Very often when I think of my dad, I think about how I wish I could have had one more conversation before he passed on. I often think how I would like to ask his opinion or advice on something going in my life now. I think about how I’d love to hear him tell a joke or a story and make his family and friends laugh. This is not to be.
Then I think about conversations I have not had with my family. There are days in which I feel an internal struggle. I desperately want to say something that could be useful or uplifting but I dare not say it. I don’t speak because I fear being shut down by the other person involved in the conversation. I don’t speak because I don’t want to deal with the brash attitude or hear “I got it”. Then I think to myself, “you may have it, or you may not have it. But, I am sure there is something I could share with you that you have not thought of”. I don’t speak. I don’t know in what manner,what I yearn to say will be received by you. I don’t speak because it is clear to me the conversation is over. This person doesn’t want to listen or can’t hear me now. I retreat with a lump in my throat and tension throughout my body because leaving things unsaid is uncomfortable and painful for me. I think about what happens if things never get said. I know it is very real possibility.
When I was growing up very little went unsaid. In my memory, my parents said what they thought and what they needed to say. There was no fear of my reaction to what they were saying. Good, bad or indifferent they were the parents and authorities. I was the child, a semi adult child, then an adult and they still had knowledge or an opinion. Today the relationship between parents and children seems so different to me.
It is not just me who feels this struggle of “should I say what am thinking or let it go?” Many, many of my friends and family have told me they “don’t ask questions to things they may not want to know the truth about” and they “don’t offer an opinion because they don’t want their idea to be thrown back in their faces. Especially, if the suggestion they have given doesn’t work out”. I am not sure when this shift happened or if my generation of parents is weaker or smarter than previous generations of parents.
The weakness maybe in not wanting to ruffle our dear children’s feathers. We never want them to have deal with anything uncomfortable at all. Without a doubt some of this is completely inherent in the way parents have been parenting since the 1990’s. We want everything to go smoothly for our children. We don’t want them to face any bumps with friends or teachers when they are in elementary school and beyond. We never want them left out. We give everyone a trophy for participating on a sports team. We want them to be happy all the time. We have clearly not parented from a realistic point of view.
We have not given them the skills to deal with very common defeats such as not making the sports team or not getting the role they desire in the play. If we say anything at all we tend to say ” I don’t want you to be upset if you don’t get the part or make the team”. We don’t know how to have the more delicate conversations. We teach them to be the best but we rarely talk to our children about what happens when they lose or are not the best. We don’t even talk to them about having a bad day until that bad day happens. We play Monday morning quarter back and then rush in to smooth our children’s bruised hearts.
When I think about my own childhood and the time I grew up in, I know that a certain sensitivity to the child who had a bad day or a rough go at it didn’t always exist. Some people shared with me that they were told “You think this is bad, you don’t know what a real bad problem is”. Some were told “that’s life, you can’t get what you want all the time”. Some were made to feel awful for not being successful. Some had a deep sense of embarrassment and learned not to share anything negative at all with their parents. Some were lectured at when they needed time to think and feel. They were not ready to hear the “lesson”. It is true that this generation of parents also tried to smooth their children’s feelings over after the bad or disappointing day occurred. Yet, instead of appearing to be coddling they were matter of fact and on to the next thing. I am sure that his generation of parents were not smarter. Rather they had a more clear cut vision of their job as parents.
We are in desperate need of more conversations in our children’s formative years that teach them how to lose gracefully, how to handle things when life seems so unfair, how to regroup from a day that has made them feel stressed or very sad. We may need to learn the skills we were never taught about discussing these feelings. We may need to learn how to deal with our own bad days and disappointments before we can talk to our children about their feelings. So much of learning how to parent is learning on the job. And, we need learn how to have difficult conversations in a productive way. Our children need us to have these conversations and teach them what we know.
I certainly do not want to miss any coversations regarding life’s most important moments. I know this because I want more conversations with my own dad.