I was recently invited to read Hey, Back Off! Written by Jennie Withers with her mother, Phyllis Hendrickson M. Ed. This is a topic I have discussed before on this blog. Jennie has been so kind and has contributed some material for my blog posts. So this is part one, where Jennie shares a story. In part two, I will discuss her book. In part three Jennie shares some hints for parents. You can find Jennie Withers online at her web page.
Surviving Passive and Aggressive Parents
An Excerpt from, Hey, Back Off! Tips for Stopping Teen Harassment
My dad is a bully and my mom is a doormat. At 38, I still have trouble admitting that without feeling guilty and disloyal. The bond between parent and child is the most complex type of relationship, and I battled with it every day in my effort to become who I am rather than who I was brought up to be.
My parents held the belief that the teen years were when kids would forget their religion and fall victim to the evils of public school and social temptations. I learned some lessons from watching my older siblings make their mistakes, but in spite of “keeping my nose clean”, dad constantly accused me of drinking, having sex, and other things defined as “bad” by our religion.
I became weary of all the unfounded accusations and started to stand up to my dad rather than meekly taking his abuse. Things got ugly fast: the more he tried to tighten his control, the more I fought it. By the time I was a Junior, he had taken my younger siblings out of public school and forced my mom to home school them. I fought to remain in school.
Things came to a head one day when dad and I had a particularly nasty discussion before school regarding my talking on the phone to a friend he did not approve of. Dad went off to work, where he must have chewed on our conversation all morning.
After my lunch period, the office aide came to my Chemistry class and informed the teacher I needed to go to the office to take a phone call from my father. The whole class turned to look at me in wonder. Pulling someone out of class to take a call – even from a parent – was simply NOT done.
I went to the office and stood in silence while dad yelled at me over the phone. Although everyone tried to pretend they weren’t listening, I knew they could hear him shouting. I finally mustered the courage to interrupt his tirade. “Dad, can we continue this conversation at home? I really need to get back to class.”
I listened to another 10 minutes of infuriated lecturing. I was starting to get angry too, but tried to keep my voice calm. “Dad, I really can’t talk about this now. Can we please discuss it at home tonight?”
“No. We need to get this resolved right now. If you can’t live by my rules, then you can’t live under my roof. In fact, that’s it. I want you out of my house!”
After school, my friend helped me pack my things and I left. As I walked through the house with my last box of belongings, I tried to catch my mom’s eye as she sat working with her Cub Scout troop on a project. She never said a word nor did she look up as I walked by.
I would love to report that everything got better once I was out from under my father’s thumb, but the truth is, that was just the beginning for me. I moved to Boise and lived with a friend who was in college, working part time jobs to help pay rent. I finished high school and went on to college, paying my own way and working several jobs. It was during this time that I really struggled with who I wanted to be. I went through friends and boyfriends like they were disposable. I could never figure out which role I was supposed to play; in some relationships I was a doormat, in others I was a tyrant.
I realized I was in imminent danger of becoming my parents or living my life blaming them for the mess I felt myself to be. I made a conscious effort to get off the rollercoaster and take charge of my life. I formed my ideal person: honest, compassionate and strong.
If I have one message for young people who find themselves in a similar situation, it is this: no matter your circumstances, YOU have the right, the capability and the responsibility to choose the type of person you will be.
*Pictures from Wikimedia Commons