I met up with a friend from San Francisco recently, and we started to talk about some quotes that have impacted our lives. I shared some of my favorites with Kris, and she shared this quote with me by Esther Perel: “The quality of your relationships determines the quality of your life.”
It seemed like such a simple quote, and it kept playing over and over again in my head, almost beckoning me to think more deeply about what it meant. And so, I added the quote to my “favorite quotes” journal to revisit at a later time.
Days later in a quiet moment, this quote popped into my head again. I began to think about what these words meant to our family and how it affected my life. I realized that at the saddest, most difficult times in my life, it wasn’t the challenges that I faced, but my connections to people I loved that affected how I felt the most.
As our family struggled through Aiden’s coming out, it was his withdrawal from our family, his depression, and inability to talk to us that made me the saddest and most afraid. It made all my success at work unimportant. It made moments that could have been full of happiness tarnished with melancholy.
But when Aiden and I again began to communicate and share vulnerably and honestly with compassion, even the most difficult decisions we faced, the most difficult things to hear, were filled with hope and possibilities. Yes, my life was better because my relationship with Aiden was better.
I also realized that my quality of life was better when my relationship with myself was better.
For a long time, I beat myself up, thinking I was such a bad mother. I remember walking around not noticing all that was good, but feeling like the one thing I vowed to be, a good mother, now felt like an empty promise.
I imagined people judging me, but in truth, it was I who was judging myself the most harshly.
In the past, I have highlighted in my column parents who have mentally challenged, autistic or Down Syndrome children. I have shared about a father who overcame alcoholism and is focused on repairing his relationship with his two adult daughters.
If you look closely at how their life is today, so much is based on how the parents have been able to create wonderful relationships with their children in spite of the challenges they have had to overcome.
Recently at an event, an Asian mother spoke about how her life has changed so much since her child came out as LGBTQ+. This mother is living at a level of greater purpose, connection and love, and so is her child.
In fact, at the event, the mother vulnerably shared her pride, gratitude and deep love for her child in public, and as she did, her child cried. And then the child shared how proud she was of her mother, how much she appreciated her mother standing up for her and how loved she felt. And as she spoke, her mother cried.
When Aiden and I present together at book events for “Two Spirits, One Heart,” people always want to know some of the important lessons we have learned on our journey. Our most impactful lessons have been around our relationships. Here are just a few of the things that we have learned along the way:
- In any challenging situation, patience and empathy were key attitudes for our family.
- Listening to understand Aiden drew us closer together. And when I listened to him, truly listened to understand … he was more willing to listen to me.
- Being grateful allowed more gratitude to flow into our lives.
- Saying I am sorry has kept our hearts open to each other. When we forgave each other, it kept us connected. I may be a broken record on this lesson, but it has been one of the most important and humbling lessons I learned.
- Another broken record point: Reach out for support. We don’t have all the answers.
- Finally, besides “I am sorry” and “Thank you,” “I am proud of you” and “I love you” have been some of the most key words we have said. And when these words were expressed, I could feel the effect was greater when we made eye contact and said the words with more sincerity and feeling.
Through intention, communication, apology, forgiveness and empathy both for myself and others, I am living the life I dream. So, Esther Perel, you are so right: My relationships absolutely determine the quality of my life. And today, my life is good.
Marsha Aizumi is an advocate in the LGBT community and author of the book “Two Spirits, One Heart: A Mother, Her Transgender Son and Their Journey to Love and Acceptance.”