No one who was raised by humans was brought up by perfect parents. But the spectrum of what “not perfect” is varies greatly from household to household. Not perfect could mean a mother and a father who simply made a few expected mistakes here and there, or individuals who worked all the time and were never there for the moments and lessons that counted. It could characterize parents who were never supportive or showed affection or others who may have been verbally, physically, or even sexually abusive. The increase in severity among these examples isn’t difficult to see, but whether you simply didn’t get enough time with your parents or received too much inappropriate attention from them, these experiences influence who we become, for better or worse. The question is, how long are you allowed to blame your upbringing for the poor choices you’ve yet to take responsibility for as an adult?
I’ve thought about this idea off-and-on for a while but never came to a conclusive answer, mostly due to the fact that although anyone over the age of 18 can rightfully call themselves a grown up, it doesn’t mean that they have in fact grown up and dealt with certain aspects of their rearing. This topic once again popped in my mind last night and the night before while watching Evelyn Lozada’s special on Iyanla Vanzant’s (incredible) new show, “Fix My Life,” as virtually every poor decision we’ve seen Ev make on “Basketball Wives,” and many before, was traced back to her relationship with her parents. Evelyn’s atrocious temper and violent ways with women were found to be rooted in the way she watched her own mother handle conflict, and her acceptance of Chad, and other men’s, cheating was said to be a direct result of her father not being in her life, and by extension, a generational curse evidenced by the fact that Evelyn’s father cheated on her mother while she was pregnant with her. Though I’ve never been a fan of the cliché way in which every decision one makes in adulthood is whittled down to an experience from their childhood, after watching these back-to-back specials, I’ve come to see Iyanla is the absolute truth (I’d add the way and the life if it weren’t blasphemous), so I’d never try to discredit her psychological expertise as a life coach. Still, I can’t help but feel like these childhood connections come to be used as a crutch for people who simply have not acknowledged the err of their own ways.
The thing is, you know when you’re doing something wrong — or at least something that is yielding unpleasant results in your life — even if you don’t know why. Just using the details of Evelyn’s life she exposed last night as a springboard, when you wind up pregnant at 16 by a boy who was cheating on you, I would think a little light bulb would go off in your head that would make you say, “I don’t want to experience hurt like this again. An easy way to prevent a repeat situation would be not to jump into bed with men who don’t value me.” Trust me, I know this is easier said than done. But there’s a huge difference in not knowing better so you can’t do better and knowing that what you’re doing is wrong, but not having the willpower to take another course of action. In my view, Evelyn, at 36 years old, is a part of the latter group, but was behaving as though she was a part of the former.
It was interesting how many of the people I follow on Twitter seemed be on the same wave-length as they bluntly remarked that they were abandoned by their fathers and still didn’t turn out to be promiscuous “thugs among women.” Though I wanted to digitally high-five these tweeters, I’m also aware of the fact that these types of circumstances manifest themselves in different ways. So while one woman may seek out affection from as many men as possible, another may become completely reclusive from all men. Neither is healthy, but both, in my humble opinion, are conscious choices — albeit one possibly more detrimental than the other. As I muddled these thoughts over in my mind, almost on cue a friend of mine texted me that she’d heard just about enough of Evelyn’s “my parent’s failed me” wallowing. As a product of a mother who had a drug problem and an abusive alcoholic father, it was hard to give Evelyn a pass for her antics when she is a dissertation away from having her PhD. And as my own father and his guilt-laden disappearing acts came to mind, I thought, neither my friend nor I have particularly explored the residual effects of our upbringings at any great length, yet we’ve managed to develop into productive, well-functioning women with healthy interpersonal relationships. We aren’t anomalies or exceptionally intelligent, we simply made a choice to be and do better than what we saw, with limited resources.
At some point, every adult will have the aha! moment that they are emulating behavior they witnessed as a child or acting out in response to the way they were treated when they were younger. Some, lightheartedly, call this turning into their mother (or father), others recognize the danger signs and immediately change their course of action, and the remainder use their upbringing as an excuse to continue down the path of destruction once they make the connection between their choices and how they were raised. The third mentality serves no purpose but to give yourself permission to repeat the cycle as if you have no choice but to do otherwise when the hard truth is that we all have choices, nature and nurture withstanding. We don’t all enter this world on equal footing, but rest assured those who sincerely want to do better for their own wellbeing and the sake of those around them will find a way. You can only blame your parents for the mistakes you fail to correct for so long.
When do you think one’s upbringing is a legitimate explanation for their behavior versus an excuse not to take responsibility for their actions?
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