Many children around the world have parents who’re divorced, or at least split up. So did I. My parents split when I was about two, and since then I travelled between them, back and forth (until I was an adult, that is). Now, for most youngsters, this needn’t be much of a trouble. For me, it was a constant turnaround of my world.
The change of environment on a regular basis could be seen as something positive. Or perhaps not positive, but necessary, should the parents of any child live far away from each other. In my case, my parents lived about 35 minutes apart, which meant I travelled between them regularily.
Being with mom meant that I had to exhaust myself completely, over and over again, in order to keep her happy and balanced. I had to remove any needs that I had so that I could fulfill hers. Wanting and needing her attention and love, but never really having it, is no game. It’s hard work, and leaving her I would always feel empty and worn-out. It was more common for me to not remember much of what we’d said and done, than actually remembering. Dissociation to a degree became part of my everyday life.
Staying with dad was something completely different. He had no idea of what was going on inside my head, so he kept having all sorts of expectations of me. He probably saw me as a troubled child that needed everything that my mom couldn’t give. He was authorative and rigid, and wanted me to be normal – which I wasn’t.
People usually talk about how they have different roles with different people. You behave one way around your parents, another around your boss, a third way with your husband, a fourth with your children – but you are always the same person.
This was never the case for me. Travelling between my parents meant I had to become someone completely different. I had to change every bit of who I was, so that who I was would function with the right parent. To explain the difference to people who don’t understand, I sometimes say it’s like changing the operating system in a computer or a phone. Or changing from a Samsung to an Iphone (or so I’ve been told – I like my Samsungs).
This is extremely hard. It also taught me the lesson that I always had to adapt. I always had to look to the people around me and adapt to who they wanted me to be. I was around forty years old when I for the first time in my life realized that people don’t do that. People don’t adapt to other people. People stay who they are. I didn’t know that, I really did believe that adapting to the surroundings was something everybody does. My therapist had his chin on the ground when I told him that, and vice versa when he told me otherwise.
The travelling is of course not the only reason why I didn’t have a sense of Self until I reached my fourties. But it does have its place in the story. Every time I sat on the train or on the bus, I had to go through that process of changing who I was. When I stayed with dad, the process began couple of days before I left to see mom. Returning went easier and more smoothly, but the process still had to happen. Being the person I was at mom’s place just didn’t work with dad, and the other way around. I really had to change from the ground up.
The lousy part of being a child is that you have no choice. Someone else always get to make the decisions for you. I don’t think anyone ever really asked how I was doing or if I wanted to go to mom’s. And even if someone had asked, I’d probably said yes. Because when I still was a child, I loved my mother. I worshipped her. I adored her. For all the wrong reasons, but I didn’t know that back then.
But trust me when I say that my life would have been so much easier, had my dad removed her from me when I was a toddler. None of my parents were brilliant in any way whatsoever, but had mom been out of the picture, my dad would’ve been an amazing dad.
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