Friday, July 6, 2012

Childhood Shaping Parenthood

I can distinctly remember, as I was (and am) growing up, saying I will do this when I am a mom and I won't do that when I am a mom. I said those things after something good or bad happened.  If my mom took us school shopping for clothes for the next school year (she always did this!), then I was going to do that for my kids too when I grew up.  If my mom said "because I said so" as her reason for not allowing me to do something, then I was not going to do that when I was a mom.  

My baby is not even here yet, but after thinking about this for awhile yesterday, I came to some conclusions.

Just like with most things in life, we take our experiences and learn from them; we apply those learning experiences to other aspects of our lives.  We essentially learn right from wrong through watching others and/or doing things the way we think we should. We either get a good result or a bad result and then we make a decision to either do such and such again, or to not do such and such again. 

I'm going to get a little more specific now.  I'm going to share some things about my childhood.  This is a pretty sensitive subject but it is important.  I truly believe that through this one example of my childhood that my hopes, wishes, dreams and expectations for myself as a parent were formed. 

When my parents fought, oh man did they fight.  There was no physical abuse, but verbally? They were both at-fault.  They were not the "fight behind closed doors" type, so we all heard and saw the chaos.  I, thankfully, can't remember how frequently these knock-down, drag-out fights occurred but I can remember my reaction each and every time.

Like any child, I hated my parents fighting.  Fighting frightened me on so many different levels.  My anxiety would skyrocket and I would feel the need to jump in and protect whoever I thought needed protecting.  Essentially, I was adding fuel to the fire.  I remember being screamed at to stay out of it, to go to my room, etc.  I never went to my room.  We had a big backyard with a red shed in the back right corner.  I would go into the shed and cry.  I remember the feelings so vividly.  I was afraid.  When I think about what I was afraid of it wasn't that I thought someone was going to (physically) get hurt, I thought that someone was going to leave.  My dad throwing his clothes into a large black trash bag wasn't a one-time occurrence.  I don't think I feared divorce, because I wasn't familiar with it, but I know that I wanted my mom and dad together, both at home and both happy. 

I can remember three fights that resulted in my mom waking us up and telling us we needed to go.  Where did we go? We got in her van and we drove around our teeny tiny town.  Why did we go? I'm honestly not sure, because I know that when we went, my mom had already told my dad he needed to leave and he would be out the door with his large black trash bag pretty quickly. 

I think the fighting as a whole has heavily impacted me, but one fight in particular really thrust me forward in my "I won't be that kind of parent" mindset.  My birthday was coming up quickly and my family had decided to go to the mall.  I was going to get to pick out my own birthday present and I couldn't wait.  The drive to the mall wasn't exactly a quick one, so I had a lot of time on the way there to think about what I was going to get and then a lot of time on the way home to look at everything I got.  The fight started at the mall.  I had decided to get art supplies because I wanted to be an artist.  I remember anxiously picking out what I needed to be an artist, hurrying because I knew things were headed south.  We managed the ride home, but as soon as we got home, all hell broke loose.  I had gotten an easel, drawing pads and oil pastels and I couldn't wait to set up my little artist station.  My mom said I could use a corner of the dining room, so I did.  As I was setting everything up the yelling and swearing progressed.  I remember thinking, they're ruining my birthday.  I remember yelling at them, "You're ruining my birthday."  I remember crying.  I remember them continuing to yell and swear at one another. Most distinctively I remember thinking that I would never be that kind of parent.

What did I mean when I said I wouldn't be that kind of parent?  I meant and still do mean that I will not scream and swear at my spouse in front of my children.  Ultimately, I do not want to scream and swear at my spouse period, but sometimes it happens.  I believe that having adult disagreements is 100% okay for children to witness because no one is perfect and no relationship is perfect; growing up with that ideal would not be beneficial to any child.  I believe that children have enough stressors in their lives as they grow and that the state of their parents relationship should not be one of them.  I will ensure that, as long as I do continue to love Frank, our child knows exactly how we feel about one another. 

I think this is one of those things where you go one way or the other.  I was raised around fighting so I will ensure that my child does not.  I hate yelling and swearing and try to avoid it at all costs.  Frank was raised around his crazy mother yelling 24/7 and that is exactly how he responds to stress, so I went one way and he went the other.  We are working on that, but that is a post for another day!  

I think this may be a little deep for a Friday post but sometimes it's nice to share such personal things.  I will say this:  My parents relationship got to the point where there was only two options:  they were going to get a divorce or they were going to seek out a counselor as a last ditch attempt to save their marriage.  They both agreed to see a counselor and will today tell you that it is because of the counseling that they are not only together, but happy.  I cannot even begin to tell you how the dynamics of our family have shifted since they got the help they needed.  

To wrap it all up: because of the environment that I was around for much of my childhood, I have learned what I do not want for my child.  That aspect of my childhood has helped to shape a huge part of my parenthood.  

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  1. It can sometimes be so daunting to think of all the responsibilities we'll face with parenting. Not only the task of molding these little ones into compassionate, loving people.. But also setting an example for them to look up to. I think that's what both scares me the most and excites me the most at the same time, if that even makes sense. It's the ultimate reason to try your best, be on your best behavior and truly be someone worth looking up to. I know for me this definitely means more patience, more focus, more understanding and more serenity :) :)

  2. Wow, thank you for being so real and personal!! I totally remember thinking of the things that I "would never do" as a parent when I was growing up. Some of them I am guilty of doing, but some of the more important ones, I have taken the steps to personally grow so that I don't do them...if that makes sense.
    One of the best things I ever read about parenting went something like this. You might think the best thing you can do for your kids is to treat them well and put them first in your life. In reality, the best thing you can do for them is to put your husband first! Let the kids see how much you love and respect your husband...let them see you flirting with each other, and don't say things to your kids like, "your dad is such a jerk" or other put downs. By doing this you are showing them what a great marriage looks like, what to expect in their future spouse, and also helping them feel secure and loved.
    Thanks for stopping by my blog! I'm so glad I found yours...and RIGHT before you have your baby!?!? How exciting!!

  3. Wow. this was an amazing post. It really hit home for me. My own childhood was fine, my dad was ALWAYS away on business so there was no time for my parents to fight. But the little boy I nannied until recently, he had parents like yours, but probably worse. I worry so much about the effect it will have on him. Their fighting gets physical often and the words are ugly too and often he would be hiding under his bed crying because of them. He is only 5.

    If nothing else, I hope he takes from it the same message as you, that you don't have to be that kind of parent and that like you he aspires to be a wonderful parent to his own babes one day.
    This was such a thought provoking post for me, thank you so much for writing it. And hurry up to that baby of yours!!!

  4. you will be a wonderful mother!


    have a good one!