What is it about growing up that defines the kinds of people we become? How do we chose from the myriad of characteristics and values of our ancestors, which will become part of our makeup? There are many characteristics of my parents that I see in myself. Just as there are characteristics of me that I see in my son. Then there are a number of characteristics of my parents that I chose not to adopt. What influenced me to make those choices, if they were choices at all?
Let’s look at physical contact. My mother was very close to me in that she always had a hug or a kiss for me. As much as I got, I didn’t feel there was an obligation to return the affection, but nevertheless I did. My father on the other hand was close in a different way. As to affection, I was expected to give it to him. As I grew older and into my teens, I felt either uncomfortable or unwilling to hug and kiss him, even though he expected it. My cousin on the other hand, who was the son of my father’s brother, had no hesitation in showing affection to his father no matter how old he was. I can distinctly remember him giving his father a kiss of affection even as an adult. I would never have thought to do that. Though as an adult with a family I have adopted my mother’s style.
Both my father and his brother came from the same family. Where did they learn this different style of parenting that created two different son’s reactions? Or was it the influence of our mothers that directed the behaviors of my cousin and me or the environment that we grew up in? Both my cousin and I had older sisters. Did that have an impact?
There was another difference in physical contact and what we chose to adopt and that was concerning discipline. My parents had no problem with spanking me. My mother was less likely to and she would only use her hand. My father would not only use a hand but also his belt and periodically this broken dressmaker’s yardstick that he stored in a closet. This is not to say that I was a terrible child that always needed disciplining, but when I did, that seemed to be the method of punishment.
When I was in second grade I remember my second grade teacher hitting me for something that I did. When I told my parents, there was not much of a reaction. Can you imagine that happening today? It wasn’t a big hit. I think that she was walking down the aisle by my desk and turned around as I got up and accidentally struck me, to which I blew way out of proportion. At least that’s the way I see it now. I’m sure my parents questioned me about I had been doing, and where and how hard she hit me, but I’m pretty certain they didn’t follow through with any action. It was an acceptable behavior on their part.
So here I’m growing up in an environment where spanking is an acceptable behavior. So why doesn’t it become part of my grown up behavior? I would never consider spanking my child or any child for that matter. What was it about the environment that I grew up in that made me choose not to add that to my makeup? Is it that I grew up in the radical 60’s where non-violence was the philosophy of the day. That certainly didn’t affect my reactions when I played ice hockey in college. Was it an anti violence reaction to how I was brought up with spanking? Not that either my mother or father was what I would call violent in their reactions. My parents education was never beyond high school. Did my higher education make the difference?
As I said in the beginning, what is it about growing up that shapes our behaviors and personalities? What can I do as a parent/teacher/storyteller that can encourage the good qualities to be passed on and any negative ones to be ignored or and not acquired?
My best guess is that you choose to follow what works for you. As a parent/teacher I need to model the behaviors that I want to pass on and hope that is what gets picked up.
I heard this apropos quote in 2000 while I was attending Confratute at the University of Connecticut. “If you are not modeling what you are teaching, you are teaching something else.”
Hopefully I’m modeling what I want to pass on.