Dysfunctional Family ~ First a Child Then a ParentBy
Jimmy’s post “valued for my ability to work hard” was a big hit and so many could relate to being valued by the work they produced and by the results of their performance. This post is about the siblings who are often NOT recognized or valued for accomplishments.
As a child growing up I had a brother who was valued for his accomplishments. I always thought that he was the most important child in our home. He excelled at the sports he played and with the teams he was on and he got really high marks in school. My brother got all my fathers attention which left me feeling unimportant. My father seemed to love my brother for reasons that I could not seem to compete with. I was jealous of the attention that my brother got and my father never seemed interested in the things that I was good at other then when I cooked or made him a snack.
All my life I have heard all sorts of comments about how every child feels that they are the one who has life the hardest. My suspicion is that how our value is defined for us, is what makes us all feel that way.
There is another layer of confusion with this whole concept for those of us who were NOT valued for achievements or lived in the shadow of another child’s accomplishments.
I was trying to measure up to my parents expectations AND I was also trying to be more like my brother to win the approval that I thought he got. (In reality my brother was likely feeling under similar pressure to what Jimmy described in his guest post for us.) I realized more about this child value belief system by watching and listening to my own children as our family emerged from living in an abusive and dysfunctional family system within our own home.
Everyone had great expectations for our first born child who happened to be a boy. When he showed signs of being a great athlete, everyone pushed him. Much to the delight of Daddy, Grandma and Grandpa, he showed interest in farm work before he could even walk. We pushed him in both those areas, but we called it encouragement. My husband also pressured my son to do farm work in a similar way to how he himself was raised but he only had one example of parenting, and it wasn’t a good one.
As our children got older, my mental health was getting worse and worse. When I finally fell apart and I felt that I couldn’t go on anymore, I decided that I was either going to leave my family or I was going to die so I sought help one last time. In the beginning I wanted help only for my mental health issues. I was sure that everything was my fault and that I just could not BE good enough or do it right and I didn’t recognize any of the dysfunction in our family. I believed that I had done much better than my own parents had done but still it wasn’t enough and I was extremely unhappy. In learning what my belief system was and how it had formed full of lies and pressure and other people’s expectations, many other issues were brought to light. It was apparent that my husband and I needed to make some changes in our relationship too. I had been in a position of “background” and not “partner” and was beginning to realize that I wanted to have equal value as a person, as a co owner of our farm and as a partner in marriage. As my husband and I both began to learn how to have a functioning relationship in the true definition of love, eventually the truth about how our children felt about the expectations that we had of them, their own perceived value, what each of them felt about us and each other and what was “fair and not fair” started to come out.
My son felt that the system was extremely unfair to him, that the girls got off easy and didn’t have to perform a certain way in sports; they were not expected to do the farm chores (exactly right) either. He felt that all the pressure was on him and that he took all the heat especially from his father. Our eldest daughter, then a young teenager, confessed that she felt she never measured up to her brother, and that he was the only one that was cared about by her father. She said that everything was about her brother and he got all the attention and only his activities and accomplishments mattered. Everything that he felt pressured by, she felt he was praised, loved and valued for. And what she felt was neglect and disinterest towards her, our son felt that she was more loved and valued then he was because she didn’t have to perform and didn’t have the responsibility or pressure that he had. What he saw as being picked on, she saw as being loved and what she felt was neglect he saw as more accepted.
So at the risk of sounding repetitive; both of our daughters believed that their brother had more value than they did because in their view he was getting all the interest. Even though they heard all the pressure that he was under, they viewed it as attention, and they recognized his value (the value placed on him verbally) for his sports ability and farm work ability. Society sometimes calls this “sibling rivalry” but you can see there is a valid basis to it. None of our children felt valued or acknowledged for who they were. All 3 of them felt pressured to live up to what we wanted them to be.
My son was resentful because under the guise of encouragement, he was being praised as a form of pressure to perform, achieve and produce. It was so bad that our son had serious performance anxiety to the point that he got sick before tests in school. We didn’t realize this was our fault and we thought that it was just his personality.
In truth, each of our children was right. Our daughters were not being recognized in the same way that our son was recognized and even depended on especially with the farm. They felt neglected, unloved and that they were not as valued because of it. Our son was right too, he was being pushed and getting a lot of negative attention and he was over burdened with chores and the pressure to perform at hockey.
This family dysfunction was exactly how my husband and I were raised, and it had become our definition of love and value. Therefore according to the definition of love and value that my husband and I had been taught we had taught our own children the same definitions of love and value. We were passing this false information on to them and in doing so, forming in them a belief system not based on the truth about love, value or equality. You can see how the cycle continues if we don’t stop it. As we all learn about truth, love, value and equal value, our family continues to recover.
I look forward to your comments,