Like Dad Said: Count On Me

Long-time friend, Margaret has on more than one occasion referenced with loving humor some truisms of her father’s that vividly painted a picture of what growing up his daughter felt like—and what shaped who she is.

Apparently, he had a short but important set of rules and values that both shaped her sense of self and would later grant her an even greater sense of what being herself would mean.

She genuinely appreciated the clear boundaries set for her as a child. They made her feel both safe and loved—but not overwhelmed by control. And she appreciated how different she was from her sisters and that it was okay to be her unique self in her family. And she holds an abiding respect for her family and her father in particular. He set a high bar and loved her as she was—even when she didn’t do things his way.

“It was always clear what was expected of us, his daughters. And beyond that my father could be counted on to be there for us. He was “count-on-able.” I don’t remember thinking his rules were harsh. We were encouraged to be conservative with money and save for a rainy day and spend wisely. We were told that long phone calls on the home line that also served as dad’s business line were not okay. When I said I wasn’t interested in college, he supported my decision, without criticism, probably knowing full well I would change my mind. My older sister on the other hand was clear college was her path and he supported her as equally as he supported my statement—simply as what we intended for ourselves.”

I imagine there was a delicate balance to maintain in that household. And I find myself pondering the role that rules play in the development of our sense of self and how connected they are to feeling good about our self. How big a role do rules play? Which ones do we adopt, reject, pass on and why? Am I choosing rules that pleased my parents or am I taking on values by my own choosing? How would I know the direct motivation for the rules I make my own and subject my own family to?

Can we ever discern what is directly motivated and what is about feeding a need to feel good (in mirroring our caregivers best advice or tradition?)

Naturally, as we develop into autonomous and independent beings we will test and question the role of rules set for us and later by us. And at times we are glad for their existence. Margaret said her father taught her first the importance of understanding what rules mattered, and then how to work with them.

Margaret carried this notion forward as a strategy for her own life: First know the rules and then work them to your advantage.

Can we ever though really claim we aren’t motivated to please our parents?

Would we even recognize a well-veiled hidden agenda?

This conversation continues for me so stay tuned.

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