Dysfunctional Family ~ First a Child Then a Parent

recovery from dysfunctional childhood
Freedom just Beyond

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,

Darlene Ouimet

8 response to "Dysfunctional Family ~ First a Child Then a Parent"

  1. By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 20th July

    Hi Patricia!
    So good to have your contribution to our blog and that you share your heart and experience, this way! It is healing for others to read these kinds of experiences, it helps us realize that our ‘suspicions’ that some things were not right, are true. I was so mixed up with my friends stories about how it wasn’t fair that they had to do the dishes.. and I thought my complaints were just as silly. It was a long road for me to put things through the grid of truth. Today I see where I was wronged, and where the blame belonged and I am free to live in wholeness.
    Thanks so much for your comment!
    Hugs, Darlene

  2. By: Patricia - Spiritual Journey Of A Lightworker Posted: 20th July

    I was the oldest child and hero in my family. I did well in school and was the first in our family to go on to college. I had all of the responsibility of taking care of my brother and sister because they were younger than me. I was supposed to keep them out of trouble. By the time that I was 11, which is when my memories of incest start, I learned to cook and was already responsible for cleaning the house. Because I made better bisquits than my mother, I got to make them three meals a day every day from then until I left home at 19. When I cleaned house, it was never clean enough for my dad. He always found something that wasn’t done right to yell about. I hated him at those times.

    My younger sister had a terrible teacher in first grade who spanked her every day when she did something wrong, like not being able to spell or read. I always felt bad for my younger brother and sister who both had trouble in school. I believe we all three had some kind of learning disabilities. I had trouble with reading and cannot, even today, see things in my head. I could never do math in my head. I couldn’t see it. I had to write the numbers down. Somehow, I learned to compensate for my disabilities. I recognised that I might have some kind of learning disability when my children were both diagnosed with them. I found out in 12-Step groups that children of alcoholics are often born with learning disabilities. Alcoholism runs in both sides of my family.

    My younger brother, finally in third grade, was labeled as mildly mentally retarded. He was called a slow learner because at the age of two he drank some kerosene at my paternal grandparents’ house and it affected how much oxygen his brain got. My younger sister, thanks to her first grade teacher just never liked school and never did well. She quit school when she was in tenth grade, I think. She later,as an adult, went back and got her GED.

    I felt bad that my brother and sister got compared to me in school by both of my parents. Because of the incest and the time that I spent with my dad because of the trips away from home that he took me on, my brother never got the father/son time that most sons get with their fathers. I blamed myself for that instead of blaming my dad.

  3. By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 10th July

    Hi Lisa,
    None of us can defend ourselves that young to anyone in a position of power, and we are taught not to anyway. In my case, my parents didn’t listen to me and I just accepted the treatment of the teacher. So hard on a kid.
    Great to hear you say that you know you can work through this stuff too!
    Hugs, Darlene

  4. By: Lisa Marie Posted: 9th July

    Darlene, I really relate to that. I also had a toxic teacher, mine was in the 6th grade. Teacher was male, so that didn’t help since I wasn’t in much of a place to defend myself from men in a position of power. I’m glad to see that one day I can work though all this and get where you are. Thanks for sharing!

  5. By: Ron Schulz Posted: 9th July

    Thanks for bring up this subject and giving us a chance to discuss it Darlene. I hope you don’t mind but I feel an urge to share my spin on this subject.

    I whole-heartedly agree that the ‘school of the home’ has power to encourage unhealthy competition practices between its members ( who are usually on different playing fields to begin with), but I also believe that national Elementary and Secondary Educational systems bear responsibility for creating circumstances which transmit messages that unwittingly reinforce a cultural ethic which teaches us to define our greatest natural resource, ie people, in terms of their ability to ‘do’, and that is a fatal flaw.

    Competition is a worthy goal for both the individual and the larger culture for many reasons, but in my opinion, educational power structures need to reevaluate and develop more effective strategies at the elementary level to support the diversity of learning approaches unique to the individual.

    In many cases, such as my own, people are driven to achieve, which is not a ‘bad’ thing in itself, but when it is done irrespective of service to their own particular psychic needs set and capacities, the results can be less than effective, and even harmful.

    Diminishing people’s efforts by comparing them to a benchmark set by others according to a subjective standard of qualification has the power to derail potential. Dismissive statements can certainly deflate a child’s self-image, and inhibit or even ruin their natural desire to engage in healthy achievement practices. “Why should I bother? I’ll never be as good as so and so….” And why would they want to be as good as ‘so and so’? Why are their efforts not just as praiseworthy simply on their own merit?

    At the systemic level, we need to revisit and reevaluate the values we instill in our children. At the same time, we need to be vigilant that often times something else is being articulated of which we may not be aware. Sometimes the rewards system has consequential subtext that are less than desirable and may obscure the original intention.

    Very interesting discussion and blog.

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 9th July

      Hi Ron,
      Welcome to Emerging from Broken! I hear you; the whole world is about defining other people and our false belief systems come from everywhere. I wrote a post a few months back about a very nasty teacher I had and how she negatively impacted me in grade five. My parents ignored it and a Dr. had to get involved because I got so physically sick from fear. I hope that I can do my little part in exposing the results (which are so often chronic depression and other mental health difficulties) and shedding light on how I pulled myself out of all that and defined my own value!
      Hugs, Darlene

  6. By: Debbie Posted: 9th July

    Thanks Darlene, I can see how it all trickles down hill! God, in His infinite wisdom, gave me my children 17 years apart so that I didn’t have the chance to do THAT to them, but plenty of the other garbage fell on my son, for sure, since he’s the oldest. My daughter…..well, I’m giving it my very BEST NOT to do that to her…raise her in dysfunction that is.

    Such a process, but a wonderful learning experience for sure. I know for a fact her little life has been far less damaged so far….and that’s all I can do isn’t it? Just keep on trying? I’ve asked my son for forgiveness and we’ve really come together even tho hes in a minimum security prison for 40 some more days (YIPEEE)!!!! And he says he does forgive me, so I have to accept that, that point and time of dysfunction is OVER. Can’t change it, CAN be a better parent today….and CAN let my children know that I love them both unconditionally.

    Does anyone EVER do it right? LOL

    Thanks again…..and God Bless you for all you do to help others…you are an angel!

    • By: Darlene Ouimet Posted: 9th July

      The cool thing is that it is never too late for any of us to create better relationships! I was fairly horrified when I realized that in all my efforts to do so much better than what was done to me, I had also made some huge mistakes and realized that I had some pretty stressed out kids but once my husband and I got on board with making changes ~ first with our own relationship and then with the way that we parented, things have improved a lot. It isn’t perfect but we relationship is ongoing so I guess we will just keep striving. Just wanting to have great relationships is really an important message.
      Hugs, Darlene

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