Thursday, October 15, 2015

Our Parents in Us

As my husband and I stood outside my son's classroom waiting for the start of a school affair, papers hanging on the wall caught my eye. On display was a class project where the kids had to come up with synonyms using the letters of their name. Immediately I searched for what my son came up with and though it's obviously not perfect as you can see below (e.g. spelling), I am intrigued and fascinated by the thought process behind it.




First of all, I completely agree with the adjectives he chose to characterize himself. But more importantly, I'm actually impressed by his choices and happy that he didn't choose Nasty, Nutty, Neurotic or Narcissistic. Or even Anxious, Absurd or Abused (by a recovering perfectionist mother). 

What screamed out to me, and what I find most amusing, is that it's become obvious how he feels defined by being organized, or at least aspires to be. And look at that illustration he came up with! It's him sweating it out in the organization process. Papers, markers, toys, games and crayons all in their rightful spots...and contained in bins no less! What sense of accomplishment indeed!

There is one question I'm left wondering about after seeing my son's project. I'm now left thinking of how much of this is true for him, independent of what he knows I want him to be. In other words, are these qualities he truly believes he possesses or qualities he tries to possess because his parents approve of them? He could have written 'nervous', 'obedient', 'adorable' or 'affectionate' and 'happy' or 'helpful'words I easily associate with him. But he chose what he chose and it makes me curious.

Consequently, isn't it also worth asking ourselves how much of who we are or have become as adults, truly and authentically represent us and not just qualities we think we have, simply because we still aspire to possess them for the sake of having our parents' (or any other significant other's) approval?

If you say you're 'ambitious', are you truly that or are you pushing yourself to be that because it's what you've been taught to aspire for?

If you say you're 'compassionate', is that who you are to the core even when no one is looking or judging you? And is this something you freely chose?

Are you really 'funny' or did your family assign that role to you and you never really wanted it in the first place?

Or maybe we all somehow turn into versions of what our parents wanted us to be and end up internalizing their ideals.

I understand that we are all products of our socialization, especially the socialization process we received through our families. I understand that we become who we are because of what we learn, what we see and that it's all these things layered on to us and eventually define us.

But I still wonder how much of ourselves are simply reflections of our parents' desires for us. How much of myself can I claim, with utter certainty, as completely devoid of my parents' fingerprints or echoes of their voices. If we were all to make a list of five qualities we believe define us, how many of these can we say are independent of our parents' aspirations for us? In addition, which trait do you wish to drop or disassociate from, if only you could, because it's really more just a reflection of what people expect from you rather than something that you feel is authentic to you? Are there any?

I don't have firm answers to these questions yet, and am still mulling over them. 

What are your thoughts? I would love to read them.



















10 comments:

  1. That is a fascinating question and something I will definitely be thinking about more closely. What touched me about your son's project was his comment about you. What grade is your son in? He is so smart!

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    1. Yeah, I went 'awwwww' too when I read that, Rena. He's in 3rd, btw. Thanks so much!!

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  2. Deep! I've heard it said that daughters disassociate from their mothers in their teens as part of the normal process of growing up. I remember my youngest one commenting that she would never be a writer because my writing job took away so much time from the family. But at 28, she came full circle some time ago, and now identifies traits she's sure she inherited from me as opposed to ones she thinks are from her Dad. I don't have sons, so I'm wondering how their growth process unfolds...

    You made me think. I seem to have disassociated myself from my parents' expectations more easily. That could be partly due to being in my 50s, and partly due to having lived away from everyone in my family of origin for 30 years. Now when I think of my traits, I attribute them more to the general influence of being Filipino. "Dutiful" might be an exception. Definitely my mother instilled that in me and verbally reminded me about its importance. But "pakikisama"? (loosely translated as the willingness to give up individual preferences so that everyone gets along) — hmm. I voice my preferences and follow them. The rest of the folks in whatever group can do what they want. I was the youngest child and had to go along with everyone's wishes, and those days are long over!

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    1. Good for you, Cookie! I would like to believe that disassociating from others' expectations of us is part of maturing / aging. The variable lies in how much and from what. I've always hated the idea of 'pakikisama' but it's part of social life. Again it's the degree of pakikisama that becomes important. As with anything, too much or too little can harm us. I'm glad you said it made you think. THAT means a LOT to me. xoxo Thanks Cookie!

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  3. This is a fascinating subject, Joy. I sometimes think of how I would be if I didn't care SO MUCH what people thought of me. Nearly everything I do is formulated by the wanting to be liked or the need to be approved of. Parental approval sticks with me even after my father has passed away, imagine that! The one thing I have concluded is that courage (or lack thereof) is the one trait, that if you have enough of it -- you'll be your authentic self to the core....even when nobody is looking. Great job here. BTW - - It's Stephanie, in case this shows up as anonymous like usual!

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    1. Oooooh, I SO agree that courage does wonders, Steph! You are so right about that. I'm happy the topic stimulated or fascinated you. I know that there's still a lot for me to think about with regard to this topic. Let's all think and meditate together ;-))

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  4. Really interesting post Joy. I find myself, even now at 48, acting differently around my parents sometimes - maybe I'm still trying to live up to their expectations for me? Will definitely be giving this some thought.

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    1. Yeah, isn't that 'funny' Lana? Me too! There are still things I wouldn't say in front of my parents. Hahaha! I guess we're always going to be 'children', their children regardless of our age. Thanks so much for your thoughts!

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  5. Interesting. I have to say, I strayed far from my parents in a lot of aspects. But I still see a lot of both of them in me.

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    1. We just can't shake them off, can we, Marie? ;-))) Thanks for your thoughts!

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Let me know your thoughts!