Here is a question for you.
How many years did you have to go through formal training, education, or apprenticeship for your current job or role? How many years did it take you to become a professional in your job?
How many tests/exams did you had to take? How many interviews did you have to pass?
A lot, right?
Think about driving.
Can you just wake up one day and decide that you will buy a car and start driving?
Of course not! (Are you out of your mind, Kumsal??)
When you decide to buy a car, the first thing you need to do is to learn how to drive.
In North American countries, for instance, there is a graduated licensing system for new drivers. First, you have to study the theory and you get a learner permit after passing a written exam in the US or G1 license in Canada. Only after accumulating a certain amount of road experience and fulfilling other conditions, and passing a road test, you can become a full G driver in the US. In Canada, it’s even tougher. You have to pass two road tests to become a full G! I fully support this graduated system as none of us wants a maniac on the road without the proper training and endangering themselves as well as putting everyone’s safety at risk.
How about… parenting?
What happens when you decide to have a baby?
Well, nothing basically. You are free to have one. No one asks you anything.
You are free to do whatever you feel is right for your family whenever you feel like and that’s awesome.
Do you need a Ph.D. in Child Development or Childhood Education? No — I can hear you say: Don’t be silly, Kumsal.
Any tests? Training? Mandatory workshops?
Not that I know.
The fact that you decide to become a parent and conceive is enough to “become” a parent (most of the time*)
There is no such thing as mandatory parenting training or a qualifying exam to become a biological parent. Also as Dr. Mariko Estrada puts it: “There is no manual for being a parent out there, you wish that there was one, unfortunately, one can only wish.”
Raising a child is one of the most important and complicated tasks in the world. Yet, the most undertrained one.
If you look around, of course, there are thousands of parenting educational resources, books, courses out there that you can use. But my point is, all of that is voluntary. No one requires you to do so.
What do you think about this fact?
The fact that we have to get trained rigorously for years, to practice our jobs, go through exams and interviews… The fact that it takes years to get a driver’s license. But no training whatsoever for new parents…
I always found this fact quite interesting. Mind-blowing actually.
How come we can jump into this important, complex and daunting job while being so under prepaid and under trained…
You might argue saying, “well this kind of training is not really needed, as parents somehow know what to do, mothers-know-it kind of thing?”
or that they learn,
or they get help…
Yes, to a certain extend I agree with you. A parent knows. A parent figures out.
But what if they are not the most introspective and psychologically-oriented parents out there? What if they are not in a good mental health state? What if they have an undiagnosed mental illness or a personality disorder?
What if we, as parents, traumatize our child, without knowing and with all the good intentions?
How do we deal with this fact as a grown-up; being traumatized, abused or neglected as a child and all that pain?
(I can give you a clue, years and years of suffering and therapy can be a start…)
How do we still keep our relationship with our parents?
(maybe through acceptance and forgiveness after long years of therapy… or maybe not. We become estranged.)
What if we are the culprit and what if we are traumatizing our children UNKNOWINGLY with all our good intentions?
Was that too much to take in.
So I try once more.
Imagine. What if years later my daughter comes up to me and says that I have traumatized her, neglected her in some way and that she doesn’t want to have me in her life anymore, because of what I have done and she doesn’t know how to deal with all the pain and the disappointment I caused for her.
What if we become estranged, after me being such a “good” parent to her for years…
Can I just say to her “hey, I didn’t mean that” or “get over it sweetie, what’s done is done, move on”? Would that work?
Would it be enough to tell her “oh, there was no parenting school honey back in the day, so that’s not really my fault? I did my best”
Would any of these excuses help us to mend our relationship?
Would anyone believe me that I was such a good parent when my daughter says the opposite?
I do not think so.
I ask these questions every single day to myself and I have to admit to you, they HAUNT me.
The idea that I may mess up my child UNKNOWINGLY, haunts me. Because I know from first hand what it means to have a traumatized childhood and grapple with that every single day.
That is why I take this job, parenting , very seriously. I see it as my mandate TO BREAK THE CYCLE and educate myself as a parent.
Invest in my relationship with my daughter. Read every book out there, attend every workshop, and most importantly heal my own wounds so that she doesn’t have to bear them for me.
and even so, after all my good intentions and efforts, if years later, she comes up to me and says those unimaginable things,
I want to stop and listen to her, and tell her that, “You are 100% right in your point of view. That was your experience. I am sorry. I love you. I did my best and maybe I failed. How can I make this right with you? What do you need from me?”
And I would like other parents to join me. You can call me a dreamer or you may be asking…
What could go so wrong?
