Earlier today I heard a colleague discussing impending parenthood with a pregnant workmate. His point was basically that, however much you plan, nothing can ever really prepare you for what’s about to happen. It was all said in a very well-meaning way, and whether that’s what she wanted to hear or not, you can’t argue with his honesty.
Because we can never really be prepared, whatever ante-natal classes we attend or whatever tomes of advice books we read. When we become Mum or Dad, all that we’re actually doing is signing up for loving a little person, who we hope, will become a big person who’s ready for all that will face him/her in future life. We certainly don’t sign up for an easy, trouble-free future with decades of serene, chilled-out family life ahead of us. Mostly, that just means being busy/tired/manic/shattered, but sadly sometimes things can become a lot more troubling.
This post (the first in a mini-series of some key ‘influences’ on how we parent) is going to tackle those really difficult, stop-you-in-your-tracks moments, and most notably the consequences (or emotional fall-out) that can impact us for years to come.
I’ve held off writing this for at least a few months because of parents I know who are going through really testing times at the moment. But I’ve realised that there will probably rarely be a time when some parent I know isn’t facing a massive challenge. That’s probably the same with you. I guess that for the vast majority of us there is a friend or family member who is currently going through a truly traumatic period as a parent. So, hoping that this isn’t too painful to read for anybody with raw emotions from a recent/current parenting trauma, here we go …
I’m not trying to get sympathy by sharing my own sob-story, but I’ve known pain too. I know that trauma has consequences. Even though it’s before my long-term memory kicked in, my family suffered bereavement when my twin sister died of cancer aged just 3 years. As a parent myself, our child #1 had major surgery on his skull aged 19 months (gladly he is now a very happy and healthy boy). Memories of both those episodes still cause tears and sadness today.
But in my recent musings about these periods of pain, I’ve been struck by a series of attitudes, feelings and emotions that can cause more long-term pain and damage if we let them take hold. These are some examples of dangerously misguided ideas that, if allowed to take root, can have a massively negative influence on how we parent, as well as what we think of ourselves, our children and other parents:
1. ‘I’m due a bit of good luck now’
If only. Admittedly this does happen sometimes, as some families can enjoy a good run without much anguish following a significantly difficult episode. After all, life is full of different seasons of varying lengths which encompass all shades of light and dark. But as with most parenting-related things, there are no guarantees.
If we somehow persuade ourselves that we ‘deserve’ some good luck, I think that it can lull us into a dangerous sense of false security. Because what happens the next time? Will we fall into an even deeper pit because ‘this wasn’t meant to happen again’? We can easily feel robbed if we assume that we’ve had our ‘bad time’ and trauma should be a thing of the past.
After my family’s trauma when my sister died, did we receive some kind of pain-free guarantee for the rest of our lives? No. Have we enjoyed genuine happiness as a family? Of course. I’m not trying to be pessimistic, just realistic.
2. Guilt for losing perspective
‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’, as the saying goes. Well yes, sometimes it does. And I guess as a parent going through trauma can give us a determination to be more family-focused, and take a ‘healthier’ outlook to parenting in the future. However, if only that were that were the case all the time in all situations.
Despite repeatedly hearing the advice to ‘pick your battles’, I know that all too often I get dragged into the most menial of debates/arguments with the kids. In the aftermath of such incidents, I can be hit by a real sense of guilt for forgetting what’s important. So what if child #2 didn’t eat that last piece of pasta for lunch? I’ve got a wife, house, job and two inspirational little people in my life.
3. Other parents should ‘get a grip’
Another manifestation of similar feelings to those I’ve just mentioned is a tendency to judge other parents. We’ve all done it, as I’ve admitted before. You see a parent on the High Street telling his/her offspring off for something that appears really petty. Or maybe you just hear another parent incessantly whinging about a worry or situation that you think isn’t even worth a moment’s thought.
Perhaps your response is to either look on them with demeaning pity, or despair at their lack of parenting skills. Even worse, we can translate our own parenting challenges onto their lives and judge them because we think they don’t know how bad things can really be.
Whatever emotions or experiences may lead us to think that way, let’s give them a chance. Can we get a complete understanding of what could be a really challenging family situation at a moment’s glance? No. Let’s try not judge others, especially when we don’t even know half the story.
So, if you have known pain as a parent and ever thought any of these things in the following months/years, give yourself (and others) a break.
Try to leave those painful, destructive attitudes behind you and embrace all that the adventure of parenting has in store, whatever that may be.
There may be some bad times ahead, but I’m sure there will be a lot of good in there too.