It’s a time for new beginnings, guys. It’s back to school for all the kiddos, as evidenced by the cavalcade of pictures and heartfelt posts on my Facebook feed this week. The week after Labour Day signifies the unofficial end of summer, the beginning of the new school year, and really, the beginning of a new chapter for many of us. For me, this week marks the kick-off of my workplace United Way campaign, in which I’m heavily involved and for which I have many responsibilities. Choir starts up again for the fall term! I’m excited to sing with my sisters again after a three month break. There are other volunteer commitments I’ve made for various things and events this month, and oh, the birthdays! There are SO many birthdays coming up (including mine!!!!). It’s very exciting. And there’s also the whole I’m-in-a-new-job-and-things-are-getting-really-busy-and-I-want-to-do-an-excellent-job-at-everything-and-the-learning-curve-is-sharp-so-I’m-constantly-on-my-toes-which-is-wonderful-but-also-intense thing that is happening these days. So, there’s a lot going on.
Because of all of the things I have on my plate, especially this month, and in the coming months, I decided a little preemptive rest and relaxation would be in order. So, I packed a bag and headed north (east) for the long weekend and spent it with my family in Peterborough.
I love visiting home. My parents still live in the big, drafty house I grew up in. I don’t know if it’s the beautiful scenery, the wide open spaces with lots of green trees and grass, the fresh air, the dark streets and quiet neighbourhood that allows me to sleep so well at night, the big old house with the familiar smells and sounds, or the comfort of just being with my parents, but I always feel a certain serenity when I’m home. It’s kind of magical, actually.
I genuinely love hanging out with my parents. One thing that I am deeply aware of is that I have much different conversations with my parents now than I did when I was younger. You know that thing that happens, when you become an adult, and you start to see your parents as people instead of just Mom and Dad? That’s been happening for a long time now with me, but I find as I get older (and particularly as they age), this has become more and more acute. I have such a deep and abiding love for my parents, but also a keener understanding of who they are as individuals, as partners to each other, and as parents to me and my siblings. It’s as if every time I spend a few days with them, I learn something new about them. Sometimes it’s intentional, because I ask a gazillion questions and actively try to soak up information and get them to tell stories, even if I’ve heard them a thousand times (which, many of them, I have). And sometimes it’s completely spontaneous and even subliminal. But every time I spend a weekend at home with them, I come away with a new and different understanding of who they are and it makes me think more about who I am which of course, prompts me to look at the whole family dynamic differently.
My parents are getting older. As is the case for all humans and living things, I realize, but there’s something about seeing your parents, people so close to you, so integral to who you have become, turn into senior citizens seemingly before your eyes. Of course, it hasn’t been all at once. These things happen over time, but occasionally you see it for what it is – in a glimpse, a flash, really – that your memories of the parents of your childhood and young adulthood have become interwoven with the reality of their ages now, and it’s like all this time you’ve been looking at your parents through a slightly distorted lens, one that belied their true age and stage of life. Perhaps it’s denial, perhaps it’s honest and unintentional perceived arrested development, but the truth is, it can be a little startling in those brief moments. Those moments when the lens becomes focused and you’re looking at your parents for the (insert actual age) year olds they are. It’s quite a shocking dose of reality. At least, it is for me.
One of the things that has become apparent to me over the last several years is how important forgiveness is when it comes to the relationships we have with our parents. When it comes down to it, in my personal opinion, I believe it is one of our jobs, as adults, to forgive our parents for whatever wrongdoings we may think they have committed against us. Or more precisely, the perceived wrongdoings we think they have committed. Now, I’m not saying that anyone has an obligation to forgive truly heinous acts of abuse, neglect, cruelty or any form of maliciousness. I’m talking about those incidents in your life, perhaps when, at the time, you felt like your parents were letting you down, or they weren’t giving you what you needed emotionally, or they handled a particular situation in a way that you didn’t agree with (then, or even now, looking back on it). For all those times they frustrated you, when you felt they were being too strict, or maybe too lenient with a sibling by comparison, or dismissive, or whatever the case is – these are the things for which, now that we’re grown-ups, I think we are required to forgive our parents.