A lot. Let me make it clear to you what is actually at stake here.
I know it is not realistic or ethical to ask parents to go through formal training, but I am personally a believer in the power of information. And learning. If you know stuff, you have the power.
If you have more information, if you work on internalizing it and make it part of your life, it can make or break your future relationship with your child. It can mean everything to a family.
You don’t have to take my word as usual. I don’t take it personally. I am a scientist. Hear it from the experts on Family Estrangement.
In his book Fault Lines, Dr. Karl Pillemer’s shares his findings and powerful insights from his ten years long ground-breaking project Cornell Reconciliation Project. He studies estranged families in the US and within them a minority of reconcilers who were able to mend the broken bridges and fractured families.
Estrangement, cutting all ties and no longer talking to a family member, is one of the most painful life experiences as he puts it. It does not only affect individuals who are not in contact but also collateral damage which can go upward, downward and across generations. (grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles…)
You may be thinking “oh, that is never going to happen to me.” Or you may have never heard of such thing.
According to his findings, more than 65 million Americans suffer fractured families and rifts, yet little guidance exists on how to cope with and overcome them.
Can you believe that statistic? 65 million broken families, 65 million people not talking with their family members. There are millions of families suffering due to this trauma.
Estrangement is a taboo. People don’t usually go around being proud of themselves if they are estranged from their children or parents. So you may not have heard such a thing but it does exist and it is more common than you think.
Alternatively, you may be suffering from broken bridges and rifts in your family already. Then you know what I mean. You really know. You are maybe effected directly or experiencing it as collateral damage.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
I believe the best way to fix it is to PREVENT IT FROM BREAKING in the first place.
As it can be tremendously hard to mend a rift and heal trauma as we go deeper and deeper with our lives.
We can prevent it. I believe we can do that, from the start — by talking to our children, building a genuine connection, being attuned to them. not aiming to be a PERFECT PARENT or living vicariously through them but aiming for a GOOD ENOUGH and believing in their unique potential.
We can do this by becoming more informed parents. It is the best start I can imagine.
I fully agree that every parent intuitively knows and wants the best for their child. Yet, every parent can come short and make a mistake. Sometimes, big ones. Therefore it never hurts to learn more and get informed as a parent.
How do we make it right? from the beginning.
It doesn’t have to be formal training but in my opinion, every parent somehow should understand the basic concepts of child psychology, attachment theory, parenting styles, and the concept of good enough parenting and self-care. They need to know how to take care of their own relationship as a couple when they have a child. It is a big responsibility to raise a child after all.
We may not know much about being a parent when we hold our baby in our arms for the first time. I remember myself feeling so helpless holding my daughter for the first time…
It never hurts to start early, way before holding your kiddo. And it is never late to start. We need time to learn and grow, the same way our baby is growing and learning. We are all new to this and it requires a lot of motivation and perseverance to improve this skill.
It is very important to find scientific resources, understanding them but most importantly look for ways to integrate them into our daily lives. To work on our parenting skills.
A child needs emotional and psychological support more than physical support, to not just survive physically but thrive.
Either you can rely on your intuition and gut and hope to do a good job or tap into the years of evidence and science which backs up the fact that securely attached children become happy, confident adults and learn how to raise one. We don’t need to re-invent the wheel…
This is a call for action.
I invite you to join me, keep an open mind and heart and become a life long learner. It can save us from a lifetime of misery and regret. Hopefully.
and if you are still here and reading this post, I congratulate you from the bottom of my heart. For keeping an open mind and heart. Being committed to your relationship with your child. You are doing an amazing thing.
I am glad to have you by my side in this journey as a fellow parent.
*I truly hope to be inclusive in my language in these series and I acknowledge in some cases having a child through biological ways may not be a feasible option for some couples or it may take longer than anticipated due to reasons as infertility. I am very sorry for couples who have to go through this challenging experience. I understand the grief associated with this loss, not being able to become a biological parent immediately or at all. I fully support every parenting team’s unique decisions and journey and send them love.
Disclaimer: I am aware that my posts may be triggering for some people as I deal with complex psychological concepts including childhood trauma, loss, or grief. If these posts bring up some unfamiliar or uncomfortable feelings like sadness, anger, or disappointment in you, I truly encourage you to talk to someone you love or a mental health practitioner in order to understand those feelings and perhaps revisit your childhood. This post is not intended for medical diagnosis as I am sharing personal knowledge and experience. Please ask for help from a mental professional for medical advice if you are experiencing any mental health issues. There is always help. If you experiencing a medical emergency call 911. If you are in a mental health crisis, please check crisis resources from CAMH.