I thought I was grown up when I was ten. My parents split and I had some new responsibilities, but that wasn't really it. The grown-ups were emotionally entangled in their own affairs, and I intuited, long before I had words to describe what was happening, that I needed to take care of my own emotional self. Add to that a proclivity to feeling like I had to take care of everyone else's emotional self. It was the death knell of my emotionally dependent child. I declared my emotional independence.
Or so I thought.
I thought I was grown up when I moved out, when I got married, when I had a baby. I thought I was grown up when I turned 40. I saw myself as mature, self-directed, and, above all, emotionally self-sufficient. I wasn't.
It starts with my relationship to people in authority -- parents to pastors, elders and leaders of all kinds. When I lay out the pattern, I find it to be an embarrassingly obvious childhood reaction to my parents. Whoever you are, Authority Figure, I want you to notice me. And not just notice me. I want you to think I'm good. And if I'm good, you will like me. And not just like me. You will love me! That's the surface, the lonely, needy, vulnerable part. That part uses words and actions that shout to be heard.
But that's not all.
There's also this anti-authoritarian part of me. It says, You, Authority Figure! What do you think you're doing? I'm not sure you know. Can you be trusted? I can't be sure. Here, let me take over. Only this anti-authoritarian part is quiet. It thinks and whispers to other people, never addressing the Authority Figure, only talking behind her back. This part is judgmental. This part is vulnerable too. This part is afraid.
I wanted the authority figures in my life to be up to the task. Sometimes they are, and, frankly, sometimes they are not, starting with my parents. The same thing is true for your parents and me, as a parent, and me, as a person. And you. Not one of us is up to the task.
The child in me naturally wanted, expected, to be well-taken-care-of -- and I was. Let's be honest. I had a roof over my head, food on the table, shoes on my feet. I was safe, and I was loved, however imperfectly. But there was a part of me that never got the memo.
That part of me made it all the way into my forties still thinking that she was a child who didn't get what she needed, not understanding that we are all children who don't get what we need, because the only parents there are also children who didn't get what they needed. It's universal, so it's true not just of parents but of pastors and elders and leaders of all shapes and sizes.
If I keep wanting those people to give me some sort of validation -- and then keep judging them when they don't do what I want -- I'll never grow up.
I've decided to declare my emotional independence, for real this time. Here's what I think that looks like: I will stop expecting other people to be the grown-ups so that I can play the needy, dependent child. If I need validation, I will not look to some Authority Figure; I will look inside. I will hold my gifts and my flaws and failures in front of me and look at them without fear. I will celebrate the gifts and confess the flaws and failures. And then I will move on. I will quit waiting for someone to tell me I'm okay and I will take action for myself, whether I feel okay or not. I will do what I can do today. I will use my gifts, and I will make mistakes, maybe big ones, but I will take responsibility for them all. I will act like an adult.
And when we're together, whether you are leading me, following me, or walking beside, I will give you the freedom to do the same.