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?