Looking back at my childhood through my mid 20s, I suppose one could say that compared to other youth, I was mostly left adrift. I think my siblings were, as well. My parents were the opposite of “helicopter parents” in that they did not control our every move. In fact, they did not control much of what we did. They provided us with a nice home, and good food to eat. They took us on weekend and other excursions. They did teach us right from wrong, but beyond that we had a certain freedom that many other children our ages didn’t seem to have.
Though my parents demanded we attend school and demanded we come home for dinner and at a certain time to sleep, all other times were ours to spend however we wanted, and wherever we wanted. I rarely remember either of them asking where we were going, even when we were as young as five years old. That would seem unheard of in this day and age. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, we had no cell phones, obviously. Even if we were near phones, we never called, unless asking to sleep over or eat at a friend’s house, and they were pretty easy going about that.
I remember sitting with my sister and brother discussing this freedom. Expressing gratitude for it, because of how it made us mostly fearless, free, and independent, but we also had a couple of complaints. One was that our parents never helped with homework or even asked us about homework. Or if they did, it was rare. At some ages, none of us even chose to do homework. We were average (or even poor) students at times, mostly in our early education. Not because we weren’t intelligent, but because we were distracted by other things, and in my words “thought homework was optional”. Later down the line, neither parent suggested any course of study or career plan. We chose them ourselves. Yes, I suppose that is nicer than the latter, but then again some guidance could have been helpful.
My sister and brother and I have always been hard-working types. Even though we weren’t always great students as kids, we excelled when we really had to, or at what we really wanted to excel at later down the line, and we did it on our own accord. My brother had issues in early school, but turned out to be the computer whiz of the high school and eventually caught up with studies at a community college. Then he went on to the navy and excelled there. He knew it was time. He learned many skills, and taught them, and supervised myriads of men under him. He ended up retiring young, and recently returned to work as an electrician, pretty much as his own boss for the most part.
My sister decided she would do administrative work towards the end of her high school days. She finally applied herself and learned the skills she needed. She started entry level at a good company, and over the years worked her way up the ladder to a great job making very good money. She pretty much runs her home and raised her kids. She’s done so under adversity, and even despite her own struggles. I’m very impressed with how she has taken great initiatives over the years, and is a symbol of strength, though she may disagree with me about that, sometimes. She will also likely retire early. [Update: She just did.] I hope she treasures that time doing things she really enjoys.
I suppose I showed more initiative at a younger age than my siblings. I became very serious about ballet, starting at 8 years old. I was even invited to audition at one of the best ballet schools in the United States. Unfortunately, that was not to be (at least at the best school), and though my parents only reluctantly supported my ballet, they did more forcefully encourage me to quit. I had a bit of a mental crisis at the time. One I had little support getting over. I was able to change to a great private high school (at the public school’s suggestion), and there I excelled. Without any significant encouragement from my parents, I applied myself to my studies. I even graduated at the very top of my class. I was the first in my family (besides one uncle) to go university. I also excelled there, and afterwards in my work career.
My mother died before the worst of my mental illness struck. Luckily, however, I married a very supportive and loving man. Other than from my husband, I had little support, cheer leading or encouragement from the rest of my family. It was at that time that I could have used “a village” of support. But I am gaining back strength, and am slowly resuming my ability to be my own motivator, but it is hard. My mental healthcare support team and my husband worry about my mental wellness. I understand their concerns, but I think it will ultimately be my responsibility to take the big steps forward and solidly stand on my own two feet. I should know how to do that. Right now I am a little adrift again, but know I can someday steer my sailboat of life in the right directions again. I guess self-steering is ultimately better than being pulled like a barge.