Parenting,Being a Parent, and Living Your Best Life afer Being Parented 

Lily Finch

© Copyright 2022 by Lily Finch

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I should begin by telling you that I am an acquired brain injury survivor and am grateful. While in therapy, my psychologist suggested a book, Atlas of the Heart by Brené Brown. In this book, Brown articulates (so eloquently) what has been in my head for years now regarding my childhood life experiences of living at my home. I was tweaking that story with my editor when I picked up a copy of her book.

The Silent Generation was the generation my parents grew up in on account of the wars, and boy does that fit: “Nothing was discussed in my family or normalized. Not feelings or fears or periods or friends or problems or puberty or money issues or extended family members who struggled with addictions and mental health issues - nothing.”1 This lack of communication caused my siblings and me a lot of grief when looking for spouses in our adult lives.

You see, I was raised in a family of five people. My father was an alcoholic whose drinking was deplorable, although he managed to keep a full-time job for 48 years despite drinking copious amounts in his last years. In the face of his grade 10 education, he married a beautiful woman. He always worked a great-paying job; he owned his truck once and managed to purchase his parents' farm. He farmed, rose ranks in his chosen career and sat on the International Brotherhood. As his duties and responsibilities increased, his consumption of alcohol and debt increased proportionately. The rage and the mental health issues left undiagnosed were wreaking havoc on his life and, ultimately, ours who lived with him.

The beautiful woman he married, Rita, had four children, three of whom never got to see the first baby, Mary. Rita’s sister and Shawn named the baby after her maternal grandmother. Mary was buried shortly after being pronounced dead, and my mother and father got 1/2 day to mourn together. My mom remained in hospital, unable to attend Mary's funeral. The casket would be closed. Sean, my dad, carried the coffin. All alone, my mother remained in hospital, and Shawn was in church and at the cemetery. The first child's death began an estrangement that tragically and prematurely divided best friends: Both started to learn to deal with issues of the heart and the head alone and poorly.

Remember that sentence where nobody talked about any emotions at all? Well, this was the beginning of it all. To quote Brené Brown, “I lived on eggshells with a family that was either all happy one moment and then could flip on a dime and be all chaos the next. This experience taught me, as the youngest, how to be super hyper-observant. That became the way to get the upper hand and be successful before things got too out of control in my world.”2 I recall a time when my brother was stirring a pot of sauce on the stove for my mother and my father, who had been drinking most of the day, decided he would make a big deal out of a man doing women’s work; if that wasn’t bad enough the Banton’s were over for dinner. Mr. Banton tried to get my dad outside, but his drunk mind would not let go that my brother was stirring that sauce as a favour to my mother. We went from all being happy and getting ready to eat to a huge kerfuffle where my dad tried to pick a fist fight with my brother on the back porch. I felt awful for my brother, who got hit for nothing more than helping my mom out. These were the crazy eggshells we lived on, and everything was fair game.

When my dad was home from his job as a long-haul truck driver at our first house, he was either sleeping or going to work. In our bedrooms, my brother’s and ours (my sister and I shared a bedroom); both had walls that shared a wall with our parent’s bedroom, which meant we were not allowed to play in our rooms in case my dad was sleeping. We made too much noise and woke him up. Then we would see rage. If we played outside, one of the only two trees in the yard we could play in was directly outside my parent's bedroom window. We were only allowed to play in it when my dad was gone or awake. The odd times I remember my dad not working are few and far between. The fatal blow to his marriage with my mom and being a father to us was our BIG move from the ranch home (first home) to the homestead (final home). Two things went from worse to evil: 1. a career change, the pressure of being undereducated amongst his peers, and 2. proximity to a man cave that was a legend in the making of his design. You might be tempted to create a convenient reason for him being a mean and obnoxious drunk, but there is not one - he was an addict and just didn’t have any great tools in his bag of tricks.
As a teenager, I remember many times when my father would come downstairs in his tighty whiteys to join in and sit with my friends and me after the bars had closed. It never failed, though: He would down two or three beers, smoke cigarettes, and then go back to bed. It was tremendously embarrassing, but he could have cared less about his appearance and actions, so I stopped caring. After a while, he started wearing a blue housecoat. I remember snippets about him, including taking us to Florida and Disney, driving in a Winnebago to Florida with the Banton's, and going in our camper with my cousins to Algonquin Park, Lake of Two Rivers. Mostly, I remember my dad cutting grass and smoking with a beer. My fondest memory was of his temper and his rage if we did anything wrong or upset him somehow. It was at those times that I felt terrified and alone.

