So I had an interesting conversation the other day.
It was with chatting with an older gentleman. We’ll call him Ferdinand. (Nope, that’s not his name. I just like the name.) Ferdinand is about 60 or so.
And his mother is in her 90s.
Somehow we started talking about parental relationships and Ferdinand asserted that his mother has never really known him. She’s never really been able to respect his life choices and understand them. (He’s an artist.)
“She just doesn’t know me.”
He said his mother has always been better able to relate to his older brother because they’ve had similar life paths. They both apparently have relished in the traditional: traditional job, traditional careers, traditional relationships.
He continued with how his parents never really understood him or his interests; specifically his art. “They just didn’t get it.”
He shared a particular example of one of his art shows and how his father said not a word to him. Not, “I hate it. What is this?!” or, “I love this. You’re amazing.” He said repeatedly, “He didn’t say one.word. Not one.word… except to the fellow who was in charge of the music. And he asked the man to turn the music down.”
Ferdinand went on to say that his mother continues to cling to her memories of his youth. When he recently had lunch with her, she said, “Why don’t you put mustard on that sandwich? It’ll be better with mustard. You should eat mustard.” And his response to me was, “Just because I put mustard on my sandwich when I was a kid doesn’t mean that I do that now. I’ve changed. I don’t like mustard on my sandwiches.”
And then it became clearer.
His mother. His 90-year-old mother was clinging to what she knows of the son she raised. He used to like, or at least accept, that there was mustard on his sandwiches. She knows that to be true. So she harkens back to it as opposed to confronting the present. (I’m not saying it’s right.)
The unknown is anxiety-inducing.
His art is unknown to her. It’s scary. It’s out of her comfort zone. The fact that he’s not married but has had a partner of a different ethnic background is out of her comfort zone. She doesn’t understand.
During this conversation I thought: Oh, this is the warning of all warnings: our children grow and make decisions that are outside of our control. They become grown people who are no longer cute, squishy babies who grab our hands for security and guidance and direction. They grow up to be full-fledged adults, who oddly enough, will always look to us for that same security… but still need space to grow and learn who they are. It’s up to us, as parents, to decide if we’re going to quietly encourage and constantly learn about the world that interests our children.
We can either bang our heads against the wall and continue not understanding just who our children are, stunting the relationship’s evolution, or we can reach out and attempt to learn. Over and over and over again. (Yep, I know that some parental relationships aren’t salvageable. But I’m talking about the ones that are.)
I think we need to make that attempt before it’s too late. Before we’re 60 and our parents are 90.
Ferdinand told me that his Mom now asks, rather uncomfortably, “So… how’s your art?”
And his response to me was, “‘How’s your art? What does that even mean? That’s so ambiguous.”
So I responded with, “Oh, Ferdinand. She’s making an attempt. Throw her a bone. She doesn’t know how to ask you anything more in depth than that. ‘How’s your art?’ means, how are you? It means, ‘I love you.’ It’s all she knows to ask. She’s asking you because she cares about you. Meet her half way.“
He just sort of looked at me and said, “Hmmm…”
Note to self following that conversation:
Nurture them. Always, always, always try to understand what’s important to my children.
Disagree with them, sure.
But respect them.
Be kind. Discipline them.
But respect them.
When I notice that my girls have interests outside of my own, I need to learn about them and show them that I care.
That’s all there is to it.