“My dad says that childhood is the happiest time of my life. But, I think he’s wrong. I think my mom’s right. She says that childhood is what you spend the rest of your life trying to overcome.” (Hope Floats, 1998).
For some of you, this quote from the movie Hope Floats doesn’t ring true for you at all; but, for others, it is spot on. Some of you have tons of positive memories when you reflect on your childhood; but, for others, not so much. Although I believe that most parents truly are doing the best they can, some parents seem to have a better grasp on childrearing than others. For whatever reasons, many children will launch into adulthood with festering emotional wounds left by the actions or inactions of their parents. These young adults will soon enter into relationships themselves and have children of their own, all the while, unbeknownst to them, carrying with them their childhood baggage.
“Don’t expect your children to make up for where your parents fell short.”
How did you primarily feel as a child? Did you feel loved? Did you feel good enough? Did you feel noticed or wanted? If reflecting on your childhood generates negative feelings within you, there is a possibility you haven’t effectively healed from your emotional wounds. As parents, we need to understand that our children aren’t supposed to be the antibiotic for our festering wounds.
Allow me to illustrate my point. Jane grew up in a home where the general consensus was that children are to be seen and not heard. She was in constant competition with her two older brothers for the attention of her mother and the acceptance of her father. As an adult, Jane has exclaimed that she knew her parents loved her, but it often didn’t feel that way. She stated that maybe if she were a better daughter, then her parents would have loved her more. Despite her emotionally difficult environment as a child, Jane grew up, got married, and had two children of her own. Jane has found parenting to be quite difficult on an emotional level. Jane stated when her kids don’t cooperate or obey her, she takes it personal and often finds herself screaming, cussing, and crying, sometimes all at the same time. Jane stated that she wonders what she is doing wrong and if she isn’t cut out for this “parenthood gig.” In a nutshell, Jane is feeling like she is not a “good enough” parent, a feeling all too familiar to her.
Jane was left emotionally wounded by her parents and she never effectively healed from those wounds. Jane, therefore, should be very careful in her parenting endeavors to not expect her children to make up for where her parents fell short. In other words, it is not her kids’ job to make her happy or make her feel like a good parent. It is, however, their job to challenge her. If Jane expects her children to tell her she is a good parent (via good behavior), then, her children will get the message that behaving appropriately is for their mother’s own emotional well-being, not the other way around, as it should be. Because, by design, children aren’t supposed to fix the emotional wounds of their parents, kids put in this position are being set up for failure. Jane is likely, then, to continue the cycle of emotional wounding by passing down those wounds to her children, leaving them with a bad case of the “not good enoughs.” If Jane wants to break the cycle, then she must come to a better understanding of her wounds so that she can apply the proper medication. Jane will then be better equipped to handle normative difficult circumstances in childrearing without taking it as a personal attack on her.
Allow me to illustrate from a recent episode with my 3 yr old. I had told my 3 yr old to do something the other day and he refused. I gave him the choice of obeying me, which would result in him continuing to watch TV, or not obeying me, which would result in him going to his room. He chose to not obey. So, I calmly picked him up and he immediately started crying and kicking is feet. I put him in my arms and headed to his room. As he was saying, “No, Daddy!” he hit me on the back with the hand that was holding on to my shoulder. I just firmly said, “Do not hit,” and continued to carry him in his room. After discussing with him why his bad choices led to bad consequences, he decided to make the right choice and obey daddy, which ultimately resulted in him finishing a fantastic episode of Blue’s Clues. But before he left his room, I told him he needed to apologize for hitting me. He apologized with tears in eyes and gave me a big hug, then proceeded to the living room.
As I was discussing this incident with my wife, I couldn’t help but to reflect on the original quote that inspired this article – Don’t expect your children to make up for where you parents fell short. I explained to her that if I grew up in a home where I felt constantly mistreated, I may have taken that swat on the back a lot more personal than I did. If that were the case, that tiny swat on the back may have generated a variety of emotional responses in me from simply being in a bad mood for a lengthy period of time to physically acting out in my anger. If that were my typical reaction to childhood misbehavior, then my kids would ultimately get the message that dad can’t handle it. Dad can’t handle normal childhood emotion and behavior, so we need to make sure we feel and behave a certain way, not for our own benefit, but for his. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my children to make decisions based on FEAR of how others will or won’t respond, even if that person is me.
I think my good friend, Jennifer Escobar, said it best, “Kids should not have to or be born with the ‘job’ to fix what is broken or lacking in [their parent’s] life!”
I know this might be a difficult concept to grasp; thus, your questions and thoughts are always welcomed. I will do my best to follow up with your responses in a timely fashion. If you are a parent with a difficult past, please do not hesitate to contact me or another mental professional to inquire about attaining the emotional healing you long for. Your kids deserve it; your spouse deserves it; your friends deserve it; but, more importantly, you deserve it!