We won’t all have the same “prizes” we are working towards. But in general, it’s health and well-being that we are aiming for. What has made our parenting role so tough at times (besides the general inexperience that we all have when we start out) is that we just don’t feel like everything is okay on the inside. We have conflicting memories and emotions, we are trying to sort out our mental states, and the all-encompassing disillusionment is all too real. We know that if we can somehow get better on the inside, then it might not be so tough on the outside.
It’s true though (we must remember): We want to be well, and we want to feel happy, too. We don’t have to feel bad for wanting to be healthy and for wanting to feel that all is right with ourselves. Where might this misplaced guilt come from? The guilt that says we don’t deserve to be happy or well? If you take a minute to ponder, the answer isn’t too hard to figure out. When things were flipped, and we were the child, well, we most likely had a parent or two or another authority figure or two who thought that (and behaved like) they were the only ones who mattered. That our feelings and general disposition didn’t matter as much.
I think that this approach to parenting was fairly common in previous generations. Parents first, children second. I just happen to see it all differently now—if we don’t treat our children like equal human beings, then how is that fair to them? Of course they have their own growing up to do, but that’s the point: our children are the actual children here. By making our children a priority (dare I say children first, parents second?), we give them a real chance to do the real kind of growing up that they deserve to do while they are still in their own childhood. If we take from them their childhood (by our being childish because we didn’t get the chance to be a child while we were yet children), then we are only perpetuating the cycle—the dysfunctional cycle of parentification and the like.
We can put a new, better, and healthier cycle into motion. It simply requires that we keep our eyes on the prize. Keep creating healthy habits in all areas. Keep the emotional channels clear. Deal with stuff as it happens (which includes choosing to let things go and choosing what to make an issue over). Become stronger in assertiveness skills. Follow through on things. Know what’s important to you and what’s worth getting riled up over. Learn to recognize when things simply aren’t worth the extra energy that you may want to expend on them by getting all worked up. Be selective about how you spend your time, attention, and power.
Do not for one second give away your personal power just so you can be “right,” “first,” “loudest,” “most important,” or “most visible.” We are parents, yes. And sometimes that requires us to “be the parent.” But it never requires us to behave in ways that betray our self-respect or that diminish our child’s personhood. We can do this! We are there! It just takes some focus, especially now that we have travelled this road for so long and so we may be tempted to stop now. Take everything you know and have learned and put it all back into the next leg of this journey. This is where we reap a visible harvest of all the hard work we’ve done on ourselves and on our relationships up until this point. It only gets better and better as we keep pushing forward.