Friday, September 11, 2015

Grace and gratitude

There are many "thankless" jobs in this world, and there are just as many people who assume those jobs because they enjoy the responsibilities they entail.

When I chose to be a teacher, I certainly didn't think, "Wow, I can't wait for all the awesome thank-you notes I'll receive!" I chose to be a teacher because I wanted to be a part of children's lives, to teach them how to be good citizens, to open their eyes to the world around them. I knew I would be overworked and underpaid, but being able to teach (and learn) was the only satisfaction I craved. Even in my years of teaching, I never once sought praise or commendation for anything I did. I didn't seek the limelight. I only wanted people to acknowledge that the work I did was important and necessary.

When I became a parent, I certainly didn't think, "Wow, I can't wait for my kids to shower me with thanks and praise when they're older!" I became a parent because I wanted to bring up two caring, responsible, and productive citizens who could take part in the world and leave their own marks somewhere. Being a parent entails sacrifices big and small, and I don't expect to be repaid for those sacrifices in any way other than to see my children happy and healthy. I expect them to take care of each other, to be kind to others, and to be grateful for all they receive (and to give back in kind). The money I invest in them is an investment in their futures, not in my own security.

Somewhere along the way, or perhaps this has always been the case, my parents forgot (or didn't care to consider) that parenting is about gracefully accepting that your children are human beings with separate lives. As in the animal kingdom, humans will leave the nest to forge their own lives apart from their parents. The time, money, and energy that parents put into raising their children are investments with no concrete or guaranteed returns. How you invest that time, money, and energy determines the kind and frequency of your returns. My parents have decided (and I knew this long ago) that they deserve my time, money, and energy as restitution.



They lack grace.

And they lack gratitude for the time, money, and energy I have repaid for no other reason than the extreme guilt they use to manipulate me. I am nothing more than an indentured servant who continues to fail to live up to expectations or meet demands.

When my children are ready to support themselves, I know it will be difficult for me to let them go, but I also recognize that letting go is a necessary and fundamental part of human existence. Up until that point I will have invested heavily to nurture, guide, and protect them, and if I have done those things well, with the appropriate amounts of love, then I can bank on their continued thoughtfulness as they and I age. Looking into the future, I will not require them to support me financially because I have taken the necessary steps to ensure my own stability and security. I will not require them to demure to my expectations, manipulate them with guilt, or love them unequally.

Even within the constructs of Korean social expectations, my parents are gems. They are unable to balance in their minds the fantasy of absolute filial piety and the reality of their own deeds. They make demands but no concessions. They have mastered the art of public farce and have convinced everyone outside these walls of their perfection and intelligence. They are determined to see me fail if only to derive satisfaction from watching me crawl back.

Though I am determined to be a better parent, I catch myself thinking, speaking, or acting in a way reminiscent of my own parents, and I chastise myself for being thoughtless. I may not be the domestic goddess as my mother envisions herself, but I take care of my children, I keep the house mostly tidy, I feed them well, and I ensure their safety and well-being. I am as good a mother as I can and need to be. I don't want my children to see me angry, or sad, or humiliated. I want them to see me happy, and satisfied, and excited.

And so, if this means my parents pack up and leave (as they have so gracefully threatened), then so be it. There will be an adjustment period--oh, whatever shall I do when I don't have to walk on eggshells? There will be some additional financial responsibilities (I suppose I would need a nanny to help me), but everything is manageable and within my means. For too long, I have allowed my parents to believe (and rightly so) that I am dependent on them, but it's about time they learned how dependent they have been on me for 30 years.

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