Still showing up – surely that counts

“Honour thy father and thy mother”

For my interfaith homework, I am reflecting on a chapter of the book, The Ten Challenges: Spiritual Lessons from the Ten Commandments, by Leonard Felder. So far I have got a lot out of reading this book. It has helped me to integrate the peace and contemplativeness of the Sabbath into my hectic life; it has helped me to challenge the childish version of God I had rebelled against and come up with a more mature version of the Divine that I can work with as an adult. I am up to chapter 5: how to honour a parent even if there is tension between you and the parent. Felder recommends the following steps:

  1. Decide whether or not to forgive
  2. Learn to create healthy and respectful boundaries
  3. Uncover the best ways to help your parents as they grow older or decline in health

Step 3 includes the following keys:

  • Overcome the fear of asking for help and make sure you get as much information and guidance as your parent’s situation requires
  • View yourself as a caregiving manager who is making sure to delegate most of the tasks to people you trust
  • Overcome guilt feelings and find a way to stay healthy yourself

In this way, Felder suggests that managing the care of a parent may even become an opportunity for closeness and heartfelt connection, instead of being stressed out by the demands of care.

I found this chapter a little bit superficial, to be honest. A bit like a chapter written by someone who has never been abused by their parents 😉

I have had serious issues with my parents, but on a spectrum there are people with far worse experiences than I. Although my issues are comparatively minor, I have spent many, many years working through these issues, doing the hard work, and I have arrived at a position where I have boundaries, I have worked out how to move on and not be a victim any more. For me, this means living in a different state to my mother, visiting only for short periods (2.5 days max), and only a few times per year. I only call my mother every few weeks now – when it was once a week, she would start to take me for granted, whereas now she is pleased to hear from me and even sometimes asks me about myself and my own interests.

I have forgiven my father after many years of being angry. Interestingly, the process which allowed me to forgive my father actually made me more angry with my mother, whom I had thought I had forgiven. But the process allowed me to see just how awful she had been to me. So now, have I forgiven my mother? Not really; or perhaps I have forgiven but not forgotten, as Felder suggests. I am not angry with her, but I know what she has done, so I keep my distance. I used to be able to be more emotionally close to her, before I remembered how horrible she had been to me and how little I could trust her with emotional closeness. And also, it’s not really my job to love her. I mean, I do love her, but it’s not my responsibility to be there for her emotionally, I don’t think. I don’t owe her love. That’s the trick with the ‘honour your mother and father.’ I do – I send money, and I call and visit – but I do not put my heart out there any more.

It’s sad, but when I am too emotionally available she tends to take advantage. So I have made boundaries. Perhaps they are too strict, as she is getting ever older and changing perhaps? Is she changing? It’s hard to know for sure.

When I visit her, I sit and we watch TV together, and that’s a lovely feeling of closeness and cosiness. She likes it too. Perhaps next time I visit, I will stay overnight with her one night. She would like that. She is lonely. Then I start to think I need to do it more and so on, but really, the sad thing is that I know my boundaries and I know I can’t overstep them or it starts to take a toll on me. I grieve the relationship we will never have. What relationship can we have when I am always on my guard? Well, I suppose that is the relationship we can have: me on my guard, but still there. Still showing up. That’s not so bad.

Mum and Jackie 030617

Mum and me, June 2017. Showing up AND eating noodles.

Reference: Felder, Leonard. (1997). The Ten Challenges: Spiritual Lessons from the Ten Commandments. Three Rivers Press: New York.