Healing Ourselves as Parents

Mindful Authentic Parenting Systems (MAPS) Post #5 by Dr. Glenda Wilkes

Let me introduce you to our family, the Wilkes Posse. Meet my husband, Jim, our six married daughters and sons with their spouses, and our 19 grandchildren. We have added two baby grandsons to our posse since this photo was taken a year ago. We are a rowdy, chaotic, fun-loving, group in which each individual brings unique strengths and just as unique challenges.

I love Erma Bombeck’s perspective on families and the following quote is framed next to our family photo:

“We are a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing germs and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, andtrying to honor the common thread that binds us together.”

This is the fifth in a series of posts on Mindful Authentic Parenting. In the first post, I stated that although parenting is perhaps the most important thing we do in life, we have little or no training for it. In this fifth post on parenting, I want to write about how mindful authentic parenting can heal us from the wounds of our own childhoods.

As I have said many times before and will continue to say, no one comes from a perfect family. Each family has things they do well and things that could be improved. Each family is dysfunctional in some way. Even the best families, the happiest families, the most well adjusted families, have dysfunctions. So, we are all in the same boat when it comes to our family of origin. Some boats just weathered the storms better than others.

I had the privilege of serving on the Board of Directors of the Casa de los Ninos Crisis Nursery in Tucson, AZ for a number of years related to a Parent Aide Project I was involved in at the time. I loved my work at the Casa and my interest in formalizing parenting came from that association 35 years ago. I saw the efforts of the Founder, Sister Kathleen Clark, to provide a safe place for children while parents in crisis could sort out their lives and gain some stability. I saw people who loved their children and at the same time had no idea how to parent. The reasons were many but the outcomes were the same — families with small children in one crisis after another. It has taken me many years and several careers in between to come back to the idea that many of the skills that make for successful parenting can be taught. In fact, they can be self-taught.

As you progress through the underlying principles of my parenting system, outlined in these blog posts, you will eventually work your way to the MAPS templates that you will fill in again and again, as they elements change, for yourself and the children you parent. The first element in MAPS is defining who you are as a parent: your history, your temperament, and your goals in parenting. Part of that history is a walk down memory lane to the parenting that guided you as a child. That parenting is your starting place as a parent yourself. You have to go back there and recall the stories from your childhood that have meaning to you now. There will be many — too many — and so at the beginning you will just pick a few to learn from. In my post #3 I related two of my own stories about my mother and the milk carton on the dinner table, and my father as the disciplinarian. In post #4 I wrote about the home I grew up in, and my daughter and the shirt on her head. I cannot separate my parenting from my stories. The two are one in the same, and so will yours be.

As I began to parent my first child in my mid 20’s I realized that there were things I wanted to do differently. My parents were good people and they loved me. I knew that. Yet they responded to stress and crisis differently than I wanted to. But I didn’t have a clue as to how to change generational patterns of behavior. I thought I could just decide to be different and magically I would be different. I underestimated the effort involved and so my changes came about more slowly and with more difficulty than if I had had a system to work from.

My husband also grew up in a home with significant dysfunctions, many of which were around alcohol. He knew he wanted to do things differently. So here we were, two new parents, wanting to be in some ways (not in all ways) different than our own parents, and no roadmap to take us there. What we have found in our now almost 50 years of parenting, is that we have healed ourselves from the mistakes of our parents by proactively deciding to be different, and then working day in and day out to actually be different. It’s that day in and day out part that is hard.

When I was on the faculty at the University of Arizona, I conducted a small research study of individuals who had been abused as children who did not abuse their own children. There were only 25 participants and they underwent interviews and a battery of written measures. As we analyzed the data from the study, we were surprised to learn that every single one of them could recall a specific incident of abuse in which they said to themselves “I will never do this. I will be different”. And that promise to themselves undergirded their efforts to actually become a different kind of parent.

What happens when we say “I will be different” to ourselves? Probably many things, but among them is that we take control of our decisions and our behavior. We claim independence from the past, independence from those who may have hurt us, and independence from old patterns. We chart our own course. We still love our parents and appreciate all they did for us. We love the good things that happened in our young lives. But we acknowledge that we can do both — love them for the good and decide to change the not so good. There is tremendous power in this kind of declaration — “I WILL be different!”

One of our sons played baseball, including four years in college. He was a catcher. My husband had also been a catcher and went to college on a baseball scholarship although he was hurt in his freshman year. One day when this baseball loving son was around 12, his father came home with a new set of catcher’s gear, at no small cost. This was a third set in the same year — one had just disintegrated from use, one was too small, and so now a third one. When I saw the price tag, I frustratedly asked “And why was it necessary to get such an expensive set of brand new catcher’s gear?” He thought for a moment and said, “Because it’s exactly like the one I always wanted when I was his age and could never have.”

He was healing his own wound by providing for his own son what was not able to be provided for him. I have thought about this story a lot as we have raised our family and now participate in the margins of raising our grandchildren. I think this is exactly what we do — we try and provide for them the things we wanted and couldn’t have — whatever they are — physical, emotional, social, financial, spiritual — and in doing so, somehow we retrospectively provide those things for ourselves. We heal ourselves. We become whole. And that I think is the greatest gift parenting gives us, the capacity to take the fabric of our own childhoods and re-weave the places that frayed.

If you have an interest in becoming a more mindful, authentic parent, I invite you to come along on a journey with me. I am creating these underlying principles from years and years of thinking about these ideas and trying them out on my own family. I now feel that I can bring these ideas together into a coherent format that will give individuals to whom these ideas resonate, a place to come and think about the most important relationships in their lives.

It is a privilege and a responsibility for me to do this.

I will be posting on Medium over the next months many of the foundational elements of this philosophy of parenting. To date, the following elements have been introduced: 1) Introductory Concepts, 2) No Training, 3) Your History, 4) Memory and Reality, and 5) Healing Ourselves as Parents. The specific tools for developing your MAPS are found in my books, the second one of which will be coming out in a few months.

My first book, Are There Really Clams in Clam Chowder, is a compilation of 46 stories about parenting that will help you uncover and remember your own stories — both those from your own childhood and those from you life as a parent. Remembering these stories, thinking about them, and what you learned, is the best place to start in creating your MAPS. We all have stories and they are very powerful learning tools for us. As you read Clams, you will recall similar events and those stories, and what you learned from them, will become the foundation of your MAPS. Clams is the foundational book to the MAPS system, and you will be giving yourself a rich new thought process as you read it and think about how it relates to you. You can then build upon that foundation with the second book.

You can find the book at www.drglenda.com along with additional information specific to this philosophy of parenting.

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