Christmas is this week and I’m going home to visit my family. Although I’ve had several homes in my life, my parents’ home in D.C. will always be “the home.” When I “go home” something strange happens to me … I become childlike.
I’m already anticipating my mom pouring me a mug of her spiced tea and eating her banana nut bread and drinking my the egg nog my Dad always buys in December. I sleep in my childhood room surrounded by the things I’ve had since high school and reminisce about past Christmases.
The first day of being babied by my parents is heaven. I just soak up their love. But by the third day or sometimes sooner, I’m over my dad showing me listings of good government jobs in The Washington Post (By the way, I’m an entrepreneur in California) or my mom reminding me to take my scarf, hat and gloves, even when it’s warm.
I asked her, “Mom, do you think that I’m just running around naked in California and don’t know how to take care of myself?” She just smiled and said, “That’s fine don’t take your scarf, it’s your life.” Right.
The other side of my childlike behavior is not something I’m proud of. When I visit my parents, I sometimes slip into old patterns. My Dad and I had a contentious relationship for many years and when I used to visit I had to actively resist the urge to not get into an argument with him. I usually lasted midway through the visit and then I would be exhausted with the effort to not say what I felt and then just explode.
One year it was so bad that a fight broke out over the “right” brand of hot sauce. I told you I wasn’t proud of my behavior.
I think that this dynamic with my parents is amplified since I don’t have kids. I assume that some of my parents’ nurturing energy would have been transferred to my kids. But maybe not. Maybe the lectures would be centered on the right way to parent my child or some other topic that I can’t even think of. Perhaps no matter how old you are, whether you have kids or not your parents will always think of you as their child, first and foremost.
How do you navigate an adult relationship with your parents that respects your adulthood, but also respects their parentage? For me, I’ve learned to smile sweetly at my mother’s reminders to bring a scarf and just go ahead and take a scarf.
Other times, I know that I have to speak my mind and assert my independence. After repeated emails filled with listings of those good government jobs I emailed my father back, thanked him for thinking of me and told him that I am an entrepreneur and that those jobs are not what I want, but what he wants for me, and please don’t send them to me anymore.
It wasn’t until he came out to visit me this year (alone for a week) that he finally got it. He saw me with my clients and later told me that he could see that I’m doing what I am supposed to be doing. Though it felt great to have him acknowledge my life choice I know that I can’t plan my life around what either of parents want for me, that I have to do what is right for me.
I will always be my parents’ child, always sitting at the holiday children’s table in their minds, but I’m also my own person. I may always have to navigate that dynamic and remind myself that even in the midst of the nagging, there’s also the nurturing. No matter, there’s always their love.