Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Ties That Bind...

I am in the middle of reading How To Be An Adult in Relationships by David Richo, who also wrote the last book I read, The Five Things We Cannot Change. Have you ever read a book and had your soul say a silent YES to what you're reading? Richo's books have heard many a cry from my heart. I think this is why we read, to have our hearts ignited. I know this is why I write, first to ignite my own heart and then to connect with the unknown reader whose heart sends me a silent YES to something I've written.

Richo is a psychotherapist who brings an Eastern perspective to his work. Combining Buddhist mindfulness philosophy with more traditional Western psychology, it is a beautiful blend of the yin and the yang.

This week's conversation with my mother
has lead to lengthy conversations with my brother and close friends around relationships and how our earliest models, our parents, have affected how we interact with others. Richo speaks of the five A's that a healthy childhood gives us: attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection and "allowing". As I read through this book, I am seeing the patterns of my childhood unfold before me and making space to create within my soul the healthy parent to my wounded child, so that I do not needily seek out a cure for my ails from someone else in relationship.

In particular, the section on acceptance gave me pause. Richo writes, "Parents can accept us only after they succeed in dismantling their original representation of us in favor of the person we are turning out to be. This means not being disappointed with us for breaking a bargain we never made." YES.

My mother still sees me through the eyes of who she wants me to be, not who I am. She wants me to uphold bargains I never made to begin with. I was five when she started the conversion process to become a Jehovah's Witness. No one asked me what I thought about it, how I felt, what I wanted. No, the contract was made and signed without my consent. And now that I'm an adult, making my own way in the universe, there is still this expectation that I will uphold that contract. And it's sad, because my mother cannot see who I am, this amazing woman I've become.

There is this quote Richo includes from D. W. Winnicott:

"It is a joy to be hidden but a disaster not to be found."

Did you ever play hide and seek as a child? Remember how exciting it was to go off to your hiding place, sure that it was the best one and that no one would ever think to find you there. But, all the while, you were brimming with butterflies at the thought of being found. I recall one night playing hide and seek with some friends. I had hidden so well that eventually everyone gave up on finding me and went on to another game. I was heartbroken.

I have emerged from the hiding places of my childhood to become a vibrant, spiritual, amazing woman. And here, I have a mother, who wants nothing more than to push me back into hiding until I emerge the person she would have me be. And it breaks my heart. It hurts me that she cannot see me as I am, that she cannot see that her job as a parent is, and always has been, to love and accept her children as they are, without her overlaid agenda.

I think sometimes that even if she could hear why I left the J.W.'s, like really hear what I know about their history, what I've learned about the secret workings of the group and how it has affected me and my life, she would honor who I am. And then, if she sincerely decided from that awareness to continue on as a J.W. I could respect that. I could respect that that is her life path, her individual journey. I think we could both be free then. Free to continue on in our lives without an agenda for the other.

For now though, I fill up my own heart with love and acceptance and the attention that child so deeply deserves. It is a difficult thing to learn to parent yourself. I guess I'm growing up.

tall penguin

7 comments:

vanessa said...

"And here, I have a mother, who wants nothing more than to push me back into hiding until I emerge the person she would have me be. And it breaks my heart."

I think most people can relate to this to some extent, perhaps your struggle is on a greater scale than others, I don't know.

For me, my mother always wanted me to be a medical doctor. When I found my path and followed it to chiropractic college, she was there to tell me I should go to medical school instead. Almost every day, for 4 years, I heard "it's not too late to go to medical school." Inside I knew that wasn't for me, but how could I explain that to her? She didn't understand. She isn't me and I'm not her. I still feel she doesn't accept me as I am, but I accept me and that's enough.

tall penguin said...

"I still feel she doesn't accept me as I am, but I accept me and that's enough."

Agreed. It's a powerful thing to be comfortable being in your own skin. I do believe however that there is something inside all of us that longs for that parental awareness of who we are. There is such a bond between parent and child, and so much energy in that connection that it has great power to propel us forward when it is free, loving and accepting.

I admire your ability to hold this open space for your own children vanessa, in spite of not receiving it from your own mother. I think that is the greatest thing we can hope to achieve, to grow beyond what our parents gave us. To improve upon our childhood foundation and leave the world a better place than we entered it.

Alice said...

If there was anything I ever resented in my life, it was my confirmation into the Catholic church in middle school. You'd like to think it was your choice, but there was NO WAY I wasn't going to be confirmed in my household. That's just how it would be. Seriously - can a preteen really make a life decision like that?

tall penguin said...

"Seriously - can a preteen really make a life decision like that?"

No, no they can't. I was baptized as a full-fledged jw at the age of 15. I watched as kids as young as 8 were baptized as well. And then watched them get ex-communicated in their teens for "sexual misconduct" and be shunned by their whole community. Not a healthy environment for any child.

And to think, I really believed I knew what I was choosing at the time. The greatest lies are the ones we tell ourselves.

vanessa said...

Thanks tp. I'm not saying it doesn't hurt, but I accept it as it is. Either my mom will come to understand or she won't. I don't tie myself down to any outcome because it really isn't up to me.

In a way, I feel I am more able to "hold this open space" for my children because of my experience with my own mother. Watching my mom through adult eyes has completely changed my perception of her. I never realized how manipulative she was when I was a child. Then I watched her try to change me, my sister and my brother. It's really too long a story to tell here, but basically if she didn't agree with our plans, she wouldn't help us. Financially, emotionally or in any way. We can chat more at length over coffee if you like.

John Conley said...

Hi TP,

It's good to be commenting on something you've written again.

I needed to thank you for this. My father and I have never had a great relationship. He has a habit of telling people what they should be doing, especially his children.

I went through this long phase of listening and getting frustrated. Then I went through a phase of acceptance of his ignorance to my wishes. Finally, and very recently, I learned to just say, "Thanks for the advice dad." I just leave it that way now. He doesn't push it and he still feels like my father.

One of the greatest influences in my life taught me that we learn to communicate and live our lives by trial, error and emulation. This means that we have a natural tendency to pick up the negative behaviours of those who are most influential in our lives.

As I look at the way my father has and still does treat me, I understand where he went wrong and it is what Richo said. That parents need to dismantle their original representation of us before they can accept us.

Maybe this acceptance and dismantling goes both ways? I recently stopped viewing my father as a mentor or a guiding figure and more of a human being that really needs a hug. Perhaps I've finally dismantled my preconceptions of what fatherhood should be?

tall penguin said...

"Maybe this acceptance and dismantling goes both ways? I recently stopped viewing my father as a mentor or a guiding figure and more of a human being that really needs a hug. Perhaps I've finally dismantled my preconceptions of what fatherhood should be?"

Yes, I think you're onto something here. It's a pivotal point of maturing when you can take your parents off the god pedestal and realize that they're just people. See them through the eyes of love and acceptance that you afford others in your life. It's a tough place to reach but necessary to a healthy life.