There is no such thing as perfect parenting. Feel free to check that out with my kids. What I will cop to is near perfect intention. My parenting intentions were almost always solid. Exhaustion (often from parenting!) and ignorance might be the only contributors that prevented a perfect score here. Alas, my kids didn’t get to experience all the good intentions. They enjoyed or suffered (with parenting – these are synonyms) through the impact of my parenting. So while I meant well, my best often fell short. That “encouragement to be better” came out as criticism and at times the impact was to shame them. As my kids have grown and chosen to do their (emotional) work I have enjoyed/suffered the experience of being invited to their therapy to contribute to their growth.
–Side Note: I often say that as kids age out of the house our responsibility for them continues around paying for their education and their therapy-
So I got to experience paying for the session and learn of the impact I had on them. Thankfully I have learned that to be accountable and continue to build on the relationship means I listen without defensiveness and “yes but…”
This allows the healing to build. There is a time for explanation only after they ask for it and truly want it. To offer it at any time before that instant is to negate their experience and move me to center stage telling them why they’re wrong. Not a useful tool to grow relationship. I have benefited from watching time after time, a child trying to engage in understanding their childhood (and often times the harder parts to swallow) only to watch the parent flounder back over to the side of “not only did I mean well but look at all the good stuff that I did for you.”
Yes the impact I had on my kids obviously shaped them, and they had lots of advantages, more than most. But to fall on that when they are trying to make sense of some of the tougher things they experienced is shallow, selfish and points to a level of narcissism I need to keep working on.
So after going through a few of these sessions, I can say my perspective has been refreshed and today I could start over and do a better job. Today however, I just don’t think I have the energy it takes with little kids!
So how do we learn as parents to moderate our skills and behavior to accommodate or correct for the impact/intention dynamic. What my (adult) kids (and their therapists) have taught me is that I have to put my ego away and focus on my child’s need. And, in most cases this requires a perspective I was not sent into parenting with. When my first born showed up in that Richardson hospital room the man that met him had the experience of how my parents raised me coupled with my better intentions. And it was trial and error from then on. I did try to pay attention around me to see how other parents were doing it but generally I defaulted back to my experience of what was done to me. After all, I turned out OK didn’t I? And back into the soup I go. I will never forget one afternoon as we prepared to head over to the barbershop for my son and I was engaged in a lengthy suggestion about how I thought his hair would look good if he were to cut it that certain way. My wife overhearing this (and a woman of few words) simply asked if I was still working with my therapist on my father’s impact of overbearing opinions. Point made.
It is a fine line between parenting and controlling and one that is more difficult with younger children. Frankly it is often just easier to squash the situation with “Because I Said So!” But that leaves little room for individual growth and expression with the child. I had to learn that balance between giving them enough room to make a mistake and being sure the mistake they might make is short of falling off a cliff. Today I look like a parental genius (in my own mind) as I see where they are successful today. But my kids and I often have very disparate points of view about what is going on in that polaroid from their youth. And we have arrived back to the difference between impact and intent.
My best days as a parent were when I stayed fully present with my kids. There I remain teachable and my curiosity not only allowed me to connect with them but to learn from and with them. I took my boy to the Dallas Zoo when he was about 4. As we walked in, I could hear the lions roaring, something I had never heard before and just knew he would be impressed by it. But his eyes had lit up when he saw the concrete alligator in the picnic area and immediately ran to sit on it. I asked if he didn’t want to go see the lions roar and he said no, he was with the alligator. I started to scoop him up and run up the hill to the lions but I saw the joy on his face bouncing on the alligator. I sat down with him and laughed at me.
Good enough parenting.