And I quote: “I Did My Best, and It Wasn’t Good Enough.”

Something important happened last week.

I didn’t expect, after all this time, for my stepmother and I to reconcile. I didn’t expect it because it seems that if we were going to reconcile, it would’ve happened about a decade ago—at the time she divorced my father (after a 20-year marriage). The divorce, although I was an adult, restructured everyone’s life—brother, sister, stepmother, father. But it was long after things had settled.  It was out of the blue. The whole reconciliation took place in the course of 5-10 minutes, and it had to do with my stepmother saying these words:  “I did the best I could, but it was not good enough.”

Some of you have read this post, “Who Says Our Dysfunctional Parents Did The Best They Could?!” which is about this infamous, annoying excuse for a ameliorating phrase.

That phrase is rather incomplete. It is also ridiculous. It’s the second part of the phrase that has the real meaning.  The second part of the phrase defines everything that comes before.  If the parent says, “I did the best I could, don’t you see?” they are defending their actions, or failures, as it were. But, to say, “I did the best I could, and my best wasn’t enough for you,” that is acknowledgment.

I held my breath. I wasn’t sure what would follow up the first part: I did my best.  I’d heard it before, many times.  Would she stop there, again?  Why would I expect anything different from what I’d heard in past decades?  I just wasn’t expecting much. My held breath completely flowed out when she said the second part, “it wasn’t good enough.”  So much time has passed. She’s sixty, I’m forty, my God.  Yet this necessary admission had always been a silent, front-and-center unresolved issue between us.

I doubt that this means we will be BFFs just because she said those words, and yet—something has changed.  I felt a kind of release, peace…lightness..occur inside me.  What it is, I can’t yet say.  I felt completely accepting of her words.  (Usually I can find fault, some single miniscule grain of insincerity in apologies; not this time.)   That was the surprise, and that was nice. We talked a little bit about our perspectives on how things were when I was a child, both carefully but honestly and respectfully, and then we finished our lunch and hugged goodbye.


  1. EvieJo says:

    I just found your blog a couple months ago and am following it. The info has been very helpful. Reconciliation is good thing. So glad for you.

    • Amy Eden says:

      Thank you. Having a reconciliation has been…different. Good, but different. New. I’m realizing that I need a way to process and re-categories the anger and resentment I’ve held for this long toward her role and behavior in my life. All that didn’t go poof, but much of it (not all) feels extraneous in some odd way now.

  2. Miranda says:

    I loved this. Growing up with a drug-addict father and a very enabling co-dependent/addict mother, I can totally relate. I love who you qualified that “i did my best” is often used as a justification, not an admission or acknowledgement. Fortunately, I got to reconcile before my father before his death and I am now raising his son, my half-brother. If it weren’t for that reconciliation, for my father’s admission of guilt and regret and his pleading for forgiveness, there is no way I could get up every day and look at my brother with love. There simply wouldn’t be any room for love among all the daily reminders of my dad’s faults that are evident in my brother’s behavior and lack of… well, everything a child should know or have been taught or been given.
    But you are right, reconciliation still takes time. Though it began in those few minutes of conversation, it may take years to fully mature and ripen. I hope it continues to grow and blossom.

    • Amy Eden says:

      Thanks so much, I really appreciate your message. Your story sounds like a tough one, too. And it’s interesting how you’re aware of what wouldn’t have been possible without the apology (sounds like such a big and memorably emotional one) and reconciliation between you two. There’s so much pretending, avoidance, and pretense that goes on in order to keep a dysfunctional family afloat, that…years later, to have truth at last…well, it can never come too late. Our childhoods are forever so close by.
      Thanks again.

  3. [...] 8/10/2012 I post about when pigs fly a.k.a., the day on which my stepmother uses the phrase but adds, "…and it wasn't good [...]

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