We had a "Pick Up Pantry" on Friday nights and were allowed to order whatever we wanted. My mom would get her hair done, go to the bakery, and get groceries on Saturdays. We were allowed to stay home unattended for hours and watch Schoolhouse Rock. It was great! Sometimes we had to get our breakfast; frequently, I might skip it and just watch cartoons. Nobody was around to ask if I had eaten breakfast. If my dad was around, he was out in the shop with his friends,' and nobody ever checked in on me. Those men were using him for his free booze or taking advantage of him because they knew he was an alcoholic. Now I see clearly; my dad was always attracted to users too! The time my mom was gone for Saturday morning errands was getting longer and longer. The men in our yard became increasingly frequent to 'visit the shop' (my dad's version of one huge man cave). Each weekend that man cave saw the equivalent of 25-30 men on a Saturday and possibly 10-15 more men on a Sunday. These men showed up mostly to drink and play cards. The one constant patron for both days was my dad. This shop was the most significant disruption to our lives now: it was noticeably affecting and forever changed his relationships; as a partner and a dad.

Rita and Shawn now tolerated one another, there was no romance, and there was no more fun in our house about anything. Saturday nights with a bowl of popcorn and a movie were forever gone. Playing catch or a scrub in the grass was gone too. I saw long nights when my mother looked ragged, tired, and extremely stressed. My father was constantly in a state of alcoholism where he drank, slept, woke up with a hangover, and maybe ate and then did it all over again. Growing up, I did not like living in my house many times, and I would wish people in my family were dead. Seeing how they silently interacted, not talking in front of us, be the model of relationships for us. Somehow I was alone. Because not showing us a good or bad relationship taught us jack-shit about relationships, the Silent Generation strikes again.

Energizer Bunny Rita was always taking classes at night or going to crafting events, or singing and dancing around the house; she did all that while she also did laundry, cooked, cleaned the house, and helped us bathe and wash our hair: She was also Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, and Tooth Fairy, among others that kids want to believe in as developed by parents for children's enjoyment.

Sean and Rita were social and had a lot of friends. Their main couple friends were 'The Banton’s. 'Matt and Jessica, I always thought they were so in love and calm. Their kids were two girls; the oldest girl was the same age as my older sister, and the oldest boy was the same age as me. We loved going to their house or having them come over to our house. They were couples friends because it made life simple: Matt and Jessica both liked to drink, so they partied late with lots of drinking when they came for dinner on a Saturday. Always to the point of intoxication, they went home exceptionally early in the morning with my mother, who was the only non-drinker. She must have been nuts with trying to follow their conversations. The couples partied at our house one night and talking and over-talking was out of control; mother grabbed the egg timer. The three minutes timer worked great. When the time bell rang, the person speaking was finished talking.

Another story occurred that went on early Into the morning. This particular evening Matt and Jessica fought. Their voices became loud, their language brash, 'f'eckyous' and 'dingy broad' came out of their mouths like the raging wind through trees in a windstorm. So angry and drunk, Matt got up and stomped to his car. He drove because he always drove; Jessica did not have a driver's license. Matt sat in the car for about 3 minutes when we heard the first honk. Then we listened to the horn continuously and in a long series of honks that sounded like geese overhead and went on for a reasonable amount of time. Suddenly, it stopped! No one knew if he passed out or went for a walk, but the honking stopped. I was in grade two, seven or eight; that was a terrifying experience. The Whelan boys were beside me on either side; neither flinched. I thought that was even scarier; I realized they slept through the messed up and abusive exchanges between their parents. The following day nobody spoke about a fight, drinking or being drunk. Most times, after my dad displayed drunkenness, Nobody ever said anything to my dad and us kids, and my mom kept going.

My mother would have learned a lot had she attended an Al-Anon meeting rather than all the other courses she took through the years. She may have thought that my dad's drinking was not a problem until it was a vast problematic disruption for us in the family. Joe introduced me to my last guy; God willing, cue the music: "At Last "by Etta James3. As I reflect, I write ironically about meeting in a bar and knowing we liked each other. Lars and I would see each other again after that night. I was not counting the number of drinks, but we played a lot of pool. It seemed so long to find Lars, my senior, by a bit. We could not have happened any other way. On that day, one thing changed in my choices and decisions before that moment. My parents have worked ever since I can remember, and as a child, we got up extremely early to be shuttled to babysitting. I remained with a sitter all day while my brother and sister walked to school with other kids in the neighbourhood. I believe it was fun. I know I loved my sitter. The following year, we went to a new sitter, where my brother and sister caught the bus from the new sitter's home. One of my closest friends I met there at the second sitter's,' and we were always just meant to be best friends and remain to this day.

