Sunday, February 11, 2007

Look! It's an actual substantive post!

My parents came to visit this weekend.

I have what is in many ways an amazingly straightforward relationship with them: Though we may criticize one another's choices, we love one each other unconditionally. As an avid blog reader, I've come across so many stories about dysfunctional families, and I feel blessed to have grown up under the care of these particular people and their extended families.

We talk several times a week. When I went to college, I was horribly homesick for, oh, 2-3 years. And I don't especially like my hometown--I missed my parents and the loving environment they created for me. (My sister had much the same experience when she first went away to college and decided to go back home to the local university and live with Mom and Dad until she graduated.)

Yet the older I get, the more conflicted I feel about my relationship with them. Clearly, I am my own person--I don't cling to my mother, nor am I a daddy's girl. I feel I've struck a healthy balance when it comes to physical and emotional proximity to my parents.

But now that I'm an adult, I realize the standards I've placed upon myself are my parents', and in particular my mother's. And I've failed to meet those in three key respects: housekeeping, finances, and physical appearance.

My mom isn't one to obsess over her own physical appearance. She hasn't had plastic surgery, she doesn't wear a lot of makeup, and she hates spending money on clothes. But she has always wanted her daughters to look presentable, meaning, I think, slim and trim, neatly dressed, and, I'm afraid, pretty. There were several years where she tried to get me to wear makeup--"At least try a little lipstick, Honey"--even though she knows that the thought of putting makeup on my skin makes my stomach churn. (See, when I was 12, my Girl Scout troop did this stupid "Looking Good" badge, and we had to learn about skin care, makeup, and fashion. And when the volunteer moms put a bunch of cosmetics on me at one troop meeting, not only did I end up looking like a whore in a theater production, but I also broke out shortly thereafter and had acne for, oh, a decade.)

Right now I'm carrying an extra 20-25 pounds. Working full time, being a mom, and being on a budget means I don't have the time, energy, and resources to meet all those wonderful fitness goals I'd like to set for myself. And so I look more than a bit frumpy in my clothes. Also, my skin is starting to age. And my hair is blah. These are things I could fix with money enough and time, but (aside from improving my overall cardiovascular fitness, which is quite poor) these goals just aren't priorities right now.

And then there's housekeeping. Again, I don't have time or energy to keep the pristine house my mother does. So when she comes to visit, she always starts cleaning something. This time it was the kitchen, and she volunteered to vacuum as well (we had two dogs here this weekend, and the floor got fluffy pretty damn quickly). It really, really stresses me out when she starts cleaning because it's a not-so-implicit criticism of my care of my family's environment and because it means I'm not being a good enough hostess.

Finances. We have a lot of debt. A LOT. It's my not-so-secret shame, and it comes from being a grad student and having low-paying jobs for the past 10 years. I just wasn't making ends meet, and so when Mr. Trillwing needed extra dental work, the dog needed emergency surgery, or the cars needed maintenance, a lot of that stuff went onto a credit card. And Mr. Trillwing came into the relationship with a lot of debt. Add on student loan debt, and we're a mess. My parents partially rescued us from the consumer debt a few years ago by giving us a large low-interest loan so we could pay off Mr. T's credit cards and car. And then loaned us money again recently so we could make the deposit and two months' rent payment required to move into this house.

And so everytime I balance the checkbook and find I can't send a healthy chunk of change to them, I get embarrassed and chagrinned. I do make more than the minimum payment most months, but I'd like to be paying everything down faster. Of course if we moved back into a tiny apartment and gave up daycare for Luke, we could do that. But then, seriously, our marriage would fall apart from the stress.

Occasionally Mom brings up our debt and it's always with a tone of concern, but underlying it is a good deal of criticism about the choices, financial and otherwise, I've made that got us to this point. Mr. T and I are in a position to pay down all of our debt (student loan, credit card, and to Mom and Dad) within a decade, and when we first moved up to Davis, we paid off a HUGE amount of Mr. T's debt (which I see now, if we had saved, would have kept us from racking up further debt. *sigh*).

Anyway, I'm not sure how to tell my parents, with whom I've always had a very open, trusting, no-secrets relationship, that there are just certain subjects I no longer want to talk about with them--namely finances, housekeeping, and my health/appearance--without raising such high concern that my mother (the tension-carrying one in the relationship) would have a stroke. I need to separate myself from them in these three areas so that I can set realistic goals for myself, so that I don't set myself up for failure and disappointment.

That's what's on my mind. What's on yours? And if you have any advice, please leave it in the comments or e-mail me: trillwing -at- gmail.


Bardiac said...

It's especially hard to turn off the communication about finances while you owe someone money, isn't it.

My Mom finally gave up on the make-up thing!

Housekeeping, well, she does tend to want to clean things up a bit when she visits, but I've learned not to take it personally. I think that was a big step for me, and we're balancing things better all the time.

It's really great to hear about good relationships in blogs :)

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

It is hard to manage these sorts of things.

Assuming your mom is as wonderful as she seems, she probably really is concerned. Perhaps it would be helpful to do a couple of things -- First... let her clean. It lets her see some concrete way she's improved your life. It is more than likely that her cleaning isn't intended as a criticism. I'd guess that her daily schedule was much less hectic than your own, and thus you have less time to keep house than she did.

In terms of finances and weight -- when the topic comes up let her know gently, but in no uncertain terms that you have learned the lessons she'd like to teach you and that having these discussions without the ability to instantly solve the problem does nothing but make life stressful for you. For many people, stress makes them eat and/or spend money, which puts you back a step.

Then, tell her what you've been doing to work your way out of debt and perhaps what you've been doing to get a bit more exercise and let her know that if and when you need her advise on the next step you'll be sure to let her know.

This isn't intended to start a fight or even a discussion.. rather it is taking a very adult-to-adult step of limiting what is or is not her business.

or... I could be totally wrong and talking out of my backside-- but, if I had these issues with my mom, this is how I'd handle it. Unconditional love doesn't ential unconditional involvement in your personal life..

Anonymous said...

My mom cleans every time she comes down to our place too. She especially likes cleaning the kitchen sink. I finally decided to appreciate it, since she's the only one who can manage to get the darn thing back to "almost white." Now it's become a joke - I've told her she has to come down and see us because our sink needs cleaning.

Now Dad, he comes down and washes dishes after we eat, but he only washes with a dish rag, so we've got the "Dad's Dishrags" collection in one corner of the cupboard.

To each her own eccentricities...