Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Permutations to the Power of Four

I wasn't planning to publish any of this but let me start with the definition of ‘dysfunctional families’ acc. to Wikipedia:

A dysfunctional family is a family in which conflict, misbehavior, and often child neglect or abuse on the part of individual parents occur continually and regularly, leading other members to accommodate such actions. ...

While there are entire blogs dedicated to accounts of dreadful, abusive childhoods and the damage they have caused to victims now they’re adults, I also read all these blogposts about deliriously happy families, the frequent visits, the wonderful relationships amongst parents and children and siblings. The unalloyed joy of grandchildren, the generous help the young give to the old, and vice versa. Lovely. I am very happy for you.

Where are all the middle-of-the-road families, the broken and re-assembled families, where good periods and bad periods follow each other as sure as night and day? Are there only two sorts? Hellish or paradisiacal?

To my utter amazement both my own children recently referred to their childhood as “dysfunctional”. Blimey! I know we had quite a rocky ride for long stretches; there was nothing ‘ideal’ about our lives for about fifteen years. It was a mainly single-parent household with a frequently absent father and a very much present working mother, who put food on their plates, a roof over their heads and clothes on their backs. And in between there were rows and cheerful times, tears and laughter and one or two seriously hairy events.

Dysfunctional? One of them appears to have been gracious and forgiven me, while the other seems to want a wholesale apology and thinks it would probably be for the best if we called it a day.

It’s been a few months since I was told of my inadequacies; it’s taken me all this time to absorb and digest it. You know how it is when you hear something which strikes you as really far-fetched and you put it away as unreal? That’s what I did. But, of course, the word has been niggling away at me since.  I finally looked it up.

The outlook is good. My reaction has surprised me: I am entirely reconciled to the situation as it is. It’s not the first time we’ve fallen out.

Much worse is that the rain just won’t stop.


  1. I think we were kind of a middle of the road family with ups and downs. X and I ended up divorcing, but not until the children left home. Favorite Young Man seems to think we had a reasonably good family life, while The Hurricane lives up to her name and whirls around telling me not to even get her started talking about our terrible relationship. She remembers only the bad times, and never thinks of the fun we have. She claims all we do is fight. She doesn't know what it's like to be in a real family feud.


  2. Every family is dysfunctional in some way - even those that look functional. We all have our problems, our trials and joys. No one is perfect, and we bring our imperfections to our loved ones, who in turn bring their imperfections to theirs. And so it goes, and so it goes.

    We just can never give up on love though because even though there might be anger, there is always the connection that can never be broken. I wish the best for you Friko.

  3. sorry the rain has not stopped..
    family is a funny thing...its odd...i am glad you heard them out...and you have to weigh their thoughts...and through their lens maybe they felt it...i have seen a dysfunctional family...in an ugly hot mess...the ones i used to counsel...

    we have had ups and downs i think all families go through it...hopefully it brings us back around together you know...

  4. At a certain point an adult realizes that one get's only one mother (if lucky) and that she did the best she could.
    Honoring that person is a given, even if you feel that it must be from a distance for why-ever.
    My mum was/is completely self-involved with not a drop of emotional intelligence (at least where I am concerned). I have paid a price for being raised by an un-nurturing, neurotic, yelling, depressed mother, but I pride myself on being the person who left that outlook behind. No more yelling. She is not interested in working through our family issues in therapy and I just try to accept her as she is, and behave as the person I am with courtesy to ALL. Your one offspring needs to grow up and appreciate the amazing FRIKO we all adore - while there is time. Don't let it get to you, any more than my brother no longer speaking to me bothers me. (It does a bit - what a jerk he is!)

    ALOHA from Honolulu
    Comfort Spiral

    =^..^= <3

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  6. I am so sorry your family is divided like that, Friko, after you did your best to raise them well. Everyone sees their parents differently, and remembers childhood differently.
    My family had its ups and downs, some much worse than others, but the time came when we were all adults, even my very-much-younger brother, and we could all get along well together. The only time I was ever in England was with my parents, brothers, sisters-in-law, sister and brother-in-law in 1996.
    Then the time came when my sister decided she wanted nothing to do with me or our brothers. By then I was on a disability pension, and my sister was telling everyone "Kay's just lazy" — so there's no understanding families.
    I love both brothers and they love me. Most of the next generation, and the next, love me, too.
    I was with each of my parents as they died, first Mom, then Dad two years later, and I'm grateful for that. Old wounds were long forgotten and only love remained.
    My sister still despises and disparages me, but I can't change her.
    I do hope that your one child with whom you've made peace will visit you often, and that the other one has a change of heart.
    Love, K

