Parents

Out and about at lunch today with one of my associates, she asked me if I miss my parents. Second anniversary of her father’s death is Saturday and she is already feeling the oppressive sadness processing her ongoing grief.

At work, in most of my face-to-face life, I rarely think about much less mention my parents. When I do, it is typically in the context of their shortcomings. While I wish to be fair and balanced in my observations and remembrances, truth is there is not a lot of positives to talk about my childhood or my family of origin. There truly are few happy memories.

The simplest answer is no, I do not miss my parents. When I think of my mom, it is the last few months, and then only when M and I are doing something or are somewhere that she might have enjoyed. It is the reflexive part of me that wants to be kind, even to people I do not especially like as people. With my dad, it is more a curiosity of who he was, what he was like as a young man. All I know about him, really remember about him, is that he was drunk much of the time and seemed miserably uncomfortable during the periods of my life he was trying to get and stay sober.

My associate comes from a closer family. Her mother and twin sister live in southern California, and they talk on by phone or text every single day. Her vacations are spent with them or her boyfriend’s family. And right now, her ongoing grief over her father’s sudden death 2 years ago still weighs on her heart. I feel for her, yet wonder what that’s like. Tempering that grief this year is the eager anticipation of birth of her first niece or nephew later this year. She will make a wonderful aunt, and someday, when she has children of her own, I strongly believe she will be a wonderful mother.

She has good examples to draw upon.

Me, not so much. And I wonder whenever I depart from this life, if my kids will miss me and mourn my passing. Not something I dwell upon, but it is a point of curiosity that I will never know for certain. #relief

Despite not having good parenting examples to draw upon, I did okay. I own my mistakes – I married the wrong guy and had children with him, then divorced him and broke up a family. There are scars there, I’m sure. While I do not apologize for making a poor choice in their dad as a husband, I worked very hard to be a responsible parent and give my kids the tools they needed to grow up and successfully launch into independent lives of their own. In his own way, I feel equally certain their father did the same. My relationships with my children and their spouses are loving, honest, open. M and I am parents who respects boundaries and their sovereign adulthood, but if they need us, we would do just about anything to be there for them. And truly, I believe the same is true of them for us. Thankfully there has not yet been a situation that tested those theories.

Relationships change with time, because we have different experiences that alter our perceptions and beliefs – I believe they call it growing up. Does not mean we all grow up well, or evolve into better, smarter, more powerful or intelligent people; growing up to me just means we are not exactly the same people with the same thoughts we were the year before. Or such is my hope, anyway.

In the last couple of years – it feels like big growing up years. I started taking better care of myself, getting regular doses of exercise, learning how to use weight training machines and equipment in the gym, making better and healthier food choices. For most people this is just one tiny aspect of what they do in life, a hobby, but for me, it’s become The Hobby and The Gamechanger for most aspects of my life. I went from an employee working for an employer to expanding my side hustle (accounting) into a full-time, self-sufficient small business and back to full-time employee with part-time small business and now back to full-time small business owner. The impacts of these two things on my overall health – I went from insulin-dependent diabetic to well-controlled diabetic without any medication. I lost long-time friends along the way, people who perhaps felt threatened by a trimmer, healthier, freer, more financially empowered me. At the same time, I have made and added new friends that share my hopes and dreams, understand my health aspirations and mindset. Other relationships deepened, the bonds of our tribe strengthened and became closer. Both my kids, while living on their own for awhile, married their partners and solidified and expanded our family.

How does this all come back to my parents? Expectations. Or lack thereof, in my case.

I had no sense of my parents investing in me growing up. Go to school, get good grades, get a good job. Nothing at all against blue collar families, but my parents had no idea what was involved in getting into college, how much it would cost, how much – if anything – they would be willing to contribute for me to get my degree. So I was middle aged before I finally finished my degree. I got a job, got married, had a family, got divorced, got married, raised a family, and through it all got better, progressively more responsible, high paying jobs before I finally finished college. My success – I’m perfectly frank and honest that my parents did little to nothing directly to contribute to it. They had relationships with my children, until the kids grew up and into the initial stage of independence.

I did learn a few things from my folks. From my dad, don’t drink alcohol – you have no self control and will be an alcoholic. From my mom, don’t try to trade on your physical appearance – you’re not tiny, pretty like me, and learned helplessness presents more like a mental handicap than charming, attractive, rescue-worthy. And from both: we cannot or will not protect you from the predators of the world, so resign yourself to being a disposable commodity and expect everyone to steal your virtue, your dignity, and anything else you value.

There was such obvious favoritism between my sister and that it disturbs me to this day, yet made my adult life so much simpler despite that. The great hopes and dreams landed squarely on my sister’s shoulders, and when you are not expected to amount to much, the bar is set so low it is not that difficult to step right over it. It created this huge sense of resentment and distrust between my sister and I, because while accepting the benefits of being the golden child she resented the responsibility of being the older daughter and having to cope with the conflict of blazing her own trail. Me, I didn’t much care. Being viewed a the fuck-up (or the potential fuck-up) for having a mind of my own and speaking frankly has its benefits.

Because of that family dynamic, with my own children I have some very hard and fast rules about treating them equally. I do not see or sense the resentment between them that once existed between my sister and I. And I am very happy about that.

