The Joys and Agony of Parenting

In Spades

by Kenneth L. Stewart, Ph.D.  

The bad news I have for you today is ú no matter how much

we might wish it, we cannot escape the influence of our

parents and grandparents. Nor can we avoid influencing our

children. Especially in ways we don't intend. For example,

we may not wish to act like our parents in some ways to not

be as perfectionistic or as indifferent about performance;

not as rigid or not as loose; not as tight with money or as

much a spendthrift; or not as overpowering or as overpowered.

We may even make vows not to play out the same story with

our own kids. But like it or not, these stories and the pull of

their powerful plots is always deceptively strong.

The same goes with you and your own kids.

Each succeeding generation writes its own story. In some ways the story seems the same, in some ways changed. Some kids try their darndest not to be like their mothers or fathers. And sometimes they succeed. They turn out less obsessed with money and success, or more determined to make something of themselves in areas where their parents fell short. But sometimes they hand it to us in spades. If you think of yourself as someone who can be stubborn at times, your son or daughter may have learned very well, specializing in stubbornness even more than you. They may have it down to an art ú so much so that you may be unable to crack the fierce exterior of their stubbornness. You may be rendered nearly helpless. Or if you are dramatic, your son or daughter may be able to act circles around you. Or if you favor independence, they may figure out how to be so independent that they almost disappear.

It's as if they take your story, incorporate it, and then add to it, intensify it. And hand it back to you in spades. This would be okay if the traits they decided to intensify were things like responsibility, thoughtfulness, or achievement. But even that can backfire. They wind up over-responsible, or nervous high achievers. But too often, they take our difficulties and exaggerate them beyond our pride and into our horror: our low self-esteem turns into self-destructive behavior in them; our occasional dishonesty turns to blatant dishonesty in them; or our need to have fun becomes in them a young life thrown away.

They become not only a mirror of us, but in some ways, more of us than we would ever want. They learn too well. And the more we may push at them to be less stubborn, less independent, less dramatic, or less dishonest, the more they dig in their heals, committed to writing their own story even if it is an exaggeration of our own. Ah ! They joys of parenthood.