When I was maybe 10 or 11 years old, I distinctly remember an exchange with my father in the kitchen of our Brooklyn apartment. My parents were pretty hip and I felt close to them, though it was always clear to me, as it is with most kids, that they were the grown-ups and I was the child.
This didn't stop me, however, from occasionally testing that theory, as I did on that fateful day. In an effort to sound more sophisticated, I casually dropped a curse word into a sentence—much like I'd heard adults do.
"You know, when you say things like that, you don't sound like a grown-up,” my dad said. “You sound like a little girl trying to sound like a grown-up."
Well, that shut me up and good. That was the last thing I wanted to hear, and he knew it. (You’ll be happy to know that I eventually grew into my colorful Brooklyn vocabulary and never fucking looked back.)
Even though 35 years have gone by, I still find myself wondering if I'll ever feel like an actual grown-up whenever I’m around my parents. Despite my husband, house, kids, jobs and accomplishments, they forever outrank me.
I heard a saying recently (and I’m paraphrasing here) that you never truly become an adult until you forgive the flaws of your parents. Knowing that it was overly simplistic and not true in all circumstances, it still resonated greatly.
It wasn’t always idyllic, but for the most part, I had a pretty happy childhood, for which I’m extremely grateful. Forgiving my parents for petty things from long ago, like spankings, fights and punishments, came quickly once I had little ones of my own. It had less to do with realizing my folks were right and more to do with recognizing that I, as a new parent, was doing plenty of things just as wrong.
Forgiveness in the moment, without the benefit of time and reflection, is another story. After all, we’ll occasionally differ, and maybe even fight, but it’s still hard to take my parents' opposition in with an ear and eye that separates it from chastisement and automatic proof that I’m wrong. I needed 45 turns around the sun to have the confidence that, in spite of their potential three dis-’s—disagreement, disapproval or disappointment—there’s a good chance I know what’s best about things in my own life.
Does forgiveness facilitate maturity? Or is it the other way around? It takes a certain amount of maturity to see the flaws of your parents for what they are—theirs—with acceptance and even love. And I guess it goes without saying that I hope my own kids forgive my flaws some day.
Speaking of which, I recently had a disagreement with my teenage daughter. I took her to task for some crappy behavior and attitude, but I didn’t just stop there. I piled on something completely unrelated and guilt-trippy about a trivial chore that she didn’t even know I wish she had done. I said something passive-aggressive like, “And THANKS for NOT helping me throw away the trash!”
“Mom, if you WANT me to help you with the trash,” she replied, “just ASK me, OK?”
She was right. And that’s what I told her when I apologized.
“I was wrong to do that,” I said. I gave her a hug and she hugged me back.
“It’s OK, Mom. I do that too, sometimes,” she said with the maturity of a grown-up who knew how to forgive her parents.
She was always precocious.