Our children pay the price for what we deny in ourselves. My husband and I recently attended a social gathering where we were seated with two other couples we have known for quite some time. They were all what many would consider upper middle class with families and respectable jobs…all highly respected in the community. It was a light-hearted evening at a wonderful restaurant…great conversation and lots of laughs.
After dinner the topic of raising children came up and that quickly led to reminiscing about our own childhoods…and of course the mischief that we all survived. As some of us had grown up in different parts of the country the experiences ranged from taking your first solo train trip into the city to hearing the alligators croak while sleeping under the stars next to a creek!
As it usually is when children get into mischief, consequences are sure to follow. And this is when the tone of the conversation changed.
Bill told of how his father kept a four foot section of garden hose hanging in the kitchen pantry that he used on a weekly basis when he and his siblings “misbehaved”. Sandra shared how she and her sister received the “this is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you” story prior to being thrust across her father’s knee for what she referred to as a “whooping” as a result of “being bad”. And Carl told of how his grandmother would throw shoes at him as he walked through the living room where she sat when they had “disobeyed” her.
As soon as one story was told, everyone broke out in laughter and then someone else would immediately jump in with yet another tale in an effort to “one-up” the previous story.
In an attempt to be sociable, I mustered up a slight grin. As I listened to these otherwise talented, professional, honest and seemingly happy adults, I felt myself cringing on the inside. The fact that I was uncomfortable must have shown because suddenly the spotlight was on me…”Denny, you haven’t let us in on what your childhood was like!” Sandra chuckled and asked, “Was it sooo bad you would just as soon forget?”
From past experiences, dating all the way back to junior high, I have learned that for the most part people find a connection through pain and discomfort and when you do not share their pain you are perceived as an outsider. Because of this, I typically do not share my childhood when I am aware that it will seem foreign to those I am with. But for some reason this evening I did.
“Actually, my childhood was pretty uneventful in terms of ‘getting in trouble’ and being ‘physically punished”, I replied. Of course the laughter erupted as Carl shouted, “Uh oh we have a goody two shoes in our midst!”“No, I didn’t say I was always perfect, what I am saying is I was raised to see life differently…if we made a poor choice we were allowed to experience the natural consequence that accompanied our choice and then my parents would help us figure out why we chose what we did, what we learned from that choice, and what we could do differently. It was a different approach to raising children that’s all.”
No one really responded. I felt myself slipping into my parenting coach skin…I added, “We have come a long way in the field of psychology and parenting and now understand that the way children are treated has an enormous impact on the level of success they will experience in all areas of their life”. With that I realized I had to reel in my instinct to take over the social event and turn it into a coaching session that no one had invited me to conduct!
There was a moment of serious silence that ended with Carl saying, “Well that may be true, BUT we all turned out okay!” …The laughter resumed.
I contained my thoughts as I looked around the table at our dinner companions…there was Carl, a Dad of three and a successful realtor but an alcoholic in denial. Sandra, the backbone of the company she has worked at for almost 20 years, who was on her third divorce and deeply embedded in a co-dependent relationship supporting her grown children. And Bill, owner of a local construction company who had cut all ties with his entire family, parents and siblings, over 10 years ago and continues to struggle with inner child issues.
I felt sad. It was clearer than ever that this is how the cycle continues. How the beliefs and ideas get passed on from one generation to the next that keep our society rooted in negativity.
We all have our own personal truth about what is happening in our lives. I have often written and quoted a phrase I heard on the Oprah show many years ago that says, “When you know better, you do better.”
However, often, as is the case with my dinner companions, denying the reality that needs to be acknowledged protects them from being faced with having to examine and deal with painful issues. Sadly, this is the choice many parents make. Avoiding the obvious issue is much easier than acknowledging it because once you have owned it, you have made it real…and once that happens there is no more denying. You are then forced to do something about it.
But imagine how much more amazing their already wonderful lives would be to be rid of the negative baggage they are struggling to avoid. What if the pain was lifted and the wounds were healed? Everyone has something that needs to be healed. By simply being alive, relating to other human beings, we all encounter situations that can harm us and we certainly all make mistakes.
What if the energy put into denial and avoidance is directed to freeing the pain and suffering?
This is what is at the root of my passion. To help parents see the enormous power they have in their children’s lives and inspire them to make the necessary changes in their own lives so that their children will not fall victim to the same unhealthy perceptions and beliefs.
Isn’t it time to break the cycle? I encourage you to take the time to examine your own life…is there anything in your life that causes you pain or discomfort? Is there anything you wish was different? Do you feel something is missing?
These are clues to what can be passed on to your children and will inevitably become a part of their lives. If not for you, do it for your children.