Who sends me a printed greeting card on holidays and my birthday?
Who ships me (and my two sisters, and our kids) an annual Christmas package, which includes home-baked fruitcake, cookies made from a secret family recipe and exotic treats from Trader Joe’s?
My mother, that’s who.
She has good penmanship, too. Have a look.
I mean, really. Who even bothers anymore?
I will confess that as I young man I was ashamed of my mother’s public expressions of affection. Nobody wants to be called a Mama’s Boy.
Once I had a summer job as a youth camp counselor, and my mother insisted on kissing me goodbye—in full view of a bus full of my kids.
I thought I’d never live that one down. (But I did.)
What can you do?
In retrospect, I realize she didn’t mean to hurt me.
Finding peace with the parents
It hasn’t always been easy for me to get along with my mother and father, but with the passing of years—and love—it gets easier.
I spent most of my life being angry at my parents—most of the time without even without realizing it. As long as that anger was lurking below the surface, it would boil up to sabotage me, and savage others.
I wasted years in stubborn opposition, fighting meaningless battles, mostly with myself. It wasn’t enough for me to move out of the house, I had to switch continents.
Having a child of my own helped me to understand just how difficult it is to be a parent. It’s impossible to get it right all of the time.
Then comes that mind-boggling revelation every new parent experiences, but nobody can prepare you for.
It happens when I’m reacting to what my child said or did, and then I realize I’m only repeating what my mother used to say. (Or maybe my father.)
The shock is how often this happens, and how little we can control these reactions. This is some deep programming.
Self-awareness teaches us that most of our negative self-talk is what we heard from our parents. Lacking self-awareness, we will pass this on to our children.
However, this inheritance isn’t wholly negative. Our parents also passed on many treasures, which we can share with our children.
There’s a good reason I spent so much time reading stories to my daughter when she was little. My mother used to read stories to me and my sisters. We loved every minute.
One of our favorite books:
You know what?
Once she became a grandmother, my Mom sent us all our favorite story books to share with her grandchildren.
I guess she wasn’t so horrible after all.
Forgiveness enables us to see things differently
Childhood wasn’t only punishment and pain. There was kindness, too. And love.
Forgiveness opens the door for us to remember those moments. Mom serving grilled-cheese sandwiches and tomato soup on a rainy day; The way Dad grins to himself while he’s driving the family car.
They’re really not such bad people, my parents. You’d know that if you met them. And yet it took me years—most of my life, really—to finally figure this out.
Like everybody else, my parents did the best job they could, struggling with their own set of limitations.
The sentence above is my doorway to forgiveness and I choose to walk through that door. Forgiveness is a choice.
In my experience, happiness is about where you choose to focus. I choose to see my parents through the lens of love, which is forgiveness.
What’s the alternative?
If I hate my parents, then surely I must hate myself. My parents raised me, and like it or not, I resemble them in many ways. How could I not?
When one of my two sisters wants to shake up the other, do you know what she says? “You’re just like mother.” (How could she not be?)
Forgiveness opens the door to the possibility of accepting this statement as a compliment.
Love doesn’t mean that I agree with my parents about everything. We don’t. However, we do agree that we love each other, and that’s what matters.
Love doesn’t mean that I don’t see my parents’ faults. I do. The difference is that these shortcomings don’t irritate me as much as they used to.
Exile makes the heart grow fonder?
At this point, my two sisters are muttering to themselves: “It’s easier for you because you don’t even live on the same continent as Mom and Dad.”
This is true.
It’s also true that Mom and Dad treat me differently. I’m the oldest child, and their only son. Nothing I can do about that.
What I can do is test that assumption: It’s time for me to switch continents again.
My Dad turns 80 in June this year. (Hard to imagine.)
The family is getting together to celebrate, which means my daughter and I are flying to California for a visit.
Here’s the twist: I’m considering a one-way ticket.
The prospect of moving back to the United States scares me, but it also makes me curious. That’s an interesting combination, don’t you think?