Merle Haggard wrote a song called “Mama Tried”. While mama in the song isn’t called out for doing anything particularly pernicious, I think most of us have things we hold on to from our childhood and carry as wounds, until we slowly learn to psychologically release our parents from the bondage of perfection.
In my book club last weekend we reviewed a memoir called “Educated”. I remarked during our discussion that I found the part where her mom recognized and apologized for her misgivings particularly poignant and pivotal in the daughter’s ability to heal and move on. It was as though in that moment, the daughter realized that although things weren’t perfect, mama tried. In fact, she did her best. Like most of our parents.
I’ve noticed a trend discussed frequently that whatever one’s parents did that the child found egregious, the child when he or she becomes a parent will tend to swing the pendulum so far the other direction that their child will wind up resenting that as well. Like a game of generational ping pong, the ball goes back and forth. If we’re lucky, each generation, the pendulum swings ever a little more towards center.
Our parents best can look like a lot of different things. Including downright not good at all. How do we reconcile their mishaps with the notion that they did their best? I think surely love and understanding has a lot to do with it.
When we’re little, our parents seem like Gods. They provide everything we need to survive and navigate a big and scary world. And they dictate every single thing we’re able to do and forbidden from doing. In a sense, like a God, we worship them. They seem infallible.
Until we come to a certain age and level of independence. Suddenly they may seem more like Fallen Angels. We can become critical and judgmental of their every move, not yet possessing enough wisdom and experience to realize that we ourselves are likewise imperfect.
Eventually, if we’re lucky, we realize that our parents are, in fact, fellow human beings. Sharing the same life experience as we, sharing the same joys and miseries. From this place we can begin a true adult relationship with them.
We can genuinely forgive the hurts of our youth, we can begin to heal the cycles of dysfunction that plague our family generation after generation. We can communicate candidly with them. We can learn from them. We can be there for them. And once again genuinely allow them to be there for us.
The most precious gift we have is that of time. Which is promised to no one. As we age, so too do our parents. So take the time to find a way to enjoy them now before it’s too late. Look for the common ground instead of the dividing lines.
Find something you both like to do and go do it together. If you can’t think of anything, go share a meal. Or cook one together. Use healthy boundaries to limit conversations or subjects that are counter-productive. Take an interest in asking about what’s going on with them. Include other family members or friends in the activities. And remember: Mama tried.
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