choosing my memories

midlife blog ~ cresting the hill

Kathy from posted recently about the importance of choosing the memories from our past she states that:
"every person’s life is usually filled with a collection of both good and bad experiences. What we individually choose to focus on, highlight, and repeatedly tell others, and ourselves, can either lead to a happier life, or reinforce the past negatively."

I come from a fairly disfunctional family background - my father was an alcoholic and a chain smoker and is now in permanent care with dementia caused by the damage all those toxins did to his brain. My mother enabled a lot of his behaviour because she always took the path of least resistance.

Both my brothers have failed marriages, are compulsive spenders, have no friends and have many issues relating to a distant and dismissive father figure. I thought I escaped relatively unscathed - until I started looking at the coping mechanisms I have in place to deal with life. I handle criticism very poorly, I am a people pleaser wherever possible, I think I am a classic "oldest child" in that I am a bit (quite a bit) of a control freak and I like my world to be very ordered and pleasant. I'm not a big fan of change or surprises and I always tend to think the worst is going to happen and worry about it (often needlessly).

When I look at these character flaws in myself, I have often chosen to resent my parents (particularly my dad) for the lack of quality parenting they provided through my formative years. My mum has stepped up big time in the last few years and we have become much closer. I think this is partly due to me accepting her for the person she is and not expecting too much depth from her - when she does something quite caring or considerate I am pleasantly surprised and that is an added bonus.

Kathy's point was that our memories are coloured by our experiences and are subject to being interpreted differently by the people who were present at the time. I'm sure my parents thought they did a great job of raising us - none of us are in jail and we are good citizens making our contribution to society. The difference in perspective comes from experiencing things as a child and a teenager that I would not want my children to have to go through. But.....and this is a big 'but'......there were good times in amongst the bad. So I can choose to remember how hard done by I was in my youth, or I can focus on remembering the fun times. There weren't very many fun family events, but there were laughs along the way and milestones.

I think it's important to not place today's values on yesterday's parenting. We are much more involved with our children than our parents were in the 1960's, we have the benefit of better education, more resources and an understanding of the impact we have on the children we have in our care. I think my parents just got on with their lives and we came along for the ride. 

My dad doesn't have many more years left and he doesn't recognize his children (or even his wife most of the time). I need to forgive him for his selfishness and try to pull together the good memories from days gone by and push the not so nice stuff into the background. No amount of blaming or wishing things were different will change the past, so why not choose happy things to remember and move on. There's a lot I have learnt from my childhood and a lot that I have done differently from my parents - that can be a positive outcome to continue on with. Now I just have to dredge up a few extra happy memories to highlight and remind myself of, then I can start telling them to my brothers!