That time that I lost it with my kids and screeched like a wounded hyena instead of remaining calm, doesn’t define me. A lot of the time, possibly even the vast majority of the time, I was a reasonably good parent. (And I’m not claiming that there was only that once.) I’m guessing your past doesn’t define you either.
Those bad moments are still part of my story. When one of those rare sensitive moments comes and one of boys utters, “You’re such a great mom,” I appreciate it even more knowing our full story. He’s not saying it because it was invariably true every moment. He’s saying it because it’s his truth.
My truth is that there were times I could have done better as a parent, but I’m pretty darned proud of the finished product, as well as my efforts in general.
For most of us, no single episode of our past will etch our legacy in stone. (I’m leaving out mass-murderers and those guilty of truly despicable crimes.) We’re the product of our lives as a whole.
When it comes to family stories, trying to erase or white-wash the past is counter-productive.
My story is still my story, complete with all the public chapters, private chapters, and hidden episodes of my heart. To try to pass off a friendly abridgement wouldn’t be leaving a legacy of myself.
The detritus is still there
The past doesn’t define you, but often, those less than ideal moments prowl around in the background of your mind, your history.
When we lived in Germany, my husband and I once kept a large banana box that a grocery store supplied us to pack our groceries in. It proved handy the next time that someone called and said they’d like to stop by in a few minutes. We cleaned up in a whirlwind, putting any unfiled papers and clutter in the banana box which we stashed in the back room.
You can probably guess what happened. By the time we’d completed our 3 ½ year assignment, we had a stack of banana boxes in the back room. Visitors may not have seen the unsightliness of our paperwork, but it wasn’t gone. It was lurking, waiting for the day when we were forced to deal with it.
Your family’s baggage is still kinda, sorta your baggage.
Life isn’t as individual as people like to think.
We’re surrounded by others and our lives inexorably impacts theirs. Our stories become a complex Venn chart, overlapping and influencing each other’s plot lines.
When people you love have struggles, you do your level best to understand what they’re going through. It’s a natural reaction to that love. Which means that loving family members, past and present, sometime means schlepping around some family suitcases. You help carry the family bags of wrongs, perceived wrongs, mistakes, and reconciliations in order to comprehend their pain and to promote healing.
Recently, a participant of a workshop mentioned that she had discovered Nazi sympathizers in her family tree. She hesitated to include that fact in her family stories, afraid that bringing that particular skeleton out of the closet would ruffle family feathers.
However, if she omits these facts, her family won’t know who their ancestors really were. Connecting to a façade is a lesser emotion than accepting someone and all their sides, warts and all.
Denying or White-washing the Past can Cause Further Harm
Though we absolutely DON’T carry the blame for things our ancestors did, staying cognizant of the past can put us in a position to promote healing.
Some wounds require air and the light of day to scab over and heal. When we simply cover them up, they don’t heal properly. The scars chaff. In other words, sometimes the stuff in the banana boxes in the back room need to be dealt with.
That’s especially true when the stories of the past include victimization of others.
Blogger “Robyn” explains it eloquently in her post, Suggestions For the White Descendants of Slaveholders:
…when we come across books and articles and websites about slaveholders and those books include nothing about the slaves they owned, we experience a particular kind of pain that desires at a minimum acknowledgement.
Her whole post is worth reading, but it’s not a huge spoiler to say that she suggests that descendants of slave owners share information the run across about enslaved people. Pretending that those people didn’t exist is hurtful to those who are diligently trying to trace them.