and I got caught in that whirlpool a week or so ago. I cringed as I heard from my favorite family member how I had hurt him awhile back by criticizing him at a hard time in his life. I'd spoken without thinking: oh, you shouldn't have done that! I'd said, not remembering how it had felt to me decades ago when my own mother was critical of me over religious issues.
I was the family apostate when I was younger. I still am, I guess, as I have jettisoned much of my childhood faith while others have stayed staunchly traditional in their religious beliefs. But I deeply resented my mother's efforts to tell me I was wrong and I avoided communication with her on all but the most superficial level for a long time.
If she was going to criticize, I was going to withdraw. I'd avoid going to visit, I'd stop sharing the joys in my life, I'd throw away the "helpful" articles and disregard all her advice. So there, Mom! Take that!
My folks mostly avoided criticizing me, but I knew they worried about my behavior---my love life, my religion, the way we were raising our child. When my dad died, my mom lost the anchor that had kept her from being cautious with her words. And when she had recovered a bit from her grief, she turned her sights on me.
I knew she was doing it out of her love for me, but I couldn't tolerate the envelopes thick with clippings from various religious magazines, the leading questions about what I believed, the frequent mention of the prayers she sent heavenward in hopes that I would be repentant and return to the fold.
Eventually my sister told her to quit. "It's not helping, Mom" she said bluntly. "You'll just drive her away." And my mom, to her credit, quit bugging me.
Before she died, my mother and I had reached equilibrium and could share our lives on a much better level, but I had never had the courage to discuss with her what had made me so angry with her.
I must have done something right with my favorite person, as he did have the courage to tell me what I'd done to hurt him. I couldn't hear it at first; it took me awhile to remember and acknowledge what I'd done. But he persisted and I'm grateful.
During the period of reflection which followed our conversation, I came to realize something very important: I am no longer responsible for the choices he makes. That's not my job. That's his job and he does it pretty well. I may not like all his choices, but that's okay. I don't have to like them all. But I do have to let go of any sense of responsibility for them. He can handle them just fine and if he ever wants to ask what I think, I know he will do that. When and if he does, I will listen and offer my thoughts. But criticism is only hurtful. I just hope I can always remember that!