By Kris Hey
I grew up in a home where feelings weren’t discussed and verbal and physical expressions of love were infrequent.
According to friend and Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Bonni Funk, this wasn’t an unusual home dynamic in the past. “From what I understand, earlier generations didn’t talk about things like they do now,” Funk said. “It is still that way in some non-American cultures.”
In our home, appearance and performance mattered, how others outside the family perceived the family mattered, and we had secrets.
During my childhood, “communication” mostly included talking about the weather, what was on television and superficial topics — never our emotions or feelings.
When I became a parent more than 10 years ago, I examined my life, as many people do when they have a child. I realized I didn’t like what I saw and who I was, and I was going to break this generational cycle.
It wasn’t easy, quick or pain-free, but I made the changes that needed making so I could be the best parent I could for my son. I don’t blame anyone for the way I was raised, but I believe I can do better raising my son.
I knew what kind of family I wanted, so I began by modeling our family after my husband’s. Truth be told, I felt like an alien during some of those first visits with his relatives. I soon got used to being around his family, who were open about feelings, and I looked forward to visiting his parents and sisters. When my mother-in-law was alive, we were so close I called her more than my husband did and spent as much or more time with her than he did.
My husband’s family played board games after super-sized holiday meals, the kids performed plays, sang for everyone, played music and made arts and crafts. They sat around the dinner table telling stories about life that sometimes made everyone laugh, and, other times, made everyone cry.
I know they influenced me and made me a better parent by example, and the strong bond my son and I share is partly because of this.
Our bond also comes from honest and open communication between me, my husband and our son. “Open, age-appropriate communication ensures that parents and their children/teens can bond,” Funk said.
Our son, nearing 11 now, is completely comfortable openly expressing his emotions and talking about his feelings. He knows he can tell me anything, no matter how upsetting it might be for me to hear or even if it might get him in trouble. He also can tell me if he has an issue with me — sometimes it might be my tone (I can be loud — ask my co-workers) or he simply feels I am not giving him enough one-on-one time. I ask him how he is feeling probably more than he can stand and always plan to keep that door open.
Most importantly, I don’t keep secrets from him.
That doesn’t mean I tell him every detail of my life, but I will tell him what he is mature enough to understand, and he is free to ask me questions about anything. I might not be able to answer every one, but he knows I will when the timing is appropriate. My son understands that privacy is not the same thing as keeping a secret, and I don’t have to worry about him telling his friends things they don’t need to know.
Funk said, “In recovery, they say, ‘You’re only as sick as your secrets.’”
If that’s true, I would say we’re pretty healthy except for the occasional cold or sinus infection.