Same family, different life

In previous posts, I’ve commented that my brother and sister don’t necessarily share my perspective on our childhood. For example, despite being raised by the same parents in the same places, they wouldn’t describe both of our parents as abusive towards us, and they tend to push back when I apply words like that to our mother (who is widely regarded as the victim of our father, rather than his enabler and accomplice–I see her as both).

To be fair, I would only have described my upbringing as ‘quirky’, ‘strict’ or ‘unconventional’ until the last couple of years, when my eyes started to open to the control, violence and fear that permeated the first 18-odd years of my life. Earlier, words like abuse would have sounded unreasonable or extreme to my ears–even in relation to my obviously abusive father–so it’s not surprising that my siblings would use different semantics to me.

But it’s not about my eyes being more open than theirs. I’m beginning to understand that our different perspectives on childhood reflect our different experiences of childhood. Not just because I was the youngest (by 7+ years), but because each of us played a different role in our dysfunctional family.

Or, to put it another way: the three of us had three completely different childhoods.

I’m sure my brother and sister remember Dad joking about me being his last chance to ‘get it right’ as a parent, i.e. to finally raise a perfect child, and I suspect they would agree that he wasn’t really joking. But as children, we weren’t equipped to recognise and process the daily reality of this favouritism–the obsessive focus on me, the near-indifference towards them (especially towards my sister given she was ‘only’ a girl), the distinct forms of manipulation and control that were used on each of us. And in adulthood, we’ve all processed our dysfunctional upbringings in different ways, from complete denial to various forms of counselling.

So, all things considered, it’s not surprising that we don’t see eye-to-eye about our parents. But it can be distressing to receive incredulous responses from your siblings when you’re working through childhood trauma you can finally recognise, which is why this article in Psychology Today (“You Had a Toxic Parent, But Your Siblings Say They Didn’t”) was a salve for my soul–and that’s only a very slight overstatement.

It’s a very worthwhile read if you’re struggling to reconcile different perspectives on your childhood with siblings who are doubtful about what you’re saying. Or perhaps you’re the doubtful one–in which case you should read it, too.

(Side note: it was one of my siblings who shared this article with me–proving that sometimes, if you can keep the conversation going, a sense of mutual understanding and validation can be attained with your siblings.)