Simply stated, I was raised to be independent. From the alarm clock I received for my 6th birthday, a gift which communicated that I was to get myself up and to school without my mother’s help, to the lack of parental involvement when I crashed and burned academically in high school, I knew I was on my own.
If you asked anyone who knows me to describe me using only 5 adjectives, I’m pretty confident that “Independent” would be included in that handful of words. I’ve always been proud to own and embody that characteristic, yet, in recent years I’ve wondered if my independence also comes with some negative connotations that may be less desirable.
Growing up in a household where independence was
demanded expected meant I was responsible for myself. When I wanted to hang out with friends it was a two mile walk to town. If I missed the bus to the high school I sometimes attended, I hitchhiked to get there. Asking my mother was not an option; she was not available.
At the time, this lack of parenting seemed fair to me. After all, had she not done enough for me already when she opted to renege on her arrangement to give me up for adoption as a newborn, a decision she credited to the fact that I was born with red hair? When a short while later she refused my father’s offer of $1000 for the chance to bring me to his family to raise, didn’t that communicate the value she placed upon being my mother? I thought so.
I learned that I didn’t need her.
I could, and would, take care of myself.
Children, like my brother and myself, who are not allowed to look to a parent for anything beyond their most basic needs grow up quickly. In situations where more typically a parent would be present, we instead relied upon one another. When I had no spending money for a trip to Florida with a friend’s family, my brother gave it for me. When he was a student and needed clothes, I paid for them using the JC Penney’s credit card I had applied for as a teenager.
When children can’t depend upon, or even ask for, assistance from the adult(s) from whom they should naturally seek support, their own eventual relationships are impacted. Asking for help or relying upon others is uncomfortably foreign to me.
I have far too recent, cringeworthy memories of myself struggling to accomplish a task as a partner, whose help I refused, stood by to witness my efforts. In my mind, acquiescing to their reasonable offer would reveal weakness and potentially place me in a position in which I would become dependent upon them for assistance.
That was something I couldn’t afford to do.
The cost of living life without accepting, much less asking for, a helping hand when necessary, is beginning to feel like too high a price for me to continue to absorb. Being independent should mean capable of taking care of one’s self, not an inability to graciously receive assistance from people who care about you.
On the 245th anniversary of our battered country, this 54 year-old woman is declaring independence from ceaseless independence. Happy holiday.