Memories and Messages to Last a Lifetime - Part 2

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This is the second in a series of articles which focuses on the many ways messages are sent and received within all families, with special attention, when appropriate, to adoptive families. This month's article examines how all parents can learn to recognize and truly understand their child's feelings if they have the capacity and motivation to remember their own childhood experiences.

Edam Lesion, an educator and family counselor, encourages mothers and fathers to look into themselves in many ways. In her article entitled, The Secret to Being A Great Parent, Lesion notes that her perceptions are very different now from what they were when she was a young mother and not yet as clearly in touch with her childhood memories. She recalls, for example, when her daughter, Wendy, was three and they were in a supermarket together at noon. Wendy began howling, jumping around in the cart and throwing anything she could get her hands on. Lesion remembers her embarrassment and her fury. She yelled at her. She threatened her. Lesion states, "surely I made her feel she was bad".

Most of us can relate to the author's reaction and also to her wish to have an opportunity to do it again, differently. I remember scenes such as this and also my longing to have a chance to play it over again. In working at the task of recalling my childhood, I experienced a feeling that I called "an exhaustion unto madness". Only then did I understand that when young children get hungry and tired, they lose control.

What would have helped, how could that scene have gone differently? What Wendy needed was for her mommy, to take her out of the cart, find a quiet aisle, sit down on the floor and rock her, hug her and say, "You're so hungry, you're so tired! It's lunchtime and naptime and I'm sorry we didn't get home sooner. I'm going to get you a banana and some raisins and we'll get home as fast as we can".

Wendy would have know she was a perfectly normal, lovable child overcome by circumstances beyond her control. Her self-esteem would have been intact. Isn't that one of our main goals as parents?

The more I have studied parent-child relationships, the more convinced I am that when we are the most upset about a problem with a child, it is because the child's behavior has struck a nerve. It brings close to the surface of consciousness some very old buy powerful feelings from our childhood.

I you yelled at a parent did you get spanked? If you were jealous of the new baby did you have to hide your feelings? If you felt your parents loved a brother or sister more than they loved you, did your perception seem to force you into acting so that the prophecy came true? Can you remember being in terror of your own fantasies or the shadows on the walls at night? Were you frightened if you heard your parents fighting in another room? Did you get punished for daydreaming? Were you afraid of tests on subjects you hated and didn't understand?

I you work at remembering, you are more likely to figure out why certain things about your child make you angry, anxious or stressed. More importantly, finding that child part inside of you can help you empathize with what your child may be experiencing.

This is proactive rather than reactive communications. As parents we often forget the potency of the messages we send to our children. Whenever possible, our messages need to be intentional, not accidental, and proactive rather than reactive.

Parents who try to remember their childhood can also reminisce with a child and share important feelings. Saying, "boy, I know how you must feel, I used to be scared, too" or "I can remember being so angry!" helps children feel less lonely. Reflecting on your feelings will help you to be an ally instead of an adversary. The bonus for us as parents is that in trying to remember and share, we grow in self-understanding.

One mother shares with me, "After I told my thirteen-year-old daughter I understood her rebellious feelings and how mixed-up I felt when I was her age, we got along better. But the best part, was that I started getting along better with my mother."
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