As my parents’ trip comes to an end, I find myself ruminating over the concept of boundaries. Why? Because they are unheard of in my family. Or rather, they are set up haphazardly and followed only when the person feels like it/wants to/can be stuffed to do it.
Let me start by saying my mom is a psychologist. Theoretically, this should mean that she knows about boundaries and is enthusiastic about setting them. The reality is much different as she is often the worst offender for many reasons–which I’ll get into later. In addition, she’s Taiwanese, and the culture is different when it comes to boundaries. Family is paramount (though it might be changing as all cultures change), and children are expected to put the needs of the family first. I remember one time several years back when I was still in therapy and my mother expressed concerns that my therapist was putting a wedge between us. It took all of my will not to blurt out that it was necessary and that my therapist was keeping me from screaming at her all the time. This was during the time where talking to her (or my father) for more than ten minutes made me want to poke my eyes out, and it’s not hyperbole to say that it depressed me for hours after each time.
That’s part of the problem. Yes, the Taiwanese culture has more porous familial boundaries, but my family is also dysfunctional. The two are not mutually exclusive, but I didn’t realize any of this until I was in my twenties. Of course, you think the childhood you grow up in is normal until you get out of the situation and then you realize that your family is banana crackers crazy. For example, my father has a bizarre idea of saving face. Now, most people know that saving face is a big thing in many Asian cultures. My father takes it to an extreme, however, and it’s partly because of his narcissistic personality. I remember a time when I was a teenager and one of my parents’ friends called to ask for my father. I innocently said he wasn’t home because he was playing tennis. My parents were big into tennis when I was a kid, playing with their friends from church. When my parents got home and I gave my father the message, he exploded at me for telling the (female, and it’s important) friend that he was out with other friends. He went on this rant on how it made him look bad and she would feel excluded. Even as a teenager in my dysfunctional family I knew it was out of line, but I didn’t really suss out why he freaked out to that extent until much later.
You see, my father is a serial cheater. He’s been having affairs ever since I can remember. I can’t tell you when I first realized this fact about him, but I know he started staying out until midnight ‘working late’ when I was as young as six or seven. My parents had epic fights over this until my father gradually accepted this was the price of admission to her marriage. I figured out in the tennis situation, not only did it feed my father’s rabid obsession with his personal privacy (only for him), the woman who called was probably his ‘special lady friend’ at the time, and he was probably playing with another woman who could be considered attractive. To clarify, he and my mom were playing, but that never stopped him from paying special attention to his lady of the moment.
Everyone knew. It was a poorly-kept secret, but no one ever talked about it. People in my extended family mentioned they knew, and it’s only been fairly recent that I have had discussions about it with my mother and my brother (separately). He currently has a mistress, possibly two, and, yet, my mother still dances around him, catering to his every whim. I will get to that more in a minute or maybe in another post depending on how I feel after writing about boundaries.
The background: My parents get up much earlier than I do, so by the time I get up, they’re ready to chat. To be fair, my mother is ready to chat all the fucking time, but I’ll put that aside with difficulty. And, as they’re getting older, they’ve become more clingy and needy. I understand that part is natural of the aging process, but I just can’t handle it the minute I wake up. I live alone, and I can go days without actually speaking with someone in person. They would pelt me with questions, requests/orders, and whatever else was on their minds. I finally had to tell them that I needed to do my morning routine first before I was in any shape to talk. I enforced this by going downstairs to do my morning routine. Did that help? Yes and no. Yes because it kept them away from me in general. No because if they really wanted something, they just went downstairs to present me with their pressing (to them) concern.