Yesterday was my mother’s birthday. No matter what our age, we never stop thinking about our parents. Inevitably, when we’re younger something reminds us — not always as a good memory — of a childhood experience, a family outing, a special holiday. And later in life we wonder if our own behaviors are starting to resemble those of our parents, despite our vows that this would never happen.
I confess to feeling annoyed by my mom for much of my adult life, mostly because she was always so good-humored with her friends, and seemingly so critical of me. We got along best when we took day trips. Visiting nurseries and flower gardens, strolling through parks, and shopping for clothes brought us closer than conversations about my flaws.
She changed when my father died. She stopped criticizing me and was always happy when we were together. But even then we were never close. Occasionally, when I hear about parents and kids who seem to truly relish each others’ company, I feel a pang. (I also know from reading the “Dear Amy” column in the newspaper that this isn’t the case for many families.)
But an article I just read — “How We Were Loved; How We ‘Should’ Have Been Loved” — caused me to step back and take a longer view.
Author Greg Krech says, “As long as we hold fast to our ideal of what we deserve from the world…we look back on our childhood and notice what could have been done for us and given to us, that we think would have made us happier.”*
He goes on to remind us that we humans have many ways of showing love and kindness and often they don’t involve oodles of praise, fawning, bear hugs or extravagant gifts. Parents may show love by working hard to keep the family fed and living comfortably. They may attend piano recitals, school plays, PTA meetings, whatever they believe is the right thing for good parents to do when children are growing up. According to Krech, By imagining what should have been, how we should have been raised instead of how we were raised, “We miss the countless moments when we were perfectly cared for and attended to.”
Both my mom and dad made sure I was well nourished, safe, encouraged to do my best, to treat others with kindness, and to become independent. They both made sacrifices so I could attend the college of my choice. When I realize this, I’m no longer focusing, as Krech says, on the gap between reality and my ideal of what should have been. The gap becomes much less important than the reality.
From my mom I got my sense of humor, my love for clothes, my willingness to make new friends on many occasions, and my general good mood. Our last years were good ones, and I’m happy that she lived long enough for us to enjoy this late lifetime together.
*from Naikan: Gratitude, Grace & the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection