One can love their parents dearly and still wonder at times: "What were they thinking when I was growing up?" I say that, knowing my daughter will one day ask the same thing about her mom and dad. This is the stuff of life.
We pass to our children our love, wisdom, and our parental mistakes, entwined in one messy bundle. Each generation gets a chance to process their childhood, learn, and hopefully grow, even as we go on to make our own mistakes. All we can do is keep reflecting on how to do our best.
Here are five things my loving parents did that, upon reflection, I knew I wanted to avoid with my child:
1. Smoked cigarettes. I realize that my parents smoked in the 50s and 60s when it was fashionable, when new messages about cigarette dangers had not yet permeated the collective conscience. The timing actually breaks my heart. Dad began smoking at 16 and was hooked; he died from throat cancer at 50. Thankfully, mom quit for good when dad was diagnosed. When my five year old sees a smoker today, she comments sadly about the grandpa she never met. It hurts me, too. She has our assurance as parents that, whatever other mistakes we make, we will never smoke and cheat ourselves out of time together.
2. Threatened to "get the belt." My dad often responded to our misbehaviors with the threat to "get the belt." We came to know it was an empty threat, but combined with his angry expression, it still scared us silly. We want our daughter to have disciplinary consequences that are consistent and meaningful. Our goal isn't to see fear in her eyes, but rather, contrition when she does wrong, and respect for what we are telling her.
3. Served soda daily. When I was growing up, mom's healthy meals were accompanied by big glasses of soda. We weren't allowed to drink cola (she had read the studies of teeth rotting in the stuff), but every other type of soda was viewed as "healthier" and fair game. Today, I am hardly the sugar police. My daughter and I enjoy baking together and eat treats in moderation. But soda and sugar cravings in childhood started me on a path towards weight challenges and diabetes, so I take the sugar issue seriously. With the exception of a joyful summer root beer float, I see no point in introducing my kid to all that is wrong with soda.
4. Kept neighbors at a distance. I grew up in a curious neighborhood where long-established neighbors kept communication to a minimum and rarely socialized. The neighborhood kids sought each other out, but parents mostly kept to themselves (and sometimes spied out the windows). Today, my daughter watches us cultivate connections with neighbors. There are offers to house-sit during vacations. We share fresh lemons, deliver holiday cookies, and host annual block parties. And when we "spy out the window," it's to see if our neighbor's daughter is available to play.
5. Refused to go anywhere without the kids. My father craved time alone with my mom - a night out, a long weekend, or short trip - but she hated the idea of leaving children home with sitters ("they'll think we don't care!") Oh, contraire dear mother. We would have loved it, and you would've too. My husband and I want our daughter to understand that her parents love her but also love each other and need some time alone. It's healthy for us, and it's healthy for her to see her parents connect.
I'm thankful to have a much longer mental list of all the things my parents did right, and I'm praying that when our daughter is grown, she'll say the same about her folks, in spite of our mistakes.
How have you tailored some of the lessons you learned as a kid to suit your parenting goals today?
Diana Dull Akers is a Yahoo! Shine Parenting Guru, mom, sociologist and freelance writer who still enjoys a root beer float on a hot summer day.