Carbon Copied Love: How Parents affect our Relationships

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Monkey see, monkey do. This is probably the simplest way I can express my take on how our parents affect our relationships; and as much as we don’t want to hear it, some of us have been bamboozled by our parents.

 

First contact; lasting impression

Our parents are the first relationship we experience, and probably just about everything we see them do, we mimic… consciously or subconsciously. What we look for in relationships, both romantic and platonic, stem from our own interaction with them, and our observations of how they treat each other.

We involuntarily gravitate toward the parent who makes us feel most comfortable and comforted. Girls can be drawn to their fathers because they make them feel safe, and often times just spoiled. “Daddy nice child” or “Daddy’s little girl” are monikers most women heard, growing up, especially if they are the only female offspring. This childhood conditioning causes them to seek the mate who will exemplify those same qualities.

Similarly, it is common knowledge that boys draw close to their mothers because of the nurturing they receive. Some remain “Mammy’s boy” for their entire lives, and as adults, they are drawn to women who will pamper, nurture and cater to them, as their mothers did. This sometimes creates problems. How many of you ladies have ever flung the “Go by yuh mudda” line at men, when you think they’re being too demanding about wanting a fresh plate of food, or wanting the place kept squeaky clean? Finding a mate based on our parents’ personas can be a good and a bad thing, depending on how far we choose to impress those traits on an unwilling partner.

Mothers teach daughters how to be women. Fathers teach sons to be men. Together, they teach each generation how to love and support each other. That sort of social conditioning sounds well in a perfect world, right? But, what about those of us who grew up in dysfunctional homes?

 

Baggage and blossoms

We all didn’t grow up in a ‘cookie cutter’ household, with mommy, daddy, love, laughter, family night, and bedtime stories with goodnight kisses on our foreheads.

Positive examples decrease our chances of messing up potentially great relationships. Similarly, negative situations leave deep scars and challenges. Holding on to years of childhood baggage shows in our attitudes, and learnt behaviours regarding conflict resolution can cause tensions, creating short-lived unions. So if you grew up hearing your mom screaming at the top of your voice at your dad, while he remained calm, you might expect your significant other to tolerate that kind of behaviour. Then there’s the frequently cited example of children affected by domestic violence growing up to abuse their mates, even if they vowed to not be “like their father or mother”.

Fortunately, some of us can totally disregard the baggage of the past, and push forward to have blossoming relationships, but our first relationship with our parents can trip us up if we’re not aware of the issues that affect us.

Finding ourselves in an abusive relationship is sometimes the only wake-up call that somewhere along our psychological development, something wasn’t right. Others are much more aware of their parental problems and may pull back from experiencing fulfilling relationships with the opposite sex, having never experienced comfort or closeness in their own homes.

 

Helping or hurting

Think about it. Are our parents helping us or ruining our chances for decent relationships? Are they preparing us in the best way possible to welcome other personalities into our comfort zones? Or are we simply just seeking to re-enact what we’ve become accustomed to?

We become our parents without effort. Simple comments made toward each other in the home help to shape our mindset of how to interact with other people. We can be yellers because we were yelled at, as children, for the simplest of things, like moving dirty clothes off the floor, or we become passive aggressive, using our parents’ roundabout and annoying technique to get what we want in a relationship. As old as we get, we can subconsciously re-enact scenes we’ve witnessed in our childhood.

I know for a fact that I am my mother’s child. My mother was a married mother of three. She took care of home, and my father. Then it came to a screeching halt by the eighteenth year. Though divorced, she raised my two siblings and me by herself. Her do-it-yourself courage proved to me that anything can be done, once you work hard at it. And maybe it taught me that it can be done without a man. I’m yet to find the ‘perfect’ man to grow old with. Thanks to my mother, he almost doesn’t exist. My independent, pragmatic nature is a gift my mother bestowed unto me without her even knowing, and it gets me through the sometimes choppy seas of relationships.

 

Finding yourself

We grew up hearing that we shouldn’t aim to be like someone else, but thanks to Mom and Dad, do we know how not to be? As we grow older, do we objectively see where they went wrong, and use it as a gauge to change our own way of communicating, if necessary?

Taking the ‘good’ from our upbringing is the best way to go, rather than trying to make a carbon copy of our parents’ union. When with a boyfriend or girlfriend, before you react, stop and think, if whether or not your constant arguing or lack of affection derives from what you’ve experienced with your parents. Simple checks like these help us to figure out why we behave the way we do.

Undoubtedly, our parents may have a hand in how we handle our relationships. Nothing’s wrong with seeking to duplicate or emulate the positive lessons we’ve gained, and select a partner based on that criteria. Nevertheless, while we may learn our relationship skills from our parental interactions, they do not have to dominate our relationship choices.

 

Check out the rest of this week’s issue (Issue 32, 15/11/10)

 

Image courtesy iStockphoto.com; digitalskillet

 

Onika Pascal

Onika Pascal is a Trini living in New York, who holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. She is a single mom, author of two published collections of poetry, aspiring novelist ,and lover of all things purposeful.

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