A Reflection: The Gifts of the Generations
I lay here thinking about how I got to this point in my life. A single mom, recovering from codependency fairly well. I think a lot about the inter-generational dynamics that were at play and the societal forces.
For instance, I grew up in a family where it was typical to 'suck it up'. I learned quickly that crying and being upset weren't okay. It was common after particularly difficult failures in my family to be told that we could cry for 5 minutes, and then we had to move on. I don't think this is atypical for gen-x or baby boomer parents to have passed down to their kids. Baby Boomers grew up with the aftermath of the Great Depression, WWI, WWII and survival was the primary focus for many. They didn't have the luxury of feeling their feelings. Gen-X is a byproduct of that generation - their parents were tough and they were expected to be tough though they didn't witness the world through the same lens. As they grew up and began parenting, they had opportunities to change the dynamics gradually. As Millenials have taken on parenting roles, they have shifted the dynamics even more, focusing on respectful parenting over shame-based parenting. The proliferation of technology has made these shifts in parenting easier to adapt to and share.
In many ways, I think emotional neglect is often overlooked in parenting. Shutting down certain emotions in children can be dangerous and have undesired consequences later in life. I think about the 'suck it up' mentality that persevered in my family. It made it hard for me to get help when I needed it. I struggled to get pregnant for two years and it took a toll on my mental health. I didn't tell anyone I was struggling. I had a miscarriage and didn't tell my family or friends. When I finally got pregnant, I was terrified to tell anyone because I was afraid I would lose the baby. After the baby was born, I struggled with postpartum depression. I was so scared of what would happen when my then-husband went back to work because I didn't feel capable of taking care of my son. I remember having thoughts about the gun in the house and what if I went crazy and killed my baby and myself. Those thoughts terrified me. I never told anyone. Eventually I went back to work and continued like everything was normal. But I was struggling. And I ended up having an affair not long after. An affair that hurt many people deeply and that I will always regret.
I wish I had had the courage to get help for my depression and anxiety sooner. I didn't know what I was dealing with. Getting help for mental health felt wrong. Therapy and medication felt wrong. Not because it was, but because of all the messaging I had received in my family and from society. It made me feel weak. I had to confront my ingrained belief system before I could get help.
For what it's worth, I don't blame my family at all. There is no value to be had in that. They were doing the best they could with what they had. Once they knew better, they did better, and that's all that I can ask. While others may plant the seeds that grow our belief systems, we are ultimately responsible for whether or not those beliefs thrive or whither.
As a parent now, I often find myself frustrated by my son’s big emotions. There are days I want to scream or walk away. There are days I end up yelling when I know my son just needs connection and love. I often want to avoid his big emotions like I did my own for years. As a conscious parent, I have to remind myself that I want him to know better than I did. The frustration I feel in those moments of his big feelings is often a reflection of reliving the validation I did not receive in childhood. Through my conversations with older generations, I’ve come to find our irritation or frustration with generational differences is often due to the emerging generations having easy access (and often lack of appreciation) for the very freedoms and luxuries previous generations have sacrificed for.