As well-intentioned as they were, my parents (like all of yours) fell short in guiding me into adulthood. They’re not perfect and with age you come to understand that. I’ve even realized that other kids would’ve thrived better under my parents. If I have kids of my own, it’s likely I’ll mess up too.
Having said that, there’s some things that I had to learn and I also tried to teach them.
1. How to heal
Ironically, this begins with my mom’s stellar advice to me when I was a teenager to journal how I felt about things in life. I’m one of those introverts where writing out my feelings or talking to others helps me to see/hear if my thoughts and feelings are accurate. I should do it more often but when I do, things get cleared up pretty easily. Hell, writing is what I do for a living!
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. There was trauma I suffered in childhood that writing couldn’t fix. To heal, I had to go within. I had to feel the pain that I had been running away from for years.
For some people, this is difficult because if they feel, they may spiral. Journaling and talking with others works very well for people who get stuck in emotional tailspins. I’m just a guy who does well with both.
I’d been pretty introspective up until 24, but when introspection was getting me nowhere, it shoved my face to my emotion and told me, “Look.” So I did. It terrified me for less than 3 seconds. I then paced my room in disbelief and joy, realizing that I’d finally understood what people meant when they said “face your fear”. On one hand, you should go do that thing you’re scared of doing. On the other hand, the thing you fear is fear itself. If you face the fear or whatever difficult emotion you’re running from, you’ll set yourself free.
I’ve offered this advice to one parent on numerous occasions and I think they tried it once or twice with excellent results. But people forget. I do too. Then I get stuck and remember, “Oh, right. I’m still mad because I haven’t let myself be mad. I’m resisting it.” Then I do it and everything gets better.
2. Do not chase achievement
This one is a bit tricky. My mom definitely couldn’t teach me this. I think my dad could’ve taught me this but he wouldn’t dare do it out of the fear that I’d misinterpret it. I think. Truth is, I’ve seen him chase achievement but I don’t think he always did.
What do I mean by “don’t chase achievement?” I mean that there’s something you’re overlooking when you’re trying to be somebody and collect accolades. The thing you’re overlooking is the work itself.
If I put all my focus on scholarships, grades and getting the most attractive girls, I probably won’t get any of those things. Even if I did, I wouldn’t be happy. Why? Because the joy in life never came from the stuff. It came from full attention on the task at hand and following your personal values.
Take it from me, being future-oriented sucks. You’re anxious and in your head all the time. When you’re in this state, do you really think you can perform at optimum levels of talent?
Furthermore, when you’re doing something for fun and not taking it seriously, it’s tremendously easy and you feel great. But tack on a goal with someone who is all about future attainment, that thing you love will soon turn into something you despise.
Which sounds better to you? A life where you enjoy what you do but never achieve greatness or a life where you achieve greatness but it was doom and gloom getting there? Genuinely, if you think option two is better, I’m worried for you.
Both my parents have jobs they enjoy but there are points where I see them start to get short with each other, me and my sister. Eventually, it’ll be revealed that they’re stressed about something in the future that if all goes well, will make them look good in the eyes of others. I learnt my perfectionism from them and it’s difficult to get them to see that as the problem.
3. Giving is not about what you can get in return
Deep down, they probably know this. I think we all do, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen my parents demonstrate this.
One parent is pretty selfish. They put themselves first virtually all the time. They always think they’re right and take certain liberties that cause problems for the rest of the family. The idea that someone could love themselves too much could be personified by this parent. Too bad I don’t believe that. The truth is, it’s just bad upbringing.
If you’re socialized to be entitled, this is what you will be. People are just extensions of you, ready to fulfil your will. This parent treats people who can get them what they want with such a warmth, it makes people think they’re actually selfless.
The other parent is very giving and is beloved by many for their service. Too bad it’s a smokescreen for a self-image that is worried about never being good enough. And when they give of themselves and do not receive what they expect to receive in return, there is violence.
This too is a selfishness but it’s born out of pressure; the pressure to be great. Greatness involves many things, such as being an obedient child, getting good grades and being a titan of your industry. There is no room for self-expression if it goes against “greatness”.
Naturally, such a person would cry out for complete acceptance and safety. People are supposed to fulfil this. They aren’t extensions of you, but you trade love for love. Unfortunately, you aren’t going to match with someone that can do this trade until the day you die. You’re going to match with someone who seems like they can and then introduce a selfishness that might actually make you physically ill.
It’s a common dynamic in many relationships. I’ve seen it among friends in their relationships and in their parents. Hilariously, we fall into the same trap, but it’s only hilarious if we realize it and get out. Else, it’s a pretty touchy subject.
What I tell this parent when they call me complaining about how selfish the other is, is that you can’t force them to be altruistic. Moreover, you are being selfish too. You keep expecting that the other will give to you the way you give to them. You can’t be giving in order to get. Moreover still, you have several people who give to you. Why are you so hung-up on getting it here?
Don’t get me wrong, you’re supposed to be supported by your spouse. But at what point do you accept this person as they are? The moment you do that, anytime you give will truly be from a place of kindness, not expectation. And if you don’t give, you won’t feel bad about not doing it.
All attempts to communicate to the other parent to be genuinely selfless has been an epic fail. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, especially if they don’t see the point in learning them.
It’s kind of funny. Now that I’ve finished writing, I can see that my parents actually did teach me these things — in a roundabout way, in spite of themselves. I learnt from my own experiences but I also learnt these things from their mistakes.
I suppose they couldn’t teach me everything in the normal way they taught me other vital life lessons. For what it’s worth, I appreciate them but I also know that these three things they couldn’t teach me are also a cross for me to bear just like me being prone to asthma and hypertension. Thankfully, I see the importance in these lessons, and I just have to put them into practise.
And if I have kids, hopefully I’m not too far gone to learn the lessons they have for me.