Our two youngest daughters have been sharing the responsibilities for the cat we adopted from their older sister. This cat has won the hearts of the entire family, but he’s also been battling cancer, and so gets special supplements on schedule with his meals. He’s an emotional kind of furball, and very needy and clingy to the two girls particularly.
At some point not long ago, the older of the two girls decided she didn’t want to take turns feeding him anymore, and told her younger sister that instead she would take over care of the cat’s litter box. I felt some unease hearing about this, but had let it go for the time being. It’s turned out the the older sister has not been responsible for the litter box. (Normally, she is a responsible kind of kid.)
This morning, my youngest daughter shared a concern with me about her sister only ‘loving’ their cat when it was convenient, or basically enjoying his cuteness without being patient with his needs. The catalyst for her sharing this concern was her sister scolding the cat for waking her up this morning.
I listened to her, and then told her that I felt it was a valid concern, and that I’d think about it more, and possibly talk to her sister about it. At this point, her father came out to the kitchen. I asked him to listen to her concern (without sharing my thoughts) to hear his perspective. I thought his perspective was somewhat different, but good and his feedback to her was good. (He felt it was reasonable to scold the cat to deter it from behavior that was unwanted by her sister.)
Then our youngest daughter asked us not to talk to her sister because she was afraid that her sister would resent her for talking to us (and basically treat her poorly because of it).
Her father responded immediately to that. He said something like, “That’s a serious thing, and it’s important to understand how it can affect your life. It’s a problem that Mom and I struggle with. When people treat us unfairly, and we put up with it because we worry about them taking it out on us or making us suffer from talking to them, or hurting the relationship if we try to address it, then that’s unhealthy.”
I think he actually said a bit more, but in the aftermath fog, that’s my best recollection. What jumped out at me was, “It’s a problem that Mom and I struggle with.”
When he finished speaking, I said, “I think that what you’re addressing is so important, and spot on, except for one thing you said. Concisely, what did you mean by, It’s a problem that Mom and I struggle with?”
He gave a blank glazed look. I said, “To clarify, I want to know specifically what you meant by that.”
He glared at me. Glared. In that moment, I saw that he knew and he just plain old resented my asking.
He started to say that he didn’t understand what I meant (but I knew he did), so I responded by saying, “If every morning when we walked by the laundry machines, you punched me in the arm, that would be a problem. If you said to someone that we had a problem hitting each other when we passed the laundry machines, I’d feel angry, and I’d want to find a large heavy object and hit you with it. In fact, I think you do know what I meant when I asked you to clarify what you said, and I am feeling angry right now. My therapist encouraged me to be in touch with how I feel, and anger is definitely what I’m feeling.”
Then the turds began to fly. He was tired. He didn’t get enough sleep. He accused me of making assumptions about what he said, judging him, and having double standards. He said he was sick of putting up with ‘this’ and that now he was angry, and stomped off saying he was going to get ready to leave for Costco. (A trip that he usually extends by a few hours, avoiding helping out with anything I actually want him to help with… as I said, a busy guy.)
It’s a crummy way to start a day, but better crummy than gulping for crumbs. He quickly flipped into funny friendly dad mode, something that in the past years was more effective when I’d be frozen in place and depressed.
Not today. I’ve already asked my oldest son if he’d be willing to use his car for a Costco trip, and I plan to have a nice outing when we do the food shopping. I still only wear what are really pajama lounge pants, but by golly, I’m going to forget that and smell the fresh air today.