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Turning Into My Parents Not So Bad
by Francesca Biller-Safran
TheSyndicatedNews columnist

Award-winning Investigative Journalist and Columnist with experience reporting breaking news, longer features and op-eds about race, politics, business, socioeconomics, arts and culture, ethics and parenting issues for newspapers, magazines, radio and websites. Awards include The Edward R. Murrow Award, two Society of Professional First Place Journalism Mark of Excellence Awards and two Golden Mike Awards for Excellence in Hard News and Best Series Reporting.

There is perhaps no feeling as surreal as realizing that you have in fact become your parents. The other day I actually heard myself saying to my youngest child, “Because I said so.” Just then I felt myself morphing into a perfect combination of both my mother and father, which I can tell you is a scary realization; and I think you know exactly what I mean.

It’s not that they are loathsome people in any way, far from it. As a matter of fact I can honestly say that if I weren’t related to them I would think they were the most elegant people in the world. It's a good thing you can't see my face.

Let’s just say that becoming like them this early in life came much, much earlier than expected. But here I am, even echoing to my own kids, “You know that if you keep making that ugly expression, it might just stay that way,” and other such cheery words of advice.

This transformation of becoming like my parents has been years in the making. For years I struggled with this inevitable realization, in denial that I was in fact parenting in much the same way that my mother and father did; a very strange version of Déjà vu if you will.

I have even uttered the words, “Money doesn’t grow on trees” and “You’re lucky you aren’t working every day at a gas station after school.” At times like these I have had to check myself in the mirror just to make sure I haven’t turned into a Russian-Irish Jewish man who plays tennis. No offense dad, it’s just that I’d rather look like mom.

This brings me to my dear graceful mother; no sarcasm here at all. On this note, when I have repeated to my daughters five times a day never to run with scissors, and the advice that all mothers should hide some money in a coffee can for emergencies, I once again had to check my reflection. Actually my dear ma is in better shape then I am, so in this case I still have some work to do.

Let’s just say I grew up in a very interesting household with even more interesting choices to make. But these choices did not involve being coddled by my parents, although I was cuddled, a healthier indulgence.

By today’s standards, my parents’ style of childrearing is looked upon as old-fashioned and too simplistic; the kind of parenting I have learned that actually works best.

Although it is an odd feeling that I have become so much like them, I am proud that I have had the guts and felt the glory to go against the popular politically incorrect grain, knowing that I have even become a traitor to my own parenting peers.

I grew up, after all in the “me” generation and am expected to be understanding and supportive of everyone’s feelings, even and especially if I don’t agree, and in particular in regards to my children.

We are the progressive adults who believe in self-esteem above all, psychotherapy throughout college, marriage and divorce, prescriptions for everything and support groups for anything we now label a disease, as well as continually in search of our inner child.

By the way, how do you find your inner child anyway? I still haven’t found mine, and I have a feeling that without my father simply telling me to grow up whenever I acted beneath my age, I would have spent years trying to find this child, even at the expense of raising my own. Thank goodness for dads.

It is also an unwritten rule that we have a responsibility to parent differently in almost every way than our parents did, even if we are wrong. This includes debating and negotiating with our children in the market when throwing a tantrum and screaming- and I mean them, not us.

Or buying cars for bratty teenagers; unheard of in my parent’s generation when “Because I said so” was more than sufficient, saved time and led to very few twelve step groups, all without pop-psychology guilt.

The accepted mantra today is that everything children do should be paid attention to with great interest, otherwise we may hurt their self-esteem, the most dreaded modern sin of all.

I am trying to imagine my parents attending every childhood event and non-event and taking me out for pizza and ice cream afterward while they fawned over me. I would have thought they were either just plain weird, suspicious they might be feeding me my last meal before selling me off to gypsies, or just insane, resulting in my having no respect for them at all.

What the “me” generation has gotten wrong is that self esteem must be earned first in order to have any intrinsic value. It is not a birthright. This means achieving through hard work, challenge and some true grit. Anyone worth their word knows how unfulfilling it is when lauded for something you put little or no effort in.

I will never forget what my father said to me after I sketched for hours from a book by artist Michelangelo. As an accomplished artist I wanted to show him I too had talent. He told me I could do better, that was all, as he continued to work on his own painting. I didn’t cry and I didn’t give up on drawing either. I drew more, the next day and thereafter and before long, my father told me my drawings were good and I knew he meant it.

Recently, my middle daughter gave me an unusually beautiful drawing and I simply urged her to keep practicing. After which my youngest asked if hers was just as good. “It is a good drawing for you, I said. But draw a lot more and you too may draw like your sister and even like me and your grandfather one day.”

The next few weeks brought on healthy competition between my daughters, another politically incorrect parenting concept. Their pictures became more incredible by the day and before long, some of them resembled works by Matisse and Chagall, after which I brought out art books so they could learn further.

Speaking of which, I can still learn further from my own parents to this day, as they continue to preach and lovingly nag about how I should be raising my own kids. Of course there’s always the exception to the rule. For example, recently my mother left a message on my answering machine telling me to walk very slowly all the time because people have been known to die just by falling down on the sidewalk.

But in all seriousness taken with a huge dose of levity, today I feel grateful that I have a mother and father that I am proud to admit I am not only like, but aim to emulate.

This is unless of course you happen to notice a few traits of my parents that I would rather not disclose. And again, I think you know exactly what I mean.

Let’s just say that wearing my pants too high and walking around the kitchen with paper towels always under my feet might be among them.

Published: Sep 15,2008 22:38
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