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rachel sontag

rachel sontag

It was a change so sudden that no parent could have been prepared for its effects. From a happy, loving, affectionate, caring, appreciative member of the family to a daughter with episodes of sudden, frequent, hostile mood swings – sometimes lasting for a week - that came like a cannon blast and were entirely unpredictable. We remember when it started: the exact day.

Almost immediately, the high-school social scene became the primary focus of school. Within a few weeks, the normal, reasonable, everyday household rules (employed by most families to protect against anarchy) had become too much for Rachel to tolerate. Despite attempts to explain the rationale and despite our willingness to compromise if our decisions did not make sense, we watched as Rachel demonstrated her inability and unwillingness to understand the need for any type of structure.

In short time, Rachel became more daring and more detached. Willing to violate the values she had learned in earlier years, she now was willing to do almost anything to get her way – even if it meant altering facts, fabricating stories, or deceiving friends and their parents. Hurting those closest to her – grandmother, sister and parents – was not even a consideration.

And yet, despite what sounds like a constant hell, it was anything but. There were periods of complete normalcy – a return to the happy child of earlier years. When life’s normal pressures were set aside, things were great.

Unfortunately, life’s normal pressures are rarely set aside for long. Rachel’s ups and downs would continue, and creation of conflict appeared to be her destiny. Creating conflict became Rachel’s modus operandi. Learning quickly what worked and what did not work, Rachel would run to her Aunt and Uncle’s house with her claims of being a “victim” of unjust house rules. With no interest in contributing to or taking responsibility for the house she lived in, the family she lived with, or the guests who visited, it appeared to us that she really did not care.

Nevertheless, a normal life continued for us and Rachel’s sister. Although Rachel tried repeatedly, she was minimally successful in her determination to completely disrupt the family.

We expected both kids to share the house responsibilities. We knew, however, that despite her promises, Rachel would never do them. Demanding that she do her share would cause her to make promises she had no intention to keep. It would without doubt create conflict. Yet, not assigning responsibility was unfair to her sister and a bad message indicating that selfishness pays off. Rachel created conflict whenever she was at home, which is why life was so pleasant when she was away. One thing for sure, we both knew that when Rachel promised to do her share, she had no intention whatsoever of keeping to her word. 

Our standards included no gossip, no slander of others, do your chores, follow the curfew, etc. Rachel’s younger sister had no problem whatsoever. Trustworthy, responsible and a serious student, she came and went as she pleased. There were few if any rules. If she was past curfew, she would call, and we knew she was safe - and off she went to Boston with a scholarship.
Rachel became obsessed with something special, something she wanted, and something she was going to get come hell or high water. It was something no child should strive for and no child should attain. It is the story of Greek Mythology. The scenario comprised (1) a dad whose rules and standards were the only barriers to attaining her goal, (2) a mom who was manipulated and distressed by her daughter’s repeated (and fake) threats of suicide, (3) an Aunt and Uncle, J and A, who not only defended Rachel against her parents but who - because of their own unhappy relationship - even joined with Rachel to try to break up the family, (4) two cousins – D and J – who along with Rachel enjoyed their long hours of slandering of Rachel’s parents, (5) a full-scale effort - with no restraints - to split her parents, dissolve their marriage and fulfill Rachel’s dreams of living on Rush Street in a studio with her mother, and finally (6) a devastating final defeat for Rachel when her mother made it clear that dad and mom were the parents, that Rachel was the daughter, and that her parents were inseparable.

Rachel’s anger and unhappiness, as much as we could see it, was up and down. For us, life consisted mostly of working at satisfying jobs, helping the kids when they needed it, and appreciating the every day gifts with which we were blessed. Unfortunately, the same unhappiness that drove Rachel’s behavior also drove her Uncle A and Aunt J to side with Rachel in her attempts to break up our family. It is inconceivable that close relatives would invest their energies in trying to collapse a brother’s marriage - turning child against parents and spouse against spouse. 

They were almost successful, but they and Rachel failed. Rachel’s mom, nearing desperation – alone summoned the courage to make that fateful and final decision – the decision that guaranteed the marriage and secured a long happy relationship. Nevertheless, it was also the decision that brought forth venom from those who felt betrayed, not listened to, ignored, and who now would be forced to observe from the sidelines a wonderful relationship they could not destroy.

