Recently when I have been talking to acquaitances and friends of my age (which basically means people who are heading or already are in their other half of their lives) the childhood came as one of the hot topics. Maybe partly because we have offspring we try to bring up well and if possible to avoid the mistakes and pitfalls our parents made and had fallen to.I heard often the following: I missed that my parent was not affectionate enough, my parent was never interested in my feelings, I was constantly pushed to do something they thought was important, I was not trusted enough, they never talked with me about delicate things in my puberty, I was criticized a lot, I missed the “real connection”, I was too slim/or too fat, I did not work hard enough, we coexisted but never actually lived together, I wish they introduced me into sports or music, my father/mother never came to see me perform at school concerts, I was constantly compared with my sister/brother/school mate…Regrets.
We often tend to think that love towards one own child is the easiest, straightforward, not hesitant, not withdrawing, not punishing, simply unconditional. And it should be but hardly ever is throughout our whole lives. Our generation has a big advantage – we inform ourselves, we read a lot about relationships issues and we try. We really do an effort. Each of us. However, we must count that as with everything else we fail. Sometimes, often, rarely but we fail. Most of the time if we are honest with ourselves we know exactly when we failed and often also intuitively we know why. Either it is our perfectionism, our urge to control or on the other hand the weakness for not setting the boundaries, laziness, egoism, name few more…As a result of the contradiction – we know what we should do and how and the inability to break certain well-rooted patterns, our character, our vision of reality etc. we feel sometimes hopeless and disappointed with ourselves.
I was thinking what would be the best way to get through all the periods of our childrens’ development and not to make the mistakes we wish our parents did not make if they knew. Now imagine yourself in whatever life situation – private, professional, social and remember the wrongdoing. The way you felt about the wrongdoing is not as much connected with what happened as with what happened afterwards. Were you listened to when you complained and expressed your feelings or were your feelings dismantled as ridiculous? Were you given compassionate regard or you remember scornful eyes piercing you through? Were you addressed with soft words or harsh words? Were you listened to or ignored? Were you ever acknowledged as a person who can express what they feel and think even if it was totally opposite to the values of your partner in conversation? Would the other party still love you and respect you or would they be more likely trying to change you?
Why do I ask these questions? Because behind the regret of not having had the opportunity to play an instrument is most probably not the frustration of not playing it (you do well in other areas of your life and you can still learn to play piano in your 40ies) but the frustration that your caregiver did not listen to you. Or your caregiver did not estimate that you were good enough to play or sing. Your parents never proposed to you the lessons because they would need to drive you somewhere or buy the instrument instead of something else they estimated more necessary for you. Also because behind “I was not trusted enough” is the frustration of not being trusted in some aspect you cared about and cherished a lot and you did not want to prove (why should a child prove something in order to be loved?) Behind “I missed the connection” is most likely the regret of not having quality time with the parent that involves talking and listening about what the child is actually experiencing in their lives. (Not how are they doing in school!) Behind “they were not affectionate” is not that they did not care but maybe did not hug and kissed and touched us as often as we would like to or never at all?
My remedy for all “miss” and “dont’s” and “mal” would therefore be the emotional involvement (which comes hand in hand with careful listening) and honesty about our own weaknesses. When we fail, we acknowledge it, because it is ok to fail for humans. Once we are fine with admitting that we have weaknesses we will be able to apologize. Saying sorry not because it is socially desirable thing to do but because we know that the “sufferer” will feel better afterwards. Yes, our children need to hear sorry from us. Apologizing is an act of extreme vulnerability and helps to create the connection and strong bonds.
Last but not least what we need to do in our relationship work is to refocus our attention onto what was really good in our own childhood and teenage years. What made us feel loved, respected, special. Like I remember the day when my mum saw me studying hard- I was about 16-17 – and she came to me with this question: “Shall I prepare you a cup of coffee?” I had never had coffee before and felt so privileged that she was to share this pleasurable moment with me. Having a cup of coffee. Or when I crashed the car (not too badly) and I felt so stupid and was afraid what my father would say and he went: “it does not matter, you are ok that matters the most”. We need to remind ourselves of these moments and we could share them with our own children for them to know that whatever issues we once had with our parents we had our good times too. This also gives us the hope that once we will be also and hopefully most of all remembered for the coffee time we shared with our daughter and a beer we had with our son.