How do you raise your children to have a happy childhood full of good memories when yours was so awful?
Lately, as I watch my sons go through their teenage years, it brings back many memories, and that’s not a good thing. As I watch and try to help my two sons try to navigate through the ups and downs of these confusing and uncertain days, it’ brings to mind my unhappy and chaotic childhood. As I’m trying to help them make decisions that will build self-confidence, happiness, and self-respect, I’m trying to deal with my own recollections of myself at that age; a girl with absolutely no confidence, who was sorely depressed, and someone who was utterly ashamed of her existence and family and wanted nothing more than to be someone else. If I see even a glimpse of any of those feelings in either of my sons, it makes me panic to the point of an anxiety attack, because I wouldn’t wish on anyone the feelings I had about myself when I was that age. And I don’t want my sons to go through these years that should be relaxed and happy, feeling like I did. But as I’m trying to be a parent, and a single one at that, who is trying to raise sons to be happy and self-assured and youth who don’t feel like I did at that age, I feel like I’m sinking in my own memory bank of insecurities, shame and utter sadness.
I told a friend yesterday that each day after I let my sons off at their respective schools, I feel like I’m going to burst into tears. And then I go home and I read the news, walk the dogs, do my Bible study and pray earnestly, do my household chores, eat lunch, plan dinner, and pick at least one of them up from school. And then after they’re both home, as they tell me about their days, I try not to overanalyze everything they say for hints of self-induced feelings of failure or regret or embarrassment. And I try hard not to transfer my own feelings of insecurity that spring up from my past, into their present. And if need be, I calmly and hopefully assuredly try to advise in a rational manner if they need help or support in any given situation or if they do express feelings of embarrassment or unsuredness. Then later I go to bed and sleep a while and then wake up and worry about how I handled everything and if I should have done it differently.
But I also try to tell myself occasionally, but not enough probably, that my sons are not growing up in a household with an alcoholic parent. They can invite friends to our home, and not be afraid of what’s going to happen or if I’m going to be passed out on the living room floor in my underwear. My sons don’t have to lead me out of business establishments in front of friends, because I am so drunk I cannot see. My sons don’t have to witness me drunk out in public in front of their circle of friends and their parents, when I’m making a complete drunken spectacle of myself in front of everyone. My sons won’t have other parents say disparaging remarks to them about me and my drinking. My sons won’t get in a fist fight at school because their friends make mean remarks about me and my drinking. They don’t have a home which is the scene of regular drunken fights with tears, cursing, throwing things and screaming.
Hopefully, I am teaching my sons coping skills, other than screaming and yelling and threatening to abandon them – or drinking. (Although I have done my share of screaming). And I pray that my sons won’t feel so bad about themselves that they just give up on school work and drop out of school activities and gatherings. I pray that my sons won’t start drinking at an early age, to the point that they black out before they’re even a junior in high school. I pray that my sons only hang around with kids who are positive, are involved in school and activities, and who don’t do bad things. I can control this to a degree and I do. I pray that my sons forge lasting relationships with friends, and don’t feel like they cannot do this because they don’t want to let anyone know about their awful life. I pray that my sons aren’t bullied, even tho one of them has experienced it already at a younger age and was ostracized for a couple of years because he spoke up about it and I tried to help. And I pray that neither of my sons becomes romantically involved with another student, a supposed “athletic star”, who physically abuses him on a daily basis for more than a year, but he doesn’t speak up about it because he’s too embarrassed, shattered and besides, there are too many problems going on at home for anyone to want to deal with it.
It’s hard for a parent to raise successful children when they have felt like a failure for so much of their life. I’ve made many mistakes still, since I’ve given birth to my sons, but I have tried to correct those mistakes, am very self-aware now and more confident. I do not want to send them out in this world until I know they feel good about themselves, are fairly self-aware, and can make good decisions that promote self-respect, even in the face of peer pressure. I see now that most of my mistakes in life were made by a person who had such a traumatic childhood that she was not equipped at all emotionally to be let loose in this world to fend for herself. Even my college years were a disaster because I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing and so I did nothing or the wrong things and I went through a terrible terrible bullying episode that went on for years because again, I was too shattered and embarrassed to stand up for myself.
I don’t know if how I’m raising my sons will produce success. Success, meaning well-adjusted, well-mannered productive citizens. But at least in the end, my sons will know I tried with every ounce of my being to get it right. And near my end also, I hope to finally be the person I was supposed to be in the beginning. Happy, confident, powerful, content, and successful in something. I will have many many regrets, but hopefully, the pattern of addictive behaviour brought on by raging insecurities will be broken in my family. Or at least in this line of this family.