  7. I think that most of the middle of the road families which seem so absent in the blog world often teeter between bouts of dysfunction and euphoric joy. Starting Over and Cloudia each bring up good points. We all do the best job we can do at the time.. as parent, child or sibling. If we're lucky, we grow. If we're not, we stagnate. I would want to pursue that line further if one of mine pegged their upbringing as dysfunctional. I'd feel the need to share my point of view also. I hope your offspring opt to have an open discussion with you about it all, some day.

  8. I am sorry about your family frictions Friko – I know it must be painful for you. But as it has been said in comments above, all families have problems – it is just very difficult to live with several people of different ages and dissimilar views of life. It was painful for me to be with my father, and only in the last few years I came to understand that he must have had problems living in a different culture than the one he knew and also he must have had what they call now Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the trauma and lasting injuries he sustained in WW2 – I wish now that I had realized it when he was alive. Sometime, with the passing of years, we seem to understand better – I hope this will happen to your other daughter – maybe she needs counseling

  9. I am back – I just read your last three posts. I understand the feeling to be homesick when listening to music from your native country – that happens to me a lot. My problem is that my hometown is so well known and shows up so often – sometimes when I see another ad with Paris in the background I rush and turn the TV off. Once thing about you I admire is your openness – you do not hide the way you feel or what is happening or has happened to you – I just can’t do that in my posts – I can do that sometimes easier in my comments! (they are not read by family.) I understand the feeling you have, in a way, of being trapped on your island – I feel the same at times in my little arch-conservative area with no one to talk to really. But you have made so many good friends online who love you and can’t wait to read your words – that must be some comfort.

  10. Every child grows up in a different family - with their parents at different stages of their lives, is hit at different ages by different events, is more or less sensitive to problems, wears their own character and tendencies toward resilience or rigidity. My brothers see nothing amiss in their parents, I am wounded and haunted.

    And some people just don't much like each other, kin or no.

  11. My mother always said 'only fools are happy all the time.'
    I think she was right.
    Life isn't - hasn't always been - perfect. Mine isn't. I have regrets and I'm sure my children do too. The grandchildren are pure joy, but they live a very long way away, across a province and over a mountain range and I don't see them very often. The older I get, the more clearly I understand that life just isn't fair. There are things I'd like to change but it's just not possible. It helps to talk - and write - about it. I wish we could go for a long walk through your village and talk about families. We'd probably laugh as much as we'd cry.

  12. The quote "You can choose your friends, but not your family" comes to mind. The wider family circle I come from can certainly be called dysfunctional, what with several alcoholics in every generation, split-ups, divorces, suicide attempts and so on. But somehow, my parents and maternal grandparents have managed to give my sister and I a childhood I wish every child could have. We never heard from Oma and Opa "Not now" or "I don't have time", and although both our parents worked (Papa full-time, Mutti in the mornings), they made sure to be there for us and spend time with us whenever possible. When puberty hit, my sister and I became very difficult; we basically just did what we wanted, which meant, more often than not, skipping school, night-clubbing, and there was even a time when one of us was brought home by the police for shop-lifting. But eventually, that period came to an end, we found apprenticeships, liked what we did, used the heads we have on our shoulders, and nowadays rarely give our parents reason for concern.
    I am glad both of them are still around, relatively healthy, and live close enough for us to see each other as often as we like. I love them dearly, and am sorry for having caused them trouble and worries when I was younger.
    That I have no children of my own is a decision I took long ago, and which I do not regret. It has nothing to do with the family I come from, but everything with me.

  13. By Australian standards sounds to me like your family was pretty normal Friko - until children have had to go without food, shelter, clothing, intermittent cheer and laughter, then honestly they have no idea what dysfunctional or otherwise really is! Oh, and that blasted rain, it won't stop here either.

  14. I haven't ever asked the kids what they thought about their childhood. I know I made mistakes, everyone does, but mostly we all got through those years without too much trouble. I wasn't a very hands-on mum and could have done things differently, but back then, I didn't know I could be different, or do things differently, so all in all, I think whatever the kids might say, I know we were and are okay.

