Is Your Parenting Style a Way to Heal Your Own Childhood?
Recently, I had an epiphany right before I fell asleep after a particularly challenging and frustrating day at home. It was so profound that I sat up and wrote it down:
Do I experience parenting as a way to heal my own childhood?
I’m sure this isn’t earth-shattering and looking through some of my parenting books, there have been suggestions that our children are mirrors that move us toward self-awareness and growth (our own, not that of our progeny).
Growing up, my parents were the quintessence of overprotective parenting. I couldn’t wait to become independent of them. My parents worried for their children’s safety in a country that was not their own, and so American customs and ‘80s permissive parenting did not rule our household.
When my friends took the city bus to the beach 30 minutes away, none of their parents seemed to have any concerns. My mother insisted on driving me separately and keeping a watchful eye from her own umbrella on the beach. To say this embarrassed me is an understatement. And when a group of my friends and I went to the mall (an activity today’s teenagers find outdated and uncool), Mother spied on us from the other side of the hallways. She feared the child kidnappers would lure me into their curtained vans.
When I finally left home for college, I relished my newfound independence. I still had to check in with my parents several times a week by phone, but I did what I wanted, and didn’t need to ask anyone for permission. I avoided their rules by working summers at my college town, which was a safe three hours from my childhood home. There would be no unexpected drop-ins and I came and went as I pleased.
When it came time to decide on graduate schools, I shuddered at the thought of moving back home with my parents. I enrolled in a school 3,000 miles away and never stayed at my parents’ house for more than a couple of weeks at a time. I never looked back either. Freedom to live the life I wanted trumped everything – even if it was at the expense of my shrinking bank account. Though I would have saved money by moving back home after graduate school, I preferred going into debt if it meant living on my own terms. Independence was gold.
And back then, I made myself a promise. I didn’t want to restrict my own child in the way I had been controlled. How many of us say that? I would never do that to my child!
Our daughter, perfectly delivered to me by a just universe, provides me with endless joy and wonderment. But I am amazed at our striking differences. She wants nothing more than to stay comfortably in her nest. As an infant, I fearlessly crawled into dark hallways with my older brother in tow. She would rather stay by mommy’s side than explore on her own. I wanted to do sleep away camp at the age of six.
I had incorrectly assumed she would be genetically predisposed to thirst for the same independence that quenched mine. She is not, and I am just now learning to feel gratitude and acceptance for the gifts and insight she provides me. I feel remorse about how forceful I have been at times, wanting her to get out into uncharted land and throw herself into new experiences. That’s not who she is. When we first started going to the park together, I encouraged her to explore the slides and climbing apparatuses on her own.
“Don’t worry, sweetie. Mommy will be sitting on the bench right over there, watching you,” I reassured her. “Climb up higher! You can do it!” She would look at me with disappointed and tear-filled eyes. I pushed too quickly. I wanted to show her (correction, myself) that unlike my own mother, I was willing to relinquish control and let her be autonomous.
I’m slowly gaining more awareness about my own issues. What I find myself challenged with the most as a parent has more to do with issues I wished to fix from my own childhood. And I know I have a long way yet to go.
It’s a new year now and I know I must let her take the lead on how she would like to spend it. She no longer wants me to stand at the foot of the slide, though. And as the tide begins to shift, I already look back longingly on the times when she needed a boost on the monkey bars.
Were you raised by overprotective parents… or were you more of a latch key kid? And how do you raise your own children today? Share your stories with us.
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