How I learned to forgive my parents for their easy-going, Dr. Spock style of parenting — and grow up
GUEST COLUMN: ELLA GRANT — Okay, what’s the most unpleasant parent-related memory that you have from your childhood? And what would be the best? If the nastiest episode comes to mind quickly, and the best experience not so quickly — maybe like me — you need to open up a little box of forgiveness and see what comes out.
When I was a young child my parents were very good to me — no physical beatings, no harsh words. But as I came to realize later, perhaps their fatal flaw was that they were too good. Child psychology tells me that I was raised in a permissive manner: loving and child-centered, but totally non-demanding.
Everything I did was fine: bad behavior (i.e. being mean to friends, saying cruel things that popped into my mind) was ignored. “Pushing the envelope” quickly became my favorite game! If I brought home a bad math mark from school, the comment from my mother was, “Don’t feel bad — I didn’t do well in math either.” The comment was designed to make me feel better, but didn’t help me realize that with work, I might achieve better marks.
As a very small child, if I couldn’t sleep at night, I was allowed to stay up all night reading. In fact, it’s only now, in my 30′s, that I’m no longer afraid of the dark or being alone in a house by myself at night.
There were no ground rules or guidelines for my behavior, and I was treated like a mini-adult. And this over-indulgence has crafted me into what I am today: I don’t like authority figures, and don’t admit when I’m wrong. I don’t want to be a leader, or a follower, and remain a bit blurry on the concepts of self-control and self-discipline.
In my teen years we ran a family business, and that created a fresh kind of hell, including many times where my father verbally took out his frustration on my mother and myself. Sometimes I tried to stand up for her, but often I put her down myself, for which I still feel guilty.
When he yelled at me, I would sass him back and then laugh at him. But inside I felt that I didn’t have his approval, or love, on any level.
So, many years later, those are the negatives that come to mind.
But there are also positives attached to the life we shared together. I’m a very adaptable person, honed by years of feast or famine when it came to monetary concerns — i.e. sometimes we were eating steak, sometimes (okay, a lot) . . .TV dinners.
I’m very loving and affectionate, thanks to a tactile and loving mother and grandmother. I try not to judge people and look at all of us as parts of the whole, whether a person is begging on the street or zooming by in a Lexus. (Although I am a reverse snob when it comes to the poor, and society’s underdogs). And, oh yes, my inner child is not inner. It’s right out there most of the time.
Now, I see my parents as people who did their best using the toolbox of parenting skills that they had at that time. I have chosen not to be a parent, but can see from those around me who are, that it isn’t easy.
If you are harboring feelings of repressed anger against your parents, I urge you to let the feelings go and understand that your parents didn’t have all the answers, just as we don’t as we go through life. It’s a work in progress for all of us.
After understanding and accepting where we are from, we can move on to change the parts of our personality we don’t like. I’m moving on to discover that I can do things: I can cook meals, enjoy tending a garden, write — and make my own living. I don’t need to be coddled . . . although that mind-set and behaviors do return sometimes. I also don’t need to say everything that pops into my mind, even if I think it’s amazingly witty or funny.
Examine whatever it is about your upbringing that is holding you back. Is it worth clinging to, or is it time to look at the positives that your parents gave you, and move on?
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