Thursday, February 5, 2015

Some things to Remember When Grown Ups Let You Down

We know a couple of families who are going through divorces right now. No matter how well it's handled, it's hard on everyone. Sometimes both parents are amazing and do everything right. Sometimes it's a total poop show on both sides. Sometimes we're tempted to pick sides and declare a good guy and a bad guy. When you're a kid, those distinctions are horrible because both sides are literally a part of you. Pick a bad guy and suddenly all the parts of you that come from that parent feel... bad? At least, they feel confusing.

Since this seems to be the year of me having difficult conversations with my kids, I thought I would share a few things with our collective brood(s) of children about my experiences as the product of divorce. Really though, this is for any kid who is currently reaching the conclusion that one (or both) of their parents are not the people they thought they were and perhaps more importantly, are not the people that they need them to be.

So kids, here's my perspective:

The grown-ups in your life are going to let you down sometimes because they're human and none of us are perfect. They may do it in lots of little ways or in huge, horrible ways. You probably already know the difference between someone who is trying to do their best for you (but messing up sometimes) and someone who is putting other things ahead of being the kind of parent that you need.

I would ask, on behalf of the well-intentioned but mistake-prone adults everywhere, that you be patient with us. Being a grown-up and a parent is actually super hard. If you feel that a grown up is really trying and really loves you, please be forgiving of the times when they get it wrong. We should all be doing that for each other, right?

Now let's talk about the other kind of grown-up. Sadly, when it comes to parents (or step-parents) letting you down, I've been there - more than once. There have been several times in my life when my dad (who is a good man) was not there for me. I needed him to be my father and for a while, his top priorities did not include parenting me. As I got older, I realized I had a choice - I could accept that he wasn't always the dad I needed him to be and keep him around OR I could be angry that he wasn't always the dad I needed him to be and kick him out of my life.

I'm glad I kept him. I'm also glad that I gave myself plenty of time to be mad at him. I mean, I was pissed off at him for years. But we never closed the door (although I did slam it a few times for good measure).

As I grew up, I was also able to put some other things into perspective. I was able to look at my dad's life and get a better understanding of WHY he made the choices he did. Sometimes there are circumstances, like health issues or a loss. It doesn't really change anything when you understand why people do the things they do. It's certainly doesn't excuse it, either. What that understanding gave me was the gift of knowing that his choices weren't my fault and that in some ways - they didn't even have that much to do with me. They had to do with him.

That might sound dumb, or really obvious. But the pain of a parent not being there can start to feel like shame. And a lot of kids feel like maybe their parent is absent because there's something wrong with them. That they're not good enough or not worthy of their love. Please know that is total crap. It has to do with them, not with you. It has to do with their choices and not with your worthiness. You deserve ALL OF THE LOVE. You are a freaking GIFT and you should be treasured.

But you can't control what other people do, or how they behave, or what they treasure. You can, however, know your own worth. You can decide to believe firmly in your own awesomeness. You'd be surprised how far that can take you and all that it can save you from.

And here's another thing - and it's important. Those grown-ups in your life who aren't the people you need them to be? YOU ARE NOT THEM. My parents have each been married three times. Do you think that was fun for me? I would not have chosen that for myself. But here's the thing - I am not my parents. I don't have to make their choices. I can make any choices I want when it comes to marriage and kids and divorce or whatever.

And buddy, you are not your parents. You can have any kind of life you want. If you see adults making crappy choices - you can be like: DULY NOTED. I will never do that because it's awful. And I will be able to spot people who do messed up things like that and I will stay the hell away from them because life is too short and there are too many awesome folks in the world to hang out with.

Someday you may find yourself making bad choices. You may find yourself being like: "Why am I even doing this? I hate this and how it makes me feel." And then you might feel some of that shame and pain and those "I'm not worth it" feelings come creeping back into your brain. You need to know that those feelings are LIARS and you should tell them to shut up and go away. Everyone makes bad choices sometimes. It doesn't make you a bad person. We already talked about people who try hard and mess up occasionally, right? We forgive them and move on. That means you, too.

This hilarious (and very inappropriate) writer named Kinky Friedman once wrote: "A happy childhood is the worst possible preparation for life." This stuff that's so hard to deal with right now is preparing you for the rest of your life. It's teaching you who you want to be, what you will and won't put up with, and most importantly - it's showing you what you're made of. When other people become adults and bad things happen to them, they aren't prepared and sometimes they can't handle it. But not you, kiddo. You've been through it before.

You will know you're strong enough to handle anything.


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