How Has Your Parenting Stacked Up to Your Parent’s Effort?
“Just wait until you have your own kids!” — my dad
I heard that sentence often until I left home to strike out on my own.
My dad was full of sayings. “If I can’t teach you, trouble will teach you.” “You’ve made your bed, and now you’ve got to lie in it.”
If my dad ever had a positive thing to say to me, he never uttered it within earshot. He was a pessimistic man, quick to criticize. He was a product of the Great Depression, and it left a mark on his life. If I stumbled on a positive male role model, he was quick to take them down a peg or two, his go-to defense to feel better about himself.
My first father-in-law was a great role model. We became great friends—that really pissed my dad off. Perhaps you were luckier in the father department?
My mom struggled with depression her whole life, a gift she passed on to me. We made many cross-country trips to visit my dad’s folks in New Hampshire. If a wrong word was uttered, my mom would go silent and stare out the window for two days which made for fun vacations.
“Mom, are you back yet?” “Can you hear me now?”
Another writer recently claimed depression is the result of living in a really shitty world — for my mom, I think it was the result of living in a really shitty marriage.
Neither of my parent’s displayed any warmth towards me, although I believe my sisters fared better. I grew up in a pretty cold environment, lots of criticism, lots of silence, interspersed with raging arguments, most often shortly after bedtime — sweet dreams.
I remember going months without saying goodnight to my dad. Why give him a chance for a late-night parting shot?
Sex was a big taboo in our family. I remember my mom angrily ripping off my spotted sheets — nocturnal emissions — pure evil! “Gee, mom, I’m sorry I’m the devil’s spawn.”
I remember “the talk,” where my dad very briefly explained the mechanics of sex. I was maybe in the sixth grade, clueless, helping my dad trim the pyracantha bush in the front yard. He never set down the loppers, never stopped trimming, never looked me in the eye. Just told me the cold hard facts that his dick fit inside my mom precisely three times to produce three kids — now haul that pile to the back yard.
No questions, please.
My mom never uttered a word to me about sex, although I’ve compared stories with my sisters — they did not have an easy introduction to the beginning of their menstrual cycles. I remember my younger sister commenting on my mom’s reaction, “Oh my God, I can’t believe this is starting already.”
A nice calm introduction to a shocking event for a young pubescent girl. It’s not like my mom prepared them for anything. My mom was probably seventy-five when she finally owned up to having sex with my dad before marriage — regardless, I was still pretty convinced that three times would have been more than enough.
I was in junior high when our YMCA troop had a sex education night — a father-son experience. My dad reluctantly drove us to the event at a big high school auditorium. No pregame pep talk for me, just a silent ride like we were going to a funeral. As I think back on the ride home, I have to smile. In the darkened car, my dad said, “Well, I really learned a lot.”
Great dad, good for you.
Although I should have been warned off, I got married early. I blew it up after ten years and two kids. I had no idea what a good relationship was like, just that our relationship was no good for me. I was determined to do the best for my kids and quickly gave up what my ex-wife wanted most, the house, money, security, and alimony. I even paid child support on top of our shared custody arrangement — anything for peace. In exchange, I got a better than 50/50 schedule with my kids. Better because we shared them weekly, but I got the lion’s share of weekends. She always had other plans. As a teacher, I could be home every day after school, so they came to our house, and I spent afternoons with them as well.
When I remarried, we had four kids together, and I vowed to be a better parent to my children. First and foremost, I wanted a warmer relationship, more hugs, more shared experiences, along with my verbal affirmation of love. I avoided the criticism that came so naturally to my dad and went out of my way to praise and build up rather than tear them down.
Yet, everything is more complicated when you share custody, especially in the aftermath of a violent divorce. My ex vowed to disparage me in the eyes of our two kids, and she did her best or perhaps her worst. As the kids grew older, I assured myself that they’d develop their own sense of truth about their parent’s relationship. But as I said, my ex did her best, and one son grew to despise me — I never claimed to be perfect, and at least we agree on that.
I suppose four relationships out of five is not bad, but it still hurts.
I know we did a much better job in sex education than our parents. We were open, honest, and provided supplemental material. Our kids delighted in the “Naked Book,” or at least that’s what they called it, although I can’t find a reference. Another good book is “It’s Perfectly Normal.”.
Our kids would huddle with those books then later approach us with questions — I didn’t even need a pyracantha bush to hide in.
Who gave the sex talk in your family?
By the time we had Michael together, I finally got my parent-act together. Still, I almost screwed up my second marriage. Bouts of depression have dogged me my entire life, leading to many stupid mistakes. But my wife is a saint. She soldiered through the tough times. She is a much better woman than I deserve. She provided the real substance and backbone in our marriage, and she deserves all the credit for the way our kids turned out.
I was just fortunate she put up and often carried my weight.
My wife made everything easier. She taught me how to take disciplinary action BEFORE I lost my cool. I thought kids should clean their plates at dinner time. She disagreed because she did not want to encourage them to overeat. Early on, we discussed the detriment of TV to developing readers and the homework process. We decided to junk the TV, and she was OK with that because it was best for the kids. When our kid’s school had “NO TV WEEK,” our kids cried, “Welcome to our world.”
In what areas did you and your partner disagree? I believed in the occasional spanking, she said no, just give them a time out — what?
Another touchy subject when raising kids is wild parties and underage drinking. It was ‘cut and dry’ to my parents, don’t drink, be home by 11:30 PM, or else!
I drank when I was a kid. I started the summer of my junior year in high school. Why should I expect my kids to be any different — abstinence, yeah, right! It’s not that we encouraged drinking, but we were realistic, and we made one thing clear — we want you home safe. That said, no matter what condition you are in, for whatever reason, at whatever time you call us, we’ll come and bring you safely home, no recrimination, no judgment.
I don’t know how many times I risked my life to sneak home just to keep my parents in the dark. They never suggested a free pass. I often faced such anger on arrival that it was hard to believe their underlying concern was genuine — maybe I just screwed up their night’s rest. As parents, we have to remind ourselves continually, do we want them safely home or dead on the highway? We always opted for alive and well — drunk or stoned, but at least alive to learn from it. The alternative is unthinkable.
Did you learn from your parents? Or did you repeat the same mistakes again?
All you can really do is attempt to do better than our parents did with us. It’s imperative that we at least try. To fail and repeat the same mistakes is a failure on a monumental scale. Whether right or wrong, our parents showed us the way.