Childhood Hang-ups & the Elusive Better Life
I had a relatively difficult childhood. We were poor most of the time, very unstable, moved around a lot, hopping from motel to friends house to shelter to homes of our own, then back again. There were drugs and alcohol and abuse between our parents and child protective services always on our tails. We had a lot to worry about, a lot to be thankful for, and a lot of misconceptions about ‘normal’ life. We had a hard time, but there were others who had it worse, and we knew that. It’s never until adulthood that you look back on your childhood and fully understand it… can reconcile what was happening and what should have been happening, can make peace or ressurrect new demons.
For me, it’s a bit of both. But perhaps the most profound effect looking back on my childhood has had is the desire to give my children a ‘better’ life… and it’s a desire that fuels most of my decisions in raising my kids, whether for the better or the worse.
The problem with wanting to ‘give your children a better life’ is that, you probably don’t have a very realistic understanding of what a ‘better life’ really is. You look to blogs and television, the tales of perfect happy home life your friends spin on Facebook. You look to the dreams or fantasies you may have had as a child and you try to create this perfect life and perfect home out of thin air.
Oh sure, you read parenting books. You research it, collecting images of perfection from Pinterest and articles from parenting.com, you bookmark… well everything, you even buy an apron, then you try like hell to build that ‘better life’ for your beloved children. But imagining and researching are so different from actually experiencing. It’s easy to follow in your parents’ footsteps. To say, this is a family tradition, my mom always did this, and were going to do it too. Its easy to pass down knowledge… recipes, skills, stories, morals and values. Its easy when you have a template. But when you’re working from scratch, with high-faluting ideas about what a ‘better life’ really is… well, it presents a few challenges.
As a child, we had no rules, no chores, no scheduled bedtimes and certainly no dry-erase charts and reward systems. Naturally, when I began to build a family of my own, I did just the opposite, because good families have systems they follow, so everything can run smoothly, right?
I can’t recall a single conversation with my parents about morality, God, religion, good and evil… nothing. So, as I grew up, I was drawn to faith and found Islam. Now, I struggle to find creative, effective ways to instill faith and morality in my children… and this is easier said than done.
My parents didn’t talk to me about sex, so I speak with my older children at length, trying to answer every question they could possibly have so that they know I am always here to give them honest answers… so that they never enter into the world of sex and romance as lost and confused as I was.
My mom didn’t bring us in the kitchen and teach us how to cook. She didn’t explain how to clean properly, or pass down old tricks to repair things, reuse them, make them last. So I am on a constant mission to train my kids in the kitchen and teach them in incredible depth how to maintain a home… so they don’t have to figure it all out on their own, like I did.
We didn’t have family meetings and share gratitudes and discuss problems. We didnt have limited electronics time and restrictions from violent games and movies. We didnt have strict and balanced diets, we didn’t take vitamins and use natural remedies. My mom certainly never made our own toothpaste.
In my mind, a better life meant all of this. A better life also meant we weren’t poor. It meant the house was always clean and the kids helped achieve that. It meant we played board games and spent oodles of time together. It meant we had sleepovers and camped in the backyard. Did neighborhood BBQs and rode bikes as a family on the weekend. A better life has always been one hell of a lofty goal, and having grown up without it all, I find myself struggle to cram it all into one tiny little fairytale I call our life.
The problem is that I don’t think any one family really has every single thing I never had as a child. Sure, some families have some of those things, but no one family is doing it all, all the time. And my poor misguided belief that I can (and should!) leaves me in a constant state of despair. I am failing, I tell myself. I’m not giving them a better life at all.
The truth is, I need to step back and develop a more realistic vision for our family. I cannot give my children everything I never had… it’s impossible. And I don’t have to shun absolutely everything I did experience in my childhood… because despite the dysfuction, there was some good in there too!
Poverty causes one to have a greater sense of gratitude and satisfaction in life, and it also drives a strong sense of entrepreneurship… or hustle, as my mom would call it. So I encourage my kids to start their own businesses, like my mom always did for me.
Chores and rules are necessary, I think, if only for my own sanity, but loosening up now and then and going with the flow can be such a huge relief to both the kids and the parents. Sure, that means the house may get a bit messy, the routine is broken, but spontaneity is a good thing, and I had lots of that in my childhood.
There are so many things that I can loosen up on and let go… and I just have to give myself the right to. As long as I’m beating myself up, trying to build this fairyale family, I am going to fail. I can give my kids a better life without throwing everything from my childhood to the wayside, and I can give them a better life without fulfilling every desire, every little crack and crevice in my own childhood soul that never got filled.
Do you struggle with your ideas of a ‘better life’ for your family? Did your parents provide a good template for you to follow or are you forging a new path of your own? What is your version of a better life? Are you already living it?
I hope to hear from you all… I don’t think I’m the only one with this struggle and I’d love to hear how others are dealing with it.
**This is a part of the “Motherhood Project” series, where we reflect daily/weekly about our roles as mothers, step-mothers and daughters, in an effort to better understand ourselves, our children, our goals, and our experiences. Join in by subscribing to the blog and joining the forum!**