My mother and I could not have been more opposite. She said I came out of the womb with my little fingers daintily pointing into the air. She was one of 11, born to a fruit and vegetable peddler father and a mother who emigrated from Romania and tried her best to manage her brood. Let’s just say my mother was street smart, suspicious (I’ll reframe this in a positive light as protective), outspoken and sometimes reactive. Whatever you can imagine as the opposite of that was me.
I recall when I was about 21 I had gotten myself into a mess. I called my mom. I distinctly remember her saying, “Amy, the way you got into it is the way you’ll get out of it.” And she hung up the phone. Tough love was alive and well. I froze. There is good news. I did get myself out of that mess, but did not, could not, yet comprehend the gift she gave me. Years later, she told me in her usual ‘Sara style,’ “I knew I wouldn’t die happy until you learned to say no and stand on your own two feet.”
Here are a few more “Saraisms:”
On relationships: “You gotta like their smell.”
On the importance of sex in a marriage: “If I had a nickel for every time I said no to your father, I’d be rich. Don’t repeat this!” My parents were married 71 years, so you do the math.
On women’s roles: “Pretty is as pretty does.” I do not know how many times I have told clients that our behaviors define who we are.
On education: “You’re going to be another year older anyway, might as well have a degree.”
On love: “It’s one thing to love someone, but it’s quite another to be IN love.”
Why am I telling you this? I am quite aware we are all cognizant of the importance of healthy and adaptive parenting and the crucial role parents play in their children’s lives. But, at this juncture in my own life as a parent, grandparent and psychotherapist, I cannot stress this enough. Observing my children parent their children has been an awe-inspiring and eye-opening experience. And, of course, many clients have shared ways their lives have been affected by their parents recalling caring and emotionally connected role models, as well as emotionally unavailable and/or abusive guardians.
COVID-19 has created many challenges with children being schooled at home. Parents are not only caregivers but have become teachers as well. I passionately believe all struggles can lead to opportunities. This pandemic is presenting ways to become more self-aware, less impulsive and less reactive as our children are always watching. Parenting styles can vary, but we know that children thrive when they have consistency and structure according to their age and stage of development. When parents set healthy boundaries, they teach their children what they expect, what they will and will not tolerate, and more about who they are as humans. I always say, we either become it, or we marry it unless we explore it.
As I look back, I realize I needed a parent who was my polar opposite, and for that, I am forever grateful. My business card tagline is “Nurturing No-Nonsense Therapy.”
I wonder where I got that from.
Amy Austin is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFC# 41252) and doctor of clinical psychology in Rancho Mirage. Dr. Amy can be reached at (760) 774.0047.