I remember a conversation with a friend, years ago, about our respective families, and the way we were raised. At the time, I was very depressed, feeling unloved and unlovable, and I’m afraid some of my descriptions of growing up got pretty sharp. After one such remark, my friend looked at me, and said something that has stuck with me, ever since. “You know, your parents were doing the best they could at that time.” I shot forth a couple of arguments about being misunderstood, and about how surely they must have been able to do better than that. “No,” said my friend, “they did the best they could at that time. No why nots… no but theys…. the very best they could do.”
I think at the time I rolled my eyes and scoffed a little, but I have had years to think about this, and about the Agreement, Always Do Your Best, (from The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz.) For the longest time, this was a sort of “So what?” idea for me. My parents expected perfection, I did my best to be perfect. My parents thought I was an out-of-control 22-year-old — I did my best to be a perfect out-of-control 22-year-old, as well. I tried so hard to make them happy. How could anyone say that they had done their best, when I was so unhappy?
The idea of doing my best has been slippery for me most of my life. It kind of goes along with the thought that, just because something is difficult, that makes it bad (well, no, it doesn’t. But I didn’t know that then.) I was doing my best, sort of. Not about my health, (marriage, job, family, life in general,) but I was still doing my best. What a joke. And I lived like that for a very long time. If my marriage was failing, I found someone to cheat with, so that I wouldn’t be left alone when it ended. I didn’t do anything much about trying to save the marriage — my feeling was, if you think you are going to give up on ME, well, I’m going to give up on you first. No counseling in the first two divorces, no honest talking about it in any of them. No, and this is just one example — I wasn’t doing my best at anything. Passive-aggressive much, anyone?
My understanding of doing the best has changed now, and with it my understanding of my parents’ best, and my own best during those divorces. My parents did just exactly what they could do at that time. Never any less. And that includes some of the bonehead stuff that happened in our family — how can your best be better if you don’t know any better? And if I was unhappy, that was something I needed to face and set free. And I did my best, during those years of divorce — I didn’t do the best thing that could have been done, nor did I try. (And I’ve forgiven myself for that.) But trying to, and doing the best thing that could be done were 100%, totally, completely, absolutely out of my reach then, so I did the best I could. This understanding brings with it a lifting of an immense guilt about my life, more than I knew I was carrying until it was gone.
I probably sound like I’m trying to rationalize doing the “wrong” thing. Nope. I bet there are people who live right here in my building who would sniff and scowl and pass judgment on me, as I did on my parents and so many other people. But, what matters, and the only thing I can influence, is what I know about how I feel. And I know that, in the depths of those depressed days, I was doing the very best of which I was capable. It wasn’t always great. It wasn’t even always good. But it was my best, and why would I ever expect that I could have done any more?