Parents, Leave Your Emotional Baggage at the Door
Recently I ran across a parenting blog in which the writer was reviewing an educational product. She immediately lost credibility with me when in her first paragraph, she wrote that the product made her feel like vomiting, and then used some form of sexual innuendo to refer to the innocuous item. I was curious: What kind of a person could have such an over-the-top, bizarre reaction to something so banal?
Reading her bio and other personal blog entries, I learned that she is haunted by a very sad childhood, filled with sexual abuse and parental abandonment. The non-physical disciplinary technique she was critiquing appears to have triggered her childhood feelings of terror, abuse and abandonment. I wondered, as I read her words, if the pain from her childhood was spilling over into her parenting.
It is important for us as parents to be aware of the emotional baggage that we bring from childhood into our children’s lives. Divorce, abuse, bullying, abandonment, neglect and the many other bad experiences one can have in childhood, often spill over into adulthood, and can have a drastic effect on how adults shape their children. It is hard enough to navigate through childhood without having to shoulder the hurt, anger and frustration of one’s parents.
Parents do not want childhood events affecting their adult decision making. It is natural that feelings are going to “come up” when we interact with our children. Parenting is much harder than anyone says and far more emotionally charged. It should be the intent of parents to calmly and rationally assess situations and respond fittingly. It can be irresponsible and counterproductive to make parenting decisions impulsively, stemming from feeling.
As Steven Covey says in The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People:
BETWEEN STIMULUS AND RESPONSE IS OUR FREEDOM TO CHOOSE. We have self-awareness, imagination, conscience and independent will. Responsibility is the ability to choose your response. Highly proactive people recognize that responsibility. They do not blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior. Their behavior is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based on feeling.
Bearing that in mind, the responsible parent lets the feeling come up: frustration, anger, stress, disappointment etc., pauses to choose a response, and then responds based on what is appropriate, not based on what she/he feels. Kids are precious, innocent, and impressionable; they deserve a suitable adult response to their normal child behavior.
The mom blogger above lost her authority as an expert on parenting techniques because her unresolved childhood issues forced her to respond irrationally. The venom that she spewed would have been perfectly appropriate if directed toward, say, a child murderer, but when directed towards a simple product, her reaction was weirdly out of proportion. One can only hope that when faced with parenting issues that trigger her in the same manner, she doesn’t respond with the same rage.
Parents who have unresolved issues leftover from childhood owe it to themselves and their children to take action. Working through painful emotions with a trained professional can free them up to make rational choices. Their defensiveness can be replaced by thoughtful and mature responses and decisions. A well thought out, appropriate response, is far healthier for parent and child.
All people experience hurt and disappointment during childhood. If those childhood experiences are going to have a negative effect on one’s offspring, then it is prudent to deal with the pain. Identifying that a painful past is affecting one’s decision making and then seeking help to resolve those issues, assures parents that they don’t pass on the hurt they are experiencing, to their own children. Kids deserve a positive upbringing and the guidance of a rational, loving adult unencumbered with ghosts from the past.