Rachel would not be living on Rush Street in a studio with her divorced mom. She had lost the battles. She had lost the war.  If only she could have understood and accepted this reality. Evidently, she could not, and creating conflict – whenever she thought it would be to her benefit – became second nature.  And yet, despite her outbursts and attempts to disrupt a rather peaceful and contented household, there were so many fabulous times - which included Rachel – that it was hard to recall the negative ones. Indeed, after high school - and when Rachel was living on her own - the house returned to its ancient boring, quiet atmosphere, and the memories of the good times all but erased those of conflict.

Creation of Conflict

Whenever at home, during high school, Rachel knew that life could be peaceful, enjoyable and free of conflict. And it was - whenever she wanted it to be that way. There were many periods when Rachel chose to enjoy the benefits of a safe secure home. All she had to do was what most other children her age were doing: Act decently! Her rules were no different than those of most other families. And when she chose to be civil, life for everyone was great. She knew very well what was expected of her, but she also knew how to cause chaos. The choices were hers.

So why did Rachel, who had all the comforts and responsible freedoms at home, instigate so many events that most children, themselves, would have found offensive, unproductive and distasteful?

  • Why when entrusted with taking care of the house, did she misplace the keys, use the windows without their screens as a door, not close the windows and leave the house vulnerable?
  • Why would she disappear without telling us where she was or when she would be home?
  • Why would she intentionally dress provocatively and cheaply when we went to religious services?
  • Why at the end of an unbelievably wonderful unblemished 8-day vacation cruise, would she disappear during the last night and not show up until the next day after every passenger had disembarked and the captain had become a nervous wreck?
  • Why 3 weeks before her college entrance exams, when Rachel’s dad was spending every evening after work studying with her to make sure she passed, did she suddenly and without explanation stop coming home and begin working at an evening pub as a waitress to have money for clothes and cosmetics?

Perhaps these are the usual pranks of teenagers. Perhaps these are the actions of a child who wants to be grounded in order to maintain her victim status. We ourselves have never been sure. The outcomes of these actions, however, did fulfill Rachel’s desire to disrupt the family structure and prove she was a victim of brutal parents.  And it worked very well.

  • To obtain a second semester at the Washington, D.C. Page School (one semester only is the policy) despite her terrible grades during the first semester, Rachel used our disciplinary actions for the intentional disappearing act on the cruise to convince her teachers of the terror awaiting her back home. By doing so, she deceived government teachers and deprived another worthy student of that unique experience in Washington. So convincing was she that the assistant principal advised us to read “People of the Lie” by M. Scott Peck, MD - a book about truly evil parents. In one chapter, parents give as a gift to their older son the same rifle that their younger son used to commit suicide. Of interest is the fact that we had already read the book and had 2 copies. It is a good book, but Chapter 5 – “Of Possession and Exorcism” – entailed a practice that at the time was a bit too expensive for us to afford. [Click]

Time and time again, Rachel achieved many of the things she wanted (or at least thought she wanted) by convincing others that she was a victim. Why she needed this status remains an enigma.

  • Rachel convinced the mother of an out-of-state girlfriend of the evil nature of her parents. The mother secretly offered to send Rachel her credit card so that she would have food and proper clothing.

Rachel the Folk Hero

  • Throughout high school – The “Period of Terror” - we remained fairly confident that Rachel eventually would be happy and successful when she found her niche outside the home. It was our job, however, to make sure she survived intact until that post-high school period arrived. Of the 4 high school years, Rachel lived at home for less than 3 years. Her junior year was spent in the Washington D.C. Page School and each summer she either traveled, went to camp or went on vacation with us. It is these 3 years at home that make up “The Period of Terror” from which she miraculously escaped. It is her heroic escape from the terror of her parents that makes Rachel a sort-of folk hero to all those who also were born into the slavery of demonic parents, who likewise suffered humiliating defeats at the hands of evil dads and moms, and who have been subjected to ignominious house rules designed to perpetuate and guarantee complete and absolute parental power - yet have lived to tell the story.
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