When we become parents, we bring all the experiences of our prior lives into our work with our children. These stories quietly influence our decisions and patterns of behavior as we raise our kids.
Some memories are of joyous occasions, but a few are of times of heartache or disappointment. Dr. Selma Fraiberg, a 20th century psychologist, recognized those painful memories as “Ghosts in the Nursery,” and wrote about their power to negatively impact a parent’s experience of raising children.
A man who was abandoned by his mother may be anxious that his wife will leave him with their children. A woman whose brother had cerebral palsy may worry if her baby is a little slow to learn to walk.
Dr. Alicia Lieberman more recently observed that there are also “Angels in the Nursery,” citing the beneficial influences which come back to bless us in our parenting roles. If we enjoyed rich relationships with our grandparents, we may work hard to nurture our children’s relationships with our parents. If we had excellent experiences in scouting, we may be eager to sign our children up for a local troop.
We parents often act on both our “angels” and our “ghosts” without realizing it. And then one day we sit down to visit with a trustworthy friend who’s a good listener. Before we know it, we share about our brother with cerebral palsy, commenting that we thought he’d never learn to walk. At that moment, we realize this same friend has heard us express a similar concern about our toddler, a late walker.
The clouds part as we realize we were somehow still carrying our brother’s struggle in our minds. We breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that our otherwise healthy little guy will walk on his own soon enough. Telling our story has freed us from the power of that “ghost” in a way that assurances from our pediatrician never could have.
Telling our stories to someone who listens and cares is a great vehicle for our own insight. Our ghosts wield less power. Our angels move us to foster similar treasured experiences. And our own antennae go up in the presence of other friends who, in simply telling their own stories, may gain greater understanding of what’s holding them back or moving them forward.