Are We Doomed To The Dysfunction Of Our Parents?

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The other day I sarcastically Facebooked:

“I’ve decided that I like complaining with the premise that once I get tired of the sound of my own voice I’ll stop. Ha!”

To which my friend replied:

“Pfff, I can’t STAND to hear myself nagging or complaining. Thank God my kids are pretty much grown. No more nagging at them :)”

Her reply gave me pause, not least because in some convoluted way we were in both agreement, but because she immediately equated children as the source/reason for her “nagging” and “complaining.” I might have shed a metaphorical tear because in many ways being a child with a parent who has lack-of-patience-issues is no fun.

Children, as soon as they’re born, find ways to please their parents not because they are born with the innate desire to do so  – are they? – but because they quickly learn which actions curry favor with adults. I find myself still doing this with my own mother and it kind of pisses me off. Perhaps it’s because I’ll always have the family distinction of being the teenager who dared to defy her, and the object of her Tough Love, or perhaps it was because I was so good at pleasing her that when I displeased her I heard about it until I mended my wicked ways. I also quickly learned that the love would not return until such time as I righted the grievous wrong. (For the record, I was Tough Loved because I was perceived as a Miss Sassy-Pants, and not for the variety of more serious infractions or situations some teens find themselves in.)

My husband and I do not want such inflexible discipline for our girls. From jump I decided that I would do my best to not parent out of control or anger, and when that happened — as it inevitably would — I’d immediately place myself in my children’s shoes. And as I endeavored to teach them how to manage their behaviors, I’d make sure that I had the self-awareness to manage my own. Which meant that in the beginning of my parenting journey, I had lots of apologies to make. “Sorry mommy raised her voice.” “Sorry mommy is irritable today.” “Sorry mommy overacted,” etc. I’m also big on making sure that my daughters learn how to process and navigate negative feelings — theirs and those of others — without letting it destroy them emotionally or wreak havoc with their developing psyche.

In other words, I constantly reassure them that it’s okay to feel bad; it’s okay to be angry; it’s okay to feel frustrated and overwhelmed, but it’s not ok to wallow in these feelings for extended periods of time, nor should they feel obligated to take on other people’s dysfunction. I also tell them that just as they are responsible for managing their behaviors, that their friends and the adults in their midst, too, are also responsible for managing theirs.

The biggest life lesson in all of this of course is the realization that the moment we, both young and old, exhibit behaviors that are often perceived as un-loveable — anger, tantrums, sulking, defiance — are precisely the behaviors that require that we be loved the most. Unconditionally.

What about you? As a parent, how do you handle those behaviors that you perceive are most dysfunctional and what steps are you taking to remedy them?

(Photo:Michael Blann)

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