As many of you know, I was raised in a conservative Christian household. I'm the youngest of 7 in a blended family and the only biological child that my parents share (picture the Brady Bunch but then they accidentally procreated - hollah!) My dad had a 20 year military career that ended in retirement before I was born (he went to the Naval Academy and everything), which I think greatly suited his perfectionist, procedural, cerebral mind. So you can imagine, the type of parenting I was exposed to being the youngest of a military, perfectionist, conservative, religious man. He was also 46 when I was born, so by the time I came around, he was also kind of "too old" to be raising another child, especially one so spirited.
Sometimes I try to remember what kind of child I was. Chatty to the level of irritating, no doubt. Obedient most of the time, yes. Spirited, yes. But I also think I was pretty easily pleased with things (I didn't even know we didn't have money when I was little. I was very content and my parents were smart enough to not air their dirty laundry financially with their young children - well done). I knew when things weren't right and as I got older, learned to fight those things on my terms. When you're raised by a perfectionist, who loves you dearly, but is not expressive so it's hard to read, you reach a crossroads at some point. Am I going to make decisions based on trying to meet this person's (impossible) expectations or am I going to make decisions based on my own? I met this moment in 8th grade. I don't believe there was a specific impetus for my paradigm shift. It could have been another report card moment gone wrong (why isn't this A- an A type bullshit) but I'm not really sure. It just suddenly dawned on me that I was never going to be able to meet his expectations, not really.
So the practical side of me clicked on and said, fuck that, what do I feel about say, my report card? I believed an A- was good enough for me. Time to move on. And I did. Yes, self-affirmation skills were a focus even in my adult therapy experiences in recent years. There isn't one moment where all the baggage disappears. But, in that light-dawning moment in 8th grade, my allegiances shifted from my father to myself. (Come to find out years later that he actually thinks I'm awesome...who knew?) The point is, when I realized that I got to decide if I was pleased with myself, satisfied with my performance, or looking to make changes based on what I thought, I became a full, real, separate person from my parents. The people pleasing thing knocks on my door periodically, no doubt. Many of the things I've written in my original blog posts (see www.mutteringsfromaperfectionist.blogspot.com) reflect that. But living by your own standards is such a critical piece of human development.
This post was prompted by reading an article recently about raising "strong-willed children" and how that's actually kind of a great type of human to raise and maybe we shouldn't be trying to get them to obey so much. I view my childhood self as pretty obedient. But scrolling through my memories, as I grew up into junior high and high school, I started questioning my dad. Respectfully, but basically saying, this decision you made isn't right. It's irrational that you make a point of never changing your mind, that you're incapable of apology. It's fun to trace those lines back. I think that's where my clumsy advocacy stems from. It was always deeply emotional for me to go up against my dad. (I got to experience that again recently when I needed to tell him "I'm a grown-ass woman" when he called to outline the merits of a potential Trump presidency to me knowing that I'm a political progressive). I've learned to hold my own, to stand my ground, to draw my line in the sand. You have to ask for my consent to have these conversations. You get to listen to my ideas if you want me to listen to yours. And you know what? He respects me for it. We had a pretty sweet, albeit impromptu, meeting of the minds I ended up enjoying. But most importantly, regardless of his response, what really matters to me is that I respect myself for it too. I guess it pays to grow up.