From Cindy’s email:
While I was ‘on the subject’ I thought I would write out this letter that I sent mom in 1994.
This was about one year after I began my ‘journey of self awareness’ and therapy and after the years following dad’s sickness during which she would call and vent and harangue CONSTANTLY.
If you can every use any of it, please do. I think you’ve read it before. I had not read any of it in many years and I must admit, that while truthful, it must have seemed harsh. No wonder that she rarely spoke to me again! I did try and I’ve always been glad about that.
March 16, 1994
I’ve been thinking a lot about our conversation on Monday night- a couple of weeks ago- when you said you didn’t know why your children were so distant and why you were so estranged from Steve. You’ve said similar things on other occasions, and even to me- you’ve said that you don’t feel really close to me, as though there is something between us. Well…you are right- though I’ve never tried to explain it because I do love you and have not wanted to hurt you. The few occasions when I have tried to broach the subject, it did not seem as though we would be able to communicate. But anyway, I do see that it doesn’t help for me to NOT say anything as you are right and perceptive to realize that there is, indeed, a gap between us. The fact that you don’t know why things are the way they are certainly does hurt you regardless. So I will try to explain why I think we are all not closer, at least from my point of view.
First, I do want to say that I realize that many of the values and ideas that I have today I was taught by you, and I do appreciate that. You valued beauty and culture in our lives and tried to instill that appreciation in us. You enjoyed nature and animals and living in Alaska was a privilege in the years that we were growing up. That experience can never be duplicated and I thank you for that privilege. I know that you love your family and many of the chances that parents have today for education and help were simply not available then. I know also that you grew up with no real role models for being a parent and with deep scars from the many losses that you suffered as a child.
However, I have always felt as though I grew up in a house of cards. I have always been confused by how much you seem to change emotionally from day to day. For example, last week you made a special phone call to tell me that Dad had really loved me and you did too. That was very sweet. Then Saturday you were really angry and dredge up things from the past that I did not even pay attention to at the time. I always feel that I must remain on guard with you, because you are likely to take anything that I say or do and later use it against me. No one can feel comfortable around someone like that. That is one major reason that your family doesn’t spend much time with you. I never really know if you are disappointed with me at the time I am with you…and obviously you usually are. I read (like my Dad) when I am with you and that is not good. I don’t talk enough (like Dad again) and that is disappointing. I’m always afraid of not living up to your expectations. I’ve lived my whole life with the worry of not pleasing you and hence you not loving me. That is why I sent you the book on co-dependency to read. I definitely am co-dependent and there is a good chance that you share some of the characteristics as does Sharon. Perhaps reading that book will offer some enlightenment.
If we are to have a relationship as adults it would have to be on different terms. You always say that you don’t judge people and that you don’t want others to judge you- but that is how you act. You say that you don’t want to dwell in the past- but you always end up discussing it. It doesn’t really help that we usually end up angry with each other. (as at the Grand Canyon) Nobody in the family likes to discuss the past and we really don’t with each other, though you have told me that you feel that we do. We would have to build a relationship based on our love for each other and the same people. We also share a lot of common interests- in the outdoors, nature, beauty, travel. We’d have to accept the many ways we are different. You seem to have a picture in your mind of how things will be when we are together and when they don’t come out that way you are angry and disappointed.
I know that I just said that I don’t think discussing the past helps anything, but the following things I’ve never really said and it also forms a wall between us, though it’s probably of my construction. So I only want to write about it now and you can certainly write back and I will read it. I don’t think it’s something that we could discuss in person at this point.
I don’t think you realize how badly our childhood affected all of us and how much it contributed to a sense of being alienated from you. I’m not making excuse for the addictions or irresponsibility of my siblings or myself or anything like that but adult relationships with your family are basically continuations of those that you had as a child. We were never able to talk openly to you- I always knew that if I had a different opinion on anything I might as well keep it to myself as get into trouble by bringing it up. That same feeling was an overriding principle of our childhood- always try to be perfectly good so that we wouldn’t make you mad. We lived a very stressful life in that regard. It was not moving, in itself, that was bad- or homesteading or anything else – just a very major feeling of fear and unhappiness.
I know that you’ve told me that you don’t feel that you physically abused Linda and John, but I do. You told me that you never did anything that any other parent wouldn’t have done- and that is part of the problem- you feel that we over reacted to a normal childhood. It is very traumatic for the siblings of an abused child as well as the abused child, of course. It is common for one child to become the scapegoat in an abuse situation and that is what happened to Linda. That is not something she has told me, but I was old enough to remember, without going into specific instance, which perhaps you really don’t remember, and would serve no purpose anyway.
We never had friends over, and I don’t mean because of Dad being anti-social, which certainly didn’t help, but I mean even for an afternoon. We never had birthday parties or anything which involved other kids. We had no friends at school and Linda, John and Sharon never even had one date. Didn’t all this strike you as unusual? I was always confused, because on one hand you said that you loved us and you did things because of that, but on the other hand I always felt that we were in the way and that you really weren’t happy that we were there. Once we were about age six it seemed as though you didn’t know how to relate to us at all. I can understand how you might not want to be a room mother or scout leader or such but wasn’t there anything you could have done with us? A parent is to consider how the child is developing and nurture and encourage. Did you know what our interests, heartbreaks etc. were? Did you consider our feelings?
I can look back and know that none of your needs were being met- but that is not something that a child can do for a parent. Nor can the parent blame the child or say I can’t help you because I am too needy. Well, of course they can, but meanwhile the few years that you have with the child are going by.
As a woman and a mother I am not saying that I do not understand a lot of what you were going through and I am not saying this to blame you. I am telling you so that you will understand that we had very few bonding times as a family, and the painful times were more frequent, or at least more memorable. Memories of John and Linda running away and hiding in the fields, of you packing us all in the car and driving off where we would sleep in the car and you and Dad yelled about divorce. Of you accusing dad of him having an affair with Mrs. Eklund and he and John moving to town for a few weeks.
And always moving, moving while it seemed that ‘the homestead’ was a living thing, demanding and receiving more love from you both, than we ever did. Do you see why we don’t feel close to you? We were just kids- there was nothing that we could do to change the living conditions etc. and yet I always knew that nothing would change. It was just kind of biding our time til we were old enough to leave home. None of us were prepared to leave home; college was never discussed- could we have gotten scholarships, student loans? Should we have taken college entrance tests? What were we supposed to do? Because I went to a different high school every year I never knew a counselor or anyone who could have helped me with these questions. I don’t know why Dad didn’t. I know that you still had two young children to care for. I don’t know why that came up right now but it was part of the disjointed way we lived with no thought or preparation for the future.
I would like very much to have a relationship with you as an adult; but it would have to be different than it has been. I would have to be willing to be more honest and truthful, something that is very difficult for me to do when I think it may upset someone. You too, would have to feel that you can be more honest with me, but I really can’t deal with yelling, blaming and being compared to my Dad in a negative fashion. Do you feel that you want to try to work these things out? Do you think we can? Those may be questions that we can’t answer right now and perhaps just need to wait awhile. If I could, I wouldn’t have brought all this up now when you have a lot of other things in your life going on- but it just seemed as though it had come to a point when something had to be said. I am sorry for causing you pain but sometimes pain is necessary to begin a healing process. Our family certainly does need some healing- no one would deny that. I just hope that it is not fatally sick.
I do love you and wish that we did have the relationship that we would like to. Perhaps someday we will. All my love, Cindy
Mother’s response was to reiterate that she had never done anything that any other parent would not have done and that Linda had turned us all against her. We rarely spoke or wrote after this and I saw her only twice more, briefly, before her death. Nothing ever changed.