For some reason, 24 seems like a lot of years to realize something. Granted, I wasn’t a cognitive human being for a couple there at the beginning, and I definitely wasn’t mature until the most recent few. But I think it has taken me far too long to realize that my parents aren’t perfect.
But I have realized it.
And I kind of like it.
Let me offer this important disclaimer: my parents are two of the most loving, inspirational, supportive people I’ve ever known. They’d take a bullet for me any day, and they have done the very best they knew how. This was my experience with them though, and I do believe that every side to a story is important. Maybe this was my experience because I was the first, maybe it’s what they thought was right. Either way, this was my experience. And a part of my growth process is to realize all of it and write it out.
Another disclaimer: I’m not a parent.
My dad yelled. At every punishment opportunity in my young life, I can remember my dad yelling. I have vivid memories of my tear-soaked face looking up at him, making eye contact with his angry, hot eyes. If I talked back, if I burned the dinner rolls, if I started spinning the fishing pole too soon, if I didn’t clean my room, I got yelled at. And oh, the yelling. My dad holds a Bachelor of Arts in Vocal Performance. The dude’s got lungs. The breadth of his voice combined with the craftiness of his rhetoric was spellbinding in a way that made me feel very small. His patience was short, and his words could crush me; they probably still could if he wanted them to. It is a power. A power that I believe he abused at times.
My dad always said, “Because I said so.” Another popular discipline tool was a four-word phrase that came crashing down with the inexorability of a freight train: “Because I said so.” The brevity of this sentence was destructible in the worst way that eliminated any options I had, any defense I wanted to give, and ended any conversation I needed to have.
These two behavior traits made several re-appearances throughout my adolescence. I think they were wrong, I think they were hurtful, I think I am slowly realizing the scars they left. I am not large in stature, but I am large in personality. I tend to not back down or shrivel up into myself. When my dad would yell, it made me shrink back into a blip of a person. When my dad would yell, I folded up into a ball of a little girl, who couldn’t put two words together in defense, let alone stick up for myself. Today, when someone yells at me, I do the exact same thing. I turn into that little girl who has no backbone; I am small all over again.
When my dad would tell me “because I said so” as an answer to just about every question I ever had, it instantaneously patronized me. He immediately gave me no answer, and took away my right to ask questions. So I stopped asking questions. This was a tragedy in my upbringing. Children come into the world without any idea of up from down. I realize that, as a parent, there are things that just cannot be explained. But there should never be a cement wall put up every time a child asks a question. Because soon they will learn not to ask questions, just like I did. And a life without questions makes no sense.
My mom is probably the most patient, kind woman on the planet. But because of her kindness, she rarely forces anything on her children. She never pushed me to work hard in school, probably because she didn’t want me to feel defined by my grades. She never poked or prodded her way into my personal life, probably because she didn’t want to seem overbearing. And she never taught me the awkward things about sex, my body, and what heartbreak can do to me, probably because it was painfully embarrassing to have to talk about.
By never pushing me in school, I did okay. Good in high school, a little less good in college. I got both degrees, I crossed both stages, but I definitely could have done better. I stood next to people who did better, at both ceremonies. And that was hard to swallow. I remember at the end of my sophomore year of college, trying to decide a major, and my mom told me, “Just pick an easy one so you can get your degree.” The lack of faith in my academic ability and the lack of push toward success really made me feel like I couldn’t do it. So I didn’t do it.
By never poking her way into my personal life, I learned how to keep things secret, relatively easily. She never knew when my first kiss happened, and I told her almost nothing about the things I talked about with my friends. My relationships with people, my after-school activities, even my growing faith were all mine and no one else’s. I have since discovered the beauty of sharing; the depth of love that can come from open, honest relationship with someone. But I do not have that with my mom. I still don’t open up to her, because sometimes I think, where on earth would I start? There is so much she doesn’t know. And it feels okay that way.
By never talking to me about sex, my body, or the depth of a heart break, I had to experience all three on my own. I realize that I am a woman with free will who chose her life, so I do not blame her for any of that. But my mom did not foster an environment that welcomed questions about any of that. So I didn’t learn until I was face down in a pool of emotional scars that maybe sleeping with someone who isn’t my husband (or at the very least, in a loving, committed relationship with me) is probably not the best of all ideas. I didn’t learn about sex, emotionally or physically. Up until I was too old to think so, I thought sex only required the removal of one person’s clothes; this is not okay. I did not understand why it was so “taboo”, or why we were being told to wait until marriage. Nobody told me why God created it – and as a sidebar, God created it to be hot, passionate, exciting, and fun, all in the context of marriage – I was only told it was basically the worst sin you could commit.
I have a friend who told me that her mom told her about sex at the age of 5, simply because she asked what it was. So her mom answered her, as elementary and purposeful as she could. And that was the beginning of her mom’s attempt to foster an environment that welcomed questions about the unknown. My friend grew up confident of the fact that she could ask her mom any and every question she needed to, and had no fear of dismissal; all questions were treated importantly. I have been blessed to have amazing females in my life since college, friends whom I can ask questions and get real answers. But how much different would my life be if my mom was the person that started the pattern of Godly influence over my life?
I am ever-learning the residue that has been left by my upbringing. Anyone would agree, these are not exactly condemnable offenses. I had great, loving parents. But a couple of these mistakes have rooted themselves deep in my heart. And I believe in the power that comes from self-reflection.
And let me tell you. These are things I will not carry into my children’s lives.
…and I realize that once I actually am a parent, I will think, “Man, I thought I knew everything back then.”
But isn’t that the beauty of life anyways?