During my high school years, I was left alone a lot. My father travelled a lot for work from grade 10 until I graduated. My mother loved to travel, and after her cancer scare, she went along every chance she could. The student council fundraiser was a trip of the month to the Bahamas for two weeks; Student Council paid all expenses; my parents won. They had an ocean view; the question was, would this trip help to revisit their vows? My parents both had a great love of music and shared that until my dad's death. But the trip was a big NO, not even a smidge! There was no revisiting of vows or even close. In fact, after that trip, the divide widened to its final width, and there it remained until my father's death.

Being in the empty house taught me to be responsible. I had blank cheques for groceries and emergencies. I saw the benefits of living and being alone. That might have been my first time living and living alone, but I felt alone.

My grandmother lived right next door, and my Uncle and Aunt lived 800 m from our driveway, so I had a huge safety net should I have needed one. My friends came and went at will; we had a barbecue where We used anything and everything in the freezer. We played volleyball using the Dusk Till Dawnlight every night; my grandmother would swish her curtains on her door to let me know it was late and offer us a fresh plate of cookies.

At 17 years of age, my life changed! I saw a beautiful culture and met genuine people, but I knew I was struggling. Unresolved issues from home wasted some of my opportunities because I could have done so much more. Hindsight can act as a fierce teacher, but again, I learned I needed to make mistakes to become a better version of myself (but it did come with some bumps and bruises along the way).

My very best friend (who I call my brother from another mother) Paco and I met. We were friends at First Sight, always forever but never romantically interested in one another. We spent days hanging out, laughing, and driving around. His dear mother and sister took me to a beautiful live show, which would be why I would go on to become a huge fan of Live Productions/performances. Due primarily to this performance and how it affected me, I insisted on taking Maya and Spencer along with Lars and my mother to see The Lion King live production; for the experience of the theatre and the look on their faces.

Living with one family for an entire year was my fortune AND blessing when I lived abroad at 17. The family was very kind, genuine, gracious and an excellent example of Christian living. Their parents and parties did not involve too much drinking, something new for me. "Oh, the Places You'll Go" by Dr. Seuss4 seems appropriate.

I knew at this point in my life that I was constantly flipping gears, and synapses were forming and developing at rapid rates as my choices were evolving. I no longer found I was interested in a generic type but rather in a checklist of hand-picked selections of who I would accept as worthy of my companionship. I was prepared to remain alone too.
I was ready and wanted to become a parent. I wanted children who were a better version of me and who were problem solvers. Somehow when your children stray from your ideal - of your child you have had since birth - and make what you consider a poor choice - you must remind yourself that change is good, and your children are still learning that mantra. It is challenging to be an adult still learning differences when you see your children struggling with change or your parents working through changes.

Alcoholism and gambling, in the beginning, are choices that, for some, quickly become unmanageable. Those people become addicted; my theory is that those choices of their addiction were easier to make than talking about issues that scared or caused overwhelming pain for a long time. Unfortunately, my father did not learn about being responsible for his choices until it was too late for him. My mom and siblings all knew he was an alcoholic, but he kept the gambling part of it hidden for a long time. We were not well educated about alcoholics, and nobody except me ever used the word in the house. I told his face that he was an Alcoholic and went about my business. My mother and father were left stunned at the table, but nothing changed. Not even a little bit, The next time I learned about alcoholism was from Al-Anon, and I had already moved out of the house; I was eighteen years old.

The move and finding Al-Anon helped me try to love the players but not their game or their part in the game. I identified their roles and mine. It started to help me when I saw my parents very differently. My dad and I started conversing differently about his work and relationship with my mother. My mother and I created more of a friendship than a mother-daughter relationship. I continued meetings with Al-Anon and continued doing well in school.

