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'As the Twig Is Bent, So Grows the Tree'

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That's more than just a fancy way of saying, "Sit up straight or you're going to wind up looking like hump-backed Aunt Ethel!"

Lily never had a chance. Her only sister was 7 years older and her parents "darling."

"They didn't think they would ever have another child. They were married eight years before she was conceived. When my mother found herself pregnant again, she and my father were just sure they would have a little boy to complete their family.

"What a bitter disappointment I was, and they never let me forget it."

Lily says her sister Gretchen was treated like a queen while she felt like "a foster child. I got good grades in school — better than hers — and was active in athletics. No one even noticed. But I never said anything to my parents. They weren't particularly approachable."

When Gretchen got married, Lily says no expense was spared. "The wedding was held at a beautiful Long Island country club. The food and booze were the finest and plentiful. When I married my first husband, my father refused to spend one thin dime. Mom had to cash in my small childhood life insurance policy to put on a little cake and coffee gathering in the basement of the church. I felt truly worthless."

The differences continued into the next generation. Lily says her nephews were treated like "little princes" while her son was shunned.

"He saw his grandmother three times in his life and his grandfather not much more.

When my parents traveled from their summer home in the north to their winter home in Florida, they came within 30 minutes of my home but never once stopped to see him. He didn't spend one birthday or Christmas with them."

It's no wonder that Lily's treatment by her parents influenced the way she thought of herself. "I grew up feeling like I had to settle, not just for second best, but more like third or fourth. I thought so little of myself because that's what my parents thought of me.

"When it came to dating, I choose poorly, of course, and I wasn't much better at selecting husbands. My career choices always involved my working alone so my work would be judged on my performance alone and not on me."

Lily's parents and sister are all dead. Her mother died in 1981, her father 10 years later. "When he passed away, he left everything to my sister and disinherited my son and me. I attended neither funeral and have never been to their grave.

"After they were gone, my sister would often say what good people they were. They were good people to her, but they weren't good people. She died in 2009, never acknowledging the differences in how we were treated."

Lily says about 10 years ago she had a realization about the negative effect of her upbringing on her life. It opened her eyes and changed her behavior.

"I realized that I didn't have to accept their opinion of me. I stopped thinking about my parents and hearing the things they said to me and the unspoken messages their actions gave me. I no longer feel that I have to settle for less than the best."

How did your parents' opinion of you influence your life? Send your tale, along with your questions, problems and rants to cheryllavinrapp@gmail.com. And check out my new website askcheryl.net.

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Comments

11 Comments | Post Comment
Lily's is a very sad tale. After a few paragraphs, though, I found myself losing sympathy. I have SEEN adult children who filter their childhood experiences according to what they choose to believe. LIly comes across as very one-note to me, without ever having stopped to consider that her admittedly poor choice in husbands MIGHT have influenced her father's choice not to finance the wedding, for instance, or owning that her own personality might have had any part in the poor relationship.

It's telling to me that LIly's sister saw nothing amiss. Golden children often do feel guilt at being singled out -- they may seem to enjoy the privilege, but recognize the unfairness. And Gretchen bore alone any responsibility for the aging parents... so why WOULD their dad divide the estate equally between the sisters?

Lily is very quick to assign blame to just about everyone in this scenario except herself; no, indeed, SHE is a HEROINE for having the epiphany 10 years after her father died. Seems to me like she wasted a lot of years playing victim.
Comment: #1
Posted by: hedgehog
Fri Mar 29, 2013 4:37 AM
Hedgehod, well said. Nothing to add.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Danielle
Fri Mar 29, 2013 9:28 AM
Hedgehog and Danielle: You two snarks are really mean. Hedgehog, I don't know any golden children who ever expressed a shred of guilt. Their parents told them they deserved (or needed) whatever was given to them, and they appear to accept that explanation at face value. Perhaps you are one of those golden children who feels guilty. In that case it is up to you to make it right again between you and your siblings. As for inheritances, I have NEVER heard anybody say,"My parents left me too much. They should have been more fair."

You're blaming the child for not having the right personality to please her parents? That's completely backwards. It is the parents' duty to love the child and nurture whatever personality she has, regardless of whether it's their ideal dream or whatever. IT IS NOT THE DUTY OF THE CHILD TO CHANGE HER OWN BASIC PERSONALITY TO ADAPT TO WHATEVER HER MOTHER WANTS.

I read and re-read the letter, and I don't see where Gretchen took care of aging parents all alone, although it seems her parents wouldn't have wanted to live in Lily's home anyway. Loving parents divide their estates evenly between their children. Those who don't are setting the stage to continue the bad feeling on down through future generations, although they may not care.

All that said, Lily and her son probably had a measure of independence and freedom from attempted parental control that Gretchen never had. Promises of inheritances ALWAYS come with a lot of strings attached. If there was a lot of money involved, Lily should see a lawyer. Judges in courtrooms can sometimes overturn grossly unfair estates.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Madelyn
Fri Mar 29, 2013 12:37 PM
Oh, please, Madelyn. The parents provided Lily with food, shelter and clothing, and she participated in athletics. She was hardly made to sit among the ashes after cleaning up after her spoiled older sister and cranky parents.

