I’ve spent some time recently thinking about why it’s so easy to fall back into old habits even though I know that not working out and not eating healthy food just makes me feel like crap. Some people just seem to naturally do the “right” things and make the “right” choices without having to give it much, if any, thought while some people (hand raised) have to think about every decision or they automatically end up doing the things that aren’t good for them.

I think it has a LOT to do with how we were raised. I’m not trying to blame anyone because I believe most parents do the best they can with the knowledge and means available. It’s just that we are so impressionable when we’re children and the things around us, no matter how “wrong”, were normal because that’s all we knew. After my parents got divorced when I was 4 (I think), my mom and I moved in with her parents. My grandmother (I later found out) had been the victim of some kind of abuse (didn’t get any details…it was amazing I even got that bit of info) and continued the cycle with me.

Because no one outside our home knew about it, no one did anything to stop it so in my mind it was normal. For a long time my mom didn’t even have a clue because it all happened when she was gone and my grandmother would always be sure to tell her version of the story as soon as my mom walked in the door which always led to me having to apologize to her for my bad behavior. I’m not saying I was perfect, but now I know I didn’t deserve the “punishment” I got. It wasn’t until I got a little older, maybe 9 or 10, that I realized what was happening was wrong and didn’t go on in most homes, but by that time it was such a part of who I was that the long-term damage was done.

Then on top of all that craziness, we almost never ate at home. We went out to eat every night, usually at restaurants that served mainly unhealthy, high fat foods and I was allowed to order anything I wanted. Occasionally my mom would suggest I get something on the healthier side, but I don’t think she liked conflict so she gave in if I acted like I didn’t want it. Oh, and we also had a maid that came twice a week to clean the house and do the laundry. So at my grandparents’ house I never observed or participated in a regular schedule that included preparing healthy meals, cleaning up afterward, or any other chores for that matter. NOT GOOD. As an only child I mostly played alone and would often “play” with the Windex, cleaning the windows for fun or the Pledge, dusting the furniture. I actually wanted to do those things back then and got great satisfaction out of cleaning things.

Every Friday I’d spend the night at my dad’s house. Talk about the complete opposite environment.  He and his wife were two people who had regular jobs (did I mention my mom was an opera singer, my grandmother was a retired singer and my grandfather was retired but spent hours each day inventing things in the basement?) and stuck to a regular schedule and ate at home more than once every month. If we didn’t go out for pizza, we’d stay in and have things like spaghetti and garlic bread and salad and iced tea with mint from the garden in the backyard (my dad hated lemon in his tea, but loved mint). Then we would all help clear the table and she would wash the dishes while my dad and I would dry and put them away. Seems like a simple thing, but to me it was almost magical. My dad would tell me about how when I was really little I loved helping him do the laundry even though I could barely see over the top of the washer. And he had this big bowl in his closet. Everyday when he came home he’d toss in the change left in his pocket. When the bowl got full I got to help sort it and put it into rolls. Maybe that sounds like a mundane task, but I loved it and it’s still one of my favorite childhood memories. 

Since most of my existence was chaotic and seemed very unstable, the simple chores were the highlights. Doing them made me feel like I was contributing something and working together on tasks made me feel like part of a team. Having a routine meant there was something I could count on. I can’t help but wonder how different my life would be now if I had spent most of my time at my dad’s and only one night a week with my mom and grandparents. While the thought of not living with my mom all those years breaks my heart, I know for a certainty that my idea of “normal” would be completely different. Perhaps eating healthy and drinking plenty of water would come naturally and cleaning the house wouldn’t feel like something that’s “not my job”. Maybe I would’ve learned to follow through with things and have some consistency in my life without going through mental acrobatics to think that way.

I shudder to think what I’ve already determined is normal for my kids. Although an improvement in many ways over my childhood, the life we’ve lived still isn’t what I’ve wanted it to be. My husband and I have tried to implement some kind of routine for our kids because both having grown up in homes with a complete lack of structure, we see the need, but nothing has ever stuck. I want my kids to grow up knowing how to do things like laundry, cooking and cleaning, but time has slipped by without me taking the time to show them. Now my older son is in middle school and we have a good relationship, but he is a “tween” and the thought of folding laundry doesn’t exactly appeal to him. It would’ve been so much better if I had started sooner, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to give up on the idea altogether. When my boys grow up and get married I want their wives to only cook and clean for them because they want to out of love, not because they’re expected to. And I don’t want my sons to marry someone because they think they need someone to take care of them.

While there are certain things we have zero tolerance for in our home like being mean or disrespectful, there are other things we’ve let slide like allowing our surroundings to be cluttered with things that should’ve been put or thrown away long before. And our eating habits…not ideal. I’d love for all of us to gather at the table for dinner, but our schedules don’t allow for it. We all eat at different times and at different places…the kids at the table and my husband and I on the couch. I suppose it might help if the table was clear from clutter so there would actually be room for more than two people to eat there. Each issue is related to another and it all boils down to our baseline “normal”.

I think it’s a step in the right direction to at least identify what feels normal so we can decide if we need to make some major or minor adjustments. The things that really do need to change are worth fighting for and that’s exactly what it is…a daily battle. Some days the fight is easier than others and some days we temporarily give in because we grow weary and can’t see an end in sight, but if the change is important enough we have to keep fighting no matter what. And little by little, as we find ourselves dealing with the same things over and over again we start to figure out the best way to overcome and make a new life for ourselves.

I did have one victory today, with the help of a friend. We went walking and then had lunch together. One thing is for sure, if we’re going to fight to change our lives having friends who support us is more precious than all the money in the world.

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