Excerpted from GETTING REAL… about growing up!
We all have parents. Without them we would not be here! We are born helpless into this world. We depend on parents or carers to provide for our basic needs. To feed, bathe, change our nappies, hold, comfort and shelter us. Later on we need someone to wipe our noses, send us to school, make our packed lunches and teach us how to cross the road.
Parents usually do the cooking, cleaning, shopping and washing. They also nurture, care for and love us. There is plenty for parents to do even before thinking about what our emotional, mental and spiritual needs may be.
Parents show and teach us ways to live. It is their responsibility to provide children with experiences that are educational and fun. They can offer authority and wisdom. This makes us feel safe. It’s helpful to bring other supportive adults and children into the life of the family to expand our sense of the world and our place in it.
Not everybody is cared for by biological parents—grandparents, adoptive or foster parents, brothers or sisters may be major caregivers. Change the word parents into carers if that is appropriate for you. Parents provide us with an environment in which to grow, for better or worse.
My understanding of the way in which a child grows is that you create the garden, you don’t grow the flower. You can merely fertilise the earth and keep it soft and moist and then the flower grows the best it can. Ram Dass
Good parenting is one of the greatest contributions people can make to the world. It provides a good quality of life for children. If parents offer stability, we have a solid foundation on which to base our lives.
The ideal family situation is one in which children are fully nurtured and lovingly cared for. Mature parents provide positive role models and know how to take care of themselves. They do their best to communicate openly and honestly with their children. They are generally balanced and contented people who know how to deal with the challenges of life in a mature way.
With loving parents, children experience and learn:
- a gentle authority
- moral values
- mutual respect and compassion
- feeling loved and understood
- positive attitudes towards themselves and life
- how to be contributing members of a working unit
- that they have something to offer their community and the world
With such parents, children are likely to grow into mature adults who know how to communicate, love and live peaceful and fulfilling lives. If your parents are loving people, be grateful. They gave you life and helped you to grow into the person you are.
Some people do not understand what their parental role and responsibilities are. They may not have been well parented themselves and so did not have appropriate role models to learn from. Some are neglectful and others may be cold, cruel, hard, unavailable, disrespectful, abusive, violent, uncaring, distant, aggressive, hurtful, arrogant, hateful, unloving, demanding, unreasonable and unhelpful. Some parents may not have the means or ability right now to show that they love you in loving and nurturing ways. More often than not, they do love you. But, sometimes parents do not love their children!
Adolescence is a time of breaking boundaries and rules, of finding out what is possible, finding yourself. It is the end of childhood, the end of your most impressionable time. It is perhaps the most difficult time for parents. I know it was for mine. We gave them hell. I remember the constant push for my freedom but, unlike my friends, we were given almost complete freedom. ‘Oh I wish I had your parents. They let you do anything. They’re soooo cool.’ But the funny thing was that I relished the very rare moments when mum would put her foot down. I wanted guidelines, rules and regulations, if not for anything else, but to disagree and break them. Mia (18)
Your Mother’s Gift
One of the greatest gifts your mother can give is the example of how to mother and nurture yourself. If she succeeds in teaching you this as you grow older, she no longer nurtures you as mother. She can then become your friend and guide during adolescence and beyond. This is only possible if you have been taught how to look after yourself. A mother can only pass these skills on to you if she is able to mother and nurture herself.
If your mother did not love and nurture you as a child, you may yearn for the mother love she didn’t give you as you grew up. This may stop you flying free. Your challenge now is to re-establish trust in your own innate wisdom. What was not learned instinctively from your mother, you can learn for yourself.
If your mother:
- recognised your timing and rhythms, above her own at times
- let you safely express your emotions and your interests
- supported your ability to trust yourself and your own instincts
- fed you when you were hungry, not when she thought you should be fed
- listened to what you had to say and helped you make your own choices
- respected you as an individual
- allowed you to play freely and be spontaneous
then she gave you a sense of wellbeing and confidence in yourself. This can provide you with a solid foundation for the rest of your life.
If your mother did not do these things then she may be taking responsibility for you well past her use-by-date. This can stifle you if you are seeking freedom and independence. Smothering love when you are ready to become independent is damaging to you. Even if your mother’s intentions are good, don’t let her smother you or keep you in a child’s role. This can be crippling and stop you from becoming responsible for yourself. Being responsible may mean you do your own washing, prepare meals for the family and help with household chores—even when you don’t feel like it.
In a notebook
Write down all the good qualities you like about your parents.
When you have done this, check out: What would you like to keep as part of yourself? Is there anything to change? Write down these changes and focus on how it can be.
What do you choose for yourself? Write a poem, a story or just a sentence or draw a picture about the person you intend to be as an adult.
The different aspects of your life’s experience, if tackled while you are moving through adolescence, can be like fast-forwarding tapes. You can erase what no longer helps you and re-record yourself and your story. Play some great music, dance along with the tune and enjoy the ride.
