Certain rules have to be followed, or things go haywire. One of those rules is parents have to be the parents, and children must be allowed to be children. Children are not supposed to be their parents' friend; or worse, their confidant; or worse, their confessor.
That very basic covenant was broken. Ellen didn't stand a chance.
Ellen's parents got engaged while her father was in the Navy. Although they were engaged, he continued to date other women.
"They didn't get off to a good start," says Ellen.
And things went downhill from there. "My mother told me my father wasn't very attentive to me. She resented that. They argued a lot. He was a hot-tempered and it didn't take much to ignite him. He would fight with anyone, but she got the brunt of it."
When Ellen was 3, her father's boss called her mother to tell her that her husband was having an affair with a woman at work and he was very brazen about it.
"My mother was vulnerable and devastated. She was a young stay-at-home mother, reliant upon him, responsible for me. Back then she didn't have much of a backbone. My father would taunt her about being a wimp. Arguing was their form of communication, their normal."
Ellen says her mother wanted to get divorced but didn't feel she could. She began having affairs — many, many affairs.
"She confided in me. The final count would be in the twenties. One of the men was my boss when I was just a teenager. That one lasted for a year or so."
At one point, Ellen's parents owned a business, and her mother would get involved with the customers. Ellen worked there as well. "One of the affairs lasted almost 10 years. Another was with my dad's best friend."
Ellen grew up with "a lot of tension, stress, fighting, insecurity and sadness." She says: "Oddly enough, we were all very close. I was the bridge, sometimes the voice of reason, in the middle, made to feel guilty by both of them. After all, they stayed together because of me. They would discuss divorce but never did it."
Ellen says at some point she began to play the role of wife to her father because her mother had "checked out."
"He turned to me emotionally — not sexually. My mom got jealous. This went on for many years. My mom and I grew apart even though I knew all her secrets.
"Eventually I couldn't take it and I told my dad that my mom was unfaithful. He never confronted her, just made her life more miserable. My mom continued her affairs."
Ellen married the first time just shy of her 21st birthday. It was a way to get out of the house. Her husband began having affairs. Ellen knew about it but never confronted him. She had an affair and then got divorced.
She remarried, had an affair and got divorced again.
"I tried to make my marriages work. But when they weren't working any more, I left. Having lived with so much turmoil as a child and adult daughter, I just didn't have it in me to be miserable. My tolerance was depleted."
Today, Ellen is 43 years old with two young daughters. Her father is dead, and she and her mother barely speak. She's been in therapy for two years, trying to learn how to deal with her upbringing. "I'm a work in progress."
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