I met recently with a group of young women and their therapists for a chat. I came away inspired by their courageous journeys through various eating disorders, some healed, others still in the process. I can only imagine the drive and fortitude needed to sustain or maintain their commitment to wellness. It is a daunting task yet each woman embodied the truth of its "doability."
Sometime during the evening one of the therapists commented about what a remarkable woman Andrea was and gave me credit for my contribution to her growing into such a person. Can't recall what I said, but am sure I questioned how much I may have contributed to the "who" of Andrea.
In a follow-up email, the therapist talked about my work and its affect on her and ended by iterating, "And Doris, you clearly, clearly helped Andrea to become the amazing, spirited woman she was. I hope you can hold onto that....:-)"
I was deeply touched by everything she'd written, but I had to ponder that last line. Not because I doubt that I affected my daughter, but because I'm not certain there is equality between nature and nurture. I responded:
I would so love to hold onto the thought that I helped Andrea become the “amazing, spirited woman she was” (LOVE your description of her) but I wonder sometimes on the impact of parenting generally.
I had a very abusive father and a loving but extremely co-dependent mother. I know who I was as a young person (how I thought, how I felt, how I acted)…yes, my family affected me, but the core of me has not changed drastically (it feels more like “in spite of” versus “because of”).
Our daughters are both incredible beings, but very different in their approaches to life and personality styles…not sure how much credit I can take for who they were/are. I tend to agree with Mitch Albom who wrote in his book The Five People You’ll Meet in Heaven, “All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair.” In spite of the “smudges" I left on our daughters, the incredible women they became is more a credit to THEM than to who I was as their mother.
If my parents were still alive and I heard them espouse that they'd "made me who I am today" I'd feel insulted and a bit angry. It is I who chose how to respond to the experiences in my life. I can hold the notion that I was a contributor to helping Andrea become who she was but only with the caveat that the credit for who she was is hers. Just as the parents of the young women struggling to heal cannot "own" the outcome of that struggle...like me, they "contribute" but cannot take "credit." That belongs to their child.
[Originally posted on the Gürze Books Eating Disorders Blogs]