The importance of fathers
In the womb you have a physical/emotional/spiritual connection with your mother. Your father is outside of you. A different kind of bonding and relationship is developed.
A good father:
- offers protection, guidance and support
- listens, is open, is willing to share and gives you his attention
- assures you that your changing body and emotions are okay
- teaches you how to relate to others and the world
- encourages you to compete and perform
- gives you genuine praise for your achievements
- shows you how to be in your heart with yourself and others
- teaches you about and assists you around issues to do with money
- lets you know that your sexuality is natural and healthy
Your relationship with your father determines whether you can be yourself and express your heart or whether you strive to achieve, perform, charm, seduce, compete, please, demand, negate or destroy, to feel recognised.
Gabrielle Roth in Maps to Ecstasy, suggests that your relationship with your father determines your relationship to the rest of the world. Whatever you do to get daddy’s attention and approval you may do in your relationships with others. If you are curious to see how true this is, look closely at your relationship with your father and see if that affects how you relate to others. You may be amazed at how powerful his influence has been.
It’s never too late to change your relationship to your father. Adolescence gives you an opportunity to do that.
The gift of life
Whatever your present circumstances, the one thing you have in common with everyone else is that your parents gave you the gift of your life. The question is, What can you make of it?
Without adequate parenting you may feel isolated and be left wounded. You may relate to the world by manipulating, fighting, pleasing, competing, complaining or feeling like a victim. You may have difficulty embracing the whole of yourself. The pain of childhood wounds, if unattended, leaves you unable to live life fully. If you are wounded, it is essential to take responsibility for your healing as soon as you can.
If you are willing to consider that you chose your parents on some level, you may no longer feel like a victim of circumstances that seem beyond your control. If your parents are cruel, hurtful and uncaring people, it is possible for you to move beyond external influences and find another way to live for yourself.
If you behave like a victim it is very unlikely that you can reach your own potential. You can take responsibility, learn your lessons and be on your way to a successful life. It may be challenging and also take time, but it is worth it.
You learn about life from your parents. They influence not only the way you feel about yourself, but also your beliefs about yourself and the world and how you live in it. Many of their belief systems may no longer work for you. However, you may keep them going because you remain unconscious of them. For many of you it seems easier to go along with or not question your background. This maintains life as it has been because it is familiar and comfortable.
You can explore these beliefs and behaviours and change them around for yourself by taking the time to become aware of the things you do and say. You can then choose whether to continue living out inherited behaviours and beliefs or not.
Something you can do
Doing this process with the whole family can make real change possible. You can also do this exercise alone or with a friend.
Turn to a double page in a notebook.
- Think about the behaviours of your parents. You can also think about your grandparents or others who brought you up, if they are a big influence in your life. Imagine that you can see them in front of you now. See them in different situations. Take a few minutes to do this.
- Write down on the left page of your book all the behaviour that you think is not helpful to inherit. If they eat or drink too much, smoke, worry and talk too much or are very angry. If they nag, complain all the time or are violent. Write it all down.
- Go about being a detective and keep observing them until you’ve got a long list.
- Ask yourself: Is this how I choose to behave? Yes or No!
- Write your answer against each point that you have made.
- Next, write down your preferred behaviour or attitude on the right-hand page of your book. Can you improve your own behaviour when you see more clearly what you are inheriting?
- You can do the same exercise with verbal messages. Do this now! It is easier at your age rather than later on.
Your parents may have qualities that you are pleased to inherit. These are worth acknowledging and developing in yourself. They may be generous and giving people. They may laugh a lot and have fun. It could be any number of things.
Everyone is learning
People don’t have to be qualified to become parents. There is a lot of learning by trial and error going on. Parents are human —they make mistakes!
Whatever the relationship you have with your parents, the time comes for a gradual separation. Adolescence is a pulling-away time. You have been little and your parents big. Now it’s changing. Over the next few years you are becoming bigger and making your own decisions, going your own way.
There is adjusting to do on both sides as the role and responsibility of your parents changes. As you become more of an individual this process accelerates, you then negotiate new ground rules. This usually ends in your complete independence from parents in your late teens or early twenties.
Sometimes parents don’t feel ready to give you this independence. Letting you go brings major change into their lives. This can create difficulties for them. Some people think that it’s the teenager who is the problem when teenage/parent relationships break down during adolescence. This is not always the case. It may become impossible for you to communicate with your parents and/or they with you. Many of you sail through this time and develop even stronger bonds. For others, the push for independence becomes a battle you must win.
It helps to be constructive when there is change in your life. Do your best to understand your parents. Be as honest with them as you can and give them the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. No one is perfect. They are not, neither are you. Can you accept that?
This article is extracted from GETTING REAL… about growing up! a resource book for young people, parents, teachers and youth workers.
Published in byronchild/Kindred, Issue 8