What is a reputation? If it’s good, you must work long and hard to maintain it, but if it’s bad, you can’t seem to shake it. Are people looking for the worst in us? And if that’s so, why? Do we feel better about ourselves and our junk if we can find fault in others? Do we want to save ourselves from being disappointed later when we find out that person with the good rep is actually human and has sin in his/her life? Do we just find it impossible to believe that anyone could be “good?”
What is your reputation? Good?… Bad?… Something in between? Does it depend on the crowd? Do you wish you could change it or is it something you have worked very hard to attain and you are proud of?
Women like to think that things are evolved enough that we can be strong, opinionated and confident and we will be respected in the same way most men are. I have found this to be mostly untrue in my relationships.
When I was a young girl I was always encouraged by my father to speak up, to believe in myself – he used to tell me he thought I had moxie. I would just soar when he told me that. When I looked up the definintion of moxie, it said something like, “force of character, confidence, determination, or nerve,” and I thought I was good, in some way. I remember feeling like I wasn’t just a big-mouthed, embarrassment of a daughter. I felt like my father really liked me and saw me and my mother just wished she had gotten a different model.
Of course, now that I’m a mom and I’ve had a child or two with “moxie,” I understand that my mother was trying to temper my big mouth and soften my edges a bit. Growing up as an only daughter with my personality was not easy on my mom or this little brash girl. I think that because my immature self believed that she was ashamed of me and wanted me to be like almost every other docile young lady we encountered, I fought even harder to be who I believed I was meant to be.
My dad was my hero. He defended and protected me so much when I was a child, that my brothers resented me terribly. I was such an spoiled little girl and I played it for all it was worth. This is the part of my reputation that I have a hard time shaking with some people…
When I was around 13 years old, I went to a slumber party at one of my friend’s houses. We ate, watched some t.v., giggled a lot, and then later when we were all in our pajamas and nestled in our sleeping bags, the young hostess began telling us that the reason her father wasn’t home was because he had moved out after her sister had accused him of molesting her. Soon, almost every girl at the sleepover shared a similar story that they had either heard from others or knew of within their extended families. My entire world was shaken. I knew some of the people in these stories. I just couldn’t wrap my head around family members doing such things. I don’t think I slept a wink that night. Getting home the following morning was the most important thing on my mind when the sun came up.
My mom was appalled. I don’t think she really knew how to handle it. She asked me to stop talking about it and told me that I wouldn’t be allowed to go over to that friend’s house anymore. When I saw my dad later that afternoon, I was disturbed. I remember withdrawing from him and I remember him pulling away in turn. I wanted him to assure me that fathers didn’t do such things. I wasn’t sure if my mother had told him about what had happened and I didn’t feel like I could bring it up again. Over the next several months my relationship with him became more and more distant. I don’t believe our relationship ever recovered after that. So, there I was a teenage girl whose brothers disliked her, whose mother didn’t know how to deal with her and whose father seemed lost to her suddenly. All I seemed to have left was myself and my humbled moxie…
I found out when I was in my early 40’s that my dad had never forgiven me for treating him the way I had. He told me that he felt I had ruined our relationship forever. It took me a while to work through all of that in my heart. It must have been difficult to have the adoration of your only daughter and then feel as if she suspected you of something so horrible with no personal evidence. Of course, I didn’t suspect him of anything, I was just a very young girl whose world had been terribly shaken and needed the reassurance that this wasn’t going to happen to me.
My reputation with my family of origin hasn’t changed much. I think they still think I’m a self-centered brat. It’s ironic how when you know people see you negatively and have probably described you that way to others, you seem to stumble all over yourself trying to prove you haven’t been that person since you grew up. The result is usually that you seem like a bit of an imbecile and convince no one of anything good.
The thing is, if this was an acquaintance or something, it would be easier to change or walk away, but since it is your family of origin, you are forced to deal with it whenever you spend time with them during holidays, weddings, funerals. Spending time together is something you look forward to, but there is still this inward battle going on. Even if you have a career where you are very respected and friends who know and like your updated self, even if you are nothing like that self-centered child (most of the time) in your adult, “I have several children, a spouse and many things I care for immensely (including them),” life, somehow you are reduced to being squeezed into that old uncomfortable skin, trying to get them to see you for who you really are now instead of the child you were decades ago.
Do you apologize for that old you that you were decades ago? Do you simply chalk it up to childhood? How many years need to pass before we are able to let it go? Do we just grin and bear it, being thankful for the slight improvement each year – otherwise known as the “sweep it under the rug” approach? Obviously, I don’t know what the universal answer is. I do know that we want to be seen. We want to be heard without judgement and with love. I’ve seen the damage sweeping things under the rug can do and it ain’t my drug of choice!
How to get from point A to point Z is the messy part that I don’t claim to know how to navigate.
I’ve decided to do the best I can with my own family. I try to keep the lines of communication open and speak unconditional love to all of them – again, this is not doormat love, but it is not an easy road to travel. I stumble around in the dark a bunch and I mess up more than I care to face, but love covers a multitude and grace is there for the asking, so I hang on to these promises and I punt with all of the sincerity I can muster…
And I wait…