May I Have This Dance?

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How do people from dysfunctional homes know what is normal or appropriate in relationships? What happens if you want to be a loving parent but your role model was a bad example? How do you learn to be a mother if you have never been mothered?

As a parent educator, I have been blessed to work with groups of people from all over the world who want to enhance their parenting skills or find help in the midst of crisis. None reinforced the choice of my calling as did a participant a few years ago.

Regardless of the subject, a beautiful young woman continued to show up at my weekly parenting class. She slipped into a seat in the back of the room and took volumes of notes but refused to participate in group discussions.

Attendees varied from being court assigned, some child care providers looking for additional training, and parents who wanted to learn about a specific topic. She never signed the roster or filled out an evaluation. She always rushed out of class while I was visiting with others, so I never got an opportunity to get to know her on a one-to-one basis.

Then one night, I shared the story of a foster daughter coming into the kitchen when my husband and I were dancing to a tune on the radio. Becky collapsed on the chair and sobbed, "I never knew parents danced together. I knew they fought and argued and threw things, but I didn't know they laughed and enjoyed each other and their children."

We were stunned and heartbroken. It never occurred to us that living in a normal household was almost like living in a foreign country to her. We consoled her, "Oh Sweetheart. We are so sorry you had to see people be unkind to you and one another. You didn't deserve that and it wasn't your fault."

"Someday", she vowed, "I want to have a man who will dance me around the kitchen." We promised her that she would, and she did.

After others left the class that night, my mystery participant approached me and requested a few minutes of my time. When we sat down, she asked if I would hug her. I told her what an honor and privilege it would be and how much I admired her diligence in attending the parenting classes.

She then told me she came, not because she had children or worked with children, but because she had never been allowed to be a child. Her mother was mentally ill and from the time she was 7 years old, she was the adult in the family. She had been forced to assume the role of caretaker for herself, younger siblings, her ill mother and drunken father when he showed up.

She confessed her need to mentally establish what normal families were like, before she could trust herself to get serious in a relationship. Her early life had been so chaotic and like Becky in the story, she was not sure what mothers or children did in a family setting. She decided if all families were as dysfunctional as her family of origin, she would never marry.

Connecting with this story, she decided she too wanted a man who would dance with her in the kitchen, honor her forever and help in the parenting process. She decided she would go out with the kind, wonderful colleague who had been pursuing her for months.

The classes helped her recognize the chaos had not been her fault and she had done the best she could under the circumstances. Each week, she would review notes from the class and ask herself, "Can you do this?" Her confidence and knowledge grew as more and more often, the answer was yes!

She is now a wife and mother and doing such a good job. I'm always pleased when she shows up for parenting classes. Now she has lots of techniques, tips and contributions to share on having a happy cooperative family.

The highlight of seeing her again is when she hugs me and says "I danced in the kitchen today."

Judy H. Wright is a parent educator, family coach, and personal historian who has written more than 20 books, hundreds of articles and speaks internationally on family issues, including end of life. You are invited to visit our blog at www.AskAuntieArtichoke.com for answers and suggestions which will enhance your relationships. You will also find a full listing of free tele-classes and radio shows held each Thursday just for you at www.ArtichokePress.com.

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