Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Parents who'd have them? well me for one!

When a child is born they are a screaming mass of humanity, totally dependant on their mother to work out what the cries mean. Whether feeding or changing or burping, the mother very quickly works out what the child's needs are, and does her best to meet them. The new born baby can only focus initially on the breast, but very quickly develops enough to take in Mum's eyes.

In the first two years of life the baby changes and develops incredibly fast. And all the while all they want is to know they are loved, safe and warm. A child comes pre-programmed into wanting it's basic human needs met!

By the age of two the baby has moved from the breast into wanting sweeties in the supermarket, and having the almighty awful tantrum if this need is not met. This isn't because they are 'bad' or greedy it's because they have yet to be taught self control, cognisance and rational thought. They are still an emotional bundle wanting those basic needs met. We have been taught, and will teach our children over time, to put their feelings away and we will reward their 'good' behaviour instead.

During the first five years of life the child puts his parents on a pedestal. They can do no wrong. All small children love mummy and daddy unconditionally and tell their parents they are going to marry them! They don't just do this out of love, they also do it out of survival. The child unconsciously knows that they need their parent to survive. So during this time of parents being perfect, patterns are set that affect all of us later in life.

Once the child goes to school and starts socialising with other children they start to experience other models of child rearing. Parents are still perfect but they notice and use other parenting models to try and extend their boundaries, as in Little Johnnie's mum lets him stay up, eat sweets and carouse all night so why can't I?!

Then human beings hit adolescence! And for the sake of argument, if Mum and Dad are Christian, meat eating, right wing voters, the adolescent will automatically become a vegetarian, left wing, atheist, just because they can, and their parents know nothing anyway! They also become incredibly self centered the world revolves around them. Which is just them growing up, and adjusting to becoming the people they will eventually end up being.

Slowly then as the person hits maturity they stop rebelling just for the sake of it, and start making their own views usually based on their upbringing. Which is why so often we turn into our parents!!! But at this stage we'll not be ready to take that on board. As all young people reinvent the wheel,as what do their parents know about anything??

On reaching our twenties people are busy establishing themselves, starting their career, finding a place to live, meeting that someone special, and having children. No-one has time during this period to really think about their parents, except them perhaps being a bit of a nuisance!

The thirties find people consolidating their lives, careers, home, family and increasingly the parents are either useful in babysitting terms, but possibly becoming an emotional drag.

People can obviously resent their parents always, and many have huge emotional difficulties with them. But probably the majority of people do continue to love their parents, even if they sometimes find them aggravating. The guilt button is never very far from being pressed even for those people who get on with their parents. As in where we spend Christmas, for example, on our own, with his/her family. We rarely get to please all the people all the time in relation to our families.

It is however, in our thirties and forties that the biggest attitude change has to come in relation to our parents for us to be able to cope with what is to come.

We have to forgive our parents for what they have done to us!!!

What I mean by this is, that we have no choice about having our histories, what we have a choice about is whether be are a product or a victim of them. And if we hold our parents responsible for our adult selves, then there is work to do.

No parent ever has a child to ill treat it. The child gets ill treated as the parent doesn't know any better. Those children who are unfortunately battered to death by their parents were not born to satisfy the parents need for blood lust. The parent is just not adequate in relation to doing the job properly of child rearing.

And there by the Grace of God do we all go. I can still vividly remember the day when my eldest son was a few months old and he wouldn't stop screaming. I was stressed beyond the ability to deal with it. I was crying hysterically. I was also getting incrediably angry. I wanted to hurt my child, who I adored. I was in danger of getting him and smashing his head against the wall. But I didn't,I had the nouce to not do that. What I did do was drop him from the height of the cot bars onto the mattress in the cot, a distance of about two foot. Which caused him to cry even more. And at that point I was so shocked by what I'd done I phoned a friend for help. She was round within minutes. I was sitting at the top of the stairs she ran past me and comforted my son before dealing with me. Of course the minute he was picked up by someone calm he stopped crying ,and went back to his usual sunny nature. It was a salutary lesson for me about how very easy it is to loose control. And something I have never forgotten and use when talking to clients who have young children, as a way to share that isolation and out of controlness that all parents can feel when faced with small children.

But back to dealing with parents.

The thing any child has to identify, and this isn't usually possible until the 'child' is 40 something. Is that their parents did the best they could in bringing them up, even if that was crap. What gets in the way of this idea,is the perfection that the small child held their parent, that, putting their parents on a pedestal, that is an essential part of the small child's survival.

What has to be separated is that before their parents became their parents, they were human beings first with all the myriad of behaviours/beliefs/skills/ emotional development that make up every human being. Which will be based on their experiences as children and their parents before that.

Once we understand that, then we can forgive our parents for not being perfect. And that is essential for us as children of parents who are getting older every day. We may be expected to have an increasing role in their support and care. And if we haven't forgiven our parents for being themselves, then that job is incredibly tough as every time we are asked to do something our adolescent selves gets in the way with resentment and rage.

I had a wonderful happy childhood, I was a wanted and loved little girl. The problems in my life stemmed from 10 years of age all the way through adolescence. My parents didn't do a good job then of caring for me. I carried all the stuff from this time into my adult life. I was angry with them for being alcoholics and having mental health issues. They constantly pissed me off, none more so then having to speak to them on the phone every Sunday morning, without fail. It used to drive me nuts. To the point now that I phone my son up anyday but Sunday!

