By Tara Hall
I don’t really believe in magic, made-for-movie moments where people have these epiphanies and all things unthought of click into some instant, grand resolution. In a culture that glorifies instant gratification, sometimes we can forget that life lessons don’t tend to settle in so fast. We forget that all too many times, we’re the victims of cycles and patterns that haven’t been healthy; playing into them over and again. That doesn’t make us stupid, just human. It’s much like having all the pieces to a puzzle; a complete picture doesn’t surface until we take the time to work at it ourselves. Of course, there’s always a part that jumps out as obvious to you, but the whole puzzle never works that way.
So perhaps I’ll rephrase, and say that you only get one or two epiphanies in a lifetime. Chances are more than not, those lightbulb moments will have something to do with who you are at your core. Now I’m sure for a fact that I used one a few years back when I watched my father chatting it up with my ex. Some small voice just whispered in my head: look at these two, so proud, yet such trash. I don’t know if I was more ashamed that I used one of my epiphanies on something so common and obvious or that dating someone just like my father was common and obvious. I grew up falling into the trap that many people do, putting the feelings of others so far ahead of mine. Realizing I had learned to downplay my needs was a slow process. It was in learning that my mother herself was remorseful of the mindset she passed to me; a product of generational abuse, that I was determined to speak up for the both of us. I spent so many years finding my voice that once I found it I couldn’t use it enough. I didn’t wonder about things, I wanted to discuss and ask and pick things apart until there was no closure left to squeeze.
Away at school for the first time, I was feeling guilty for lashing out at my mom back when I didn’t understand the pain she hid from me so well. I realized I never really got to know my father the way I felt I should because we didn’t spend much time together...just having real conversation. He didn’t know that I didn’t like b2k when he got me tickets, my aversion to purple when he got me a huge lavender jacket, or that I didn’t like things with ketchup even when I mentioned it at every drive-thru. But in ways I feel I still allotted him affection and a coveted spot in my heart because he’ll always hold the title of my dad. Because of this, I allowed myself to see titles and gifts as love from a man. Actions didn’t mean much. When I tried to bond with him the way I wanted, my efforts were to no avail. I even resorted to silent treatment to get the attention I wanted. Fast forward to a few months and a few cancelled visits later; I had already hit send on the paragraphs upon paragraphs of texts venting to my father when my best friend read them asking me, “Are you sure you should really flame your parents like that?” Followed by a weighted cackle and a kanye shrug, I turned my phone off and wondered if I had did something wrong that night. Was her question just a reactionary joke or did it have some validity? The barrette & frilled socks wearing Sunday schooler in me cringed. A little too much wine after Scandal thursday mixed with my roommates affinity for the Migos past ten lead me on spiel full of expletives I can never take back. He was wrong, and I was valid for saying that he had hurt me in all the times he had failed to be there. In ways he didn’t ‘know me’ at all. He was wrong to let resentment from a failed relationship put a wedge between him and I. But the way I stated it was still more than harsh. I couldn’t help but wonder, had I failed to honor my parents?
With the unfortunate exception of those who were raised without parental figures, I imagine that most of us will hit this roadblock if we're honest within own process of self-discovery. There's no way to examine oneself without looking at the ideals and decisions of those who helped mold us. We know that there are no perfect people and thus no perfect parents. We know that we love them and appreciate what they have done. In fact, most of us regard our parents with the utmost respect. It can be religious, spiritual, socio-emotional reasons, or a combination of them all. Anything less than honoring them would be morally rattling, hurtful, or even disappointing. But for those, like me, who have been hurt in the collateral of a parents’ doing, how do we gain resolutions to these feelings and experiences without crossing the line?
Get a grasp on what you’ve experienced.
If you’re smarter than I was, you’ll first take the time out to do so. You should be clear on when and where you felt slighted. If you don’t you’ll talk in circles and get nowhere; how can you talk to someone about how you feel while you’re trying to figure that out yourself? Know exactly what actions or words bothered you, how it made you feel, and how those feelings have developed or manifested in your life. Don’t be scared of a good therapist if it’s super heavy or you feel that professional support can help you sort through these feelings most efficiently. Venting to friends, journaling, or meditating in thought will also help. I used a combination of all of these and there’s really no right way, just the best way for you. However this first step is so important because understanding how the people who mentored you has affected your world will help you not only understand yourself and your actions, but it’ll be the building blocks for growing through your shortcomings and evolving emotionally. This kind of communication and self analysis will be useful in every relationship you have in life.
