When we become adults, we start parenting ourselves.
And this can be good or bad, depending on what models you had for it.
I was at a bit of a disadvantage in this department, as the one model I’d had for parenting caused emotional paralysis.
I grew up in a strict authoritarian household. One where you had to ask for a glass of water because after all someone had to wash it. One where you were constantly reminded that your very existence had an impact on the world — and that it wasn’t a positive one.
The original sin was being born. Having needs. Because children were moochers. They were expensive to take care of and didn’t work. And the great task of my life was going to be overcoming that debt I was born with.
It was bad enough that we were a drain by simply existing. We had no room for any other kind of error. My mother reminded me constantly that I was her representative. That people would judge her based on my actions. So I was never to do anything she wouldn’t do. And certainly nothing that would cause her shame.
Overall, I was a pretty good kid. Got high marks in school. Won awards for music and writing.
But in a lot of other ways, I was a major disappointment as a kid. Because I was weird. I was frankly weird as hell.
I had a habit of saying things that led me to stick out from the other kids. Observations that made complete sense to me but seemed out there to my peers.
I was also the first girl in my class to develop, which while not anything that I did consciously, really bothered and disappointed my mother. She’d get disgusted when I’d try on my sisters’ hand-me-downs, and she’d announce, “Ugh, that won’t work. You look like a real slut in that.” And then she’d add something like, “Punky Brewster got a breast reduction. Maybe if you’re good, you can ask for one for your birthday.”
And of course, being bisexual on top of all of this didn’t help, especially since I didn’t even have a word for it, or any understanding that people could be bisexual, until college when a friend listened to my telling stories about my love life, and she interrupted me with, “Oh, you’re clearly bisexual.” To which I replied, “What?”
Up until that point, I felt a little broken and confused by the reality that I seemed to like both girls and boys. And so I did my best to keep my sex life hidden for as long as possible, for normal teenage reasons and arguably abnormal ones — certainly from my parents. But from everyone else, too.
I Started Out My Adult Life as an Overly Permissive Self-Parent
So when I set out on my own, I was tired of being scrutinized, criticized, limited. My first attempt at becoming my own parent backfired spectacularly. I was completely permissive, set no boundaries with myself. Laissez faire.
And I suffered. I ended up in bad situations, doing bad things, surrounded by bad people who didn’t have my best interests at heart. Like the roughest scenes in an after school special. All the shit that my parents had warned me about.
I learned my lesson. Cut that shit out. And crawled slowly back to life.
Then I Swung Back Too Far the Other Way Before Finally Figuring It Out
I knew what I had been doing wasn’t working. The trouble, however, was that I didn’t know how to self-parent in a way that wasn’t abusive. So when I started trying to take steps to get my life on track, I was completely autocratic.
When I went back to school, I didn’t give myself an inch. I did assignments the minute I arrived home. And I studied so hard for exams that I threw up in the shower from stress and sleep deprivation more than once.
Because I didn’t know what healthy trust looked like, I didn’t know how to extend it to myself. And I didn’t know how to be worthy of it.
It was slow going at first. I pushed myself through the first year or two of school in a way that was profoundly unhealthy. Even as people close to me worried about the health of it and whether I could keep it going without breaking down.
And at first, I ignored their words. Rolled my eyes. Kept pushing ahead.
But over time, some of those words started to sink in. The professors who told me I had promise. Friends who told me it was okay to relax and take a little time for myself. Sometimes I’d wait til the second or third day to do work that was due a week from when it was assigned.
And the world didn’t end.
With Time I Learned to Be a Trusting Self-Parent
With time, I learned to be a trusting self-parent. And I must tell you that it’s close to the best feeling I’ve ever felt. My self-efficacy is sky high without any of the nasty side effects.
Is my kid always perfect? No. She’s been called into the office a few times. Sometimes she likes to test boundaries. It’s all part of finding herself.
But she’s a good kid. She’s doing her best. And I love her.