I thought a lot about how I was going to raise a family long before I had one. Most of the ideas I had were reactionary; I was going to raise my kids differently than my parents raised me! As a young woman, I was resentful towards my parents and blamed them for all of my insecurities & issues. I thought they were critical and uncompromising. Even mean spirited at times. From a young age, they seemed to disapprove of everything about me!
Of course, I was born a rebel. My mother likes to say that my first word was "why?". And the standard reply, "because I said so", was a bitter pill that I could not choke down without struggle! It couldn't have been easy for my middle class, conventional parents to handle a first born child who hated shoes from day one & preferred a yellow chenille bedspread, wrapped sari style, to ANY real clothing. That is, until I became a teenager & I discovered vintage clothing and thrift stores! Oh the embarrassments that ensued (it was the 80’s...enough said)! "Why can't you dress like a normal person?!" was often followed by, "You look ridiculous". Those statements really hurt. "Why does it matter so much, what I wear? Why can't you just accept me for me?"
As a young woman, what I failed to recall about my childhood was that I was rarely made to change my outfit or denied the abstract painting or yoga class I so desperately wanted to take. I flitted thorough hobbies and often lost interest before the course I was taking was finished. That had to be frustrating for them! Yes, my parents were often negative and voiced their opinions freely, but in truth, they rarely stopped me from doing what I wanted to do and they financed most of it. Their words were often hurtful, but their actions...their actions were accepting. Confusing? Yes! And it was so easy to be blinded by the negative! And yet, even in those teen years when I hated them because I felt so rejected, I knew that I was safe in this world because they would always be there for me. How could I know that and still feel so wounded? At the time, I doubt I would have been able to acknowledge it consciously. It wasn't a head knowing, it was a heart knowing. If you understand what I mean by that, then you have surely felt it. If you don't, my wish is that you will be blessed to know it in your own life very soon.
It's an amazing thing to know that someone will always have your back. To know that you are loved so completely that you know in the depths of your soul that you will never be alone in this world. I've met an awful lot of people who can't say they have that, who can't even begin to understand what that feels like. I know I am blessed.
In many ways I've raised my kids in reaction to how my parents raised me, unconventional rebel that I am. We're a family of free thinking unschoolers. Artists & hippies. My husband is offended if someone calls him a liberal, (because he's a radical). None of us ever wear shoes if we don't have to. My youngest son, Aiden, dyed his hair for the first time when he was 6 and he grew it long when he was 9. He has a unique sense of fashion, not unlike his mom (and, not unlike my mom, his choices sometimes make me cringe!). He's a risk taker and tortures my worried mother heart with his skateboarding & bmx biking! My oldest son, Ari, has a more quiet nature, my introspective, artistic photographer. I often wish he would be a little more daring in life (and wear better fitting jeans). Both my boys curse more than I'm comfortable with and they can't seem to put a toilet seat down to save their souls! Just like my parents, I don't always like my kids' choices and sometimes I ache with worry over assumed outcomes. But they are good kids; kind-hearted and compassionate young men who I am honored to parent.
I don't like to argue and I try to choose my battles wisely (at least I think I do, my kids might tell you otherwise!) But, when I feel I need to give my opinion, I try to do it as gently as possible, with the understanding that it's simply that, my opinion. And when I have to "lay down the law", I try to be compassionate, even when they badger me with “why” over & over again: "I know you really like this outfit but it isn't appropriate to wear cut offs and cowboy boots to your aunts wedding. You only have to wear the long pants for 3 hours and then I promise you can put the cut offs back on." Or "I know you really want to travel across the country with that awesome bunch of skateboarders but you're only 14 and I feel that's too young for you to be traipsing around the country without me. I'm not going to discuss it any more at this time. If you're still interested in a few years, we can discuss it again when you're 17". I never liked being criticized by my parents and I try not to criticize my kids (or anyone else for that matter). That isn't to say that I'm not opinionated! I just acknowledge that, in most things, my opinion is no more valid than anyone else’s.
Do I wish my parents had been less critical? Yes. Would it have made a difference? Who knows! Fact of the matter is, I like who I turned out to be and I have my parents to thank for that. I reacted to their criticism by working hard in my own life towards a nonjudgmental attitude. I try to focus on the commonalities I have with others, instead of focusing on the differences between us. I think I am a better person because of that.
My parents weren't perfect (goodness knows, none of us are) but they did their best. Often harsh and sometimes hurtful, but just below that murky cloud of disapproval, was an ocean of true, unconditional love. That is the legacy I choose to acknowledge and pass on. And even before I got around to figuring it all out, that is the foundation that I built my life on.
Me and my Dad
Mom and me