Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Feral Cat

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on July 25, 2012

Ursula, forty-one, has been orphaned since she was sixteen. Both her parents were killed in a car accident, leaving her to the care of her not-so maternal grandmother, who then passed away when Ursula was twenty-one. For the last twenty years, Ursula has had menial jobs, “getting by” as she says. Ursula, to her surprise, met Patrick, forty-five, ten years ago and now they have been happily married for ten years. Ursula’s issue is with Patrick’s parents. She feels them to be “abusive” to Patrick, since they sometimes comment on his life’s choices. “I feel like a feral cat,” she says, “since I can’t really remember having parents, I am not sure what role they play in adult children’s lives.” I begin to think about her “feral cat” comment. When are parents helpful and nurturing and when do they become intrusive?  How does an adult child take in the advice of parents without feeling shamed and bewildered? Is the issue one of self-confidence? If Ursula were more internally secure, then maybe she would be more appreciative of the support offered by Patrick’s parents? Or, are Patrick’s parents trying to ground themselves by latching on to the lives of Ursula and Patrick? “Tell me more” I say, in characteristic fashion. “They think that Patrick should shoot for a better job and I think it is not their business.” Ursula says with a tone of self-doubt. “I mean, I agree that Patrick could do better, but that is for Patrick to decide,” Ursula says, almost inviting me to argue with her. “What if we entertained the thought that Patrick’s parents have a point. Maybe they see a problem and they want to prod Patrick into a more challenging job.” I say, trying to examine this issue from all sides. “That is what confuses me. Maybe that is true, but I just don’t understand parents. I am not a parent, so I do not understand that relationship.” Ursula says, with humility and confusion. She also points to her own sadness for her losses. “Maybe, you feel envious that Patrick have parents who think about his life, and maybe it is just so painful for you to think about what you don’t have.” I say, treading lightly on a profoundly difficult subject. “Maybe,” Ursula says, as she cries deeply.

6 Responses to “Feral Cat”

  1. Jon said

    The art of being a successful parent to a grown child comes from being able to transition from being a caring authority figure to being a good friend. Like most art, this requires a lot of practice. Sadly for Ursula, she has not had such practice as either a patent or a child. Taming her feral nature will be hard, but it will be worth the effort.

    • Shirah said

      I am not so sure. I think a parent is always a parent and the parent/child relationship does not resemble a friendship in that the asymmetry of the parent/child relationship never stops. Thanks.

  2. Shelly said

    Ursula’s allusion to a feral cat points to her discomfort with Patrick’s interfering with his life. Perhaps she doesn’t like the way Patrick is made to feel inferior after their suggestions or even the way she feels inferior that Patrick needs to better himself on order to live up to his parents’ expectations. What is obvious is that Ursula feels her loss of parents very deeply, feels threatened by any change that Patrick would make and would leave her behind, takes his parents criticisms personally. And the way Ursula mentioned that she wasn’t a mother also was forlorn. Regret? Something definitely to talk about.

    • Shirah said

      Yes. Agree. The issue that stimulates me, in particular, is that I can imagine that Patrick’s parents see untapped potential in Patrick, in the way that only parents can see that, and as such, if done in a gentle manner, perhaps their prodding could be useful to Patrick. Perhaps his parents are trying to set a higher bar which scares Ursula as she has settled into a comfortable existence, without much challenge in her life. As with all families, the story has a different perspective, depending on who is telling it. Thanks.

  3. blankpaperblackpen said

    You wrote: “She feels them to be ”abusive” to Patrick, since they sometimes comment on his life’s choices. “I feel like a feral cat,” she says, “since I can’t really remember having parents, I am not sure what role they play in adult children’s lives.” ”
    The opposite of a feral cat – living free, but scrounging, is a housecat. I think she deeply wishes Patrick’s parents to be as involved in her choices and life as they are in her son’s. I think she feels like an outsider to love and Patrick’s relationship to his parents reminds her of this lack of this special kind of nurturing. It is just too painful for her to watch (subconsciously), but consciously she is angry. I think she either wasn’t deeply loved and cared for by her parents or at least didn’t feel it. She is only 41, and says she doesn’t remember having parents, but they died when she was 16, not 6. I believe it is possible she has never allowed herself to grieve and rage about being uncared for and abandoned. A feral cat looking into windows at housecats on the laps of caring, nurturing people.
    Interesting to me…Thank you, Shirah!

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