Parent Better Than Your Own Parents Did
By Lloyd J. Thomas
Your parents undoubtedly failed you as parents. All parents fail. No parent is ever adequate enough to provide one child — let alone two or more — with enough love, caring, support, wisdom or whatever to completely meet his or her needs. Therefore, parents naturally fall short when it comes to parenting. It is impossible to be a perfect parent.
We teach our children almost all the skills they need to become doctors, engineers, plumbers, architects, truck drivers or any one of the millions of jobs in the world. We usually don’t teach parenting.
This means when we have children, we are left with only the trunk full of parenting skills we filled when we were children, stored away in our psychological attic until we became parents. Then we haul it out, dust it off, open it up and behave exactly the way our parents behaved toward us. “When I was a kid, I swore I’d never treat my children the way I was treated,” says a young mother, who then proceeds to behave precisely the way her mother did.
Or, in our rebellion, we determine to do just the opposite of what our parents did. The result: children who become just like our parents.
The two tasks of parenting
Since all the parenting we received is inadequate, as grownups we have at least two vital tasks. First, we need to supplement the good parenting our parents have given us. We need to find other sources of positive mothering, fathering, sistering, brothering, to add to our parenting and sibling skills. We need more “familying.”
Second, we need to forgive our parents. We must learn to do this in order to get more “familying.” We need to forgive our parents for their unavoidable inadequacies. We need to “let go” of any resentments or anger against our own parents, which we may have kept inside for years. We need to forgive not for their sake, but for our own.
Our parents’ self-forgiveness is up to them, not us. We cannot afford to wait for it. Waiting keeps us psychological children, still looking to them for parental approval ... perhaps all our needed parenting. We continue to cling to the hope (and behave accordingly) that if we can be pleasing enough or make them feel guilty enough or be “good” enough, then they will love us more and fill those gaps in us they never filled when we were kids. They didn’t then; we could wait forever for them to do it now. We as parents cannot afford to wait that long. We must let go of that hope by forgiving them.
To forgive our parents for our own sakes frees us to let go of the resentments, guilt, fears, feelings of inadequacy, or angry rebelliousness, resulting from our parent’s natural failures. Forgiving our parent(s) frees us to supplement our current “familying,” and learn new ways of behaving and parenting. It allows us to become the parents we want to be today. It permits us to develop the parenting we never had; to learn the parenting skills we were never taught; to become more fully grown up ourselves.
Let your kids be themselves
Once we are free to be our grown-up selves, we automatically set the example of our children to be themselves. Children always imitate their parents — everything about them. They imitate their weaknesses, strengths, good points and bad. If we are free to be ourselves by letting go of the past and finding new sources of “familying,” we will be giving to our children the greatest gift a parent can offer: the gift of self-acceptance.
Parenting is life’s toughest job. But we can lean to do it better, no matter how imperfectly, by freeing ourselves from our own childhood. Today, we can find relationships that fill in our psychological gaps and make us more completely ourselves; unique human beings, who happen to love, care for and support those other small human beings we call our children.
© Lloyd J. Thomas
Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D., has more than 30 years of experience as a life coach and licensed psychologist. He is available for coaching in any area presented in “Practical Psychology.” As your coach, his only agenda is to assist you in creating the lifestyle you genuinely desire. The initial coaching session is free. Contact him: (970) 568-0173 or e-mail [email protected].