A friend of mine recently published a book about fatherhood. It’s called “Man v. Child” and it’s both the funniest dad book I’ve ever read and the only dad book I’ve ever read!
Relax, this isn’t a book review. I don’t do book reviews, because I don’t read parenting books and because I don’t feel qualified to review books and because I don’t need every yahoo out sending me their book. But very early in this one, the author, Doug something or other, raises an interesting question.
He asks the reader to consider what their dads were like as parents, and then asks the following question, based on their dad’s track record: “What can you fix?”
What if the answer is nothing?
Our moms and dads inevitably leave us with a lot of baggage, whether they’re aware of it or not. My personality is already infecting my eldest son – to be honest, that started the minute he was conceived; #ThanksGenetics! – and there’s not much I can do about that other than try to be the best version of myself.
For many of us, though, it’s not simply incidental nature-based afflictions, it’s also nurture-based stuff. Those negative parenting practices that impact children’s psyches in profound ways and influence their behavior down the line into adulthood. Sometimes, recognizing that impact and being aware of the ways your parents affected you is the first step in fixing yourself and improving your behavior.
What if you don’t have that baggage? What if your parents were awesome and you’re still terrible? What if you have no one to blame but yourself?
My parents didn’t yell much, and didn’t spank much (if at all? I remember the threat more than the action), and were reasonable and respectful and kind and supportive and helpful and nice. It’s really annoying, especially since I’m none of those things with my kids and I have no one to blame it on. Worse, I’m missing a major parenting yardstick!
There’s a reason parents are always pointing out and judging so-called “bad parenting.” We need negative examples so we have something to measure ourselves against, a way to reassure ourselves that we’re doing okay. In the absence of a guidebook, using others as examples of what not to do is about as good as it gets.
Our own parents are often perfect for this. If yours spanked you and it backfired, causing you to fear and resent your parents, you know you won’t be doing that. If yours yelled all the time and it made your home life harrowing and unpleasant, you know you won’t be doing that either. But my parents were nothing but good examples. Instead of showing me what not to do, they set standards I’m already struggling to live up to!
Having good parents is a strange thing to complain about, I know. There’s a very good chance I’m attempting to rationalize my own inadequacies convincing myself that my bad parenting is actually good for my kids. The worse I am as their dad when they’re kids, the better I’ll be as their scapegoat when they’re adults!
But I can’t be sure because I’ve never been to therapy, because my parents didn’t mess me up enough to need it. THANKS A LOT, MOM AND DAD.