Looking back at it, I am surprised my parents dealt with me the way that they did. I was an absolutely horrific child to deal with, and, if (now, as a nanny) I had to deal with a child that was any reflection of who I used to be, I would quit before accepting $500/hour.
Growing up, everyone has those moments with their parents that make them think, “I will NEVER do that to my children, I don’t want to be like that.”
Our parents do one thing or another (or 10) that just wears down on our childish emotions and desires, and we think that we are fed up. We throw a temper tantrum, get into an argument with our siblings, lash out in vindictive anger, or simply break down into tears because we are so agitated. I know that I had many of these moments. I resolved long ago never to tell my children that I would take them to the park or the mall, and then spend an hour cleaning the house before as they waited to go. I knew that I wouldn’t mock them while they were so clearly upset. I knew that I wouldn’t punish their friends by sending them home. I knew that I wouldn’t get into an argument with them and force them to hear my side, and then walk away when they tried to tell theirs. I knew that I wouldn’t lecture them on how they should save the $20 in birthday money instead of allowing them to buy that really cool new toy. No, I would do none of these things.
But when we are that young, we can’t see things clearly. We think that we can, but we can’t. And not because we aren’t intelligent enough too, or because it’s too complicated. It is because of our own choice–our choice not to listen in an act of defiance, because that is the only retort that we have. We are too young to form counterarguments, or to be able to put ourselves in another persons shoes and completely analyze things from that point of view. Sitting us in a corner and telling us to “think about we’ve done,” was never effective. Those words were just synonymous with, “you are in trouble,” and not once did I actually ponder about the damage or the wrong that I had done. So it only stands to reason that in that time, I felt like the only victim. My parents had hurt or angered me, and I didn’t know how to discuss it or resolve it. Because at the time, everything revolved around me. The good and the bad, whatever happened, it was my fault. This also meant that I wasn’t capable of understanding that maybe mom and dad need a break or alone time, because to me that didn’t exist. I couldn’t respect it.
As I have gotten older, I realized that even though I now have the ability to empathize with my parents, many of their actions still upset me. Many of their actions are still some that I will never choose to mimic. However, I can not find it in my heart to be upset about them. Because, now that I can look at it with my real world experience, nothing was actually that terrible. As a child, I had an idyllic view of families and life that is simply a utopian fantasy. However, when I was younger, I didn’t understand why it was just a fantasy. I assumed that the families from the Cheerio’s commercial were actual families, and that everyone really did love each other that much all the time and always interacted with smiles and hugs, and I was so mad that mine didn’t. I didn’t understand how ridiculously high my expectations of a family were, and so I was consequently heartbroken when my fantasy and my reality didn’t coincide. And that was the source of my anger. I had to realize that people DO argue, and family members hurt each other intentionally and non-intentionally, but we get over it. We push each other to those points, and often we are too wrapped up in it all to notice. Everyone has their limits and no one is perfect. I can see that I have made many similar mistakes, and I have also hurt people instead of being completely rational.
So, yeah. My parents upset me and make some decisions that weren’t the wisest. But how can I judge my parents on 19 years of parenting by the handful of incidents that can still boil my blood just to think about? I would much rather judge them by the many ways in which I do want to be just like them, because not many people can say that about their parents, and I am proud that I can.
I want to be able to enjoy the little things with my kids, like taking a walk around the neighborhood after rain to watch them jump in puddles. I want to take them on a walk in the fall, and watch them scramble to collect the largest leaf that they can. I want to cheer them up when they are sick by bringing them a new coloring book and a bunch of lollipops. I want to make play-doh, and pizzas and easy bake cakes. I never want to be so busy that I can’t go on a bike ride with them, or take them to a local school or park to fly a remote controlled plane that was so desperately wanted for Christmas. I want them to come home on a holiday to surprised decorations that transform the whole house. I want to be able to pick my children up from school everyday (when I am not 30 mins late, here’s looking at you mother), waiting with the occasional treat for them to tell me about their day. I want to support my children by going to every performance of theirs that I can, and being their biggest fan at competitions an hour away that they know nothing about (thanks for coming to all of those cheer conventions dad). I want them to feel comfortable telling me about their lives in every way. I want them to know that full disclosure with me is the best way to deal with situations, especially when they start experimenting and growing as individuals. I want to be there for them when they go through emotional trauma, even if it means just writing a note and leaving it for them to see when they wake up, or letting them cry. I want to allow them to do their best academically, without being overbearing and threatening or punishing them for low results. I want to be able to support their choice to attend an amazing university, instead of accepting a full ride from one that their heart isn’t at. I want to be a friend who they can text or call to talk about all of the crazy things that are going on in my college life. I want to be the reason that they feel grounded in their home town, with memories of 4th of July parties and illegal fireworks, family gatherings, trampolines, birthday parties and more. I will be the supportive person that my parents modeled for me, who will push for my children to do great things by self-defined standards.
College has given me the distance that I needed to see all of those things. Despite the harsh words I doled out as a kid, I wouldn’t trade my family for any other. My mother has become more than just that, she is now my friend. I look forward to conversations with her and my dad because I can’t take it for granted anymore. I live 500 miles away, and it looks like over the next few years that distance will continue to grow, not shrink as I go on study abroad adventures and eventually attend graduate school.
What triggered all of this? Not the realization that my parents are great people, and not that they are great parents. What triggered all of the sudden appreciation, why now, almost 2 years after I left home? It was surprisingly simple, an activity that I had to participate in a leadership workshop. I had to name a handful of experiences that have shaped who I am, and a few of my fears. I had a large amount of experiences that have shaped who I am, but only a few things that I am truly afraid of. A few of those are falling behind (in school, and in life), not getting to travel, and not finding a family and being happy with myself. But the fears that brought tears to my eyes the second I thought about them were these; not having my father be able to walk me down the aisle, and not having my mother see her grandchildren. And that is the moment that I realized, I do not give my parents enough credit or appreciation for everything that they have down for me, or acknowledgment for being amazing parents. Because at the end of the day, I enjoy just being able to call them like friends, and they are the ones that I cherish the most.