The dangers of correcting your parents' mistakes
At a young age, before having kids was little more than a fleeting thought, we all said, "I'm never doing that to my kids." Wanting to better the lives of our children is a fundamental component of evolution, but we must proceed with caution.
"I'm never doing that!"
Remember as a kid — and more specifically as a teen — when your parent did something you deemed to be horrifically unjust and you muttered under your breath, "I'm never doing that to my kids!" Sure you do, because we all did it. We all demonized our folks at one juncture or another, wondering, who in this fair land decided our parents were capable of raising kids? We were convinced our parents were so closed-minded and old-school — and that there had to be a better way.
What was your parents' intent?
Then we have kids and reality sets in. It's not as easy as it looks, is it? All of a sudden the things that your parents said and did (that at the time defied all logic) start to make sense. And that scares the hell out of a lot of us. To keep from repeating what you see as your parents' shortcomings, establish what their intent was.
When I was a teenager, my father was impossible to please. I cared for my younger siblings without incident, I was employed, on the honor roll and didn't drink, do drugs or fall into the typical trappings of teen behavior (mostly because my father was a large man and strong disciplinarian — not someone you toyed with). Still, no matter what I did, it wasn't good enough. I got yelled at, criticized, made to feel inferior. My dad was trying, in his raised-by-a-general-in-the-Air-Force way to instill responsibility and self-sufficiency in me — which he did. But there had to be a better way.
Is there a more constructive approach?
I wanted my kids to toe the line, behave responsibly and be self-sufficient just as my dad did. I was kind of a hard-ass too, but I tried to balance it out with the praise that was so missing from my youth. I can't tell you the number of times I've told my kids, "I know I'm quick to bust your chops when you do something not-cool, so I really want to thank you for (good act or deed)."
Avoid overdoing it
Of course if you've been a parent for more than 10 minutes, you know that in avoiding your parents' mistakes, you run the risk of going so far in the other extreme that you make a whole host of exciting mistakes yourself. I have a dear friend who was disciplined harshly as a child, and has pledged to not be heavy-handed with her kids. She's an excellent mother, but so overindulgent that her kids rule the roost and are disrespectful and misbehaved.
Parenting, like any other big undertaking in our lives, is all about balance. We have to find a middle ground. We should also commend our parents for seeing us to adulthood in one piece, and while we're "correcting" their mistakes, continue to incorporate their parenting methods that were effective.