I have two older brothers, both of whom I keep at arms length, letting them close enough so that the children benefit from the nice side of them. They both, you see, have a nasty side, and more than ten years ago I distanced myself a little from my immediate family, realising that I didn't have to subject myself to their periodic verbal aggression and put downs if I didn't want to.
You will know that our parents have health problems, and that me mum's had an operation recently. We've all felt the strain and my two brothers have had a big falling out over it. The brother I spoke to on Friday night swears that he will never speak to our eldest brother again ... he's sick of his verbal aggression and the put downs!
We were talking about a practical matter, but brother was telling me about his relief of not having to see our older brother anymore, and telling me about the nasty text he got from him. He said that he was always criticising him and he'd had enough. I ventured to ask brother if he knew where he got that from? It is of course from our parents.
That was all I needed to say and my brother was away. He related to me several stories from our childhood when our parents put him down, or ignored him, or sent him away. I've got several stories of my own like those. Our parents were not abusive or neglectful, but they were completely uninterested in us. They both worked hard and when they had free time they watched TV. That was it. Hours and hours and hours of it. If we wanted to be with our parents we sat and watched TV with them. That was our life. Any effort by me or my brothers to cultivate a hobby went unsupported, meeting irritation or mockery. They didn't much notice or care when we started to grow up and live independent lives; we could do what we liked just as long as we never interrupted a TV program to bother them about it.
I have long since fathomed this upbringing has harmed me. It made pushing out into the world very difficult as an adult because my parents had kept my world so small and unstimulating. It also gave me low self-esteem, as having parents who do not want to spend any time with you will tend to do. I have also seen how it has damaged my brothers, how we could all have been more if we had been encouraged and supported.
But knowing that for yourself and having someone else validate that for you are two very different things. My brother even brought up a couple of incidents when my parents showed an intensely low level of interest in some big news I had to tell them (getting married and adopting) and how he had meant to tell me how wrong it was that our parents' response could be so muted.
Well, that's not quite how he put it, but that's what he meant.
All this, coming from someone I never considered a natural ally, has shaken me a bit. Things really were as bad as I was thinking they were. It's haunted me all weekend.
I have long since forgiven and excused my parents, two decent people, for their faults. They are of a post-war generation, stiff upper lipped pensioners, who created a safe home environment for their three children, with a predictable routine and food on the table, all on a shoe string.
But I do live with the legacy of their disinterest and overt criticism, and so now do my husband and children. I don't think I so much have a nasty side to me as a dark pit that I sometimes fall into, and that's where I found myself this weekend. Down there, nothing is good, nothing is worth trying for and everyone is the enemy. I can't parent very well from that dark pit. For my family's sake I hope I don't drop in there again any time soon.
I'm OK today though. Back in the sunshine, thinking of bunnies.