…..I am from Yorkshire. In tests of personality and learning types I am always an activist/pragmatist or a JFDI type (Just Flipping Do It). I can’t bear endless handwringing or debate as a diversion from getting things done. However, when it comes to sorting out the problems in our brains or in those of the people we love, talking can help. Just ignoring the problems and pretending they don’t exist is not a way of getting by.
At least that’s what I think. Yesterday, as I was at home, waiting for L to arrive for the weekend, her father, S, called in. He does this frequently, two or three times a day is normal. He lives five minutes walk away and the children can go to see him, but he generally comes here. It is not without tension. Often he can walk into the living room to see one of the children, ignore C and I, talk loudly over a programme we are watching, or mock our lowbrow choice of programme. C and I grit our teeth and try not to rise to it. Sometimes we invite him to share dinner with us. Yes, we really do. But this is the middle of the day, and I am downstairs on my own. He asked to speak to me, obviously in private. My heart sank. What have I done now?
He wants to talk about family therapy. He doesn’t really think it is a good idea, to go delving into the past, raking over things. I suggest that perhaps the therapy team know what they are doing and this will help. He pulls a face and says he doesn’t think much of the woman leading the therapy. He is clearly dismissive of her. I am brave. I tell him that what matters is what will help L. He counters that he doesn’t think L needs to know ‘the truth’ about our marriage and reels off more of my misdemeanours. Do I really want my children to hear that about their mother? I think about this. Is this a threat or a genuinely posed question? I take a breath and answer.
I tell him that I trust the therapy team, that it may well be that L and K hear things they don’t like, but I will deal with that. I tell him I am tired of hearing his conscience is clear. Mine isn’t, but not because I left him or fell in love with someone else, but because of the way we behaved, how we scared our children. I tell him of the time he chased us all upstairs in a rage and we hid in my bedroom. I remind him that he shouted at the kids that their mother would rather take an overdose than live with them. That our children sat at my hospital bedside with C when I swallowed sleeping pills because I couldn’t cope with being a terrible mother any more. These are our crimes, these are the things that did the damage. And during that time, I became the guilty party and S was the victim. Once he lived on his own, L, at the age of 8, tried to make his house more homely, to devise menus to help him have family meals with all of them and always tried to cheer him up in his frequent outpourings of self pity. L became a ‘carer’, someone who makes things alright for everyone else and pushes her own feeling further and further inside her.
I am calm saying these things. I look at S, his face is expressionless and he avoids eye contact as usual. I suggest that if he wants to opt out of therapy he can. Of course he won’t. Only a bad guy would opt out of his daughter’s family therapy and as S tells me, tells everyone and tells himself, He Is A Good Guy. And of course he is. Most of us are. Including me. I resolve to tell my children all the ‘bad things’ I have done, before family therapy. Because I will not be made to feel like the guilty party any more.