Life ain't fair, but this was hardly an underprivileged childhood. LIly turned 18 DECADES ago. If her selfesteem was so shot, why did she not seek therapy to figure out why... or how to have a better relationship with her parents. The bulk of her whining is about her life as an adult, and the charges are all conveniently made against people who are dead, who can't refute her version of history.

Perhaps you've never known any golden children who felt guilty, Madelyn, but it doesn't mean they don't exist. Advice columns are full of 'em. And no, of course we didn't hear about Gretchen caring for aging parents -- LIly couldn't be bothered. She whines about how her parents don't bother to come see her... but the phones and highways go two ways, and we hear nothing of how she tried to visit. She didn't bother to attend her mother's funeral -- the woman who paid for her wedding?

No, it's not a minor child's responsibility mold her personality to please parents. But the bulk of LIly's complaints come from her adulthood,and mature adults recognize that relationships have two sides,own their own shortcomings and take the steps necessary, whether that means cutting off contact with toxic people or getting therapy to figure out how to maintain a relationship. LIly whines.
Comment: #4
Posted by: hedgehog
Fri Mar 29, 2013 6:31 PM
Hedgehog, so what if her parents provided her with food, shelter, clothing, and "allowed" her to participate in athletics? They knew if they hadn't, they would go to jail. Is this your idea of good parenting, providing the minimum to avoid jail? Interestingly, your argument is the same that racists are now using to try to bring back slavery. Slavers, like Lily's parents, provided their slaves with marvelous gifts like food, shelter, clothing, and allowed them to participate in physical activity. When you throw the free TransAtlantic transportation into the mix, why the slaves owe reparations to their masters!

I myself think the argument is ridiculous, but it seems you will stop at nothing to blame the victim for the crime. Also, it seems she has gone through some therapy, either paid or otherwise, and is trying to share her experience for the benefit of other women. Most people do pick spouses as a reaction to their own parents and how they were treated as small children.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Madelyn
Mon Apr 1, 2013 10:53 AM

Oh, please, Madelyn. LW certainly didn't get bare minimum parenting by any stretch of the imagination.Even her own.

Exactly what deprivations were there? She was jealous of her sister, and saw everything through that lens.

Athletic participation requires a fair amount of monetary support and physical support from the family; there's general equipment or uniform fees, special shoes, time for practice, sometimes camps and often parental driving to/from. Kids who are successful at it often have parents who install a basketball hoop at home or sign them up for rec league teams, and play at home with them.
*****
Also, it seems she has gone through some therapy, either paid or otherwise, and is trying to share her experience for the benefit of other women. Most people do pick spouses as a reaction to their own parents and how they were treated as small children.
******
You really are being ridiculous, especially with the slavery argument.

Beyond bizarre. And exactly how do you conclude that she "has gone through some therapy"?

Because I don't see that anywhere in her letter, not even an inkling.

What I do see: someone who may well have an obnoxious personality, who researched the price tag of every gift given to her sister to what SHE received, who was very quick to raise the "unfair!" flag throughout her childhood and never matured enough to realize that her parents didn't give her music lessons like her sister got because 1) her sister preferred music and showed aptitude for it and 2) LW showed aptitude for sports and preferred them. And she therefore carried that lesson forward, perhaps even choosing a husband she knew her parents would not like so that she could have her little showdown over the wedding payment. Someone whose parents may have made the (common, but unfortunate) mistake of choosing not to finance a lavish wedding in hopes that it would discourage her from marrying someone objectionable.

I see someone who has carried this sorry excuse of a perspective for DECADES rather than figuring out, after she picked a poor spouse, why she might have done that and take responsibility. Nope -- still Mommy & Daddy's fault, because they didn't pay for a wedding like Sis had, apparently.

And I find it most interesting that her "epiphany" came after everyone was dead. Such a convenient way to rewrite history and evoke pity from strangers on the Internet. "Such a hard childhood!" "What a brave woman, to shoulder such a burden for so long!" "You go, girl!"

Don't you think it's interesting , too, that her mother, her father, her sister and her husband were all in the wrong, but SHE is the Unselfish Good One that Everyone Mistreats? I do.

See, maybe it happened exactly as she believes it did. I just think there are way too many glaring omissions to find her a reliable narrator. That's not snark and it's not "mean" to point out that she failed to make a good case for herself.
Comment: #6
Posted by: hedgehog
Tue Apr 2, 2013 6:44 AM
Hedgehog, we can go around and around on this, but again you're just making things up--this time that are not only speculative, but actually the opposite of what the letter writer reports.

If LW grew up in a middle or upper-middle class neighborhood in an earlier generation, which seems to the case, there used to be numerous athletic activities that kids could participate in free of charge, not only through the schools, but the park districts. It didn't require any parental participation other than signing a permission slip. If her parents didn't even notice her athletic success, they obviously weren't driving her around for intramural practices, much less playing at home with her. I do think, however, some parents go way too far overboard pushing children in sports.

