. We had five teenagers under one roof; there were some issues. Personality conflicts, not wanting to listen to one parent or the other, and the most significant issue that led to the third divorce—my mom’s drug problem. I did make it through high school graduation and found who I thought would be my lifelong partner. I moved out of my house and in with my boyfriend the day after I turned 18 and was excited to live my own life. I knew I would be better. I could be better. I wanted to be a mom and be different. The dynamics of my family would be perfect, and my children would have the best life ever. I would not make the same mistakes my mom had made. I was young and “did not know what I did not know”.

By Lisa C


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