Adulthood is everything we've ever dreamed of as kids, right? I mean, I learned a lot as I became an adult and moved out of the house and into college dorms. I learned even more as I moved into my first apartment and even more as I graduated and started my first real job. There were more responsibilities each time and that day you finish your last car payment on the car your parents helped you with or that last payment on your student loans, you feel the freedom…and even more responsibility…of adulthood.
It's all part of growing up. Some of us are still trying to get there, right? Ha--maybe emotionally but that's another post. You're the boss. You're the one calling all the shots. Making your own decisions. Which job you take. Where you live. What you do after work. Whether or not your bed is made every day and how clean your bathroom is. No one else is there to check up on you or tell you how to do things. No one to nag at you or advise you. All you know is that all those things you learned from your mom or 4-H or home ec class or whatever, are really coming in handy now. You cook for yourself, you take the trash out, you pay your bills on time, or you dodge calls from the credit card company. Your actions, your consequences. No one else to blame.
Fast forward to getting married….and fast forward a little more to having kids.
Everything changes. I.Mean.Everything. Kick up the responsibility factor to a whole new level now. There's a whole 'nother human being you are responsible for now. Your perspective changes on a lot of things. Maybe your career isn't as important as it used to be. Maybe it becomes more important. But raising those kids, that's what it's all about. You focus everything on them. They learn things from you from Day 1. And the older they get, you realize the more they are learning from you. Of course that is how it should be, but they start to form who they are and they are a piece of you. One of them, at least, is probably exactly like you, down to the temper or creativeness or laziness or whatever.
As they get older you start to teach them things, like how to brush their teeth or clean up after themselves, or fix things or bake. And here's your chance to do it right. You don't just teach them to brush their teeth, but you teach them how to clean out the sink after they're done. You (try to) make sure they pick up their rooms and make their bed in the morning. You are teaching them things that they will be doing every day of the rest of their life. You teach them how to curl their hair and put on make up. And what you teach them is probably what you did when you were a kid, or how you fix your hair now.
This is parenthood. A lot of people do it. But no one is ever taught how to parent. Usually people don't take classes how to parent. You just do it. You know it from what you've learned as a kid, adolescent, young adult and now…adult. And you draw on your experiences as a child.
When our kids were really young (like 3 or so), I used to argue with my husband because he'd compare them to himself as a kid in situations and I knew there was no way he remembered his life at that age. He may have remembered elementary school, and as a poor judgement of history or how fast time flies, he just thought it was the same. But it wasn't and to me, how you discipline your kid at age three is quite different from you discipline them at age 7 or 8. What's interesting, though, is that you draw from how you were raised to make these decisions. And at this age, through the elementary years, my memory, or perception of my childhood, was pretty carefree and typical, but with pretty strict discipline. We had tough consequences growing up. My parents happened to be spankers, and timeout was something I had learned about in my parenting resources so we used a combination of both to discipline our kids. I tried as best I could to teach them lessons without disciplining. When I was a kid, our punishment was extra time weeding our rather large garden from what I remember most. And our spankings were pretty harsh, with scrap lumber in the shed. One or two swats was all it took to teach us a lifelong lesson and burn it into our memories forever. Something I don't think any parent enjoys but some find it necessary.
So let me get to the point of this post. I realized early on in parenthood that my own upbringing would provide an integral part in the way we chose to raise our kids. Patric and I have talked a lot about how we were raised….everything from family traditions to family time during the week to supporting them in whatever activities they choose to participate in to discipline and beyond. Both of our parents were strict and both of them pushed us hard in athletics so that we talk about that a ton. And as our kids are getting older, to ages that I have a pretty vivid memory of in my own childhood, there are issues coming up that I have to deal with. My dad kept a very tight reign over my older sister and I through high school. We were not allowed to go out with friends or date. That's just how life was; there wasn't any success in fighting it so we just accepted it. We were forced to dedicate our time to our schoolwork and sports and that's what we did. We were both successful at both of them, which is what our parents wanted for us, so it made a pretty good cover for what was really happening inside our little house in town.
Since our girls are first, I feel like I'm going through my own childhood again in a way. Maybe when the boys are this age, Patric will feel this way, too. But when they have fun opportunities come up that I was not allowed to do when I was their age, I want them to take advantage of it and support them in whatever they choose. Of course as far as activities go, I didn't have much available to choose from so that doesn't really count. But it's little things like wearing makeup or talking about boys. I have boundaries for them and as long as they stay within those boundaries, I love talking to my girls about who their crush is or what makeup tutorials they have seen. Now they are kids and occasionally step outside their boundaries so I discipline them, by taking something away that means a lot to them. I don't spank them with a piece of lumber. I couldn't even fathom doing that to my kids. Not for a second. I gave up spanking several years ago because I physically couldn't and it was a disaster if I even tried.
Without getting into detail that I'm not ready to write about, there are many things that come up with my girls that trigger flashback memories of my own childhood and are creating a pit of anger in me--mainly why we were physically and emotionally handled the way we were. This triggering helps me in a way that I deal with my girls' issues in my own parenting style. I have made plenty of mistakes but for the most part, it's working for me. Karly is so much like me so I draw from my relationship with my mom at her age and it helps me to know and decide what I want to do with Karly so that we have the kind of bond that I want to have with her. I've had a rough time with Karly--it has not been an easy road. But I feel so much better equipped in knowing how to talk and respond to her because of my memories with my own mom and with Patric's help and advice how to positively affect her. And our relationship is amazing. We still fight, but I feel so much closer to her than I ever did with my mom at her age and I am so thankful for that. I was a tough cookie at her age. I didn't talk much and Karly has those moments too. But I'm able to do what I need to do because I know what makes her tick. And I have Patric's help and support which is just as important.
While these childhood revisits that I have frequently help me in parenting my girls, I can't say the same for my relationship with my own parents. I have a lot of anger that has risen as a result of memories that come to me out of nowhere. Memories of things that are, in my mind, insane. I saw "When The Game Stands Tall" with Patric last night and in the movie there is a psycho parent that pushes his son to the extreme as he nears a national high school record his senior year. This dad's lines in the movie were almost identical to the things that our dad used to say to my sister and me during our high school athletic careers. And to hear it in a movie and see it on a screen so much bigger than life triggers an intense flashback. Some of the scenes in the movie resonated with me so much so that I caught myself trying to block out my own personal images of them.
And this is what happens as you get older and your kids get older. You look back on your own childhood, whether you want to or not, it comes back. And your perspective changes. What was once innocent and simple, a little messed up, but normal and so perfect, now becomes flooded with bad memories, negativity, and anger. And what's unfair is that they don't know that. They feel the distance, but they don't know why. And I'm not at a place where I can tell them why. I honestly don't feel it will benefit anyone to go back in time. Digging up the past reveals way too much about a person and can wreck families. But covering up ends up smothering you instead. I am struggling with a lot of things about my childhood and family relationships I but also know that this struggle has probably helped me to work toward and achieve the kind of relationship I have with my own girls. Which is something pretty special. And it's been such a pretty thing covered up for this long, why open the package and risk ruining it? In the meantime, I stay buried in our crazy busy life, consumed by the schedule of school drop offs and pick ups, practices for four kids and homework and everything in between….so nobody can even tell.