Critical Parenting

Of course the entire nature/nurture debate is still ongoing, though I’m not sure if I want to use the word ‘debate’. It kind of implies there is a winner and therefore a loser. I think of it as just ‘is’. I doubt we’ll really ever find an answer since new information that supports both sides seem to surface all the time, which makes it exciting. Some prefer a solid conclusion. I don’t think this is one of the topics that will have one.

Still. 

I grew up with a father whose teaching tool is criticism. (He used the cane, too, but it was never abusive, and I might add, always deserved.) He was not a patient man, though he has mellowed with age. And sometimes I will pause to wonder if I would have achieved more had he been kinder with his words, had he not felt a need to diminish me while correcting me. I will pause to wonder if that is the reason my name sounds grating to me, because I identify the person it represents as someone stupid, incompetent, unworthy. 

He never used those words, but that didn’t stop me from feeling the way I did. It may have been the look in his eyes, or the quick slaps he’d give me across the face once I had pushed enough buttons, or my bag he’d throw across the floor when he found out that I didn’t do my homework. 

You see, I didn’t use to look into people’s eyes. It felt uncomfortable. I was being judged. So I didn’t. I would glance, and glance away. As a teacher now, eye contact is crucial. So I’ve learnt. I’ve even mastered the death stare. It could be that I had gained confidence over the years. But it wasn’t always so. The only time when I looked into his eyes was when he said,

Look at me when I’m talking to you!

And when I did, all I saw was disappointment. It filled my entire vision. As any kid can tell you, that hurts a whole lot more than seeing anger in a parent’s face. 

But the kid that I was will tell you that was probably what worked for me. If he had molly-coddled me, I’d probably feel like that special, entitled snowflake. I’d probably feel I can do no wrong. But then, I’d probably also not feel a need to find variations of my name that I can stand to have on my cv.

But, shit, it’s just a name, right? Yet it is also an identity. The identity that name is associated with is one that is almost always Not-Enough. Not careful enough, not achieving enough, not being generally spectacular enough. There’s a yearning to be MORE, but an urge does not make it real. I am not more; I am just me. Am I enough?

Over the years, I’ve become ok with me. It took time, I must say. I’m still not ok with being not-enough. I wonder if those are the same thing and if I’m not making some logical flub. Being enough implies there is some yardstick I’m measuring myself against. But there is none that is real; there’s just this imaginary line above me that’s always out of reach no matter how much I try. I think I’ll always feel this way, and I’m getting used to it. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. 

When parents are critical, it is usually because they expect more of the child. They think their child can do better. And now I want to believe I can do better. For myself. It’s not ambition, at least I don’t think it is. It’s about trying to fulfil potentials. I think we owe ourselves that. 

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