Sunday, September 01, 2013

The parents in your head

I wonder if you've ever told yourself how different you are from your parents. I wonder if there's been a time when you heard your mother's voice or your father's voice come out of your own mouth and immediately stopped, shocked. "I am not my mother," you said. "I am not the father that my father was."

You're right. You are not your parents. It's possible that your parents are not even the same parents you carry around in your head. It's possible that the voice you hear is the voice your mother had several decades ago. She has learned and changed and maybe softened. But the old voice surfaces with a commentary on your choices and abilities that your real mother would no longer share.  It's possible that your father's voice is different now too, with less of a young man's anger and more of a grandfather's concern.  But the voice in your head is still a demanding, commanding authority.

What will you do with the parents in your head?  They may or may not be the same parents you encounter over family dinner but they are still telling you what you can think or do or be.  They are still putting up barriers for you to knock down or crawl over or just accept.  They are still driven by voices they carried in their heads, twenty or thirty or more years ago.

You might as well listen when they speak. You don't really have a choice anyway.  So listen.  Hear the tone of the voice as well as the words.  Let yourself go back and see and hear and feel the context that belongs to those voices.  Notice the details.  Then notice: they are not the details that govern your choices now. Those voices are mostly just a child's best guess at what it would take to be an adult.

It's only by listening to those voices that you will begin to notice the good stuff they represent and the good news that you have overcome much of the bad stuff they also represent. The parents in your mind are always and only parents, the strong patterns you recorded when you were only a child.  The parents in your life are people; you might even be older now than they were when you recorded those voices.  Even if your parents are no longer alive, the parents you know now are people in a way that the voices in your head are not.

When you listen to the parents in your head, you can separate them from the parents in your life. And then you can decide whether to turn the volume down and live with a hum of disapproval or turn it up and enjoy the continuity of attitude or values. Choice begins with listening, and then it moves from there.

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