My therapist asked me recently about how I parent. I didn’t know how to answer at first. I had just explained that I didn’t have good examples of parenting growing up – I parented my mom and dad a lot more than they parented me and I spent much of my childhood trying to take care of and shield my siblings. The idea of *me* being taken care of is pretty much alien to me. I recognize this and acknowledge it and discuss it in therapy. So the therapist wondered how, if I don’t know how to be taken care of, did I figure out how to take care of others?
Communication in my family was difficult and not to be trusted most of the time. The grandmother who babysat us, fed us, clothed us, provided cable TV and video games – she is also the person who in my memory has never hugged us and had violent outbursts at unpredictable times. Never did we hear that she loved us, but many times we heard that she hated us. Any good thing she did for us was followed tenfold by something bad and I’ve always had the “audacity” to expect that life should be good enough to be worth living.
My parenting theory is based heavily off of the notion that I should do everything differently than my family did. My family kept secrets. They explained away the bad stuff or pretended it didn’t happen. So my theory is pretty simple, really. I don’t keep secrets. I try to acknowledge the bad stuff. I try to work on problems until they are fixed and I keep working to make sure they don’t return. Even if I know how to fix something, I don’t want to keep repairing the same issue over and over. I’d rather avoid it altogether if possible.
While I may not immediately know what goes on the list of “good parenting” many times, my compiled list of bad parenting decisions is massive. Even if I don’t know how to be good, I am extremely aware of how not to be bad.
Somehow my approach to parenting seems to be working for Jack (and also for me). We spend a lot of time talking about our days and I make sure that he knows that even if I can’t fix his problems, he doesn’t have to deal with them alone. A stomach ache is somehow easier to handle when you have someone to snuggle.
So when I was asked how I parent, the only thing I could think to say was, “I listen to my kid. He tells me what he needs. If I’m paying attention, if I’m attuned to what is going on with him, it’s not that complicated.” Listening to my kid and talking about things is a hell of a lot easier than listening to him screaming at me because he doesn’t understand why I won’t do XYZ. From the day he was born, his only agenda has been to live and learn and thrive. It’s my job as a parent to make sure he is supported in those endeavors. And you know what? If all I went through as a kid has brought me to a point where I can support my own child and help him thrive, then it was worth it.