This past weekend my youngest child came home for a little R&R. Since we don’t celebrate Christmas, it was a very relaxing and fun time to just be together. There were a lot of laughs, nonstop eating and the inevitable tears, mostly mine. What is it about these visits that makes me so emotional? At first, I’m elated to have them home and as the time winds down, I get sad about their leaving. It’s a roller coaster.
Usually I also try to carve out some time during our visit to connect emotionally and to dig a little deeper into what’s going on with them. And I’ve learned that can be both a comfort and a trap. Comforting to have a few moments alone to just be in their presence. But the trap comes in the sharing. Do I really want to hear everything? Do I want to know their truth? Do I want to share mine? My kids, although adults, are still quite young and not yet fully settled into their lives. None are in permanent relationships or live in a permanent home. They’re still exploring and figuring things out. So sometimes it’s like picking at a scab.
This weekend, I learned that my sweet youngest son felt bullied by his older siblings growing up. I heard his story about how that trauma informs his relationships with others and how his insecurities challenge him to make new friends and get along at work. Now, I’ve done enough personal work to understand that we are all a product of our family of origin, we all suffer trauma and wounds at the hands of those with whom we shared our childhood in the most intimate way. I also know that we do not get to choose our siblings or our parents and there is no obligation that we become close. But it is important to understand how those early relationships, for better or worse, are part of what we carry with us into adulthood.
In spite of that understanding though, it was hard to hear. When my kids were growing up I was aware that the youngest often felt left out. The older two are closer in age and spent a lot of time together and had many of the same friends. But I really didn’t perceive any obvious bullying. I’m pretty sure that if I had, I would have stepped in. The problem is, we can never know for sure how a child experiences his surroundings. We don’t see things from his perspective and many times, things happen out of reach of the parent. And even if we do observe something that is distressing, it may be more reflective of our own experiences and feelings. So basically, it’s a futile effort to try and be that perfect, intuitive, sensitive, understanding and patient parent.
It is however, possible to be good enough. I believe that being good enough means doing your best but understanding that mistakes will be made. I believe that being good enough means giving your children the tools they will need to navigate into adulthood and to heal their own wounds. After all, isn’t it the human condition to mess up, to learn and to grow?
I know my son is okay, more than okay. He’s doing the work of completing his own childhood and moving himself into his full adulthood. I’m proud of him for being willing to do the work, hard as it may be. And after a few teary conversations, I reassured him (and myself) that I am okay. I know I still have work to do to finish my childhood, and his story, and my sadness, have shown me some areas that need attention. I guess it’s safe to say that no one gets out of childhood unscathed. And if we’re lucky, we have the tools we need to continue healing ourselves as we grow.