If Advent is the season of preparedness, then there is no greater force of preparation in the life of a child than her parents. Whether for good or bad, hard or blessing, parents guide the development of not only your DNA but help shape your worldview.
I was born to a mother and father that longed for a child. I was born into extended family that valued togetherness and love and faith. From my earliest memory, I have been surrounded by a cloud of support and blessing. I say all of these things to declare that I am aware and appreciative of the fact that this is not offered to most children brought into the world.
When you are born into a picture of happiness, the world assumes that that every moment of every day looks like the Christmas card. Can we be honest? We were probably fighting 5 minutes before the picture was snapped. In our case, someone was complaining about the clothing choice or the temperature outside in July because we are in turtlenecks. There is a good chance that the ones standing next to each other are pinching or hitting each other between clicks of the camera. All in the most loving way, of course.
90% of the Norman Rockwell moments were just that. But there are those 10% moments. The ones that you can recall 35 years later and when you do, you are instantaneously transported to feelings of shame and guilt and unworthiness and worse. For me, these memories are defined by times when I perceived to be letting my mom and dad down. As I discussed yesterday, my wiring for perfection was paramount. There was nothing I wanted more than to make my parents proud.
As a child, this sets you up for automatic failure. There is no parent that can express enough love or extend enough favor to meet these unreasonable goals. And in the moments that my parents could not read my mind (because heck if I ever asked for what I needed) my unrealistic expectations were not met. From there, the spiral turned to resentment, followed by rebellion and crash landed on emotional distance.
Unlike the normal advent of the parent child/teen relationship, I never openly rebelled. I wasn’t sneaking out or drinking or using drugs. My teenage rebellion consisted of wild nights of church camp pranks and youth group lock-ins. The primary tool I used for parental avoidance was dismissive teen angst fueled with the magnificent ability to stuff my feelings to avoid all hard conversations. The years of my advent provided me with the erroneous understanding that as long as you cleaned up the surface, the world would never know the truth.
How did this mode of operation prepare me for life? Well, it worked until it didn’t. I would love to tell you that my relationship with my mom and dad has always been easy. But I have vowed to be honest and brave in this journey. The truth was that we all did the very best that we could with the skills that we had. Sometimes the road was rocky. Sometimes the pictures of perfection were masking some great pain. But most importantly in the season of Advent, we all survived. I was launched in into the birth of independence with the knowledge that I had a solid foundation when I was ready to do the hard work.