I’ve written a number of posts recently on my relationship with my father. Nothing has changed over there because I minimise the amount I see him. However, my relationship with my mother is now in free-fall, over the past couple of days culminating in one incident of extremely uncharacteristic dishonesty, and another in the rekindling of an ongoing saga of what feels like some kind of petty extortion. Before delving into this issue in detail, which will be on the level of my ideas and someone else’s feelings, I’d like to mention something which all this makes me feel about myself: it makes me worry a great deal about my capacity for human relationships. If I can’t maintain one with both my mother and my father, I’m really not doing too hot. However there are extenuating circumstances in both cases on the part of the other individuals: for my father, there are the longterm issues initiated by him that I’ve talked about before, and my mother has (presumably) been going through a difficult period for some years, for all of her family find her at times much harder to deal with than we ever used to. I would like to be better at tolerating her incessant demands that she makes upon us through a recognition that this is in some sense not her in her full self—I do not want to use the rather stronger “not herself” because that would be an exaggeration.

I put aside any self-involved musings about my character which would involve entirely unreasonable extrapolation were I to go any further and turn to what’s been going on very recently. The issue of the fact that I don’t do any paid work to support my studies returned to us yesterday, after many months dormancy, in a particularly brutal and sudden manner. I spent yesterday delivering leaflets on behalf of a friend’s mother’s business, getting £50 for 1000 leaflets, and my mother had been kind enough to give me a lift because, unusually, I was to deliver this batch of leaflets to a part of the city rather removed from where we live now. On the way back, I told her that I’d been offered another batch of 1000 leaflets, but because I thought that they needed delivering the very next day (that’s not the case as it happens), I’d said no because I didn’t want to do another day immediately when I don’t need another £50. This set things going. My mother told me that while she now accepts that any kind of steady employment doesn’t fit with the combination of university terms and a hefty amount of vac work, she expects that I should take any casual work I can possibly get (this was the first time I have heard this opinion from her).

A summary of our positions from what followed is that my mother wants to see me earning some money, and when pressed she is quite willing to confirm that it is just seeing it that matters to her. But this money isn’t actually for any necessities, because I have all the money I need already, so effectively she wants to see me earning spending money because when I have asked if she would reduce the amount she gives me towards my food and rent if I earned some money with which to replace a portion of this contribution, she says that she wouldn’t. I tried to explain that, concerning this second day of leafleting, that a day of four hours academic work, two or three hours projecting and yes then a good few hours messing about is to me more valuable than £50 which, after the first day of leafleting, I don’t have anything non-frivolous to buy with.

The issue here is that I am viewed as taking for granted a life that to a certain extent, for six months of the year, is a life of leisure. Other people have given me this life: I have a place to live and somewhere to keep my books and computer, and funds to go to Oxford for the other six months of the year, and I can to some extent put myself in my mother’s position and say, well, it hurts to see no kind of contribution in exchange for that. My stance is that I try my hardest every day to make the most of that life that I’ve been given. I am already using this dispute with my mother as a motivational boost. Every day I make more progress towards my ideal of scholarship, though I’m not there yet. It is immensely important to me that I am always learning and progressing in all areas of life and I have a deep sense of guilt when I fail at this.

If my mother doesn’t want to fund this life anymore because, perhaps, I’m not using it as I should be, that is not a judgement that I would vehemently disagree with, in all honesty. If she said, well, I’m not going to give you all the money anymore and you should work to fill the gap, I’d be in a different situation to where I am. But the point is that I’m not in that situation, no-one is suggesting I’m going to be and so why does she want to see me earning money I don’t need? I would hope that when I reach my fifties I will not be dependent for my comfort on people close to me behaving in ways which, when broken down, serve no material purpose.

The only other explanation that comes to me, which my mother denies, is that what she wants here is for me to conform to some kind of stereotype of a middle-class student earning and spending money on social activities, drinking, holidays etc.. Again I think I pressed her sufficiently to be confident in saying this: she believes that having more money would make me happier. She refers to being able to make train journeys and visit friends and go into town without walking; she says that money could make me more comfortable and that would make me happier. She says that I complain about not having money and use it as a weapon to cut her off when she makes suggestions for things I could do. But, this is not my life. First of all I do not have the kind of friends with which I would do any of these activities. And more importantly, to me, not having much money makes me stronger and better, even if at limited and discrete times I feel a desire for it and might moan. My siblings tend to get a lot more spent on them,[1] with a step-brother who gets anything he asks for and a sister having money poured into her to learn to drive, and at times I feel jealousy over this. But I do not consider such feelings to be justified, and if I complain about them it is only my temporary feelings getting the better of my longer term judgement. Sure, I can’t buy Portal 2 and at some level I would like to be able to because my friends all tell me it is a fantastic game and I expect they are right, but what I am doing is carefully crafting the best possible life for myself that my thoughts lead me to, rather than merely unmediated desire, and material concerns are not a part of this. What I am saying here is that I can’t disagree more with the suggestion that more money than I have now would make me any happier.