Many of us (not me, but lots of people in my life) are parents now. And for those of you who are, you know better than anyone, that as a parent, you do the best you can with what you know (and have) at the time. And when you know better, you do better. Parenting is tricky, and hard and confusing. There’s no handbook. Kids don’t come with a manual. And when they had you, your parents were only armed with the knowledge and ability instilled in them by their parents, and their parents’ parents (and so on and so on), as well as with their (relatively limited) life experience. As they got older, they grew and changed both as people, but also and importantly, as parents. They didn’t have it all figured out. No one does! Ever. I believe we evolve until the day we die.
At a certain point in adulthood, I believe we all reach a kind of threshold where we have to take responsibility for who we have or want to become. I mean, of course, we’re shaped and influenced and informed by our upbringing, which has everything to do with our parents, but ultimately, we are individuals and in order to really figure out who we are and who we want to be, it is actually very necessary to start looking at our parents objectively.
For a period in my young adulthood, I felt like my parents didn’t get me, that they treated me so very differently than my siblings, that they ignored my emotional needs and were not supportive and generally dismissive of me. I would get so frustrated trying to talk to them about what was going on in my life, and then get offended and hurt when they didn’t say what I expected or hoped they would say. I thought that my mom being critical of me was because I couldn’t do anything right in her eyes, and that my dad being hard on me was about me making mistakes. But it really wasn’t about me at all. It had more to do with their own “stuff.” But parents aren’t supposed to have “stuff,” right?
Once I started to see my parents as actual people instead of as an extension of me, like some sort of third arm or something, it all started to make sense. I began to ask questions and learn more about their stories and upbringings and how their parents parented them (my beloved grandparents, who, let’s face it, I had unintentionally idolized in my youth), and I started to understand why they are the way they are and why they may have said or done the things they did in parenting me. I could see things from their perspective, which, to be honest, I hadn’t ever really considered before. They also have four children, so sometimes, as much as it was just shitty luck of the draw; I wasn’t the most important kid to be focusing on at the time. But I couldn’t see that then. Also, there were times when I was certainly being an asshole – a lot of those times when I felt dismissed or criticized and oh so offended are equally on me.
It’s important to note, that forgiveness is really for the benefit of the one doing the forgiving, not for the one being forgiven. I think a lot of people get that twisted. There is a freedom in forgiving, an unshackling of metaphoric chains. They may not even know they are being forgiven for anything. And that’s sort of the point. But what, exactly is forgiveness anyway? What does it look like? What does it mean? Forgiveness is letting go of the hope that it could have been any different. Let that sink in for a minute. There’s a lot to unpack in that little statement. What is it that we hang onto that stops us from moving on from something, from letting something go? It’s the thought that it should have been different, we wish it was were different, it shouldn’t have happened that way or it was wrong, or hurtful, or whatever. The key here is that idea of hope. But, here’s the thing, guys. You can’t hope for something in the past, time just doesn’t work that way. That’s why forgiveness is so powerful for the one doing the forgiving – letting go of hope for something you cannot change is empowering. It frees up your heart and your soul to live in the present and reserve your hope for the future.
I’ll say it again – forgiveness is letting go of the hope that it could have been any different. That gem of a phrase is from none other than the Mighty Oprah herself (or as I lovingly refer to her, Opes). I love it so much, it resonates SO strongly with me, that I wrote it down and look at it every day. It’s magnet-ed to my fridge, right under a recipe for scalloped potatoes.
People are flawed, complex and beautiful creatures. And you know what? Our parents are people. I know that seems like an obvious statement, but I’m telling you, unless you’ve really thought about it, or done the work, as my girl Iyanla says, it really does take a conscious effort to understand your parents as people who have their own individual wants and needs, hopes, fears and regrets. All I’m saying is don’t hold their faults against them. They did the best they could with what they knew (and had) at the time. And when they knew better, they did better.
I think my parents did (and are still doing) an exceptional job. They’ve raised four pretty awesome people, if I do say so myself! And they have a loving, strong and truly venerable marriage and partnership of almost 45 years. Everything they have done in their life together has been for each other and their family.
On the weekend, when we were all sitting around on the deck after dinner, talking and laughing, I was watching my parents. They were part of the conversation, but more than that, they were watching all of us, their kids, their babies, talk and laugh and genuinely enjoy each other’s company. I could see it in their faces – they were happy and they were proud. And I thought to myself, what an accomplishment! My parents have done the hardest job on the planet – they have raised four healthy, relatively well-adjusted, loving, caring, empathetic, hard-working, funny, smart, independent and self-aware humans. And for that, I love them deeply, I respect them immensely, and I thank them immeasurably.