Lessons Taught Are Not Lessons Learned

No one single person is able or responsible for the way another person turns out as an adult.  No one is that powerful and many factors contribute to who we become.

I wish I knew this obvious truth years ago, before I had my own children, but I didn’t,  or didn’t want to know that a parent’s influence on their children is limited and there are many other factors which contribute in the making of a person.  I should have known, just by looking in the mirror to see who my mother wanted me to be and who I had really became.  Although, along the years, I had many mirrors in my homes and I looked, I guess I always  have seen only what I chose to see, my perception of reality, what I wished it to be.

The basic concept on which I based my motherhood was to do everything the opposite of what I experienced as a child. For years I deeply believed I was the main factor that will shape my children and I truly did my best. This overwhelming desire to  offer my children the childhood I never had completely took over my persona for years.  Because I poured myself into my parenting, I became parenting. I wanted to make up for my mother’s detachment. For years I had a false sense of  trust and the illusion that  it was my responsibility for my children to be happy and wholesome and become as adults good people serving worthy causes, all with the noble purpose of my children being happy.  I wanted to give them all that I didn’t have, a secure home, constant motherly love, pets they could love, a home  full of friends, best education and exposure to activities and the best of the best in everything.  Above all,  a real family, two parents who loved them and most importantly showed their love!  I really, really wanted my daughters to feel loved because as a child I didn’t and I still remembered how it felt when I did my best but it was never good enough, the fear of always doubting  that the results of my actions were not valuable enough, and expectations weren’t met!  Criticizing  and crushing any personal initiative were the main tools my parents used to “motivate me” to be the best.  How did this “educational tools” work in the long run? With my knowledge of today, I know better. I know that no one person or persons could totally shape another into who they become. It is a combination of nurture and nature and ultimately a personal choice. I learned the hard way that what is essential and valuable to me might not be, and it isn’t to others. Most importantly, I can’t make anyone feel like I do, as others couldn’t make me, no matter how hard they tried.

Life  attempted to show me how foolish I was  many times, but nature gave me a very stubborn streak which many times came in hand and it turned into the quality called determination.  Today,  as I look back I wonder if, in all fairness,  my mother didn’t try to teach me good lessons in the wrong way because that’s what she knew how and her intentions were in fact commendable.

Because of  my personal experiences as a child,  I attempted to teach my children using different methods,  because I knew mother’s mostly didn’t work on me. Well… perhaps sometimes they did…  Here’s an efficient lesson which stayed with me a life-time:  How I learned that stealing is wrong and not acceptable.

I must have been five or six and I was playing with my friend, next door. Her mother was a dress-maker and as she was cutting materials, small pieces fell under her work table, where we played. One of these colorful pieces, a Turkish bright print, attracted my eyes and quickly I placed the piece of material in my pocket without telling anyone.  Later, at home, I showed my mother the treasured material.

“Where did you get this?” she asked.

“It was down, on the floor at my friend’s apartment,” I answered.

“Did you ask for permission to take it?”

Suddenly it struck me that I assumed the material was no longer needed and just took it. “No,” I answered my mother, it was a leftover, it was on the floor.”

She made me go back and  say how sorry I was to my friend’s mother and gave it back. I did, and that’s how shame was born in me but also the concepts of right and wrong which I carried throughout my life, no matter the situation.  This is, in my mind ,a  good lesson learned.

Another lesson however, was not equally successful.  My mother was telling a neighbor something I knew was not true and I felt I needed to set things straight. She was not telling things right. I corrected her story and told the neighbor the truth, or my version of it.  My mother smiled embarrassed and we went home quickly.

At home, she took a sock out of a drawer and asked me: “What color is this sock?”  “White,” I answered.

My mother dangled it under my nose and said:

“NO, it is not white, I say it’s BLACK, and even if you see it white, if I say it’s black it’s black! Don’t you ever tell people my stories are not true, do you understand? If I say its black and you see it white, it’s still black because I say so!”

I re-played this story in my mind many times and tried to discover what good did it do?  It is obvious now, with my knowledge of today, that she wanted to make me obey her blindly. But was this really a good lesson? Do we  want our children to have no judgement of their own? Or do we hope they will develop the judgment of who to obey and who to disobey?

At times I wonder if my mother, who died before I left Romania, in 1981, would somehow know all that I experienced after her death,  what would she do? Would she raise from the dead to save me or tell me I did it all wrong and try one more time to control my destiny!

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