I was probably about 20 before I thought of my parents as complex and individual beings. You know, like people who just happen to have children rather than, say, my respective fifth and six limbs. When I think back, I can see why. I spent the first two decades of my life modeling my idea of personhood around them. They taught me to walk, talk, eat, be. Copying their behavior and assuming it was right was kind of how growing up worked. They were ideals. To see them as flawed and messy humans might have undercut that process.
The consequences of such a perspective were twofold. On the one hand, not treating them as equals meant listening to their good advice and respecting their rules very consistently. Whenever I went to friends’ houses and heard them fight with or talk back to their parents, I was always appalled. I had no idea such a tone was even allowed. On the other hand, our relationship found a new kind of authenticity once I broke out of that way of thinking. Once I really saw my parents for their humanity, our relationship grew deeper. Maybe even felt more unconditional. Seeing them as multidimensional (and in some cases regretful) people helped me forgive myself for my own flaws and regrets.
Did you go through a similar arc? Or were you one of those kids that always knew your parental figures were flawed? How did that feel, if so? Do any of you still think your parents are perfect? Are they?! (They can’t be.)
Photo by Edith Young; Williams Sonoma glass candlesticks.