Growing Up is Hard Work

A friend and I were talking last night about adolescence.  We all follow the examples our family role models give us in childhood, and we all decide which examples to continue following and which to discard at some point when we “grow up.”  My friend said she had a “screw you” attitude in her 30’s when she did that work.  My parents were enormously supportive and supported me financially through college.  Despite that, however, my adolescence was so tumultuous so early, I pressed the eject button (boarding school) at 15.  I told my friend that as a mother, I wondered how to prepare my daughter to make those decisions with hopefully less volatility than I had experienced.  She told me I should write a blog post about it, so here it goes.

My daughter was a prolific little writer at a young age.  By kindergarten, she was capturing observations and ideas, albeit with atrocious almost-phonetic spelling.  We didn’t (and still don’t) have cable or other TV service, but we did have an old TV hooked up to a VHS player (remember those?).  Watching the occasional Disney program was possible and kind of a treat for her.  In exchange for that treat, I asked her to do a 3-part written exercise.   The first part was choosing a character and writing five observations about the character’s behavior.  The second part was indicating for each of the five observations whether that character liked that quality about himself.  The third part was indicating whether she would want that quality for herself.  We did this repeatedly for years (until she became a better negotiator), and her observations were just sublime and very, very cute.  My hope was to inoculate her at an early age against the ravages the media project onto young girls.  If she had a deeply rooted habit of filtering what she saw in the media, then perhaps she wouldn’t indiscriminately ingest or emulate whatever she saw on-screen.

We also routinely undertook this 3-part exercise focusing on various family members, and none more often than me, her most influential role model.  She got bored of making observations about me, but she was pretty good at ginning up new material, nonetheless.  My hope here was that she would gain proficiency in distinguishing specific behaviors and know on a deep level that she was free to make choices about her own behaviors.  To be just a little bit more honest about it, I hoped she would be able to hate things about me without hating me entirely.

That, my friends, is the grand experiment.  She is 13 now, and  I don’t have an objective vantage point from which to assess whether the media inoculation or individuation preparation is working.  I marvel every day at the exquisite creature she is becoming, though.  What I admire most is how comfortable she is in her own skin.  She must have inherited those genes from her father.  To one acutely uncomfortable until her 30’s, it’s alien, astounding and the most outlandish blessing.  Whether it’s her father’s genes or somehow traces back to those early childhood exercises, she seems ready for the next stage in her life.  You’ll have to check back with me in another five years to see how the experiment panned out.

Join the conversation.  What helped you find your individual identity?

Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.

When Parents Won’t Forgive

A woman struggling with forgiveness made a profound impression on me once.  I met her in a reconciliation workshop, and her struggle was with her mother.  Although her mother was in her 90’s, she refused to forgive her daughter for hurtful episodes in adolescence.  The daughter, elderly herself, had expressed sincere remorse and asked for her mother’s forgiveness repeatedly through the decades, but her mother refused.

Recent posts examined reasons for clinging to resentment rather than choosing to forgive.  One reason mentioned is thinking I need to keep someone who did me wrong in my life somehow, and if the relationship is badly damaged, my anger and resentment may feel like the only thing left between us.  Have you ever had a romantic relationship that intellectually you knew was over even though your heart still ached for intimacy?

That doesn’t describe the woman’s relationship with her mother, but it may come closer than it appears at first glance.  Adolescence is an exquisite time in parent-child relationships.  Parents embrace their children as the young adults they are becoming, and simultaneously their children still depend on them heavily.  It makes for an intense kind of intimacy.  The challenges of adolescence only amplify the intensity.  One could make the case that it is the most challenging and most intense stage of relating in a parent and child’s entire lifetimes.

And where does it go from there?  Adolescents grow up.  Maybe they move away for school or a job.  They become independent emotionally and financially.  They find partners and perhaps start their own families.  Along the way, emotional bonds to parents make way for stronger emotional ties to new people in their adult lives.  A parent who aches for intimacy and intensity with her long grown child might cling to resentment, as misguided and destructive as it sounds, because it is the strongest connection back to a more intimate time that she can lay her hands on.

What can the adult child do about it?  Not much.  A post a year ago examined Jewish wisdom for seeking forgiveness, but ultimately, forgiveness is at the sole discretion of the one holding the resentment.   The unforgiven child has choices, too.  Setting appropriate boundaries is healing.  The boundaries may inject more emotional distance, but they may also allow the adult child be present to the parent’s angst.  Recognizing that the resentment is rooted in intense desire—not rejection—may open a new window of compassion on a parent living in an angry past.  That awareness doesn’t compel anyone to endure to an occasional vituperative rant, but it does allow one to see the rant for what it is and to cherish the holy spark of love buried deep in it.

Join the conversation.  Have you ever found a holy spark buried deep inside a painful episode?

Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.