At the same time, I cringe and squirm in discomfort when I recognize my shortcomings and challenges that have been passed down from my to my kids. My bitter battles with food – C shares that. My hesitation and freaked-out-ness about school and education – I see the same sort of challenge with discipline and focus on topics and subjects of less interest with G. At the same time, I see a lot of good qualities that come from their father and I as well. They are both intelligent, have personal integrity, and are good citizens within their own communities. Far more than I was at their age, they are fiscally responsible and not buried in credit card debt, so they obviously learn from mistakes, mine as well as their own.

My associate and my friend, I am glad she loved her dad so much that she continues to process her grief 2 years after his passing. It’s moving to me that she tears up a little when talking about precious memories, that her family are people who express love in ways she could and can feel.

Breaking cycles, breaking family patterns – it may take generations to get to the right and more perfect balance. For me, it’s enough to come from my background and having children who grew up into balanced, responsible adults that I like as people well as love because they are my children.

My parents did the best they could, and their imperfect, flawed examples taught me to try other ways. My mistakes are mostly original and my own. For that, I am grateful. But I still do not think of or miss them much. That’s my character flaw to bear.

The hopelessly un-cool parental unit

Over the weekend I received an email from a good friend. While she lives locally and is definitely close enough to meet for coffee, we only do so about once or twice a month. She works swing shift, weekends, and holidays which makes scheduling an absolute priority for getting together. So we chat on the phone when we can, or she emails me when I’m sleeping and I reply when she is at work. Somehow it works out for us. Lately she has been dating a lovely gentleman and it is going surprisingly well. She characterizes it that way because she has either terrible taste in men or has the worst kind of luck in dating. Personally I think it’s a little of both, because no one should make it to 40-something feeling as if they have too much bad luck or bad judgment. But I digress, as usual.

This friend was married 10 years, no children by her choice, very painful divorce she wanted, he didn’t, and fought her every possible step of the way. Makes one a bit gun-shy about dating. We’ve known each other for more than 20 years – I remember attending her wedding with M and the kids – and shared big and little piecesof our lives. While she has no desire for children of her own, she is actually quite good with kids, even if she does not see it. She confesses liking them a little older – grade school age – but not caring for tweens or teens all that much. I get it. Hell, anyone who has raised children gets it.

Her “lovely man” has three boys – idential twins age 10 and his oldest age 12. Not quite tweens, but rapidly approaching it. She has been seeing him for about 6 months now and the subject of meeting the kids has been coming up more and more as the days pass. While she is fine with the idea of meeting them, she is quite smitthen with this man (and he with her, it seems) so meeting the kids becomes a Very Big Deal. As a girlfriend she feels capable of managing their interaction. As a more serious prospect, though, the task is daunting. She is a more serious prospect since he is a one who keeps his romantic life separate from his parental responsibilities.

Her email requested advice for making a positive impression, because “you’re a cool mom and are completely at ease with kids.”

Ha!

Ha! I say.

She is not very observant and has not been in the same reality with me all these years. I am the poster child for un-cool, socially awkward parenting. This does not surprise me at all, because I was completely un-cool and socially awkward growing up and now into middle age. I full anticipate being a stodgy, boringly average senior citizen. As for being at ease with kids, I’m only completely at ease with my kids, all the other kids in my universe have been approached with a “fake it til I make it” attitude until I was sure they were of no serious threat to my sanity and well being.

But I brainstormed with M, an actual step-parent without children of his own and having no desire for any either, and he was surprisingly unhelpful. I thought for sure he would have detailed, classified, childless-person advice for me. Nope. He merely nodded sagely and agreed with what I came up with in my first draft. Not helpful, M! This is not a situation where you get extra points for agreeing with me. He merely laughed. The putz. Anyway, here’s my questionable advice:

  1. Be normal friendly, pleasant, interested self. Kids can sense fakery and will make your life hell if you try to snow them.
  2. Don’t talk down to them as if they are children. Speak to them as if they are intelligent, observant, interesting, and challenging people … which they probably are in 10 and 12 year old bodies. If they seem indifferent and impolite at first, give them the benefit of the doubt that they are merely nervous and not plotting against you on principle.
  3. Let their father take the lead on correcting their behavior or anything else. If he fails you in this on the first meeting, discuss it privately and well out of hearing distance.
  4. If you don’t know about something they reference (i.e., everything pop culture that boys their age are intrigued by), ask questions and demonstrate your curiosity. They already know you’re old, have no kids or neices/nephews, and therefore are completely clueless in ways of the world. Let them instruct you and be game to try (and fail) at anything they offer to show you.
  5. It’s okay to be nervous, but don’t let your fear overwhelm you. And don’t take it personally if you are too uncool to engage with. These are kids, with a language and universe of their own, be patient and let them come round to you.

I have no idea how right or how wrong I am with this advice, because my kids were easy going and accustomed to male and female friends coming and going while I was single. When I did introduce a romantic interest to them, they were very accepting and okay with it, just another of mom’s friends coming to hang out. To this day there are male friends I dated that evolved into family friends, so my kids are pretty social and grew up meeting and making new acquaintances and adult friends comfortable.

If she completely goes down completely in a firey plume I know she will forgive me. I have already cautioned her that I might not be the best resource for this situation and to take any/all advice provided with caution. Yet I am the nervous wreck hoping it goes well tonight.