Obedience and “Broken Families” in the 21st century: From the perspective of being young
This is going to be a timelessly sensitive topic, so expect that. Let’s talk about what obedience means these days, now that things are much more complicated than they may have once been (depending on who you ask).
I like to think I’m mildly qualified to know what I am talking about on this one. I’ve had my parents call the cops on me once, and I also returned the favor once. We had a lot of conflict in my family, and most of it was miserable to live through. Depression kind of clipped my wings in participating in most of it, and that is the biggest blessing I can think of, going forward. If you’re crying and you have to physically remove yourself from the situation because you’re so overwhelmed you are almost at the point of a panic attack (or you’re already there), you learn very quickly what works and what doesn’t. You may not be able to trust or apply any of it. But trust me, you learn.
Or you don’t. You don’t have to be older or younger to learn good communication skills that don’t leave scars. You don’t have to be older or younger to understand how to get along with people or move forward from past mistakes, and do your best to make them a little easier progressively. The goal is to have smooth transitions and an elevated sense of self that still lends itself to being sad sometimes, knowing that emotions are a normal part of life and sometimes, you’ve just got to wait it out if other ways of making yourself less miserable don’t work. It will be okay.
But, the idea that some people are inherently born with more natural abilities, or that good parents are just these magnificent works of art on display in your neighborhood, PTA, daycare, or sports team and occasionally at the Smithsonian is a bastard conclusion, because nobody wins. Parents are imperfect. That is good. They were once also miserable and angry with their parents. That’s just part of this living thing.
You don’t have to like your parents, know them very well, or even respect them to obey what they want for your life. Let me explain.
Parents want the same things for their children. Success. Happiness. Family. A stable financial framework. Self-sufficiency (eventually). Being able to teach, lead, and encourage others. Basically, being the kind of person everyone looks for it a best friend, but being that person as their child, and respecting their authority to tell you that you are being an idiot, yet come to your own conclusions without utterly failing or becoming completely miserable.
So. That being said, next to no one regardless of culture or ancestry will define those things the same as the person setting next to them on the Subway, or walking past them on the street. Each person has a different opinion on how to achieve each of those things, and that is okay. What is not always okay is when people distort power balances to such a degree that actually hurts their children’s survival. This is not about resources. This is not about being extremely close or present in the lives of your children. This is about being someone people can trust, and treating your children like they are worthy of respect.
Now, that shouldn’t come free; it shouldn’t be transactional at all, really. You shouldn’t have to earn anyone’s love, nor should you feel pressured to. But if your parents do the best they can, and make sure than your basic needs of clothing, shelter, emotional support, education, food, and a decent place to sleep are met, than what do you have to complain about, exactly? No one is perfect. If your parent’s are imperfect, you have to allow for that.
Now, that doesn’t mean tolerating abuse, or keeping it covered up when they are hurting you. They will keep doing what they do, and they will do it to your children too, probably, if you let them. That doesn’t mean forgetting things that have happened, because regardless of whether or not they are fair, they are a part of your past, but they are not a part of you.
I will be honest, sometimes it is entirely worth leaving the place you were raised and your family if you have no choice and you cannot bear to be there any longer. That is a valid decision, and your rights should be respected. Under the law, they probably won’t be. But if it is necessary to your survival and you need to leave, no one should feel obligated to stop you.
But just in case, let’s talk about what it might mean to stick around if you have a lot of crap to deal with. One thing it could mean is that you have to decide to be quiet when people are insisting you are at fault for things that you were never even aware of. It could mean dealing with mental health issues that are not from you. Or busting your butt because you want better.
But some things do heal over time. No person is created equal to his or her neighbor, but we all deserve dignity and respect, and if you can, over time you will be able to maintain boundaries and give people equal measures as you expect for yourself; the Golden Rule. It takes a lot of time, and no one controls how much, but everyone gets scared when they feel like peace will never come. That is okay. If you can, find friends that let you be as honest as you can, try to leave some things at home, and do your best to enjoy your life and the things you love.
Now, many of you that could hypothetically read this will have never had to deal with any of that. It is better you know sooner rather than later how blessed you are. You probably have people in your lives that have dealt with various facets of this, all of it, or more than anything I can imagine. Let each person tell his or her own story, with his or her own words, and his or her own experiences.
