One thing I know more than anything else is how hard it is to be a parent. We are thrown into the job with no training and it’s a total crap-shoot as to how successful we will be. Now that I am a parent, there are things that I wish my parents had taught me.
I know that back in 1965 when they had me, my parents had nothing but good intentions. I also know that they were young and inexperienced and didn’t necessarily have the best role models in their own parents.
All that being said, there are definitely some things I wish that they had passed on, things that I would not have had to figure out on my own.
#1 – Marriage is complicated.
So here is the thing. I knew from observation that my parents’ marriage was challenged. I knew that my mom put my dad firmly behind the kids and the dogs on her priority list, that she snapped at him easily and that he retreated into his office soon after we had dinner.
What I didn’t know was WHY all of this happened. I went into my own marriage with the knowledge of how my parents treated each other but I had no idea how, in the context of marriage, to prevent it from happening.
Before I knew it my husband was firmly behind the kids and the dogs on my priority list, I treated him terribly and he retreated into his office nightly. And, like my parents, we ended up divorced.
I wish my parents had sat me down before I got married and really talked about their experiences in their marriage. What they would have done differently, what they have learned in the ensuing years. I have already talked to my 20 years olds about what happened in my failed marriage, not placing blame but talking about circumstances and being human.
#2- Fidelity is important.
Fidelity was not a theme that played out in my parents’ marriage. It was the 70s and women had just entered the work force and at-work relationships were becoming more and more the norm. And it wasn’t just my dad who strayed….my mom fell back in love with a man she knew before she was married.
So the model for me when I was in my teens, in those super important years where we learn, from the example our parents set, about how love and relationships work, was two parents who weren’t committed to each other. And two parents who were lying to each other and to us about this very important thing.
I have to admit that, perhaps because of this example, fidelity has not been something that I have always practiced in relationships. I know that it has played a great part in why I have had so many failed ones. I just haven’t been able to commit to anyone in a way that makes for fulfilling, long lasting love. I am learning but it would have been a huge gift to know how to do so a long time ago.
#3 – Mental illness can run in the family.
I spent a substantial part of my life depressed. I lived with a constant sense of hopeless and despair. I hated every part of my life and didn’t understand why anyone would want to live. I didn’t know that I was different from everyone else…I thought that everyone hated living as much as I did.
My mother used to come up to my room and yell at me because I didn’t ever want to leave it. She accused me of being rude and lazy and selfish. She would berate me for being shy at social functions and for sleeping so much. It was not fun to be me.
When I was 42 I was diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder. When I called my mother to tell her she said Oh, your grandfather and your great grandfather both had Bipolar disorder. Seriously?
What a gift it would have been all those 42 years if I had had a name for how I was suffering. Perhaps I could have been treated and my life might not have been the hell that it was for so many years. But mental illness was not something that was talked about back then. I so wish it had been.
#4 – Don’t have sex with someone just because they want to.
I don’t ever remember having the love/sex conversation with my mom. I am guessing we had it but perhaps not. What I do know is that she never told me that I needed to enter into the world of boys and sex with caution.
When boys discovered me I was young, naïve and starved for love. My dad had recently moved far away with his new wife. I was lost and confused and lonely. And then boys appeared.
There is nothing like a teenage boy to make a teenage girl’s head spin. One was so charming and attentive and full of compliments. I took his attention in like a starving refugee. And when he wanted something from me in return for his attention I was happy to oblige. He really, really liked me, after all, so why not let him do what he wanted.
My relationship with this boy was over soon after and I was left adrift, lonelier than before. A teacher took me under her wing and explained to me that what I had was precious and that I had to treat it that way. That I had to have respect for myself and not let anyone take anything away from me unless I wanted to give it. I was confused at first but her I soon understood and going forward I was careful to not let any boy get the best of me.
#5 – It’s all about forgiveness.
My mother was the queen of holding a grudge. She loved people madly but if they crossed her she was done with them. The list of people who “aren’t invited to my funeral” was quite a long one. My dad was on it. And my ex-husband. She would never get over the wrongs that either one of them had done to her and to those she loved.
This example did not serve us kids well. We learned to judge people for their actions and to not look at them with compassion and understanding of their humanness. As a result we lost friends and lovers in our belief that we were always right and that those who had hurt us should be cast out.
It is really only now, in the aftermath of being left by my husband and the ensuing messiness, that I have learned to understand that we are all doing the best that we can and that to forgive is the best way to be able to move on in a healthy way.
My mother died of pancreatic cancer at 72. I truly believe that at least some of her tumor was the result of hanging onto so much anger and resentment for so long. Not letting go of bad feelings is unhealthy not only for our minds but for our bodies. If we can release them they will not fester and cause damage.
Our parents really do the best that they can with what they are given. No one gives us a manual about how to parent as we leave the hospital with our newborn. All we know is what we already know. And we do the best we can with that knowledge.
What I do know is my parents loved me and took care of me and made me, at least in part, into the person that I am today. And for that I am thankful.
I am a NYC based Certified Life Coach and mental health advocate. My writing has been published on The Huffington Post, Prevention, Psych Central, Pop Sugar, MSN and The Good Man Project, among others. I work with all kinds of people to help them go from depressed and overwhelmed to confident and happy in their relationships and in their world.