I broke up with my long-term boyfriend (B1) due to what I learned in Al-Anon and my relationship information; I was learning about choices. Many people thought the second boyfriend (B2) had much to do with my breakup with B1. I accepted our flawed relationship; in fairness, we were both young and new to dating. I died when I realized he chose alcohol over me; I wanted him to choose me. I wanted him to pick us where we ended up marrying each other. But, if that, then my life as I lived it and breathed is for not; I think it is dangerous to look back and say what-ifs now in hindsight. So my expectations and thoughts were a bit amuck now.

My mom modelled a strong working woman who was an enabler, and I knew that yet I was choosing in my relationship what was modelled for me all those years ago (no blame placed here, just an observation of my self-consciousness). I had no tools in my shed of life tools to help me. I never knew about Al-Anon before I went to university, and I wish I had. I went to meetings at my university, always looking to improve myself and learn how to love without falling into the blame games.

I planned a career but was unsure in what area; I wanted to be someone without anyone's help. I just wanted to get recognized for attributes and merits (how foolish of me); I was so naive. I remember meeting and speaking to a man interviewing for the same job. He leaned over to me and said, I" 'm a shoo-in for this job because my mom is a principal on this board but kept her maiden name" he then winked and nudged me and asked, "who do you know?" I replied, "no one but I should be offered employment today and on my merit!" I could not help but hope something magical would happen in the next 10 minutes before the hiring chair called my name. Something magical did happen that day for me. I made great choices. I was the sole full-time hire in that round of inter-semester interviews for that board. Maybe things were looking up, hmm. I worked in a beautiful hidden gem of a place full of awesome people. Some are permanent residents, those close to retiring teachers, and ones like me, new teachers hoping to get experience and transition to another job elsewhere after some time teaching there.
It was my fortune to meet a network of people who were robust and influential and liked me and my teaching style. I was also fortunate to learn about the area and the people who lived there; the people I worked for were my friends, and both Principals were married and great people. As we met, everyone seemed very friendly, so we had bonfire parties at one another's homes and themed dinner nights. Everything seemed okay for a while. Jerry stayed home to look after Maya while I worked every day. I would come home for lunch daily. It seemed great until Jerry and Maya were no longer waving from the front window. I would enter the house and would find them both sleeping. Jerry prepared no lunch so that I would get my own. As the days went on, this pattern of fixing lunch for myself became the norm, and, as soon as I returned from work to home, Jerry would disappear with no explanation but just be gone for hours. I would often be in bed, and Maya was asleep in her crib by the time Jerry would return. I wrote Jerry a note asking if he wanted to walk with me in the mornings.

Because he never responded, the next day, I asked everyone at work if anyone was interested in walking, saying, "if you want to go, I leave at 5:30 from my house and everyone is welcome." I never thought anybody would take me up on it, but Brent was waiting for me the next day. Brent and I got along in everything, which showed in our conversations. Although we mostly kept to ideas of how to be creative with the kids and engage them in the curriculum, we had a lot of other beliefs in life topics in common. “Unpredictable behaviour and intense emotion in our home. Intense love and intense rage. Intense laughter and intense hurt. But even the good times were dicey because they could turn in an instant.”5 An alcoholic family goes through this kind of behaviour and grows accustomed to living with intensity and unpredictability. Unfortunately, my father did not learn about being responsible for his choices until it was too late for him. My mom and siblings all knew he was an alcoholic, but he kept the gambling part of it hidden for a long time. None of us were well educated about alcoholics, and nobody except me ever used the word in the house. Not even a little bit! The next time I learned about alcoholism was from Al-Anon, who had already moved out of the house; I was eighteen.

The move and finding Al-Anon helped me try to love the players but not their game or their part in the game. I identified their roles and mine. It started to help me when I saw my parents very differently. My dad and I started conversing differently about his work and relationship with my mother. My mother and I created more of a friendship than a mother-daughter relationship. I continued meetings with Al-Anon and continued doing well in school. I worked, went to school, played baseball, played volleyball, saw my boyfriend on weekends, and functioned with him where I would drink, but I would watch him drink a lot more than I did. I realized that everything we did was all about drinking and revolved solely around drinking. Unless his parents were involved, then he hardly drank at all. And so goes my theory; that’s why you must go through your successes and failures, happy times and sad times, and HOW you learn and choose to learn from those times; to make you the best version of yourself. Life is about learning and observing that learning. It'd been nice not to have the ‘shitty stage of life occur: where decisions are made that aren’t regretful or downright horrible because of circumstances. A time where we discover and learn earlier that we have the power to choose with HOW: but realize we must go through some failures before finding the right HOW. Understanding all the while that sometimes these decisions leave scars and bruises.

