It is not about right or wrong. It is about being open to and exploring something that lies underneath the judgment, underneath the right and the wrong.
Hello, My name is Henry Garcia and the past 8 years of my life have consisted of countless imaginative tea parties, wacky dance battles, messy art projects, lets not forget to mention all the binge-viewings of Pixar movies along with all the things that only a child can submerge you into. But to say that it has been a fun-ride all the way through would be misleading because it hasn’t been exactly that. I’ve met challenges, I’ve met triggers I didn’t know were there and belief systems that no longer served me if I was ever going to grow into being a healthy supportive parent for my daughter. So for starters, my parenthood has become a gateway into unlearning self, and all that I know it to be. Speaking frankly, it’s been very hard to embark on this journey.
While recalling specific incidents that made my childhood so painful, I recognize that it’s not easy for me to unpack these memories that I shoved away into the corner of my conscious like dirty socks tossed underneath the bed so to hide the stench —remembering how picking on me became a team sport with my brothers, how my mother ignored me for days after I displeased her in some way or how her yelling and occasional physical abuse made me feel confused and frightened—it isn’t hard to see how I was affected and how my behavior was shaped by interactions, large and small. I remember as a form of punishment I would be asked to spend a portion of my time in the closet with the lights turned off and how I would feel so alone and I would blame myself for “getting in trouble”, as I got older, the guilt of not doing something right or not meeting expectations has weighed so heavy that I would feel like that young boy all over again, placing the blame on himself. That’s because, according to the attachment theory, these interactions created unconscious working models in my mind—or broad assumptions—about people, the world generally, and how I believed relationships worked. And that’s where I am at this point of my life, that’s where I am in my Parenthood. Doing the hard work it takes for me to not pass my traumatic experiences along to my daughter, taking that first step was not meant to be easy though, but being present in it has made it undeniable.
As children we learn about the larger world by extrapolating from the little world that we grew up in, that of our immediate household and extended family. If you grow up in a place where you are loved and protected, feel confident to explore and take risks, and believe that others think well of you, the chances are good that you’ll see the larger world as one filled with opportunities to connect and make your mark. Even if you experience something unexpected, you’re more likely to be resilient and be able to learn from it. (That is how a person with a secure style of attachment sees the world.) Well, that wasn’t how I was raised, quite the opposite to be exact but it didn’t really dawn on me how deeply rooted my programming was until I began to question the triggers that would rise up when my child “acted up”. For me, these hard times, these turbulent feelings and reactions could only be described as the shadow side of parenting, made up of the stuff that feels like it is not supposed to happen, the stuff that we may be too embarrassed to talk about.
Owning my parenthood is something that I have to make a conscious effort of doing everyday. Giving myself the empathy necessary when I “drop the ball” as dad while also holding myself accountable and without making any excuses for myself, circling back and reconnecting with my child about the hardship we both may have experienced together. As a father, working towards being openly sensitive and vulnerable with my daughter has been a journey all on its own. I was taught by society as well as by many in my family to be tough and invulnerable, to keep my emotions at bay and bury them deep down inside of myself and that crying is a weakness. For many years, I’ve struggled with this notion but everything changed when I held my daughter for the first time, it was like an outer-body experience as I gazed into her eyes and since that moment I have worked toward shedding my armor to be more vulnerable, open to express my sensitive side. For many of us, we were never given the opportunity to learn how to openly express ourselves, to be vulnerable without judgment. Embracing the shadow side of my parenting has allowed me to find the balance and to appreciate the amazing array of mirrors that show up in the form of my child. This old idea that she “is pushing my buttons” no longer holds control over me and even when ruptures occur, the willingness to communicate through love has reshaped my fatherhood.
So with all that said, I decided to make a list of a few things that I’m unlearning so far and am currently dedicating myself to the endless process of steering myself away from and by doing that I can attempt to rewrite a different story that my daughter and I will share. Maybe some of the things I am unlearning are similar to the ones you may struggle with or may not even know that you struggle with but I write this in hopes to reach you where you are and remind us that we are all in it together. Because recognizing these “lessons learned” are the first step to recovering from them and becoming the parent that our heart’s desire to be.
Lessons To Unlearn:
- That emotional connection hurts:
This lesson damages in numerous ways. First, it increases tolerance of toxic behavior in adult relationships because, once again, emotional pain becomes normalized. Second, it justifies not seeking out close connection or intimacy, even if it is something, on a deeper level, you really want. Your hear it all the time with sayings like “love hurts”. This view doesn’t allow love and connection to be seen as sustaining or expansive, but only diminishing; it has a toxicity of its own.
- That feelings make you vulnerable and weak:
This doesn’t need explanation, especially when a child has been taunted with being “too sensitive” and showings his/ her pain.
- That love comes with strings attached:
He/She may learn that love is earned and never freely given, or that it can be withheld or taken away in punishment. Or that it is a transaction of sorts. This view of love is warping, and painful.
- That you’re on your own:
If your own family spurns you, then who can possibly love and care for you? Most unloved children suffer terribly from the sense of not belonging anywhere to anyone; in fact, I have come to feel that this wound runs a close second to not being loved by the very person who put you on the planet to begin with. This one was hard for me to acknowledge for so long and am working towards recovering from.
- That you’re in or out, a winner or loser:
In households where scapegoating or exclusion is part of how the family functions, an individual is reduced to a cardboard version of herself/himself—a summary of her basic character. With a parent that is high in narcissistic traits or one who relishes control, you either have a place in the sun or are banished to the shadows.
- That abuse (any type of abuse) is normal:
Again, every child believes that what goes on at his/her house goes on everywhere until they learn that it doesn’t. I remember when a friend of mine first told me that his parents never hit him, My eyes went wide, as if he had told me that he could time hop, that was unfathomable to me and to be honest, I thought to myself “what is wrong with his parents!”.. The trauma runs deep.