Some of us learned how we wanted to be when we had children of our own from our own parents and others noted how we wanted to avoid becoming. Either way, our parents or parenting people were touchstones for us all. Touchstones we model ourselves after or those which we strive to be as different as we possibly can.
To borrow an idea from Shakespeare’s, Hamlet: To be (like my parent) or not to be (the way they were with me.) That is the question. Although not always easy to act on, some new parents have some ideas about how to go about things based either on what they felt were good models. Being just like someone else is never easy. In fact, it may not be possible.
What did we learn about parenting from our own parents? We all learned something, but that something may have been how we want to be or how we want to avoid becoming.
Harder still is the situation of the new parent who feels that their own experience being parented was not good or what they wish to visit upon their own child. The complication here, when one’s own parents are models of how NOT to be, is the frequent lack of models for being a better parent.
The most frequent area I have encountered with literally thousands of parents over many years of clinical practice, have focused on the issue of discipline. What does one do when a child misbehaves? Some parents, who were spanked, feel that is the night thing to do, reasoning often that “It didn’t hurt me!” Others would rather avoid corporal punishment but are at a loss for knowing any workable alternatives.
This ‘˜gap’ between experience and aspiration can be addressed, in part, through professionally taught parenting classes. Not uncommonly, it is a lot harder to be different from our own parents than most people would have either hoped or expected.
The experience of looking in the mirror as a parent and thinking, “Oh my God, I’m turning into my mother/father” is a frequent one. Hearing words come out of your own mouth that you promised you would never say to your own child is not an unusual occurrence. What we, as the adults, do once we realize that this has happened, is ultimately what defines us as parents.
None of us had control over the way our parents behaved toward us, but while their behavior may explain our own, that is not the same thing as excusing it. We have choice about how to be as parents and while choosing to be deliberately different from what we have experienced can be challenging, it is always possible.