Growing up, I was the elder of two kids with strict parents. Right from the start, I was told that I was the smart, responsible one and that I was also the ‘peace-maker’ so it was my job to keep everyone happy. Being an empath didn’t help so the co-dependence grew at an astonishing speed and depth. All of them confided in me, including my parents which is a whole other conversation for another time because what I knew at a young age was not appropriate, but that’s another post for another day.
I grew up believing that innately I was a peace-keeper and that my happiness depended on making sure everyone else in the home was happy as well. Then I could relax until the next crisis. I never put my happiness ahead of theirs because that was not my given role. You can see how dysfunctional it was, right?
My brother wasn’t held to the high standards that I was as a child. The burden of perfection was heaped on my shoulders and not his. He was given carte blanche to do as he pleased. Whether that was because he was a boy or younger, I’ll never know. But it caused a huge wedge between us. I saw it as he got away with everything while I was held to a higher standard. He saw it as I was the star of the family and he was nothing. It’s interesting how we saw our childhoods play out in different ways.
While my parents weren’t mean, they weren’t able to see what they said and did made such a difference in our lives. It’s taken years for my brother and me to unravel the tangled dysfunction and to be friendly again. When we walk down memory lane, it’s fascinating how our viewpoints are so different when we talk about situations and events that happened.
My point is that we have to be really careful in what we say to our kids. My kids and I have talked at length about this subject because even though I was a product of this type of dysfunction, and never intended to repeat it, to a certain extent they were labeled too. One was the really athletic and the other the brainy. And while those are traits of the kids, it was never meant to limit their abilities. It was meant as complimentary, but it pegged them in a box that was never meant to be. Am I making sense here? Do you have similar stories with your childhood and siblings?
Because as parents, what you say to your kids when they’re little makes a huge difference in the self-worth, discovery and expansion of your kids’ minds, bodies and abilities. If you tell them that they’re not athletic or brainy, they believe you and overtime that evolves into part of their sense of self. Even if it’s said in a complimentary way.
A child’s psyche is fragile. We have to feed them encouragement and give them chances to grow in limitless ways. That’s NOT to say that we allow them that feeling of entitlement though! That’s a no-no. Instead, teach them to try, to experience, to pick themselves up when they fall, to reach out for help when needed and to help others along the way. To try their best. To find and enjoy hobbies that enrich their lives. To pursue their dreams. To care and to hold dear relationships with family and friends. To connect with people and the world around them. To do good and be kind. To value each and every life. To enjoy their lives. To connect with nature. Etc., etc., etc.
While my kids affirmed that I didn’t do too badly and they aren’t horrifically scarred by their childhood (well, with the exception of the divorce), I hold guilt as a divorced Mom. And yet, I feel grateful that I am the primary parent so that we can talk about these subjects. But it’s hard for them because their dad isn’t really in their lives. And it’s sometimes hard for me when they tell me things about this topic because it makes me feel badly.
I know my parents never intended the hurt that happened. I know that the ex and I never did either. We did the best parenting we could, with what we knew, under the circumstances. I think that’s what we all do when we’re parents. We try to not repeat what was done to us in order to make sure our kids don’t scar in the same way we did.
How about you? What are your thoughts?