Friday, September 24, 2010

How Good Do We Have to Be? Part 3- The Cycle of Guilt

"The relationship between a parent and a child is the most complicated one a person will ever have, even more than between wife and husband." -Rabbi Harold Kushner

Chapter 4 entitled, "Fathers and Sons, Mothers and Daughters" was so moving and struck such a tremendous chord with me that I read it twice. Kushner delicately describes our roles as children and parents and what everyone involved needs from each other. Both parents and children yearn for the other to admire and love them unconditionally, yet children need our protection and acceptance. Children can only hurt and embarrass their parents to a limited degree, yet parents can inflict untold damage which may cause a chain reaction affecting all relationships in the child's future.
"We harm them them not only with physical and emotional violence. We harm them with unrealistic expectations. (A colleague of mine says that 'being disappointed' is a uniquely middle-class form of child abuse.) And we harm them by not modeling an adult lifestyle for them, an approach that includes a willingness to make and admit mistakes and learn from them rather than always insisting that we are right. Children need to admire their parents. And one of the things we should teach our children to admire about us is our willingness to say, 'I'm sorry,' 'I was wrong about that,' 'I don't know.'I can remember times I had to tell my children that I had been wrong about something, how fearful I was that they would lose respect for me because of that admission, and how astonished I was to find that they love me all the more for being willing to say that. They needed to hear that from me. They needed to be assured of my integrity more than of my perfection." -Ch. 4, "Fathers and Sons, Mothers and Daughters"
If there is only one chapter you read from this book make it this one (I say that now although I have yet to finish the book. I'm a slow reader.) I used to question why parents in general mistreat their children the way they do as I've witnessed in public settings, to me it would make sense to avoid any action which may hurt the child physically, emotionally, and psychologically. That was of course before I had children of my own. Now that I'm a parent I catch myself treating my children the same way I was treated. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't abused in any way nor do I abuse my children, but I have found myself making the same minor, although crucial, mistakes my parents made. I hold them to higher expectations than I should, being disappointed in them when they fail. I put too much pressure on them to succeed while forgetting that they're children (in fact they're not even in pre-school yet).

So what can we do to stop the generational cycle of guilt? We should begin by acknowledging to our children and to ourselves that we are broken and fallible creatures. Admitting that we, as protector and guide to our children, can and will make mistakes shows our children that even though we are surrounded by imperfection we are capable of learning from our mistakes. We can overcome them and not be defined by and bound to them. We have to allow our children space to grow into the beautiful living creatures they are, to grow into their humanity. Unfortunately this means they can, will, and must make their own mistakes. As a parent we want to stop them from experiencing any pain whatsoever. We want to shield them from the suffering we endured while we were young. But shielding them from pain also shields them from beauty, from truly living out the human experience. We so desperately want to carve out the perfect life for them but doing so we weaken them by building up a false reality, a reality of high expectations and unattainable images of perfection. We must allow them to live their lives and not hijack their dreams with our own. Sure, we may not have been the ball player we always wanted to become but we shouldn't force our children to take up a sport they have no interest in or push them to unrealistic levels of success. They must always know we will love them even if they make mistakes, but this can only be done if we break through the illusionary world of perfection by admitting our own faults and failures. This takes guts, guts that I wish I had at times. I know that my relationship with my children is affected by my history with my parents, and this is the same for most (if not all) of us. I yearn for their continuous love and affection as much as my children yearn for mine. So why not give it to them? Why deny them the love they need to grow and become parents themselves.
"When we liberate ourselves from the myth that God will love us only if we are perfect, then we will no longer feel that we need to be parents of perfect children to be admired, or children of perfect parents to survive and succeed."

Part 1: A Story of Emergence
Part 2: Guilt and Shame
Part 3: The Cycle of Guilt
Part 4: The Wholeness We Seek
Part 5: Is There Enough Love for Everyone
Part 6: Final Thoughts


captron52 said...

In the book "The Prophet" by Gibran he reminds us that we do not "own" our children, they are only on "loan" from the Universe ande it is our job to try and teach them well.Hope you have a great weekend Sam

Don said...

Great post! I sent the quotes from Kushner to my rational, moderate son, who is a father of two. Still trying to decide if the oldest son, who is a very conservative, fundamentalist, would read something from a Jewish Rabbi....

Eruesso said...

@ Ronnie- I've read something similar to that but I can't recall where.

@Don- Depends how conservative your son is. Conservative fundamentalists have a LOT in common between faiths. He might read something from an Orthodox Rabbi. Have you read Karen Armstrong's "The Battle for God" on the history of Fundamentalism? Great read.

Don said...

I have several of Karen's books in my library, on my "to be read" list. I hope to get to them soon.

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