Parents Leave Your Emotional Baggage at the Door

Recently I ran across a parenting blog in which the writer was reviewing an educational product. She immediately lost credibility with me when in her first paragraph, she wrote that the product made her feel like vomiting, and then used some form of sexual innuendo to refer to the innocuous item.I was curious: What kind of a person could have such an over-the-top, bizarre reaction to something so banal?
Reading her bio and other personal blog entries, I learned that she is haunted by a very sad childhood, filled with sexual abuse and parental abandonment. The non-physical disciplinary technique she was critiquing appears to have triggered her childhood feelings of terror, abuse and abandonment. I wondered, as I read her words, if the pain from her childhood was spilling over into her parenting.

It is important for us as parents to be aware of the emotional baggage that we bring from childhood into our children’s lives. Divorce, abuse, bullying, abandonment, neglect and the many other bad experiences one can have in childhood, often spill over into adulthood, and can have a drastic effect on how adults shape their children. It is hard enough to navigate through childhood without having to shoulder the hurt, anger and frustration of one’s parents.

Parents do not want childhood events affecting their adult decision making. It is natural that feelings are going to “come up” when we interact with our children. Parenting is much harder than anyone says and far more emotionally charged. It should be the intent of parents to calmly and rationally assess situations and respond fittingly. It can be irresponsible and counterproductive to make parenting decisions impulsively, stemming from feeling.

As Steven Covey says in The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People:

BETWEEN STIMULUS AND RESPONSE IS OUR FREEDOM TO CHOOSE.We have self-awareness, imagination, conscience and independent will. Responsibility is the ability to choose your response. Highly proactive people recognize that responsibility. They do not blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior. Their behavior is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based on feeling.

Bearing that in mind, the responsible parent lets the feeling come up: frustration, anger, stress, disappointment etc., pauses to choose a response, and then responds based on what is appropriate, not based on what she/he feels. Kids are precious, innocent, and impressionable; they deserve a suitable adult response to their normal child behavior.

The mom blogger above lost her authority as an expert on parenting techniques because her unresolved childhood issues forced her to respond irrationally. The venom that she spewed would have been perfectly appropriate if directed toward, say, a child murderer, but when directed towards a simple product, her reaction was weirdly out of proportion. One can only hope that when faced with parenting issues that trigger her in the same manner, she doesn’t respond with the same rage.

Parents who have unresolved issues leftover from childhood owe it to themselves and their children to take action. Working through painful emotions with a trained professional can free them up to make rational choices. Their defensiveness can be replaced by thoughtful and mature responses and decisions. A well thought out, appropriate response, is far healthier for parent and child.

All people experience hurt and disappointment during childhood. If those childhood experiences are going to have a negative effect on one’s offspring, then it is prudent to deal with the pain. Identifying that a painful past is affecting one’s decision making and then seeking help to resolve those issues, assures parents that they don’t pass on the hurt they are experiencing, to their own children. Kids deserve a positive upbringing and the guidance of a rational, loving adult unencumbered with ghosts from the past.

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Porn Stars Do Not Make Good Role Models

There is an audible groan from two mothers pushing their little children in strollers through the mall, as they are passed by a scantily clad group of teenage girls. “What parent would let her daughter leave the house like that?” she says referring to the group of girls in matching short shorts and tight, midriff baring shirts. 

Girls dressing in “Ho” costumes on Halloween, little girl t-shirts with sexual innuendo emblazoned across the chests, reality television that shows little girls expertly utilizing a stripper pole, musical lyrics that are sexually explicit and degrading to women, the demise of dating and the rise of “hooking up” are all appalling topics to parents of underage children.

Books like Prude: How the Sex-Obsessed Culture Damages Girls (and America, Too!) and Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture discuss in detail the detrimental effect that the highly sexual content on television, in music lyrics, in books, and on the internet has on today’s youth.  Sadly, girls are buying the false bill of goods that the media is selling them; that boys only want them for sex and their promiscuity leads to raised social status. They have also been led to believe that the only way to empowerment and equality is to be sexually aggressive like men (what men?). Their role models are “stars” like Pamela Anderson, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and porn star Jenna Jameson. Not exactly the women parents would hand pick to shape their innocent little girls.

Although the findings in the above mentioned books are disappointing and depressing it is probably not shocking to parents to learn that pornography has gone mainstream. One need just turn on the television to bare witness. Eighty three year old Hugh Hefner has a popular reality show glorifying his bizarre sexual relationship with three women, the youngest of whom celebrated her twenty first birthday while taping and wishes she were a pimp. MTV glorifies bawdy dress and behavior on shows like The Real World.

Lewd behavior and exposure to overtly sexual stuff is not what parents want for their kids. Parents know that objectifying little girls is not good for their moral, emotional, physical or spiritual welfare. Putting aside the frightening risk of pregnancy or catching an STD, moms and dads don’t want their girls getting used and degraded and they don’t want their boys to view the female half of the population as sexual objects begging them for sex.

A very loving and conservative mother recounts a story that horrified her. “I look hot!” her four year old said modeling a little two-piece bathing suit. “Over my dead body!” mumbled the mother to herself as she gently removed the suit from her little one and chucked it in the trash. “No way am I letting her go down that road!” the mother adamantly declared. She proudly continued, “I had the first of many talks that I will have with my daughter about dignity, self-respect and real power.”

Acts like this simple one the above mother displayed, exemplify the kind of guidance that parents must give to their children starting when the children are very young. As the many media outlets bombard kids with inappropriate sexual content it is important that parents stand strong, be positive role models and enforce the standards of conduct and dress that they know is correct.

Another simple act parents can take is to stop giving hard earned money over to stores that sell sexually explicit material and clothing targeted to children. On page 244, of  her insightful book Prude, Carol Platt Liebau notes, “Every time anyone makes it clear that over-the-top sexual dialogue or images aren’t acceptable for public consumption, she strikes a small but meaningful blow for a cleaner, more wholesome culture.”

It is not only girls that are being affected by today’s highly charged sexual climate, boys suffer too. Boys shouldn’t be seen as sexual troglodytes incapable of being kind and caring and only out for their own selfish needs. Like girls they are complex, sensitive and loving and need to be taught that being a man means having honor and decency.

 “Eliminate dating and replace it with ‘friends with benefits?’” scoffs a dedicated husband and father of two little boys. “I would never want to raise boys who treat girls like that. How are they going to learn to relate to the opposite sex if they use them like that?” He continues, “I want my boys to experience the kind of deep love and happiness that I have with my wife.”

For some reason it is difficult for some parents of underage children to fully embrace the role of parent. They are under the misconception that they can be buddies with their children, or “parenting partners”. It has become almost a cliché now, “children don’t need their parents to be their friends, they have enough friends, parents need to parent.” It is not necessary or prudent to be the “cool mom” or the “cool dad”. Level headed, thinking grown ups know and celebrate the fact that they are not on the same level playing field with their underage children. Let the kids have their turn at being kids; parents: it is time to let go of childhood and delight in the role of parent.

As sophisticated as children today seem, they are not miniature adults. Children desperately need and wish for their parents to guide them through the tough stages of childhood. Using wisdom, intellect, established values and adult problem solving skills parents can help lead the way to a bright and terrific future. If parents abdicate their authority in the hopes of being their children’s friend, parents shouldn’t be surprised when Jenna Jameson takes over their role.