This is just my personality, we say. I just don’t have any energy when I get home from work, we complain. I’m in a bad mood today, that’s all. My parents weren’t any different, and I turned out ok. It’s just a stressful period right now. They’re young, they won’t remember any of this.
All lies. All excuses. All holding the potential to cause terrible pain.
In his beautiful and vulnerable memoir, Bruce Springsteen talks—years later—about how his father’s mood and issues affected him. “As a boy I just figured it was the way men were, distant, uncommunicative, busy within the currents of the grown-up world,” he said. “As a child you don’t question your parents’ choices. You accept them. They are justified by the godlike status of parenthood. If you aren’t spoken to, you’re not worth the time. If you’re not greeted with love and affection, you haven’t earned it. If you’re ignored, you don’t exist.”
It breaks your heart. And each of us is doing some version of that to our own kids right now. Our moods and choices and the examples we set are affecting them always, changing how they see the world and how they see themselves. It’s making them feel better or worse, worthwhile or worthless, safe or vulnerable.
A little fellow follows you, remember that. The decision to shut down emotionally doesn’t just impact you. The decision to overcommit. The decision to be gone. The decision to hold onto resentments. The decision not to take care of yourself. The decision to hold them to unfair standards, to belittle or to be mean.
All of this matters. It matters more than anything.