I was raised during an era when parents used the terms “because I said so” and “do as I say, not as I do.” After I had kids of my own, I chose to break that cycle of explanation avoidance and humanize myself as a parent.
While I think most of us parents can agree that we try our best to be the best parents we can be, there is no instruction booklet when it comes to raising a child. Well, maybe several self-help parenting books are on the market with different parenting approaches but we are all different when it comes to ideals, morals, rules and consequences when those rules are broken, etc. A discovery of the golden book for parenting may be achieved, but in the meantime, we just do the best we can.
When I became a mom-to-be, I had questions for my parents as this parenting-thing was new to me. My folks did their best to not cram advice down my throat, but when they could no longer help themselves, I reminded my inexperienced-self they had good intentions.
There is one conversation that remains vivid in my mind. It went something like this:
Self: “When the kids are old enough, I plan to tell them of some bad decisions I made. Maybe it can help them understand that mistakes are a part of life and come to me with their troubles instead of their friends.”
Parents: “Bad idea. They will throw it back in your face.”
Self: “Well, at least they will know I am only human and not feel they have to live up to a perfect standard.”
Parents: “You’ll be sorry.”
Self: “I hope you’re wrong.”
The passing years would reveal if I was wrong or wise as I sat amongst the parenting books stacked to the ceiling, safety outlet plugs inserted throughout the house (even though them crawling was light years away) and rubber barriers and pillows covering sharp corners, which potentially eliminated unpleasant emergency room visits. Life was glorious and I never put unnecessary worries on myself about being the best mom; I just did my best through advice, perceived knowledge and gut instincts. Man I hoped I had this parenting-thing right.
Throughout my teenage years, I wasn’t one to break laws and cause a raucous but I was a bit rebellious, trying to live up to a princess standard and be someone I was not. Drinking, promiscuity and thinking everyone was my friend was evident but I learned the hard way to stop being a doormat. It took me many years to stand up for myself and I do not mean in a passive-aggressive way. I am referring to saying no when I knew I needed to because walking away was more common in my playbook.
I wanted to talk with my parents and share disastrous decisions I made – some that left me in quite a pickle. Instead, I secretly owned it and suffered in silence. I was as terrified as a jack-rabbit hearing a wolf’s howl to be able to share my knucklehead moves with my parents. I would surely hear “You did what? How could you be so stupid?”
We ALL know when we screw up. We do not need to be reminded of the obvious. A little conversation would have been nice. A little bit of support would have been heavenly, but it never came and I knew it probably never would. They loved me and had good intentions but they put themselves on such a non-relatable level that I wasn’t able to “humanize” them until years later. I would respectably keep my mouth shut in order to avoid further distress for us all.
The time had come. My kids were old enough to make some of their own decisions. Good and bad choices began to roll in. Wouldn’t it be a novel idea to connect with them on a different level; a human level? That is exactly what I did.
Whether it be a party where there was underage drinking, friends pressuring you to do something that made you feel uncomfortable or telling tall tales about where you really were at midnight, I had done them all. In order to prepare them for the real world, I relented and shared my nightmare outcomes of each poor decision. They were surprised and humored at the same time as in their innocent eyes; I appeared to be such a naïve and clueless mom.
But what surprised me the most were the questions that followed their intrigue. It was the beginning of many more deep conversations to come. These conversations were opportunities to prepare them for the real world.
Fast forward to the present – it was just the other day my daughter called me and shared a conversation she had with her friend. They shared a discussion about intimacy and questions arose about intimate specifics, which to some may seem outrageous. She told her friend she would run it by me and her friend was at a loss for words. “Your mom?” Without giving it a second thought, my daughter replied, “Yeah, I could tell her anything and she would understand.”
Apparently, there was a long silence between the friends. I had my answer. I actually had my answer years prior through the turmoil of them making mistakes through adolescence, teenage years and young adult-life to realize they came to me when they screwed up. There was no blame pointed elsewhere. Just, “hey mom,” I made a mistake. After all, isn’t that when we are supposed to be there for our kids, when they have fallen and need our support? The world has enough critics and we don’t need to be told after we have made bad decisions…we already know. It’s like rubbing salt into a wound.
My end goal was for them to feel safe to come to me in times of trouble. More than likely, I have made the same mistake. I don’t live in a glass house nor should they. It is called life and through failures brings growth.
We all have our secrets stuffed away in a closet and I am not revealing all of my cards, but when it comes to preparing my kids for the real world, I’ll go to the ends of the earth to share some secrets if it helps bring them positive growth.
I have no regrets.