Why is it one of the first words children learn, is also one of the hardest for some of us to verbalize as adults? One of the common themes in my counseling sessions has become understanding the coping mechanisms I learned as a child when I struggled to deal with my emotions.
My parents made many good decisions regarding my upbringing, teaching me a healthy skepticism for information and facts, teaching me how to question and challenge and understand the world around me. Yet the strange irony, is that same freedom was not expected, allowed, or ever welcomed when it came to their own authority.
My mother used to say that I could be a perfect angel from six months to a year, and then I would have an emotional explosion, test her, and be a true terror. My memories of these times, when I delve into this half-remembered time of my life, draw forth a vague remembered loneliness, a bottling up of feelings.
I learned early, unhealthily, that my emotions told people things. That my emotions made people have other emotions, and it was my responsibility to control myself so I didn’t put pain on other people. There were times my mother, hurt by childish emotions, told me I must not love her. Told me that I didn’t love her. Instead of learning healthy ways of dealing with my emotions, I instead began to bury them with frustration and resentment. Questions were labelled as ‘talking back’. My mother, still recovering from the manipulative treatment of her own mother, put a lot of words and descriptions and motivations on me that were skewed by her own pain and history.
Which brings me back to the original thought that stirred my initial observation. What can I do better, with the young people appearing in my own life? As friends have children, and I don’t know what the future holds for me in that regard, how can I interact with toddlers just learning “No”? How can I help give the word power, but also teach selectivity? How do I approach this from an understanding of healthy boundaries point of view. How do I change “No” from being a bad word?
I don’t really have any answers, but this has been on my mind a lot lately. I know there are a lot of practical considerations when having children. No one is perfect, and we can only do so much. But I feel like these are things that are probably good for me to reflect on now, before my friends children get to that point.
For the record, my mother and I have worked through many of our difficulties and have a really good relationship now. I think it helps that she recognizes how some of her choices impacted me over the years, and that she is a very curious, thoughtful and scientific minded woman. Thanks to her, I’ve learned how love and genuine apologies can heal many breaches in relationships.