When Our Past Affects Our Parenting by Roy Baldwin

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” Genesis 2:24-25

Shame is a very powerful emotion. It can live quietly in the shadows of our heart rearing its ugly head in moments we least expect. It recites a script we often lament, yet reinforces the very core of who we are…and the why behind why we might “hate ourselves so much.”

My script sounds like this:

“You are not worthy. How many times do I have to remind you?”

“See, you failed again.”

“Your best isn’t good enough!”

What does shame have to do with “the talk” you ask? It has everything to do with it.

You see, what you and I believe about marriage will ultimately show up in one of the most critical aspects of being a parent. You see “the talk” is not just talking about puberty, or the mechanics of “making love” and “where babies come from.” You see those mechanics are birthed out of the belief we have about ourselves and our view of marriage.

How “high” is your view of yourself and marriage? If not high…you could be leading yourself and your kids towards disaster.

Two Worlds Collided

Roy – My View

When Karen and I married in 1995 we were in our late 20’s and had been dating off and on for about 5 years. During that time we had experienced a long distance relationship, a broken engagement and many other significant challenges and trials. At one point, a pastor told Karen that we were not right for each other.

You see Karen and I had forged a pretty amazing friendship and for the most part we knew each other’s junk. We kind of knew what we were walking into when we said, “I do.” At least that is what we thought.

Our first few of years of marriage were tough…actually our 18 years of marriage have been tough but so much of our struggle rested in our “becoming one flesh…”

One of the BIG challenges for me as a young man was my identity. In my blog post, Hello My Name Is… I shared about my struggle with pornography.

Here is a portion of what I wrote and why it is so applicable to this post:

“I have always struggled to find those things that are good and loveable about me. I lived a life that I thought God and my parents would be proud of. I didn’t drink or party. I didn’t sleep around or have sex with girls. I remained a virgin until I was married. I didn’t smoke or do drugs. I followed all the rules…why did I feel so empty. I felt my performance (striving and fighting for my identity) would eventually win over the poor way I looked at myself.

Oh how I struggled internally. On the outside, I looked squeaky clean. On the inside I was a mess.”

You see so much of my identity was based on performance. I still struggle with the fear of failure and rejection. I need to know what I do matters.

Karen – Her View

I, too, grew up living a pretty wholesome life. The temptations of drinking, drugs or sex never entered my thoughts. The greatest deterrent from doing wrong was the thought of disappointing my parents. When it came to intimacy, I didn’t get it. The word ‘love’ was seldom spoken or displayed. We just knew it existed because of commitment and loyalty to family. Every once in a while ‘the talk’ would come up, which I interpreted as sex was not good. Though that was meant in the context of being unmarried, it was the only thing that had been shared with me.

In my teens and early 20’s, I experienced some traumatic “physical” acts that continued to send the message that physical intimacy was bad. So imagine laying all of my dark moments out there before I would consider marriage, thinking these things might make him run! I figured if he could accept me knowing the darkest of my secrets, our love could survive anything…and I would have an excuse for the things I feared.

Two Worlds Become One

Why is this important? Because our identity and our view of marriage is wrapped in our ability to love and be loved. The healthier that is the greater emphasis Karen and I will place on our children to be healthy individuals especially when it comes to determining who they want to spend the rest of their lives with, if they so choose that. Honestly, they need to know the mechanics of emotional wholeness as much as staying sexually pure.

Despite the fact we both came into our marriage with our sexual purity intact our emotional purity and our identities were broken and damaged.

So what do you do with your past? What if your shame is your identity?

You see “becoming one flesh” is not just a picture of physical intimacy. It is the joining of physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual worldviews. Dr. Brene Brown writes,

A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.

Karen and I have definitely had our share of struggles. Shame has crippled us in many ways based on bringing “our stuff” into our marriage. Our longing for wholeness in our marriage led to some of the most painful yet most rewarding aspects of our marriage.

Robin Weidner writes:

What a tremendous gift I can offer to my husband when I despise the shame, reminding him that his battle with addiction does not define him. And what a gift Dave gives me when he tenderly reminds me that my insecurities don’t mark me either, but rather make what I have accomplished more inspirational.

By making our marriage a shame-free zone, we’ve both found the grace and strength to make difficult changes. We do this through:

Talking about shame. One will share, “I’m feeling ashamed right now.” Or the other will ask, “Do you think there’s something bigger than this bothering you?”
Avoiding the language of shame. We make a concerted effort to share our own needs and feelings, rather than pointing fingers at each other.
Scorning the shame.As we come into the light with our battles, we put our trust in Jesus’ deadly blow to the shaming power of the accuser.
By routinely draining “pockets of shame,” Dave and I are learning that together we can be victorious, no matter what the struggle – as long as we engage the battle together.

As Karen and I look at our own children we want to set them up for success in some of the most important decisions they will make, most importantly marriage and family. Our desire is that they will see in their mom and dad, who are far from perfect, that vulnerability, authenticity mixed with love and grace can be the foundation in which shame has no foothold in their lives or the world of the one in which they will collide with someday.

About Roy Baldwin
Roy Baldwin (@baldwin_roy) is a contributing writer for Dad Matters and the Director of Parenting & Youth at Focus on the Family.