Many parents go at the business of parenting on a kind of automatic pilot. That is to say that unexamined and not deliberately considered, most of us are prone to parent the way we were, ourselves, parented. This is somewhat surprising as while many people find fault with the way they were parented, their best intentions notwithstanding, they wind up behaving in the very same ways toward their own children. I suppose this is because we, as human beings tend generalize from experience (in a way that educators call ‘learning’ and the psychologically minded call ‘neurotic,’) and must do so as if we have to start from scratch with every new experience, we don’t get far in life.
When this dilemma is applied to the requirements and choices involved in parenting our own children, this situation becomes particularly of the essence. How many parents do you know (or know of) who have sworn they will never do or say to their own child what their own parent did or said to them? How many of these very same people wind up doing exactly that? More than a few.
Change is an easy thing to talk about but an exceeding difficult thing to accomplish. We may really want to do different, but simply not know how. Even if we are actively working on learning new and different parenting skills and strategies, at times of acute stress, even the best motivated parent may find themselves slipping back into what they know best – their own experience. The parent that was punished corporally as a child makes a vow to never hit their own child – yet, on a very bad and stressful day, finds themselves doing exactly that. Change is a little bit like prevention – it is frequently the first word out of a person’s mouth, but the last reality to be acted upon. This is because we are human.
The primary thing to remember is that we are not victims of our own pasts and experiences. While history may help to explain our behaviors, it does not, in most cases, excuse it. We are responsible for who and how we are – no matter where we come from and how we were raised. For some, effecting meaningful change will come with greater difficulty that it will for others – but difficulty does not equal impossibility. It involves work.
There was a popular song back in the 60’s that included the line(s): “Wishin’ and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin’, plannin’ and schemin’ his kisses will start – they won’t get you into his heart.” The self-same principal applies to parenting. Wishing, hoping, thinking and praying won’t hurt – but they won’t, in and of themselves, create change. The only thing that will is a combination of the clarity of motivation and need to do so, followed up by the work it takes to behave in a way that does not come naturally – because it isn’t how you were raised or what you are used it.
Parenting classes can be helpful – not because you are a ‘bad’ parent, but because you want to be a different kind and need some new information and some new tools to be able to accomplish the goal of being the kind of parent you really want to be. The bottom line is: If you want something to be different – You will need to do something differently. Think about it. If you want to change, get the help and information you need to do so, and then plan on doing things that you may initially experience as unnatural acts. We all change, but we have to really want to and work at it.