Monday, December 8, 2008

Learning to tune out cultural messages and to forgive

I got a phone call the other day from my step dad. He was the one who was there for me when I was born. But he was very young. I often found myself as a child feeling very angry at my mom and step dad for their shortcomings. He apologized on the phone to me for not being the best parent. It was a very sincere apology. I have long forgiven him for his shortcomings, but wish he could be more present in my life. He is still processing his own childhood and learning to forgive others and himself. Apparently, he had been carrying around a lot of guilt and shame over his mistakes as a parent. His maturity was greatly stunted by harmful parenting practices and schools.

I learned a lot about my mother and father when I became a mother. It was like light bulb went off in my head. I now had a camaraderie with them and other family members. I now understood the pressures of motherhood. I understood, little by little, the reasons why being a parent can be so heart wrenching. But I also didn't want to repeat their mistakes.

First of all, the whole birthing process, and challenges of learning to breastfeed after the crazy birth process (most Americans accept) is cruel and unusual punishment to say the least. That is a whole other post though. But it makes you weak and is a terrible start for a child and mother relationship. It makes us question everything we ever thought to be true. At least it made me question everything. But question I did! I also tried on some not so great hats and still do to this day. I tried on the "let cry it out" ritual. That was a nightmare. But at least we only tried it one evening, but it was still awful. Thank goodness Cliff didn't let me go through with it. Holden had the will (and still does) of a starved hyena. There was no breaking him. And I didn't want to break him. I just wanted to put him in his place, so to speak. That is what our culture and my upbringing had taught me.

There were many challenges to overcome as a new mom. I am still trying to undo those messages that were passed down to me from my parents and family. My step dad told me on the phone when we talked that we each have to learn to forgive the previous generation and not to pass down our faults or anger onto the new generation. He said it is a viscous cycle. I agree with him there. I would love to say I am perfect, but I am not. There are lots of things I do terribly, but lots of things I do better than what was done to me.

My mom passed away 4 years ago and I am so glad I didn't hold onto my anger. She knew I had forgiven her. She knew I loved her.

I think the hardest thing for American parents to do is to learn to trust their hearts. We have so much outside interference that we don't know how to think for ourselves. We think the thoughts we are thinking are authentically ours. They are cultural messages that have been passed down to us. Have you ever spent time with a family from another culture? Their interactions are totally different with their children. Americans often treat children as an obstacle or nuisance. In many other cultures they are treated with kindness and respect. That is not always the case with every situation though. Each culture has their own downfalls and strange beliefs.

The further I get away from those American messages about parenting and schooling the more I can see things clearly. I can see that parents have given up most of their responsibility and trust in themselves to the so called experts to raise their kids. It is a sad commentary to me because I see the true experts as just a waste of time for the most part. Parents are the true experts, although they don't know it. I takes time to hone in on that, if you don't believe it. And if your parents didn't trust you, you probably haven't stopped feeling like you are 5. But we can each get our power back and take charge of our own lives.

For instance, all the important things kids are supposed to learn in school can be learned by just living. Why do parents think they can't raise intelligent kids? The sad thing is with each generation of kids in school our nation has become worse off than before.

The way our relationship starts out with our kids has a lot to do with how we relate to them from that point on. I see it with my two boys. I have one son who was born in a hospital and I had lots of trouble feeding him. My trust in myself was so small and I trusted him very little as a result. I didn't know how to read his cues or how to value his needs.

My second son was born at home. He and I got off to a great start with feeding and everything else. I trusted myself and I trusted him. Of course, he was my second and the first taught me a lot. I love both of my boys very much. But I can see the differences in their first few years and how I related to them because of our poor or better start. Thankfully Holden was not a weak person and I feel he has overcome any harm my actions may have done to a meek person.

So, I feel I am the only expert for my kids. And they are the experts on themselves, for the most part. They are leaders of their destinies. They are intelligent. I didn't have to teach them anything they didn't already want to know. I didn't have to send them to preschool or school to learn what 5 plus 5 is or their colors or any other thing they have learned. They are social because their dad and I are social. They are great kids. I am no superhero either. Any mom can do what I do.

I just hope my boys can forgive me for my shortcomings, the way I have forgiven my own parents. And I hope I can continue to shake off the cultural voices in my head. They still haunt me. I am still learning to trust my heart, trust that all is well, and the way it should be. And that is a good thing.

Peace and love to all!



Shanen said...

WOW!!! You are So right!! Culture is so engrained, that we don't even recognize the outside influences most of the time! Very thought provoking!!

Snavleys said...

Great post Heather! One step at a time to authenticity. You are right though, our culture is not very respectful to kids. I have had the privilege of spending some time with a family from India and it is a stark difference!! They expect a certain level of behavior from their kids but because they are so kind and respectful the kids return that respect. And we have to always remember that, for the most part, our parents were doing the best they knew how to do wtih the tools they had. I know with all the mistakes my mom made and the resentment I felt toward her, she absolutely LOVED her children!!

Anonymous said...

Very well said, and written.

Heather's Moving Castle said...

When I first became pregnant I had no idea how much becoming a mom was going to impact my whole life for the better. There are some things that I see as negatives to being a parent, but that is b/c of my cultural messages I am trying to unlearn. It is a very hard thing to do w/o support. So I am grateful to have local help and others who are out there trying to make a difference.

Karen said...

What a gift, Heather, that you've become awakened to it past hurts and the apology that followed, to wanting and striving to do better for your children and yourself, to recognizing the perfect human beings that your boys are...

What a Gift!

Thanks so much for sharing it here!