In order to become a good parent, the first thing I had to do was ignore a lot of what my parents did, and recognize the ‘bad’ parts of my upbringing.
The first part of that, of course, was realizing that the way I was brought up wasn’t ‘normal’. I’d suspected as much when I was twenty-two or so, when a part of me that had dominated my personality ‘broke down’ suddenly one night. But that is a different story, one which I call “The Machine”.
Now, I’ve always loved kids; always treated them well. But…
To make a long story short, I’d already had a background in psychology, sociology, and abnormal pysch shoved down my throat by my dad as part of his ‘experiment’ with my brother and I. Another story.
I had watched a lot of families growing up: how they would treat their kids. A lot of southern mothers are very much into giving their children love and kisses; so are the dads. It seemed quite unusual to me, as my parents never did any of that. It seemed WEIRD to me; but I could remember my ‘second’ mom, the lady across the street from my childhood – a typical southern mom – always giving me great big hugs and kisses when I would go see her. She still does.
Then, at twenty-three, I got adopted into a family. A REAL family, with three kids, who became as precious, if not more so, than my own today, because in many real ways, they saved me in so many ways. They kept me from killing myself, though they’ve never known that. They taught me the preciousness of innocence, the purity of a child’s love, and despite their somewhat abusive father (who I was often able to ‘defuse’), I found love there. Their mother and I would often talk about her love for her children, and she knew I loved them dearly as well. I guess I must of made some sort of impression, because they named their fourth child after me (a fact I didn’t discover until years later – another story . . . sigh.)
Anyway, these kids saved me, and I knew I would do ANYTHING to protect them from ANY harm – though like my parents, I never told them I loved them, never hugged THEM (tho’ they hugged me, and I would return their hugs.) I wish now I had. But there again: another story. (That’s what you get, Juliasmom, for prompting me to jump the gun, LOL!)
I will NEVER – and I mean NEVER – forget when I looked into the littlest boy’s eyes one day, and there, in his eyes, as clear as a rainbow, I could see he loved ME. Me – the unlovable. Me – the creature. Me – and it was so damned amazing. I can STILL see it, still feel it, and man – it changed me. It changed my life.
I swore then and there: I wanted THIS, what THIS family had: three kids. Just like these, these ones who had become so precious to me.
A few years later I found it (another story again!). Exactly what I was looking for. A divorced woman with three kids, just the same ages as the ones I was living with and helping to raise. It was quite literally a dream come true. And I mean literally: I had dreamed of this. Really.
And I knew: I would LOVE them – and let them know. For a lot of reasons.
By this time I’d not only figured out I’d been sexually molested, emotionally and mentally and physically abused – and what that had done for (or to) me.
It had driven me into the arms of a teenage sexual predator. One who infected a LOT of the kids in our neighborhood. Okay, I won’t go into that, not tonight; suffice to say he made me BEG for his abuse – because it ‘felt’ like love and acceptance – the things my parents had failed to give. This guy had ‘parties’, with all of us competing for his ‘affections’. Some really sick stuff there; not going there, not right now, it’s not ‘safe’ for me.
But realizing that my own parents cold and distant nature had driven me into this guys “arms” convinced me that I would make sure MY kids got the love they deserved and needed so that THEY would NEVER feel that absence in their life; they would NEVER feel unloved. Of course their mom helped a LOT.
But of course I wasn’t stupid. I knew my childhood ‘references’ regarding crime and punishment were wrong. In my story to my wife, the one I wrote her before we got married (so she could back out if she wanted) – I told her that. I told her SHE would have to be the one to physically discipline them; I would do my best, but I could never be sure – and as it turned out, I was rather light on them. I only spanked my stepson once – and after that, never again. It hurt ME too badly. A smack on the butt, or what I call ‘tapping the reset button’ to get their attention was all I would ever do from then on. Of course I couldn’t of been perfect; I know I must of messed up a few times. I’m sure I did. But my wife helped ‘buffer’ me, keep me on target, and made sure I never ever told them the things I was told; told me when to ‘back off’, how to handle myself when it came to matters like grades and homework; tasks and chores. And I always listened quite carefully, knowing that the way I was raised wasn’t ‘quite right’. (She agrees – wholeheartedly!) I never put ‘the fear’ in them I was threatened with. And I always made sure I hugged them before I left for work, and when I came home; gave them good night kisses, and tucked them in. And I never threatened them with a gun like their ‘real’ father did, though in the end the step-kids all ended up living with him anyway (another long story.) Not my choosing – they just wanted to go somewhere where they could do anything they wanted – anything at all (which is how both my stepdaughters ended up getting preggers by 15; one by a 75 year old man.)
By the time my biological daughter was born, I was ready. I made her into a tough, capable girl, smart, ready to lend a hand (she’s a volunteer firefighter, and going into medical to boot.) And she’s quite able to defend herself – I made sure of that. No one is ever going to abuse her, not if she (or I) have anything to say about it.
So in conclusion I would say the things that made me a better parent than my own were:
Taking a good hard look at how other, ‘normal’ families raised their children.
Learning I could be loved.
Recognizing the bad stuff in my life as just that: bad stuff that should never be repeated (breaking the cycle of abuse.)
Knowing that children need and deserve all the love they can get – and not just by ‘doing things’ like feeding them and taking care of them (my parent’s definition of ‘love’ – something a machine could do) – but by also expressing it to them – loud and often, every chance I got. And I still do.
I love MY family, MY kids, and my grandkids. I love kids in general.
I just wish I had known some of this stuff earlier; before. It really would of helped me out.