How to be a Good Parent

How to be a Good Parent

Any adoptive parent who had a lousy childhood knows this the home study is hell. I wasn't worried about how clean my house was. I anguished over my autobiography, wondering how honest I should be when discussing my family of origin. When asked if I was close to my father, a man I didn't see after I was ten months old, could I get away with saying, "We're not that close?"

Three and a half years into my parenting journey, I can talk about the humbling home study and how I dared to believe I could be a good parent despite being an "at risk" child. I can now say how grateful I am for all the time I've spent healing and journal writing in my attempt to break the cycle.

But where could resources and support for moms with a trauma history such as myself be found so that we don't unpack our baggage on our children? In my search, I was disappointed when I couldn't find books, Web sites or even Yahoo! Groups. I was also a little surprised since it is sadly not an insignificant number of people who've been in abused, neglected or traumatized during their childhood. So when I finally found " The Whole Parent: How to a Good Parent Even If You Didn't Have One," written by Debra Wesselmann, an adoptive mother, I was thrilled.

Published by Da Capa Press in 1998, its content is current. It explains how experiences from our past remain in our psyches and have impact on our parenting. It also examines how parental instincts are broken and mended. Wesselmann describes what secure attachment is, and tells us what it isn't. While her book is geared towards parents raised in dysfunctional and abusive homes, many chapters would benefit any adoptive parent.

I say this because her book is one of the rare parenting resources with a chapter dedicated to adoptive parents who might try to be a "super parent" either to prove that they can be a parent or because they believe love can "erase" the pain our children feel about adoption-related losses. Wessleman insists that adoptive parents who endured a difficult childhood construct a solid core; this will be necessary, she advises, to handle the intense emotions their children might have. If they are able to do this, parents will be less likely to lose their footing when their children need them the most.

This book is fantastic because it manages to be non-shaming about our weak spots while stressing the importance of building some core strengths. It offers a good reminder that it is parents who sometimes need to bolster our emotional strength to be the best parent we can be for our children.

Most refreshing is the author's focus on attachment as it pertains to adults who have been traumatized as children. Too often the adoption community views attachment as an issue only for kids, who are viewed on an "Are they or aren't they?" scale. It's a great relief to take our children out from under the attachment microscope and realize children and their parents form attachments together. Wesselmann turns our focus away from watching the water (child) to see if it's boiling and toward making sure there's a working stove (parent) in the house.

"The Whole Parent" is an accessible and easy book to read. Even the busiest parent can do the exercises she suggests and benefit from the author's insights. Even for those who come to parenting with a wonderful childhood experience, this book can help to explain why those who grew up in circumstances of neglect and abuse, multiple transitions and early loss need tender loving care when dealing with these wounds. It explains why pain can be so long-lasting, patterns deeply entrenched, and the consciousness needed to break the cycle. Reading the book energized me, reminding me how crucial it is to be present and honest and to keep working on my relationship with myself and my past in order to be a better person and parent. My daughter deserves nothing less.

Christine Cissy White is a stay-at-home feminist/writer who lives on the South Shore in MA with her husband, David Schildmeier and their daughter Kai. Visit her blog at
Cissy is a contributor to the RainbowKids Voices of Adoption area.

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