"The Mum Gene" (or Dad Gene): what is it and how do we get it?
I was having a conversation with a client (I shall name her Jane for the purpose of this blog) the other day when she began to talk about her upbringing. It is not unusual for clients to want to talk about their past during a massage; muscles and other bodily tissue can hold an imprint from our previous experience and memories may be triggered when the fibres are manipulated and reset. Jane referenced her mother and her feelings towards her. She expressed how she didn’t have the relationship with her mother that she, and society, would expect. She went on to say how her mother had had no maternal instincts or nurturing qualities and would often blame her and her sister if things did not follow her expectations. She also mentioned that her mother could never show genuine happiness for her daughters, nothing ever seemed good enough for her and a comparison to herself (her mother) would always be mentioned first and foremost when any news was shared. Jane’s mother seemed envious of the siblings relationship and Jane said that she would regularly try to “put a wedge between us”. Jane revealed that she had struggled throughout her life to accept this situation and only recently had come to terms with it; admitting that she has not been able to commit to forgiveness as of yet but acceptance felt enough for now.
The conversation progressed to narcissistic behaviour and Jane conveyed that it was a combination of experiencing psychological therapy together with research into narcissism that had enlightened her to the fact that she had a narcissistic mother, saying “my mum just didn’t get the mum gene”.
That comment and the rest of the conversation sparked thoughts about what the mum gene actually is and whether or not I had been graced with it when raising my daughter. For me, the mum gene is not only to have a nurturing, caring and loving instinct towards my offspring but it also means giving priority to their welfare and their physical, mental and emotional health; always putting this first when making decisions about their life. Until, of course, they are old enough to make those decisions themselves. When they do reach an age of responsibility, to show support and guidance without judgement or control.
Accordingly to Psychologytoday.com the role of a parent is to “provide an interface with the world that ultimately prepares a child for complete independence and the ability to pursue whatever path they choose.”
This may prove to be difficult for some parents; the urge to mould your offspring into “mini me’s” or live out your unfulfilled dreams and ambitions through your children may be so overpowering that it wins over logic and reason. I remember The Big Breakfast used to do a feature called ‘Pushy Mums” where mothers would show off their children’s talents (which had been forced upon them) in a 5 minute TV bonanza. This is all very well for entertainment value but not exactly good for the value of well being or the up-bringing of our children.
And then, sadly, there is the type of mum that uses their children as leverage. There are lots of cases of separation or divorce where the wife threatens or prevents the father from gaining access to the children or participating in parenting, either as way of punishment or negotiation, thus dismissing the four major parental responsibilities (maintaining children's health and safety, promoting their emotional well-being, instilling social skills, and preparing children intellectually). The child’s welfare, mental health and emotional health are overlooked in order to make the wife feel better or gain financially. My daughter was in her mid twenties (so no longer a child) when myself and her father separated and, although I had feelings of anger towards him, I refrained from speaking badly of him to her and respected that her relationship with her dad was none of my business. I think and hope that I have not exhibited any of the aforementioned behaviours but have only been supportive in that situation.
So, as I mentioned previously, after this conversation with my client I analysed my parenting skills and beat myself up over the times where I felt I could have done better. I also acknowledged that there may have been times where I let my daughter down and I apologised for that (to myself) and forgave myself as I realised that I did the best that I could at that time. I wondered how many other mums (or dads) ruminate over their parenting and may need help or direction. So, navigating the minefield of positive parenting that is available, I have researched 3 areas that may help with that direction.
The Center for Parenting has a great equation for healthy parenting:
They have a great library of articles but this particular article stresses the importance of balancing the nurturing (love, attention, understanding, acceptance, time and support) role and the structure (direction, rules, discipline, limits, consequences, accountability and values) role. It gives examples of each role and an understanding of how to get a balance between them. In my own view, I feel that assessing which role best fits the scenario before reacting will be a very helpful tool for healthy parenting. The 5 minute read was well worth the invested time.
Another useful tool for parenting is Dr Nathan Perron’s categories for effective parenting; The Four C’s: Choices / Consequences / Consistency / Care.
Choices - allowing your child to feel in control and grow their independence by giving them structured, age appropriate choices such as “would you like yoghurt or fruit for dessert?” or “would you like to do your reading before or after we go to the park?”. The aim with choice is to pass the power to the child but within your limits.
Consequences - educating your child that there are consequences to their actions and behaviour. These consequences can be either positive or negative such as giving your child a high five when they’ve achieved something difficult or turning the TV off if there is an argument over what they are watching. The consequence should always be reasonable and relative to the behaviour ie; “there will no dessert if you do not eat your dinner” or “if you continue to throw stones we will have to leave the park early”. The aim with using consequences is to teach your child accountability and responsibility.
Consistency - always follow through with what you say to your child. If you have promised them a trip to the farm at the weekend, then take them. If you tell them that you’re going to turn the TV off if they continue to argue, then turn it off if they do not stop. It is important for the child to know that what is said will happen. The aim with consistency is to build structure and trust in your child’s life.
Care - no matter what your child’s behaviour is like, always try to ensure your actions come from a place of love. It is important for them to know that your actions are because you love and care for them ie; “I want you to go to bed at this time because I know how important sleep is for you to have a healthy body and brain” or “I wouldn’t be a good mum if I let you hurt yourself or others by ignoring you when you are kicking and throwing stones”. The aim of showing that you come from a place of love when making decisions about your child’s life is so that the child understands that rules are for their safety and wellbeing.
The final useful information that I came across while researching is The Institute of Child Psychology’s Crucial C’s. Their article sheds some light on children’s needs and effect of these needs not being met. These include:
Connection - children need to believe that they have a place where they belong. Children need to feel connected to feel secure and explore the world from a place of safety.
Capability - children need to believe that they are capable of doing things. When a child feels competent they develop independence and self-reliance and that cultivates responsibility.
Count - children need to know that they can make a difference, that they have value and matter. This grows their self confidence and cultivates appreciation.
Courage - children need to believe that they can handle what comes their way. When a child can handle a challenging situation or event, it builds resilience and encourages feelings of hope. They learn to manage overwhelming feelings which helps their future self.
The article is a few minutes read and gives insight to certain behaviours that children may exhibit. Children (and some adults) find it difficult to communicate their feelings and emotions so it is useful to know the why’s behind the behaviour as you only have a chance of addressing the issue if you have an understanding of the thinking process.
While writing this blog, it occurred to me that the Four C’s seem to be a good rule set across all areas of life and not just for parenting. To be mindful and respectful of other’s choices, to remember that our actions and behaviours have consequences, to show integrity and follow through on promises and to always come from a place of love when choosing how we behave, these are my new guidelines to live by. It also seems that we do not grow out of the Crucial C’s. They certainly feel relevant to me. I still have the need to feel that I belong, that I am capable and can make a difference in this world and I certainly need to believe that I can handle any challenge that comes my way. So writing this blog has been a lesson and a reminder: I need connection, courage, be capable and count in this world to feel at peace and I should have balance with nurture and structure when parenting myself !