Friday, April 15, 2005


I've been reading about parenting this week. On blogs, mostly. (Though I did read my incredibly uninformative "Parenting" magazine, too. Complete waste of time, just like it is every month.)

Can I tell you a secret? I have a lot of anxiety about parenting. I think it is such a difficult balance--to raise respectful, honest, good people who also have confidence and spirit. My children are little still, so I haven't had to deal with this too much yet. But I think about it. I'm really afraid I'm going to mess up.

In many ways, my own parents were wonderful, and I feel lucky to have them as an example. However, my father was pretty controlling, and intolerant of misbehavior. So I learned to behave well, especially in public, but I also learned that acting outside of the norm was "bad". I learned that it was better to be quiet and good then to ask questions, or bring attention to myself. For most of my childhood, our house was a dictatorship, with dad the dictator, and mom the dictator's benevolent aide. We were all afraid of dad, and I remember dreading the time in the evening when he would come home from work.

Dad also always encouraged us to do our best, expected great things from us, and never ever sold my sister and I short just because we were girls. I have always known I am smart, and I believe this so strongly in part because my father always treated me like I was. He loves us all unconditionally, though I don't think I believed that as a child.

You see why I am conflicted? There are many things that my father did right, and things that I think he did wrong. But I am not sure which is which. My father expected so much of us, and I absolutely hated that. I felt like when I got A- on my report cards, this was not enough, that nothing would ever be good enough for him. He would always say things like, "Wow, great job, Amy. Next time I bet you can get an A+!" And I would leave, not feeling proud of my report card, but feeling like a failure.

As an adult, one of the hardest things for me to do is hold other people accountable. To say to them--"No, that is wrong. You should have done this." Because whenever people say something like that to me, I am an 8 year old girl again, holding my report card in my hand, blushing with shame as my father tries to encourage me to do better. And I never, ever want to make anyone else feel like that.

This was obviously not his intention. He was encouraging me! He was trying to get me to shoot for the stars, to be all that I could be. But I interpreted it as criticism, and internalized that feeling of failure.

Maybe I was an oversensitive kid. Maybe another type of child wouldn't have reacted the same way. I know that my older sister has similar internalizations. My brother does not--but I can't necessarily compare him with the two of us: when Ann and I were young, my parents were struggling financially and under a lot of stress. By the time he came along, they had "made it". His childhood was really very different than ours. However, it could just be that Chip is not so sensitive as Ann or I. He's a boy, so he's wired differently. Or maybe, he's a boy, so my parents treated him differently. I don't know.

That is what is scaring me. How in the hell am I supposed to guide this two perfect innocents into adulthood when I don't really know the way myself? How do I encourage them to do better without belittling their accomplishments? How do I know which one is more sensitive and how do I learn what technique works best?

Am I making too much of this? After all, I've just been writing about things that shaped my childhood negatively, and despite all that, I feel like I am a happy, well-adjusted person. And isn't that the ultimate goal? So maybe I should just give myself permission to fuck up a little bit and hope that the love and goodness that comes out when I'm not screwing up is enough.

This conversation can go on and on. I haven't begun to chip away at the iceberg that is this topic in my brain. But I'll stop now, before I drive myself and everybody else, crazy.

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