Uncharted Territory | 10/11/2017 - Republic-Times | News

Uncharted Territory | 10/11/2017

By on October 18, 2017 at 8:30 am

Every year at this time, we have a day off to celebrate Columbus, his discoveries, etc.  There has been much debate over Columbus Day. I won’t get into that again this year.

I teach about Columbus every year. I try to tell my students the full story, telling them the true facts; or at least the facts we know for sure. We can indeed celebrate the fact the travels of Columbus opened up a whole new world.

Much of the story fascinates me.  The many awful things that happened and the many miraculous happenings. Uncharted territory.

Parenthood is like that.  How’s that for a segue way?  

Over the years, I have met so many fascinating people. My favorite people to talk to are older folks who have seen it all and lived it. I especially like it when I can talk to older folks about parenting. It’s especially rewarding when folks are willing to open up about the mistakes they made as parents. I usually take notes and ask them if I can use our conversation in a column later. “As long as you change names to protect the innocent,” said one lady. 

I won’t use names, but I will share their wisdom with you.  They have all approved of my column, by the way. I have gotten their blessings. Don’t bother coming and asking me who these people are. I won’t tell you.

My favorite conversation was  with one woman who was reflecting on her life one day.  We had the opportunity to wait on a function to begin, and this afforded us a good amount of time just to talk. We were talking about the age range of my own kids and she went on to tell me about her older kids and younger kids, too. She had started  motherhood very early and in the end, almost had two families after having children over a two-decade span.

“I learned a lot about myself after my kids grew up,” she said.

When her first batch of children were married, she would sometimes visit their houses and, even though she didn’t notice what she was doing, would be critical of her children and their spouses. Looking back, she says she remembers the comments she would make and the criticisms she would dole out. They weren’t mean, but she admits to doing them.

“I would question everything my daughters and daughters-in-law were doing. I’d ask them what laundry detergent they were using or how often they had to dust their ceiling fans. There would be times I would question their cooking, their discipline of my grandchildren, and the way they washed their dishes. I’m sure it was constant,” she admitted.

“I remember thinking I needed to tell my daughters and daughters-in-law the way to do things. Not in a pushy, bossy way, but just so I could save them heartache and time. I’m sure I meant well.”

“It wasn’t until my oldest daughter opened up to me one day that I realized what I was doing.”

“My daughter told me I had been a control freak for her entire life. She remembers me watching her every move. I would sit at the kitchen table when she got up in the morning, especially when she was a teenager. I’d watch her getting the cereal and the bowl and the milk out for breakfast, closely scrutinizing her every move. I constantly was asking what she was looking for or telling her not to use a certain bowl. ‘Why are you pouring your cereal like that? It will come out faster if you do this.’ It got to where my children would try to eat their breakfast when I went outside to water plants or was in the laundry room doing the wash.  They started avoiding me because they didn’t want me questioning everything they said and did.

“I would ask questions about how they took care of my grandchildren, how they groomed their pets, how they serviced their cars. I once asked my son about some excavating he was having done on his farm. ‘Mom, when was the last time you used a bulldozer?’ His reply was clever. I had never driven one.’

“That day my daughter finally leveled with me was a turning point in my life. ‘Mom, we know you mean well, but your constant questioning and your constant comments make it seem like you don’t trust us.  We all feel you don’t think we can do anything right. We are afraid to make a move. We are afraid to tell you the kids are sick because you question how we are taking care of them. You question just about everything we do. You criticize how messy our homes are. Even when you compliment us, it is veiled criticism.’ It was very hard to take.

“At first, my feelings were so hurt that I was angry, in denial, and didn’t speak to my daughter for a good week.  Then, I decided to think about it, and I was faced with the reality that I really was this way. I really didn’t think my kids could make a move without my advice. My questioning them was my way of not only criticizing, but also my way of trying to tell them what to do.  

“My own parents had been hard to live with, and I always felt I had to be a perfectionist to get their approval. I guess I thought I could make my family perfect too if I just told them how to do everything.

“I also realized I was rarely invited to the homes of my children. We always had celebrations and get-togethers at my house or restaurants.  I remember being so surprised when my kids invited me to their homes.  They were afraid I’d run them down, I guess.

“So, I called my daughter and decided to have a long chat with her. She came to my house and we talked much of the afternoon. There was a lot of crying and even some anger, but we got it all hashed out. I asked her if the reason I was never invited to their homes was due to my criticism all these years.  She affirmed my suspicions.

“I ended up telling her how thankful I was to her. You see, my younger children weren’t married yet, so I could almost start over, in a way.  I could stop the criticism, I sure felt bad about my kids and how they perceived me.

“Later on, I wrote notes to each of my children, even my sons and daughters-in-law, apologizing for my criticism and my questioning all these years.  It made a difference. We are all much closer.  I have to tell you I still want to tell them how to do things, but I hold back and I think we are all much happier for it.

“If I go to my daughter’s house and it’s a little messy, I just think back to how it was when I was a young mother, and how I sometimes put a clean house, empty laundry baskets and a sink free of dishes at the top of my priority list rather than spending time with my kids. Those years can never be recaptured.”

We ended our conversation, but it stuck with me. I had talked to some fathers who had similar stories. They had been too rough on their kids, especially their sons. Those years can’t be taken back for a do-over.

Yes, parenthood is uncharted territory most of the time.  It doesn’t come with an instructions booklet. We learn from our mistakes. Sometimes, it’s not too late to correct things.

Thankfully we can learn from one another.

Mark Tullis

Mark is a 25-year veteran teacher teaching in Columbia. Originally from Fairfield, Mark is married with four children. He enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with his family, and has been involved in various aspects of professional and community theater for many years and enjoys appearing in local productions. Mark has also written a "slice of life" style column for the Republic-Times since 2007.