Many people used to tell me, how lucky I was to be an only child. They had this perception that my parents would undoubtedly spoil me to death, that I would get whatever I wanted, and that I would never have to share what I own with any siblings.
They couldn't be more wrong.
Being the only child meant that all of my parents' expectations lay on my shoulder. Not wanting me to repeat their mistakes, my parents would forever be feeding me with strings of advices and warnings. I was always walking on eggshells; the littlest mistake and my parents would obsess and fuss over it. Every single thing I did, every behavior I exhibited, was scrutinized and presumed to have some significance on my character.
To compensate for whatever they lacked during their own childhood, my parents tried to give me what they couldn't have. But in the effort to do so, they forgot that I had a voice. Forget about choices; it my parents thought it was the best, then it must be the best. From having to learn things sooner than everybody else (like, learning how to type properly when I was 10, at a time when computers weren't a common household object) to choosing schools and majors (hence double-majoring at economics and psychology, instead of pursuing my love for writing).
While many of the above were common among parents (who doesn't want to give their children the best, right?), being the only child meant everything was super-concentrated on me. My parents thought they couldn't afford to make any mistakes; everything was either now or never. They didn't have any other children, so if I turned out to be a failure, that was it, it was a one-time deal. Just as there were no other children they could be more proud of, it also meant there were no other children who would disappoint them more than I did.
That was a heavy burden to carry on one little shoulder.
When I was three years old, my parents got divorced. I always wondered how they ever got together in the first place (they dated for 8 years before they got married), because there couldn't have been more different people than my mother and my father. [Un]fortunately for me, this translated to a huge gap in the way they thought they should raise me. What was 'right' at my father's house, may not be right at my mother's, and so forth. From early on, it was like I had two sets of paradigm that I had to maintain in order to be able to please both my father and my mother. Which I must say was very, very difficult, given how much they hated each other at the end.
Looking back, it was no surprise that I grew up feeling like I should always be the best in every single thing that I did. If I were to view myself as any less, I would beat myself over it, never satisfied until I could convince myself that indeed I was the best. I took everything so personally, one slight frown from others would result in weeks of ruminating what I did wrong. There was no grey--everything was either black or white. There was no such thing as mediocre in my dictionary--either you made it or you didn't. Either you succeeded or you're a failure.
But to live life always feeling like I had to prove I was the best (to myself, to my parents, to others) was not only exhausting, it was impossible. Instead of enjoying and living life to its fullest, I was too busy being disappointed at myself at every turn. It was already difficult when it was just me; throw in a husband and a child to the equation, and it was a recipe for disaster.
When it was just me, at least I was in full control of myself, which meant I also had a measure of control over any possible outcome. But we all knew that when it came to other people, there was no way I could control how they act, feel, and react. I was at a loss when it came to dealing with my marriage and being a first-time parent.
Growing up being an only-child, I was not used to disappointments. If I tried hard enough, I would get it. It was a simple as that. There were no siblings to introduce unpredictability into the mixture, to mess up my plans, or to take into consideration when making decisions. And we all know that in a marriage and parenthood, there are plenty of that. It felt like my whole world was turned upside-down. All the strict guidelines, the standards, the self-inflicted rules I had lived by didn't work when it came to my husband and later, my child. I was a control-freak who just realized that there was nothing I could control. In other words, I was a train-wreck waiting to happen.
Today, I have been together with my husband for twelve years, a mother for the past seven years. My marriage is in trouble, my husband wanted a divorce, and my little girl is growing up a lot faster than I would like her to be. I have never felt more lost in control than I am right now. Tell me ten years ago that this would happen to me, and I'd probably be on my way to the nearest mental facility already. Yet, despite the worst possible case scenarios that are going on in my life right now, I can safely say that:
- I am not wasting away in some dark corner growing a beard.
- I am not going crazy or on my way to any mental facility near or far.
- I haven't hired any PI to follow my midlife-crazed husband around (or put any dangerous substance into his drinks)
- I still eat more than I should.
- I still laugh a lot on a daily basis.
- I still enjoy doing things that I like (blogging, talking to my friends, watching dvds at home, reading books).
- I'm still a bag-addict.
- I think I'm a good daughter and a better-than-good mother.
- I'm not a perfect wife, and I'm ok with that.
- I make mistakes, but I'll do better next time.
- I am alive.
It took a lot of tears and efforts to get to where I am today. I'm not blaming being an only-child as the sole reason for every failure, disappointment, or mishap I've ever gotten into. But I do know that it played a big role in how I perceive myself, others, and life in general. When I became a wife, and then a parent, I realized that my way of thinking, the remnants of my childhood as an only-child, came back to haunt me. It had, and as in the case of my marriage, still does, caused a lot of heartache for myself and for the people I love.
One thing I know for sure though, is that life goes on, and it waits for no one. That at the end, it all comes down to how I WANT to live my life--not what my parents, my control-freak mind, my husband, my daughter, my friends, or the society tells me what I should want. I've learned to be alright with being mediocre, with being average, with being content and happy just being myself. I had to learn of my weaknesses the hard way, but it also made me a much more humble person, much more forgiving of myself and others.
I've accepted that there are some things I could change, but there are also others I could not--no matter how hard I try. Until that day comes, when I would close my eyes for the last time, nothing is as 'life or death' situation as it seems to be.
Until then, I'm happy being Just Enough Me.
This post is written as part of Be Enough Me for Cancer campaign and I’d love it if you’d help us boost that number again. For every 20 linked up posts, Bellflower Books will provide a memory book to a woman fighting breast cancer through Crickett’s Answer for Cancer, and help bring a smile to courageous women giving it their all, every single day. You can also comment on the post or on the Just.Be.Enough. Facebook page with your own story and be counted. The link up opens up every Monday and remains open for three days.