dysfunction, but small breakthroughs

August 4, 2009 |  Category:   family life


Dysfunctional. I don’t think my family is very different from many other families out there in this respect. There are a lot of stories that I don’t mind telling on this blog, but there are some difficult things from my childhood that I probably won’t ever get into, partly because I know that some members of my family read this blog and that is in a way, far more uncomfortable than having strangers and lurkers visit. For one, I feel that I need to censor the content to a certain degree and second, there are some things that you’d rather some people close to you not know about (you know what I’m talking about. Don’t tell me you weren’t horrified at first when your mom or dad tried to friend you on FaceBook). But the fact is, I know that my family, and my mom in particular, checks in. You may recall the post that I wrote on Mother’s Day about my mom. Since I know she was a blog reader the post was written in part for her as a tribute and I assumed that she had read it. She in fact, did not until weeks later when I happened to mention it.

I believe that my mom and I have a good, solid relationship, but we are not touchy-feely and we don’t engage in heartfelt exchanges very much. I believe it is hard for us to express things to each other for a number of reasons, much of which could probably be traced back to childhood experiences and trauma, upbringing and cultural dispositions. And so the post was a lot of what I’ve always felt, but never brought myself to say out loud. It’s baffling, I know. As adults, it should be so easy to express how you feel to someone close to your heart, but in reality, it’s not always so, and sometimes it is harder than talking to a stranger.

The internet is a strange and funny place. My mom wrote me an email a few weeks ago to thank me for the post and to tell me how important it was for her to hear those words. She forwarded the post to other people. I admit it surprised me especially since we are not in the habit of communicating through email. It was heart felt and at times hard to read mostly because it magnified the fact that this exchange should have been said in person. These honest words were neither spoken nor written down in letter form, but rather sent via airwaves, pinging between servers. My mom and I haven’t talked about our email exchange since. That might sound strange to everybody else, but it’s ok. It’s also a strange notion that she is getting to “know” me better through the blog. No matter how old you are, your mom is your mom and sometimes you fall back into patterns from childhood that are hard to break. You hope that you learn from certain things when you become a parent yourself. It’s not always easy. Sometimes it’s hard to talk. We try.


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  • Perideau Designs August 4, 2009 at 7:28 am

    I know exactly how you feel. I always have difficult expressing myself in person and find the “airways” a little more comforting, the ability to hit a button and delete and redefine your thoughts is comforting. Sometimes I rely on it a little too much.

  • Laura August 4, 2009 at 10:19 am

    This post struck a chord with me– I know that my mother reads my blog and because of it, I censor a whole lot. Much more so than I would if strangers were reading it. Part of me prefers that she didn’t but I’m hoping that one day we’ll have a breakthrough of our own and I can be more open about my life with her.

  • Lani August 4, 2009 at 10:38 am

    Oh Jenna…I just want to be there to give you hugs. I admire you so much for how much you share here. I myself cannot bring myself to do so, and have quit writing on my blog because of it. It just felt too shallow because I was keeping it so superficial. Keep doing what you’re doing because you’re inspiring me to go beyond superficial.

  • Sheila August 4, 2009 at 11:54 am

    I also come from an Asian family and can understand the cultural aspect of being unable to express emotions face to face. My mom and I are the same way but it has gotten a little better as we get older. But even though we don’t pour out our feelings much, we both know that we love each other very much.
    On the lighter side, my non-Asian boyfriend jokingly calls me a robot. But he’s really helped me come out of my shell since we started dating 5 years ago. He says I’ve come a long way since the beginning. I was so emotionally retarded!

  • Andrew Thornton August 4, 2009 at 10:55 pm

    The past is such a tricky thing. You think it’s all done and over with and then… one thing happens and you’re reminded of it all over, stuck in that same damned moment… again.

    One of the things that I’ve had to learn as an adult is to come to terms with the past. We are uncomfortable strangers who share the same body, but have mitigated a treaty. We’ll always be conjoined, attached at the spiritual hip, but that doesn’t stop me from living a new life of my own choosing. Sometimes my past is stubborn and persistent and won’t cooperate and it’s hard to drag around that extra baggage, but in the end, I’ve decided that either I can be doing the dragging or I can be the one dragged around.

  • Lecia/A Day that is Dessert August 5, 2009 at 12:12 am

    Well said. I have a strained relationship with my parents (as in, talk to them about once a year) yet know my mother reads my blog and I feel good about that.

  • lyann August 5, 2009 at 3:45 am

    Funny you mention family communication. My Grandmother came to live with me back in May, and the way she express’s anger is NOT to tell me what is wrong, but do it indirectly.
    It cracks me up the the things she does to show me she is mad. I chop it up to, “we’re asian-we don’t talk about our feelings.”

  • Annie From Seattle August 5, 2009 at 8:50 am

    Just my two cents here: Who’s been telling you that communication has to be talking? Written communication and photography are beautiful ways to communicate! Everyone does things in a different way and yours happens to be a little more artistic than sitting across the kitchen table and jawing for hours. That doesn’t make it less desirable.
    I love the idea that you are peeling back your relationship with your mother a little at a time, with pictures and words. It’s a much more gentle, constructive approach to trying to get to know each other as adults, and to have more open communication than you’ve had in the past. Take a nibble from the past whenever you feel like it.

  • Carla August 5, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    Thank you for this post; it comes at an interesting time for me. Growing up my parents sent the message that showing emotions in a way was a sign of weakness or lack of self-control. In my relationships outside of my home I rebelled against their way of thinking and am, amongst friends and really the world, very open and honest about my feelings. To this day, though, with them I am guarded and always try to present myself a certain way that will make them approve. Bless my husband for being so accepting of our crazy family ways. It’s getting difficult now, though, because as my parents have gotten older then have somehow come in touch with their sensitive side and want to embrace me more and say sweet and loving things to me and I just don’t know how to react or respond. I’m trying, though, for my two girls. Thanks for sharing =)

  • Jenna August 5, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    Annie, thanks for that.