Dave is an artist who is highly dedicated to his work, unlimited in creativity and hours he is willing to work. However, he does have one very definite boundary….Mollie. This was evident at a recent event offering exposure to numerous donors and patrons. Dave enjoys working a room and does so with grace and ease. He was there at the beginning to work his magic. His intention was to continue this work at intermission after a quick dinner with his eight year old daughter, Mollie. Well, intermission came and went, Dave was nowhere to be found. After the show, he was back to work, smiling and charming the group. Later I asked him what had happened. Dave gave me his most genuine smile and said, “Oh, you know…dinner with Mollie.” I looked at his young daughter, standing by his side. She had that same genuine smile which seemed to shout, “I matter.” Mollie’s parents are in the process of divorcing. She will likely have some abandonment issues that can be associated with that life event. However, she will always have memories her dad allowing time with her to trump his business activities.
Except for six months after each of them were born, I have been employed outside the home during my daughters’ entire lives. One day the realization came to me that this is one of my regrets. I am sorry not to have taken more time with them, figuring out some way to be a ‘stay at home’ mom. I shared this with the girls, now in their twenties. It became clear they had stronger memories of the time their father and I did spend with them than the time we did not. They remember years of soccer, with both of us somehow magically attending all of their games. They remember the way I changed the sad lines to happy ones in children’s songs. They remember cleaning on Saturday mornings, taking breaks for family dance time to John Fogarty’s Put Me In Coach. They remember growing up with two puppies and a cat, who were there to cuddle during lonely times. My eldest daughter walked around her house during college, waking her roommates with my made up morning song. Even though the home was far from perfect, they still choose memories which affirm their value, memories in which they were the priority.
As a therapist, I have become acutely aware of the overarching impact family of origin has on each one of us. While it is encouraging to see the smile on Mollie’s face and hear my daughters express their happy memories, neither situation represents the Leave it to Beaver fantasy childhood. There is no such thing. Moms do not wake up in pearls with their hair perfectly in place. Dads do not wake up wearing ties. We all have blemishes and flaws which came to us from previous generations and which we will pass on to those after. A significant step toward emotional health is giving up our denial and accepting our own imperfections and the imperfections of those who came before us. This is easier for some than others, but important to all.
My own therapist is highly skilled at assisting me in understanding the painful impact of my family history. Thankfully, she is also masterful in helping me uncover the affirmations I have gained along the way and how those affirmations have affected my life and the lives of my children. As always, balance is the key. Working with my clients, I strive to take them to this same place, a place of understanding and balance. The journey is not easy and there will most likely be pain along the way, but gaining the knowledge of self and how that self came to be is the only path to change. We cannot change what we do not know and understand.