I used to be angry at my parents. As regular readers will know, when I started forging my own way while in college my parents responded in a way that completely ruined our relationship and sent me into therapy. They caused me incredible pain and treated me in ways no parent should treat their newly adult child. They forced me to choose between my family and my freedom. And for a while, I was angry—and I had good right to be angry! But I’m not angry anymore.
People are fallible, and my parents are people too. They messed up and mishandled the entire situation, but then, I think they’ve probably realized that themselves by now. I was their first child, the first to graduate and leave. When I started forming my own beliefs differently from theirs, they were scared, and in their fright they lashed out, their anger laced through with fear.
Our relationship in the five years since that time hasn’t been what I might want it to be, but then, we have actually had a relationship. That was something I was not sure at one point that we would ever have again. During one recent visit I insinuated as an offhand remark in the midst of a conversation that Sean and I may be done having children, now that we have two. My mother’s face took on a look of horror and dismay and she opened her mouth to lecture me—and then she shut it. This can’t be much easier for her than it is for me, but she is trying. And I know—I know—that that takes effort on her part. She told me the other day that after reading a recent article by the Pearls on the importance of learning alongside your children she had begun to accept my differences in parenting style, and to see that there is more than one way to raise children well. She told me I was a good mother. I wanted to cry.
As for my father, one of his hobbies is woodworking, and he has made us a good number of things for us as a family and for Sally specifically. I remember the first time he held Sally, his first grandchild. He looked pained, and he was stiff. Our trouble was still very recent, and the wounds were very raw. It was like he didn’t know what to do with himself. But now, he hoists Bobby up and takes him on adventures. Sally peppers him with “grandpa! grandpa!” and he responds with a smile. Something is still broken between us. We used to talk all the time, my dad and I, about politics, the news, religion, and our hopes and dreams for the future. We don’t, now. It hurts too much. Our talk is limited to what’s for breakfast, who is going to take the kids out to the lake to swim, or what we’re doing for Christmas.
I have so many beautiful memories from my childhood. Memories of my dad reading aloud to us late into the night while we built with legos, or playing board games with us while my mom cooked up a late night snack. Memories of baking with my mother, allowed to lick the beater or help add the ingredients, and of mom reading books aloud to the smaller children, or to the middle ones during the afternoon. My father would include us children in his various carpentry projects, allowing us to hold the nails or check is measurements. We grew up in the country, with a lake for swimming and gardens flush with tomatoes and strawberries.
I ask myself again and again what happened. I don’t have a full answer to that, but I do have some idea. When my parents began homeschooling, they were influenced by a variety of Christian homeschooling leaders, and in the process they were sold some really toxic beliefs. At the heart was the idea that they could control their children’s outcomes by controlling their current surroundings. What they didn’t understand is that it doesn’t work like that. Children are wildcards, and they grow up and leave and form their own ideas and live their own lives. Regardless, these ideas created a perfect storm, and that storm consumed both my parents and myself.
I’m not angry anymore. I’m simply wistful. I wish my parents could accept me rather than just tolerate me. I wish my parents could be proud of me. I can imagine a different story for my family, one characterized by the acceptance and even valuing of difference, disagreement, and diversity. Sometimes I long for that story so strongly that I am moved to tears. I am bothered—and tantalized—by what could have been. But it’s worse than that, because I can imagine not just a different past for my family but also a different future. And it’s there, so close, and yet out of my reach. Sometimes I want it so badly that it hurts.
And so I’m sitting here, typing away at my keyboard, tears streaming down my face. I’m not angry anymore. I hurt, and I love, and I want.
Those who come to my blog generally have one of two reactions to my writing. Some of them tell me that I am bitter and resentful of my family. Others tell me that they are amazed at how much love I obviously have for my family. I’d like to think that when my parents find my blog, someday, they will fall into the latter camp. I’d like to think that if they could read my blog, maybe—maybe—we could again have the relationship that I so want. And yet, somewhere inside of me, I am afraid that if they read my blog it will be the undoing of what we have been building little by little and step by step. And so I remain silent.