Today I will share with you what I believe is the greatest gift we can ever give the children in our lives.
I actually think I learned this from my parents.
Although it wasn’t anything that I think either of them ever meant to teach me.
My parents were by any empirical standard not very good parents.
This might sound like I’m airing my dirty laundry.
In a way.
It’s also a truth. As Anne Lamont said, “If people wanted you to write warmly about them they should have behaved better.
I don’t talk about my childhood here on the blog primarily because my job is to help people and sharing my issues often shifts the conversation away from you and to me.
My early childhood was unstable. It wasn’t the worst childhood that has ever been had and I had plenty of privilege which helped.
My mother suffers/suffered from a disabling personality disorder which is the hallmark or defining element of my early life. My father was a lifelong chemical overuser. These were my parents.
In 1995 there was a study begun to try and measure the impact of unstable early childhoods and specifically violence in childhoods to see how it impacted how adults performed. It’s called ACES https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/about.html. A psychologist that I was working with while I was in college first gave me this questionnaire. I still remember it.
It’s like golf in that you want a low score. I got a high score.
The psychologist who worked with me told me that in her opinion it was a miracle that I wasn’t homeless and a drug addict and probably an unwed mother. She thought that was a compliment on my strengths to overcome all this hardship.
Her comment didn’t resonate with me the way she thought it would. Truly, I was really scared by that assessment because her words definitely aligned with how I saw my life. Her words gave legitimacy to my deepest fears that the odds were stacked against me. I was probably destined for a terrible adult experience and I desperately did not want that.
I spent a lot of my early adult life running as fast and far as I could from the events of my childhood.
Shortly after this therapist shared her opinion of my potential future I moved thousands of miles away with the intention of putting as much distance between me and my family as I could.
See … trainwreck.
It’s hard to look away from the trainwreck and that’s why I don’t share it all that often.
Most folks who are reading this are thinking OMG tell me more about the horror of your childhood. I need to know more. Except you don’t actually need to know any more.
That’s all you get. It’s not a secret but I’m not here to ask you for sympathy.
Learning my story may let you forget about your life for a few minutes. Otherwise it’s not actually going to be helpful to you.
I’m here to give you a tool to help you find the next step forward in your journey toward your own freedom and happiness in your life.
That’s what I do as a life coach. That’s my work.
The greatest gift my parents ever gave me is probably that they let me see their flaws.
Honestly, they were unable to hide them so that was pretty easy for them to do. That’s why I say that while this was the lesson they taught me it wasn’t really on purpose.
Because I knew of their flaws as humans and as parentsI never thought that there was a situation where adults were perfect or where I needed to be perfect.
I think sometimes I thought that other people might have had perfect parents. But I’ve learned that this isn’t true either. All humans have imperfections.
This opened up the possibility for me to do two things. First, learn from their mistakes without making them myself. Second, make my own mistakes and learn from them without shame.
Those are pretty huge things actually. You might want to read them again.
I’m not perfect and I know it. There’s freedom in that awareness.
The second part of this is that I saw my parents make HUGE mistakes and continue on living. So, I picked up that I could make mistakes and persevere. This could be one reason why I’m willing to try new things so easily. It might be one reason why I am sometimes okay with setting big goals like Ironman or becoming an entrepreneur.
The third part of this lesson which I am happy to have is that because I know I was able to succeed despite my parents I understand on a deep level that I am not entirely responsible for the success or failure of my own kids and step kids. Of course, I’ll do my best to set them up but I don’t judge myself – or more accurately I try really hard not to judge myself – for the actions of others. I don’t take credit for their successes or blame myself for their shortcomings.
How do we work on ourselves?
For a long time I didn’t have a lot of tools to work on my issues.
These tools are sometimes called coping mechanisms. I did have a few. I had worked with therapists who helped me with understanding my mom’s illness. Therapy can be very helpful.
Honestly, movement was my big tool.
I ran a lot. I pushed this barrier all the way to a time when I was doing 2 Ironman triathlons a year. Each day of my life I exercised 90 minutes or more. Some people would say that’s excessive and I can see that but I can also share that it was something that helped me survive.
I still use movement as a core tool that helps me daily. Just not to that level.
I also ignored my past and tried very hard to focus only on my future.
I thought my past was in my past and I didn’t need it any more. In fact, I honestly thought that part of the reason for my success was probably because of the barrier that I put up between my present and my past.
That only worked for so long. I could tell you that it didn’t work but that would be a lie. It did work. It worked really well for a long time actually.
Then my tools stopped working. This wasn’t even a one-time thing – it happened over and over again in different ways. Which eventually lead to me finding new tools. Those are what I offer to teach today.
