Taking Full Responsibility for My Happiness
Kathy Vichakchon DiFrancesco talks about how changing herself first was the key to transforming her relationship with her mother and creating a united family.
My parents met in New York after they both emigrated from Thailand, and I was born and raised in the NY borough of Queens. By the time I started elementary school, my father had already moved out, and I rarely saw him from then on.
Over the years, my mother remarried multiple times, and I bore witness to her unhealthy relationships and uncontrollable rage. As her only child, I often became the target of her anger. I can still recall days when my mother would violently tear apart our home or beat me.
With such a chaotic upbringing, I didn’t know what a healthy relationship looked like. I often sought validation from others and found myself in codependent relationships where I played the role of the victim.
Encountering Nichiren Buddhism
At the age of 30, I was divorced and taking care of my widowed and depressed mother, who had moved in with me after the death of her third husband. In 2005, I cashed out my retirement plan and moved to Denver to start a new life on my own.
The irony of it all: I hadn’t escaped from my problems. I was in a new environment, but still suffering. I started doing drugs to cope. When my friends organized a phone intervention, I knew I had to get my life together.
In 2009, while driving, I drove past a Buddhist center. I decided to go inside and was immediately welcomed by Soka Gakkai members who took the time to explain Buddhism to me. For the first time, everything made sense. With no hesitation, I decided to join the Soka Gakkai.
Things Begin to Change
My life started to slowly change for the better. I had a steady job and was excelling at work. I met a wonderful man and moved to Dallas to start a life with him. We married in 2010.
However, when I became part of the family, it opened a Pandora’s box of things I did not want to face. My husband had three sons from a previous marriage, and he and his ex-wife did not get along. I immediately started questioning my role in the family and struggled with feelings of worthlessness. I felt like a victim all over again.
I knew that I had to solidify the core of my life. I started chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for a harmonious family and making efforts to transform my life. I realized I was not taking full responsibility for my life and, as a result, every aspect of my life was suffering. I began to chant to be courageous and face everything squarely.
President Daisaku Ikeda writes:
“How can we achieve family harmony, which represents world peace in miniature?
“First, we ourselves must strive to be a bright, sunny presence in our homes, enfolding all our family members in the light of compassion.
“Second, we need to respect one another, recognizing that the family ties between parent and child, or between spouses or partners, are karmic bonds enduring throughout the three existences of past, present and future.
“Third, we need to make a positive contribution to society and work to foster successors who will do likewise.”
I prayed for two things to happen: (1) to mend my relationship with my mother; and (2) for my stepchildren, their mom, my husband and me to unite as a family and transform decades of anger and bitterness. Both prayers seemed impossible.
The relationship with my mother was strained, and I felt disconnected. Based on President Ikeda’s guidance, I decided to stop blaming her and become the bright sun in our relationship. With respect to my own family, I decided that my stepsons would not suffer from the disunity between their parents and that we would have a harmonious family.
First, I had to face and transform the insecurity, anger and lack of self-worth that I had as a child. Every time I had a negative emotion, I prayed to face my weaknesses head-on and win over them. Soon, my critical and judgmental nature turned into a deeper understanding of my mother’s suffering. I realized that her rage stemmed from her own suffering, not from a desire to hurt me.
One day, I mustered the courage to call my mother and tell her that I loved her for the first time. I wanted to tell her how much I appreciated her, even if she didn’t reciprocate. I was terrified of her response, but to my surprise, she told me she loved me back. We have since worked hard to rebuild our relationship, and I now fly her out to Dallas to spend time with my family. For her 70th birthday last year, I took her to Las Vegas. It was our first mother-daughter trip. Our relationship has completely transformed.
I also started to ask my stepsons how their mother was doing and would call and text her to lend my support even though I never received a response. My stepsons confided in me that they believed that divorced parents would never get along. They couldn’t figure out why I was even trying.
Earlier this year, my husband and I were at one of our sons’ track meets, and his mom was in attendance. She opened up to me about her personal struggles and apologized for never responding to my texts and calls. She thanked me for helping her take care of her kids and told me she loved me. Recently, our youngest son gave a speech at his brother’s graduation dinner about how happy he was that we were united as a family. I was astounded! We had become the harmonious family that I once thought was impossible.
The Key to Transformation
I learned that changing myself is the key to transforming everything. My relationships changed when I decided to take full responsibility for everything in my life, to no longer be a victim of my circumstances and to find compassion for myself and others.
I still have a lot more work to do, but I am forever grateful to my practice, which has empowered me to transform my karma. As a leader in my local Buddhist organization, I am determined to foster capable successors who will contribute to the betterment of the world and am determined to introduce many people to this empowering practice so that they, too, can transform their lives!
Adapted from the September 2019 issue of Living Buddhism, SGI-USA.