  15. Is anyone's childhood perfect ? Is anyone a perfect parent ? I doubt whether any of us sets off with the desire to do it all wrong . But , no one can safeguard against everything . Shit does happen .
    But there does come a point when , as adults, we should just accept our past and get on with our future .What does help , of course , is learning over the years how fallible we are ourselves .

  16. I lived in one of those in between families. I do hope this all passes soon. You will be in my thoughts as I deal with my own flavor of dysfunction with relatives.

  17. Friko, understand what you share and guess my family was middle of the road.
    Everything wonderful in the beginning and then began to come apart and I
    started over on my own. 4 children and some remember all good and some not so good.
    At times it really hurts and then other times
    we know how we tried and it seems some still look at certain times
    with childish eyes and do not take in the whole picture.
    It is difficult for me to believe that some families are all love, joy and happiness.
    Life in reality is not like this.
    There are always ups and downs
    good times and bad
    we do the best we can and move on....

  18. We're all just practising - we'll know all the answers at the end!

  19. Before the world became obsessed with "social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, etc), every family had its ups and downs. Depending on where you fit in life (rich, middle class or poor) depended on the value added to your situation. Many families regardless had ups and down, as they traveled through life experiencing the good and bad. You just got through those times the best that you could, with what you had - its called decision making and carrying on and most of all move on - MOVE ON - most people cannot move on. I believe that life itself, is one long lesson in learning, whether it is good or bad. Take what you receive in life and learn from it and move on.
    Very interesting post Friko -

  20. The older we get, the easier we are on our parents and their foibles! It is interesting to me just how different the perspectives of siblings can be. My sister, who is 14 months younger than I, held on to resentments that I was astonished to learn about -- but then I was the oldest and not the girl in the middle! Now that we are all getting on in years we realize how fortunate we were to have parents who adored each other and all of their children. I've also learned that no matter how 'perfect families' people look from the outside -- it's never the way it looks!

  21. I don't think there's a such thing as a family that didn't have at least some dysfunction. And you're right, the majority of the families are middle-of-the-road families and we never hear their story.

  22. Families have always had their ups and downs, Friko, though not everyone chooses to expose those frictions and upsets to to public gaze in their blogs. I had a happy childhood and from what they say our children had too, but my wider family isn't entirely rosy, with two sisters not on speaking terms for years. I think one of the problems is the modern trend towards apportioning blame for past failings and expecting current recompense, however much time has elapsed and circumstances have changed.Dysfunctional is an in-word, but who is to define what a fully-functional family may look like?

  23. There is no such thing as a perfect family or perfect parents and a definition of maturity is accepting our parents as they are and realising that they did the best they could in the circumstances they were dealing with at the time, and loving them anyway. I hope things work through with your children Friko.

  24. I think every family that is not perfect is dysfunctional and it seems to be very fashionable to blame the parents (especially the mother) for whatever is wrong in the person's life and psyche. My own daughter by turn loves or hates me and I can't do anything about it. Apparently I am dysfunctional too. I have become a cynic and have given up hope on having a normal relationship.

  25. I love everything about this series of posts, my friend. Following your stream of consciousness -- only better stated than the typical stream! Loved hearing about the music -- I am much like you -- I like lots of things and it all depends on the mood. Rick is more trained than I am -- or differently trained. He is a bit more like Beloved. He can listen to it, though, especially if it's not in his "sweet spot" where he is bound to have an opinion! And the weather -- oh, heavens! You're right -- it always seems better on someone else's turf. I long for your green, though I certainly remember endless days of rain and gray and how they drag a person down. And the families -- oh yeah. Spot on about the middle-families. Count us as a member...

  26. Consider what a small portion our childhood is in a normal life span. At sixty-four I would hope that I'm finished examining the emotional scars from an alcoholic mother, distant father, and divorce. Of course it's shaped the way I go through life, but it shouldn't be the sum total of who I am. Moving on should indeed be the mantra.
    Great series of posts, by the way.

  27. It seems you can't win. Probably in your case, you did too good a job in over-protecting them to the point they've come to expect it from life itself. Over here in the colonies, we've raised an entire generation of women to believe that men and family should be like a television sitcom and all men to believe they should live in the Playboy mansion. We humans are really pretty dumb when it gets right down to it.

  28. What's the phrase? Build it and they will come....

    Invent a concept and people will identify with it - much easier than thinking things through for themselves.

