A Tale of Two Parents

When I met Max’s dad, I was 16 and living in London. He was 21, the rebellious product of a repressed English upbringing. We were both hedonists, devoted to smoking dope all night and sleeping most of the day.

Years passed and we became the most mismatched couple you could ever imagine. He developed a knee-jerk respect for any kind of authority; I reveled in rejecting it. He somehow became a Republican. I continued to be a bleeding heart liberal. He continually worried about What the Neighbors Would Think. I ridiculed his conformity.

For a long time, I considered this marital battlefield a benefit to our son. In my view, Max had been exposed to different philosophies and different sensibilities. This would enrich his thinking and give him a chance to decide for himself what he believed in…what kind of person he wanted to be.

Now I wonder how difficult it must have been to grow up with such conflict. I think that kids want stability more than anything, and they aren’t served by conflicting role models. I feel really bad about this, although I can’t change history. All this duality can only foster a terrible sense of conflict. Mom is a lazy hippie and dad is a tense workaholic. Their opposing natures aren’t yin and yang. They’re just a clash of belief systems that wears everyone down.

Max’s dad and I finally split up and I found the right husband, but to this day we need an interpreter to help us communicate, since we are from different planets if not galaxies.

Did any of you grow up with mismatched parents? Was there any redeeming aspect to this, or was it just torture?

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61 Responses to A Tale of Two Parents

  1. Rosie says:

    PS (because I can’t seem to hold my peace on this): I say that from the viewpoint of someone who grew up with parents who didn’t love each other. At all. Skipping the strains of this, the kids (I’m the eldest of five of them) knew better – that they needed help or an end to their marriage, and that that was their issue. That despite all the fucked up factors of their marriage, they loved us anyway. The rest was between them to figure out. Maybe it was a selfish and self-centered viewpoint to take, but a successful one nonetheless, which I remember endorsing early on in my childhood: that we (kids) could be happy regardless. And for most of it, we were, and are. Maybe some of that was learned sooner and some later, but I can remember at 11 knowing and not caring that their marriage was a shambles – they clearly loved us kids independently of it anyway, so what did it matter? (That’s a very crude summary of a complex situation, but, it’ll do.)

    I think it’s true that the direct parent-child relationship has a much, much bigger impact than the exemplary status of a parent-parent relationship. I can’t explain it otherwise. All five of us, their children, are turning out to be well balanced people (well sometimes I can be cynical but, the rest of them are truly lovely people.) My next sister is now a new mum and I know, regardless of whether she and her partner stay in or out of love and whether they stay together or not as time goes on, that she will always be a wonderful mum. You were and are clearly a wonderful mum SW. And I send nothing but love to you. So take care… And keep your brilliant posts coming, you are phenomenal. Rosie.

  2. Audi says:

    My parents were horribly mismatched; she was interested in building a stable family life and being a great mom, and he was interested in screwing other women. When he finally bailed when I was 10, it was probably a blessing. And if you can believe it, my mom actually blamed herself, both for choosing such a rotten dad for me, and for ‘letting’ our family life fall apart. But in my mind she’s the most awesome woman ever, and I feel like I turned out just fine.

    So I guess my point is, if you love your kids then that’s all that matters, conflict or no. Human existance is filled with all sorts of conflict, but the love of a parent for a child rises above all that.

  3. li says:

    As a child product of a terrible marriage where there was conflict for anything, I disagree whit some comments here.
    Being “expose” to different philosophies does not have anything to do with being expose to conflict, fights, yelling, throwing of things betweent the two people that suppose to be your role models in life.

    Every child is diferent, but there are plenty of psicology studies showing the differents behaviors that develop from being raise in a conflicted marriage; like: depression, fellings of inadequacy, low self esteem, etc.

    Today, my parents still wonder why every one of us decided to left and live as far as we can from them, they do not get it, and I only like an apology for all that pain.

    I am sorry if I came across rude, but for me there is no benefit growing up in a conflicted and missmatch marriage

  4. editor says:

    my parents are TOTALLY mismatched (and predictably unhappy).
    it’s not the mismatched part that was a problem, growing up, as much as the unhappy parents part.
    but, one positive is that if the parents are opposites, it increases the odds that the child will be able to relate to at least one of the parents. my sister and i are total opposites and i relate to our mom while my sister relates to our dad.

