Mar, 2001 Issue #79
SAYING IT RIGHT And PLAYING IT SAFE
By Judy Martin
Thank you for your letter. It is obvious to us that you are facing yourself in profoundly difficult and painful ways. You have always been afraid and either given up or been rescued. Now is the time for you to stand up to your fear by deciding that only you can truly love and rescue you.
We would walk through fire and brimstone for you. We will never give up on you. We look forward to the day when we can reunite. Now is not that time.
In my letter, I was responding to my teenaged daughter’s plea to be discharged from the treatment facility we’d sent her to. Dissatisfied with what I’d written, I retrieved my letter from its unsealed enveloped and read it slowly, one more time. My words, like my soul weary state, seemed to me as dull and lifeless as stale white bread.
I’d lost count of Becca’s self-destructive acts. I’d lost count of the dollars we’d spent keeping her safe by sending her to therapeutic schools. And in living my life as a “wannabe good parent, ” I’d suffocated every authentic impulse sparking inside me. “It’s a parent’s job to be fair, nice, encouraging, patient and understanding,” I told myself.
I’ll bypass the long-winded, carefully detailed, explanation of how I learned to suppress myself. Somewhere along the way, in order to stay on my parent’s good side, I began cushioning my words. It had survival value. I avoided the sting of rejection and anger.
It rarely occurred to me that anyone would want to hear my real voice. Instead, I learned to “say it right and play it safe.”
But my daughter needed something other than “safe” or “right.” She needed me.
It’s not like she ever said, “Gee, Mom, I wish you were more authentic.” But every time I used what she called, my “therapy voice,” she chafed. And whenever it took me a paragraph to say a simple “Yes” or “No,” she turned toxic.
Ultimately, we reached a point where Becca was so triggered by me, she couldn’t imagine being in the same room together. Perceiving myself as heroically kind and sensitive, I felt horribly unappreciated by her.
Ultimately, my straw house of caution collapsed beneath the wind of my daughter’s rebelliousness. And her stormy nature washed away all carefully applied “niceness” from my face.
While she moved from one frightening behavior to another, I discovered that I could rarely say or do the “right” thing. Over and over again, I’d formulate a plan to keep her safe. And most of my efforts were in vain. For a high achiever like me, this was intensely humbling.
There seems to me, a direct link between humiliation, humility and authenticity. It’s akin to discovering that a group of little kids are laughing their heads off because you’ve got a slimy green bugger hanging from your nostril. Confronted by how silly you look, you laugh at yourself, and become palpably, “real.”
These days, now capable of turning my sparks of authenticity into flames, I surprise myself with what comes out of my mouth. When Becca’s little girl world was disturbed, I’d spin my wheels, trying to make her life safe and sweet again. Now, if my six year old bemoans a wound (that you’d need a microscope to see), I’m likely to playfully tease, “Melissa, get a life!”
Life in my home is much more relaxed these days. There’s room for everyone to feel and express a kaleidoscopic range of feelings. My kids don’t miss the fair, nice, encouraging, patient and understanding Mom I thought I was supposed to be. And neither do I.
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1999-2001, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)