Comforting Words: Christmas Reflection #4

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Christmas Reflection #4

Parenting was a big issue for me this year. It was less about my parenting skills or abilities and more about how I was parented.

In one of my articles, Parenting 101a, I shared with you some of the anxiety, the barb-wire like moments, I was feeling about how I parented my own baby girl – who is now 18 and a first year college student.

While I still harbour some of those anxieties, particularly the one having to do with the day she moves out, what I have learnt coming to the end of this chapter is that the thing that I most feared doing is what I am in fact modelling.

This insight came during a recent telephone conversation with my woman-friend A., who I had called because I was in deep distress about my own mother and what to do next. As I bawled over the telephone to A., telling her how much I see my baby girl as the end of the cycle that started with my grandmother and how hard I have tried to ensure that she understood that as women we do not have to fall into the same trap my mother did and that I have fought so hard to escape, I could hear A. waiting for me to shut up.

Then, in her usual quiet, no-nonsense way she said to me, “But my dear Claudette, you are doing exactly what you say you don’t want to do.” Now on the defensive, I retorted, “How?”

What she said next is a front-runner for "Lesson of the year" in my books.

All this time I was worried about being a role model of confidence, strength and compassion – or so I thought – for my daughter, I was unwittingly continuing to support my mother’s co-dependency and poor choices. I thought I was being a good parent and role model, teaching my daughter the lessons of forgiveness and compassion but here was my trusted woman-friend showing me that the “road to hell is [truly] paved with good intentions.”

She suggested to me that I was in fact showing my daughter "how to feel guilty but pretend not to be" through seeming acts of compassion and responsibilities. The 'good works' so to speak. At first I thought this was outrageous but sitting with what A. said for a while the light went on.

I have shared with you some of my life story, at least the road I have walked in the early years and the pain and struggles of my relationship with my mother. I promise to continue sharing this story with you in the New Year but for now and through this conversation with my woman-friend I have come to a deeper understanding that as parents, we model for our children all the time, in our actions and even in our non-actions. I have come to learn that guilt is more insidious and pervasive than one would think and it permeates all our experiences in not-so easy to recognize ways.

No haute couture myself but I can now totally identify with this quote by Coco Chanel: “Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death.”

This is my lesson on parenting and being parented for 2005 and I pray that it will inform my living as a parent and as a child in 2006. It is the gift of life that I am giving myself and in fact, my daughter, this Christmas.

What gift are you giving to your children?

Blessings,

Claudette

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