I was standing in the lobby of an auditorium in which I’d just spoken, talking with a small group of attendees, when a 30-something woman took me aside and told me that her parents were bad role models. One was verbally abusive; the other, distant and emotionally unavailable.
She tells me that because of her parents’ negative examples, she yells a lot and is often insensitive to her children’s emotional needs and asks, “How can I overcome that handicap?”
I’ve been asked variations on that same question more than I can count. The list of parental defects in question is short and predictable: alcoholism, addiction, abuse, a string of failed marriages, lack of affection, mental/emotional disorder, sociopathy, and abandonment (or a combination thereof).
Having a fair amount of personal experience with family dysfunction (my mother’s second marriage, 10 on a dysfunction scale of one to 10), I have lots of empathy for people who grew up under such circumstances, but I also absolutely know (been there, done that) that childhood experiences of that sort are not reasons; rather, they are excuses. In other words, such circumstances, in and of themselves, do not explain why any otherwise responsible, reasonably intelligent individual is struggling with parenting issues. The person is struggling because they (a) have convinced themselves that their childhood is a handicap and (b) believe in…