Sometime in the ’60s
During my teen years I had a terrible attitude. I overcame an esteem malfunction with an undeserved machismo and surly demeanor. It was during this time my mother, concerned that my “id” wasn’t up to snuff, sent me to a shrink: Dr. Berg. It didn’t help me at the time but both mom and I learned a lesson from it.
This was during the mid to late sixties. Dr. Berg’s method was to discuss reality with me then call my mother in to tell her what she was doing wrong. I enjoyed the talks with Dr. Berg much more than my mother enjoyed the critique of her parenting. After one critiquing session, Dr. Berg gave my mother an assignment which she shared with me years later.
Dr. Berg instructed my mother to have a civil discussion with me without reacting negatively to anything I might say. Mom was a fiery lady so this was a tough assignment. Of course, I was not to know about it.
Mom, after significant-self talk about not getting upset no matter what, asked me to sit with her at the kitchen table one day when I arrived home from school. After I slouched into the chair opposite her, she started the conversation with how concerned she was that at a time I should be happiest, I was so unhappy (I don’t know where she got this. Most teenagers I’ve known suffer from all kinds of angst and emotional turmoil). She then asked me what I wanted to do upon graduating from high school. I figured she was leading up to a discussion about how to set goals and achieve success and happiness, so I designed my response, as most teenagers do, to be as contrary as possible, thus denying the desired result of the adult. I simply told her, “I want to be a Hells Angel.”
I remember her immediate emotional and verbal eruption. She ranted at me with invectives about what an insane life goal that was. She finally summed it up with, “You need to get it together, young man!” She then realized the calm, rational discussion had become a chewing out with me looking even more sullen than before. She then did what most parents do in that situation and sent me to my room.
As I look back on this event I sometimes wish I could go back and slap the arrogance out of me, however, that would show that I learned nothing from it. I remember that after the event, my mother rarely confronted me about my misdeeds. She pretty much let me suffer the consequences of my bad attitude and behavior while hoping that, “This too shall pass.”
The lesson we learned was that you don’t have to treat your kids with vitriol to get them to grow up. You also have to let them make some decisions for themselves, good or bad, in order that they learn some lessons. You need to hold them to high standards but when they fail let them suffer the consequences and still love them, . Too often, parents take on their children’s failures on as our own. We then physically or verbally hurt them rather than letting natural consequences take their course.
I eventually retired from the military, finished college and have enjoyed a successful teaching career. By allowing me to make my mistakes without passing judgment, Mom allowed me to learn success.
Years after I had survived being an adolescent ass and she had survived parenting one, mom enjoyed telling this tale on herself. We always had a good laugh about it.
Mom eventually succumbed to Alzheimer’s. I hope there is an existence after death in which she and I can laugh about it again. I will also remind her that she had been successful in raising me; at least I didn’t become a Hells Angel.