Virtually all of our attitudes, beliefs, biases, self-images, and perceived belonging and security are rooted in our early childhoods (birth to four or so). Our early learning is stimulated by our engagement with the "stuff" around us - who and what is in our house, yard, around the block, and what we hear about the world. But the meanings and possible uses of all those experiences originate in the conversations of the adults (aka “Big People,” in Beyond Good Parenting). And what should be talked about and what shouldn't be talked about - a result of the perceived meanings - is learned early, gleaned from parental responses. But what should be talked about and what shouldn't be frequently aren't relationally "safe" things, and we end up feeling guilty for what we should have or shouldn't have said or done, when in fact our communication matches our level of perceived security. But this perceived security was adopted as true, when we were young and did not yet have the ability to rationalize why a parent was angry or concerned unnecessarily.
Our typical responses to the “potholes” in “driving” our family were learned by us very early, many before language. Frequently these early responses and meanings are like potholes in the road. If we saw them ahead of time, we could take evasive action, and say something like, "Oh, yes, that really did bother me but that was my problem, not yours, sweetie. I love you, and I did then too even though I was (angry, or concerned).” Or, “I think it bothered me because my mom yelled at me when I was little, too. But now I know how much she loved me and was worried about me." (This is not a word-for-word suggestion to repeat. Every child and circumstance is different. Look at it from what could you say? Then, start. Practice saying something about what you are noticing that is accurate for you. Your child will begin to do the same.
Like Driving a Car
When you are driving your car, and you don’t see a pothole, you likely will hit it. After a while, you “see” the road as a very bumpy one. But if you see the potholes, you will do the best you can do to safely avoid them, especially the most potentially damaging ones.
Parenting is like driving in that way. When you actually see the potential impact of what you say to and do around your children, you will naturally try to avoid hitting that "pothole" - the one that shuts off further communication. And if you do hit it, you will likely stop and see what kind of repair is necessary to keep going.
Not Like Driving a Car
Parenting is quite different also. The “car” we are attempting to control also has its agenda, or path. With enough awareness, however, we could see what is needed and wanted to keep communication open, respectful, and accepting. When this happens, our children can be our most valuable partners!
This is consistent with Martin Luther King’s view:
“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality; tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Our young children experience this more powerfully than we do - but just don't have the experience and language to tell us, and frequently we do not grant them the time and respect to allow them to contribute to us. Fortunately, children growing up in a context of partnership means this context will become the norm. Imagine! What if this were the norm for the current generation?
By the way: this kind of partnership will save you time, energy, angst, and bring you fulfillment - every day you bring it into your family.
Parenting will still be challenging. If it weren’t, it wouldn’t be rewarding either.
Yes, and you are up to it. Marty