breaking the cycle
Sometimes I wonder - which generation am I? How effective can I be? My mother's father was a pathological narcissist, and I know that she wanted to be a better parent than he was. She succeeded, but not by much; while she avoided some of the specific harmful behaviors that he committed, she kept the same controlling mindset, the same scornful view of children and their needs. Without a change in philosophy, how could she truly break the cycle?
When I started my parenting journey, I was still fairly enmeshed in my family. I accepted my mother's childrearing beliefs and most of her practices. I thought that my beef with her was limited to my adolescence and the occasional irritation in the present. Philosophies like Unconditional Parenting and gentle discipline seemed ridiculous to me, irresponsible, "lax". My son and some chance meetings with more open-minded people taught me differently. With time, exposure to people who parented differently from my parents, and lots of reading, I came to have a different understanding of who and what children are, and how adults can relate to them.
Is that enough? I can tell you, I struggle with being a compassionate parent. My first instinct is often to feel angry and to criticize. Author Naomi Aldort would call those "old scripts" - the way you've been conditioned to react, even though it's not consistent with who you want to be. With time, that's changing. I'm a much kinder, more thoughtful person today than I was ten years ago. But young children don't wait for you to heal yourself. They're here, soaking things up as they happen. I was not as kind a parent to my first child as I have been to my third child - and even with the third, I have trouble staying engaged and not sending them the "mommy's too busy doing her own thing, don't bug me" message. Did I change too late? Have I changed enough?
Will my kids' first reaction to their children be less irritated than my own? Will they have imprinted different reactions and behaviors than I did in my childhood? Will they have better emotional tools at their disposal? Are their children going to be the third generation, the one that grows up with parents who can access empathy easily?