I was 28 years old when I became a father. At least from my perspective, I wanted to have a son that I could love, mold, and shape into the best version of myself. He would be more athletic, a smart risk taker, outgoing, and a much better eloquent speaker and transcend my personal attributes. I remember telling myself, “I am going to mold this little one so that he can flourish and blossom in ways I did not have the opportunity to”. When Paulito was born, in just two years I realized that parenthood was a huge responsibility; maybe the hardest job that exists on the planet. By the time Paulito was 3 years old, I had hit a wall and received a huge wake up call.
One afternoon while driving home from work my son was crying incessantly. I would give him one toy and then another and then a snack but he would not stop crying. So then I pulled into a parking lot and I proceeded to spank him because I became frustrated and believed that he needed to cry for a reason since he wouldn’t stop crying with anything that I gave him. The next day the same thing happened. I was about to pull over again to spank him when I heard, in between his wailing, “sing papi, sing papi, sing papi”. I asked him if he wanted to sing and he nodded in agreement. I felt horrible after that day. I reflected on my actions and I knew that I had made a mistake, a terrible mistake. As I set the car in motion from the red light, I realized I did not have the tools to navigate through that moment with my son. I did not know what to think of myself, I was engulfed in all kinds of emotions. From that day on I knew I had to learn other ways to parent our children. The first transformative step was actually taking a parenting class.
During the first parenting classes, I learned that how we were parented as children has a significant impact on how we then parent. According to Dr. Daniel Siegel in Parenting from the Inside Out, “if you had a difficult childhood but have come to make sense of those experiences, you are NOT bound to re-create the same negative interactions with your own children. Without such self-understanding, however, science has shown that history will likely repeat itself, as negative patterns of family interactions are passed down through the generations”. In simple words, I needed to make sense of my childhood experiences and how those experiences have shaped my life. For the first time in my life I had to stop and reflect on how I was parented. So, how have I made sense of my childhood? I began to think about my childhood experiences and how I was disciplined.
As a kid I grew up in a place with no middle ground, you would either do as you were told or you would get spanked, flogged with the belt, or get whipped for disobeying. Even at church we were told, “if you are not a good kid you would go to hell and burn in the flames of the devil for all eternity, so be good kids”. Growing up, there was no room for self-expression. If I dared to express my emotions there would be consequences. Sometimes I could not even cry because crying was seen a form of weakness, crying was something only girls did. At school and with friends this perspective was reinforced, it was the norm. There were times when I would throw a “tantrum” because my mom would not prepare the food I liked, and then I would get spanked so that at least now I had a reason to cry (sound familiar?).
My home was a dictatorship where my dad had the last word, and his word was to be obeyed. Don’t get me wrong, even back then I knew that my dad had the best intentions for me. I love my dad and I know my dad loves me very much. Most of the time, once we were spanked or whipped, my dad would tell us “I discipline you this way because I love you very much”. We would say, “if you love us very much, why do you spank us or whip us with the belt?” My dad would say, “This is the way it has to be done”. He was doing the best he knew how.
As I sat in the parenting class and reflected on how I was parented, I felt ashamed of myself. I realized that I was inflicting the same pain I experienced as a child to my children. The more I thought about the way I was parenting my children, the things I told them, the way I was demanding respect, the way I reacted to certain “misbehavior”, the worse I felt. I was not transcending my father; I was being the mirror image of him. That realization, while heartbreaking, was what I needed to do in order to begin the next chapter of my parenting story.
If you have not already done so, I hope that these words will inspire you to reflect on your upbringing. I know what a difference it has made in my own parenting shift. Don’t forget to subscribe if you haven’t already done so and feel free to share if you think this blog may help another parent on their journey.
P.S. If you live in the L.A. area and are looking for a parenting class we have included the link to ECHO Parenting below where we took our parenting class. Check it out!