  5. Season says:

    I feel so sad at your loss. You can’t blame yourselves and the fact that you as parents were so mismatched. There are so many factors – parents, people we meet, schoolfriends, ancestors, our own makeup that contribute to our personality, how we feel on a given day – and everyone will handle things differently. I’ve known people who’ve had the worst childhoods who’ve lived happy complete lives and other’s who’ve blamed the nicest parents for everything and are mental midgets. Please don’t berrate yourself – life happens. We can only be thankful for the years we had with our families before they were taken from us. You sound like you’ve been a great mum and that’s what matters.

  6. Aimi says:

    I have no idea how my parents ever hit it off. She loved disco and was an aerobics instructor and is very social. He’s totally introverted, obsessed with garage rock and prog, and was an accountant. They are both obsessive in their own ways, that’s really the only similarity I can ascertain at this juncture. Well, it didn’t work out for long! I’m glad they’re still friends though.

    Point is, parents are never perfect. I’m kind of terrified at the prospect of having my own someday, but hell, I’m only 22 now.

  7. firefly says:

    Still going through it. half the time though, luckily, they are fighting about the same thing. However, my mom is usually more laid back than my dad, but each have their own passionate interests and ideas, and can be very stubborn about it. You can hear them arguing most times from across the street

  8. Kamicha says:

    Oh, growing up is difficult on any situation. I’m saying this as a long time stalker (I have commented just once about some ridic Aldridge interior) – but it looked like you and your son had a good relationship, which again tells that the most important things – love and trust – were there.

    I’m afraid that the words of total stranger can’t be much of a relief, but the feel of guiltiness is probably totally unavoidable – and on the other hand completely vain. Even the closest people sum up to something we don’t entirely know, and in this contemporary world tragedy like this is probably never traceable to some certain conditions. I hope that you receive a full support from the people close to you, I hope you can let out your grief and don’t need to be the strong one for sake of other people.

  9. My mum is a wonderful but loud potty-mouthed New Yorker and my dad is a dope smoking hippie who grew up in London with parents that were both born completely deaf. Somehow in this mad world he became an accountant/musician (plays the Djembe African drums).

    Growing up they fought a lot – my dad went through a scary mid life crisis which didn’t involve cars but rather taking mushrooms and other hallucinogenic party favours. Only now has he started to tell me his funny and/or scary stories.

    Between the two of them they taught me how to be wise but never restricted anything. My dad encouraged experimentation but ALWAYS in moderation whereas my mum was against it. I totally feel that the clash of my parents’ belief systems meant that my sister and I grew up with a balance between fun and real life.

    Mismatched parents are not as important as being a good individual parent. I have no doubt you were an amazing mother.

    Your blog becomes more inspiring by the day…

  10. ellio100 says:

    I guess my parents didn’t match, but it truly never really occurred to me that they should be the same. They and their differences taught me the world could be a million different ways – something that I don’t think a lot of people get to see. I feel lucky to have a lazy dreamer hippy mum and a dad who puts his heart into his work. What you said about them showing different ideas and ways of being is true and touching and valuable.

    Stability comes in different ways and I always got plenty. They both love me and my brother and sister more than words can say and have always made this clear. I am sure you and your family have always done the same.

    Once there was a time when my mum and dad were in love with each other but I don’t reckon they ever really agreed on that much, even then.

    Please don’t look back on yourself with cruelty. Yes it’s tiring to spend days with people different than you, and it must be exhausting being married to someone in that situation… but as a child from that kind of couple, well, I know that my parents have given me care, challenges, inspiration and limitless love. I couldn’t ask for more.

  11. Joy D. says:

    The redeeming aspect for me came when they split up. I believe that it was the best thing they ever agreed on.

    My father was an ex revolutionary and military man. He used hat as an excuse in more cases than one to not keep priorities straight. My mother is/was a strong black woman that has provided all her own opportunities in life. They clashed on everything!

    I understand where you are coming from Sister Wolf but sometimes separation of biological parents is necessary for the mental health of the child. In my experience it is often the case. You shouldn’t feel bad. I don’t know how I would handle an ailing marriage and a child at the same time. I don’t think anyone does.

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