Dear Gen Y;
Life is hard. You had some bumps along the road. Unfortunately, part of the pain that can come from our childhood is because we were often powerless to do anything about the things that happened. Life was what our parents made, or didn’t make, of it. We were just along for the ride. Children have to rely on the goodness of others, even strangers sometimes, to protect them. More often than not, those people either lacked goodness or simply did not see what was going on.
Once you get out on your own you start to see how life appears to have been for other people. Comparisons are always tricky because we tend to compare our worst to their best. Everyone’s life looks shinier and prettier from a distance. Even broken bits and pieces can deflect the light, sparkle, and appear magical from that perspective.
Feeling powerless in our own childhood can create a victim mentality that is difficult to shake. When we are so focused on our own pain, we tend to look for excuses to back up our skewed view of the world. It becomes difficult to make that transition from the child to adult because we are still crying out for saving, as if we are still the victims of those who were meant to care for us. That can’t work when we are adults. Unlike a child who has no options, we do, so we can’t sit around feeling sorry for ourselves or making excuses anymore. We are now the people, the strangers that other children are relying on to see and save them. What chance do those children have of being saved by a world full of stuck, victim adults who deal with their lives as if they are still children themselves?
Crossing the barrier from childhood to adulthood is not all about the freedoms. Many see it as finally being able to do whatever they want, whenever they want, without the constant fear of the disapproval of their parent’s heavy hand. The first great disappointment for most of us, is the sad realization EVERYTHING is now on us. Yes, you can go out and party as late as you want but you also have to earn your own money, make decisions, and find your way through life’s many trials. Nobody is going to shop or do the laundry for you while you are out partying. Your fridge does not magically get stocked with awesome foods you love to eat. You not only have to replace the toilet paper once the roll is empty, you have to remember to buy it in the first place. Adulthood is work and requires far greater responsibility than you were ever tasked with as kids. The emotional and social responsibilities are even heavier because they actually define your characters – the people that you are daily choosing to be.
As far as the rest of the world is concerned, that single day that separates our childhood from adulthood signals a significant closing down of our imagined “choices.” Children are given lots of “get out jail free” cards. They are not held accountable in the same way adults are. As an adult you are legally responsible for your choices and will pay the price like everyone else. We tend not to sentence children to lengthy terms in jail because we know they would not be able to handle it, and because we have hope they might change their ways as they grow up a bit more. Childhood sees a gradient of behavioural expectation. We expect much more from a 12 year old than we do from a 4 year old. But once you hit adulthood, that gradient disappears. A 21 year old adult is held to the same accountability as is the 31 , or 81 year old.
You are no longer the centre of a global effort to protect you and excuse your behaviour. Just like that you move from excuses to responsibility by simply waking up the morning of your 18th birthday.
As an adult you will find that while people might be understanding of your feelings, they will not condone bad behaviour . Children react without much thought. Tell a child he cannot have a toy at the store and he may fall to the floor kicking and screaming like a wounded bull. He could care less what impact his actions have on anyone else. He is reactionary, and sometimes unable to process his own emotions. If there is damage caused by the child, physical or emotional, it is the parent that pays the consequences. An adult is expected to have gained enough control that he is no longer a victim of his own emotions and in failing to exercise control, he is totally responsible for any damage caused.
An adult understands that he has a choice as to how to acts. No-one MAKES us angry. We choose our responses to the emotions we experience. Losing control when someone cuts you off in traffic is still a choice and there are laws that force accountability on behalf of the public. People who react to life are ineffective because they are side stepping responsibility. You are accountable for your actions, every single one of them, good or bad. It is not your parents fault if you turn out to be an ineffective human being. The world is full of people whose parents were not perfect, in fact, everyone who has ever lived had imperfect parents. Many people with even the worst possible parents chose to use that experience to propel them on to great things. You are not ineffective because of your parents. You are ineffective because you blame them instead of taking responsibility for yourself. There is a subtle line that can exist between being the victim and turning into a perpetrator. Bad behaviour is not excused by others because your parents disappointed/hurt/abused you. Bad behaviour just tells the world who you have chosen to be. And being sad about a parent who failed you is different from going out of your way to say and do nasty things to attack and destroy that parent.
In many instances our parents actions are often the result of circumstances. They may genuinely not have understood the consequences of their actions. People make mistakes. Many of the criticisms leveled at parents are not for acts of commission. Parents don’t often purposely decide to do things that hurt their children, they often just do the best they can with what they have available.
Life moves on. We all grow and change. Given the opportunity, our parents would probably have done things very differently. Your parents are not the same people today that they were when you were 5. YOU are not the same person you were when you were 16. Through out history, the people most admired in this world, are not the people who were perfect. They are the people who made mistakes, even horrific mistakes, and who had the courage to not give up but to keep trying. These are the people that inspire us. These are the people that have changed the world. Your parents might be people who have made a journey like that in their lives. They might be good friends to have, on the journey of your own life.
As you are no longer a child you will hopefully grow to understand how difficult life is and more importantly, how imperfect we all are. If we are wise, we use our mistakes as opportunities to understand more about ourselves and the world around us. As we suffer, break, and bleed, we hopefully will be opened up, softened, and make to be a more compassionate and a wiser human being. If you insist on carrying your hate and judgment of your parents forward through your own life I can only pray that you will not one day yourself have great need for the very grace you currently withhold from them.
Continuing on your path of blaming others for you, or doing unkind things to get even, only shifts the balance from you being the victim to you being a perpetrator. It means you are worse than anything you accused your parents of because while they may have struggled and made mistakes, you are presently making a conscious choice to be a nasty person. It means you are taking something from long ago that is no longer a current threat to your well being and using it as an excuse to behave badly today. Letting go is important in your life because despite what you say to anyone else about how awful your parent were, the only thing others will hear is a narrative on who you are. No-one will care about your past. They will only see you, here and now. Your actions will always speak volumes above and beyond any words you use.
You are powerful. You have the power to make choices about WHO you are. You cannot make choices for who your parents should be anymore than they were able to make those choices for you. Forgiving them is not just about allowing them off the hook, it is more importantly about you! Forgiving them, empowers you. It takes you out of victim mode and puts you in the drivers seat of full responsibility for your own life. Who they were, what happened to you, those things were not things you could ever do anything about, but who YOU are and what you do with your life, is totally and completely in YOUR control.
So let it go.
Be every amazing thing you ever dreamed of being by taking full responsibility, without excuses.
With love, from a “boomed baby”