PERSONALLY SPEAKING: Why it’s important to be a good parent
Many built-up emotions have festered inside me for years. The pain of my childhood still throbs deep within my soul. It’s been nearly 30 years since I left home, yet the memories never fade.
Few know about my troubled upbringing. I have only shared it with my closest friends, until now. In a way, I was ashamed … in a BIG way, I guess. The daily abuse by my father — verbal and physical — was not normal. And I wanted to be normal.
When I met my husband’s family, I couldn’t imagine a family could be so kind, forgiving and accepting. This made me feel even more abnormal.
I sacrificed my whole youth trying to satisfy and to be the perfect child. I never knew the feeling of unconditional love. Although I tried to be perfect, it didn’t matter; the abuse continued. While many parents battle with their children to keep bedrooms picked up, to do homework or to be respectful, for me, those expectations were understood. I tried so hard to please. I paid my own expenses and never asked for money. My bedroom was always clean and in order — dusted, bed made, clothes neatly folded and put away. I made every effort to eradicate any potential cause for reprimand or punishment. But it didn’t matter … the abuse continued.
Studies reveal it’s common for the cycle of abuse and parenting styles to continue from generation to generation. I am so thankful I married a man with a different upbringing — a patient, nonconditional style in which kids are given loving guidance and support, allowing them to learn from their mistakes without crushing their spirit. I’m also glad we are able to give our kids confidence in knowing they will be loved, no matter what.
When my parents were alive, they expressed opinions of my kids being spoiled or undisciplined. I see things differently. Recently, the principal said to me, “I love that Sarah (my daughter) is so comfortable in her own skin.” This was a comment he made after she had lip synced in front of the whole school for S.A.D.D. Not afraid she’d make a mistake or look stupid, she poured her heart and soul into her performance.
I, to this day, am scared to make a mistake … scared to look silly … scared I’ll be judged by my “performance.”
Last fall, as my mom lived her final days, I felt torn. I didn’t necessary blame her for my dysfunctional childhood; I knew dad was the wrongdoer. However, everyone wanted her to leave this world a martyr, believing her children had lived a storybook childhood. In reality, I felt angry that she failed to remember the magnitude of what it was like. I could no longer pretend my childhood was anything but horrible. No child should have had to live with daily abuse. But how could I be mad at a dying woman, knowing every visit might be my last?
After my mom died, I met several times with my pastor, who also has a counseling degree. Much of our conversations revolved around intrinsic behavior stemming from childhood experiences. We talked a lot about differences in upbringings and the dynamics of my own childhood. He said it’s likely my parents were immature. They began their family much too young and had no idea about how to parent. Their own difficult upbringings played a part, as well.
Although I spent many years resenting them both: Dad, for being physically and verbally abusive and Mom, for allowing it to happen, it is what it is. Yeah, I hate that expression, too, but it’s the best I can do. I will probably always feel cheated out of a carefree childhood … not so much “carefree,” but secure. It hurts, but I will continue to strive each day to be optimistic, caring and nonjudgmental.
Undoubtedly, my upbringing has molded who I am today. Though I so wish I’d had been lucky enough to have an untroubled childhood, I will use that experience as a reminder of how important it is to be a good parent. Kids who are raised with self-assurance and unconditional love often become high achievers. They are fueled by earlier encouragement with reflections of many happy childhood memories. I will always wish I had that!
Correspondent Robin Miller is an Edmore resident.