Even though it was never explicitly said, I was made to stay within the confines of what people expected of me and made to do the right thing in their eyes. I was trained to be afraid of what other people think and to tailor my behavior to the audience, there was no sense of identity. Anything that was unique to myself was demanded to be hidden or treated as too much. I remember my grandmother telling me that her generation was always meant to be seen and not heard. I remember telling my grandmother things aren’t the same but I also remember that disheartening feeling in my stomach. That immediate sense of unworthiness and disdain and questioning why my laugh was considered too much or why my voice didn’t deserve to be heard.
When we are taught that our words and our actions are never meant to see the light of day, that we have nothing of value to contribute, we lose the confidence and the ability to be who we are. We learn to hide and retreat and to keep silent even if we know we have something of value to contribute. The other problem with this is we lose the confidence to explore. We question our ability to learn or do things so we treat life as look don’t touch. We think that our actions alone will destroy the world if we step a toe out of line. With all of the healing I’ve been working on (especially generational) I’ve come to realize that my mother was raised like this as well. Even though she never said it outright, she passed on some of that as well.
Even as a child I’ve always been sensitive to what other people thought and felt. I could pick up on their frustration and anger or even their sadness and depression very easily. My mother was tired all the time. She was never happy with her life because her mother believed that certain things were mistakes and that you needed to pay for them forever. As my grandmother professed forgiveness to others as a good Catholic, she scorned her own child for being human. My mother never carried that level of contempt for her children but she did carry the weight of making everything look good. She was raised believing she was an inconvenience and a disappointment and she thought her job as a parent was to keep her kids in line so they wouldn’t do the same.
Honestly, this never bothered me before until I saw myself doing the same thing with my child. Everything he did out of curiosity or simply exploring or even letting off steam felt like such an expenditure of energy that I couldn’t keep up. I saw myself putting more energy toward work and trying to make the house look a certain way and feeling like I had to keep him in line that I missed the point: he was experiencing joy. Joy leads us infinitely further than guilt or being coerced into a certain belief ever will. I don’t ever want to put that guilt on my child. He is wild and free and, as long as he is safe, that is exactly what he is meant to be. He isn’t meant to fulfill anyone’s expectation of what he should be. He is his own person learning about life. And so am I.
Learning how to reparent myself and how to accept the things I’ve always been has been tricky. You get very used to behaving a certain way because you were trained to believe that so stepping out of that mold feels unnatural. With time and experience, I’ve learned, however, that stepping out and exploring and being honest about who we are is THE most natural thing in the world. Just because people have a hard time accepting it doesn’t make it wrong. I have to remind myself daily that it is ok to be who I am. I have to remind myself that my gifts are needed and I have things to bring to the table. We all do! As we accept ourselves, we can accept others. As we learn new ways to include and shed the old, the more we inspire others to do the same. Life isn’t look don’t touch—it’s meant to be messy and fun and loud and we are meant to learn from it and experiment and create. Creation is messy, but it’s beautiful—start creating yourself.