  29. Painful. But I am sure you realize that we all see things through totally varied perspectives and the reality is somewhere in the middle. It does not ease your estrangement, but there is time, and with maturity comes a different perspective. I remember times in the past where something is said in fatigue and totally misinterpreted by the recipient and hidden away and then molded into another thing entirely. Keep the door open and keep positive as you are certainly strong and realistic.

  30. The thing about parenting is that it is the one job that you are guaranteed to fail at in a million ways. I consider that my children grew up to be reasonably well adjusted, mature and responsible adults nothing short of divine intervention. You gave your children what you had to give them. What they choose to do with that is up to them. Absolve yourself, and absolve them for being equally imperfect. I would probably do well to take my own advice.

  31. I do not know one single ideal "happy" family. Maybe because I am so open and people have opened up to me, but no matter how "normal" they may look from the outside every family has their problems and issues--some quite severe, actually. And in the same exact family each kid reacts to the same event or circumstances in different ways. One person won't even remember it--while another cannot ever forget it and is traumatized.

    My family is not a close family at all. I see my parents once a year and may or may not have any contact with my brother and sister in a given year. There are no letters, but maybe a birthday and/or Christmas card. That's what they get from me, too--with no letters. Rare to ever even get an email. I know full well that I am blessed that my son wasn't traumatized by our life while he was growing up (I gave him a lot of fuel), has forgiven me my mistakes, and wants to spend time with me...and his wife does, too! And we three are like the family I never felt I had--and we are filled with our own quirks and eccentricities and issues--dysfunctional, I suppose one could say--LOL! How could we help it--all coming from dysfunctional folks.

    It's so hard when your children expect you to be this perfect person or ideal parent they have in their mind's eye. No one is perfect. And that child who wants to write you off will most likely change over the years, too. I wish I could reach out and give you a hug, Lady! All any of us can do is our best at the time. We are all bound to disappoint somebody along the way. But we also will bring love and happiness, too. Life is not black and white. *hugs*

  32. Oh Friko, I'm so sorry. It may be no consolation, but my mother used to sigh in my more turbulent teenage years "A mother's place is in the wrong."

    I'd say we were a middle-of-the-road family, with a secret or two that didn't come out till after our parents died (well, I found out by accident but kept quiet) and explained some of the stormier moments that I couldn't understand as a child.. But we stayed an average family, and the arrival of each new generation provided some (usually fairly loveable) additions. With the passage of time - and it takes time - one does come to a greater sense of perspective about one's parents: whatever imagined perfection one clings to just somehow becomes less emotionally important in one's own sense of oneself, and one accepts their failings and foibles as part of the weather, as it were. I can only hope your unforgiving manages to find that perspective in due course.

  33. A perfect family doesn't exist. I always thought I had a very good relationship with my son and that he had a very nice childhood, but since he became a father himself 3 years ago, I don't recognize him anymore. I must have been a bad mother too. Took me some time digest, but now I just think like you !

  34. Dear Friko, I've never been a mother and so I haven't had the experience of being "bad" or "good." But I do know that what is past is past and that we all need to move on. We can't change the past, we can only deal with who we are right now. So I think your attitude is a healthy and mature one. Peace.

  35. Our family...my family of origin, my kids, David's kid's etc.have all reached the stage of deciding whether or not we want to have anything to do with each other. Some us passed it, others stay stuck. Regarding my own parents, as well as my parenting, I am at the "I (she, he) did the best (I,they) could, it wasn't good enough, I (you) deserved better" stage. Ditto my parent, parents. May I refer you to the first lines of Anna Karenina? Well, you get the idea.

  36. It's rained like L all day here as well. Your family sounds as normal as mine so worry not!

  37. I tend to agree with Janie. It's useless if it's just your bad points and bad memories that get focused on. Moving on is made almost impossible if this keeps up!

  38. In my view, most of the world is dysfunctional. I grew up with eight brothers and sisters...it was impossible not to be dysfunctional.

    My father was very tough. I'm glad I got out all my confrontations with him as a teenager. I had no qualms with him in his later years.

    As for labels...you're terrific...don't worry about the rest.

  39. I can only say I've enjoyed thoroughly reading the several permutations, though perhaps my favorite had to be your mistressing of technology to find the music you wanted to play while the rain outside continued as a blight on the universe, much as the snow and cold has done where we are. Why any child, by the way, would desire to grow up in other than a dysfunctional family is entirely foreign to me. Happy all the time and well-adjusted families are a bore--besides which, I don't believe it. Not for ONE MINUTE do I believe it! So, I raise a toast to your permutations, and may the rain STOP, too.

