Mistakes Were Made By My Parents (But Not By Me)

There’s an old saying that “History is written by the victors.” No one is quite sure who first said it but everyone knows what the person meant: the country that wins the war always comes out looking good because they are the ones who are still alive and therefore get to write the history of the war.

Individuals do the same thing countries do. We write our own histories in order to make ourselves look and feel good. “If mistakes were made, memory helps us remember that they were made by someone else.” We creatively and conveniently remember things in a way that is favorable to us.
Nietzsche, the German existentialist, said: “‘I have done that,’ says my memory. ‘I cannot have done that says my pride, and remains inexorable. Eventually–memory yields.'”

Now let’s take all of this to parenting. Smart parents know that not only should they save for their kid’s college and maybe a wedding but also for their kid’s therapy. I’m sure that you’ve noticed that  lots of people end up blaming their parents for their “issues.” Observant parents know that no matter what they do, their kids are going to remember their childhood in a way that benefits them even if it makes bad guys out of mom and dad. We know they will do this because we are guilty of doing the same thing to our parents.

I love this paragraph from the “memory chapter” in Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)

Every parent has been an unwilling player in the you-can’t-win game. Require your daughter to take piano lessons, and later she will complain that you wrecked her love of the piano. Let your daughter give up lessons because she didn’t want to practice, and later she will complain that you should have forced her to keep going–why, now she can’t play the piano at all. Require your son to go to Hebrew school in the afternoon, and he will blame you for having kept him from being another Hank Greenberg. Allow your son to skip Hebrew school, and he will later blame you for his not feeling more connected to his heritage. Betsy Petersen produced a full-bodied whine in her memoir Dancing With Daddy, blaming her parents for only giving her swimming lessons, trampoline lessons, horseback-riding lessons, and tennis lessons, but not ballet lessons. “The only thing I wanted, they would not give me,” she wrote. Parent blaming is a popular and convenient form of self justification because it allows people to live less uncomfortably with their regrets and imperfections. Mistakes were made, by them. Never mind that I raised hell about those lessons or stubbornly refused to take advantage of them. Memory thus minimizes our own responsibility and exaggerates theirs.

Leave a Reply