Friday, September 3, 2010

No Thanks Mom, I'd Prefer Not To

The conversation started pretty innocuously. “I want you to listen to this sermon the associate pastor gave at our church. He told the congregation that pastors are people too and need a break!” I knew what the comments meant. My mom had another great idea to teach me something. I could learn something from the pastor at her church. That was her motivation. She even brought the CD out so we could listen to it together. There was no way of escape. She was going to have me listen to it regardless of what I wanted. My response was simple, “Mom, help me to understand the reason you want me to listen to the CD?” Things went down hill from there.

The reality is I didn’t want to listen to it for a lot of reasons, none of which are important in this post. But I didn’t handle the situation as well as I could have. There were no harsh words, no shouting, and no threats. I just didn’t want to listen to it and she wasn’t going to take “no” for an answer. The dagger in the heart came at the end of this short episode when she burst into tears and ran into her bedroom crying, “I just wanted to share this important part of my life with you. You are too strong for me.” She locked the door and remained there for several hours. The next day she admitted to my wife that the sermon didn’t really mean that much to her. It wasn’t her life that she wanted to share. She wanted me to listen to it because she felt I could learn something from it. So my own mother, the fundamentalist Christian, had lied to me! Talk about discouraging!

For every reader who wrestles with their parents growing old, here’s a thought: Without losing who you are, you are going to have to deal with what your parents become in their old age. And with that in mind, your kids will have to deal with what you become in your old age. What ever issues are in your life now, magnify them dramatically, and that will be what your kids have to address when you get old. Sobering isn’t it.

I think had I simply said, “Mom, I don’t really care to listen to this now. I am exhausted,” that may have delayed the inevitable. But more likely, it would have been smart to say, “Okay mom, lets listen to it.” Who knows, maybe I would have gotten something out of it! There is a tricky balance between hanging on to who you are, being gracious and honoring to aging parents, and having the right to say “no” or “I disagree” or “I don’t want that” with parents (or other people) who bust personal boundaries and think that you should be just like they are. Many people in our culture feel that intimacy or relational closeness equals sameness. That is, if we always do the same things, think the same way, have the same hobbies, buy the same cell phones, or even live in the same house, we will be emotionally intimate or relationally close. Nothing could be farther from the truth. But a simple tolerance for someone’s issues may grease the wheels in an aging persons life. Maybe this is part of what it means in the Decalogue when it says, “Honor your father and mother….” I know it’s way more than that but I wonder if that’s part of it.

I don’t feel I owe my mom an apology and I don’t think she owes me an apology either—really. But I’m at a loss to what to do about this. She’s obviously hurt. Frankly, her behavior is just another in a long list of things that go back to my childhood when mom couldn’t accept differences of opinion or personal choices that had no moral basis. It’s her issue, not mine. But maybe as I relate to her now in her old age, I should be more tolerant of her foibles while not giving up my own identity. Of course, owning my own foibles now while I have my wits about me may save my kids from some uncomfortable situations in the future. It’s thought provoking!