Arm’s Length

Arm's Length

My psychiatrist has asked me numerous times how my sister has handled my parents differently than I have? How has she protected herself? How has she kept herself from being so enmeshed in the family dynamic?

The answer is that my sister says no. She keeps my parents at arm’s length. She didn’t answer the phone whenever my mother called, letting it go to voicemail instead. She didn’t let my mother pry and control her. And, she never identified with them.

I, on the other hand, was a member of the first-born club. My mother, father, and I were all first-born. I was repeatedly told that I was like them in that I, too, was first-born. I, like them, was a type-A personality, an overachiever, a workaholic.

I shouldered higher expectations. I was to be a doctor or a lawyer. My goal was to be a neurosurgeon. In high school, I almost got straight A’s, ranking 3rd in a class of 450. I assumed that I would go to an Ivy League school, and was devastated when I didn’t get accepted.

My parents graduated at the top of their high school classes and were high achievers in college. My mother was captain of her college debate team. My father got two bachelor’s degrees in five years – one in chemical engineering and one in humanities. Years later, living off savings while supporting a wife and two daughters, he attended Harvard Business School.

I expected to out-achieve them. I didn’t. I failed. I fell apart. I couldn’t withstand the strain, the expectations, the speed of being a UCLA honors biochemistry major.

I wanted a well-rounded education and to have fun, so I dropped out of the second quarter of honors chemistry. Physics and biology, too, I only took one semester each. Honors calculus, though, I loved and took for the entire year. Math was always my favorite subject and I regret not continuing my math studies.

Bottom line: I must say NO. I must STOP identifying with my parents. I must learn to hold my parents at arm’s length. I must learn to be a “good enough” daughter, and not try to live up to any real or perceived expectations.

38 thoughts on “Arm’s Length

  1. dyane July 9, 2016 / 6:41 am

    Like you, I am the firstborn child. And like you, I must, MUST hold my parent at arm’s length. It’s a different situation than yours, of course, but incredibly difficult all the same. The bottom line for us both is that we need to put ourselves first and we absolutely MUST protect our stability/sanity. You’ve inspired me to say “NO!” and to be a good-enough daughter!
    Thank you Kitt!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. stockdalewolfe July 8, 2016 / 7:42 pm

    Deeply in graded on the psyche. This one club I belong to. We took care of my mother, too, all alone with no help. I take my hat off to you. God speed!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley July 8, 2016 / 11:12 pm

      Cannot imagine doing it without help. At least the sale of my parents’ house can pay for their care.


  3. Paladin July 7, 2016 / 6:44 am

    A few months ago when you had too many demands occuring on the same day, I sent you a response as follows: (Nada == Assertive). Hope you will remember. Since Math was one of your favorite subjects, this might strike a chord. Non-Euclidean geometry using as its parallel postulate any statement equivalent to the following: If l is any line and P is any point not on l , then there are no lines through P. that are parallel to l . Drop the P or (Parent) and stay with I. You will feel much better.

    Considering one of Einstein’s laconic phrases “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile” indicates implicitly your “life” be in proper harmony first.

    Look forward to you providing me a response altering this theory or postulate, youngster. Have a feeling you may be geeky enough to create something.

    Viva, Kitt. Keep Trucking.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Paladin July 7, 2016 / 1:01 pm

        Do not know how your ordeal became mathematical, Kitt. From previous correspondence, thought it wise to let you know the P was not “Procrastination”. You are a good daughter and doing well with your caretaking responsibiliites. Hope you are enjoying your stay in Oregon.


        Liked by 1 person

  4. Grief Happens July 7, 2016 / 6:41 am

    Yep. I relate to so much of this — first born and all. I was on the hard road to an inevitable emotional collapse when my father died by suicide my junior year of college. As hard as that was (and i certainly don’t mean to diminish the effect it HAS had on me), twenty years later I see that in many ways it saved me. I changed directions, got good therapy, and though it’s been a process, learned to say no — such a hard thing as an overachieving first-born. I still feel that clench of discomfort when I do it, though, especially as my mom pours on the guilt. I have, however, gotten comfortable with being uncomfortable when I DO say no. It’s a process. You have amazing insight and I wish you all the best as you work through such a difficult situation. Xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kitt O'Malley July 7, 2016 / 10:04 am

      Tough losing your dad so young, especially to suicide. I send you my love and condolences, even if it was many years ago. Yes, it is a process – an ongoing one.


  5. vanbytheriver July 7, 2016 / 3:56 am

    It seems you have been under this kind of pressure for a lifetime, Kitt. It took me forever to get out of the shadow of my mother, a person I was constantly compared to, but it did happen. Sadly, not until after she died at the young age of 53. I hope you find a way to let some of this go, just to protect yourself. But it only comes in its own time, and no one is sure what that might be for another. Hugs. 💘

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Bradley July 7, 2016 / 2:17 am

    Great post, Kitt, you’ve done so much, you can only do so much more if you give yourself some freedom. Seeing much growth in you.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Raeyn July 7, 2016 / 1:47 am

    I can definitely empathise with this sentiment. I was the first born from the first born club too. I fell out of the rat race in my teens due to ill health (that wasn’t taken seriously so I’m still trying to get it sorted). It’s hard to want to be high achieving and to meet and exceed the set example, but never mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Marie Abanga July 6, 2016 / 10:40 pm

    I wouldn’t blame you one bit Kitt! It’s tough and may seem egoistic and selfish but oh my why can’t I be a little egoistic and selfish enough to protect my own mental wellbeing? And yes this over achieving thing and wanting to measure cum live up to our parents’ expectations, even finish what they never could or did etc etc – putting ourselves under so much pressure – I still handle that every now and then like yesterday, but I try to remember who the big loser may be in all this – and that’s me all the time – so I tune off or shut the damn gadgets off once I feel it’s time out or getting to if you know what I mean… Cheers to you

    Liked by 1 person

  9. A. McKenna Brankin July 6, 2016 / 10:22 pm

    Nice post, Kitt. I felt much the same way as you. Funny we end up with similar situations. Hang in there. You are on the right track.

    Liked by 2 people

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