Several years ago I began my blogging "career" as a love letter to my children. One Generation to Another was started to share family stories and bits of wisdom I'd collected over the years. I loved my weekly posts on One Gen. Sometimes they were humorous, sometimes very solemn, but they were always meant to be at least slightly didactic! Below is one of my favorite blogs.
To this day, if someone were to ask me what was the single greatest secret to being a good parent, I'd have to say... remember your youth. And not just WHAT you did, but WHY you did it, and HOW you felt. Then, when dealing with your children, give their trials and tribulations all the respect, consideration and validation you sought as a child. Do that, and you are well on your way to having a wonderful relationship with your children. Below is a blog first posted on January 15, 2008. I hope it speaks to you.
Think back to your first kiss…your very first kiss from a potential suitor. (We’re not talking about Mommy or Daddy tuck-in kisses here!) Perhaps it was a stolen kiss on the playground, which you promptly wiped off with the back of your hand, or it was that long awaited first kiss, clumsily planted on your brace laden mouth at your first dance. Although the quality of the kiss varies, most of us remember it, and remember it well.
Mine came at the ripe age of 8. His name was Dennis. He was my brother’s best friend. Cute, brush cut, always got in trouble at school, even “flunked” a grade…my first bad boy! Anyway, I was madly in love with him. One day I was in his backyard playing with his sister. She was 4 years older than me, but would hang out with the younger kids if we let her play “Beauty Shop”. She had just gone into the house to get her supplies, and I was sitting on the picnic table awaiting her return. Enter Dennis…
Dennis: I just beat Keith at Buster Brown, and he said I could kiss you.
(Background…First, Keith was my older brother, and second, Buster Brown was a game played on a teeter-totter. The object was to get the other person up in the air so they couldn’t get down. When that happened, the suspended party chanted, “Buster Brown, let me down.” And the weightier participant responded, “What will you give me for me crown?” It was then the responsibility of the gravity impaired contestant to offer something suitable in exchange for his return to earth. Obviously, that day my brother the pimp, offered me!)
Me: He can’t give away my kisses. They’re mine, and I’m not giving you one!
Dennis: “Well, then I’ll just take one!”
At this point he wrestled me to the ground and while looking directly in the eyes…
Dennis: Now I’m going to kiss you.
He kissed me long and tenderly. Even at 8 years old I knew it was an incredible kiss. When he got up, I just laid there, staring up at the clouds, with my head whirling, and holding onto the grass so I wouldn’t fall off the earth! He started to run out of the yard.
Me: Wait! Where are you going?
Dennis: Back to the park to get another kiss!
After all these years I remember that kiss, but more importantly, I remember what it felt like to be “in love” at 8 years old. In the eyes of adults, childhood love is often reduced to trivial proportions, warranting nothing more than amused smirks and good natured teasing. When a child’s heart is broken, consolation often comes in the form of trite platitudes…
“It’s only puppy love.”
“You’ll get over it soon.”
“You didn’t really love him, it was just a crush.”
I will go on record of saying I think the most important secret to effective parenting is to truly remember how you felt while growing up. Love at 8, 12, or 16 is every bit as real, and inarguably purer, than love experienced at 23 or 46! Age is not a justifier of intense emotional conditions. And if, as a parent, you truly wish to communicate with your child then validate their feelings, and REMEMBER what would have helped you.
I remember one New Year’s Eve, when my youngest was around 11 years old. He was going to a “lock-in” at our community’s roller rink. A few weeks before that, he had met a girl while skating. She was from a different school, so they would meet at the roller rink, skate together and began talking on the phone. She became his girlfriend. He had bought her a Christmas gift, and New Year’s Eve was his first opportunity to give it to her. He had put a great deal of thought, and allowance, into the gift. The emerging romantic had purchased a necklace and teddy bear. He placed the necklace around the teddy bear’s neck, put a bow on it, and set off from home with a gift that would have melted the heart of any grown woman!
We dropped him off at 11:00 p.m. with plans to pick him up at 7:00 a.m. the next morning. At 11:45 we got a call from my son asking to be picked up. His father and I went to collect him, and when I saw him, I knew something was very wrong. “Let’s walk”, I suggested. It was snowing heavily, but the two of us trudged through the mostly abandoned parking lot. His father followed along behind us in the car, shining his headlights on the path we were forging. After a while of walking in silence he told me that his girlfriend broke up with him…after he had given her his gift. He looked to me for explanations. Why had she broken up with him? Why did she call just hours before to make sure he’d be at the party? Why did she accept the gift if she was going to break up with him? And why were her and her friends so mean to him after she did? I couldn’t give him the answers he was seeking. All I could do was feel his pain. We walked for half an hour, all the while I held on to the invisible locket that hung from my neck, holding the photos of Dennis and every other boy I had ever loved and memories of countless childhood joys and sorrows. I told him I was sorry he was hurting. I told him I’ve been hurt like that before. And I told him I didn’t know why she behaved like she did. I didn’t tell him that he’d get over this soon, or that he’d find a new girlfriend, or that this was the first of many heartbreaks. That's not what he needed from me that evening; he needed someone with whom to share his profound sorrow.
Of course, he did get over it soon, but the point being, at the time, his feelings deserved to be validated. His pain was real, as was his affection for the girl. Over the years I would have many of these types of discussions with my children. At other times, they choose to keep their emotions tucked away, and my job was to give them room to decide on their own course of action, and to honor their privacy. Raising children is an opportunity to relive our own lives; to revisit the wondrous, and sometimes painful, experiences that helped mold our adult form. By staying in touch with our own childhood, we will be better prepared to help our children through their own.
What do you keep in your invisible locket? Remember to wear it and open it often!