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Thursday, September 8, 2011

How Much Do We Screw Up Our Own Kids?

I am reading Andre Agassi’s bio Open and reminded of what a friend with three daughters once said as a group of us ranted about how hard it is to raise children. Her response, “No matter what you do you mess (substitute with curse word) them up anyway.”

There is truth in her comment and it’s all throughout the Agassi bio, which is about a father who relentlessly drove his son towards tennis stardom with no regard for what he really wanted. I’m only half way through, but the way that father treated his son is enough to disturb any parent. Andre’s father was angry, cold, scary, unloving and unwilling to consider anything that conflicted with his dream of what his son was going to be.

I’ve been thinking about how how much power parents have to influence the path their children take. In my experience the result of parenting it usually takes one of three:

1. Your kids end up completely rebelling and doing the exact opposite of what you wanted.

2. Your kids become their parents.

3. Or they may, as I have, hear their father’s voice in their head when they are angry at their children, watch themselves about to strike out verbally and physically, recognize it, go get help, and make a concerted effort to become a different kind of parent.

Do we have to screw up our kids?

I don’t think so. But there are so many people that I see who love their children and mess with their heads because they’ve never dealt with the place it is coming from.

Perpetuating the Behavior

My daughter and I were out to dinner the other night with a friend and his daughter, a lovely 12 year-old he dotes on. But he has a habit of getting annoyed and picking on her which I’ve seen before, and the other night I couldn’t bear watching. I think in this case, he was annoyed at me because I had a giggling fit over some ridiculous kitchen apparatus that he has and embarrassed him.

He couldn’t get mad at me, so instead he sat on a couch behind his daughter and mine as they played video games telling them what they were doing wrong. He didn’t just do it a couple of times, but over and over again escalating it so much that she finally turned to him and said “Daddy can you please just leave us alone.” Of course, then he got even worse.

I’m sure that this somehow came from the way a parent treated him, but I didn’t say anything and we left soon after.

Someone I worked with years ago was abusive. He had temper tantrums worthy of a four year old. He would call at all hours of the day and night screaming. He would ask me to do something and five minutes later would be furious that I hadn’t take care of it. Nothing I did was good enough, no matter how hard I worked. He was the definition of a bully, but we are not born that way. The kids who pick on others in school, I guarantee you their parents picked on them. All they are doing is perpetuating the behavior.

If we drink and take drugs will our kids follow?

Chances are if your parents have addiction problems you may too. But they say it’s a combination of nature and nurture and I’ve seen that in my closest friend and her family. Her father was a raging alcoholic. Her sister was a heroin addict who died of AIDs. Her brother is a raging alcoholic. And my friend is an overachieving yogi who is quite successful in the medical profession.

There were drugs in my household growing up. Three kids. Two took them. The other one rejected them completely. What we see or what is done to us does not make us who we are. Parents make choices. So do their children.

Where am I going with this?

I want every parent who reads this blog to take a deep breath and think about how their parents treated them, and what they saw growing up. Then reflect on your own behavior towards your kids. Break the bad habits you learned as a child. And be a better parent. Your kids will thank you for it.

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