The other day I was sitting outside on our side porch with my older child. They had recently gone to visit Danny, and we were talking about their time with him. As happy as I was that they had spent the afternoon with him and taken him out to lunch, and as much as I knew – and was glad – that their decision to visit was most likely the highlight of my father’s year, I also felt a few not so nice emotions. A bit of jealousy that Danny didn’t delight in seeing me nearly as much as he did them. And a smattering of pain that I couldn’t bring such ease and joy to him, that our relationship was (understandably) tainted by some issues from the past and responsibilities from the present.
I listened to them describe their day together and found myself uttering a sentence that even I know I utter too often, “I wish there was something I could do to bring him peace and ease. I wish there was something else I could try to make things better for him.”
They let that comment slide.
We continued our conversation, and I remarked at how bad I felt that my husband was in the kitchen working, while I was lying on the daybed, on the side porch. All my college friends were on their way over to visit, and he was slaving away to feed them while I was happily hanging out with my child. Granted, I didn’t feel well. And also granted, when I told him that everyone was visiting, I also told him that I was planning on picking up food at the farmers’ market. I wasn’t going to cook, but I was going to take responsibility for the meal. I was proud of myself for refusing to cook, for knowing it would most likely be too much for me to take on. I wanted to see my friends, but I didn’t think I could play my usual hostess role.
But my husband insisted – as he always does and I nearly always do – that he would cook instead. “I won’t have everyone over and not cook for them,” he said. “Are you sure?” I asked. He asserted he was, so I let him. And hence came my admission to my child – that I felt like I should be in the kitchen, helping prepare as well.
This comment put my child over the edge.
“As someone who has inherited your guilt complexes,” they said, “would you please quit feeling guilty, like, NOW.”
That stopped me in my tracks.
“First of all, there is nothing else you could do for Papa. You’ve done everything you could, and tried everything there is. You have to let that go. And second of all, Daddy said he was going to do all the cooking. You have to let that go as well.”
I was still stuck on “as someone who has inherited your guilt complexes.”
I could have felt guilty that I’d managed to pass down my guilt complexes. I contemplated it for a moment. And then I decided that would defeat the purpose of them helping me correct my “stinking thinking” and my desire to share with my kids the happier, healthier, whole-er mental attitude I aim for every day. I decided to forgo the guilt about Danny, and to hear my child (and everyone else who says it to me) when they say that I’ve been a great daughter and I’ve done all that I can for him. I decided to enjoy hanging out on the daybed and to thank my husband profusely (and loudly, so that all our guests could hear) for his culinary efforts and arts. I decided to forgive myself for feeling guilty – and modeling feeling guilty – for my kids, and to, in that moment at least, choose a different way.
“Thank you,” was all I said to my child. “Okay, I hear you. I’ll stop.”
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