These Things We’ve Handed Down

About twenty years ago, I was in high school and my mother came home from work one day with an interesting find. It was an excerpt from some kind of outdated book that outlined how to be a good wife. It encouraged women to get the housework done before their men came home so they did not have to be around while things were being cleaned. It explained how appreciated it would be if wives kept their children neat and quiet right when their husbands returned home so as to give him a little leisure time since he had had a long day at work. After all, he was the sole provider for the family and his main purpose was to ensure a stable income.

I remember thinking how shocked I was when I realized women were told that this was their role. I looked at my mom, who worked full time, as did my father, equally contributing to the family. Our script was flipped on that one.

Now, I write this as a mother of two children, I am at a crossroads of Where the hell did we come from? and How the hell did we get here? which is catty-corner to Where are we taking them?

The men we’ve buried, and older gentlemen we still hold close, were primed and prepared to be providers to their families. Their purpose clearly defined as working as hard as you can, often (not always) at the emotional expense of themselves and those they were providing for. They didn’t know how much pressure was being put on them because well, that’s just how the world was. Their parents before them came from a time remembered for its immense lack. If your family had meat on the table, a TV, and a car, you did all right. If you took vacations and got promoted, even better. You’ve achieved the goal society silently set for you. On the whole, boys were raised to be human doings, not human beings.

Please note, I say this as a broad generalization and not a concrete blanket statement that encompasses everyone. I am completely aware that this was not every home, not every family. I 100% acknowledge that. Bear with me; my point gets bigger.

Now, for the ladies. For a time, we were primed to be the model housewife, being the sole caretaker of the children, and the aging parents. We did all of the household tasks. A big movement has brought us out of the homes and into the work force. The 1950s arrangement has stuck with some homes where the women are still expected to tend to the children AND the house AND our careers. We fought for our rights as equals and some of us spited our boys by saying See? I can do ALL of it and you’ll never even see me sweat! On the whole, women were primed to be indestructible, and irreplaceable, and some of that by our own doing.

Gender roles in society throughout history are not even my main point here. I did feel it necessary to highlight some of it in terms of where I’m going with this.

The development of men and women has previously been shaped by expectation of society, to provide either financially or in a care-taking role for the family, and if you achieved those things, you got it right.

I do agree that it is important to be able to provide for yourself and your children, financially, emotionally, spiritually, and physically.

I do not agree that only these achievements will serve as a healthy foundation for well-adjusted emotional development and an internal source of happiness.


How much pressure have we seen people put on themselves because they didn’t land the $120,000 a year job? Because they can’t have children? Because of things we define our success by instead of the ability to be grateful and find joy in what’s right in front of us?

I am standing at this crossroads, holding my children’s hands, with a complicated road map at my feet. My task is to balance instilling a good work ethic, a moral responsibility to spread kindness and compassion, an internal locus of control of one’s own choices/destiny, a desire to continually improve upon oneself while at the same time inspiring a gratitude for what they already have, and my goodness, I’m overwhelmed at times.

We are a mixed generation, the parents of now. We stand in the middle of the achieving and doing and of the instilling and fostering. My goal, and I believe the goal at large, is to promote an emotional awareness in both men and women, to teach our children that our thoughts influence our feelings. I believe our task at hand is to learn these things ourselves, to show ourselves forgiveness, understanding, and compassion, and to model what it means to consider yourself “successful” to the little ones.

I choose to change my legacy and take the scary step of looking inside myself at what’s faulty, outdated, and detrimental. I choose to do my best to rid my life of negative thinking.

I choose to work as hard as I can toward accepting that I am imperfectly perfect and that my best will be great and some days and not so great on others.

If I fail, I’ll do so in front of my children so they know it’s ok, that there’s life on the other side of failure, and that there is love and support no matter how bad things get. I’ll show them that sometimes it takes more than one attempt to accomplish something, or that maybe doing some internal work and then trying from another angle is best, or maybe that certain things weren’t meant to exist in this world, whatever the case may be. Success is a personal thing. It requires a lot of effort, yet leaves no room for oppression from outside forces. That’s not success. Pressure to achieve something in life robs us of the joy of the journey to get there.

That’s not motivation; that’s a grown up form of bullying.

We all want our children to be successful, and our duty is to instill the importance of loving and accepting ourselves as a unit of measurement of this success.

The corner office, the management team, the 6 bedroom house, none of this crap measures up to a hill of beans if you’re too miserable to enjoy it.

We are raising a new generation. Let’s make it a legacy of love, and not a generation of haters.

First step?

Love and accept yourself.

Do some internal work and model that.

They’ll pick up on it.

They pick up on your bad habits; they’ll certainly pick up on the good ones.


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Filed under Counseling, Emotional Health, Health and Wellness, Mental Health, Psychology, Therapy

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