Friday, July 27, 2012

Recognize Your Impact


Stacy Snyder - parentunplugged - Recognized Your Impact
As parents, we are usually aware, in the moment, of those occasions that define us as good parents and those that render us bad parents.  Giving your child a shoulder to cry on when he faces his first disappointment, without weighing in your two cents on the matter = good parent.  Leaving your child sitting on a bench at the bus stop in town while you score some dope a few streets over = bad parent.  The extremes are no-brainers.  It’s the in-between occurrences, which make up the majority of interactions with our kids, we don’t always recognize as having the ability to mold our children’s perceptions.    Chastising your child because she doesn’t know how to decipher between the various tools in the toolbox = ambiguous. 

“Goddammit, Stacy, it’s the Phillips head I need, not the flat head,” my dad yelled at the 8-year–old version of me, from underneath the ’79 Buick, when I handed him the straight-edged tool. 

I was running in and out of the garage bringing tools to my dad, trying to help him with his task of getting the car back up and running.  A natural fixer of all things broken, he was trying to impart some fix-it knowledge onto me by letting me be his assistant for the job.  Unfortunately, what I took from that day was that I was a dumbass for not knowing the difference between the two screwdrivers.  Even as a kid, I knew I was smart, so I wasn’t concerned about not being bright enough to know the difference between the two tools. I was simply upset that I had disappointed my dad. 

Fast forward thirty-some years and I create the same scene with my own child.  I use my 8-year-old daughter’s previous attempt at dusting as an example of how not to dust the house.

“Do you seriously think this clean?” I ask her incredulous.   “If you’re going to do a half-assed job, I’d rather you not help at all.”

Same shit, different year. 

Before I even looked over to see the hurt look in her eyes, I knew the harm I had caused.  I had just hammered her with disapproval.  A super sensitive kid with a sincere want to always be helpful, as well as a need to please, she amazingly held it together for what I thought might be the rest of the evening.  I continued my sweeping, until I opened her bedroom door a few minutes later and found her curled up in my girlfriend’s arms, crying her heart out. 

All the kid was trying to do was help.  In fact, during family cleaning hour, her task was supposed to be mopping, as she loves to mop.  My youngest daughter couldn’t seem to wrap her head around her own dusting assignment and had sauntered off to play dollies, so my older daughter had offered to stand in for her, taking on the additional responsibility.  It was while performing this act of kindness that I spewed such harsh words at her. 

Once she calmed down, I apologized for my harsh words and asked for her forgiveness. 

“It’s OK, Mom,” she said in her sad little voice.  “It’s just not fair that I was just trying to help you and you yelled at me,” she said as her almost-swollen-shut eyes welled up with tears yet again.

No, it’s not OK and it’s not fair.  No amount of stress or craziness is an excuse for taking out your angst on your kids, especially over a dust job!  Enough of those types of interactions with a parent can cause not only problems in parent-child relationships, but also can crack away at the self-esteem of children. 
 
In trying to figure out how I got the breaking point where I would yell at my kid over something as unimportant as her dusting skills, I came to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter how I got there.  I just needed to stay the hell away from that point in the future.  The truth of the matter is that no matter how many bits of useful knowledge and skill that my dad has passed down to me over the years, like bleeding the brakes on my car and taking apart my computer and replacing the parts before putting it back together again, the first thing that comes to mind when I think of his ability to fix things is the inadequacy I felt when he yelled at me over the freakin’ screwdriver thirty-some years ago.  I pray that I have not etched my daughter’s memory bank with the same feelings of deficiency over the dust rag.  

Odds are, the damage has already been done.  The good news is that if I’ve done my job right as a parent so far, like my parents did with me, my kids will grow up unscathed by my occasional lapses in parental judgment, and will be able to decipher between a bad parenting interaction and a bad parent.  Only time will tell.