Have you ever come across someone genuinely so good? Like they have the biggest heart and the brightest smile but years of agony hiding behind it. What pains me is that they don’t deserve it. They don’t deserve to endure so much pain and hurt and most of the time it can be traced back to dysfunctional family backgrounds and rifted parent-child relationships. I feel this urge to grab their parents by their shoulder, vigorously shake them and shout ‘Parents, please do better. Your child doesn’t deserve that.’
Coming from a dysfunctional family myself, I understand to what extent marital problems between spouses and rifted parent-child relationships can impact someone. And to be completely honest, I am saying this from a place of love and acknowledgment of all our parents’ endless sacrifices and love for us but we still don’t deserve these wounds. Parents need to grow; you will have to leave your old ways behind. The justification of ‘this is how I was raised by my parents so this is how I will raise you’ no longer stands true in an ever-evolving world like ours. While you may have the best intentions in your heart as all parents do, sticking to default parenting styles and patterns might cause more harm to your children than the good that comes out of it. Here are a few areas you can ‘grow’ as a parent.
I’m truly baffled by what it takes to have children. It’s conflicting to think that to be a professional of any field, it takes years of hard work and learning to be qualified enough to have a career but to have children, a lifetime commitment takes a single decision. But parents have a choice here to be truly prepared to have children instead of just succumbing to the societal pressure of having a child by a certain age. While being parents can come with its own set of unique challenges and circumstances, parents should not go into this with the hopes to just wing it and for great parenting to come naturally.
The period between deciding to have a child and trying to conceive one should be filled with preparation from different aspects. These may include financial stability to afford to have a child and the expenses that come with it, sufficient knowledge about childbirth and parenting, and emotional aspects of having a child. It may even include asking many tough questions such as if one’s relationship with their spouse is strong enough to handle having a child, what compromises and sacrifices you’re willing to make, if you have social support to lean on as new parents, is your relationship conducive enough to provide the child with a loving family, etc. Parenting classes are highly recommended to equip yourself with sufficient parenting knowledge.
Recently the topic of mental health is getting more attention than ever before, especially after seeing the destructive consequences of stigma around mental health issues during the pandemic. Social distancing and the Movement Control Order (MCO) pushed many of us into having deteriorating mental health. Worse, many lives have been lost.
However, many parents are not as aware of the importance of good mental health as the younger generations are. They tend to perceive mental health problems as typical teenage mood swings or as attention-seeking behaviour. Partly we can blame the stigma that surrounds mental health that causes many not to think of mental health problems as an illness of the mind like any other physical illness. However, it is also a lack of empathy and understanding from many parents towards their children. ‘You’re 15, what problems do you have at that age?’. It is undeniable that adults have much bigger and more serious issues to deal with in comparison to their children. But it is not okay to invalidate or minimize the problems experienced by your children. Growing up, especially during their teenage years can be a very confusing period for them filled with changes they are not prepared for. It is a period of transition into adulthood that comes with many challenges. Parents’ level of understanding towards mental health issues can be reflected in how they perceive their children’s problems and the social/emotional support they are ready to provide them. The understanding of the importance of mental health even among children can invite in a lot of empathy and understanding in parents.
Besides, children’s mental health can be severely impacted by their family backgrounds. Based on an article by Brian D’Onofrio and Robert Emery in 2019 on ‘Parental divorce or separation and children’s mental health’ states many research has found that parental divorce or separation is related to the increased risk of children experiencing adjustment problems, disruptive behaviours, and depressed moods. Marital problems are common and definitely impossible to avoid. However, how parents choose to deal with them is extremely important to your child’s mental health and development. This may entail utilising effective communication skills with your spouse to solve disagreements or keeping your children completely out of it. Often, parents tend to be consumed with their marital problems, they sometimes fail to see the detrimental effects of it on their children.
They are not you
Many parents tend to perceive their children as a mini version of themselves. This means they expect their children to turn out exactly like them, let it be in terms of values or likings. Some parents tend to even unconsciously use their children as their vessels to fulfill their unfulfilled desires growing up. For instance, we often see how some parents have made their children pursue certain careers because they were unable to do so in their time growing up. I have friends who absolutely despise the course they are taking but have no other choice but to do so due to the pressure from their parents. In both scenarios, parents fail to see their children as separate human beings who will grow up having different life experiences, dreams, likes and dislikes, or even core beliefs and values. I was adamant about pursuing psychology to the point my dad gave up trying to convince me otherwise. But I was still sat down by my friend’s parents to be lectured on why following my passion was the worst idea ever and how I should stick with courses like medicine, engineering, law, or dentistry like all the other good Indian children do.
This puts tremendous pressure on children to become someone they are not or don’t want to be for the sake of their parents. Some feel guilty thinking of all that their parents have done for them and make life decisions that do not serve them any happiness or peace. Parents need to begin seeing their children as separate human beings and respect their likes and dislikes. Don’t try to raise your children to fit into boxes or resemble you in every way. Give them space to be their own people and love who they are by letting them live their truth. While you may think they will be the best with the most resemblance to you, how they turn out to be when you give them the safe space to do so might surprise you and surpass your expectations on what’s best.
Of course, there is no way to strive for perfection when it comes to timing, raising children, or being parents because it doesn’t come with a guideline. But the acknowledgment of the space to grow more as parents instead of sticking to the known ways of parenting is vital. Just because something has been done for a very long time, it cannot be justified as the best way of doing things. We need to stop passing the pain we endured as children to our children when we can for a fact do better.
D’Onofrio, B., & Emery, R. (2019). Parental divorce or separation and children’s mental health. World psychiatry: official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), 18(1), 100–101. https://doi.org/10.1002/wps.20590
Jananie Chandrarao is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
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