I have grieved (and often continue to grieve) over having the parents I do. I grieve for the things I want, but do not get. I grieve for the things I never asked for or wanted, but got anyway. This comes up whenever there is a momentous occasion (such as my wedding last year), during family holidays or other ordinary interactions with my parents. It sometimes comes up out of the blue, or when I compare my life with others and see healthy parental relationships. It comes up when people ask me what it was like to be a pastor's kid, or to make otherwise innocuous remarks.
Something isn't right with them. I can't connect with them. I don't trust them. They don't respect me. I grieve for the longing within every individual to be loved or accepted by their parents. It's a longing I continue to have, even at 34, that has not really ever been fulfilled. Thank God, I have received love from others, but I still want that love from my parents.
One huge epiphany for me is that I have to accept what is, not pine away for what I wish. I have to accept that this is how my parents are. Maybe someday, there is a small sliver of hope that there will be change, but I have to accept what is. I have to deal with them as they are. The first time that really sunk in was a heartbreaking realization for me, and somewhat scary. I realized I was sort of wishing away reality, rather than dealing with it. While it was very, very difficult, I tried to accept things as they were from then on. I didn't realize I hadn't been doing that.
Well, things are difficult, but consistent with my parents. I have kept them at arm's length, tried to respect them, tried to include them in ways that I could in my Catholic wedding (of which they highly disapproved). I haven't been to their house in probably 6 years or so. I haven't spent the night at their house in probably a decade or more. I try to keep healthy boundaries, and part of that is not being on their territory, and not being trapped with them. (Not to mention that being there makes me physically ill.)
So, all of this to say that I have accepted my parents as best I can. I have tried to deal with the reality of our relationship, grieving as needed, in order to be real with my emotions, acknowledge them, but also live in the truth of what is. I have even tried to see the good that has come from my relationship with my parents, and not blame them. I have tried to take back my life.
And the day I thought would never come, came last week. My mom sent a letter to each of her adult children that apologized for the way she failed as a mother. Mostly, she apologized for being less loving than authoritarian, for being unreasonable, and for coming down too hard on us. She then said that she loved each of us with her whole heart, she regretted this part of her life, she was sorry and asked forgiveness. It was shocking.
I'm still processing all of this, wondering how best to deal with it. I wrote back after a few hours to say thank you, I forgive you, and then proceeded to list the ways in which I appreciated her as a mother. I was trying to go along with the thought that "forgiveness is not wishing things had been different." That is still hard for me. I don't know that it's completely true yet for me. I don't always see the good that came from such a bad situation. I just feel the hurt and see the lack. But, I know that by continuing to blame, I give away the power I have to change anything. It doesn't mean we will be the best of friends. But, anytime I have a memory of an especially harsh moment growing up with my mom, I can also recall that, many years later, she said she was sorry for that moment.
In this short time, it has been healing. It has been validating. I'm not sure where the relationship goes from here. I am just grateful that God's grace is obviously at work for her to have such a change of heart and realization. I think it's humble to do such a thing, and her letter came across as straightforward, not manipulative at all. I'm nervous to see her again, I don't know what that will be like. But, I will pray for God's grace to accept what is, as it comes.