Exploring family dynamics and resentment

Exploring family dynamics and resentment

ABBY KING

Perspectives Editor

amking@goshen.edu

I can’t be sure when I began to feel resentment towards my mother, but I know it’s been growing in my chest for too long.

In 2000, when I was 4 years old, my mother broke her back. It wasn’t an isolated moment that caused the disc in her spine to dislodge, but instead, a combination of long hours packing up my family’s too-small duplex, years of aggressive exercise and bad genes. The literal weight of motherhood, as well as her past, proved to be too much for my mother’s body.

My family not only had to get used to a new house, but also a new mother. When my mother’s back broke, a lot of things changed. Instead of rollerblading with my brothers around the neighborhood, my mother was confined to her bed.

Within two years, my mother had three surgeries to try to fix the dislodged disc in her back. Each one was more unsuccessful than the last.

During the time of her surgeries, I remember constantly crying: in my preschool class, on my mother’s bed while I watch her lay immobile, in the car ride home after I visited her at a family friend’s house.

I don’t remember much else from those early years besides a few vivid memories: listening to my mother talk to her doctor on her phone about how she’d never return to full health; playing with my nanny, Tanya, who was hired because my mother couldn’t handle taking care of me and my siblings while pain radiated up and down her spine; sitting in the back of the church sanctuary so that my mother could sit in a special padded chair.

After those first couple of years, my family adjusted to this new life. Many things had changed but we got used to them, and worked to make our lives as “normal” as possible.

However, just because we had adjusted to this new life, doesn’t mean that we liked it. My mother became a different person.

She didn’t become angry or sad, but different. Her words would slur at night due to her medicine, she couldn’t get out of bed before noon, her mind was jumbled and she would forget to do simple things.

I remember my mother missing countless recitals, poetry readings and other events that took place during my elementary years. She missed those events because she was in too much pain, and now, as an adult, I understand that. But as a child, I was so constantly disappointed.

And I believe that’s where the resentment began. I would get so mad at my mother for not making it to a recital where I haphazardly played the piano, but she physically could not come. She couldn’t help the pain that consumed her body. But I didn’t care. I wanted someone to blame.

I still feel resentment towards my mother. I get angry when she forgets to do something I asked. I get upset when she can’t complete her sentence because her back hurts too much. I even get mad when she mentions how much pain she’s experiencing.

But now, I realize that the anger I feel isn’t towards my mom, but towards her disability. It’s not easy to differentiate the two. In fact, it’s something I really struggle with.

I try to give my mother grace. I try to understand that she’s in pain, intense physical pain that she can’t control. She didn’t mean to break her back; it just happened. She doesn’t deserve my anger.

I believe that everyone experiences resentment with family, in some sort of way. Maybe not to the extreme I’ve experienced. Or maybe you’ve experienced it much more than I have. But it’s part of being a family – a group of people with different personalities and different experiences living together.

A family is supposed to love each other – despite challenges. When two people get married, they make a commitment to love each other “for better, for worse, for poorer, in sickness and in health.” Just like a married couple, families should promise to love each other, even when things get tough, when tensions rise, when resentment suffocates.

Resentment is natural. It’s a valid feeling. But what isn’t valid is letting that anger, that frustration, that disappointment take over your relationships.

I’m sometimes angry with my mom, but I don’t let that ruin our relationship. I give her grace. I take a breath. And I remember that it’s not her that I’m angry with, but her situation. And I’ll stick by her, in sickness and in health.

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