If you're a parent, you've heard the admonition that you're going to find yourself saying the same things to your children that your parents said to you. It's hard not to. After all, we are good students, and those lessons happen at an impressionable age. And we see ourselves in our children, too, don't we? Sometimes the resemblance is obvious, and sometimes less so; sometimes it's physical, and sometimes something much deeper than facial features. Sometimes it's flattering, and there is great joy in those moments. Sometimes, it's anything but.
Especially when we see the parts of ourselves that we struggle with (or
against) emerge in our children.
My son is sort of a perfectionist. He's been that way as long as I can remember, lining up his vehicles in lines that had to go just so, having a complete meltdown when he doesn't do something exactly right the first time. His teacher, in a recent conference, said that
she noticed this quick frustration (to the point of tears) and it
worried her, to see it in a child so young. We do the best we can to prevent this from becoming a life-long obstacle. Being encouraging. Telling him that practice is important. Assuring him that the mistakes are part of the learning process, and that everyone learns at a difference pace.
But of course, this is my nature, too. Having things just so. Doing everything exactly right. Never disappointing anyone. Making everyone happy. Or if I'm pissing people off, doing so with full knowledge and confidence that it's my intention to do so. And as much as I try to be reassuring, I confess that sometimes I also respond to the things that make me frustrated by expecting him to be perfect. Why didn't you get those math problems right? You know the answers. Why can't you bathe yourself faster? You're a big boy, you don't need me to supervise you every minute. And so on. Just, of course, like my father.
I also see him react out of anger, snapping with a quick temper, rage flaring up and going off like fireworks. Which is also the way I've reacted to bottled-up anger over the years. Quiet, quiet, quiet, and then BANG.
It's a scary negotiation, those moments. Because I step back and see myself with a lens that makes me uncomfortable.
The difference, though, is that I see it, and talk about it, and let him know that I'm not happy with the way I sometimes deal with anger, or disappointment, or frustration. And we try to talk about how both of us can problem-solve better.
A few years ago, Brene Brown wrote, in her series about imperfect parenting, about the fact that parenting is a journey that we have to walk with our kids, while also continuing to figure ourselves out. And in some ways, having kids forces us to figure ourselves out, even if we thought we'd figured out everything already before we started family-building. (Good for you, by the way, if you have managed to do this.) We may want to forget about our own flaws, or our own self-work, but we can't focus on our kids without looking a little more deeply at ourselves, too.
The other thing to remember about parenting is that as much as our children do resemble us, they are also, thankfully, their own people, subject to a different set of environmental conditions, and a different co-parent (or even in single-parent homes, different adult role models). I know that there's hope for my son, because as much as he's a perfectionist, he's also, as my husband might be, perfectly happy with hastily written homework, or half-eaten sandwiches and crumbs on the counter, or pajamas on the floor. And he's just as apt to walk away from a situation, or let his rage go, as he is to allow it to fester and scream. Which are good reminders for me, too.
It's sort of like ribollita. You start with
bean soup. And you cook it forever. And it's really good bean soup.
But then, you stop cooking it, and you throw in some bread, and you cook
it all over again, and now it's heartier, and stronger, and more
flavorful. That goes for them, and for us.
I ate a soup like this in a small cafe in Kingston with a friend, at the end of a long weekend training program. It wasn't quite ribollita, even though it was listed as such on the sandwich board (perfectionist that I am, I wasn't going to point out that they'd left out the beans and the bread). But it was the sort of thing that had been cooked forever, which is sometimes exactly the kind of soup you want.
What traits did your parents have that you see in yourself? If you have children, which of your traits, if any, do you see in them? How has the "reboiling" changed you?
(not exactly) Ribollita
1 T. olive oil
4 stalks of celery, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 yellow onion, diced
4 sprigs rosemary (2 T. dried)
3 sprigs fresh thyme (2 t. dried)
1 c. white wine
4 yukon gold potatoes, 1/2" cubes
15 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes
15 oz. white beans (optional)
5 c. vegetable stock
1 c. water
1 bunch of kale, stems removed, leaves chopped
Heat oil in a large
stock pot over medium heat. Add garlic, onions and celery and saute until just fragrant and beginning to become translucent. Add rosemary and thyme, and stir until fragrant, a minute or two. Pour in white wine, and reduce heat to medium-low; cook until the vegetables are tender.
Add potatoes and season with
fresh ground pepper and sea salt. Stir to coat. Add
tomatoes, beans (optional), vegetable broth and water and simmer on medium-low heat for 2 1/2 hours (or however long you can stand it), stirring
occasionally and adding extra seasoning or water if necessary.
Remove the sprigs of herbs if they haven't disintegrated by now. Add kale and cook until just tender and wilted, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Enjoy with a crusty white bread and the rest of your bottle of wine.