From Dr. Jane's Notebook
When Parents Reveal Their True Selves!
Several couples I know have recently divorced after twenty-something years of
marriage. On all accounts, they have stayed together for the sake of the children. Friends
and children alike are forced to wonder, "Was it all a charade?"
Did these parents stay together until the kids were grown hoping to lessen the pain
of separation and divorce? Possibly. Were they hiding their true feelings? Most likely.
Was it hard to keep a secret? Definitely. Here are a few more thoughts on the matter.
- It is difficult to hide the truth from our children. Sooner or later, they find our
Achilles' heal and we are forced to explain it. Whether they are 2 or 20 years old, it is tricky business to reveal certain parts of our self to our children, and especially painful to share our failures. But I contend that children see the truth anyway, whenever it appears. Whether or not we damage our children with our revelations depends a lot on how we handle things.
- Our babies think were perfect. One of the joys of being a parent are those times when our children think we are perfect. Usually, babies come into the word full of hope and full of admiration for their parents. As parents, we are all powerful in their eyes. Its a perfect match: They want us to be perfect, and we want to be the perfect parents. We dont want our children to see our shortcomings. We want to be their heroes and champions.
- But alas, we all have our shortcomings. At some point, we behave like irrational human beings and in the process, show that other side of ourselves to our kids. Maybe were screamers, maybe we cuss, or drink. Maybe our marriage is not as perfect as it appears, or our finances are less than stable. Maybe weve been fired from our job, or maybe prior relationships have come back to haunt us. Whatever the case, parents eventually show that they too have made mistakes. How do children feel when they learn that their parents are real people with real shortcomings? Again, that depends on how we handle things.
- It is difficult to share the truth with our children. Lets face it, none of us want to lose that "perfect image". If anything, we want to be positive role models. Most parents want to hide their flaws and forget some parts of the past, not only to avoid embarrassment, but also, in the hope that our children will walk down different paths.
I am reminded of the woman who was desperately concerned about her daughters virtue, but hesitated to discuss sex for fear that her daughter would learn that she herself, had been conceived out of wedlock. I also recall the concerns of the man with a history of drug problems. He feared telling his son about his own drug experiences as a teenager, but also feared that his son was going down that same road. Even Bette Midler, on becoming a mother, related her discomfort about her daughters viewing some of the bawdy humor that had made her so famous.
- Our children are just like us. As a Mother and a Family Therapist, I maintain that (1) our children are just like us, and (2) if they dont learn from our mistakes, they are highly likely to repeat them. Of course, there is no guarantee that they wont repeat our mistakes anyway... but if we dont communicate with our kids, they may repeat our mistakes without our even knowing it, and without the benefit of our emotional support.
As parents, we wish to project the best possible image of ourselves. However, parents who say, "do as I say, not as I do" are kidding themselves. Some speak fondly of times when children were supposed to automatically respect their parents, but in todays world, children expect honesty, courtesy and respect from their parents, as a prerequisite for returning the same.
It is painful for people of all ages to take responsibility for their
behaviors. However, parents must be prepared to discuss issues and problems frankly and honestly
with their children. When we are honest and committed to working on ourselves, we teach
our children that they too can take responsibility and solve their personal problems.
Research has demonstrated that children who have been abused, learn to be
abusive. Conversely, I believe that children who feel respected, learn to show respect for
others. For those who disagree, consider the following bumper sticker which offers still
another way to look at child-rearing. It reads, " Be kind to your children; theyll
be picking out your nursing home!"
ęCopyright, 1999, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.
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Last Updated August 25, 1999 by Gary M. Grandon, Ph.D.