How do you choose the life you're going to live? Were you someone who did what you were told? Who did what was expected of you? Or did you always strike out on your own path, making your own way in life?
I was one of those first kind of people. I was, according to all accounts, a well-behaved, compliant little girl. I did what I was told, and did what was expected of me. I worried and felt guilty when I didn't. I thought my parents knew best, and could always be depended upon for help and the answers to problems.
Today, I've just said goodbye after a visit with two parents who I thought I loved more than anything and who could do no wrong--who always had my back. Then, something happened--I'll call it the yucky stuff for now. I don't want to write about that now, but something happened that caused me to be profoundly disappointed in these two people--in their conduct and, sadly, in their character.
When I was about to turn 30, I had realized that I was never going to live my own life if I didn't start living it already. I moved halfway across the country and had my babies. At first, I felt guilty for being so far from my family. Then, I realized what freedom the act of moving had granted me. I could figure out what kind of mom to be and what kind of life to live without anyone standing by my shoulder asking me if that's really what I should do or warning me about the pitfalls of the choice I was about to make. But still, those parents had a hold on me. They'd come to visit and make comments about how I was caring for my kids and those comments would stay in my head long after the visit ended. I continued to question myself and my ability to raise my kids well.
After years of trying to resolve the hurt that stemmed from the yucky stuff, I've realized these parents can, in fact, do wrong. They don't always have my back--sometimes the only back they have is their own. That sucks. Somewhere on the other side of 40, I've now realized the sadness that comes with figuring out that the people who raised you are capable of tremendous failure. My parents took care of my physical needs--I never lacked for food or clothing--but in other ways, they have shown a weakness of character that I didn't know was possible as a child.
With three children of my own, I have made some decisions about how to live my own life from here on out. One of them is that I will always fight for my children, no matter who the opponent happens to be. I've seen one parent give up the fight for his own child because he couldn't face failing at a second marriage. That child is grown, but inside she's just as lost and lonely as a small girl could ever be. The thought of one of my children feeling that way makes me want to claw something--the walls, maybe, like a cat. I don't care who makes the child feel that way--it ain't right and whoever did it should answer for it, even if it's the other parent.
The second decision is that I have to put character first. I want my children to see that I will make the right decision because it is right--whatever my own needs and self-interests happen to be. Another parent gave up her relationship to both her children because she didn't want to be "selfish." In truth, she didn't know how to talk to us or support us in any way, and when we drifted away, she let us. We have a third parent who is a stepparent, but always insisted we were her children. Turns out we're not. We thought that meant we'd be loved and valued as much as her children, but, turns out we're not. I see her fake her way through interactions with me and wonder if it's always been thus.
You might wonder, why do I associate with any of these people? Why let them in my life at all? Well, the answer is that they are all wildly in love with my children, their grandchildren. Two parents had already established relationships with them before the yucky stuff happened, and the third has worked hard to earn my trust and therefore an entrance back into my life. My problems with these people are my problems, not my kids'. All my kids know is that they have grandparents who love them--and that's all they need to know, at least for now.
As for me, I watch the choices these parents have made, and learn from them. One gift they've given me is the freedom to choose my own life. I no longer trust their choices, so I don't have to rely on those any longer or use them as a model to follow for my own life. At last, at this late date, I can have a teenage rebellion and do whatever the hell I want to do. It doesn't matter what they think or what they say. Their opinions no longer count. Their advice no longer matters. I can choose my own path. There is deep sadness in this realization, but a tiny spark of white-hot joy as well. I have to slog through the sadness, but I can hold onto the spark at the same time.
My best, purest hope is to be genuine with my kids. Genuinely loving, honest, and supportive--no matter what that looks like at times. If I'm really there with them--in the joy, in the shit, whatever it is--if I'm in it with them when it happens, maybe that will be enough. I don't have a path to follow, but I have to make a choice, and that feels like the right one.