I want to talk about my mom for a minute.
I think, at some point, you reach a level in adulthood where you realize your parents were doing the best they could, and they still screwed you up. Now, there are some very obvious and notable exceptions to this. So obvious I would like to hope we live in a day and age where I don’t need to mention them, but I do. There are bad parents in the world. Really bad ones, and you don’t owe them what they never gave you. Because being a parent isn’t a right, it’s a responsibility, and anyone who doesn’t see that was never worthy of the honor to begin with.
But, for the rest of us, I think we have to admit our parents tried, but they still gave us a lot they never intended to. Hang-ups and heartbreaks, skewed ideas about the world they most likely got from their parents, and generally a lot that was what they were being told at the time was “good” parenting.
I have good parents, but they’re kids are a little screwed up, and as much as I’ve spent many years working through what I’ve been carrying since childhood, I know that, in the end, they did their best. I can appreciate that. God willing, one day I’ll have to figure out how to raise my kids, and there will be a lot I do because it’s what my parents did, and there will probably just as much I don’t do because it’s what my parents did.
All that to say, occasionally I’ll have a conversation with my parents where this comes up, and they ask me some variation of the question: “How badly did we screw up?” It’s always a little bit awkward because I’m tempted to reply, only half-sarcastically, “Oh, boy, where to start? Let me consult the list.”
I had one today, and it reminded me of something that I realized a long time ago. I’ve talked before about my “Good Child” tendencies. I was always the one who didn’t make waves, the one who didn’t get into trouble, the one who my parents could count on. The truth is I get that from my mom. My mom was, and still very much is, the good child in her family. She’s the second oldest and the oldest girl of five kids, and it was clear a long time ago from all the stories I’ve heard that she was the one her parents could count on.
I get a lot from my mom. My empathy, my cooking skills, but also my sense of self, and that’s not always been a good thing. Because the thing about “good” children is that they tend to give, all the time. So much so that it becomes habit. They’re the peacemakers, and they will bend over backwards to make, and keep, said peace. And how that usually plays out is that they tend to do what needs doing, what other people ask of them, even, and especially, when they don’t like doing it.
Even good children have their limits, of course, but we go a lot farther than most, and we rarely complain, even when we really should. I’ve spent years working that out of myself. Trying to break a lot of the habits I gained as a kid, learning to speak up for myself when I should. And it’s hard. There’s a lot I still do out of habit, but I’m committed to doing better. Because I’ve seen how it plays out.
I love my mom, but she is in her 60’s and still doesn’t know how to say “no” sometimes. I’m her son, and I have to tell her that she is allowed to not do something that makes her uncomfortable.
Because that’s a good enough reason. I’d like to think we lived in a day and age when that was so obvious it didn’t need saying, but it does.
If it makes you sick to your stomach to think about, you don’t have to do it.
If the only reason you’re doing it is because no one else wants to, maybe it doesn’t need doing.
If you can’t do it, you don’t need to feel bad about not doing it.
And most importantly: if respecting yourself and your needs by making good choices for yourself upsets someone, that is not your fault.
Those are hard lessons to learn, especially the last one. I’m still learning them in many ways. There are days I still have to remind myself that my own discomfort is reason enough not to do something, and there are days I still don’t believe it.
But I’m committed to the process, and I think my mom is too. Because she knows where I got my “good child”-ness from, and she knows where she got hers. But we’re both learning it doesn’t have to be that way.
We’re both learning that how we feel is reason enough
We are reason enough.