The hardest part of growing up is not the realization that your parents aren’t superheroes — it’s learning that you can hurt them. That power comes in handy when you’re 15 and in need of a clapback because you just need to go to that party and it’s so unfair that they won’t let you. But when you wound your parents, it’s impossible not to hurt yourself in the process.
My mother raised me alone. Over the years, she made it very clear to a number of partners that bringing me up was her business — not anyone else’s, and don’t you forget it. That’s a lot of pressure on a single pair of shoulders. No one person can get everything right — but we expect women to, especially mothers. That’s a tough spot in which to raise a child, maybe even more difficult if you’re raising a boy: Will he grow up to possess strange entitlements? Will he be part of the problem?
That’s why fighting with my mom always breaks my heart — and our egos clash a lot, so it’s crazy that I haven’t had five high-risk transplants by now.
Even when I’m in the right, that strain of anger feels so foul in my mouth, uttering the unkind thoughts I keep locked away in storage — even after my brain has said, “Wait, that’s too much.” That’s one thing about toxic masculinity: You’re like a highly-trained emotional assassin, just waiting for a reason to pull the trigger. But then the barrel explodes in your hand and blows off three fingers, and you realize you’re being kind of a dick, too.
When I was a teenager, it was sometimes hard to gauge how much pain my words could inflict. But as I enter my 20s, I can feel the impact of the nasty things I say, things I may not even believe in, not really.
More than paying off my own mortgage and owning a car, I look forward to the day when the gap between what I know and the way I act finally closes.
I hope I start to think before I react, and that my immediate thoughts aren’t “You ruined my life!” but:
“You brought me into this world, which is honestly kind of shitty of you — because have you looked at the news, like, ever? But you had good intentions, and those have never wavered: not when I wouldn’t let you sleep because I was having nightmares about a movie you told me not to watch, nor when I shouted that I hated you and couldn’t wait to move out, nor when I failed to become the son you deserved. And you are an individual, who deserves compassion. So, if you ever need to yell at me for some nuisance because you had a bad Monday, I won’t take it personally.”
It’s hard to apply that knowledge to actual emotionally-charged situations, but I’m trying.
No matter how Gilmore-like your relationship with your mother may be, fighting with your parents is inevitable sometimes.
But as our perspective widens and our experience as a living person deepens, we need to be empathetic with our parents’ shortcomings. We all have our fair share of those.
One day, my understanding that you will always do anything for me — even when you’re angry — will catch up with my behavior towards you. I’ll keep promising to never hurt you again, to stop putting my pain over yours, to stop ignoring your struggles altogether. I promise that I won’t act like I’m the only one who’s suffering for one thing or another. I promise I won’t rudely respond that “I don’t feel like talking” when we get lunch, no matter how gently you ask about my morning.
I’ll keep making that promise, and one day, I’ll keep it.