The differences you have with your parents are natural and a good thing!
I grew up in a religious home. We went to church every week, first at a church in the “Plymouth Brethren” tradition, and later in an Evangelical Free church. We’d likely be known as “fundamentalists” and I’ve heard my father attribute that term to himself proudly. On several occasions, we attended Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principles, a weeklong conference that purports to provide a biblical framework for life and relationships. In recent years Gothard has, incidentally, been accused of sexually abusing dozens of women.
My father became ill just as I was entering my teen years. The strong man I knew who spent his days atop tall buildings –including the 30-story Fisher Building in Detroit –and, when not roofing, fought fires with the Ann Arbor Fire Department, was reduced to moving about like a man several decades older due to severe joint and muscle atrophy, likely attributed to the various chemicals he was exposed to daily.
In addition, as finally became clear to my younger brother and me, my parents did not have a good marriage and were on the road to a divorce that was finalized during my last years of high school.
My parents were preoccupied and my brother and I, only eighteen months apart in age, felt like we navigated much of our adolescence on our own.
I remember “the talk” with my father. I don’t remember how old I was but I do remember exchanging glances with my brother and thinking “how young does he think we are?” We were not overly educated about sex but we were definitely old enough to already know the basics.
None of this is to suggest that we were alone. Our parents did the best they could, given the struggles they were dealing with, including having a young child with Down Syndrome. We had a supportive church family and close friends.
But when I consider many of the struggles I’ve experienced – as a teenager, young man, and even now, as a man moving past mid-life – they seem to stem from messages I received as an adolescent. I don’t necessarily mean overt messages, like Gothard’s Basic Life Principles. Some of these messages were either implied or things I misunderstood. But they impacted my life significantly, in terms of what I thought about myself and in terms of decisions I made about life, career, and relationships.
So, these then are six messages I wish had been clearly conveyed to me as I made my way through adolescence. These are also six messages I hope to communicate effectively to my son and daughter now and when they move from childhood into their teen years and beyond.
1. You don’t have to have the same faith (or unbelief) that your parents have.
We will always love you, even if you choose a belief system that seems incompatible with the one you were raised in. You can be an atheist, Buddhist, Catholic, Muslim, or evangelical and we will love you unconditionally.
2. You don’t have to like the same things your parents do.
We will take an interest in the things that are of interest to you. You do not need to conform to us. It is fine if you like sports, or reading, or foreign films, or working on cars. It is fine if you do not like sports, or reading, or foreign films, or working on cars. We will take an interest in the things that are of interest to you because YOU are of interest to us.
3. You don’t have to be perfect. Make your mistakes and learn from them.
Try again and make more mistakes. This is how you learn and grow. But never stay down after falling. We’ll always be there to help you get back up, if you need us. And your mistakes and failures will do nothing to change how much we love you.
4. You are not responsible for our happiness (or our failures.)
If things are difficult in our lives, or we’re feeling down, please know that you are not responsible for this. We are adults and take full responsibility for our own lives and for any unhappiness we experience. You are not responsible for making us feel better or improving our lives.
5. You have talents and strengths.
You are unique and there are things that you do well that others cannot do well. We will do our best to encourage you to build upon your strengths and to use them in positive ways. We will also encourage you to recognize and appreciate the strengths of your family members and your peers, and not to envy the strengths of others. In addition, we will challenge you to avoid looking down upon the weaknesses of others.
6. You are responsible for your life.
No one else is responsible for your success or your happiness. Your life can be whatever you want it to be, regardless of the way you look, the money you earn, the college you attend (or don’t attend), the car you drive, or the friends you have.
Be curious and dream big, utilize your strengths, and pursue a meaningful life that contributes something good to the world.
Be the best YOU.
Originally published on STAND Magazine
By: Dwayne D.Hayes/Managing Editor/STAND Magazine
Photo: Getty Images