Since becoming a parent, I have spent a lot of time analyzing my own upbringing to see what worked and what didn’t. There is no parenting book out there that could have been as beneficial to me as the time I spent reflecting on my own childhood. That being said, I had a happy, normal childhood. I am the second of four children—the middle girl—just before the only boy (an important distinction—but I’ll come back to this later). My mother, sometimes overwhelmed by the four of us, showed her love in many ways—by tucking us in each night, rubbing our backs as we watched TV, catering to all of our pickiness with food—we were the worst eaters—and by being there anytime we needed her. We lived in a nice neighborhood, with lots of other children. My childhood was like a movie from the early ‘80s, all of the neighborhood kids riding around on bikes with tassels on the handlebars, moms yelling from back doors to come home for dinner once the sun started to set, and children meeting up once it was dark outside to catch lightning bugs in empty bottles, trying to make lanterns. In so many ways, it was a perfect childhood. I don’t think people can really see the dysfunction of their own families unless something pivotal happens. For me, it was my father leaving. I wasn’t a child, in fact, I was a sophomore in college, so the effect on me was somewhat different from the affect it had on friends whose parents divorced when they were children. Because so much of who I was, was defined by how I saw my family, I had no choice but to look more closely—to see where the cracks started—to see what could bring about the end of my family as I knew it.
My father is an intelligent man—a lawyer, a former judge, the founder of multiple businesses—an all-around career-driven, successful person. As children, he spoiled us, wanting his children to have everything he didn’t have in his youth. He sent us to private schools, trying to give us the best education possible. His intent was for us to be four perfect representations of his success. Looking back, I don’t think his intentions were flawed—there is nothing wrong with wanting your children to be successful members of society—the problem was with his execution. There is no such thing as perfection, and to put that expectation on your children can only lead to failure. And as we failed to live up to his ideal, which we were destined to do, his faith in us—his belief in our ability to be successful—slowly diminished. It has taken me a lot of years (and I’ll admit, a lot of therapy) to realize, and eventually accept, that my own self-worth is not tied to the way my father saw me growing up. What I have learned since becoming a parent, is that I can have dreams for my children, I can believe that they will make the most of their lives, but in the end I have to see them as they truly are, and nurture them in a way that is unique to each of them. My advice to my daughter is to strive to know herself, to have dreams, and to work towards them with the full belief that they are hers to attain.