Between the ages of 12 and 16, I lived with my dad who had remarried a women only 12 years older than I. And I don’t think it was because she was Eastern European, that she was controlled by her parents, but she still was. My step-mother in turn tried to control as much of me as she could.
Simple example #1: I wanted to shower in the morning before school because I had short hair that was every which way in the morning, having been slept on. She said no, you shower at night. And so I had to but boy, did I fuss with my hair in the morning, going so far as to wet my whole head. (As an adult I treasure the morning showers (smile))
Simple example #2: I was forbidden even at 16 to wear even the slightest bit of make-up for how I might be perceived of even though I attended an all girls school! We only had dances once a quarter with our “brother school” and it practically took an act of God to get her permission to go. (As an adult I am a minimalist with the make-up I choose to wear and as a mother, I like the idea of educating my daughter on how to apply it appropriately for her age–which means she is enjoying lip gloss at this point, being 12 herself (smile))
I watched my stepmother as a full fledged woman and mother “cater” to her own mother about anything and everything. God forbid she should upset her mother, disappoint her mother, not listen to her mother, anger her mother and so on. Meanwhile, I watched myself mildly cater to her about certain things, while I rebelled in other ways that mattered most to me. I was determined to remain self-expressed, as much as she didn’t like my speaking up for myself.
Who won in the end? Well, at 16 I was sent to boarding school when my stepmother decided it was time for me to be moved out of the house. And who was I at 16? An honors student, an athlete, a budding writer of poetry and memoir, no boyfriend, just having a sense of my own mind and dreams and wishes. I questioned her too much for comfort apparently. And so she gave my dad an ultimatum and he agreed to send me away to school mid Junior year and Senior Year.
Boarding at school turned out to be a blessing in disguise. After a rough transition and feeling abandoned (yet again) I realized the freedom to be that I now had. I had teachers who cared, friends who cared, free time after school and sports, weekends to myself, and all I had to do was play by the rules of honor school rules and take responsibility for myself, my grades, my behavior. As much as being dropped off and forgotten by my parents hurt, it was also a free pass to become myself without their imposed judgments.
It could have been different. I could have become “neurotic to please at all costs,” as she did and still does with her own parents. I experienced my stepmother as overbearing and at times mean, but I see now it was that she was insecure and had no real sense of her self as unique and valuable individually. She remained identified with her mother in particular.
And I know, sadly, that she attempts to monitor her own daughter’s life daily and so intensely, that her own daughter after 30 years stopped talking to her–even though she lives but a short distance away.
The last time I spoke to my half-sister was 12 years ago at Christmas. My father had given me her number at college and I called her and we had the nicest sister to sister catch up and yes, compared some notes about growing up under the tyranny of her mom. She laughed about it, some, while I said, really? One day after that lovely rebonding phone call I got a call from a very angry person telling me I had no right to talk about my experience of the years I spent in her house. Really? I actually said, “You’ve got to be kidding?”
My little sister claimed she was her own person, but she acquiesced immediately (at least back then) to tell her mother everything she ever did and said and for what I wonder? Her approval?
My prayer for her and every girl that becomes a woman and perhaps eventually a mother is that she claims her right to be and be free of her parents’ judgement. And that she finally found a true sense of herself–separate from her mother and not needing to subjugate herself to her mother. Perhaps she has determined a way to have a relationship with her mother on her terms. I hope so.
My experience of childhood and my teen years were far from perfect, but they were blessings in disguise. How so? Because I learned from the experiences I had, I like to believe I am taking the best and leaving the rest as I raise my own daughter who is at the time of this writing, 12 years old, like I was then. She though is not only allowed but encouraged to be her own being and be loved for being just that, as she discovers her sense of self, naturally.