I was raised by a mother who found fault in everything I did. Even my most painstaking efforts to gain her approval were completely futile. She was impossible to please, so I eventually stopped trying and ultimately stopped caring. It’s a wonder that I learned anything positive at all from the woman, but I did, and I would like to share a few of the things I learned from a hypercritical mother:
Children are worthy of respect.
Novel concept, eh? Children are individuals; they are thinking, feeling human beings with minds and ideas of their own. While we may have no idea where they’re coming from sometimes, or why they do some of the things they do — especially during adolescence — children and teenagers deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect afforded to those members of the human race who just happen to be older than them.
Being an adult does not entitle me to belittle or devalue someone simply because s/he is a child.
My son will be thirteen in less than four months. He is experiencing a lot of physical and psychological changes, and sometimes I feel like I don’t even know him. He is moody and cranky a lot of the time, even rude and disrespectful. Much of what I say to him goes in one ear and out the other, and sometimes his logic fails me. But snide, condescending responses to these things will only drive a wedge between us and broaden the gap in our communication.
It is my responsibility as an adult and a parent to model the type of behavior I expect from my child.
Adults are not automatically worthy of respect from children.
Respect is earned, and that applies to adults as well as to children. I will never insist that my son respect someone who disrespects him. That is not to say that I will allow him to behave disrespectfully toward another person, regardless of age. Not respecting someone and behaving disrespectfully toward that person are two different things. We can be courteous or civil to people whom we do not respect — it’s an important part of functioning in society. But if you want to be treated with respect, which I believe goes above courtesy or civility, then I’ll need a reason other than your date of birth.
If you want respect, then behave respectfully and respectably. Talking down to people, making them feel stupid or embarrassed for not seeing things your way or for not knowing or understanding something that seems obvious to you is not only disrespectful and hurtful, it is a form of emotional abuse that can permanently damage someone’s self-esteem, especially a vulnerable child.
Questions are good things.
I’m glad that my son is inquisitive, and that he comes to me with questions. I have always encouraged this and will continue to do so, regardless of how difficult his questions may become over the years. It keeps the communication flowing, and that is a vital part of any parent-child relationship. It’s important to try to give honest, straightforward answers whenever possible — even if the answer is, “I don’t know, but let’s look it up and see what can find.” I think this shows children that we’re interested in them, even if the topic doesn’t interest us that much.
On the flip side, my mother seemed irritated by questions. She seemed to regard them as some sort of intrusion, like answering to the likes of some snot-nosed kid was utterly beneath her. Even questions designed solely to make conversation or show interest were met with obvious annoyance and sarcastic responses. I learned at a very young age not to ask questions unless I wanted to be hurt and humiliated. I will not pass that lesson along to my son!
Different just means different.
Try telling that to my mother. She never seemed to understand that individual people have individual preferences and ways of doings things.
Wait, I take that back. She does understand that. What she does not seem to understand is that these kinds of differences do not make anyone inferior to her. Different just means different, and preferences cannot be incorrect by definition. There is more than one way to fold a bath towel, and none of them are right or wrong. They’re just different. Some people prefer mayonnaise, some prefer mustard. Neither preference is incorrect or inferior.
With my mother, there was never any room for individuality. As for me, my son’s emotional well-being and self-esteem are far more important than what he prefers to put on a sandwich, or having my dishes stacked to precision.
These are just a few lessons I learned from my hypercritical mother. I no longer have a relationship with her. The last and final straw was when I took my son back to my hometown and stupidly attempted to reconcile with her.
Nothing had changed. If anything she had become even worse over the years. She was just as controlling and critical of me as she had always been. But when she started directing her venom toward my son, I knew that it had to end. I simply refuse to subject my son to it. Shared DNA does not equal a healthy relationship and I will protect my son in every way possible from the effects of abuse in any form.
Do I always get it right? Absolutely not! I am talking to myself here as much as to anyone else. I hope that sharing this publicly will help to make me even more conscious, and accountable as well. I love my son more than anything in this world, and I want to do right by him in every way.