It is high time I write a letter to the parent I used to be.
Dear Parent I Used to Be,
Recently, during one of your family breakfasts (a Happiness Project action step), you had the privilege to sit around the table surrounded by your most precious possessions — your husband, your children, and your grandchildren — while listening to their conversations. The topic was childhood memories, and there was much laughter going around.
For you, it appears this was a mixed bag of emotions.
Parenting Isn’t Easy
Children remember much more — and differently — than adults do. This fact is due to a combination of the flurry of raising them while keeping them alive — not always an easy task — combined with adulting (cooking, cleaning, paying bills, keeping everything all together, or at the very least, trying to). In the midst of parenting, adults often lose track of their days as they blend into each other.
Children have a different and much clearer perspective. Often, for them, the days were long. They had no or little responsibility and few worries. Their memories are more precise and plentiful.
In hindsight, you entered parenting wholly unprepared (aren’t we all?). You erroneously believed that your years of observation (mostly of family members), babysitting, and — let’s not forget — first-hand experience, provided you with enough “know-how” to rise to the task.
Your views are laughable…now. Had you known how unprepared you were, you may have never embarked on the parenting journey at all. Maybe in this situation having no fear is a good thing. It enables us to jump in with both feet as if saying “sign me up; I’m all in.” Were we to read the fine print of The Parenting Contract, we may experience second thoughts.
“I am NOT signing up for THAT!”
Admittedly, at times, you did have a few misgivings about your ability to parent mainly because you did not want a repeat of your childhood.
However, as you discovered, knowing what we don’t want does not prepare us for what we do want and when push comes to shove, we will become who we said we would not be.
It takes new knowledge and much practice to change old habits and not just desire. While you had plenty of the latter, you possessed none of the former.
My Toolbox is Empty
This fact became utterly apparent within 24 hours of giving birth to your son.
How did one soothe a baby who was fed, diapered, and rocked, and who still cried? Was the cord supposed to look this “wet?” When would it fall? Was the rattling I heard in his nose normal? How do you clip his claws — fingernails — when he doesn’t stop squirming? And, so your list went on.
Your most significant shortcoming became apparent when you were flustered. While you did not want to become your parents, you knew nothing else, and when stressed, you became “them.” Afterward, you would loathe yourself for being whom you swore you would never be.
Gratefully and thankfully, you were able to find a tribe of mothers you could model after and — being a bookworm — you read (a lot).
The problem with this haphazard method of parenting is that you tried — and discarded — many approaches before becoming comfortable with your choices. Your poor firstborn had to be quite adaptable to the whims of his parents — especially his mother. Thank God, he was strong-willed, resilient, and most of all forgiving.
A Note About Our Parents
At this juncture, allow me to make a disclaimer about your parents (yours and your husbands). While there are most certainly evil human beings in the world who show little concern for humankind, your parents were not bad people.
Prisoners of their own culture?
A result of their time?
A product of their upbringing?
A million times, yes.
All these factors left them with a bag of tools not very conducive to raising secure children. Likewise, nor was it a recipe for abuse.
Nevertheless, their goal was the same as yours are now: raising decent human beings who are loving and compassionate and who can function in society.
While there was a time you were angry with your parents, you now see and — wholly — believe that they did the best they could. Their intention was never to cause harm, never.
Moreover, blame is utterly pointless although it may make us feel vindicated. The “what ifs” and the “if onlies” are a waste of time and energy. These thought patterns will never change what has already occurred nor will they change the future. However, they are sure to spoil the present.
While apologies are helpful and necessary to repair broken relationships, in most cases, let me assure you that they are not a prerequisite to extending forgiveness. Mercy is an act of the will made independently of someone else’s actions. Forgiveness does not let the offender off the hook instead it takes you out of the position of judge and jury and buys your own freedom — of mind and heart.
Our Parenting Blueprint
All this to say, parents come to parenting with their own programming — most often not all of it good and in truth, not all bad either. Despite your best intentions, this roadmap is your default system UNLESS you become intentional about learning new tools and applying them.
Practice does make perfect.
While you are not responsible for the blueprint you inherited, you are unequivocally responsible for changing it to fit what you now want to create.
Thus, as I mentioned previously, as a direct result of wanting to change your roadmap, your early parenting foray was a tad all over the place. I know your biggest regret is what your children had to endure as a result.
As you became more confident and adept at using new tools, you also became more consistent, confident, calmer, and dare I say more loving, and probably a lot more fun as well.
Your children do recall your less than stellar parenting fumblings even though you would prefer they didn’t. Yet, amazingly, they do not seem to hold any animosity nor any grudges. At this juncture, I must say I know you have asked — and received — their forgiveness for your mistakes. They even find them funny — as became apparent over brunch — while you often cringe upon hearing them.
For years, your shortcomings are all you saw. You felt like a failure, and you were convinced these darker times were the defining moments your kids would remember forever while they forget the good.
This sort of negativity is hard to carry, and it is paralyzing. Moreover, it is a lie.
You wanted to think you were a kind person — and you are — and you wanted to parent “right.” Dare I even say; you aspired to perfection? You falsely believed perfection was the only way to raise happy kids.
The main problem with this theory is that this is Utopia, not life.
Even parents who are better prepared than you were make mistakes. Humans are mess makers, that’s part of your nature.
If you are incapacitated by failure, you may as well live like hermits as in no marriage, no friends, no kids, no relationships of any kind…ever. Loving — being in relationships — is messy.
The only way to succeed and be perfect is to do nothing.
For you, this was not an option.
To the Parent I used to Be
While your children extended forgiveness to, you had the hardest time forgiving yourself.
Nevertheless, your freedom and your peace were found in forgiveness.
Yes, you blew it at times. Yes, you occasionally channeled the Wicked Witch of the West rather than Mary Poppins. Yes, at times, you did not like yourself much.
The beauty in failure – yes there are blessings in mistakes — what you could not see previously was that perfection teaches hopelessness — to you and to your children.
Who wants perfect parents?
Being perfect would place the bar so high there would be no point in trying anything.
Moreover, there are exquisite lessons in imperfections such as apologies, forgiveness, compassion, empathy and let’s not forget the greatest of all, Love.
I know you are still not tickled pink when your kiddos remember events you would rather they soon forget. However, I am glad you no longer hide either. Yes, you did mess up. True, you don’t like it. You are thankful you left this person in a past life (so am I). Somehow, you needed to be her to ensure I would be me today. I am grateful for your life, the life you had and the life I currently have.
Remember, you failed because you tried AND you did not stay where you were, I am proof of that. Failure is not where I live, and you don’t live there either.
You grew, changed, learned new tools and you can be proud of who I am today. You can also be proud of the children you were given and how they have taught you to be a better person.
I am grateful….for everything.