MIRIAM: When my second daughter was three years old, she answered the door to a friend I served with at church. A few minutes later when we were alone, my friend joked that my daughter was going to be a challenge as she got older. I laughed. Her observation was already being confirmed. This child was determined, extremely observant, and fearless. When she was five years old, we lived in a small apartment complex surrounding a playground where she and the other kids would play. One day I was checking on her and her older siblings from the third story window. I didn’t see her. “Hi Mom!” rang to my ears. It was my girl, but, where was she? The sound seemed strange. I kept looking and realized why the sound was strange. She was calling to me at eye-level from the tree she had climbed! Did I mention I was on the third floor?
She is brave.
My daughter was brave and I was opinionated and thoughtful. She was going to school and making her first friends while I was tending to our family and talking about the world’s problems from my keyboard. And for many years, I struggled with the most dynamic social issue of the day, the legalization of marriage equality. As a life-long conservative, marriage between a man and a woman felt right and appeared correct to me. I could see that the change to this definition would be huge and important and so I fought it. For several years I did, in the form of internet discussions. Frequently I would state my argument, receive responses, and debate the points.
I still remember many people who disagreed with me. Some were very subtle about the flaws in my thinking, others pointed. Some were harsh and others were gentler in their persuasions. Many were generous and also pleading, opening up about why marriage equality was critical to themselves or someone close to them. Every single pushback I received had an impact on me. I believed that the definition of marriage was important and a worthy cause, and so when someone introduced a counterpoint to my claims of marriage should be, it stuck in my mind.
It took a long time, but by the time my firebrand-girl was a teen, I had done a 180. All of my logical arguments against marriage equality had dissolved against the waters of valid criticism. My heart had changed, too: I wanted love to be something same-gender couples could share with full legal rights. Finally, I could no longer in good conscience oppose marriage equality.
Within months of this discovery, my oldest daughter came to me and confided. She was bisexual. Not long after, our second daughter confided the same. They had shared that confidence for years, the younger had known for a long time. The oldest had not been as sure, and had been anxious, especially being aware of my opinions on marriage and equal rights over the years. The second had been keenly aware of our divergent paths, mine being one that could not fully rejoice in hers. She had accepted it and had made her own plans: she’d jump ship at 18 and never look back.
Today she has different plans. They include us. And we get along. I listen to her and she listens to me. I am still her mother caring about her welfare, but we’re also friends.
This is more than I ever hoped for, maybe more than I deserve, and I consider myself very lucky. I don’t regret being opinionated or thinking the world’s problems could be changed by my words, because the world did change: I changed. The world I was creating for others changed.
I was born into and grew up in a conservative mindset. I believe I might have lived a lifetime comfortable in that mindset, except I brought human beings into this world, different from myself but who I deeply love and want to love forever. And at some point, that mindset was heading into conflict with my children. I did hurt them. But had I not changed, I would have hurt them more and might have lost them.
My daughters are awesome. They are forgiving and understanding. I am so grateful. I am also eternally grateful to those who criticized my opposition to marriage equality. I am sorry for any hurt my words caused and I am indebted to them.
Critics aren’t always popular. Sometimes they are subtle, sometimes harsh. But in its essence, the critic is patient. The critic uses their words to dissect and identify a problem and clarify it for others who might not see. Criticism opens up the closed perspective to the world that is always bigger than any one person can see. Criticism has made me grow; it has made the world grow.
Any growth mindset will inherently listen to criticism and develop a healthy relationship with it, will cherish it for its exposure of blind spots, those unconsidered ideas and unexplored possibilities. It’s the information that often saves a person and the relationships with people they love. It’s taken me a while, but I feel enormous affection for the critics in my life. We still disagree on many things, but by causing me to look at things differently, I was able to make better decisions, more informed decisions. The lives my critics improved and perhaps saved were many, including mine.
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