Blood Pressure Analogy
My parents both suffer from high blood pressure. They were diagnosed in their late 30s/early 40s. All four of my grandparents also took blood pressure medication. You might imagine that I’d be heading in that direction right about now, at age 34.
Every time I see a doctor, I’m told what a remarkably healthy blood pressure measurement I have (think 90/50)… even before anyone looks at my family history and sees the contrast. I try to be healthy, but I confess that my diet has been comparatively poor of late, since the kids started eating all their weekday meals outside the home. Without them to cook for, I get lazy and forget to eat protein. I only exercise vigourously once a week and walk a couple of miles 4 times a week. Any more than that would take time away from my kids that I’m not willing to sacrifice.
Over the years, through trial and error, I’ve learned that my blood pressure is extremely sensitive to my salt intake. One serving of Sonic chili cheese tots, delicious though it may be, sends my blood pressure measurements into less happy territory. I read nutrition labels and steer clear of products high in sodium. I salt my own cooking within reason. I’m no salt Nazi, but I try to be aware of my sodium intake.
Perhaps in a decade, I’ll be telling you that I was all wrong and genetics won out after all on the blood pressure front. Perhaps not. Perhaps what looked like a genetic certainty was actually a lifestyle choice, a tradition of high sodium from which I broke free.
I’ve broken free of harmful behaviours before. I’ve brought an end to family traits that seemed inevitable.
A decade ago, when my ex-husband first proposed to me, I responded with, “Only if you don’t want kids.”
That’s right. I, Ms Lives-Breathes-and-Eats-Parenting, Ms Thinks-Raising-Children-is-Her-Calling, Ms Coordinates-a-Parenting-Blog, Ms Can’t-Stop-Talking-about-Her-Kids, didn’t want to be a mother.
He wanted to be a dad, but married me anyway. He said he’d be willing to sacrifice the chance of parenthood to build a life together.
I explained to him that it wasn’t that I didn’t like children so much as that I didn’t think I’d be any good for children. My own childhood hadn’t given me a model from which to parent. My parents provided for me very well. I went to the best schools, traveled all over the world and could read at age 2.
What was lacking, though, was parenting.
There was no moral guidance, little consistency, and no thought to what skills and tools I would need to be successful as an adult. There was constant and intense emotional abuse. Had it not been for my maternal grandmother and amazing teachers at those excellent schools, I don’t know what would have become of me. My sister, who wasn’t as good in school as I was and never had teachers who sought to mentor her, who lost our grandmother at age 8, is currently living in a homeless shelter.
A year into our marriage, my now ex told me that he thought I was wrong. He told me that he didn’t see the traits in me that I described my parents of having. He thought I was built to be a nurturer. I knew better. I knew that research and anecdotes showed over and over again that people fall into the patterns in which they were raised. The alcoholic’s daughter grows to be an alcoholic. The sexual predator’s victim becomes a predator himself. The abused daughter becomes an abusive mother.
I made an appointment with a therapist. I needed a professional to communicate to my husband why having children was out of the question. I explained to her my concerns. She asked me to come back and talk in more detail for a few more sessions before she gave my husband her professional opinion.
After a year of therapy, I had laid my demons to rest. I had identified all the aspects of my childhood that were abusive and harmful. I had worked through them. I had built and refined my own parenting philosophy. I was ready to be a mother. Our twin girls were born 8 months later.
Making a Clean Break
My parents were not critical thinkers when it came to parenting. I resolved to constantly analyze what worked and what didn’t in raising my own children.
My parents were inconsistent in their discipline and expectations. My husband and I agreed that consistency formed the core of a successful co-parenting relationship.
My parents believed that within the family, social mores of behaviour didn’t apply and that external relationships threatened the family unit. I resolved to live my live transparently, participating fully in my community and inviting community members into my children’s lives.
My parents reserved politeness for strangers; it was merely a social nicety. From their perspective, the family was the appropriate place to show the ugly side of one’s personality, the “true” self. I committed to considering the impact of my words and actions on my family members above all else. I vowed to improve myself, my “true” self, not just the veneer I exposed to others. I would not make excuses for my failings; I would seek to eliminate or minimize them.
I would admit when I was wrong.
I would love unconditionally.
I Am Hope
So far, it has worked. I haven’t even felt the urge to say to my children the sorts of things my mother said to me. Even my ex-husband, who has every divorcé’s rancor towards an ex-spouse, has never called me a bad or abusive mother. In fact, he has been consistent in letting me know, in word and deed, that he respects and trusts my parenting of our children. [Edit 2016: Custody issues have since gotten ugly.]
Yesterday morning, M and J got into an argument. J was giving what she considered to be suggestions on M’s wardrobe and M asked her to stop being bossy. J took great offense to being called “bossy”. She sought my opinion and I told her that telling her sister precisely how to fold her sleeves was rather bossy.
J flew off the handle. She screamed and thrashed and stomped. I tried to reason with her. When that only escalated things, I reminded her to take deep breaths, to snuggle with Blankie, to come and get a hug. She ranted and raved for a good 20 minutes. I left her to it and got dressed.
When she was done, she began to sob. She was obviously ready for a hug. I picked her up and held her. I reminded her that I loved her, no matter what, even if I did sometimes get disappointed by her choices.
She tried to push herself away from me. “I don’t deserve a mommy who forgives me. I was terrible and I don’t deserve a mommy like you.”
“Every child deserves to be loved and forgiven by their mommy. No matter what they do, every person needs parents who love them no matter what.” As I said those words, I knew it to be true. No matter how horrible a person might be, they deserve a mother’s unconditional love.
“You don’t have to forgive yourself right away,” I told J. “But I forgive you. And I love you. And I think you need to apologize to your sister.”
“Okay, mommy,” sniffled by big little girl. “I love you. I love you for my mommy. You’re a great mommy. I’m going to wash my face now, okay?”
Can you be a better parent than your own?
Yes. I’m living proof. It just takes will, awareness and work. Bonus: it helps keep your blood pressure down.
How have you broken with negative family traditions?
Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.