A parent asks her child what she could have done better
From a video by Alison Cebulla, ACEs Connection
Alison Cebulla in quite a long video blog, tells of the time her mother, who is divorced from Alison's father, asked her to name the top things Alison wished she could have done better as a parent. A deep question for which you, as a parent need to be vulnerable and have deep trust in the relationship with your children. So it's a rare and valuable gift.
Here is a summary of some of her reflections:
The conversation could have been one that hurt but it needed to be one that healed. Her mother offered a generous and kind-hearted gift by engaging with her on this subject. She is saying, "let's heal together and grow stronger." If you are a parent reading this, Alison hopes to gently nudge you to start these conversations. More good will come than pain. As they say, "the truth will set you free." The guilt and shame we carry from our past perceived mistakes can weigh a mighty amount.
You want yourself to be okay and you want the parent(s) to be okay too. And so, what's the best way to have this conversation in a way that affirms the worth and dignity of all, but while also while having an honest and open conversation? You want to make sure that you're not treating the parent(s) unfairly. So pause and think about how to best talk about it in a way that is still honouring all the gifts that the parent(s) have given to you, while still answering the question about what do I wish you would have done differently.
The thing that might surprise you is that Alison told her mother that the majority of the things that 'I wish she would have done differently', were not her fault. She definitely believes that parents do the best that they can with the tools they have. She does not think that many people are trying to intentionally cause pain and harm. And so, she just first acknowledged that, "I feel that you really, really were trying your best and there were a lot of things that you did really well. And most of my childhood memories are really warm and loving and fun and playful. And I have way more great memories than poor ones."
A lot of homes are a mix of both fun, play, joy, and some times that we wish were better but Alison realises that there are homes that are not like that - not a lot of joy and happiness but there are a lot of healing resources that can help.
Alison also told her mother that the myth of the perfect parent is really harmful and detrimental. It's really important when we work on healing our relationships with our parents and talking openly and honestly about things that we maybe needed that we didn't get, that we first ask ourselves if we have internalised the myth of the perfect parent? Were you as a parent trying to be that and failing and feeling guilty? Or as the child, are you expecting your parent to have been perfect? Because people are not perfect and societies and communities are not perfect. So, just be really, really careful with the anger that you direct at others for your expectation that they be some version of perfect that doesn't exist. So, Alison started her conversation with her mum that perfection is a harmful myth. "There's no way that you could have done it perfectly."
Alison told her mother that, "The main things that we were lacking were more due to societal level problems."
Her parents were often very stressed out around money. There's a huge income disparity between the people at the top and people down at the bottom. That creates a lot of suffering for the people who don't have enough at the bottom. Especially after her parents got divorced, it was really tough for them to each separately pay for their single households with kids. We love the value of freedom. We love the myth of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. It just brings a lot of stress in the family when you're not sure if you can cover rent or you're worried how you're going to buy food and groceries. Kids can't really distinguish between if their parents are stressed because of them or because of something else. They don't have any conception of these societal level issues. And so, children can really internalise that stress as, 'there must be something wrong with me or my parents don't love me'.
Another societal level, cultural problem is that we didn't have healthy coping strategies for negative emotions. Parents bring in their own childhood trauma and may have not worked on theirs. We are also raised in a culture that doesn't acknowledge negative emotions (stiff upper lip), and that's a problem. There are not many families that are thinking, "Oh, how do I just love and accept all the negative emotions and teach my kids how to cope with those?". We're now seeing that a healthy, emotional life is a healthy mind and body, and that's totally new. We like people to be happy, to be successful and to earn a lot of money, but we don't really have great values around being present or feeling sad or embarrassed or disappointed. It's just not really part of our culture. The message that so many children get is like, "We're not going to cry. We're going to pretend those feelings don't exist. We're going to have a good day. We're going to put on a smile. We don't want to upset anyone with our feelings." And especially for boys, they get the message like, "You need to man up. Boys don't cry. Boys don't show negative emotions."
The next societal level problem is the sexualization of little girls. The trauma of continuously feeling sexualized by society, starting from when Alison was a little girl, definitely contributed in a very negative way to her mental health. The fact that society sexualizes little girls is not her parents fault. They did their very best and an excellent job to try to keep her away from predators, really trying their very best to navigate that tricky situation. But when we look at the rates of sexual abuse for men and women or boys and girls, they're both very high.
Alison concludes the conversation with her mother by saying, "Most of the things that I wish had been different were not your fault, but It's so important in your healing process or in my healing process to fully feel anger and rage and betrayal before you forgive." You can't skip that grieving process because that sadness from childhood is real. And if it doesn't come out, then it gets stuck in the body. Once we've done that work of feeling our feelings then comes the magic of forgiveness.
Read/listen to the full vlog here.
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