My parents were here over Thanksgiving, and we had a really nice visit. Our 6yo son, who has them absolutely wrapped around his finger (especially his Mimi), was in his own little heaven. He had two of his favorite people here, and they were willing to do virtually anything he wanted, any time he wanted to do it. My husband & I were (happily) persona non grata for five days while we watched our small child soak up all the grandparental love he could manage. It’s a beautiful sight to see a child so completely enamored with people who are equally enamored with him. They have a great relationship, and he misses them hugely when they are gone.
My husband remarked that this was one of the best visits we have had with my parents, and I think it was. We had lots of great conversation, and learned some things about each other. Remarkable after 42 years? Not in this case, because it took about 40 years for us to reach a place in our relationship where we were willing to start listening to each other…really listening. There have been so many ups & downs in our relationship over my lifetime, so many moments of volatility, so many assumptions, so many times we have failed to understand each other, so many times we have refused to understand each other. I was immensely gratified to feel throughout this visit that there has been a definite, palpable (to me) change – for the better.
And that brings me to what I learned…
Those who know me well know that I grew up in an extremely conservative religious home. Fundamentalist. Legalistic. My parents were very strict. Rules were rigid. Punishment was certain if rules were broken. Those who know me also know that my mom & I had a very contentious relationship for many, many years. I was well aware of all that was deficient in me, all that was wrong with me, and what a difficult person I was to live with and raise. Stubborn. Rebellious. Smart-alecky. Overly emotional. And more…
So it was a very great surprise to me to learn – at age 42 – that my mother admired my personal style when I was finally given control over it and began truly making my own style choices. Of course, the question to which I did not give voice was “Why did you wait until I was 42 years old to tell me this??” I really, really could have used that kind of positive reinforcement as a tween & teen…a time when I felt plain, out-of-style, ugly, and perpetually out of step with my peers. I had no confidence in anything other than my intellect. I did not have a proper perspective about myself, and I certainly had no expectation that there was anything really attractive or stylish about me. There were always so many rules about clothing, hair styles, make up, jewelry, shoes, nail polish, accessories, etc. My mom always supervised my wardrobe. And I believe now that she believed at the time that if I were allowed to choose my own wardrobe, that I would immediately gravitate toward extreme, fringe trends and (especially) toward immodest, inappropriate, sexually provocative clothing. I think it must have been impressed on her in some way, by someone or something, that teen girls do not make good fashion choices, and should therefore not be given control over those decisions. This is undoubtedly true for many, but it is just as undoubtedly false for many (more).
What happened was this, as observed by my mother. When I was finally in an environment where there were very few wardrobe restrictions, and I was given the opportunity to make my own choices, I did not have extreme, provocative, or otherwise unacceptable taste. My personal choices were typically fashionable, fairly conservative, and such that (in my mother’s words) I developed a very nice style.
I am immensely gratified in this revelation. I am thankful that there was something good about my appearance that my mother actually recognized and liked. I wish that she had told me then, because it would have done a lot to buoy my personal confidence. Nevertheless, this does not mean it is not appreciated now. It is…very much…because it allows me a better understanding of her, which helps me learn to better communicate with her. I’m grateful for that.
And I’m very grateful for the teachable moment, once again reinforcing what I have endeavored to make a part of how I parent, and that is to verbally recognize – often – when I notice my kid doing something right. Something good. Something great. Something surprising & wonderful. Something I admire. Something I love. Further, it reinforces my conviction to tell him I love him…daily…because he is who he is & because he is mine, and to let him know how blessed & privileged I am that God entrusted him to me.