Last week a 40-something woman shared her experience about losing her job and what she knows now…that quitting doesn’t mean failing. Today she journals about her experience living at home for a few weeks and how the parent-child relationship continues to evolve as you shift from the “taker” of care to friend. Sometimes it’s easy to revert back to our inner child when we spend time at home but there huge rewards to be reaped when you move on to an adult relationship.
Being an Adult Child
During my mini-retirement, I decided to spend some time “at home” with my parents in Ohio for a few weeks. This marks my longest period staying with them since the summer after my sophomore year at college, when I was 19 years old. I’m now nearly 40, and what it means to be their child – as well as what it means to me that they are my parents – probably is one of the most interesting aspects of my life. When I look back at our interactions and the general rapport of our relationship throughout my 20s, I emotionally kick myself for some of the things I did, said and thought – while fully recognizing that my perspective now is just that: perspective.
With the benefit of perspective in mind, following are a few things I now know as an adult child that I wish I had known in my 20s:
1) Your parents have entire lives that have NOTHING to do with you. It’s shocking when you first realize that you are just one element in your parents’ lives. They have a relationship with each other, with friends, with extended families and while you might be an important part of how they define themselves, you are just that: one piece of what makes up an entire life. Your 20s are so dedicated to a selfish need to find yourself and find a path forward that you often utilize your parents only in the context of what it is you need or what you want. I am not sure I ever asked my mother or father a single question about how they were doing or what they were feeling or thinking (it was a one-way reporting system) and now I try to learn as much as I can about them on a regular basis because the truth is, they’re both a helluva a lot more interesting than I am – largely because they’ve lived a lot longer. Recently I found out that my father always wanted to be a farmer but opted to become an attorney because he knew he would be able to provide a nice lifestyle for his family. I found this out only because I asked him a question, and learning about why he made the decisions he did when he was in his 20s (when I didn’t even exist) made me appreciate him in a new and better way. I should have been asking more all along because, now, when I think about their collective 140 years-plus of living and learning, I find it humbling in the best possible way.
2) You didn’t get to choose them, but they didn’t choose you, either. I’ll never forget when they pulled up to visit me and some friends in Chicago – wearing bright silky tracksuits – and thinking, “What is wrong them?” I’ve also written some fairly righteous, condescending letters to them over the years, one in particular criticizing them for drinking too much (actually this little familial battle continues even now) because I wanted them to be slightly different people. Guess what? They didn’t write me letters asking me to stop being a superficial, judgmental little brat, although I am sure they thought about it a few times. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to be more accepting and thankful for the myriad qualities they possess as people and parents, and how generous they’ve been to me with their time, love and acceptance. In the past several years, I’ve found that the notes to my parents have been filled more with gratitude than snark.
3) They didn’t actually conspire against you to impart pain and difficulty to your world; to the contrary – they did what they thought was best, with the certainty that it wasn’t perfect. I don’t have children of my own, but watching my friends who are busy raising kids and “screwing them up every day” (that’s according to them, not me!) it’s clear that there is no formula that’s proven fail-proof, results-guaranteed when it comes to parenting. In my 20s, as I was trying to figure myself out I ended up pointing at my parents as the “cause” for all sorts of things, some good, some bad. I wanted to hold them accountable or blame them when the reality was, I needed to be the responsible party. That’s part of becoming an adult and, in turn, an adult child: waking up to the fact that you’re the one who is directing your life. No heinous crime of the wrong neighborhood, the wrong college or the refusal to let you date the coolest boy in school is irreversible when you’re the one in charge of who you are, and it is a refreshing transition. As you get older, and certainly as you head toward 40s – you will find that you recognize that your parents are human too, and happily unburden them.
This is what you come to accept – that no matter what, they’re still your parents – and you will appreciate them more when you’re 40 than you can ever imagine in your 20s. . Waking up and having coffee and working on crossword puzzles, enjoying a glass of wine on the porch in the evening and just being able to sit and talk: these past weeks being at home with my parents have been a gift. They have welcomed me into their lives and routines, and it has been a delight. In fact, I just booked a flight to come home again in 2 weeks.