Family history

Not long ago a friend and I were discussing parenting stuff, and she asked me if there’s anything I deliberately decided to do differently from the way I was raised.

Where do I start?

Seriously, my childhood wasn’t traumatic. But it wasn’t that great, either.

I remember having a huge “aha” moment when our oldest was only about three. I had just had a long phone conversation with my mom, during which she unloaded stuff on me that a daughter shouldn’t have to deal with. It wasn’t cruel, just a desperate emotional dump. That was a lifelong pattern. She had a lot of crap going on in her life, and I became the one she leaned on. TMI, all the time. Boundaries crossed. Not in a child abuse sort of way, but definitely in an unhealthy way. And to give my mom credit, she did eventually figure out that she should never have done this; she apologized and changed her ways – years late, but appreciated nonetheless.

The moment I set the phone down that day, I made a major decision. I would never burden my own kids in that way. There would be very clear lines about who was the adult. Sharing my problems would be for other adults only, never my children. I would protect their childhoods at all costs.

For the most part, I never had cause to regret that decision. It did, though, lead me to protect them just a bit too much sometimes from certain realities. Not that they couldn’t see those realities for themselves. But I think I could have done a better job informing them of the basics. Hindsight.

In the last year or so, it’s finally hit me that our kids are old enough to hear some of the stuff that is part of their family history. Not everything. There are plenty of memories that are too painful, too raw even after years have passed. But there have been a few times when I’ve shared “memory artifacts” with them, in a measured way. And each time I’ve seem some lightbulbs come on. Middle daughter even said, in  so many words, “I’m glad you didn’t tell me that when it was happening. But I’m glad to know it now.”

So, in spite of what has to have been a lifetime of parenting mistakes, I do seem to have gotten this one right.

My question for you: Is there anything your parents did (or didn’t do) that you made a conscious decision NOT to repeat with your own children?

 

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13 thoughts on “Family history

  1. Actually…my parents never told me anything. And as an enterprising and curious child, I found out anyhow. But, since it was never discussed, I never got to process anything…because I wasn’t about to make the mistake of bringing it up. It would have been nice, from my perspective (with parents that didn’t get along late at night and a father that drank to much) to have had some acknowledgement that life wasn’t always good, that grown-ups make mistakes too, and that disagreement is a normal part of life. It would have been nice to see healthy examples of disagreement, of handling hardship, etc. Undersharing, I think, can be just as damaging as oversharing. Since hubby had an oversharing family, we work really hard to find balance on this. Sometimes we fail, but we take the time to admit our mistakes and apologize when it happens…which is something neither of our parents did with us.

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  2. Must have felt really good to have your middle daughter so explicitly validate the approach you’ve taken! (Which definitely sounds better than the tactic your mother took.)

    In my parenting, I consciously chose to be more demonstratively loving with my son than my parents ever were with me. Hugs, kiss on the head as he leaves for school, telling him “love you.” Result: a kid who always ends his texts or phone calls with “love you” no matter how many of his friends might overhear it, and who bends his head down so I can reach it for that goodbye kiss each morning.

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    • Oh, that is so sweet! Definitely a win. My husband grew up with no affection, too, and he made a conscious decision to do the the same thing with our kids. Hugs and cuddles all over the place!

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  3. My mom put me down any chance she got. Due to her depression, she would spend days on end in bed. I was the person in the middle of the complaints my dad had about my mom and the other way around. Ugh! So….even though I suffer from depression, I NEVER allowed myself to stay in bed and I tried very hard to plaster a smile on my face. I have never said anything negative to my kids about their appearance or actions–well, except the normal ‘bad’ actions they must do to test the limits of our patience. Every birthday or holiday was misery because she was miserable. I went out of my way to make the days special. So yeah, I have done quite the opposite of my mom.

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  4. My mum did the same. She would off-load her woes about her marriage onto my tiny shoulders. ‘Have children, but don’t get married,’ she’d tell me after each monologue. And then years later she got huffy when I didn’t bother with her silver wedding anniversary, going on holiday to Australia instead.
    Mind you, I do think I should have listened to her kids-but-not-marriage advice.

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