There will be the temptation to talk when people trust you to listen. In my experience, that is normal. A lot of this stuff is uncomfortable and straight up terrifying. Even if someone trusts you enough to talk about it, they might not have any experience in talking about it, or they might be terrified to even bring it up or let on who they are, past some of the outside layers. You should consider it an immense honor if someone trusts you with something so scary. You need to respect their ability to say nothing else, to sit in silence, to cry, or to process in any way they need or feel is necessary. That doesn’t mean you have to condone everything they do. But it is simply not your right to judge, and to be a good friend, you sometimes have to allow certain things to just be.
Being kind is the best thing you can do, in anything. You can be kind and do absolutely nothing special, extra, or anything. Meet people’s eyes when you talk to them, or as you walk down the street. Care to learn to listen well. Be someone worthy of trust. That is all you should have to do sometimes, and for me at least, that has been the most beautiful thing.
Now, healing is not some stupid contest. Why would you compare two different people’s experiences if you can’t properly appreciate and respect even one? It will only be explosive and cruel, or straight up stupid. That is not to say that two different people can’t share about their lives with one another, and respect the differences for what is there. That is healthy. Creating conflict where there are already wounds is most definitely not.
You should not feel guilty if you have not experienced hard things in your life. I think it may help to think about what each of the things you have means to you, but that is not my call; this is your life. No one should tell you how to feel, ever. If you can manage to appreciate what you have for what it is and gradually accept differences that just means you are growing up and becoming mature. Over time, if you have younger family members or children of your own, you will be able to pass on the lessons you have learned to them not necessarily in words, but in the way you compose yourself and the healthy attitude you take towards living. If they trust you, it will make a difference. Your nieces or nephews or children acquaintances may not ask for your opinion or your help per se, but if you are someone they can trust, the knowledge that they could and that if they make the right decisions, they will be able to become more like you has the power to change their lives, even in chaos. We all need role models or superheroes (as I call them).
Think about what you do well. What is something people genuinely appreciate about you, across contexts? Start looking for those things. If they come naturally, the will be easy later too, and they will be tremendous blessings if you learn how to grow your other strengths and come to terms with weaknesses so that you might use all of it across contexts. If the goal is to be consistently kind, if will make you strong to be able to learn from others. And if you do all of it wrong? That’s just part of life, and it isn’t wrong. You can often learn more from failure than success, and that is just how people think. It takes a lot of goodness to recognize your success, but it only takes a fraction of failure to learn. So be it. That is just part of life, and it isn’t bad.
Obeying your parents means obeying the love that is bigger than all of it. You don’t have to be perfect. Trying to make peace with what they want for your life, but realizing that eventually, it is yours no matter who is watching. If you respect your parents, accepting what they tell you should be easy. But that is not always so good if they are also other imperfect humans.
You don’t have to believe exactly what someone says to respect them and their intentions for having said so. If your parents are making an effort to understand where you are coming from, regardless of the past, do your best to meet them where they are, and call it good. You aren’t meant to be perfect. Some things aren’t worth arguing about. Let people be different. Let them be imperfect. You are not defined by your circumstances, but by the attitude of your actions that comes from practicing things like humility, kindness, and respecting others. If people remember you, they will remember you for the impact you had upon their lives. If people remember you fondly, that is worth so much more than money. Being someone people trust and having credibility in your decisions is worth more than gold. Trust that even in conflict, it is enough to do your best, and for your parents to do their best, and some things just have to remain complicated for a time. It may not be fair, but healing can happen over even the most daunting circumstances. It isn’t always often, but if two or more people are committed to making a change for the best, and go to active lengths to accomplish that goal, why should there be anything in the way of that? Now, that doesn’t mean things will ever be perfect, but they can’t be. If there is love and warmth where there once was not, that is a blessing outright and enormous.
And if not? You don’t have to be genetically related to the people who love you. You don’t have to be part of the place you have chosen to be happy there, especially if it wasn’t home. You don’t have to have it figured out. And you can do the best to live your life, and trust that if you succeed, you will succeed in ways that your family cannot.
I wish all the best for you and your family, even if it’s terribly broken.
All the love,