3 min

How We Were Raised Impacts How We Parent

The father-daughter dance at my wedding was awkward. 

Dad had just given a speech. It was well-written, thoughtful, and emotional. He blubbered his way through it and took extra long pauses as he choked back tears. But while he spoke thoughtfully to my husband Sam, he didn’t say a single word to me or about me. The last line of his speech was, “I didn’t know why Sam wanted to be with my daughter and now I know... it’s because they’re perfect for each other.” 

To everyone watching it was a sweet line. To me it was a sinking realization: my Dad doesn’t know me that well.

As we met each other on the dance floor, he asked, “How was it? Was it okay?” 

It was clear my Dad’s intention was to make sure Sam knew how much he approved. All week long Dad kept saying stupid things he thought were funny but were not funny. Like at the rehearsal when he walked me down the aisle and upon handing me off to my fiance asked, “You sure you want to do this?”

So as we danced and everyone watched, I felt uncomfortable and sad. We had nothing to say to each other because our relationship was a bit superficial. 

Our experiences with our parents, good and bad, shape how we want to raise our kids. There are things my parents did I want to imitate and things I don't want to imitate. Mostly the latter. 

When I was 21 years old and had my heart broken for the first time, I curled up in a ball on my parent’s back porch and sobbed uncontrollably. Years later, Mom told me Dad saw me back there. When I asked him about it, he shuddered, remembering, and said he didn’t know what to do. 

I’m not angry at my Dad. It’s not that he didn’t want to comfort me. It’s that he didn’t know how.

I think about my son George. If he was crying - for any reason - I wouldn’t turn away. I would go to him. I would be there for him. But there’s a fear of overcompensating. My parents rarely showed emotion or talked about their feelings. I don’t want to take it to the opposite extreme and be overbearing with my son. What if I share too much and ruin any chance of a good, healthy relationship?

Parenting is the greatest responsibility. Thanks to my parents, I’m hard-working, independent, and have the confidence and ability to find common ground with nearly anyone I meet. But there’s so much I want for George that my parents never provided. And there’s so much I want for him to get out of this life. I feel enormous pressure to get it right. Mom told me, “You’re not going to get everything right.” And I’m sure this is true. 

What I can do is focus on what really matters. I want George to be independent and fulfilled. I want him to feel safe and loved. I want him to love learning and reading. I want him to understand personal finance. 

When it comes to putting things into practice, I try to take it day by day. Sam and I are striving towards fulfillment in our own lives and George will hopefully see that. We tell him we love him countless times throughout the day and never plan to stop (at some point I might need to cut back on all the kisses and hugs). We read to him constantly, sometimes children’s books, sometimes whatever I’m reading because he seems to like it regardless of the content. We plan on giving him an allowance and Sam is giddy to teach him about personal finance. And we have an ever-growing list of books on parenting that we’re eager to read and learn from so that we can continually grow and become better parents. 

And if he ever gets married and we meet each other on the dance floor for the mother-son dance, I want George to feel better than I did. If we don’t speak as we’re swaying back and forth, I hope it’s because we are so comfortable together in silence. Not because it’s awkward.


Thanks to Florian Maganza and Bryce Longton for feedback on this essay.