A father was putting the childrens new helium filled balloons in the car when mother felt the need to instruct him.
“You haven’t put those balloons securely enough! They will get lost! Fix them!”
Struggling to pack up and get the family ready to go, Dad felt the balloons were fine, but as he tried to get two tiny children in the car, one balloon caught a breeze, made for the door and escaped into the heavens. The child who owned that balloon immediately started shrieking in despair and anger as his toy floated away.
“I told you that your work wasn’t good enough!” Mom exclaimed. “Why do you always do this, ignoring me and hurting our children? They will never be able to have balloons again, never be able to enjoy them because you have failed your family! You have taken something fun and joyous away from your family. Are you happy now?”
Every guilt trip people lay on us is different, but they all have the same structure. “You have screwed up, creating massive pain and damage because you don’t love me enough, and you never will, sentencing me to a life of pain.”
I grew up with guilt trips. My mother used them like clubs, blaming everyone around her for not making her happy, for leaving her feeling miserable and unloved, trapped in a futile life of pain. She sprayed shame all over us for just doing what kids do, making every choice about her and how the world failed her.
I knew from at least age ten that being the daddy meant being spotlighted as a fuck up, being pounded by guilt into servicing a mommy. As much as I wanted to be a mom, being a dad seemed like a life of abuse and pain.
In looking at other marriages as I got older, this pattern seemed to be pronounced. My brother couldn’t win with my sister-in-law, crossdressers got beat up by their wives, and women on chat shows loved to tell how men were just bears with furniture, needing the pounding of women to keep them even marginally civilized. They were idiots and would be nothing without the demands of mothers, enforced by the emotional abuse of guilt trips.
This social acceptance that women’s power came out of the way they could harness men as beasts of burden to service themselves and their children was tough for me to watch, trapped as I was between the genders. Women seem to be taught that men need to be lashed by the sharp tongues of women because that is the only way to get through their thick hide to their clueless little brains.
The question of how a relationship built on one person attacking the pther with guilt trips can ever mature can be easily passed over. If emotional attacks work in the moment, giving mom control, why should their long term effectiveness ever be questioned? Isn’t giving mom control the whole point?
I started to resist guilting when I was young. “Ok, if you don’t love me, then don’t take the garbage out!” “Great, I won’t.” This came back in the last year of my mother’s life when she told me that she remembered me saying I didn’t love her. I just asked her if she would rather believe something I said thirty years ago or believe the way I went far to take care of her everyday. She was satisfied, but she still would have liked to be able to manipulate me more effectively, like she could my father and sister.
Would I have a different view on the usefulness and appropriateness of guilt trips if I was cute and pretty enough to have them work for me? Maybe, but I suspect that by this age, I would have seen a more balanced view.
Does the shaming and abuse that came with the pounding still shape me? Sure. I know the sense of failure and I avoided putting myself in positions where I would be subject to them, even if there might have been rewards and growth in those relationships.
One mother’s day, we brought in a big selection of Chinese food, then my mother produced a big apple crisp she baked. It was served with ice cream of course, as my father always had to have his “white,” since milkfat had been his treat since he was a small boy on an Alberta farm in the depression.
When we passed on a second helping, saying that we were stuffed, my mother kicked in.
“You don’t like it! You don’t like what I made for you! You don’t love me!”
“And now, on the occasion of Mother’s Day,” I intoned, “B will perform a selection of guilt trips that were first taught to her by her mother.”
She screwed up her face to show disapproval, but that couldn’t hide her amusement. She knew the tradition.
The long term cost, though, she hadn’t considered quite so much.