You should always come to the conversation with a goal or resolution in mind.
Clearly, shooting off a series of emotionally charged messages at a whim wasn't the wisest because confrontation for the sake for confrontation is pointless. Even if your goal is only to vent, be heard, or understood you should ask yourself; what do I need to move forward and feel resolved? If you want to avoid pointless blowouts, tears, and tension this is key. I spent a few months at odds with my Dad but not really sure what I wanted from him. Sorry didn't feel good enough. We had so many meaningless arguments all for me to realize that him making more of an effort in the present for both me and my younger siblings was what I needed in moving forward peacefully. In hindsight, I just needed some time and space to accept his apology fully and let my resentment dissolve. I wish I didn't spend it attacking him random and pointlessly. Petty is only good in the moment, after it makes small issues into large never ending ones. Don't let the petty lifestyle scam you into being a spiteful reactionary person who doesn't grow.
There are already chances that your parents are like that already. You know how the older people get the more they can get stuck in their ways. Some of us know our parents will hear us out even if it hurts them. Some of us know that our parents might quite possibly pass out if we tell them that they've been anything but a blessing. A good bit of us don't know because we've never tried to have these kinds of adult conversations with our parents and it's all the more important for that very reason. The growing pains in transitioning from your parents child to the adult they raised can be difficult for both you and your parents to come to terms with. It can take years and the longer you wait, the harder it will be. These conversations are the ultimate test of how far you all have came. Maturing into an adult means a shift in dynamic for those who were adults in your life as a child. If your parents can't have these kinds of discussions with you it might possibly be an indicator that they aren't exactly respecting your newly developed existence as an adult. Understand that it’s hard for them when they’ve known you one way the majority of your life.
Give yourself credit for going there even if it doesn’t get you far.
You may have to attempt several times and you may never get through, but it’s important to grasp that there is growth in trying even if it’s never successful. Speaking up is cathartic in itself, and it’s important to remember that this is about you and who you’ve become; it’s not a reckoning.Some people let their parents pass and never do. Whether your parents are all for the talk or completely against it; either way it’ll be hard. Talking to anyone about their shortcomings is trying, let alone someone who gave you life. Not to mention they probably attach their parental status to their identity in some shape or form. Thus, it is important to...
Prepare yourself for emotional fall-out.
There may be tears, anger, or tense conversations and interactions or even lack thereof when you go there. Some parents will be completely unaware that they’ve affected you in certain ways. Some may have felt guilty about it all along. If you love them, make sure you remind them of this before and after your conversation(s) and use ‘I’ statements as much as possible. Focus on you and what you’ve felt or adopted from your experiences with them and not how terrible they were. When you frame it as an important conversation for you to figure yourself out and blossom and not an all out attack; they’ll be much more willing to see it through. Make sure you have these conversations at a time and space where it’s appropriate and comfortable. In the middle of sunday dinner or in a loud public place might not be the smartest spot. Make sure it’s an intimate, one-on-one, thoughtful setting and you have time to really dig deep. Understand that depending on the topic’s depth and the parent that the conversation maybe more of a series. If possible, prep a series of remedies for the emotionally draining talk, for you and your parent if you see fit.
We laughed about my sharp tongue in time, but I’ll always regret how my Dad found out about it firsthand. Calling him a deadbeat asshole was not a shining moment. So no, I wouldn’t suggest lighting you’re parents’ proverbial asses on fire. You may want to, but it won’t end well. However there is healing, progression, and personal growth in confronting any pain they’ve caused or cycles you wish you break. You’ll be stronger not only for speaking your mind, but for creating a mature dialogue with one of the most important mentors of your life. You’ll feel empowered, emotional perhaps, but when it’s all said and done you’ll find solace in your honesty. Most importantly, you’ll have the comfort in knowing that no things were left unsaid. Had I let our discourse go, I would’ve always regretted not having real answers and opinions on the things my father did to disappoint me before he passed. The closure I received was more than worth the hassle because all that happened between us is resolved. That kind of resolution will lead to a new, honest chapter between you and you parent to cherish and communicate with each other always. Just make sure when you ignite the flame you contain it, no one likes a charbroil too crisp. It’s more than worth a relationship with your folks well done.
Nia Tara Byrd is a freelance writer from Charlotte, NC with a passion for science fiction, recreation, womanism, and the many intersectionalities amongst social rights in today’s society. She is a graduate from East Carolina University and is currently in the process of releasing her debut novel. Email: email@example.com