That’s a lot of ranting and raving about a dispute between two unimportant people. I’ve tried to set out why I don’t understand my mother’s insistence, and an attempt at explaining what might be sitting (way) behind it, but this is mainly for myself and it would be only an unwarranted level of self-importance that would lead me to now say that I’m right and you, reader, should agree with me and side with me against my mother. No-one should be thinking that from one side of the story. I’ve almost certainly missed something, since we continue to fail to understand each other, and if you know what this might be I’d love to be made aware of it. You might well think I am the guilty party, that I should be working; fine. These are all plausible views. The consequences of this dispute, now that I’ve finished laying it out, are what I think are actually worth writing about.

In summary, my mother has for many months made me feel very unwelcome in the home we share—yes, if I wasn’t there it would be a different home, so I am entitled to that phrase at least—and this dispute has sky-rocketed the levels of those vibes over the past twenty-four hours. From my fourteen year old step-brother who didn’t get up until 4pm today[2] I get a degree of appreciation appropriate to his strange way of living; my sister and I get on very well and we are both pleased when the other arrives at whichever parents’ house we’re staying at; from the dog, Chilli, I get a lukewarm reception because I don’t provide very much food or trips to the woods; from my step-father, despite utter disregard for my study of philosophy, there is still a familial raport between us. Between my mother and I such a thing does not seem to exist anymore. Everything I do that she is not happy with is couched in terms of how much I cost to keep. The amount it apparently costs to feed me for six months of the year is brought up again and again. Whatever my mother might say it is entirely implausible that there is any financial strain of anything other than her own creation at work here, which becomes perfectly clear when one notes how many thousands of pounds she is about to spend on landscaping and replanting the garden. My view that I long to be back in Oxford and dislike the vac is not treated as “that’s fantastic, he’s getting a lot out of university life” but “well get back there then”. How much of this does she mean? I have no idea; it is not my way to dismiss it as not something she “really means”.

I should briefly detail the incident of dishonesty I mentioned above; I won’t bore you with what I called ‘petty extortion’. My mother and her partner recently went away on holiday and I moved back and forth between my father’s house and my mother’s while they were away, watering the plants etc. and also getting a break from my father. This was the plan and in fact I ended up staying at my mother’s far more because I couldn’t be bothered to move my books back and forth. Before my mother left I said, “if I buy ingredients and cook here, will you pay me back for them?” and she said she would. So I did this; I spent very little money as usual but was quite willing to restock the family supplies of pasta and icing sugar,[3] no problem. Now my mother turns round to me and says that with my attitude to our dispute, she’s not sure if she’s going to pay; I could have gone to my father’s, and she doesn’t see, she says, why she should pay for food for me when she already does for six months of the year and I could just have gone to my father’s. If she hadn’t wanted to pay that would have been fine. One word and I wouldn’t have spent a minute in her house while they were away. Instead I am arbitrarily docked £20 of next term’s living expenses, effectively, which is an amount so much more significant to me than it could ever be for her. More importantly someone as close to me as my mother has broken her word. I consider my standards of honesty to be high, and my mother is to thank for that, so it feels terrible to be betrayed like this. Hopefully she will change her mind.

My father is currently in the process of moving in with a woman who is to be our step-mother who I like very much. They have a great hope that I will start living with them again because they seem to think that I have issues with where my father lives now. I don’t have such issues, it’s just a case of having all my stuff at my mother’s, and the diluting effect upon my father of his fiance’s presence is rather powerful. So I am hoping that I will be able to spend a lot more time there and then perhaps some distance will help repair my relationship with my mother. Right now though it is in tatters because we both feel so deeply wronged by each other; my mother seems to feel taken advantage of, and I feel entirely unwanted. I suppose these feelings have a certain similarity.

[1] It is not relevant that I am now an adult, because this has always been the case if I compare my life when I was younger to theirs.

[2] Actually maybe he did ‘get up’, but he certainly didn’t leave his room or open his curtains. And there’s no alcohol involved in this, only that he seems to have nothing to get up for.

[3] sister came over to bake