You Are Not Destined To Follow In The Footsteps Of Your Bad Parent
There’s nothing that shakes your confidence more as a new parent than having a less-than-perfect example from your own parents. And when I say less-than-perfect, I don’t mean that you weren’t allowed to stay out past 10 PM on weeknights. I mean a really, really bad example that borders on emotional abuse, in my case.
I talked before about how I am fairly confident that my dad suffered from mental illness when I was a kid. My mom has talked to me freely about how she was basically along for the ride. She had plenty of her own issues, insecurities, and anxieties, and she fed into his obsessions, outbursts, and neuroses. In her words, I was the oldest child who had a “front seat to it all.”
When I posted a recent article on being the child of a mentally ill parent to Facebook, a close friend of mine thanked me and told me that she identified completely. She also said something along the lines of, “Being the child of a mentally ill parent makes it hard to learn how to parent again.”
The point is that parents are supposed to be our guides on how to treat ourselves in life and how to be loving parents. I think about my dad a lot, and I really do miss him. I miss him in the way that a child misses her daddy, though I don’t necessarily know what I want or need from him right now in my life. I just wish I could have spent more time with him and felt safer when I was around him, and out in the real world by myself.
When I had my first son, all of these issues came rushing back. I didn’t realize how deep they were, until I continued to look at my son and always worried if he felt loved and safe. I told my husband about this, and he was understanding but baffled. He basically said to me, “Why wouldn’t he feel safe? We’re both here. We’re both always with him. Look at him. He’s so happy.”
Yes, I see that, but a picture of a happy, safe child does not compute. At times like these, I wish that I had even a short video to see what was going on when I was a very small child. My mom said it was bad, and based on my limited memories, I believe her. But all I remember is being very, very small and feeling constantly alone, even in the presence of my parents.
What were they doing differently than what I am doing now? How do I do the opposite of what they did to make me feel that way? That’s all I want to know. I don’t want to repeat the pattern. I also don’t know exactly what went wrong and how and for how long that caused me to feel so isolated from my parents.
I do know that I’m a good parent now, and I’m very proud of myself. But it hasn’t come easy. I don’t have the wisest of advice, and I am not a licensed therapist. But I will tell you what worked for me. Every time I experienced an unpleasant emotion that reminded me of my childhood, I decided to open up and feel it instead of pushing it down. This in itself sounds kind of existential and cheesy, but I promise you that it works.
Feeling those negative emotions helped me to release them and realize that I wasn’t doing the same thing to my kids. I know many of us have issues that were passed down from our parents, which remain as a weight around your neck as a new parent. Just because your parent was bad doesn’t mean you will be. Just because your parent couldn’t connect with you doesn’t mean you will do the same thing. Bad parents don’t make bad children.