The Circle of Parenting

I stepped off a plane this morning at SFO, and as soon as the sunshine hit me, my body just oozed with pleasure– vomit-encrusted-pants-courtesy-of-Zoe’s-turbulence-sickness aside, cranky and hungry toddler aside, stress of trying to publish a book and other various timely emotional challenges aside.

And honestly, there just isn’t sunshine that strong. I am home.

I’ve spent a great deal of time critiquing the botched parenting job that my mom and dad made of me. Before I had Zoe, it was their mistakes I blogged about because I had little material in my own life to draw on (… that I was aware of, at least).

Basically, this is what drives people absolutely bonkers: I consider my parents primarily responsible for my depression and suicidal tendencies growing up.

This drives people so nuts because they THINK I also mean: my parents are responsible for my current happiness or lack thereof. My parents don’t care about me. My parents are stupid and unkind people. Every problem I face is my parents’ fault. I hate those guys.

Let’s be clear. I do NOT mean those things! Allow me to illustrate how far from the truth that is.

I’ve never lived in California. I grew up in a suburb of Maryland. My parents moved out here two years ago, when Zoe was born, and it is home by virtue of their presence. Ten minutes later Zoe was crawling all over my mom at baggage claim 12, detailing a long list of all the Indian foods my mom is compelled to cook for her while she’s here. Later in the day my mom took Zoe to a Hindu temple for the first time. We all knelt and prayed together, showed Zoe how to eat the food offering, pour milk on a statue, ring a bell, and pray in front of an oil lamp. At each juncture I gently teased out of my mom the explanations for these traditions that had been glossed over in my childhood and replaced with an exasperated, “Do it because I told you so.”

“Zoe, we’re giving the god a bath. He likes to have milk baths, just like you have water baths. You know how at church we take the sacrament? You eat the bread and drink the water? This is like that.”

Right now Zoe and my dad are doing yoga together on their living room floor.

 

zoe
“Downward Dog” Go ahead. Soak up the cuteness. Do these things happen in angry families that blame each other for their unhappiness? Possibly with rare occurrence. But each day here is a series of these moments stitched together.

I have to use my daughter to illustrate these examples because, frankly, my parents and I are not accustomed to having a healthy relationship. We’re slowly breaking into the art of learning how to express our delight at seeing each other. Aside from an excited hug, a slew of stories, and an utter lack of tension, there isn’t much to describe.

I’m not talking about the kind of stress relief that comes with free babysitting, either. You can ask my husband. I have friends babysit at home and I’m a rubber band ball of stress.

But Oliver called me tonight and told me he could feel the ease in my voice all the way across the country. It’s true. I’m home. I love my parents and I love being around them.

Why am I saying all of this? Because I still believe they were primarily responsible for my depression growing up, just as much I believe I am responsible for my daughter’s unhappiness on the days when I lash out at her in anger and she cries in response. 

The reason we are so unable to reconcile these two statements (I love my mom and dad AND I believe they were crappy parents) is that we think someone has to be perfect in order for us to love them. Or if they’re not, we must pretend that they are. We’ve never seen anyone describe someone else’s mistakes while simultaneously loving them, so we conclude that it isn’t possible. 

But it is! And so much more fun. I’m not suggesting you go describe someone’s mistakes to them forcibly (my parents always enlisted my help in correcting their slip ups because they’re that awesome and that focused on becoming better people), but it is so liberating to be aware of someone’s shortcomings while loving them. It means we don’t require them to be or act perfect before deciding that they’re good enough. It makes it infinitely easier to identify and solve problems together, because we’re dealing with the truth instead of well-intentioned lies.

It’s a nice way to live. Give it a shot sometime.

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