Listening to the radio in the car, I learned that in Japan therapists think about family relationships differently than in the United States. Instead of asking what happened in childhood to screw you up, they ask, “What did your parents give you when you were growing up?”
What a difference in attitude. Maybe you could reply, “Nothing. They didn’t give me anything.” But that’s not exactly true. At the very least they gave you life. I learned this in a very real, non-theoretical sense from my husband, Martin. Much like Martin Martinez in the Kiko and Maggie Perez Mystery series, my Martin grew up with a dysfunctional mother and an absent father, and yet I rarely heard him speak a bad word about his mother. She gave him life, she needed help and he was in a position to help her. Our kids grew up knowing that Gramma was well meaning and would promise countless trips to Disneyland, but they shouldn’t expect anything more than promises. There was never follow-through and the sooner you figured that out the less disappointment you would experience.
I never heard my husband blame his mother for his successes or his failures in life. The closest he ever came was to say, “She gave me an example I didn’t want to follow.”
So, How do we stop focusing on what we didn’t have and appreciate what we receive everyday in life? How do we reach out to the prickly ones, the ones who don’t want to share who they are but who desperately want to be loved and included? How do we take responsibility for who and what we are now that we’re adults and can choose? Maybe it comes down to attitude. What do others give us? What do we gain by meeting, knowing, sharing life with others here on this planet? Especially the ones we live with and care about.