Monday, February 17, 2020

Drinking the Kool-Aid

I remember the day they drank the Kool-Aid. It was November, 1978. I was in 9th grade and I watched, along with the rest of the country, as the nightly news played on our monstrous console televisions images of hundreds of people...adults, children, entire families...laid out on the ground, seemingly asleep. But dead. Dead from drinking a lethal concoction of cyanide and Flavor Aid. Brand names being what they are, the phrase was born: they drank the Kool-Aid.

The members of Jim Jones's People's Temple followed him and his ideology to their deaths. Well, some followed. Some were forced. Many wanted to leave and flee the abuse but were unable to. In the end there was no choice. Drink the Kool-Aid.

It's easy to do, to drink the Kool-Aid. It tastes sweet. Cold. It goes down easily. But that syrupy goodness masks the toxic taste of something deadly.

I've drunk the Kool-Aid. I've done it so many times in so many situations that I can't begin to count. I've believed something too good to be true. I've bought in to a system because it promises me something I think I desperately need.

I did that with parenthood. I drank the Kool-Aid, and in the the message that I should and I even COULD control the outcome. That if I did it right, my kids would make all the right choices, with right being defined by the standards of the community, and would make me proud and prove that I was a good mother.

Here's the hitch. Here's the terribly deadly thing about this particular pitcher of Kool-Aid. When you drink this up, you drink this cup, parenting is all about you. Your child's report card becomes your report card. His or her choices, your job evaluation. And if he or she fails to measure up, struggles to compete, or chooses a different path from the one you are told is the right one, you become the failure.

And what happens then? All of your energy is then focused on yourself. Beating yourself up. Or groping in panic to whip your child back into shape to fit inside the box.

I beat myself up for years. Not because there was anything wrong with my children, but because they didn't always make the choices I was told they were supposed to make and I was told it was my responsibility that they make. It was horrible. It was horrible for me because I felt that I had somehow failed God by not doing it right and it was horrible for my children because I became focused on licking my own wounds rather than what they needed from me.

I suppose it is easy now for me, years down the road, to see this. All four of my kids are well into adulthood and such incredibly wonderful, fascinating, and outside the box that it is a blast to know them as people, not just as offspring. But I wish I had known this then.

I wish somebody had told me that my job was not to ensure that they made it to adulthood as industrious, courageous, sharp, modest, ambitious, college-educated, Bible-verse quoting, smiling virgins but to love them as they are with all of their biology and brain chemistry and strengths and weaknesses and hopes and dreams and come alongside them and guide them, as best I could, based on who they were and what they needed. I wish I had spent my energy asking "How can I love him? How can I love her? Here. Now. In this situation. What does my child need?" Instead I spent my energy feeling intense shame and beating myself up every time I got a sideways look from another parent or a rebuke from a leader because my child wasn't marching to their orders.

I can only apologize to my children who I love more than life for not being there emotionally for them because I was too busy beating myself up.

I drank the Kool-Aid. I believed that my value as a person depended on my success (whatever that meant) as a parent. And even more than that, that my value to God depended on my success as a parent.

The truth is this: parenthood is not an accomplishment. It is a relationship. Anybody who tells you differently is putting something in your drink. Take note of what is in your Kook-Aid.

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