Our past will influence us, whether we want it to or not. These monsters, or what I sometimes call “ghosts under the bed,” will also influence our children in ways we are blinded to if we don’t know how to recognize them. Although we may want to eliminate all the “ghosts” from our past, it’s important to realize that even some of our worst or scariest ghosts can become our best friends if we learn how to control and mold them to serve our purposes.
Some people feel they have to be “honest” and disclose their past mistakes or hurt emotions to their children, hoping it will scare them away from having the same experience they had when they were younger. In 9 times out of 10, I think this is a mistake because children often justify by thinking, “Well, my mom/dad did such-and-such, and they turned out to be okay.”
Sometimes our ghosts from the past have nothing to do with what we did—or didn’t do—but rather by our surroundings. Whether our ghosts include making bad choices, abuse, tragedy, poverty, or living a life of luxury surrounded by high expectations, the first step for reshaping our ghosts is to realize we have given our ghosts meaning and value. Discarding all of our ghosts may make us feel lost, confused, and without purpose.
The next step is to imagine what the best outcome would be if you gave in to your ghosts. Would you be a “supermom,” or the most-fun mother in the world? The third step is to imagine or identify the negative consequences for holding firmly to these ideals or scripts. Have you become so involved in your child’s life that he has become totally dependent on you? Have you become so “charitable” to your children that they are unable to do things by themselves? Or have your children become frustrated with life because they are unable to meet the same expectations that your parents placed on you as a child?
The fourth step is to set short-term, specific, and measurable goals that are consistent with what your ghosts want, while minimizing the negative consequences that result from giving in completely. The final step is to determine the frequency for revisiting my short-term goals, providing adjustment to them when necessary. Usually it is best to give each goal at least a week before trying to make a decision regarding its effectiveness. The further you hope your child will progress, the greater effort and time will be required of you. Or, the greater the power of that script (e.g., habit), the longer you will need to follow your plan of action before you will see its results.
What are your ghosts, and how can you use them to help you be a better parent? Here is one possible hypothetical example of this process.
Ghost or Event: Experiencing chronic embarrassment or ridicule as a child because of my physical (or social) disabilities.
Script Written: Encourage my child to be tough and work hard, so he doesn’t have to experience the same frustrations that I experienced as a child.
Positive Consequence: Instilling a work ethic and a desire to continually improve within my child.
Negative Consequence: Always seeing my child’s shortcomings as an “opportunity” for other kids to pick on him. This leads me to push my child (too?) hard when it may be better to see things from his perspective, and not from my own past. It is possible that my son sees me in the same light that I viewed my bullies from my past.
Short-Term Goal: Create one-on-one activities with my child when I will praise him for the strengths he already has, rather than pointing out his weaknesses (which I normally do). Evaluation date: A week from this coming Friday.
Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only. If you need therapy or counseling, get it.