“The Child Is Father of the Man”: Dr. Kevin Leman on Childhood Memories
by Alicea Jones from an interview with Christian psychologist, author and humorist, Dr. Kevin Leman on how our pasts affect how we parent.
Q – How do you explain why some people who grew up in challenging home environments defeat the odds by making good of their lives?
A – How did I deal with a dad who was an alcoholic and drank too many brewskies most of his life? I never drank a beer. You see in families that lots of times an alcoholic father produces the alcoholic son; the alcoholic daughter. So you either fight them or join them. Part of that is the resiliency that’s in their personality. It becomes their thing to do things well, to pursue excellence, to be different from whatever [they] had to grow up with. Some people will turn their back on that [dysfunction] and live a life that is exemplary. Others won’t. I don’t have a magic answer to that. Some fall by the wayside. Some suck it up and go a different direction.
I, like many, was one of those who sucked it up and went a different direction. Propelled by a mother who hung in there even though she had to raise six children on her own, I wanted to make her proud of me. I was also influenced by an aunt who told me stories about achieving impossible dreams. Those stories, a desire to live differently and wanting to bring happiness to my mother were my driving forces. But I wonder about those who don’t make it–those who fall by the wayside. Maybe the big difference is having positive role models. Perhaps if I hadn’t, I would have gone the wrong way. What do you think? What factors make the difference in influencing a young person’s life?
I remember when I was in the fourth grade our teacher had us draw mountains. Most of my classmates colored their mountains brown. A few colored theirs purple. I wanted my mountains to look different from anyone else’s so I peeked at their drawings and chose colors they hadn’t used. My turquoise mountains were pretty but looked nothing like the real thing.
When you became a mother, dear one, you vowed to do things differently than the adults in your childhood. Maybe your dad was never home for dinner or went missing for days. Maybe you left for school in the morning with no breakfast and no prospects for lunch. So as an adult running your own home, you threaten your husband if he’s not home by 6:00 pm and you pack a lunch box for your child big enough to feed the entire fifth grade class.
While deciding not to repeat dysfunction from our childhoods, we can go so overboard that our homes take on a Stepford Wives feel rather than an authentic one with natural imperfections. Striving so hard to do things differently can take on obsessive tones that drive the family nuts. Certainly improve upon the past dear one. This is an admirable goal. But leave room for spontaneity and the sweet surprises that result. Your children won’t be damaged if dad arrives home after dinner or if little Ashley eats lunch in the cafeteria. Relax.
Scripture: To all perfection I see a limit; but your commands are boundless. Psalm 119:96
Nubby raw silk, unevenly woven linen, mahogany tables marred with decades of nicks and scratches: it’s the nubs, kinks and dents—the imperfections—that make ordinary things interesting and authentic.
Authentic? To be authentic means to reveal who we really are—the real us with all of our flaws and imperfections. Authentic: an uncomfortable word for some adult children of addicts who work hard to cover the shame of growing up in an addicted or dysfunctional home. However, it is through the total of our experiences, good and bad, that God can mold us into something beautiful. If you give your life to him, he can take all of the snags and tangles and weave them into the beautiful tapestry he pre-designed for you. God takes all our imperfections, all of our experiences and shapes them into something beautiful.
We want someone to know us, really know us—deeply. Not just as a mom but as a person. However, for those raised in alcoholic, addicted or dysfunctional homes, so many thick layers of protection enfold our wounds that staying cocooned seems a lot easier than the pain of exposure. What will people think if they knew from whence I came? But the truth is you are not your past. You are not your addicted or dysfunctional parent. They birthed you but they didn’t create you. You are beautiful you, created by a God who is in love with you—who has a marvelous plan for your life as a mother and a unique, multifaceted woman. Here’s what God says about you:
1. I am a child of promise – Rom 9:8; Gal 3:14
2. I am free from condemnation – Rom 8:1
3. I’ve been justified – made righteous – Rom 5:1
4. I have received the Spirit of God -1 Cor 2:12
5. I have been given the mind of Christ – 1 Cor 2:16
6. I am God’s workmanship – Eph 2:10
7. I’m chosen and appointed to bear fruit – Jn 15:16
8. I am a partaker of a heavenly calling – Heb 3:1
9. I am a child of light, not darkness – 1 Thess 5:5
10. I’ve been rescued from Satan’s domain – Col 1:13
11. I am a citizen of heaven – Phil 3:20
12. I have direct access to God – Eph 2:18
13. I am a fellow citizen in God’s kingdom – Eph 2:19
14. I am a saint – Eph 1:1; 1 Cor 1:2; Phil 1:1