You Can Choose Your Friends, But …..

We all know the end of that well worn cliche above.  It’s born of truth and experience though, isn’t it.  How often do you get irritated, maybe even enraged by someone in the family, then instantly feel remorse for reacting?  Love ain’t easy in any circumstances.

It’s especially true of parenting.  Thankfully, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve shouted at my lad.  To date he’s never been in any trouble, never courted any bother or had friends that were likely to be a pain.  I guess I must be doing something right, despite all the mistakes I’ve undoubtedly made as a single parent down the years.

In a way, though, I’ve had a helping hand, in the most under-handed of ways.  Now, it would be easy of me to blame all the woes and ills of my life on how I was brought up, on my own parents.  It would be palpably wrong.  For the most part life is what we make it.

It’s undeniable, though, looking back, that a contributory factor to my cripplingly low self esteem, and so often a lack of self confidence, came from the misguided actions of my Mum and Dad when I was growing up.  By trying to do their best for me, they’ve undoubtedly scarred me inside throughout my life.  They’d be mortified if they knew by how much.

They, of course, learnt their parenting skills from their Mums and Dad.  In that respect, they never stood much chance.  My Mum was brought up in a tough Scottish mining village, divided by religious lines, where as far as I can gather the mother acted like Lady of the Manor, looking down on everyone, while the father quietly put up with it.

My Dad, on the other hand, spent his formative years in an inner city suburb south of Hadrians Wall, a place famed in the UK for rioting on more than one occasion.  This time it was the mother who was quiet, while the father was a drinking, fighting, angry man.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that in trying to do their best for me when I was a wee bairn, they ended up making errors that have affected me for life.  I’ve never resented them for it, I’ve just occasionally had an internal frustration about it and ask myself why.  I soon move on though.

Disciplining Child

Looking at their own childhoods, it’s no surprise that mine was punctuated with lots of shouting from either or both of them.  There was a real venom to it, as well, and I wince whenever I hear an angry parent in the street today shouting so vehemently and threateningly at their child.

Of course, at times I deserved the discipline, and every child has to learn right from wrong, and be aware there are consequences for misbehaving.  It may sound contradictory, and I can say truthfully having never raised a hand to my lad, but I do think the old fashioned ‘clip round the ear’ is a justifiable part of parenting.

What I don’t accept is the beltings I had.  Or the dog lead.  Or the sole of my father’s shoe.  Or a particularly vicious smack on my back in the bath tub, for the heinous crime of me taking a bath because I thought they’d said I could, instead of a wash.

At the time, however, I shrugged it off.  I never knew any better so thought all parents were like that.  I also, of course, believed I was fully in the wrong at the time, so never made a fuss.  Looking back now, though, it was crazy, and clearly abuse.

The bumps and brusies from the hands – and sometimes the sole – of Mum and Dad soon faded though.  They were temporary.  What has lasted longer was their words.  There’s things they’ve said from decades ago that has cut me to the bone.

Again, I have to stress it was done purely out of wanting the best for me, to motivate me so I can achieve and be someone they could only aspire to be.  It’s undoubtedly had the opposite effect though.

When I was at school, I struggled early on, and like every kid would get a telling off for my bad reports.  Something that stood out, however, was one year when I finally got what the teachers were trying to put across.

In all my academic studies I received high grades for either the standard of my work or how hard I tried.  One test I took part in I apparently recorded the highest mark in my district (the equivalant of an English county).

Yet my parents focused on the one thing I was hopeless at, pottery.  I was, and still am, pretty cack handed at any crafts and art, even though I enjoy having a go at it.  Yet that was the only comment that was made over the whole report.

Disciplining Child 2

It gave me a sense, their reaction, of that I couldn’t do anything right.  My reaction was, obviously, just as extreme as their response to a pretty outstanding school report, but somehow, that feeling of never being good enough has stayed with me.

Another seminal moment was when I soon started work, in a fairly awful environment, miles away from home.  I was clearly going through a terrible time psychologically, yet my father thought it reasonable to shout at my my Mum that I was “bloody lucky”.

He then sat me down alone when I visited and spent anything up to half an hour criticising every facet of my life.  He had it in his head what sort of person I was, what sort of life I was leading, even the quality of my work, without so much as asking me one single question to back up anything of what he was lecturing / shouting about.

As a result of that, my self esteem has been shot to pieces for decades.  Try as I might to fight it, I’ve always had an element where I feel I’m not good looking, or good company, or clever enough, to do and achieve anything.  That sadness and underachievement is all I deserve.

Again, though, I don’t blame either of them.  Because of their upbringing, this was the only way they could convey wanting what was best for me.  I’m certain, twisted though it was at times, it was done out of love, not spite.

They also instilled in me many good values.  A strong work ethic, which is why, just like them, I go looking for work when I’m out of work until I get some, or do voluntary work.  That however tough times are, and they were when I was growing up, crime is not the answer, that right is right and wrong is wrong.

They also took us on holidays whenever they could afford it, we had a roof over our heads and food on the table.  At Christmas, we either got what we wanted, or something just as good if it wasn’t possible.  Both parents worked tirelessly, every single day of the week, to do that.

In giving me all those great things and decent values, though, there was a price I had to pay, and still do right up to this day.  I wonder, if they knew how hurt I was at the time, if they thought it was worth it.

Even though I love them, I’m still not sure myself.  I just hope, in 30 years time, my lad isn’t writing the same things to you as I am.  If any good can come of this, it’s  maybe that I learned from my Mum and Dad’s mistakes, to make me that much better a parent for him.

Which goes to show the truth of another cliche I won’t finish.  In every cloud …..

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