Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Toxic Parenting

We live in a world that covets the blame game. Why is my life so dull? Why are my career options so limited? Why can't I find true love? Why do I have mental health issues? Where did my life go so wrong? How did we elect this president?... To each of these questions, and countless more, we have justified our misfortune by casting the villain of the piece in question as, for example: lack of privilege, racial and biological inequity, predatory relatives, so-called friends, enemies... etc. When we do widen the net to encompass relationships closer to home and have it snag our nearest and dearest: parents, siblings, closest friends, staunchest allies... the picture becomes infinitely more complicated. Are we betraying a confidence? Are we the manifestation of selfishness? Are we targeting the persons we love simply to deny our own complicity in our own messes?
Academia is full of studies that reveal parenting to be the worst kind of hit-and-miss shit show in the collective drama of our lives - a crisis that lurches from one happenstance to the next... a cold, hard bed of existential, philosophical, and diabolically continuous dread... a dark, lonely passage unlit and unguided resulting in the revelation of base truths about ourselves that we had, until then, spent most of our lives trying desperately to keep at bay.
We have the best time of our lives at singular moments in the journey that is parenting, surely, but when we see the impact of what we have wrought or ignored, manifested in the shape and form of someone who has relied on us so completely for so long as to be as much of an inescapable reflection of ourselves as possible, do we look back and see the stark pitfalls in the parenting we experienced ourselves... or do we dismiss these sharply affecting insights as the needless, ungrateful, harking back to a different time in a different space at a different epoch in the history of human evolution?
It stands to reason that when we examine our own experiences in the parenting that we had as children, we could avoid some of the mistakes that we now readily forgive our forbears for, in the light of the magnanimity that comes from seeing ourselves as more enlightened persons living in a better resourced age.
When we remember our innumerable moments of shame over the course of a lifetime of dependence on our parents that now seem so silly or juvenile in hindsight, do we also think of what we would have done better? When we reflect on our stubbornly unchanging patterns of behaviour, on the legacy of our ways of thinking, on our memories of a million regrets, do we also imagine that we could very well have done without them being allowed to begin life as small inconsequential bits of mania that were ignored, laughed at dismissively, tolerated as 'oh-so-cute'? 'It is what made us who we are', we think, and live out our days swatting back the rancour that might erupt from the depths of our consciousness and disrupt the nice arrangements we now have for vacation/day/sleepover care that allow us a smidgen of relief from having that unrelenting mirror reflecting back to us; the multiple inadequacies, the lazy neglect, the terrible scrutiny of our subjective experiences with our parents, that are now helplessly being visited on our own children.
To instill a lifelong sense of debt over years and years of repetitive psychological cultivation... to expect a blind obedience to manifestly outdated and treacherously subjective self-sabotaging behaviours... to demand loyalty and allegiance from those who are now charting the various paths of their own lives, based not on what you once knew to be true and are now too scared to challenge, but on their own moral imperatives that have revealed themselves over the course of experiences of which you were never a part. If we are honest with ourselves, these are the antitheses of 'our responsibility to guide our children', aren't they? 'Encapsulating complicated relationships into three glib statements is just silly', you say. 'I most definitely do not identify with any of these', you state, as you call your son for the third time this week to ask why it is he never calls you back.
Perhaps an honest reflection on the sins of the past will make us less anxious of our own inevitable sins to come in the continuous evolution of our collective journeys as parents in this, the bespoke age of dark and limitless confusion.

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