This post is a reflection prompted by Foster’s question on this For Harriet Instagram post: How old were you when you realised your parents were just people?
I can’t point to a specific time. I think it was more of a slow realisation, accelerated by adulting. Pre-adulting, my parents were demi-gods in my eyes. They were always right. They knew what they were doing. Their word was true and amen. They were selfless. They were fair. They were spotless. However, the more I grew the more this image was shattered. And the shattering of this image was not a simple harmless process.
At first I felt angry because I was not willing to afford my parents – the people who co-created a whole me – the luxury of being regular flawed people. How dare they be human?! I was angry because I felt the image of them being invincible and above reproach was essential for me to continue feeling protected and loved by my parents. The next feeling after anger was disillusionment. “So, if these people were not who I thought they were, does it mean everything else is a lie? Am I who I think I am when so much of my identity and values has been informed by them?” These feelings of anger and disillusionment as well as other feelings I do not have words to articulate have not disappeared. However, I feel more at ease with the new ways I see my parents now. Therefore, I want to share how I have coped with the shattering and come to this place.
I threw away the pedestal I had placed them on. I do not expect any other person in my life to live up to the standards I had set for them. Heck, even God does not expect that much from humans. Throwing away the pedestal has meant that I expect them to mess up. Seeing them as ordinary people has helped me to cut them some slack. More importantly, it has enabled me to manage my expectations which also means less hurt on my side. Moreover, I now know that they don’t have to be demi gods to protect and love me. I guess them being ordinary people who have managed to raise me is what makes parenting so impressive.
I realised they need me too. When I am stressed out and tired of this life I think wistfully to the days when I was 5 years old. In my mind those days were so precious because all I had to think about was which ice cream flavour mummy should get me. Now that I am an adult I am aware of all the sacrifice that went on in the background to ensure I lacked nothing. I am grateful for all the ways my parents have shown up and continue to show up for me. Now that I am an adult I see the ways they need me too. Not in a payback way though, because I don’t feel obliged to reimburse. But in a “I can now do this for you to show my appreciation” kind of way. I discovered that I truly enjoy being there for them from the new tech stuff to just listening to their stories – it all feels gratifying.
I recognise that there are habits, ways of thinking and traumas that they have passed on to me which I need to unlearn, relearn and heal from. I think my parents did a relatively good job with me; I am not comparing but I am comparing🙈. Like there is baggage I have seen transferred to children that made me wonder, “Who forced you to be a parent, fam?” 👀Anyway, I thought my parents did not do too badly until therapy. The realisation that most of the things I was struggling with traced back to actions or inactions on their part was heavy. One of my greatest fears is the same cycle repeating itself with my children and younger siblings. Therefore, the journey to forgiving them, rebuilding and creating boundaries for myself though painful is necessary.
I have to take charge of my own life. I remember this one time I discovered something about one of my parents and I decided I would use it as sufficient leeway to also make a certain mistake. If they are not responsible, why do I have to be? Needless to say, that did not go well, and their mistake did not absolve me from the consequences of my own mistake. Simply put, I can’t use their faults as the reason for doing or not doing something. I still get to make my decisions. *starts singing Beyonce’s grown woman*
They did their best. I have been getting a taste of parenting via my younger siblings this lockdown season and waaah! Parenting is hard! Like, I am having multiple second thoughts about ever being a parent. You get this child and it fully depends on you for survival, sustenance and guidance?! Like what in the queen of responsibilities is that?! I think this is why I have come to believe that even though it may not seem that way, they really did their best. Even when I am blaming them for not seeking out different resources to better decisions, they still did their best. I believe their intentions were right even though the impact may not always reflect that. I respect that they gave it their best shot given their resources and I salute them for that.
I should still honour them. Ephesians 6:2-3 says: “Honour your father and mother” – which is the first commandment with a promise…” Back in the ‘when parents were demi-gods in my eyes’ days, I wondered why such an easy commandment needed a promise. However, after I realised how flawed they were it made sense that I would not want to respect their decisions or obey their rules. I still endeavour to honour them especially when they may not be worthy of it though. Plus, it’s an attractive promise😏 – everything going well with me and enjoying long life!
In summary, now at 25 I see my parents as the complex beings they are. They oscillate between several dualities of right and wrong; certitude and doubt; selflessness and selfishness; fair and unfair and many more. They are people. They are human. I want to end with the words of Pray Tell, an amazing character from the series POSE, which I resonated with:
“You know, that’s the burden of having a parent. They haven’t a clue what they’re doing. And every mistake they make chips away at us. As we get older, we got to glue the pieces back together. And we can blame them. But here’s the thing. They’re human. They make mistakes.”
—Pray Tell [POSE, Season 1: Mother’s Day]