I can honestly say that I cannot believe that I have 11 years of experience in being a mom. Even with the experience that I have, I still find myself winging this mommy role majority of the time. Right off of the bat, I knew I wanted my children to have a childhood that they would not need therapy to overcome later. Growing up, my parents raised my siblings and I the best way that they knew how. At the time, I couldn’t see that, but now, I look at my life’s lessons as a way to do things differently. I’m motivated to break the generational curses that my parents and their parents learned to normalize life. Sweeping things under the rug was common. However, if I want different for my children , I must first identify why things keep getting under the rug and be willing to talk and listen.
My mom and dad divorced when I was two years old. I was too young to even remember what life was like to have my mom and dad together. Between my mom and dad, I was the baby. After a decade of having me, my dad became a father two more times, to my brother and sister from another relationship. Somethings that stick out to me about my childhood are looking back, my parents always found a way to avoid one another. In fact, it was not until I was 25 years old and throwing a baby shower for my older brother that I remember my mom and dad even being in the same room as each other. Weird right?
I lived most of the time with my mom over New Jersey, up until 5th grade. Even tho I lived in New Jersey, I only ever went to head start over there. After head start I would commute to Delaware for school. My mom worked in Delaware and my dad lived in Delaware so somehow, they arranged for my brother and I to both attend school from my dads house. One would think, that they would cross paths, but not necessarily, I vividly recall being told your mom is here to get you, or your dad is here to pick you up. This was normal for us.
Growing up, I remember my mother would find herself very chilled and relaxed on the days that she did not have to go to work. I quickly became a loner, because my mom could be really mean when she was tired which seemed like all the time to me. We did not eat dinner together, play outside together, nor do I remember my mom checking my homework. I do not mention these things to shame my parents but to more so make observations of my childhood and to mention the things I grew up without. If I would mention something that was bothering me, I would hear my moms favorite words of get over it, or oh well. Looking back and observing moments in my life, whereas I may have been dismissive, I can now see how lack of sleep and long hours of work could have made my mom the way she was.
As one of the oldest children from her mom (my grandmother), at one point, my mom found herself raising her siblings. I was literally filling out FSFA paperwork so that I could attend college when I found out my mom never finished high school. There was no way she could raise her siblings and have the time and energy to finish school. My grandmother her mother worked nights at a bar. My mom has never admitted it, but part of me believes she resented my grandmother because of the sacrifices she had to make. When she became a mom of her own, I was raised to be self-sufficient. At some point I would be left home alone so that my mom could work 2 jobs. She would talk to me about making sure I cut everything off utility wise and not to have people in her house. At a young age, I had the understanding that what is done in the dark will come to the light. She had a way of yelling, and repeating herself that I naturally tried to stay out of her way and avoid getting in trouble.
My relationship with my dad different. I was the all- American daddy’s girl. Times were less serious with my dad because I spent time with him on the weekend. The weekends for most families are times to do everything that you may not be able to do during the week. If I got sick and needed to be picked up from school, my dad would be the one to leave work to get me. When I made homecoming court, my dad was the one that was there and walked me across the field. My dad showed up for major moments in my life. He was really a hands on dad for majority of my childhood. So now that you know a little more about my upbringing, check out some of the tweaks that I made as I raised my own children.
- Admit when you are wrong. We are all human and make mistakes. Rather than carry on with the notion that it is acceptable just because you are the parent is not the right message that we should be giving our children. This helps set the tone that taking ownership and accountability at any age is important.
- Treat your children as you treat other people. As a parent, you maybe reading this thinking to yourself duh. But, let me explain in depth what I mean about saying treat your children as you treat other people. Your children feelings matter. You may experience a child meltdown over a lost toy. You maybe thinking how that is not important and a big deal that the child’s favorite toy is missing. Validate your child’s feelings. This I promise, based on my own experience will help your child be able to articulate their feelings. i surprised mines growing up to the point that I saw myself become unmoved, and lacked empathy for others ( I will dig into that at another time).
- Be present. Being a single mom, with 3 little ones, I’m often faced with the challenge of finding time to have a moment to think. Just remember that your little people will not be little forever and you want them to have a parent that they remember being there as much as possible physically and mentally.
- Talk. Even when the conversation is uncomfortable to talk about. Growing up there were certain things that were not talked about with my parents and if they were it was more so that I understood what I could and could not do. Sex, do not do it until you are married. Menstrual cycles, was another topic that was avoided growing up. I was handed a pad and left to figure it out. Parents, both of these topics and more are important things to talk to your children about. The last thing you would want is for the information to come from someone that is less education or less concerned with your child’s well being.
- Listen. Communication is a two-way street. Naturally when it comes to a variety of topics, you will have more knowledge about it, but you want to make sure listen to your children and let them know they are being heard. Create a safe space, free of judgment so that he or she will feel comfortable coming to you. This does not mean you can not still offer guidance, it just means that there is a time to when it is time to talk and there is a time to listen.
- Give yourself to do things differently. As I said earlier, I was way into my adulthood by the time my mother and father were able to coexist with one another. For them, the if we are not together, there is no need for us to be around each other mentality was something the had normalized. Whereas for me, I took my feelings out of the equation, and really thought long and hard about what would make my kids happy. A few times growing up, my parents would throw separate birthday parties. I did not mind because that was all I knew and what kid wouldn’t want two parties? Well how about the kid whose parents fight over the dates of the party. Even if you choose to have separate parties, remember that the main priority is to put the needs and feelings of the child before your own.
I needed to endure what I went through so that I could offer my children something different. I was heavily influenced by the relationships that my friends had with their families that I knew I could do things differently. I have been able to break generational curses by going to school and earning 3 degrees, being present at my children’s ceremonies, and having a decent relationship with their fathers. This is our normal.
If there is anything that my parents and I have in common is the hopes that our children will have more than what we had. But in order to do it effectively, we must being willing to change and adapt differently than what we had. There is no handbook to guide parents as to the right and wrong way to parent, however, I do truly believe that you have to acknowledge your children’s feelings, talk to them, be present in their lives, and make sure you are admitting your wrongs in order to be an effective parent.