This is a question that has haunted me for a very long time – since even before my daughter was born. Does our relationship with our own parents affect the way we parent?
Well I sure hope not, because my childhood did not go as planned. I don’t resent my mother in any way for the way she raised me, and I know it was difficult, and I know she was ill. I also know that she could have done things differently.
There were some things in my childhood that could have been avoided. Things that traumatized me. When I was ten years old and an elderly neighbour kissed me, and my mother said “Oh just ignore it, he’s probably drunk.” or again when I was fourteen and a family member abused me. My mother’s response that time was “If you go to the police I will make sure you see him again; this family can’t take a confession like that.” Wrong? Very. But I understand why she was like that, and I forgive her. I’m not defending her in any way, but I forgive her.
The constant yelling, bare minimum parenting and frequent attacks on my appearance though, those left scars upon my self esteem that will probably never heal. I was never a very confident kid anyway, but being knocked down constantly by a barrage of “You’re doing it wrong,”, “Why don’t you ever wear make up? You look a state, sort yourself out,” and “For god’s sake what is wrong with you?” throughout my teens was enough to make me hate myself.
I went through a lot all because of the way I was brought up; I suffered depression and constant, chronic anxiety. I self harmed, I took drugs. I almost died four times between the ages of thirteen and sixteen, and most of it went completely unchecked by my mother.
Last year I told my therapist everything. From my parents’ divorce right through to present day, and everything in between. It was the first time I had ever been given the opportunity to say “Hey, a lot of shit happened to me and I feel like that might be what’s made me so ill!” and after talking it all through I felt very relieved. I asked my therapist if I would be like my mother; if the way I was raised meant that my daughter was doomed. I didn’t ever want to make her feel the way I sometimes felt as a child. My therapist gave an interesting response.
She said that a childhood as unguided and chaotic as mine could result in one of two things: either I could be exactly like my mother, because that was what I had learned of parenting, or I could be the complete opposite because I understood that my mother’s style of parenting didn’t work. I didn’t know whether this was the answer I wanted or not; the knowledge that I could turn into my mother seemed to outweigh the fact that I could choose not to.
Still here I am. I am obviously not like my mother, because when my daughter confessed abuse at the tender age of four years old, I fought tooth and nail to have the perpetrator put behind bars for a very long time. I put our lives back together, and regularly remind my daughter that she is pretty and smart and confident, and strong and a good friend, and any other positive qualities I can see. I want to build her up, not tear her down.
So maybe my relationship with my mother means I am a better parent? Who knows. I do think it has an impact though, one way or another. What do you think? Let us know!