As my regular readers will know, I often blog about parenting. Primarily, I blog about the wonder I have found in parenting gently and positively after growing up in an authoritarian family that relied on corporal punishment. One response I frequently get is that I should not speak about parenting as though I know anything when my children are only five and two. I’m told to wait until they get older and see how it works for me then. This completely misses the point.
Abuse is a very difficult word for me. I have never stated, either on my blog or to myself, that I was “abused” as a child. Nothing my parents did constituted legal abuse in my state, and there was also so much love, and so many other children had it so much worse. Was I abused as a child? I suppose it all comes down to your definition. But I can tell you this: I was parented sub-optimally. I was hurt. I obeyed out of fear. I felt ignored and stifled. I was afraid of my mother. And all of the happiness that was also present in our home cannot erase these things. Things could have been different—things could have been so much better.
My parenting decisions are not something I’ve pulled out of thin air on a whim. Rather, I’ve reflected on the way my parents parented and how it hurt me and have resolved not to repeat those patterns. I will not use corporal punishment because of the effects it had on my own childhood, and on my relationships with my parents. I will listen to my children, because I was not listened to and I remember how it felt. I will not demand immediate obedience from my children, because I remember what it felt like to be required to be an automaton.
I have tried to build something positive on the ashes of the parenting patterns I have chosen to burn rather than copy. I love my children, but then, my parents loved me and still they went about parenting in a way that was hurt me. So in addition to love, I have chosen respect. I love my children. I treat my children with respect. After all, they are people, too.
A couple of days ago, I was thinking again about trying to “change” your children. Someone asked me, shouldn’t we try to shape and change our children to make them better people? These words have too much baggage for me. I believe that we should teach our children, and help equip them for the world they will enter when they are grown—and the world they inhabit today. But my children are not mine to shape as I will. They are born with their own personalities, inner lives, and sense of self. That is not mine to change. I can encourage my children to greater compassion, empathy, and understanding, but my parents viewed me as clay to be molded and I know how that turned out.I remember the pain of unmet expectations. My parents invested so much of themselves in me turning out a specific way, and when I didn’t, they took out their pain and grief on me. I refuse to repeat that pattern. Children are wild cards. All I can do is be the best parent I can—to love them, to treat them with respect, t0 teach them—and then set them free to fly.
I have been told that my own idealism about parenting is not so different from the idealism of my parents. After all, they adopted the teachings they did because they wanted so badly to raise my siblings and I correctly—to turn out perfect children. They thought they had found the perfect formula. But I do not claim to have found a perfect formula. I do not claim that my children will have perfect childhoods, or that I will turn out perfect children. Refusing to repeat the toxic patterns of my parents’ parenting is not idealism. It is realism—and compassion. I will not hit my children. I will treat them with respect. I will not ignore my children. I will listen to them and what they have to say. I will not demand that my children become automatons. I will encourage their input and involvement in family decisions.
I do not blog about my experiences parenting to give others a formula to follow. It is true that I think some of the principles I follow—respect, communication, compromise—are generally applicable both in raising children and far beyond that, but I would never promote a cookie cutter formula approach. To be perfectly honest, the main reason I blog about my experiences parenting my own children is because of how healing they have been.
It is not that things are always perfect, but then, we are all quick to apologize when we make mistakes—and to learn from those mistakes. It is not that I think I have found a formula that will produce perfect children—again, I make no such claims and have no such expectations. It is simply that I am refusing to repeat the practices or approaches that hurt me as a child. I will not repeat the cycle. It is that I am willing to listen, learn, and grow alongside my children. I do not pretend infallibility. It is that I see my children as human beings worthy of respect rather than as subordinates. They are not my property to do with as I will.
Do I have more to learn? I’m sure I do! But I will learn it, because I will listen. And perhaps that is the difference. My parents have been raising children for as long as I am alive, but they have rarely listened to their children. They would rather follow cookie-cutter approaches than be willing to grow as parents.
I am ready to listen. I am willing to learn. I am prepared to grow.