Your name is Carla. You were a good student in school, which enabled you to get into a decent college. While choosing your major, your only thought was, "What will allow me to have a stable career and a reliable source of income for me and my family?" On graduation you immediately found a good nine to five job with good pay and great benefits. You married, bought a house, and had a couple of kids. Because you work for such an amazing employer, you were able to take plenty of time off when each child was born. Also, because of your great job, your family has never had to worry about being able to pay medical bills. Your insurance covers everything.
You have no regrets about your career choices. Your job allows you to provide for your family and that, after all, is the most important reason for having a job to begin with. And when you leave work, you truly leave work. You don't bring it home with you. As a mother and homemaker, you are amazing. You come home in the evening, throw a load of laundry in the washer, and oversee the children's homework while you work on preparing dinner. Your meals are never fancy, but they are filling and the kids think they taste good. After dinner you usher the kids off to the bath while you diligently wash every dirty dish in the kitchen. You follow up with a quick wipe-down of counters and table just in time to say goodnight to the children. Then you decide to watch a little television while you fold the clothes that you just washed. Afterward, you go to bed and prepare to do it all again tomorrow. In your humble opinion, you have a very good life.
Let's fast-forward twenty years. Your name is Anna. Carla is your mother. You and she could not be more different. You are anything but organized. Like your mother, you also made good grades in school, but only because you were fascinated with what you were learning. And when you decided what your major would be in college you primary concern was, "What am I passionate about? What will I find fulfilling?" You chose to study something incredibly impractical, but you loved every minute of it. After college, you worked a few different jobs just to get money to pay the bills while you waited for your true career to take off. You eventually got married and had kids, which required you to lay aside your dreams for a little while, but you never intended to neglect them forever.
Now the kids are getting older, and it's time for you to get on with your life. You revive old hobbies that you once loved in the hopes that one of them will turn into an incredible career. Your day-job is only part-time, but you do not suffer from having less money. You are happy to drive an old car and find no shame at all in occasionally buying a dress from a thrift store. It's all worth it. After all, there is nothing more important that being fulfilled in your life, and you know that money is not the source of ultimate happiness. You are pursuing more lofty goals than simple financial security.
You are Carla. You look at your daughter, and the word that usually comes to mind is "flighty." You wonder if she will ever grow up. When she was a child, you were happy to provide her with piano lessons and dance classes because you knew she would cherish those memories for a lifetime. But now that she is an adult, you wish that she would just settle down. You cringe when you see how your grandchildren are dressed, and you constantly remind your daughter that if she would just fold the clothes as soon as they came out of the dryer, they would not get so wrinkled. When Anna responds that she doesn't have time to do that, you think back over your own life and remember how you always made time. You can't understand why Anna won't make time as well.
You are Anna. You look at your mother and think to yourself, "What a miserable existence." You remember those years when your children were small and you had no time for anything that did not include diapers and laundry and play dates and bath time. You would not trade that time for anything in the world, because that was quality time that you spent with your kids. But you know that you could never have been happy doing that indefinitely. You just need a little bit more from life. Of course, you still spend time with your children now that they are older, but it's different. In fact, it's more fulfilling because you can share with them all of your many interests and passions. You look back on your own childhood and wish that your mother had taken the time to share those things with you. You wonder why she never did. You also wonder why your mother never indulges in those passions now that she is older. After all, a retired woman with grown children should have plenty of time for hobbies. But Carla doesn't have hobbies. You don't understand this. You think she is selling herself short. You think that she poured so much of herself into raising her family that now there is nothing left of the person she used to be. You almost pity her for that.
It's not always the mother who is the practical one and the daughter who is the artistic one. Sometimes it's the other way around. And the resentment can still exist when the tables are turned. Sometimes the daughter resents the time her mother spent on all of her little hobbies instead of spending that time with her family. Sometimes the mother thinks her daughter is squandering her potential by working a steady "sensible" job instead of following her dreams. Sometimes this conflict erupts between fathers and sons, or even among siblings or close friends.
Must There Be Conflict?
The obvious question here is: why? Why must Carla and Anna judge each other so harshly? Why can't Carla be proud of all of her daughter's many talents and just accept that keeping her clothes wrinkle-free is not one of them? Why can't Anna see that her mother is happy in her life? Why can't she accept that Carla does not need any kind of creative outlet to be fulfilled? Just knowing that she did a good job taking care of her family is enough for her.
In truth these two women should be very happy for each other, celebrating each other's strengths and accepting each other's weaknesses. After all, everyone has weaknesses, right? So there's no need for us to judge someone else just because they are bad at something that we do well. Or even because their priorities are slightly different from ours. The truth is we are all different. Anna cannot force herself to be like her mother. Giving up the things she loves to do would be too painful. And Carla cannot force herself to be like Anna. Spending all of her time on things that she does not consider important would just make her life unnecessarily stressful.
I'm sure everyone has seen this conflict in one form or another. So the next time you are looking at someone else's lifestyle and thinking to yourself, "I just don't understand people like that," ask yourself why. Is there something fundamentally wrong with the way that other person has decided to live, or is it just different from what you would do? Remember that different does not mean bad. It just means different.
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