As you know, I have been working through some issues associated with my parents and how they raised me. I’m understanding more about how living in an emotional black hole as a kid has affected me as an adult. But I rarely sit with just that piece, because what comes barreling into my head next is:
I need to understand all of this now! And fix it!! And teach myself the tools I never got as a kid!!! And then figure out how to manage my emotional health differently so that my kids see a better example!!! And teach all of those emotional tools to my kids!!! And I’d better figure it out fast because my oldest is almost 11 and it will soon be too late for her!!!!! Aaaaaaagggggghhhhhhh!!!!!
Or something like that.
I can poke fun at my panic, and laugh at some of the ridiculousness when it’s oversimplified…but the worry in my head about all of it is real. Very, very real.
This week I’ve returned to the main stage – my parents’ house. A hornets’ nest of emotional distance and ill-health. I feel sort of like a tea bag, just steeping in all of the emotional crap. And I can lose my sense of bearings here. Sometimes I forget the things that I believe in, and the ways that I want to approach my life and my relationships. I forget them because I’m surrounded by my parents who have a completely different emotional approach. But – positivity here! – I feel pretty good that I’ve been able to maintain my bearings so far.
I’ve also gotten a different perspective on how much I’ve already changed – differences from how I was parented, in comparison to how I’m parenting my kids. And this is a very comforting realization for me. I tend to be guilty of all-or-nothing thinking – so when I recognize that my childhood was not exactly emotionally healthy, I put all of this pressure on myself that I have to turn it completely around and parent my kids with 100% perfect emotional health. Obviously this is completely ridiculous and only sets me up for those lovely feelings of failure.
But…as I spend time with my parents this visit, I can see more clearly that I really have changed some things. Not everything, and not even all of the big things, but at least some things. And maybe more than I thought I had – that’s where the positive little “Hmph” comes in.
Like…I don’t have towels draped over the couch.
Huh? Yes, towels draped over the couch so that your body doesn’t actually make contact with the fabric of the couch. Because, as you know, dirt from your clothes or oils from your skin can soil the upholstery. So if you want to sit on the couch? Sit on the towel instead. That way, when you’re dead and gone and your children auction off your furniture, the couch will be clean for the new owners.
My mom has this obsession with keeping things looking brand new. Whether it’s the couch, or a car, or a pair of pants, or a cutting board, it should look like it’s never been used. Thankfully I don’t have this. Well, okay, I have some of it – but I work to fight it. In our house we use things. The kids slouch on the couches, and make forts out of them, and stretch out to read books. We’re probably more strict with some in that we don’t let them jump on the furniture or stand on the couch, but we do let them use the furniture as it’s meant to be used.
Ultimately I think my mom’s approach led to a feeling of constant discomfort – almost a visceral feeling like you shouldn’t interact with the things in the world. As a kid, you could imagine how that would be tough – ever see a kid splash through a puddle or smear yogurt on the table? Yeah. Interacting with the physical world is pretty much what kids do. And not being allowed to do that could have some significant effects.
So this visit I sat on one of the good loveseats without a towel. In shorts. After an exercise walk. While eating. !!! Talk about liberating! 🙂
When my kids ask about some of these weird things, I don’t give them my mom’s explanation like I used to – that we need to respect our things, and keep them neat. Instead I tell them that Grandma is really concerned with keeping things clean or looking new, and while we’re in her house we try to respect that even though those kinds of things don’t bother us at home. And best of all? I don’t feel guilty for placing the responsibility for that where it should be – with my mom.
I had lots of other examples in my head when I sat down to write this post, but they have since escaped. So I only have the couch example to make my point:
There are lots of things I dealt with in growing up that I have intentionally done differently with my kids. Some of these things may have been trivial but some really shaped my understanding of the world and my role in it. And despite the fact that you parent the way you’ve been parented (ugh), I have legitimately changed my parenting. And as I said above, I’ve changed more than I give myself credit for. So I’m giving myself credit now. While there are still some default ways of dealing with things that I would like to change, I need to look at how far I’ve come… and remember that when I feel overwhelmed about the work still to be done.