I met my younger self today, an illuminating experience.
Here's how it happened….
A few years ago, my parents gave me several boxes of papers they had kept from my childhood. (You know, the ones with the drawings from kindergarten and all the special projects accumulated over the years..)
I never went through them, until today.
As I sorted and read through letters (yes, in stamped envelopes!) cards, notebooks, and the paper remains of my childhood, I found two items that had a deep impact.
The first is a chore chart. You may have seen a similar tool that parents sometimes use to follow a child’s success as she participates in household activities (more thoughts on this another day). However, this one is remarkable in its complete lack of reward or positive reinforcement.
The chart has two
columns: one marked ‘chores’ and the other ’dates not done.’ In the
second column, dates are written on various lines, days when I
presumably did not complete the chore. The entire purpose of the chart was to keep track of when I did not do what was expected.
This piece of paper from over 30 years ago is an illustration of my tendency today to keep an internal account of things not done, mistakes made, disappointments.
I absolutely do not blame my parents for making this chart. They were doing the very best they could, acting from perspectives learned in their own childhoods. It is very obvious from all of the other papers I came across - in the hundreds - that I was loved and cherished, and that I loved and cared for my parents.
In fact the second item I wish to share, a picture I made for my father when I was about 8 years old, is a testament to this.
In the picture, a girl is walking down a set of stairs toward her father. They are greeting each other warmly, with familiar phrases from my childhood. Across the bottom is written: ‘to a great dad… who doesn’t know it.’
Apparently, at the age of 8, I was aware of my father’s own tendencies to chastise himself, hold himself to high expectations, keep an accounting of things not done, and never (or rarely) celebrate his own accomplishments.
Today I came face-to-face with my own generational patterns, and for this I am deeply grateful. Amazing things happen when you allow yourself awareness of the past, when you have empathy for the child you were and the adult you have become. This awareness holds the power for change.
When I work with parents, our process comes full circle; as we uncover beliefs formed in childhood, we also hold an awareness of the beliefs you are helping to build in your children. It is a beautiful, congruent, affirming process.
Have you ever come face-to-face with yourself like this? I'd love to hear your story in the comments below :)