Digging up demons – creating a positive parenting template
Today as part of my Journey to Joy series, and as I wade through the sea of boxes at our new house, I’m publishing a very personal, powerful and emotional parenting post that is so inspirational. The author has asked to remain anonymous but I’d like to thank her for sharing this post with us today in the hope that it will help others who are overcoming a difficult past.
They say that motherhood changes you. They don’t say how, exactly, but in my glorious pre‐baby naivety I thought this might mean a shift in priorities, a different attitude towards work, a new sense of purpose. To an extent I was right. Finding my makeup bag is now less of a priority than finding a clean pair of socks for the toddler in the morning. I’ve also become rather purposeful in despatching timewasters at work because I know I HAVE to finish up by 4pm.
To a much, much greater extent however, I was wrong. I never expected the foundations to be knocked out from underneath me. I never expected to be continuously haunted by demons of a past I thought I had long despatched with confidence and finality. I never expected to see the need to completely redefine my values.
Slowly, at almost 2 years and 2 months in, I am coming to the realisation that there is a reason for all this. My own childhood is no template for the kind of parent I want to be. Or perhaps more to the point, the kind of parent my son deserves.
I shall spare you the details, but my own childhood boils down to this: take one despotic and abusive parent, pit them against another, highly emotional and also unhappy one, mix in a good amount of isolation and fear, and shake at random for 20‐odd years. Okay, for 34 years, since they are of course still my parents. There were moments of happiness, a good many of them too, but I cannot deny that this very unhealthy parenting recipe has left an ugly mark.
Every day I see the effects. I suffer from flashbacks, because when I am confronted with all the normal toddlerish challenges I am simultaneously transported back to a time of smarting backsides and fear and desperately wanting to be as inconspicuous as possible. I’m also wracked with indecision ALL THE TIME, partly because I haven’t had an example of peaceful parenting, and also partly because I’m desperately afraid to damage my son in any way. As a result I often find myself rooted to the spot, unable to set boundaries when they may well be needed. Finally, I feel overwhelmed by resentment and sadness ‐ resentment against my parents for instilling fear and saddling me with so many unhappy memories, and sadness for the lonely, insecure and frightened child I was.
Coping with all of the above is daily challenge, but one thing I am certain of: I will not repeat these patterns. I may be afraid that I will, but I know I don’t have to. Nobody is telling me to and it IS my power to break them.
And so here comes the joyful part of my story: ever so slowly, I am finding a way to dig up my demons and then put them to rest, hopefully once and for all. With the help of my son and also my husband, I’m learning many important lessons:
1. I don’t have to excuse my parents’ behaviour. I spent much of my twenties trying to find reasons for what they did, as though that sense of ‘understanding’ somehow made it acceptable. However, I’ve learned that it’s okay to say I don’t find their behaviour acceptable and, moreover, that it isn’t my responsibility to show any understanding of their own demons.
2. It’s okay to take a step back, to defend myself and to safeguard the best interests of my family. I’m not at the stage where I want to break contact with them, and for the sake of my son and his relationship with his grandmother especially, I hope it’ll never come to that. But I am prepared to put physical distance between us, to limit contact if necessary, and to ensure they are not able to treat him the way they treated me. They can be grandparents, but it has to be on my terms.
3. My son doesn’t have to be my best friend. My job is to nurture, to support, to guide, to love him unconditionally, and to be HIS best friend, but his job is simply to grow up. If there are skirmishes along the way, if he tells me he hates me because I won’t let him watch stuff on the iPad all day, that’s okay. I’m not failing him as a parent if he decides he doesn’t like the boundaries I’m setting, as long as they are logical, fair, and explained to him.
4. At the same time, I now know it’s perfectly possible to treat your child as your equal. The template of despotic parenting where children are dictated to, are never trusted to do the right thing by themselves, are punished and shamed for behaviours that are in fact totally normal if you take their developmental stage into consideration ‐ I don’t subscribe to that. I’m trusting my instincts and developing my own template, and it involves giving my son the same respect, trust and care as I would an adult. And you know what? 90% of the time he rises to the occasion and we move on to the next, really exciting stage in his development (and sometimes we get a spectacular meltdown, but hey).
5. It’s imperative that I look after myself. Seeing things from my child’s point of view, controlling impulses to fly off the handle or to isolate myself, taking the time to explain things to him ‐ all that takes a huge amount of emotional effort. Many days, I feel totally wrung out. So, if I’m going to do what’s right by him, I need my head to be in the right place too. All I can say about that is, thank goodness for crochet and crafts.
6. I’m not in it alone. It takes two to tango and my husband is very much on my side, in that he’s just as flummoxed by the tantrums as I am, but also equally determined to steer all three of us through these turbulent moments as gently as possible. Fortunately he has much more of a positive parenting template to work from than I do, and through many (many many many) late night discussions we work out what the right course of action is together.
I’m not going to lie: it’s not easy. There are still days when the demons win. These revelations come in bursts and hiccups and are sometimes accompanied by tears (from me, not the toddler). But I am learning, every day, how to create a parenting pattern that is full of joy and understanding.
If there is a post that you want or need to write, that you think will help others, but you either don’t have a blog or feel uncomfortable publishing it on yours, do get in touch.
Linking up with Brilliant Blog Posts at Honest Mum
Hands image: Syda Publications/Shutterstock