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.