The Not Destroyed Family

How to be a better parent

When I was a very small child, I began to study the mothers and children around me.  Why did some children seem happier than others?  Why did some moms yell and hit, while others never seemed to get angry no matter what their children did to them?  Was it the child’s fault, I wondered?  

As I grew, I continued my study of the world around me.  A precocious early reader and an only child, I began reading whole books at the age of 7 and expanded quickly to include everything I could get my hands on, reading as many books as the library would let me check out, including biographies and books on psychology, religion and philosophy.  I wanted to know what made people do what they did  and in particular, what made parents and children do what they did.  

My parents adopted a little girl with severe Reactive Attachment Disorder when I was 13.  She was 10. This was long enough ago that her files were blacked out in big strokes of magic marker and my parents were neither trained to deal with her issues or allowed to even know what they were.  I alternated from the seething hatred only an adolescent girl seems capable of to enormous pity for a child who went from a physically and sexually abusive environment to an emotional one.  

My parents were not parented well and I would love to say they did their best when parenting me, but the truth is, they didn’t. Their parenting was unexamined and reactionary; erratic at best. I would sit in front of my mother, as she screamed in my face and told me how worthless I was, and I’d silently resolve to never treat my child that way. As she required me to do adult things at much too young an age, I’d add to my internal list of things my future children would never have to do.  By the time I had my own children, my list was quite long.  I had no idea others didn’t constantly observe, evaluate and plan their future parenting until I began writing my first parenting book in my 40s, and was genuinely surprised to hear it wasn’t the norm.  

My survivor’s personality carried me through many stages of awful, until I convinced my husband to marry the big mess that was me. As we were dating, I learned he didn’t examine why his parents did what they did – not at all!  In fact, he didn’t even question them.  In my typical battering-ram fashion of extreme subtlety, I confronted his obvious lack of growth. It was many years later I came up with the packing, dumping and repacking your drawers.  Though my observation, education and tremendous consideration of parenting had given me good instincts, my execution had a long way to go.  

Until I became a parent, I held few jobs that didn’t constantly expose me to children.  I was a dance teacher, gymnastics coach and children’s ministry director. When I did wait tables and for a few months, work in a library, I was still drawn to children like a magnet. I volunteered to work with children whenever there was an opportunity.  I continued to read, but expanded into parenting books.  There were sadly few of them that spoke enough truth into my life to keep me satisfied.  I wondered, why was it always psychologists who wrote these books?  Where were the successful parents, instead? Where were the leaders to show us how to get this part of our lives right?  I didn’t want a gentle, grandpa-like psychologist. I wanted a woman who’d been there, done that and bore the scars of the struggle.  I wanted to hear the way to get it right!

I was born on the same day as my son, Joshua.  I’d been preparing for 26 years for that moment and even I, who thought everyone had been planning their future parenting in their head like I had, knew something special had happened to me.  Until that moment, and I do remember the exact second I felt it, I didn’t feel my purpose.  But with Joshua’s eyes looking up at me from his baby burrito, I knew that I knew that I knew.  And I’ve known ever since.

With each stage, I have walked in a constant examination and study. This doesn’t mean I got everything right – heck no!  There has been no harsher critic of my parenting than myself, but as each stage came and so very sadly, passed, I have discovered I’ve done a lot more right than even I dreamed possible – even when we  were in the midst of a sexual assault crisis.  

When others were around our family and felt the peace of a functioning family – not always happy, not always getting it right, not always doing everything on the list above – but functioning, some asked us, “How?”  

When our babies slept through the night

When our toddlers came to us when we called

When our preschoolers didn’t have fits

When our grade schoolers didn’t talk back

When our pre-teens respected us

When our teenagers confided in us

When our young adults chose us

And those “how” questions, along with the parenting itself, has created a fully formed method of parenting.  I began building this method in my head 40 years ago, as a tiny girl in an apartment complex.  

And whether you believe it takes book study, application or like Ericsson, that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert, the truth is I’ve only recently acknowledged I am, in fact, an expert on parenting. As I’ve stepped away from my own life and examined it from the outside in, I’ve realized everything about my life so far has brought me to this – to this very place in time.  And my message is simple.  I’m here to help caregivers learn how to parent their children.  I’m here to help homes have peace and love as their defining personality.  I’m here to make a difference in the world – one tiny and valuable home at a time!

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