Few of us felt completely understood as kids. At a young age, our parents didn’t quite understand what we were saying, what we wanted, how much we missed them when they were gone, how scared we were when we were alone. When we got older, they didn’t seem to remember just how hard it was to be a teenager, how overwhelming the world was, how different we felt from others, how behind we sometimes felt (as we wrote recently). And now as adults, we struggle too–maybe our spouse doesn’t fully get us. Maybe our parents are incapable of seeing or listening to us when we try to communicate about wounds we carry from the past.
Epictetus said there are things that are up to us and things that are not. The reality is that being understood–even after our best efforts–is never going to be fully up to us. It depended on other people, namely our busy, overwhelmed and imperfect parents. Besides, that ship has sailed. Now that we’re older and better at communicating, we can’t go back in time and get them to understand us in a moment that is no longer here.
But if being understood is not in our control, there is something quite wonderful that is in our control: Understanding. We can give what we didn’t or haven’t got (as we’ve written about). Most importantly, we can do this for our own children, right here, right now. We can try to really see them, really listen to them. Our own pain and our own loneliness has an upside–it’s taught us the value of being understood, how much it means, how even a little of it can go a long way.
Instead of despairing, instead of turning inward because we haven’t gotten all that we needed, why don’t we channel that energy toward being a positive difference maker here in the present for our kids? Why don’t we use this second chance? Why don’t we focus on what’s in our control? We can’t always be understood, but we can always strive to understand.