Advice Column, Parenting

Help, I’m turning into my mother

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My mom turns 70 this month and I’m thinking about what I will do to celebrate Mother’s Day with her.  I cherish the fact that I have her to spend time with and that I live close enough to spend several evenings per week, playing her favorite table game with her.  Without revealing details, my mom experienced some great hardships when I was a child.  She often apologizes for some of the bad things that happened to us and to me, but I often give her a hug and say, “All of that doesn’t matter now.  Thank you for giving me life and choosing to keep me.”

When I think back to some of the “parenting” things she did in raising me, I realize that many of them were not very effective in helping me to grow into the emotionally balanced, spiritual and grounded man that I am today.  It took many years of healing on my own to undo some of the effects of her mothering.  We’ve had a few mother-son discussions about this and the fact that the methods of parenting that I now teach differ greatly from what she did.  She sticks by the methods she used but she respects the work I do.

All of this reminds me of a message that someone once posted on my parenting Facebook page.  The person stated, “I’m turning into my mother and I don’t like what I’m doing!”  She was referring to the phrases that were coming out of her mouth and the methods of parenting she was using that were classic of what her mother use to do.  This woman knew they weren’t very effective and was seeking my help in learning what she could do differently.

This inspired me to list the top five things we should refrain from doing when it comes to raising children in today’s modern world; things that many of our mothers probably DID do with us when we were children.  If you’re already doing any of these things, it’s never too late to change your methods.  Begin by acknowledging what you’re doing, making the effort to pause before reacting, and choosing something different.

Constant Correction.  Although they meant well, many of our moms constantly corrected our words and our actions because they had specific expectations for us.  They believed it was their place to point out our short comings and build us into the best children possible.  While they may have been successful in keeping us on the straight and narrow, it also caused us to doubt ourselves and fall short in the area of self-confidence.  For some of us, our authenticity may have been sacrificed.

Guilt and Shame.  As a means for correction, many of us were shamed for what we did with moral judgments or warnings.  It was intended to make us us feel bad about what we had done.  I remember hearing the words, “Nice boys don’t _____________.”  This made me feel as if there was something wrong with me and that I was not like other boys.  It also taught me not to take risks because I would most likely do something wrong or end up embarrassing my mother.

Cleaning Your Plate.   Economically, times were tough for my parents who were scraping by and pinching every penny.  In spite of that, they made sure that we had full and healthy meals to eat and they did not like wasting food.  Therefore, it became common to hear about other children less fortunate than my siblings and I; children who were starving in far away countries because they had no food.  This guilt had me eating every last morsel on my plate, whether I was hungry or not.

Don’t You Dare Say “No” To Me.  I’m reminded of this limitation every time I receive a request from someone and must decline.  I have to take into consideration my time and effort, and then have to respond as to whether I can accommodate that request or not.  When I do have to decline, it starts as a firm “No” deep down inside.  But subconsciously, providing that “No, I’m sorry I can’t do that now,” becomes difficult to do, thanks to the early years when my mother did not allow me to say no as a child.

Rescuing When Things Don’t Go Well.  I loved the game of baseball.  During my very first Little League practice, I got hit in the head when the pitcher served me the ball.  Then at the few practices that followed, it became clear that I had trouble grasping the art of catching the ball with my glove.  Soon after that, my mom pulled me from the team because she wanted to spare me the heartache of not being able to play the sport well.  It’s possible that if she allowed me to remain, I might have adapted to playing the sport as well as I had always dreamed of playing.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are many great things that our mothers did well.  In fact, I could write volumes on the many wonderful things my mother did that I’ll remember forever.  I especially appreciate the things she did that kept me safe and out of harm’s way so that I could be here today to write this article.   What our mothers did, they did because that’s how it was done back then.  But we know differently today because the world has changed in many ways and so have we.  So when you hear something come out of your mouth that you’re heard your mother say, stop yourself and ask, “What is it that I’d really like to say to my child?”

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