Image captured from Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Naked-Intimacy-Increase-Openness-Relationship/dp/0071395180/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1336006031&sr=8-2 NOTE: Clicking won’t work on the icon above. . . I bet you wanted to any way.
At the breakfast table, I’m reading a book entitled, Naked Intimacy. Of course, my almost-twelve-year-old son has to ask, “Why are you reading a book called Naked Intimacy?”
“It’s not what you think,” I say.
“What is it about?” He asks, emphasizing the “what” just like I did.
“Well,” I reply. It’s about being able to talk about your feelings and share them with your partner.”
“O. . .K. . .A. . .Y,” he says tentatively.
My daughter walks in. The look on her face tells me that this isn’t a conversation she wants to be drawn into first thing in the morning.
“Hey, it’s not so bad to talk about your feelings,” I try to chirp.
They are not convinced. I know that I don’t always do a very good job of acknowledging their feelings. Bad habits and patterns of behavior are not easy to change. It seems to get harder as I grow older. Getting older also raises the stakes. There is less time left to “get things right” more energy has been invested. There is a history that is worth redeeming.
My daughter’s face says it all. Regret and frustration wash over her before she can hold them back. We had disappointed her yesterday evening. She went to bed angry. As much as I wanted to be able to say the magic words that would restore her to her sunny self, I knew that she had to work through her feelings on her own for a while.
This morning the residue of yesterday’s anger clung to her. I gave her a “public service announcement” about feelings, imperfect parents, the value of respect, of how failure is to be expected in the process of learning. She was still frustrated and mostly with herself. If a wish could have taken this feeling away from her I would have wished it. I understand how this feels more than she can know.
I tried to reassure her that feelings are what they are. I hug her warmly and spontaneously kiss her on her head. I tell her, “I love you very, very much. You don’t have to be perfect to have my love.”
Does she have any idea how much I understand? But, this moment isn’t about me. It’s about her. I try to marshal my inner forces of wisdom before I reply. Her humanness pulls my heart even closer to her.
“Some times, you’re just going to feel that way. It’s OK. The challenge is in learning how to respond in the best possible way when you don’t feel like it. It takes lots of practice. Honey, I’m still trying. I haven’t got it licked yet.”
While my words help comfort her slightly, she is still seems troubled by how she felt, how she still feels. I need to respect this as something she must carry and work through on her own. For me, the hardest part of being a parent, is allowing my children to make mistakes and to work through the emotional fallout that is often the consequence of those mistakes. I hate it when they are hard on themselves. I worry that they are internalizing parts of me or their father that give us grief and I want to spare them the extra baggage that will make their lives even more challenging than they will already be. I want to make them laugh. Give them chocolates and hugs.
Then, there are times when I just want to yell at them. When their issues touch my own so quickly and so keenly that I feel anger rush up my trunk and branch out into a thousand jagged leaves. Maybe this is even harder. . . being a human parent with issues that overtake us so quickly that we respond without thinking of the consequences. We response from our own dark places, from our own center of fear or from our palaces of hurt. Knowing that one way or another we will give our children a reason to be in therapy is a hard thing to face. We have screwed it up. We are screwing some things up. We will screw some things up. We are doomed to fail. Not just once but over and over again.
Yes, I know about making mistakes, about failing, about avoidance and manipulation. I know about anger and fear.
Time has given me only a few advantages. Failing has gotten a lot easier. I can pick myself up sooner even then, I often need some time to work through the feelings that failure brings with it. Through time and practice, I have discovered that once in a while, I can know a peace that I never knew as a teen or young adult or even a adult adult. I’m beginning to discover a secret that is hidden in the human journey, one I never expected to find.
Failure and success aren’t opposites. Failure is part of the process. It’s on the road to success. We’re all going some where, we just have to figure out how and why. My children will need to figure this out on their own despite the mistakes I will make and in spite of the mistakes they will make. For better, for worse, for richer and for poorer, we are in this together. I’m determined to make the best of it in spite of myself.