It’s an interesting experience being a caregiver of kids.
People often say motherhood is the greatest gift of life and portray parenthood like some fairy tale journey of never ending rainbows and cookies.
This has not been my experience.
In my experience it can be challenging. It can be a catalyst for awareness and change.
Parenting and step-parenting is sometimes like looking in a magical mirror that exposes your deepest fears and insecurities about yourself.
Have you ever wondered why little things your stepkids or your kids do will push your buttons?
Of course you have.
It’s not just your stepkids- it can be your partner or a co-worker too but kids … they usually take it to a whole new level.
Now, not everything that bugs us is because of our own childhood wounds and issues.
Sometimes it’s just because kids are challenging. Being a caregiver is very hard work. So if what’s bugging you is that your baby is teething and has a cold and isn’t sleeping … that’s not what I’m talking about. That’s just hard stuff. If you have a kid with colic or a kid struggling with a special circumstance like an illness or a personality disorder those are real circumstances that are just hard things.
But if you have a young stepkid who you feel is disrespectful because they don’t always say goodbye or thank you or they eat too loudly or they leave messes at the dinner table and this sets you into a spiral of emotion that you struggle to control.
That’s what I’m talking about.
If you have a kid who isn’t doing well in school because they skip assignments and this is keeping you up at night and you are fighting with that kid and your partner every day about it …yelling and screaming and hating yourself for it that’s what I’m talking about.
Because I’m sorry to tell you but those are normal age-appropriate behaviors. They are not always super fun but they are normal. If you have a strong reaction to normal behaviors that can sometimes be a clue that it’s time to look within. The problem is not always the behavior, it’s sometimes your thoughts and reactions about and to the behavior.
Not always but sometimes. When it is then the solution is often within us. No matter how much we might want the solution to be an external change the solution often starts with us.
I’ll throw one more into this mix for you. If you are repeating the same situations in relationships over and over and wondering why – and perhaps hoping for a different result in the future – I think this is a clue that it might be worth looking inward to do some self work.
When we see our flaws and fears reflected back at us in the actions of children then I think we each have a choice.
I believe that the choice is to ignore what we see and feel or dive deep and try to fix the issues.
If the greatest gift my parents gave me was to allow me to see their imperfections and mistakes then I believe that the greatest gift I’ve given my stepkids and kids is to work on myself and to allow the children in my life to see me do that work.
It’s one thing to be aware that something is an issue. It’s another thing to see it and commit to doing what you can to heal that issue and not let it continue to cause us suffering.
This is the work of self-development.
See the issues. Learn the tools that help. Apply the tools to ourselves. Experience the rewards. That’s the work.
What’s more this work has also been and continues to be my own greatest gift to me.
Learning and implementing tools for self-exploration and self-coaching has been transformative for me.
I’ll give you a personal example. I had been told from a young age that I had some issues with abandonment from my experiences as a child. This is something I knew because I had been told. I accepted it or tried to accept it as a fact. Acceptance is important but what if I wanted to do something about that situation. I don’t think I had ever really been told what to do about it if I wanted to change it.
This became uncomfortable to me when I was suddenly in a spot to try and give and receive unconditional love to my stepkids and my kids as their stepparent and parent. I had a name for the reason it felt hard. I didn’t quite think I knew how to do that. I knew I didn’t want to repeat what I had gone through. So I committed myself to try and change. For me this learning meant not only accepting my imperfect relationship with my own parents but allowing myself to be open to being taught and experiencing new things like feeling unconditional love from a child.
Being able to get to know myself honestly and truly is the most liberating experience I can offer to share with you.
It’s not always easy to look at our fears.
You already know this. Right?
If you are afraid of spiders or snakes or heights the easiest thing to do is to avoid places where those things come up.
Unless the fears come to you. Like in the Indiana Jones movie where the room is filled with snakes. EEEEWWWW. OMG what will we do. Luckily that is just a movie.
This is what happens in families when our fears become visible to us in the actions and behaviors of others. All of a sudden the fears that we have been trying to avoid are right in front of us in the form of a kid doing regular kid things.
It takes a pretty big dose of bravery to admit to ourselves – this scares me.
Then to admit to other people that this scares you… woah. That can be downright unpleasant to think about.
And yet, I promise you that in my personal experience as an adult this is the process and the work that pays off in peace and freedom and happiness.
This is the work that I help my clients with every day. I teach tools of self-exploration, self-coaching and self-development to help my clients find their own path toward less chaos, peace and happiness in their families.
If what I’m sharing today speaks to you and you would like to know more I invite you to check out working with me. You can find more information about the different ways to work with me here.