I hate apologizing. I can’t take criticism. My patience runs thin and my defense mode is just as bad as my offense. I used to believe there was something wrong with me; I lost friends, relationships, created issues within my family, and I was told it was my fault. However, the most important part of healing yourself is understanding what caused those wounds. Becoming self-aware is the only real way to get better.
I’m no psychologist, but can draw conclusions of people’s actions based on their past. My sophomore year I took a class with Scott Caplan, a communication professor at the university, called communication and interpersonal behavior (COMM330). One of the most interesting units was about parenting styles and how they create certain tendencies and attachment styles in children.
There are three main parenting styles that we discussed in class: Authoritarian, Authoritative and Permissive. Authoritarian parents are considered strict and unbending. Punishment is frequently dished out and negotiations are impossible between parent and child. Permissive parents are the exact opposite. The rules of the household are loose or nonexistent and expectations are low. Permissive parents generally are unhelpful in providing direction and guidance. Finally, authoritative parenting is a balance of both. There are reasonable rules and expectations and parents provide just the right amount of discipline and nurture to their kids.
My parents were together throughout my childhood and are still married, but had very different parenting styles, which caused a great deal of confusion. My dad was the “cool” parent, but in the face of conflict, directed all lesson-teaching to my mom, who was authoritarian through and through. It wasn’t until later in life that I understood why she parented the way she did, but I still ended up the poster-child of a stubborn, demanding parent.
I have numerous memories of getting yelled at for things that I look back on and realize were minor issues that didn’t require punishment at all. Once, when I was 5, I decided I wanted to dress up for dinner. We weren’t going anywhere, but I was a kid and loved playing dress up, so I quickly put on my best church outfit after I got called down to dinner. I hoped to be met with smiles and compliments, but was instead scolded for not coming to dinner right as I was called.
“Why would you put that on before dinner? There’s no need to get dressed up. That outfit is uncalled for, go and take it off right now,” my mom yelled. I cried the rest of the night.
I had my phone taken away every other week when I was in middle school. My mom would take it from me and hide it for weeks if I was even slightly disobedient. She would also go through my messages, invading my privacy and scolded me for anything crude I may have said to my friends in confidence.
I was outed as bisexual just after my freshman year of high school. I was isolated from my friends and had my phone taken away for almost six months and was still heavily monitored and controlled for another six months to a year after getting it back. I was extremely suicidal and wanted to run away. Not once did my mom ever ask me why I felt the way I did nor did she listen when I tried to explain. I was wrong and she was right, end of story.
I definitely could have benefitted from therapy but hated the idea of it because it was presented to me as punishment. “If you won’t listen to me then maybe I need to send you to see a counselor so they can help you fix your feelings,” my mom would say.
Studies show that early childhood exposure to a demanding and controlling parent leads to depression, anxiety, rebellion, aggression and hostility later in life. Even as an adult today, I struggle with patience and would consider myself more of a hothead than my other friends.
I finally got my independence when I left for college, but my parents and I would argue every time I went home, and we still do. The difference is that I now understand why we argue and am able to keep my cool better. After taking Caplan’s class I started going to the Counseling Center, where I totally lucked out with the best counselor ever. She made her way through my twisted and complicated thoughts and feelings and found the root of my issues, as well as my mom’s.
I have a half-sister who grew up in an incredibly unstable environment, and although anyone can see that my childhood household would set me up for nothing but success, my mom’s fear of another f—ed up child was projected onto me from the minute I was born. My own anger is actually a secondary emotion to sadness. I’m not actually angry at my mom when we argue, I’m frustrated, disappointed and despairing because I feel as though I can’t confide in her without getting yelled at. Instead of offering advice when I need it, my mom offers accusations that my problems are all my own and all my fault.
It’s unclear if my relationship with my parents will ever be normal or nurturing in the way that I need and want so bad. Children of authoritarian parents often are forced to find affection elsewhere, but none of my friends or significant others at this age are capable of providing parental love, care and security, and that isn’t where I’d want to find that type of love anyways.
All I can tell myself at this point is that I’ll never do this to my kids. I know I won’t be a perfect parent, no one ever is, but I know I’ll do better than my own.