I grew up in a tough home environment. Until my parents divorced when I was eleven, there was constant strife and fights and general mayhem. I was always waiting for the next shoe to drop. Always wondering what was going to set my dad off this time. It was an uncomfortable way to live.
I think I’ve blocked that time of my life out from my mind where it seems almost as if another person lived that life. Yet that person was me. The girl typing up this post was the exact same girl who came home from church to find a hole in the wall that her father had punched through. It was the same girl who told her father a dream she had for her future and was laughed at, told she wouldn’t be able to do that. It was the same girl who sat huddled in a corner of her room, a pillow pressed firmly against her ears, tears leaking from her eyes as she tried to block out the shouted words and prayed fiercely that this wouldn’t be the time her father laid hands on her mother.
I had to grow up quick as a child. It’s not an environment any child should have to suffer through and thankfully, my mom left him when my brother was twelve and I was eleven. It had to be the toughest, scariest decision my mom had to make but she did it for us. To get us out of an environment that was not conducive for our growth. And because of that, we have grown into two awesome adults. Two adults who had all the odds stacked against them to flourish and succeed but we did it.
And while I may not have any children, I was a child who grew up in a tough home environment, and I know I have some advice to offer to parents.
1. Don’t make children deal with adult problems. I learned about things like rent, evictions, and bills way before I needed to know what they are. I was less concerned about wearing the latest fashions as I was about worrying if the rent would be paid this month. Or if my dad would, once again, spend his entire paycheck on gambling. While it’s important for kids to understand the importance of money and that no, they can’t always get what they want — it’s also not their job to worry about the bills and adult issues. Their job is to be kids, to learn and grow, not to stress about the electric being shut off. Don’t drag them into your fights, because it creates a stressful, anxiety-ridden environment for them.
2. Be involved. If I can give one nugget of advice for parents, it’s to be involved. My experience in this comes solely from how my parents were (or were not) involved and I’ve seen what happens to kids whose parents are not involved in their life and trust me, it isn’t pretty. Be involved as much as you can. Kids need to know that you like to be around them, it creates a sense of security and wholeness. I fondly remember a time when my dad came into my first-grade classroom and made pancakes for all the kids and teachers. I remember my mom being a chaperone on many field trips. I think my best memory, though, is Saturday Night Game Night. My mom started this when my brother and I were in high school and it has continued on to this day. We all get together for a few games, pizza, and tons of talking. By doing this, my mom was able to keep tabs on our life and it also showed us that not only did she love us a whole lot, but she also liked us a whole lot as well.
Be involved with their homework, talk to them about what happened to them at school and know when they have tests coming up. It can be so easy to get caught up in all the other things you have going on, but be involved. Maybe you can’t be the room mom or chaperone every field trip, but you can keep an open line of communication with them.
3. Make them accountable. My parents always made me accountable for my actions. No misdeed went unpunished. Even the rolling eyes, loud sighs, and talking back weren’t tolerated. Once kids learn they can get away with one little thing, it becomes a game of what else they can get away with. My parents didn’t play that game. Sure, maybe they were more strict than other parents but it worked. When parents start letting the kids run the show, that’s when the breakdown occurs. The rules mean nothing, the rules their parents set and the rules other people set, including the rules their teachers set. Making kids accountable for their actions is one of the biggest ways to build responsibility and showing kids that the rules you set are for real, creates a sense of security for them.
4. Fights should never happen in front of children. Oh, my goodness. I cannot stress this point enough. Nothing fills a child with more fear than hearing their parents fight. It’s frightening and scary. Most of the time I didn’t know what the fight was about, I just knew that it was time to hightail to my room and try to drown out the sounds of their shouting. Fights should never, ever happen in front of the children. Ever. Nothing about this is okay and all it does is create a high level of fear and trepidation in a child who is too young to understand what is happening. One of my biggest promises to myself is that my future husband and I are not going to have screaming matches in front of our kids. (And hopefully, we won’t have screaming matches, period!) You want to create a haven of safety, love, and support for your kids? They need to know that they won’t have to fear their daddy is going to do something terrible to their mommy. They need to know that the problems mommy and daddy are facing are between them only. Fighting in front of them (or even within hearing range) creates the first tip I mentioned: it’s bringing YOUR problems into THEIR world.
What kind of environment did you grow up in? Any tips for how to create a safe, supportive learning environment?
As a member of Clever Girls Collective, I was selected to participate in the Healthy Habits program sponsored by Kimberly-Clark and Colgate-Palmolive. The content and opinions expressed here are all my own. #healthyhabits #cgc