Raising Better Parents

A lot of times, the compliment “you’re a good parent” comes with preconceived notions of how the person became that way. Outsiders will watch a smiling mom or dad playing with their giggling kid and make all sorts of assumptions. The most common is that they are the results of a good upbringing themselves. That great parent must come from even greater parents who came from still greater parents all down the line. This happy family is the result of many happy families before them.

That’s not always the case, though. A supportive mother or father doesn’t necessarily have to come from a supportive childhood. Some wonderful parents come from homes that lack any sort of resemblance to the one that they built. Some didn’t have parents at all. Some have relationships so fractured and hurtful that they never even mention or write about it. There’s no way to determine where someone came from based on where they are.

The ability to create a good family environment isn’t the type of thing that is exclusively taught. For some, it’s a need. It’s the need to right wrongs that they themselves have experienced. There’s a burning desire to give their children a life unlike anything they had known in their own upbringing.

sileFor me, it’s the realization that life can be whatever I make it. My kids will have a home that my wife and I make for them. It doesn’t have to be perfect and, honestly, it won’t be. It will, however, be filled with love, kindness, and understanding. If asked, I’d say that’s what a family should be. It doesn’t matter how many people are in it or who those people are. It’s family.

That’s a choice that I, as a father, get to make. My children don’t. To them, it’s just life. They have to endure whatever house I give them. If I decided tomorrow that we’re going to be a pirate-themed family who pillages their supper and drinks grog for breakfast, my kids are putting on eye-patches and crying as they swab the deck until they’re 18.  The bottom line is that we, the parents, set the stage.

It’s a stage based on right wrongs and making better decisions than those that came before us. The world outside may be cruel, but behind our front door, there’s no fear, judgment, or shame. There’s unconditional love.

Unfortunately, it’s something that many survivors of wayward childhoods never come to understand. They allow the poisoned memories of days gone by to steer how they handle the days that are upon them now. Anger from decades gone rip deserved happiness from their lives and the lives of those around them. Cruel ghosts dictate their family dynamic.

They mope their way through birthdays and cry their way through Christmas. For a while, everyone feels sorry for them. Then, as the years pass by, the sympathy morphs into resentment. Yes, the memories may be sad, but there is a new generation of memories being created right now. If you make them sad for your own children, you’re no better than those who did the same to you.

There’s more to it than smiling, though. There are no guarantees in life so making a happy house doesn’t always equal quality adults. News broadcasts are filled with mugshots of adults from “happy homes” and “affluent families”. It’s not just about having a positive home-life and interactions within the family. It’s about teaching your kids why it’s positive, showing them the steps you take to make it that way, and helping them understand how to do the same when it’s their turn. Then, hoping for the best.

If my wife does something nice for me, I’ll thank her. If my daughter is in the room, I’ll offer the same advice each time.

When you grow up and your spouse does something nice for you, you should thank them. People like to be thanked. They should do the same for your too.

She’ll nod and I’ll hope that it’s seeping into her brain. I offer similar words of wisdom when playing a game with her that she begged me to get off the computer for or driving her to various activities. I make sure that there’s no doubt in her mind that her happy childhood is the result of our hard work and combined effort. I want her to know for when it’s her turn.

You don’t have to come from a picture-perfect background to be a picture-perfect adult. Just because you’re clawing your way out of an old life doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a new life of tortured memories. It’s your chance to live how you had always wanted and a chance to give your own children everything you knew was missing.

The better you do, the more people will assume you came from the perfect childhood. It’s the ultimate compliment and an indication that you’re doing things right. You are. Where you come from doesn’t have to match where you’re going. At the end of the day, life is about creating a better world for your finish line than you had at your starting gate. There’s nothing you can do that’s more impressive than that.