Written By Jen
Jen, travel writer and founder of UrbanMoms philosophizes about modern day mothering, social media, and life's next adventure.Read Her Blog "Mom's The Word"
By Sarah Chana Radcliffe
Not too long ago (actually, 3months, 7 days and 10 hours ago – but who’s counting?) I had the enormous pleasure of being my daughter’s labour coach for her first baby – my first grandchild. What an emotional experience! As I breathed with her and massaged her forehead, fingers and toes, I reviewed our life together as mother and daughter, my journey with her, my first child. It seemed like yesterday that I was giving birth to her and now, here we were, bringing forth the next generation.
In the next days and weeks there was much excitement and a rush of questions. My daughter wanted to know the mechanics of nursing, bathing, sleeping, soothing – all the details of life with a baby. She turned to me – the “expert.” She knew that I would have all the answers, having raised six of my own children and being a professional parenting advisor as well. It was odd for both of us that my most common answer to her questions was “I forget.”
I was amazed, actually, to discover how much I forgot. How was that possible? For fifteen years straight I had nursed my babies, carried them, slept with them, been a virtual mother-earth. I never left them; I worked with them on my lap, did housework with them on my back. I traveled with them and even brought them to my parenting lectures and tours. How could I “forget” the details of our life together? Why didn’t I remember whether I burped them after each feeding or whether I laid them on their bellies or their backs? During those years I had lived and breathed babies in a seamless trance. And as they grew into toddlers, children and teenagers, my life was a whirlwind of childrearing details. But now, it seems, I forget.
So I asked my children (all teenagers and adults now), “do you remember anything from your early years? Do you remember how I took you to the beach, the park, read you bedtime stories, made you cookies (some of my efforts were starting to come back to me as I asked them…) or in a thousand other ways nurtured and loved you?”
“Not really,” they said. Each one had a memory here and there of a happy time, but most of it was a blank. “Wow!” I said. “What was the point of all those things I did for you if you don’t even remember?” I was beginning to get depressed. But the kids explained that all of those experiences made them into who they are today and we enjoyed a philosophical discussion of the benefits of showing kids love. And then it happened.
They began to remember. Not the good things, mind you. They began to talk about the times my husband and I disciplined them inappropriately. “Oh I remember when you slapped me for screaming at you,” my seventeen-year-old piped up. “I’m sorry,” I said, “I must have been deranged. We don’t believe in that sort of treatment. It’s abusive.” (I wondered what was wrong with me and began to feel sick to my stomach.) “Ya, I remember when you said I was ‘disgusting’” another one exclaimed. “Yes, that was a terrible mistake. Please forgive me. You know that I think name-calling is completely unacceptable.” (I see I’ve destroyed my children’s lives. Why did we ever start this conversation?) Each one seemed eager to discuss these painful, awful memories.
Mind you, each kid had one or two such stories to tell. Six kids, however, gives easy access to a dozen bad stories. I was feeling like the parenting failure of the century until I reminded myself that these memories were rare, isolated errors occurring over twenty-six years of fifty-two weeks of twenty-four hour parenting six children. This means, that there were zillions of positive seconds, minutes and hours happening over this time period – very few of which were consciously noted by any of us. What stood out were the bad times.
Now if these few bad times made such an impression, what must it be like when there are hundreds, thousands or more of them in the two decades of childhood? What happens when a parent yells at a child every morning? What happens when insults are rampant? What happens when every meal, homework hour and bedtime is contentious? Obviously, a mountain of negativity must yield a mountain of emotional trauma.
Because we’re human, we’ll make parenting mistakes. If they’re the exception rather than the daily rule, our kids will most likely turn out solid and our relationships with them will likely remain positive for a lifetime. But it is important for us to realize that bad moments in parenting can – unfair as this may seem – stay with kids forever. Thankfully, we’re able to do better jobs as parents now. As a culture, we’re more sophisticated about parenting than we were even ten years ago. Most of us never hit our kids now and many of us are careful not to use derogatory labels or other types of verbal abuse. But a lot of us are still yelling regularly. This, too, has to give way to more respectful communication.
The discussion of childhood memories soon ended and the kids started drifting off to their evening’s activities. My fifteen-year-old turned to me compassionately and offered, “Hey Mom, maybe if you would have mistreated us all day, then we would have remembered the rare good times!” We laughed together. But when they all left and I was alone again, I became somber and pensive. How easy it is to hurt our kids. Our parenting moments are scripted with indelible ink and the bad ones are lined up at the top of the page. Sometimes, silence is golden. We have to think before every word we speak. There will still be mistakes and regrets, but we can minimize those if we put our minds and hearts to it. Let’s do it for the sake of our children. Let’s let the love shine through.
Sarah Chana Radcliffe is a mother of six and grandmother of one. She has a private practice in marital, family and individual counseling and has been conducting parenting workshops, lectures and seminars locally and internationally for more than 25 years. Her book, Raise Your Kids Without Raising Your Voice will be featured soon on urbanmoms.ca. For more information about Sarah and her book please visit www.sarahchanaradcliffe.ca.