In our development as parents, we pass through many stages of learning.
When the first baby arrives and we realise that everyone has pulled the wool over our eyes about parenting, our main purpose in life changes to survival. There’s no time to analyse what we are doing or how we are doing it.
We muddle through somehow, and hope that we will make it to the other side alive.
The very parenting manuals that are supposed to support us have a tendency to make us feel like shit most of the time, and guilt often culminates in self-blame.
But we justify to ourselves that as long as we’re doing a better job than our parents, it will all work out in the end.
As our children grow older and easier, we become more confident in our parenting abilities and we eventually find more time to evaluate our parenting skills, in comparison to those of our parents. We can appraise their job more objectively now, because we now understand those what those heavy-duty responsibilities of being a role model mean.
We become more empathetic towards the job our parents did in nurturing us.
So blaming our parents starts around the same time as we become teenagers and develop a greater awareness of self, and ends the day we realise two things:
- That blaming our parents isn’t going to change anything.
- That in most cases, our parents probably did their best.
But we only gain that knowledge through experience of the demands of parenting ourselves.
Teenagers haven’t gained the full package of wisdom yet, (even though in many cases they might think they have), which is why they blame their fucked-up-ness on us.
Hence, the circle of blame begins.
My own teenagers, who are fundamentally good kids, often lob the finger of blame at me in the heat of a domestic crisis or try to use me as a scapegoat for their own mistakes. Like many mothers, I have lain in bed many a night, unable to sleep, blaming myself too.
But, are we really to blame?
Is it enough to do the best job we can, or do we have a badass responsibility (like the parenting magazines suggest), to be perfect and ultimately sacrifice our lives for the future of our children when we take on the mantle of becoming a parent?
It’s not like they’ll thank us when they become adults themselves.
One of my biggest battles with Kurt at the moment is to persuade him to give up smoking. No matter how hard I try to talk to him intelligently about the health implications of his habit and the number of lectures in PDHPE he has obviously chatted his way through, smoking is a crutch that helps his anxiety and makes him reluctant to give up. His last argument on the subject is always ‘Well, you smoked.’
Guilty as charged.
Yes, I was a smoker and at no time before my fortieth birthday did I attain the required maturity to face my own morbidity or to be a better role model to my kids.
I must have missed the clause about role modeling when I signed the parenting contract and it’s taken me a while to understand the small print.
And then there’s the minor detail that I’m not perfect. I probably could have read the kids more stories, not gone out and left them in the hands of babysitters I hardly knew, or fed them from jars as babies.
Like Kurt, I blamed my own mother for a long time – for dying and leaving me to cope on my own at such a young age. There were times when the kids were small that I despised her for not being there to support me, too – to tell me if the bath temperature was right or what a particular rash meant.
And my father didn’t get away scott free either. I blamed him for not being as paternal as the perfect role model image of a ‘dad’ looked like in my head.
The rapper, Eminem, blamed his mother for what was by all accounts a very dysfunctional upbringing, and only recently has he has been able to forgive her publicly, in his song Headlights.
It took me forty years to stop blaming my parents but I hope my kids find the wisdom not to judge earlier.
Are you there yet?