Most people would agree that it is a basic responsibility of parents to provide food and security for their children, who are expected to respect them and take care of them in the future in return. Jeanette Walls, who leads us through the ups and downs of her entire life in The Glass Castle, received neither food nor security from her mother, Rose Mary. One of the strongest emotions I felt while reading this book was one of hate and disgust towards Rose Mary. Society expects those who have children to provide for them, take care of them, and hopefully show them love. Rose Mary, however, does not seem to want to have any of those duties and burdens. Although she is referred to as “mom”, she acts more like an egotistic child than an actual mother figure.
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I never actually perceived Rose Mary as a mother; I saw her more like one of the kids who was much older than the rest. In many parts throughout the memoir, we can see that she was more immature than her children were. She never seemed to grasp the whole idea that parents were the kids’ role models, and instead acted like a spoiled adolescent herself. When Jeanette suggested that she could take care of children or the elderly in exchange for a decent place to live, she complained, arguing that she had “spent my life taking care of other people” and that “it’s time to take care of me” (307). Perhaps others can see why Rose Mary agitates me so much; she hardly even tries to take care of herself, as Jeanette pointed out shortly afterwards. How well could she possibly raise her children if she’s having a hard time getting her sluggish self off of the couch and go find work to support herself? There are many families out there that have a difficult time scraping by, but there are reasons as to why Jeanette’s childhood is so different from the ones of many others out there. Without proper food and shelter, parents can still raise their children fairly well by constantly showing and reminding them that they are loved and are given the feeling of security. Rose Mary, though, not only did not even attempt to earn a steady salary to support her family of six, but also spent what little they had on art supplies so she could work on her paintings that never made it big. She also constantly blamed her children for preventing her fantasy of being an artist from coming true, claiming that “she could have been a famous artist by now … if she hadn’t had children, and none of us appreciated her sacrifice” (225). I always felt as if her mother never, not once, tried to show that she cherished her children and cared about them. Instead, she would use them as scapegoats to blame the fact that she was a virtually unknown artist on, claiming that they were obstacles that blocked her way to make it big as an artist.
Even though she was capable of getting a job as a teacher, since she had a bachelor’s degree, she refused to get one for a large part of the memoir. When she did, she was incompetent of grading her own papers and has her children do it for her instead when she was so behind in her work that the principal threatened to fire her. It was as if Jeanette, Lori, and Brian were the parents who were helping their mother, or, in this case, the child, with her “homework assignments”, which were the papers that she had to grade. Like how moody four year olds would act when they didn’t want to go to school, “she’d throw a tantrum and refuse to go to work” at least once a week as her children would practically drag her out of bed and to work (236). Just noticing how roles of parents and children were switched in this family will immediately have the readers know how low Rose Mary’s mental age really is.
Another thing that angered me immensely is the fact that she never even seemed to notice that her children were starving more than half of their whole childhood. As a parent, wouldn’t it be necessary to notice your children’s needs and provide for them? Instead of buying food for her famished children, who she probably didn’t even notice were deprived of food, she’d go ahead and buy a giant chocolate bar and eat it under the covers as she gained unnecessary weight while her children were starving and were practically skeletons by then. While Jeanette dug through trash cans in school so that she could keep herself alive, what was Rose Mary even doing? Did she even notice that her children were practically slowly dying of starvation and malnourishment? If she did, she surely didn’t seem to care the least bit.
Since I believe that children are only expected to give back what her parents have given him or her heretofore, I do not think that Jeanette owes Rose Mary anything, nor is there anything that she is obligated to do to improve her mother’s lifestyle. Rose Mary had always been a negative influence to her and never expressed any sort of love towards her children. She refused to work or to sell her property to support her family, even though she owned jewelry that she wore for her own self confidence and valuable land that she would not sell because it has been in the family for generations. Though writing her off would seem like the better choice, there was a sense of guilt that came from Jeanette when she first hid from her mom, hinting that abandoning her would be morally wrong, even though “morally wrong” was what described more than half of Rose Mary’s actions throughout the book. If she never supported her children when they were growing up, why should she receive anything from them?
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