The most challenging relationships in our lives can also be our greatest teachers, if we allow them to be.
For many, that includes our parents.
I’ve been told that on a trip to visit my grandparents in Mexico, I refused to be held. I wanted to walk alone and explore. I was a burgeoning independent explorer–at the tender age of two.
Given that this is who I wanted to be, even then, it’s no surprise that it’s been difficult for my traditionally-minded parents to relate to me. I’d venture to guess that the same is true for many, particularly more conservative parents of the exposed-to-everything “Digital Natives.”
The current cohort of children, teens, and young adults have grown up with more access to a wide variety of data and beliefs than any other generation in recorded history. This exposure-explosion has led to a trend of more liberal mindsets, on average, with young people leading the charge on LGBT rights and the new wave of humanism-feminism.
This has meant, in my family, a widening divide between what I believe and what my parents believe, particularly as it relates to my life.
This divide has become one of my greatest blessings-in-disguise.
From it, I’ve learned about the importance of autonomy. I’ve learned that autonomy is essential to a fulfilling, happy life and that the struggle for it is both worthwhile and necessary. That people will die for their right to live freely should not come as a surprise to anyone anymore, but smaller-scale battles (like the freedom to live by one’s own belief structure) are not normally explained from this framework. Add to that the fact that children and teens are so often deprived of rights inherent to the average adult and you have the makings for rebellions.
These fights, however, are a good thing and lead to growth and the appreciation of freedom. The right to freely live an autonomous life has become one of my core values and has driven some of my most important life decisions, including moving to DC alone at 22, far away from anything or anyone familiar. Over five years later, I can unequivocally say that was the best decision I made as a young 20-something.
I’ve learned invaluable lessons about love. I’ve learned that love and unconditional love are different, and that the latter cannot coexist with rigid and forcibly-assigned expectations. I’ve learned that, “I love you… except for when…” is a sure-fire way to head towards a relationship of resentment. Only unconditional love is free of the incessant need to control others. As long as we give someone else responsibility for our emotions, (“if you changed, I would be happy”), we’ll always feel the need to try to control and change others.
If we liberate them from that responsibility, we liberate ourselves to be happy, regardless, and then we have access to genuinely awesome, healthy, soul-fulfilling relationships with those who are ready to liberate us from that responsibility, as well. And for those not ready to make that jump with us, it makes their demands less painful. This lesson has allowed me to experience awe-inspiring levels of love for and with my closest friends, particularly my fiancé. This freedom of the responsibility to change one’s self to make the other happy is incredible; it makes us want to function as a partnership and love the other person more. I highly, highly recommend it.
I’ve learned lessons about happiness. I’ve learned that I cannot place anyone’s happiness above my own, no matter what they may believe my role/responsibility to be. We’re taught to self-sacrifice. If it’s not for our parents, it’s for our kids, or our jobs, or our friends, or our lovers. “Don’t be selfish,” we’re told. But how can we not? How effective is a mother who doesn’t prioritize her own happiness? How effective is a worker who ignores his health? There are short-term payoffs that convince us it’s the “right” thing to do, that it’s bringing about desired results; the long-term, however, reveals illness and resentment. Let go. Put your happiness, first. And let everyone know they’re responsible for their own happiness, too.
Peaceful Dumplings, do your relationships with your parents also merit reflection?
If you could change one thing about your interaction with them, what would it be?
What could change in your life if it did change?
Also by Amparo: Why You Should Travel Alone As a Woman
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Photo: Breno Machado via Unsplash