616. Selfhood

There’s neither any danger nor any hope that we’ll become our parents, nor that our children will become us. Our parents are already them (or were), we’re already us, and our children are themselves. On one level, I’m sure everyone reading this already knows this, but there are times when I’ve heard people speak as if they thought that they were becoming their parents, or that their children were becoming them. So I thought I’d start by reminding you, if you need reminding, that we’re all ourselves, and always will be.
We learn from the people who are most important to us, and since we’re quite often important to them, too, quite often they learn from us. We’re ultimately in charge of our own learning, and we choose which of the things we’ve learned we want to keep, and what else we want to learn. If there are some things we don’t want to keep, we’re in charge of getting rid of them.
Perhaps to some of you, this all seems like rehashing the obvious. Perhaps others of you are thinking, that’s easy for you to say. But as we teachers and parents work to get children to take responsibility for their own learning, I think we’d do well to remind ourselves to keep taking responsibility for ours. Once in a while, I hear words from an adult who hasn’t fully taken that responsibility – who blames adult role models for teaching him or her the wrong things, and feels powerless to do anything about it.
I’m not saying it’s easy to undo influences we want to undo. It can take years of hard work. It can feel impossible. But I believe that it can be done. Just as people can learn to master skills and behaviors their parents and teachers have mastered, they can also learn to reject and discard what they don’t want. Doing so doesn’t have to be an insult to parents and teachers. It doesn’t have to be a total repudiation of them. But it’s part of the process of asserting our own selfhood.
During adolescence, lots of rejecting may go on. That can be a time when people spend lots of time trying to define themselves. It can be a little like cleaning out an attic; people who watch it happening may think, no, don’t throw that away! Or they may see other items they wish they’d thrown away a long time ago, and see adolescents deciding to keep those items.
The people who emerge from all that are their own people. Our children, as Gibran says, are not OUR children, and never will be, no matter how much we’ve taught them. And we are not our parents, no matter how much they’ve taught us. If all I’ve said sounds obvious to you, good for you, and good for your adult role models. It wasn’t always obvious to me, and having learned as much as I have so far feels like some pretty impressive learning.

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