  40. With the help of the younger generation's enlightened view on anything and everything to do with families, I now know I did absolutely everything wrong in my attempts to be a good parent, that my children were raised in a dysfunctional home. It came as quite a blow to learn that. I even felt guilty for a while. Then I realized I'd done my best, if I'd known better I would have done better. My youngest has finally decided to accept me with all my defects. It took her a while, a marriage, motherhood, life. I hope your offspring comes around in time, too.

  41. Friko, a very wise elderly nun once told me, "Just do the best you can at the time. And never feel guilty if that isn't perfect." Her advice has stood me in good stead over many years. Hopefully as the family sprogs mature, their viewpoints will also mature, and all will be well. But in the meantime -- remember: No guilt! xoxox

  42. I love the shot in your previous post. And remember - no guilt!

  43. After all these years as a parent, I realize I am neither the author of my children's disappointments and sorrows nor of their joys and successes. They have plenty of both, as we all do. And now that they are adults, it is up to them to make the most of their lives. No parent is perfect, and I remind myself that I did the very best I could…and they have to take the whole package, don't they? (That's how people come…with all kinds of spots.) One thing I know they cannot dispute, and that is the fact that they are and were loved, as I'm sure yours are and were.


  44. my parents alienated me to the point of my having as little to do with them as possible for about two years. even to the point of refusing to get a phone because if I did, they could call me (back when land lines were all that there were). I'm sure they thought they were being good and proper parents. I wouldn't worry too much about the child that is wallowing in 'disfunction'. I imagine they will be just as shocked as you if and when they have children that tell them the same in turn. what I learned from my parents about childrearing was mostly what not to do. I like what Sue says above. Your children are adults and are now responsible for their happiness.

  45. I think your reaction was absolutely right, Friko. Our children are enough cruel with us.

  46. I think it might take a series of posts of my own to respond to this. First, I think I must download the Brahms Lullaby. Yes, my mother did sing that too me. She had/has a beautiful soprano voice. I did not sing to my own children because I have no voice. I could use that lullaby on the nights I think of getting up for my sleeping pill. As far as children go. I do not write on my blog of our broken family, and believe me it is broken in more ways that you can imagine. I do not write because I hope for healing. I acknowledge to those whom know me best how broken we are. I am considering writing a book about what we all have gone through. Thankfully, the four living children are talking to me. Well, it has been a very long time since I've heard from one, but he sent me a text to thank me for the birthday money. On the heels of his thank you came a request from his wife via facebook asking for more money for some cause she is involved in. I haven't sent it even though I was told today was the last day.

    I also deal with step-children. They have always considered me a necessary evil in their live.
    I feel like I'm whining, so I must stop. Someone once told me no one will break your heart like your children. True, in some ways. I only have so much time left. Like you, I recently, just after Christmas, wrote my acceptance of where things are. I acknowledged they are adults. They have to make their own choices and make their own interpretations about the past. That is freeing.

  47. I fall somewhere in between. Most of us do. Idyllic is in the mind of the beholder. A fantasy. One abused woman I know ran around telling everyone about her idyllic childhood while her sister talked of horrific abuse. Demons. We all have them, we try not to infect our children with them But we do. We do the best we can. My elder loves me, my younger is estranged for many, many years. In England. So we hear. I am reasonably at peace with her decision. Sometimes my own demons awake.
    As always, thank you Friko.

  48. Odd business, families. It seems that several individuals, linked by blood but perhaps not temperament, might have trouble so-existing in a space, as a unit. Given that in a family, some of the individuals are by necessity, subordinate for a significant part of the time and are likely to resent that in some way for most of it. Differences in interpretations of events when looked at from a later vantage point are bound to occur. But there do seem to be some wildly divergent recollections sometimes and I wonder whether this is down to where the person was at the time or aspects of their personality. Possibly both and many more factors. Trying to do the "right thing" is difficult and I like to think most parents try their best. But it must be galling to hear your best was not regarded as adequate, which is the implication that seems to come through from your posts.
    Interesting too how people like to link to their own experiences: Most of the comments are along the lines of "sorry to hear about your situation. in my case... I was/we were.." followed by some personal unloading on the part of the comment-maker. I wonder what the business of commenting is really all about.


Comments are good, I like to know what you think of my posts. I know you'll keep it civil.