My parents lack of attention made me a better person


I have the gift of sight, meaning I see people. Like really see them. It is not something I try to do. My ability to see was born of being made invisible.

My parents loved me the best way they could, but they didn’t see me. My father was as inanimate as the furniture. Always there, but not. While we ate the kitchen table, he took his meals on a TV tray in the living room.

He didn’t socialize with us often. He never met any of my teachers. He didn’t attend dance recitals or award ceremonies. He skipped back-to-school nights and teacher conferences. He didn’t tuck me in bed or read stories.

He hid in plain sight.

My mother was different. She seemed to enjoy my sisters and me. She was constantly curating adventures and time well spent. She shared meals with us daily. She did not miss a single school event, not ever. She chauffeured our friends and sewed costumes. She did all this attending while seldom paying attention.

I began shadowing my mother as a little tyke. Always there to see, do, and help when needed. I felt terrible that my mother had to do all the work. She kept an immaculate home — everything was always in its place. She was constantly on the move —never taking the time to nap or read. She only watched television while she was sewing. Busy was her only speed. So I took on the task of making her life easier.

I awakened before dawn every Saturday morning to help my mom do laundry. I stayed awake with her while she prepared holiday dinners. I helped tend to my younger sister and cleaned up after my messy older sister.

I was willing to do any and everything to help my mom. But what I wanted most was for her to see me.

Did she even notice my efforts to alleviate her stress? Did she see how hard I worked to make her proud in school? Did she care about the things I was interested in?

I didn’t realize that my mother wasn’t paying attention to me until I was an adult. It turns out I had been talking to an empty room my entire life. My mother can “mmm-hmm” and “uh-huh” with the best of them. She smiles and nods on cue. She hears, but she does not listen.

My father, on the other hand, is good at disinterest. He never fakes. He dismisses.

My parents have been divorced for over 30 years now. But they still play their respective roles. And I am better for it.

The most important person in the world is the one right in front of you.

As a rule, I will not take a phone call unless I have time to give my full attention. That means if I am talking on the phone, that’s the only thing I’m doing. I sit down so that I can be present. I want to make sure that the person I am speaking with has a distraction-free experience.

I approach in-person engagement in the same way. Everyone deserves undivided attention.

Attention is finite. It’s our greatest commodity. Offering it freely but discriminantly will yield a positive return. You won’t always get it back the way you gave it, but it will always pay off.

Pay attention to invisible people.

I do my very best to treat every person as a human. I try to see beyond their presentation because an entire subset of people often goes unnoticed in our daily lives. The people we are conditioned not to notice. The marginalized groups. Those who have been disenfranchised and discarded. Elderly neighbors. The homeless woman at the gas station. Door attendants. Housekeepers. The garbage collector. Security guards. Colored folks. Poor people.

We use ism’s to separate ourselves from the collective. We use ism's to elevate our status and feel better about who we are not. But we are all just one experience away from being disregarded.

But that’s not who I want to be.

I am generous with eye contact and liberal with greetings because it costs nothing more than a brief moment to elevate someone’s dignity.

Evolution is merely a response to adversity.

I would be someone else if my childhood were different. I am good at relationships because my parents weren’t. I offer what wasn't given to me. My strengths were born of lack.

Like me, you have been shaped by circumstance, enhanced by context, and molded by discomfort. We evolve in response to our environment. When conditions are not optimal, we adjust accordingly.

It might be hard to see the benefits of hardship while you’re going through it. But hindsight is still 20/20.

“That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

Of course, strength doesn’t come immediately, but it eventually comes. And I guess that counts for something.

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Intimacy + Relationship-ing Coach | Writer. Helping singles & couples create healthy loving relationships.

Los Angeles County, CA

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