aegypt, the way that I see it is that you learn a lot of behaviors that are imprinted in you when you are young. You learn what you see and experience. You develop and imitate the coping mechanisms that you see and hear when you are young… or, you go in entirely the opposite direction.
Let’s see… My stepfather came into my family when I was thirteen, four years after my parents divorced. My father was verbally and physically abusive to my mother, who would often goad him on, making things much worse.
My stepfather was everything that she wanted, isolating and “protecting” her from everything. He was also an alcoholic who would open and drink a beer before his morning coffee, and would have drunk a whole case or more by the end of a typical day.
From the time I was born until I was 12, I lived a very free life. I have two sisters, five & six years younger than me, and one brother, seven years younger. Since I was nine when my parents got divorced, I had a lot of responsibilities for the younger kids. Still, we played together and laughed and did pretty much whatever we wanted. We were constantly barefoot little beasties who would happily play games in any open field and would occupy ourselves for hours at a time with imagination games. We never doubted that mom loved us more than anything else in her world, even if we didn’t see her much. After the divorce, she had to work three jobs at one point to make ends meet with her house and 4 kids.
My stepfather moved in after we had met him twice. He had a lot of rules.
No bare feet. Ever.
No talking in the car. No games or noises in the car. Especially no laughing.
No laughing where he could hear you.
Every food has to be eaten with a knife and fork. French fries? Yup. Fried chicken? Yup. Everything. If you are the slightest bit messy with your food, you go without. This even applied to the 5 year old.
Never allowed to chew gum or eat candy that is orange, watermelon or grape flavored, even when on our own time or away from home, because the smell made him sick.
No between-meal food. Ever. (That one slowly progressed to: No breakfast. No lunch. Nothing but supper. And if you offended him or broke a rule, no supper, either.)
Bedtime and lights out at 8 pm, no talking. At 15, my bedtime was raised to 9 pm.
Do not go in the kitchen (which had the door to outside) without permission.
The biggest one of all was: Don’t go near your mother.
If we wanted to speak to mom, the rule was that we would go and stand silently in the doorway between the hall and the kitchen and wait for him to notice you. Once he had noticed you, he would either gesture you in, or gesture you away. If you were gestured in, you quietly told him what you wanted to speak to mom about. If he disapproved, he would send you away. If he approved, he would allow you to talk to her, very briefly, and only in his presence. Meanwhile, she was drinking coffee on the other side of the table, letting this happen.
When I was 15, I decided to see how long it would take her to notice if I didn’t say anything to her or look at her for a while. I guess I thought that she would miss me and wake up and see what was going on and free us and love us. I gave up at two weeks. She never did notice, so I failed to see a point in continuing.
The reason that bedtime for us was 8 pm was because that’s when they ate supper. They ate such things as steak, potato, salad or pasta, scallops, broccoli. We ate at 6, and had such nutritious fare as hotdog and mac & cheese, or fishsticks and rice-a-roni. There were rarely vegetables, and there was never enough. They obviously didn’t want us looking at them while they ate. Of course, we could very well imagine it, as we lay in our beds and smelled it. They had all they wanted to eat in a locked cabinet and a locking upright freezer. That’s when I taught myself to pick simple locks, when I was about 13.
Soon after, mom interceded and we were given a case of ramen noodles a week, for lunches or snacks. Somewhere around there was also where I was allowed to cook our supper (as I had before he was there), but the ingredients that I was given to do it with were spoiled. He would buy them and keep them in the trunk and backseat of his car until they were to his liking before bringing them in and putting them away for me to use. That’s when I started to creep from my bed in the middle of the night to see if he had forgotten to lock the car or if he had left his keys on the table by accident. This is also when I figured out how to get into the trunk of a car from the backseat. This is also when I started shoplifting.
We were always sick, and I had gone to being a slightly-chubby and active 12 year old to a really fat teenage girl who never had the energy to do anything at all. I took every sort of home ec class that was offered in our school system to figure out substitutions and make-dos for my sisters and brother. I took a nutrition class and was almost in tears daily as the teacher went over the basics of what people need that I couldn’t give my sibs. I saw it as a personal failure. We all did badly in school and my brother was very aggressive and disruptive, both at school and at home. The only time we really ate was on Sundays when we would go over to my grandparent’s house, where we would have thirds and sometimes fourths, and had to endure my grandfather yelling at us that we were lazy and fat. At this point, I was in high school. This is when I started stealing food from my grandparents. This is also when I gave up hope that anybody cared enough to bother with me. Ever.
None of us ever had an allowance, but I was given $5 a week for lunch at school. A school lunch was about $2.25, not counting milk or juice. This was the sum total of money that any of us ever got. If I needed something, I had to pay it out of my lunch money. It was hard to save it, because this is when my sibs started stealing from me to buy candy and gum and chips and soda – stuff that “normal” kids had that we didn’t.
Whenever I would manage to get my mom alone at Gram’s or when he was working and would say something even the tiniest bit against him or one of his rules, I would be told “Oh, honey, you just don’t get along with Peter because the two of you are so much alike.”