Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Taking Care

When I was a kid, no one talked about things like emotional intelligence in terms of life skills. Of course, I was kind of raised by wolves.... my father is so introverted that he wouldn't know a life skill if it bit him (actually, his idea of a life skill is, if you drink enough, you can talk to people). My mother... I loved my mother, I miss my mother deeply and painfully every day, but we didn't have the greatest relationship. It was a funny thing, really... everyone loved my mother, because she was wonderful to people. Kind and generous and giving and accepting and genuinely interested in other people... except that when it came to her daughters, me especially, most of that went out the window. It's not that she didn't genuinely love me or try her best, but her best, when it came to me, was more often the absolute worst thing you could do. And what she taught me in terms of emotional skills.... how to manipulate people emotionally. How to put everyone else's interests ahead of your own and then resent them for it. That the world will come to an end if everyone is not happy with you. Things like that. Sorry, Mom. Really. But it's the truth.

Some days I feel like we spend the rest of our lives unlearning the stuff we learned as kids. I know that's not true for everyone; that some people grow up functional and healthy and understanding the important things... but I guess I know way more people who wouldn't describe themselves that way.

Being healthy is hard for me. As soon as things get a little off balance, all of my "healthy" habits go out the window, and that happens remarkably fast. But I'm working on it. And it gets easier. A little.

And then I look at my son, and I think, what are the things that he needs that I'm not giving him? How could I teach him the emotional intelligence, the balance, that has been so hard for me to learn? I always argue that he's the most balanced person I know, and always has been... but that doesn't mean that he doesn't need help with these things. And one answer, of course, is that you need to model the behavior that you want children to learn.

His father and I didn't do a terribly good job of that. We were never hostile, but our marriage disintegrated into polite roommates nearly as soon as he was born. And that doesn't teach you anything about relationships, interpersonal skills, etc. I thought that Michael and I might be better role models, but it hasn't exactly worked out that way... mostly because there have been so real hardships, mostly medical, ever since we've been married, that a lot of the time we seem to live in this fraught, anxious atmosphere... not the way that it should be. And maybe it won't always be that way... I hope not... but it's the way things are a lot these days, and it doesn't leave a lot of room for my son and what he needs. I wonder sometimes if thirty years from now, he'll be typing these things into his blog... or whatever we do in thirty years. And he'll say the same sort of thing... my mother, I know she loved me, but she could not give me what I needed. I seriously hope not. But you never know.

So it's a good question. How do you teach these kinds of life skills, emotional sanity, appropriate boundaries?

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