I conscientiously walk the walk and talk the talk in my house with my kids; they get the straight goods and always know to ask us, instead of believing they're dumb friends and what is said about what they know to be true about 'stuff that matters.

My dad always went to work and would come home and repeat the pattern. My first cousins loved my dad and thought he was the coolest guy, and my friends thought my mom and dad were so rad! I lived with them, and they were neither in my eyes. My mom was like a superhero to me until she got cancer.
Just so you all know, I DO NOT think I am perfect and have all the answers because I can not know what I do not know! That is the scary part about me now. I wish I did not know what I do know. Change is the only constant that needs to be managed, BUT you need to be open to change; recognize your part in that change (the part I hate the most). Rolling with changes makes up life. HOW you ROLL is what makes up your life.

Choices on how to manage the changes are yours and yours alone. Too many parents have incorrectly taught their children that the answer is found with stuff: money, riches, women, men, alcohol, drugs, getting to the top of your profession or getting your every desire. The choices are planned out, and some actions are chosen to make some preferences selfish or selfless depending upon perspective. Regretful ones are (as we all look back and are honest with ourselves) the most difficult lessons to learn. A direct change is complex but vital. If you get to this point in your life, then, and only then, will you roll with change and gravitate towards positive change.

Funny thing about your parents and those choices they made and continue to make, good or bad, you, as a child, think those choices are great until you meet other friends' parents. That is when your objectification of your parents becomes shattered, AND you are stuck somewhere with human people who feel like every ‘you and me’ all live with the same vulnerabilities. Let me tell you, recognizing your parents are human and can make mistakes and poor choices leads to MATURITY. When you make such a discovery at a young age in a child's reality or realization of the world (or at least their microcosm of the world), it SUCKS! You seek OLDER, more sophisticated friends; older dates because guys your age are immature. In the words of Brené Brown, “Not to say my parents weren’t and my mom is not good people, but their tools were not enough. Growing up, they seemed funny, loving, well-liked, smart, great storytellers, and caring neighbours. People loved them. Because they were predictably good outside the house and wildly unpredictable inside, I assumed it was us three kids. And me being the youngest, I thought it was me. This was shaming when the inside behaviour didn’t match the families around us or even on t.v.”6

My heart's ability to feel and remain innocent in some aspects but so mature in others meant I was easily tipped off-kilter by those older users. I began to seek that user out in every crowd; yes, it was a choice, but I could not see it for a long while. I am grateful and am at peace with those who chose to use me. I guess I should have known better, but now I control my narrative. At my age, I think I should! Until then, choose with a purpose for your narrative and embrace and roll with your changes. Adult decisions can have long-lasting effects on children.

One generation leads the next generation on, and finally, they are three or four generations deep into a poor choice lifestyle family framework. There are too many households where this lifestyle is not the exception but rather the norm. It's funny how children are so okay with eating cold food and aiding and abetting when they are faced with being removed from the custody of deadbeat parents.

I learned that we are all changing mediums in constant change and flux. But it means nothing if we are not paying attention to the HOW, the WHO, and the WHY. Where we are on that wheel or cycle or whatever you fancy calling your source to live by is okay. Remember that if you teach and model what life is like and capture what others search for forever in life, you will have succeeded. As adults with children, we owe it to ourselves to do the best job we can do so that we assist our children in becoming the best persons they can become. Life is not easy.

I guess everyone, including me, seemed so desperate to feel more connected to their own lives and one another, but no one was looking in the right places. No one was thinking about how it all works together. Everyone seemed disembodied from their own inner world and disconnected from other people. Too many lonely and secret lives.
1 Brown, Atlas of the Heart. Introduction. (xiv) Random House: New York: 2021
2 Brown, Atlas of the Heart. Introduction. (xiv) Random House: New York: 2021
3 At Last November 15, 1960,, “At Last!” was released.Nov17,2017.
4 Seuss, Dr. Oh, the Places You'll Go! New York :Random House, 1990.
5 Brown, Atlas of the Heart. Introduction. (xiv) Random House: New York: 2021
6 Brown, Atlas of the Heart. Introduction. (xiv) Random House: New York: 2021
7 Brown, Atlas of the Heart. Introduction. (xiv) Random House: New York: 2021

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