Friday, June 8, 2012

Trauma and our co-dependencies

Much has been made by our various therapists of the complex relationship between Tim and Molly. As our two youngest children, they share a special kinship. Their experience of our family is similar: Unlike their elder siblings, they had never experienced a family with one of two or even four siblings. They came along at the end of a long chain. Doted on by their elder brothers and sisters, they have shared the best and the worst of our very large family. The center of all attention, the witnesses to all our sins.

In some very naive way, Mary Ann and I imagined we were becoming better parents as we became more practiced. And we have been more than heartened by the wise, self-motivated, resourceful adults our elder children have become. Yet, somehow we failed to recognize the traumas inflicted on the youngest of our brood by their elders' adolescent excesses and by our own personal failings--the latter more a constant over time than we would have hoped. And then there were the acute traumas from outside: the sexual assaults of two of our daughters, the failure of civil justice, the community reprisals against the victims, the fear of further invasions that inspired young Tim to lock all the doors at night and to stash a crowbar under his bed.

So much we didn't see until seeing it was useless.

We have been grateful for the generosity of our elder offspring in coaching us in the ways of the younger. Mary Ann and I were both "good" children. Even in adolescence, I sought to please. While Mary Ann rebelled against her mother, in particular, she never ventured into dangerous behaviors. Perhaps we were both too timid. As parents, our imaginations have fallen far short of what our children might do. We have been too inclined--myself in particular--to give the benefit of the doubt. Knowing in our hearts how extraordinary are our children's talents and their characters, we have lived in denial of the likelihood they could succumb to the unimaginable pressures of the era in which they have been born, to experiment, to tempt fate, and to lie directly or indirectly, explicitly or implicitly, about what is going on.

So, having been hurt, Molly and Tim have protected each other. Having felt intolerable amounts of each other's pain, they got numb together. Seeking protection from the adults who had failed them, they lied as necessary. For what we didn't foresee, Mary Ann and I have been blamed by therapists claiming to be "radical advocates" for one child or another (modern therapy eschews family approaches except as an "add-on" to private trauma work), by the police who have invaded our home using SWAT tactics to apprehend underage consumers of beer, by the state social workers who initiate interventions to protect our children from our failed parenting, and sometimes even by our own adult children, who fail to see why we have been so "indulgent" of Tim and Molly, when our expectations for them were apparently so different. We have had therapists explain to us and to our children that we are "tapped out" as parents. I have heard angry feminist advocates for sexual assault victims compare me to the real assailant, and even to their own raging fathers.

Clearly, I should learn to keep my mouth shut and to let the experts talk.

And yet, Molly and Tim are both improving, in part we believe, by their very separation. Tim is focused on his recovery, as least while he resides in a community of sober peers. Molly is attending school, going to work, seeing her angry feminist therapist, and progressing. Lacking Tim, she takes social risks--making friends, finding a boy she likes, attending class and work. Mostly, it's a good thing.

I now no longer attend family therapy sessions in which I am portrayed as the standard failed dad. I go to Al Anon meetings--no blame intended--and write large checks to the various experts my children see. Mary Ann pursues her career and nurtures Molly. Some day, we may again all live under the same roof, but I am in no rush. I have learned the limits of my own ability to save my children from the world in which they live. I know I have no allies in the civic or healing communities. I write checks and give the rest up to a god I doubt on normal days.

My days ceased being "normal" several years ago. No brag, just fact.

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