I am not a parent. I do not intend to portray that I understand the intricacies, dedication, sweat, and tears that go into raising a child. What I suppose you could say is that I am a child fascinated by the act, gift, task, and art of parenting. I spend a lot of time considering what it is to be a mother/father/caretaker and further, what makes one “good,” “bad,” “successful,” or “poor.” We have all heard, spoken, or experienced these ‘classifications’ I’m sure, but is there true criteria behind our judgments?
To be frank, I admit to having my own harsh ideas about what parents are doing wrong and how rearing a child “should” take place. Again, these views come from my personal experience as a child, my observations of others, and my interactions as a therapist- not from having children of my own. Thus, I realize that they are most certainly incomplete. I also realize, however, that most available parenting advice is biased because it overwhelmingly comes from parents themselves. From people who are either in the throws of the battle or are looking back from a “wiser place” on what went “right or wrong” when their children were young. This advice, these opinions, however valuable, exclude the knowledge of an entire population of people who are experiencing parenting as children. What seems to be forgotten is that we are all children of parents, in one way or another, for the entire span of our lives.
This is one of the most perplexing observations that I have made- the severe separation of being a parent and being a child. It often seems that once a parent is granted their title, they are no longer able or willing to realize the connection between their experience of parenting as children and their beliefs, decisions, and actions as parents. I ask, how is it that parents can so easily recognize their parents’ craziness, quirkiness, downfalls, and strengths, yet not their own? Perhaps this is an issue of awareness, narcissism, denial, or shame… but I want to consider possession and attachment as well.
We are a country of owners, there is no doubt about that. It is the American Dream. We work to have and if we do not or cannot work then we will borrow, steal, or do without. Buying always supercedes renting so that what we pay for is ours to keep. We are so sick with the idea of owning that we actually bought and sold human beings for a very long time. We now attest to the immorality of actually owning people, however, we still crave it in a more socially acceptable way. We want a soulmate to be ours forever, we want to have our own children who are tiny replicas of ourselves or even better, who accomplish all that we could not. “To have and to hold,” it’s in our marriage vows. “Because I said so,” it oozes out of parents’ mouths who rightfully own their children until the age of 18. Now, I do not suggest that we do away with the institution of marriage or let our children raise themselves. Keeping a dialectical balance, there are also many aspects of owning that are beneficial, effective, necessary. What I wish to point out is that this urge to possess can keep us from forming and maintaining positive relationships.
Focusing back in on parent-child relationships, we have this idea that parents who are overtly abusive, neglectful, or demeaning are the only ones who fail to raise their children with respect and love- and that these are generally bad people with a skewed moral compass. I don’t agree. I think that very responsible, personable adults who have steady jobs, meaningful relationships, and extraordinary talents can also treat their children in a way that negates their separate identity, inhibits their growth, and affects their self esteem. Links to this maltreatment may lie in the underlying declaration that the adult is owner and thus, in charge (an authoritarian style of discipline and communication) or in the adult’s strong desire to protect and refine their child by possessing their every move (a helicopter parent).
In either scenario, the adult fails to recognize that just as in all other relationships, there must be flexibility, compassion, understanding, and a willingness to accept another’s point of view. Demanding obedience and respect yet refusing to explain your motives and afford similar courtesy will inevitably lead to conflict.
There must be room for disagreement. When your parent allows you to disagree while still showing that they respect and love you it teaches you how to accept different ideas and people without disliking or belittling them. The answer may still be no and you may never agree, but the act of listening, validating, and considering another’s opinion is something that enhances worth and strengthens relationships. Give us the freedom to choose. Let us learn things and provide your guidance at the same time- then we can make a choice. If we choose wrong, don’t tell us you warned us, that you told us so, be there for us.. that means so much. Provide options- if you want to stay home while we visit your grandmother in podunk i’ll understand, but I’d love for you to come on the boat with us this weekend. Show your interest. Ask about our lives. There is so much you don’t know, because you never truly asked. Not the “do you have homework?” “how was your day?” questions, the “who are you going to prom with?” “what colleges are you interested in?” type questions. We all know that children, particularly adolescents, will not just volunteer this information. And as cheesy as it sounds, laugh and love, forgive and forget. Playfulness can never be overrated. Parents are the perfect people to show us that they can still have a sense of humor even when life is hard. They can still love and appreciate us, see the good in us, even when we mess up. The dog pooped on the carpet, we stole the soap from their shower and never returned it, and our sibling got home an hour past curfew- it’s relevant until it’s not. You’re irritated until you’re not. And you always see the big picture. Don’t hold grudges, against anyone. Your kids will be affected by it more than you know.
Wanting a child to spend time with you, choose you, love you, and eventually take care of you is a gift that is given, not taken. Afford the same courtesies to your children that you expect from them and it will make the very best difference.