Monday, March 18, 2013


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.
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  1. It's a really good question, and I like the idea of a transformed soup. I'm going to have to mull this one over. But I will be back with more thoughts.

  2. I think this is why parenthood inspires so many people to start blogging: we learn so much about ourselves that we're impelled to tell everyone.

    I suspect Mabel's hot temper comes from me: her father and brother tend more to sulking/brooding. (Not that my husband sulks now, but as a child his nickname was The Incredible Sulk.) And I got it from my father, in whom I've only seen it explode once, ever. I know she'll get a handle on it as she gets older, but I also remember fighting the urge to slap someone. (Who am I kidding; I get that urge a lot these days. But I remember when it was too hard not to give in.)

  3. It's so funny that you posted this today, the day when my daughter stood up on a chair to reach for something high and her father spoke firmly at her to stop and she didn't listen and so he repeated himself more and more firmly and finally she noticed him and his harsh tone and burst out crying, mortified that someone was angry at her, that she had upset her father. And it took her ages to calm her down and she walked back and forth between her father and me and we both told her over and over again that we loved her and we weren't mad at her we just needed to keep her safe and I saw so much of myself in her abject horror that she had upset someone that she cared about. How it was almost too much for her to bear.

    It is sometimes so very hard to see ourselves reflected in our children. I see so much of myself in my daughter and I know she has struggles ahead of her because of those pieces of me and I wish she didn't have to do things the way I did them. Who knows, maybe having me around to give her insider tips will help her to navigate those challenges better than I did at a young age.

    Because you're right, we are different than our parents and our children are different than us, despite all the similarities we see. It's important to remember that. They are not us and we at not them and keeping that distinction in mind is so very important.

  4. Oh how I LOVE this post. And yes, I totally get that while we have to walk with our children, we also have to figure ourselves out on a whole deeper level in order to parent them well. So much came to the surface when I became a mother and continues to do so.

  5. This is such a brave and honest post. Thank you so much for sharing.
    I too hold it in and then lose it. I yell. I say mean things, just as my mother did. I regret the words as they come out. I talk about them with the kids afterwards. But i hate it. I am a work in progress.
    Thank you SO very much for sharing.

  6. You and I are so similar. I so often nod my head to your posts.

    Seeing myself in my kids is bittersweet. I like the way you're mindful with your son about what's going on -- with you.

  7. Oh I love all of this. Especially the idea of needing to better understand ourselves so that we can parent our kids...I see things in my older son...traits I think may lead to heartache (as they did for me), feeling outside, being lonely. I fight the urge to "help" him overcome his shyness, his submissiveness...I need to let him find his own way on his own time, as I did.

  8. Very interesting and thoughtful post.

    My son and I are not alike. He is like his father. In fact, some relative joked that he is a clone of his father as a child.

    Which is good. And bad. They both have ADHD (frankly, my husband did not really understand he had ADHD until we went through the diagnosis with my son). My son also has high-functioning Aspergers (probably my husband too, I suppose).

    Which means, in the end, I have a LOT of trouble relating to him. I am type A, teacher's pet, writes lists and organize person. He is definately not. We clash on homework and extra credit, on time management, etc. (Of course, we clash a lot lately--he is 14)

    But. Every so often...I can see glimpses of myself in him. I hope as he gets older I will be able to relate to him again, like I used to when he was smaller.

  9. I love the idea of "imperfect parenting" - to me that term conveys giving ourselves space to make mistakes and learn, instead of expecting ourselves to meet some gold star standard. My oldest is so much like me - very talkative and distractible. I know interrupting others is one of my worst habits - one I am STILL trying to fight - so I am really conscientious about teaching my son to be a good listener. It's definitely a work in progress for both of us!


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