But at some point in my forties I remember being out walking my dog one morning. I'd been thinking a lot about my parents at the time. My mum had been dead several years, but Dad was still alive and causing me grief. And suddenly it came to me that THEY HADN'T DONE IT DELIBERATELY, THEY'D DONE THE BEST THEY COULD. The thought stopped me in my tracks, suddenly I understood they were human beings before they became my parents. And I suddenly let go of all the years of resentment I'd carried around about their supposed ill treatment of me. In effect I forgave them for not being perfect, which they never had been anyway, that had just been the place I as a child had put them to ensure my survival.

So now although I know my parents had 'faults' I understand these because I know their histories, and as a therapist I know how those histories would have affected their ability to raise children. And now when I think of my parents it ia always with love.

I am grateful for how they brought me up. I am grateful that I went through hell as a teenager. Because without their care of me, whether good or bad, I wouldn't be the person I am today.

And I would give an awful lot to have a phone call on Sunday


lakeviewer said...

Oh this is so beautiful. You put it all in a clear perspective, and in a caring way for everyone involved. We should print this and hand it out to everyone.

What a caring, loving soul you are!

Merry ME said...

My friend,
In my narcissitic-it's-all-about-me world, I'm sure you wrote this post for me!!!

You touched me on many levels. Reminded me of things I'd like to keep buried. I value your honesty and openness.

At times I have had the same forgiveness moment and awareness you mention. At others, I'm still the kid screaming in the crib. My buttons are hypersensitive for many reasons. I must learn to get a grip. This post will stay with me for a while. I will do my best to remember your words of wisdom.

I, too, would love to hear my mother on the other end of the phone.

Angela said...

You are right, Mandy!

miss*R said...


If each of us were given these words before we had children, I am sure that we would all be more balanced in the head.

funny that the most important job of all, that of being a parent has no training, no handbook or no 'Book for Dummies", so like you say, we puddle along doing the best we can with what we have been taught.
I am off tomorrow, see you when I come home.. xoxo

Zan said...

Very good post. I'm not in my thirties or forties yet so I can recent them for another few years :P
No seriously, this was a really beautiful post.

Linda - Gold Coast said...

JUST LOVED IT. I said that in my shouting voice. As per normal Mandy you have hit the nail right on the head. ♥ Linda xoxo

Mel said...

Is this where I swear and tell you again how glad I am you're still putting fingers to keyboard?

You said it well. And in a way that's not threatening to read and absorb.
I came to my awakening long before my 40's....maybe that was the help I got from the folks who were working with me at that time. I'm glad I had the awakening when I did. Had I waited, I'd have missed some awesome things with a step-mother I was graced to have in my life.

Old tapes and old skills still exist--I get to decide what I'm going to do with them. And they're so infrequent that I'm always a bit wowed when I step back to see their reentry into my life.
But there's no resentment/blame--just an acknowledgement of the roots and a love for the humanbeingness of those who did the best they could with what they had as they were loving me.


Angela Recada said...

You said it all in this short post. There is so much truth and wisdom here. It's unfortunate when some people never reach the point where they can see the person who wronged them as a complete human being, not only as an imperfect parent.

This was just wonderful, Mandy.


tattytiara said...

You make so much sense. I don't have kids yet, but just becoming the age my parents were when they married and started a family, and seeing that there's no magical transformation that takes you into a mysterious land called maturity, really shifted a lot of perspective for me.

Lori ann said...

I wish I had something awesome to say, but you've said it all Mandy. What a truly amazing post. This is the truth, every word. I would only add that by not being a "victim" we free ourselves. It is our life, just as it is our parents and our childrens. I believe with my whole heart that we each do the best we can with what we have.
Thank you for a wonderful, wonderful post. I have such a smart friend. :)

Sorrow said...

and i am grateful for the gift they have given the world in you.
For you are a remarkable lady, who helps so many to mend the brokeness in their hearts. You have been such a tremendous light in my life, and I am so glad that you are here!
changing lives for the better!

kj said...

aww, fire byrd, what an honest, informative and heart felt reveal.

you learned forgiveness. that changes everything.

sometimes for unspeakable reasons forgiveness cannot be freely given to one's parents, but it can always be given to one's self.

i sometimes forget you and i are both therapists. i like that.


Sage said...

I was unfortunate to lose my mum when I was only 34 and my dad 10 years later... it took the loss of my mum for me to understand that rightly or wrongly, and many rights and wrongs were done, that they were both good parents in their way. We didn't always see eye to eye, that is normal, but it did mean that for the 10 years I had with my Dad I could be an adult with him as well as a child, the things of my childhood I didn't understand at the time, I grew to understand as an adult and while some were quite wrong, others were right on the ball...

I chose not to be a parent, after an incident babysitting and while I don't regret my choices, I did regret the way they deprived my parents of their need for grandchildren.. something that I now find harder as I grow older to understand my reasoning back then..

Interesting insights into parents in general from your post and it hit the nail on the head for me... xx

Minnie said...

Lovely warm-hearted thoughtful post, Mandy. I agree ...

trousers said...

Amen to all that, this is a very valuable post for me at the moment. I wouldn't say that I have been thinking about my parents in a critical way, just that my perspective has been changing. No doubt this is because of where I'm at in my life.

One thing I realised some time ago, was that I never went through a rebellious phase: I didn't have to, my parents weren't at all overbearing when I was a teenager. I remember in my first year on my degree course (age 19) that I taped a load of my dad's albums and really enjoyed listening to them (I still do) - not the actions of a rebellious teen!