Sunday, September 9, 2012

Man in the Mirror

Man in the Mirror - Stacy Snyder - Parent Unplugged
As parents we unconsciously lead our children based on our own insecurities.    I obsessively hover over my girls’ to make sure they get plenty of daily exercise and eat as healthy as possible because I was a chunky kid and have struggled with my weight most of my life.  I don’t want my girls to go through that.  A neighboring mom with underdeveloped social skills constantly tries to further her girls’ popularity by trying to align them with kids that are associated with the ‘in’ crowd, so they don’t face the exclusion she suffered as a child and currently feels as an adult.  Yet another example is the father who inundates his children with material things so they never have to experience the wave of self-consciousness he carried with him growing up in a poor family.  Common sense tells us that this overcompensation with our children has the potential to backfire, and we sometimes adjust our parenting style if we are lucky enough to make the connection.  We don’t, however, always address the bigger problem, which is accepting our lack of self-confidence.

We all carry baggage around from past experiences:  successes, failures, memories, and learned and unlearned lessons.  While I’d like to think of myself and my fellow parents as mentally healthy adults who carry their baggage effortlessly slung over one shoulder without a second thought to it, the reality is many folks are bogged down by the staggering weight of the negativity they drag around with them on a daily basis.  The heavy shackle of unresolved issues from previous time periods often keeps us from effectively guiding our children. 

The bully who never effectively learned the art of conflict management encourages his son to “man up” and throw the first punch when teased on the playground by other kids as a way to address the problem.  The mother who never shed her childhood angst of being ignored by a group, now leads her children by example of cutting down other children in front of others, as she knows she will secure an audience.  The parent who used drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism during high school to dull the pain of his parents’ divorce today chooses not to notice as his own daughter slowly starves herself to death as a means of dealing with her own sorrow over the death of a family member. 

It can really go either way.  Our past can either help us or hinder us in our endeavor as parents.  It’s not a crap shoot, though.  We can actually choose to be positive examples for our kids by acknowledging the fragmented pieces of our core and choosing to fix them.  Michael Jackson lays it out so eloquently when he sang, “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change.”  Self-awareness is powerful.  While it’s sometimes difficult to swallow the reality of who we are or who we’ve become, the simple recognition of such can be life altering, as it opens the door to change.

We all know people that bitch, moan, and complain about stuff incessantly.  Kid stuff, school stuff, money stuff, parent stuff, health stuff, religious stuff, political stuff….anything that has a negative angle they glom onto.   At times in my life, I’ve gone through periods of complaint as well.  It’s always an indicator to me, though, that I’m trying really hard (and failing) to avoid some problem in my life or persona.  Case in point:  I’ve been complaining about going to church with my family for the past few years.  I’m not Catholilc, don’t understand Catholocism, even though both my daughters were baptized as such, and don’t enjoy the masses.  Additionally, I tried to convert to Catholocism a few years ago and was essentially denied entrance into the church.  I’ve developed a habit of skipping church altogether for the past year and instead use the time my family normally worships as a chance to have some time to myself at home.  While this works in practice, I still kept complaining about it as I not only want to be part of my family’s worship, I want to quit sitting on the sidelines.   After repeating my gripes for the umpteenth time to a very pragmatic friend, she suggested I go talk to the priest at our church.  I made the appointment, sat down with him and discussed my issues, and developed a plan on how to move forward.  The plan will be tough and may or may not work, but the point is that after years of suffering and complaining needlessly, as the song says“I’m starting with the man in the mirror.  I’m asking him to change his ways.”

By “fixing” me, I will reduce the risk of me “breaking” my kids moving forward.  You “fixing” you can help you do the same.  Have you taken a look at yourself in the mirror lately?  If not, I encourage you to do so.  You may be surprised what you see when you really focus on your reflection on your kids.  It’s never too late to make a change.

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