Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Truth dynamics in a family

I've been away from the blogs for at least 2 weeks because I've been so preoccupied with a family situation.

I am left to wonder if truth is like a light, or a vibration that shines through a family, and is transmitted generation to generation.  I wonder if each member of a family is like a facet of a kaleidoscope, reflecting and manifesting truth in unique ways.

I think all parents tell their children to "tell the truth".  A lie was severely punished, and shamed.  As the oldest child in the family I must have really taken to heart the obligation to be faithful to the truth.  For a while I confused telling the truth with admitting to some wrong-doing, even if I hadn't done it.  I got that straightened out.

My parents were rather restrictive, and as the firstborn they were even more overprotective of me.  Thus, I chafed while I watched many of my friends do things that I wasn't allowed.  My friends urged me to join them behind my parents' back, yet I couldn't.  To do so would be to lie.  When hemlines in dresses went high any of my friends with stricter parents merely rolled up their skirts once they left the house.  Mine stayed at the mandated one inch above my knee.  I turned down a number of rides home from school because my father would not let me ride in a car with teenagers.  On one of my early dates with my first love,  when we were juniors in high school, we went over to the house of an older friend of his.  (Rick was mature for his age and most of his friends were already independently-living young adults)  My father had told me I could not go into that friends' house and so I would not, even when everyone else went in, even when the friend was insulted and wanted to know "what was wrong" with his house.  Rick did go inside, but not for long.  He came back out to me and later told me I had "shown a hell of a lot of backbone" and that he respected me for it.

My strategy for juggling my adherence to truth in the conditions of overbearing parents was to wait them out.  I abided by their rules while I was "living under their roof", and as soon as I could left home.   I was 18 and I never looked back.  Those 18 years sometimes seemed to take forever.

My father was raised by a very harsh disciplinarian.  And while he probably was not as harsh as his father, he did manage to be very intimidating.  The fear of physical punishment guided our behavior to conform to the family rules, values, beliefs.  He did not outright beat us.  It wasn't like that.  At least for me. 

Perhaps it was different for my brothers.  I was seven when they were born and my sister was 5.  In a sense we were two separate families.  I wonder if the father-to-son dynamics may have carried more threat of violence than father-to-daughter.  I remember one of my brothers telling me that he truly felt that our father was capable of "beating us up".

If he ever doubted the rightness of his chosen disciplinary path, all four of us eliminated it.  We were poster children for the effectiveness of spanking:  compliant, respectful, model behavior.  We were probably people who didn't need to be spanked by temperament--eager to please, easily cowed.

My brothers' strategy for juggling truth and overbearing parents was concealment.  They chose to not wait out their term with the family to be able to do as they pleased.  They found our parents' restrictions unbearable, and unbearable to wait the many years before they were out from under them.  So they resorted to lies, when necessary, to conceal a truth that might generate harsh punishment.

It is interesting the degree to which a family which stressed the truth so emphatically in words, is invested in and with lies.

I guess I will leave it at that.


Lavender Luz said...

Fear literally takes you out of your right mind.

This paragraph makes me sad. It also makes me examine my own parenting.

"It is interesting the degree to which a family which stressed the truth so emphatically in words, is invested in and with lies."

XO, Ex.

Sheri said...

This is a very interesting, introspective post on truth.

My parents raised me to "tell the truth," and sometimes it was hard. I didn't want to tell the truth.

What I've found out, for the most part, is that it may be easier short-term to NOT tell the truth, but in the long-run, the truth wins out.

I'm thinking of you...

PaleMother said...

Hi Ex!

Interesting post, as always.

I apologize that I have been unable to reply to your awesome email ... I have also been preoccupied. But I am looking forward to continuing the conversation when I get some more time. I tend to be all or nothing about emails and comments ... which is good in some ways and very bad in others. :)

My parents were also overbearing. I was an only child, born eight years after they were first married (in an age when people generally had large families and they didn't usually delay family building voluntarily). So there was a lot of attention focused on me. And I did not enjoy most of it. I responded more like your brothers. And as a result, I put myself in harms way a lot. Someone was looking out for me because I never got burned by my wrecklessness. But I easily could have.

In retrospect, I did not respect my parents' authority and I think my impression was that their parenting style was more about their anxiety and their neediness than about what was best for me. (This is still true of my interactions with them today to some degree, although they are totally unconscious of it.)

I think you had a better, more productive response. You had integrity at an early age, whereas it took me a long time to understand the importance of that. I think I felt abused (not in the physical sense) and therefore not obliged to 'play fair.' Looking back, my parents undermined my independence at every opportunity. And they also manipulated my conflicted emotions -- even as angry as I was at them, I still loved them -- they played on guilt. So I stayed dependant on them longer than was healthy or necessary. I wish I had just taken my independence and run, like you did. But for a long time, I didn't know how.

The day I told them I was getting married, you would have thought I was telling them I had terminal cancer. And it wasn't because I was marrying a bad guy (quite the contrary) or marrying too soon or too young. The announcement was excruciating when it should have just been good news, however bittersweet for some parents.

As a consequence, now I feel that encouraging my kids independance and self confidence ... and encouraging them to trust their own instincts and stand up for themselves ... is a big priority in parenting for me. As The Prophet says:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

PaleMother said...

"It is interesting the degree to which a family which stressed the truth so emphatically in words, is invested in and with lies."

When I read that, what occurs to me is ... There is truth ... and then there is ~truth~. It's like anything else ... when you've got it right, things go well. When you are off base ... badness follows. Maybe "stressing truth" was code for stressing "control" and "obedience."

If you are a credible, benevolent leader (or parent) ... you don't have to demand allegiance at gunpoint so much because it will flow naturally. That's an oversimplification, of course ... kids' unique personalities interact with ours in ways that defy prediction. And some personalities have a longer road to awareness than others; it's not always all the parents' fault when things don't go smoothly. (?) But I think there is something to it nonetheless.