If we want our children to experience their full potential as unique people, I believe that they need to feel connected to us, their parents, so that they can develop a deep connection to themselves.
When I was a young mother I sometimes wanted to disconnect from them, especially when my child would “push my buttons”. I began to realize that if I was to be the mother that I wanted to be, I had to deal with “my buttons”. They were mine, after all.
I began therapy and realized my issues were rooted in my childhood. My mother was the dominant figure in my childhood and domineering she was. She demanded obedience at any cost. Her message was that she was in control of me and that I, her child, must meet her needs, including her need to never be embarrassed in public. I learned that my needs were not important and that I was too demanding. When she was very reactive, she showed no self-control. I felt so afraid of her when she was angry. When things were not going her way she blamed me and was determined to make me suffer.
By the time I was five years old I had learned to be a “good” girl — to repress my needs in order to meet the needs of others, to always please others, to be very careful not to make mistakes, never to ask for help, never to question authority, and never, never to say “no”.
At first, I felt angry, but now I don’t blame my parents in any way. Now I know, in my heart, that they did the best they could. And I will always be grateful to my children. Because of them I began my journey of recovery from my childhood.
I also began to study. When my children were in bed, and later in school, I immersed myself in books like Alice Miller’s “For Your Own Good, the Hidden Cruelty in Child-rearing and the Roots of Violence”, and Dr. Susan Forward’s ”Toxic Parents, Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life”.
I began to understand what I needed to change. It became clear why, as a young mother, I was feeling so much pain and confusion and was doing what I didn’t want to do, like seeking the approval of people I didn’t even know — onlookers in parking lots or neighbours, or whoever might show disapproval. If my child had a temper tantrum in public, I felt shame. It was as if people were shouting at me, “Can’t you control your kid?” I was determined not to repeat my mother’s behaviour, but it was becoming like a painful tug of war inside me.
I wanted my children to grow up in a world where they could feel unconditional love, where they would always feel safe, no matter what. I wanted my beautiful, innocent children to flourish. I wanted them to know that they were OK at every age — 1 yr., 2 yr., 4 yr., 14 yr. I didn’t want to be reactive when “my buttons” were pushed. I wanted them to learn — from my role-modelling — the skills of self-control, self-composure, and empathy. I wanted them to experience the value of treating all with dignity and respect, no matter what. I wanted my children to feel free to be themselves, not who I wanted them to be. I wanted a heart to heart connection with them.
But first I had to clear out my baggage because my issues — not taking care of my own needs, my drive to please, and the pressure to control my children — were stopping me from being the mother that I wanted to be.