What do you think of when you think of your childhood with your parents?
Many of us become furious defenders of our childhoods and of our parents’ approach to parenting us back then, with statements such as, “I had a GREAT childhood!”, or, “My parents/mother/father was/were the BEST!”
Of course we love them and rightfully so, but because of this we are also at risk of repeating some of the not-so-great aspects of our childhoods and the way we were parented upon our own kids.
Ever wonder why certain particular things p*ss you off so quickly? —Like when one of your kids does or says a particular thing, or when they don’t mind you or obey you in a particular fashion.
“Johnny, clean up your mess.”
“Johnny, don’t you DARE ignore me when I’m talking to you!!!”
What if I were to tell you that your strong reaction to Johnny may contain some important information about your own parents’ or caregivers’ response to YOU when you ignored or didn’t hear or understand THEM?
That’s right, when we humans have immediate, STRONG emotional reactions to other people or to situations, chances are great that those reactions were first learned by us when our parents or other caregivers reacted to US or to the same situations that way also, many years ago when we were kids. (Well, not THAT many years ago!)
So one of the things we can learn, if we keep an open mind, is that trying to improve upon the way we were parented as children does NOT mean that we don’t love our own parents or other caregivers, or that we’re blaming them or denigrating them in any way.
It really just means that we are trying to learn from the past and that we are trying to make things better for our own kids.
If we refuse to at least take a look at these things with an eye towards making them better (or EVEN better), then we’ll be at risk of passing along the fears, confusions, self-doubts, anger, etc., onto OUR kids as well.
Some time ago I made up a term called Emotional Credibility which is defined as Trust + Likability.
When we immediately REACT based upon our strong emotions, rather than QUESTION our strong emotions BEFORE reacting, we generally LOSE Emotional Credibility. This holds true for our kids, but also for our spouses as well.
On the other hand, when we try to approach our kids with the spirit of listening to what they are trying to tell us and seeking to truly understand their anger, frustration, confusion, disobedience, “laziness”, etc., BEFORE reacting, THEN we build Emotional Credibility with them.
“SALLY-MARSHA-ANN-REILLY! YOU GET OVER HERE RIGHT NOW!!!!”
Have you ever heard yourself say this to your own child when you were angry, obviously inserting their name for Sally’s? Where’d you learn to do that?
Chances are your mother or father used your FULL name when they were angry, no?
Makes for great drama and repetition of the past, but not for very good connection or communication with our kids; and frankly, not that effective a technique over the long haul either. The effect eventually sort of wears off. For what are we really teaching them besides their name? Right, we’re teaching them that this is the way to handle themselves when they are angry and to do this with their own kids one day too.
Not a very good bag of tricks to pass along, I don’t think.
Instead, how about:
“Sally, I’ve called you over here twice now. This is the last time before I come over to YOU. And if I have to do that they’ll be consequences.”
In this way you’ve expressed to the child the situation, you’ve communicated where you stand, AND you’ve given them a choice.
What you HAVEN’T done is “snap” on them or bully them into complying with you. (See my previous post, Raising Victims, for more.)
Let’s work on earning our children’s respect, not their fear.
Remember, we’re always trying to build up the Emotional Credibility in our relationships with them, which will help make them strong and give us great satisfaction in the long run, not frustration or guilt.
Let’s be their leaders and their teachers, NOT their bullies.
And let’s not train them to be somebody’s victim when they grow up, neither emotionally nor physically.
Finally, let’s work on our knee-jerk, inherited reactions to them so that they’re not stuck with these same strong, immediate emotional reactions that we have to struggle with once THEY eventually grow up and have kids and lives of their own. Let’s not pass that stuff onto them—let’s neutralize it and stop the cycle.
It’s okay to have some doubts about your childhood and how you were raised. No need to be too defensive about it all, friend.
In my opinion, we honor our parents and our family lineage and legacy even more when we find ourselves able to seek to preserve what was of value and to change what was hurtful or threatening to our families’ ability to thrive and to fly confidently in this world as time and the generations go by.
It’s what I want my kids to do. I won’t be offended. I’ll be proud of them.
All the best,
Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.
Author, Don’t Get Married! (Unless You Understand A Few Things First)