When I packed my bags for a girl’s weekend away, I didn’t expect to spend it in my mother’s garage. I had planned a stress-free weekend in the mountains. I had brought no work and too much wine. I was ready to unwind and unplug and relax.
Then my girls' weekend trip fell apart after my friend canceled on me last minute, leaving me to enjoy my rare, child-free weekend hanging out in my parents' house and helping my mom clean out her garage. We ended up taking a cleaning break, which somehow morphed into a four hour stay at the bar across the street — and ultimately ended with me in a political screaming match with my dad while Fox News blared in the background.
It was the first uninterrupted time I had spent with my parents since my early college years, when I would come home during winter and summer breaks, before I got married. I had hoped it would be a chance to reconnect and spend quality time with them, and I was disappointed the weekend had taken such an abrupt and unhappy turn.
I thought being an adult child would be easier, but oftentimes I find it is every bit as confusing as navigating my relationship with my parents through my childhood and teenage years. In some ways it is harder.
When the alcohol left my system and I was able to see past the simple rage of arguing with my conservative parents, I still felt shell-shocked. I knew my parents and I differed when it came to politics, but the truth was, I didn’t know how deep our empathy divide was. I thought I knew what to expect but between my mom and I bonding over cleaning (after I’d pegged her as a hoarder) and my dad and I fracturing over abortion issues (even though I had thought him to be socially progressive but conservative in regards to economic and military issues) — I realized I didn’t really know my parents anymore. Part of me wonders if I ever did, or if I ever can.
I went home from my trip angry, but moreso confused. I realized that all the versions of my parents I had kept in my mind from childhood, through my angry teenage years, and my presumptuous judgemental college years were all completely fictitious. I had thought, at every point in my life, that I had them figured out. That I knew them better than they knew themselves, because I was always analyzing them.
But the truth is, I have always analyzed them through my own skewed developmental lens. When I was young and needed an idol, they were there. When I was angsty and needed a villain, they were there. When I needed to project my psychological issues onto a third party, they were there. I made boxes into which I stuffed my imaginary versions of my parents, redecorating and rearranging them how I saw fit.
Becoming an adult didn’t magically open me up to their world and their psyche as I thought it would. Even having children of my own did little to unravel the mystery of my parents, because I wasn’t really interested in exploring honestly. I have always been concerned with who my parents were in relation to me, not who they were on their own. And when it comes to their relationship with me, it does not matter how old I am, I will always be their child.
I thought being an adult child would be easier, but oftentimes I find it is every bit as confusing as navigating my relationship with my parents through my childhood and teenage years. In some ways it is harder. I feel I ought to have more insight on how to be a good and empathetic and understanding daughter. I’m frustrated that I’m finally realizing that I likely can’t figure them out or truly know them because I will always be tangled up in being their child.
I am old enough to finally be able to see that their rules throughout my childhood were really for my own good. I am old enough to see the things they did right and the things I want to change with my own children. I am old enough to realize that I cannot change my parents, and now, at long last, to realize that I can never fully know them no matter how long I spend analyzing our interactions.
I wonder, throughout the years to come, what other revelations I will have, or if there will be any at all. I wonder if it will always be this complicated and frustrating trying to figure them out, in order to figure out myself. I keep trying to sort out what I know from what I think I know, and all I really know is this: being an adult child is harder than I thought.