I was reading Wuthering Heights in a bar last Sunday when I overheard a conversation taking place in the next table. Well, I overheard one side of the conversation: the woman, dominating the interaction, was speaking drastically louder than the man. They were talking about their respective childhoods, but instead of sharing happy memories, the woman only spoke of three subjects:
- How she had had to spend her free time either in church or playing sports, and how her sister had not had such rules;
- How she had not been allowed to play with her friends, because she had been told there would be plenty of time to play later, which had never turned out to be true; and
- How her parents hadn't bought her Donald Duck comic books, even though she had wanted to read them.
Then she got up and walked past my spot and I noticed that she was around 60 years old.
I mean - I get that children and teenagers complain about the rules their parents set them. But if you're still bitter after decades of getting to do whatever you want and realizing that your parents only tried their best to raise you into an independent adult, you're doing the whole life thing all wrong.
I know some 60-year-old people who have never gotten over the way their parents treated them. I also know some 60-year-old people who never, ever, talk about their parents' parenting methods. It's like another two-kinds-of-people thing: those who remain bitter, think they deserve an apology for every little thing, and try to convince others that their parents were bad people who deserve to be complained about; and those who only remember the good stuff.
Which do you think is better for your life and mental health? And more importantly, which do they think is better?
Could it be that the bitter ones get some kind of gratification from continuing grudge and complaining about their parents? As in: do they think that to speak ill about them to others is to punish them for their mistakes?
And the happy ones - have they made the decision to not be bitter willingly, rationally, or is it a natural or genetic state to them that has just always been there without conscious effort?
Or is it a family legacy: that if your parents complained about their parents, then you'll learn it and become a person who complains about his parents?
And most importantly: do you have any say in this? Can you, if you're a child of a complainer, learn away from the legacy and become someone who is Teflon to painful parent-related memories, never speaks ill of them, and thus never transfers the habit to his own children?
As a weak optimist, I want to believe that the answer to the last question is yes; that you can be whatever you want; and you're not in any way bound to the way your parents raised you. You can forget everything you ever learned from your parents and raise yourself into a new person. Your upbringing does not matter. What matters is who you want to be.
I think it was Carl Jung that said: only fools waste their time thinking about other people's regret. After all, they can do absolutely nothing about it. Stronger men focus on their own regret, and learn from it.