In my last blog post I wrote about the new book I had been reading called Cutting: Understanding and Overcoming Self-Mutilation by Steven Levenkron (LINK). I purchased the book because one of my friend’s is a Cutter and I realised that I didn’t know anything about this dark and secretive illness. Everyone has a lack of understanding in something, but if you are close to someone who is a Cutter then you are running the risk of adding to his or her problems through your own personal lack of education.
There were a number of key learning points in the book for me, and I want to share one with you today. If you read my previous blog post you will know that I wrote about some of the key factors that lead to the development of this mental illness, and one of them involves the way you were raised as a child. I have written about this many times before, but I will say it once again, when you become a parent for the first time you do not know what to do. As with anything, your instincts kick in and these instincts are developed from memories that exist from your own upbringing.
Drawing from memories of how you were raised means that it is important that you were raised in a normal and healthy environment. But what constitutes normal and healthy and do you ever stop to think about it? If you belong to a business then you will be used to goals, objectives and review. This is how you earn your money and how you understand if you are doing a good job or not. The review mechanism is important because it is this feedback that allows you to change your behaviour (if needed) in order to make sure you achieve your goal. If you didn’t have the review mechanism then it is very likely that your sub-conscious would work this out anyway, but the tangibility of the review, the date in the diary and the one to one discussion followed by written documentation, imprints it on your mind more emphatically.
Being a father, I was drawn to the part of the book that said that there was evidence to suggest that Cutters developed their behaviour due to an imbalance of nurturance or authority in their parenting. When I reflected on this I realised that there was an event in my life that was causing an unhealthy shift in my parenting style. I am of course talking about my divorce. I have gone from a parent who lives with his son to a parent who sees him only a few times per month. The lack of everyday touch has created an almost childlike desperation in me. I am jealous and envious of the intimacy he has with his mother, and demand equal parity as his equal parent. These emotions, triggered by my ego, cause me to behave in a way that will transmit upset and sadness to my son. I tell him that I miss him and I get angry with him when he doesn’t communicate with me as often as I would like. This happens because I compare his lack of communication with me to his intimacy with his mother.
By behaving in this perfectly rational yet unhealthy way, I have turned from parent to child. This reversal has the same effect on my son, who now adopts the unwanted role of parent. Look at the way I have been behaving from my son’s point of view: –
My father sends me messages of love every day. If I don’t reply to them or tell him that I love him constantly then he is going to get upset. He cries to me sometimes because he misses me so much. He seems desperate, sad and lonely.
I am obviously second guessing my sons thoughts here but I won’t be a million miles away from the truth. In a parent/child relationship it is important for the child to be able to be nurtured, but it is also important that they feel that they are being looked after. It goes back over 50,000 years ago when they were hoping you would protect them from the predators of the Savannah. It is built into our very genes. Does my son believe I am here to protect him or is he protecting me? I have created a relationship where my son is afraid to talk to me about his issues because he feels I may get upset. So if he cannot speak to his parent about an issue where does he go? What does he do? How does he release?
Being more mindful means I can change the way that I behave and install the authority back into my relationship. Over time my son will grow to realise his father is back. The father who tells him he loves him, kisses and hugs him but also leads through authority and demands respect. The book was like my business review. That tangibility that I believe is critical to make sure we don’t wander off point. But there is no parenting rulebook. Nobody goes to school to become a better parent and it is not taught in the schools that we do go to. Our parents are the only people who teach us to be parents, but who says that is right? What if our parents battered us both physically and mentally? What if they did their best but it just was not good enough? How do we become the very best parents we can be? How do we improve so the children of the future improve?
I have decided to something about this and in the following months and years I am going to develop this blog to help parents become better parents. In the meantime, if you are a parent yourself then schedule some time to hold a little review of your own, reflect and be more mindful about your behaviour and remember that your children depend on you, as do your children’s children.
Are you doing a good job as a parent? Where do you believe you can improve? Is there an area that bothers you? Talk about it here (anonymously) – it really does help.
Photo: My son using his parenting skills to look after his little cousin