Obnoxious personality? I don't get that at all. I do think children of older mothers, that they used to call "change of life babies" have an especially hard time of it. Parents at that age seem to fall into one of two extremes--either they smother their kid with way too much overprotection, or the reverse, they ignore the kid altogether or notice her only as an occasional joke. I do know of one family like hers. The oldest boy is an academic of world renown, the 2nd son never finished college, and the "change of life" baby died young of a curable disease that his mother never even noticed. I think the LW grew up in a similar family.
Comment: #7
Posted by: Madelyn
Wed Apr 3, 2013 9:14 AM
Hedgehog, we can go around and around on this, but again you're just making things up--this time that are not only speculative, but actually the opposite of what the letter writer reports.
********
Um, no. I'm telling you what I see, based on what she writes and what she doesn't and my own experience both as a child and as a parents. It's not "making things up" -- what IS making things up is concluding that she's a reliable narrator based on a story full of holes.

*******



******
If LW grew up in a middle or upper-middle class neighborhood in an earlier generation, which seems to the case, there used to be numerous athletic activities that kids could participate in free of charge, not only through the schools, but the park districts. It didn't require any parental participation other than signing a permission slip. If her parents didn't even notice her athletic success, they obviously weren't driving her around for intramural practices, much less playing at home with her. I do think, however, some parents go way too far overboard pushing children in sports.
************
True everywhere, Madelyn -- or where you lived? There are an awful lot of places in the country WITHOUT park districts.

If she had "some athletic success" it implies to me that she was in active interscholastic competition, not that she had the hottest serve in the lunch period intramural game, and that means she most likely was in school after Title IX, which required schools to offer interscholastic athletic competition for girls. I competed in some athletic events and other activities, as did my kids: some required kids to be at school an hour before the school day (no bus!) and some of them required us to be at school at 5 a.m. on Saturdays to make the trip to the competition. Those did indeed require parental transport.

When LW says her parents "didn't notice" the success she had, she means they did not attend her games or talk to her about them or brag to others about it. It doesn't mean that they didn't provide her with the basketball shoes or the money to buy the coach's gift at the end of the year or take her to the doctor for the physical that was required to help stave off lawsuits even in the 1970s.

Because you wish to believe LW, and perhaps because you haven't parented, I don't know, you wish to dismiss these methods of support. LW almost certainly took that for granted, as most kids do. I'm pointing out that she didn't experience that success COMPLETELY on her own, as she would have us believe.

And if she was selected for the team, it is more than likely that she was encouraged as a child to develop some athletic prowess: a swing set, or trips to a park. A basketball hoop in the driveway. Swimming lessons. Playing catch, or kickball with Dad (especially likely if Dad wanted a boy). Kids who start with zero support tend to be outshone (i.e., cut from the team) by kids whose parents DID encourage any natural abilities.


*****
Obnoxious personality? I don't get that at all. I do think children of older mothers, that they used to call "change of life babies" have an especially hard time of it. Parents at that age seem to fall into one of two extremes--either they smother their kid with way too much overprotection, or the reverse, they ignore the kid altogether or notice her only as an occasional joke. I do know of one family like hers. The oldest boy is an academic of world renown, the 2nd son never finished college, and the "change of life" baby died young of a curable disease that his mother never even noticed. I think the LW grew up in a similar family.
*********
Where are you getting "change of life" baby? The fact that LW was 7 years younger? That's odd.

I'm getting "obnoxious personality" because I think it's very, very seldom that someone manages to alienate 4 people as LW has done and still be a person people like... and because LW is still blaming everyone else for her hardships.

If she'd had therapy, as you apparently believed she had, that's something her therapist most likely would have explored with her -- the need to take ownership of your own life, which means you accept that as an adult, you almost always share some of the blame when relationships fail. There are very, very few people who are all good -- and the likelihood of them having sprung from a family of 3 people who are all bad is about zilch.

Comment: #8
Posted by: hedgehog
Wed Apr 3, 2013 12:15 PM
Re: Hedgehog:

The world is full of unloved children, and oftentimes one child is loved and another is not, from the minute they are born. That is entirely the parents' fault, not the child's. Your statements that all unloved children DESERVE not to be loved, if another child is loved, is turning you from a snark to a bully.
Comment: #9
Posted by: Madelyn
Fri Apr 5, 2013 8:35 PM
Madelyn, I said nothing of the sort, and name-calling doesn't help your case at all.

The world is full of people who choose to blame others for their own failures, and also those who rewrite history to suit their own purposes. That LW is still harping on this decades later, and looking for injustice everywhere she can, tells me she's among those.

Few of us are born to perfect parents, because most of us are born to humans and humans are frail and imperfect.


Comment: #10
Posted by: hedgehog
Sat Apr 6, 2013 8:45 AM
Madelyn, I said nothing of the sort, and name-calling doesn't help your case at all.

The world is full of people who choose to blame others for their own failures, and also those who rewrite history to suit their own purposes. That LW is still harping on this decades later, and looking for injustice everywhere she can, tells me she's among those.

Few of us are born to perfect parents, because most of us are born to humans and humans are frail and imperfect.


Comment: #11
Posted by: hedgehog
Sat Apr 6, 2013 8:45 AM
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