THE PARENT TRAP: HOW TO BE A BETTER PARENT
First you have to come to accept that you are already good enough! Do not keep reading this blog unless you are willing to accept that and the challenge of living imperfectly!
Most of us are vested in how our children turn out. We want to make sure we’ve done all the right things and given them all the necessary experiences and opportunities, so that they will not fall short later on in life or be a guest on the Oprah show. We often come to believe that our children are a direct reflection of who we are and therefore our very value as a parent, our very worth is at stake. There is nothing more vulnerable than becoming a parent. It’s like you signed up for an emotional bootcamp and you are almost guaranteed to have your ass kicked, and probably more than once. We play out worse case scenarios and often see our kids lacking somehow. Alternately we perceive it as our own lack and failure. We're fearful that this might cause them to not turn out well, nor find happiness and success.
I was visiting my son’s workplace the other day and one of the people there said: “You did well, you raised a good one!” The truth is, we raised each other and still are. Now I do believe that on a scale of 1-10, I have done a fairly decent job as a mom. I'd put myself at an eight. But there are days I feel like I’ve done nothing right, when we get into it with each other even now in our adult years. I think to myself, why are we in that place again? I thought we had it figured out. The reason so many of us struggle with parenting is because we are parenting from decisions we reached at 10, 11, 12 year olds. We come to certain conclusions about how we see ourselves and the world fairly early on in life and then again in our “tweens”. We decide how we will be as a mom or a dad. Now whether you believe this or not is up to you, but Alfred Adler who developed what is known as Individual psychology had his hand on the pulse of understanding human nature. For example, if you concluded that your parents were harsh and unreasonable, you might have decided to be more on the permissive end and give your children pretty much the run of the place.
The problem we are up against is that we are not these super duper cleverly designed and carefully operated techno robot-parents, who can objectively analyze all the data and parent fully rationally and objectively. Much the opposite, we are emotionally charged, operating from our “private logic” and from guidelines embedded in values we came up with as emotionally charged teenagers. Can you see the great humor in that? So the key to all this craziness is to get to the bottom of these so called guidelines you came up with. How did you come up with them? Who were you reacting to at that time? What did you think was going on and what did you conclude about what was going? Question everything and look at your decisions and conclusions from a less personal way. Decide if they still make sense to you today. Are they common sense conclusions or are they biased by how you may have perceived yourself at the time. Could you have made some mistakes in your calculations of what these experiences meant?
A child might conclude that they are only loved when they are needy and in turn you might feel like you count only when you are needed. It could be that your parents were not available when you were growing up and you decided to always be there for your child and whoops now you have a very demanding, needy child. Or you may have been vested in being a really good parent and your child might conclude that they must not disappoint you. In turn, when they are met with disapproval they feel hurt and vengeful towards you. In summary, our kids take their cues from us just as we did from our parents but the mistake lies in the interprertation.
We all are in the same boat and at some level stuck in a part we've been playing, not necessarily aware how it became our part. No need to freak out. We can always change how we do things. All you have to do is watch what is working in your family and move towards that. Address what is not working. Coming to understand that what you do now, might have been something you carried forward from your past (a misunderstanding) will help you debunk the myth that keeps it going in your present life. You can help your child by addressing their private logic and clarifying that love and belonging does not hinge on anything because they already have it. You can also help them find a way to contribute, because they will need that in order to claim their own worth and in order to connect with you and the rest of the world.
"We are not determined by our experiences, but are self-determined by the meaning we give to them; and when we take particular experiences as the basis for our future life, we are almost certain to be misguided to some degree." -Alfred Adler
When you’ve done a bit of this soul searching, which really is a lengthy process and requires patience and time, look at possible changes you’re willing to make. Now try them out. You may find that when you are being overly permissive you’re not achieving the desired relationship with your kids. You might have hopes that they will love you more because you are letting them do whatever they want, and they might in turn decide that it means you don’t matter as much as they do. There will be a lack of give and take and healthy boundaries. Alternately, you may have decided that you will be the disciplinarian and in charge when you become a parent and now you find yourself in a constant power struggle with your kids. They feel overpowered and want to defeat you. They see that you value power and control, and they might come to value it as well, even over having a relationship with you.
Now take a look at your kids and try to understand them. What are they concluding about themselves? Are they hearing your message or are they coming to erroneous conclusions? When you come to understand how they view their place in finding love and belonging, you will know when and where you might need to do something different.