Many parents I talk with are motivated by “not making the same mistakes my own parents made.” But then they say they also hear their mother’s voice coming out of their mouths: her words, her tone. Or they find themselves acting like their father, counter to their own intentions.
We all were raised by imperfect human beings who made mistakes. To a greater or lesser degree, each of us is haunted by those mistakes. They not only influenced who we’ve become but they also influence our hopes for our own parenting and the way we treat our kids. This might be a good time – right now – to acknowledge the ups and downs of our own childhoods and exorcise the impact of the past.
Put your childhood in context. When you’re a child, the universe includes only you. But step back a bit and you can see that there was a lot going on that may have influenced how you were treated and how your parents behaved. Financial worries, health concerns, employment trouble. The list of issues that might have added to your parents’ stress is endless and many of these are things of which a child would be unaware. This doesn’t excuse poor parenting but it does provide a reason: it wasn’t just about you.
Recognize that we’re all children. That kid you once were is still in there. She’s still looking for answers and she’s still looking for approval from Mom and Dad. Just because you’re all grown up doesn’t mean you’ve left the bruises and puzzlements of childhood behind. And here’s the kicker: your parents felt the same way at your age and they very well may feel the same way even now. Being grown up is an illusion. Children think adults know all the answers. Adults know that’s not really so.
Remember that being a parent is hard. Every parent learns on the job. All the challenges you’re facing with your own children are challenges your own parents faced. Even though you’re trying very hard to be the perfect parent, even though you’re trying to be better than your own mom and dad, understand that those folks had the same objectives as you. No one sets out to be a terrible or ineffective parent. Being a parent is not easy.
Understand that patterns are difficult to break. Despite your best intentions, when your children push you to the limit, sometimes the parent you remember from your younger days steps in to take charge. You learned how to be a parent from being parented so the child-rearing techniques of your mom and dad lie just below the surface of conscious thought. But it’s not your parents’ fault that theirs is the voice you hear. If you’ve set a goal to be a better parent than your parents were, then their words in your mouth just mean you’ve got more work to do. Be patient with yourself. Old habits die hard.
Childhood is not a fairy-tale experience for anyone. It wasn’t for you and it wasn’t for your own parents growing up and it won’t be for your own kids. But it’s always a rich experience and the memories last a lifetime. If your intention is to help most of your children’s memories be happy ones, then you’ll probably achieve that goal. It’s a good goal to work towards. It’s the outcome I wish for you.
© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.