familiarity breeds contempt

Posted on: January 23, 2012

I don’t know where the phrase “familiarity breeds contempt” came from or whom (the darn who/whom dilemma – TBD in another blog!) we should thank for coming up with it, but it is 100% accurate.

Our family, or at least the people we are close to, are the people we should respect the most and be grateful for every single day, and yet I find that  it’s the hardest thing to do. 

I mean, think, for instance, how many times you’ve evaded a call from your mother. Or how many times in your life you’ve been decent towards your sibling (s).

I, for once, am guilty on all counts, and it’s not that I don’t love these people: it’s just that sometimes I just can’t stand them. Familiarity breeds contempt.

Now, I know, say in the U.S., it’s common to send your elderly parents to a nursing/retirement home according to their needs and what the kids can afford, but that is not as common in other latitudes, no matter how practical it may be. On this side of the American continent, it’s quite rare to do such a thing. Of course, it’s also quite rare to leave your parents’ house before you’re 25-30 and you only do so if you’re getting married or have a decent job that pays you enough to support yourself.

Even though my mother is fine and quite able to fend for herself, she is well aware that if and when the moment comes, she will be placed in the nicest home we can find for her, because none of us is willing to sacrifice our relationship (and by that I mean the relationship between her and her daughters) for the sake of not feeling guilty for not taking care of her ourselves, when we are clearly not capable of doing so properly. 

My grandmother, however, is another story entirely. She just turned 94 and although she is as lucid as she was 30 years ago, her body just won’t do her bidding anymore. Since she lives with my mother, my mother has had to hire someone to take care of her around the clock. Needless to say, that is the one expense that takes up most of her pension.

My mother would never allow herself to place her own mother in a home because the guilt would probably kill her, and my grandmother would probably die of boredom and depression, thus increasing the guilt of my mother, etc..

But you see, the true contempt here is not between my mother and her mother, but between her brothers and her and her brothers and their mother (my grandma). You see, all this time my mother has been taking care of my grandma, her brothers – my uncles – have barely even tried helping her, and I’m not restricting this to financial issues.

Brother # 1, the one who helped her out and was definitely closest to her, was killed almost 9 years ago, so that was that. Brother # 2 is the most miserable miser I’ve ever met: although he worked his whole life in the banking system – in Senior positions, by the way – for reasons unknown, he has always claimed to be broke (which I know for a fact is a big fat lie). He is so thoughtless and stingy that knowing that my poor grandma can barely chew on mashed potatoes, when it’s his turn to buy her lunch on the weekend he buys her a sandwich. Brother # 3 helped her until he lost everything he had when Stanford Eagle fell. The guy had invested his own money and his company’s money there. And despite being quite a far way from classifying as broke, he now claims he is so he won’t have to help out. And Brother # 4, well, even though he helps with grandma’s diaper and medical bills, he is not doing half what he could, seeing that he might as well have won the lottery with the amount of money he makes.

Money is just one part of the problem. The other is that they rarely visit her (grandma, their mother) or talk to her or show their concern for her. I think that that’s the worst part. When they do show up, they watch TV, read or talk to somebody else, but they don’t really interact with her. They know that she is there, but she might as well be another painting on the wall with the amount of attention they pay to her.

Having been raised by my grandma between ages 8 and 13, I know that she wasn’t the most affectionate or patient caretaker and I can’t imagine what a full childhood with her must have been like and what my mother and her brothers must have endured. But still, she is their mother, she raised them and she was there for them when they needed her. Why, then, are her boys like this? How can anyone be so cold towards their own mother, especially now that she is 94 and completely helpless. Why is it that now that she needs them they treat her like a nuisance?

I’ve even thought it might be a gender thing, but I don’t like generalizations so I’ll avoid them altogether.

The other  part that has caught my attention is that my family’s case is not the only one – it’s now more like an epidemic. Everywhere I go, and almost everyone I know has the same issues with some elderly family member and I think that that is just plain sad. And it’s sad not only because of everything I’ve just mentioned, but especially because it shows quite clearly that somewhere down the road we lost our humanity and our compassion.  We are no longer grateful. We don’t want to be burdened with things that we feel are not our problem. We no longer care that we have a family, that we are part of a larger structure and as such can’t just ignore what happens to each and every part of that structure.

The hardest part is that I know they love their mother. They just can’t and won’t be bothered.


2 Responses to "familiarity breeds contempt"

Boy, can I relate to this post! My grandmother lived with us growing up and then my brother “informed” me that I would be taking care of my mother. So, there is something to generalizations!!

Great blog – I always enjoy reading your posts!!!

thanks so much for stopping by, glad you could relate to it…loved your last post as well, especially the photos.

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