Friday, December 4, 2009

How To Be Better

In the spirit of being all honest and open, mainly because it's Christmas and that gets me to thinking about life and the people in mine, I'm going to share a bit about myself. I've heard you learn a lot about a person based solely on their family and how they grew up. You learn a lot about yourself and those around you once you move out on your own and are away from them. Now granted, I'm literally only a few blocks from my family but still. It's different.

But I've reached a point in my life where I'm not really sure where I stand. It's that awkward position of having my own family yet feeling like I'm letting my parents down because I'm not doing things they necessarily want me to do. I have also discovered I'm not alone in this. I would say at least 80% of my friends are struggling in the same way. We have a hard time growing up and standing up for ourselves when our parents expect us to do or be something else. I imagine I'll learn the other end of it with Olivia and Jackson are older but maybe I won't get it either. Maybe I'll just think they are being selfish and rude in their acts of growing up.

The way I raise my children is very different from how my brother and I were raised. And that's not a dig at my parents- they did an excellent job. They did the best they could with what they had. They worked hard and quite honestly, we didn't see them a lot. We didn't do a lot of family stuff together. Not to say we did nothing, because I remember afternoon car trips and stuff like that but we never really did the vacation thing, and I don't really remember my parents participating in stuff with us. Not that it's mandatory. I just noticed that my parents were a lot different than my friends' parents. And I was jealous. I wanted my parents to be the annoying chaperones on field trips, to make friends with my friends' parents, to get more excited about the things we wanted to do, etc. Does this sound lame? But my parents weren't like that and it's ok. They just aren't super social people. It gets to be a bit uncomfortable to come up with excuses when my inlaws want to do stuff (like holidays) as one huge group- but maybe I should stop making up excuses and just say they aren't social. They don't like parties and group settings. They prefer TV at home on a quiet night. I flip flop depending on my mood and my anxiety levels.

But when I was born my mom was so young (I ended up being the same age as her when I had Olivia) and she was married to my birth father. Now I don't remember him a lot. Scratch that. I don't remember happy times. I only remember the yelling, fighting, things being thrown, my brother crying, my mom crying, visiting grandma & grandpa's a lot, and wondering what I did wrong. Because for a long time I really thought maybe I did something wrong to make my parents fight. I didn't know why my dad was so mean to my mom, why he'd hit her and why stuff was always broken. I remember the very last night we were in the house with him vividly and dream of it often. I don't know that I could ever forget it. But I know now by having my own kids exactly how my mom must have felt. I felt it when things were bad with Matt. Not that things are great now, but they certainly could be worse. I know how scared she must have been striking out as a single mom with two kids with absolutely nothing. She had family that supported her and from that I learned that no matter what the disagreements may be- your family is family. You help each other out no matter what. Even if you don't like them- your job as a family member is to help out when someone needs it.

I had contact with my father about a year ago. When I turned 18 I paid a fee to find him and I wrote him a long letter. I wrote about me, my plans for the future, that I graduated high school and was going to college, how my brother was, what kinds of things we were in to, etc. I mailed it with the hopes that maybe he'd care. About a month later I received it back, but it had been opened, re-taped shut and had "return to sender" written on the front. I recognized his handwriting immediately. At first I was hurt that he didn't keep it but then I figured he read it- so at least I had that. A few years later I paid the fee again, wrote another letter when I had gotten married and was pregnant with my daughter. This letter never came back so I have no idea if he ever received it. Then out of the blue a year ago he called me. At work. I was so taken aback, I had no idea what to do. I was stunned. He obviously remembered I had married and did an internet search for me. Which I come up on the MN Senior Corps Programs website because I work for a program of MnSC. We spoke about 3 times on the phone but I was pretty sure he was drunk on all 3 calls. And I heard a ton of people in the background in one call so he could have been calling from a bar. And then about a month later I received a box that looked like it had been through hell and back. It was a photo album and a card. A belated birthday card. It was the first one I ever remember getting from him. I was so excited to think that maybe my dad really did love me and think about me. When I read the letter I realized he really was just a bum and a drunk. I copied the pictures I wanted and mailed the entire thing back to him. I haven't heard from him since.

In the process I did manage to contact a few aunts and an uncle from my father's side. That has been really fun. I like hearing about the family I missed out on. I don't know if we would have stayed in Florida if it would be any different. But when I met my Aunt Debi on our FL trip this year she was awesome. Super fun and outgoing and I just saw myself in her. Like I really match up with someone. Like I found the part of family that I belonged and took after. It was a big deal to me.

Now with my own family I try not to make the mistakes that my parents did. I am trying to be a better person than I was and I think that continually trying to better is what your parents want you to do. I want Olivia to be a better mom than I am. I want my kids to be smarter than me, more successful than me and so on. But as some of my friends have observed in their own family relationships, not all parents want that. Some parents assume that because the children want to be better it means they weren't good enough. Which I don't think is true at all. I don't know how my parents feel about that and it doesn't matter. I'm trying to be better. And one way to do that is that I am trying to make friends. Trying to give myself the outlet and escape from my kids and husband some days. You need that. Sometimes I feel like if my mom had a group of girlfriends where she could have gone out once or twice a month without us she wouldn't have been so stressed out. And as her daughter I feel guilty about something I had no control over. Like if we were better kids maybe she would have been happier. Maybe she would have wanted to do more with us. That might not be true, but it's what kids think. So when Olivia asks me to play with her and I'm in the middle of cleaning- I have to make a conscious effort to stop what I'm doing and play. Because someday she won't want to play and I'll be sad. I want her to look back and remember that I played with her a lot and that I went out of my way to make things extra special for her. And maybe her children will benefit from that.


Sara said...

It is a heartfelt blog and it is just one step in you figuring out how you feel. I guess I connect on several levels. At the end of my thought process is this..."do what makes you happy." Some things you just have to say f*** it and just do what you need to do in your life. Live with no regrets. Accept the price of a decision and go forward.

Cristina said...

I'm sure it was difficult for you to put all that out for a bunch of complete strangers to read, so bravo for doing it! I can relate to the feeling that I'm a let down to my mom, especially when it seems like my brother can do no wrong in her eyes. Even though I don't really know you, the sense I get from reading your blog is you are a great wife and mother. The parents who don't need breaks from their family are rare--it's only natural to feel like you need to get away every once in a while. The fact that you want your kids to do better than you and you take time out of your day, even if you're busy, to play with your children only speaks to the fact that you are a great mom.

Wow, this comment is getting long. So in conclusion, you're awesome :-) Your past only makes you a stronger, better person.

Sara Strand said...

Thanks, ladies! :)

Julie H said...

I never really feel like I let my parents down. I guess if you have enough losers in your family you can be the shining star by not doing anything special ;o)

Sucks about your dad but you are probably better off to not have him in your life.

Anonymous said...

You should start a book club-- you love to read and the social outlet is AMAZING! I've been in one for the past 6 years and I LOVE it.

Thanks for sharing all of that.