We’ve listened to many parents tell of childhoods loaded with emotional baggage, and yet somehow along the way to adulthood, they left that baggage behind. Why haven’t they mirrored the parenthood they saw years ago? How have they become responsible parents after watching only irresponsible models of parenting?

Almost without fail, those parents with chaotic pasts spoke, in different words, of the same phenomenon. One father tagged it succinctly, reverse resolve. Here is how some parents explain it:

  • “In our house, children were seen and not heard, so I have been careful to listen to my own children…. I knew when I had children I wanted to play and vacation with them because I had always wanted to do that as I was growing up…. My worst times with my parents were listening to them quarrel early in the morning. I hated to hear anyone raising their voice or insulting another person; so, I try to be very careful to not call names and to try to criticize in such a way that no one loses face.”
  • “The worst time of my life was the death of my little brother. He was two and I was four. I was his little mother and even at such a young age, I felt a great void in my life. Also, the knowledge that, according to my parents, the wrong child died affected my life in many ways. The unloved feelings that I experienced; however, helped me in that I grew up determined that any children I had would never experience that feeling.”
  • “I was the last of seven, of which four survived. My father was forty-three when I was born. By the time I got interested in sports at the ten/eleven-year-old age, he didn’t have time for me. I wanted to do things, but he didn’t have time. I said to myself then that if I ever had children of my own, I would give them a great deal of support―spiritual or whatever they needed―and I would be with them. I can vividly remember the day my dad died, I came home from the hospital and there was a picture of both my parents on the bureau. I went up to the picture, and I looked up at my dad and said, `Dad, it is a shame, but I never knew you.’ I made a vow to myself that this would never occur in my family, and I do spend time with the kids.”
  • “My father was raised in an environment where sons were considered an asset and daughters a liability. Sons were a measure of a man’s virility, daughters a weakness in his manhood. My worst times [as a child] were a result of the beliefs he had. I remember a family reunion where the men had gathered and were teasing one of the men for having his fourth daughter and no sons. My dad spoke up and bragged that he had three sons. He never mentioned he had a daughter. The impact of those attitudes affected my determination to be better and amount to more. It made me my own person. It also affected the way our children were raised. Their gender did not enter into any decision. The only thing that mattered was that, if it was a chore, it needed attention, and if it was an activity, it only mattered whether he or she wanted to try it―that’s all.”

Reverse resolve is that reaction by which parents refuse to remain victims of their own childhoods and resolve instead to rise above them. It is more than a desire to avoid repeating their parents’ mistakes. It is the determination to use painful memories to fuel the drive to become genuinely good parents despite a lack of childhood training. As these parents left the direct influence of their parents, they were able to reinterpret past events, no longer being controlled by them, but turning them into vivid guidelines for what not to do at all costs with their own families. In essence, they made past pain work to their families’ present benefit. Emotions are powerful motivators. They can drive an individual to do the exact opposite of whatever happened to him to create the emotion. For example, if loneliness was the dominant childhood emotion fostered by a neglectful parent, that feeling can evolve into the underlying self-will never to be even slightly neglectful if and when one becomes a parent. Again and again, the stories of these parents’ pasts illustrate this theme. To be sure, much of the strength in all one hundred of these families arose directly from the parents’ own positive childhoods and role models. Many parents had the chance to learn from and build upon the upbringings their parents gave to them. But not all parents are so fortunate. And if you are one of those parents, then a primary message of this chapter is for you. It bears repeating once more, for it is critical to your success as a parent. By example of their successful family life, these parents are living proof that no matter how you were raised, no matter what abuse or cruelty you witnessed or experienced, the seeds for achieving a quality parenthood still live within you. They cannot be destroyed. Your past does not place a ceiling upon the heights of parenting you can reach. You are not destined to become what your parents were, or even a small part of what your parents were. You have the capability to stretch yourself far beyond the adequate to raise a family the likes of which you never knew. Believing in your potential for excellence is a necessary first step to a quality family life. It primes you to watch, listen, and learn from others how to build upon your own strengths.

Back to the Family Pages 43-45
Copyright © 1990 by In The Company of Kids Villard Books New York 1990