Every Habit is Taught: Teaching, Re-Parenting, and Cultivating Good Habits

When I sit down to write blogs like this, I am very glad I use a pseudonym and that my mother and sister don’t read my blog.

My sister and I had a conversation with our mother once about how we use the bathroom. The conversation had a joking tone, but the subject was pretty interesting and unfunny in retrospect.

The two of us were in high school and college. We were old enough to remember our childhood, and to look back on our mother’s parenting with a more critical eye. Our mom did not appreciate that.

“Do you wipe front-to-back?” my sister asked me. “Or back-to-front?”

The three of us sat at a corner table in a busy restaurant. We were sitting by a window, which made it easier to avoid eye contact.

“All my friends wipe front-to-back,” my sister said. She turned to me and asked: “Did you know that’s how you are supposed to do it?”

I wondered how her friend group got into this topic of conversation, but then I remembered my sister was a bit of a drunk.

“I had no idea,” I said with a grimace. “That’s pretty gross, when you think about it.”

My sister had frequently suffered from UTI’s as a teenager, and I always had yeast infections. Talking about our sexual organs and reproductive health was not very common for us. After months of a shameful itch, I eventually would share with my mother that I had a problem. She was always mad, for some reason.

Why hadn’t I told her sooner? Wasn’t I washing? The shame connected to anything sexual created a dangerous situation where I was terrified of being honest. Once, I had let it get so bad that my yeast infection progressed into a bacterial infection. My mother was furious, and she couldn’t understand how or why I kept it from her for so long.

“Crotch-rot,” my mom liked to call it.

“I don’t know where you learned to do it like that,” our mother said. “I didn’t teach you that way.”

“You had to,” my sister said. “How else would both have learned to wipe back-to-front?”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “You were the one to potty train us. You must have taught us wrong, or else we’d both be doing it right.”

My mom shook her head at me. We changed the subject.

I don’t remember being potty-trained. I assume most people don’t. But as a preschool teacher, I helped dozens of children learn to use the bathroom. Deconstructing the process and teaching it step-by-step gives you a new perspective on the most basic of human processes.

One morning, a mother brought her child into my class. Angrily, as she handed me a nap blanket and lunch box, she asked me:

“Why doesn’t my daughter know how to blow her nose? She is four years old. How could she not know that yet?”

Everything inside me wanted to ask: “well, have you ever taught her?”

I held my tongue and assured her that I would spend the next few days making nose-blowing top priority for my lesson plan.

Whether it is blowing your nose, brushing your teeth, or wiping your own ass, every habit that you cultivate over your lifetime is taught to you by someone. Good or bad, all of your habits come from somewhere.

Most of my habits I had to learn passively through observation. My mom didn’t sit down with me and show me how to adequately clean my teeth. She let me lock myself in the bathroom until I came out with my breath smelling of toothpaste.

Sometimes, when I sit with myself and my memories, I think about how much childhood neglect affected my future.

Emotional regulation was non-existent in my family. I was expected to calm myself down or I would be screamed at. I never learned to deal with executive disfunction. Getting out of bed every day was a given. I never assumed that one day I would just stop.

The most important part of healing from my childhood trauma has been to re-parent myself. I have to learn how to cope with my mental illnesses and find work-arounds to lack of motivation.

When, suddenly, nobody is behind you striking the whip, you stop moving forward. The freedom that came with escaping abuse came with a bitter laziness. I have been working my ass off my whole life. Don’t I deserve a break?

I do deserve a break. But I also deserve to propel myself forward. Just because I didn’t learn the skills I should have as a child, doesn’t mean that good coping skills are out of my reach.

After a lifetime without them, it just sounds like a ton of work.

If anything, this is a positive. I am a blank slate. I can make my morning routine, my work day, and my self-care look however I want. I can do the things that work best for me. I don’t have to live on the same schedule with the same expectations as everyone else.

Re-parenting myself allows me to be the exact parent that I needed. I can cultivate good habits, learn the best ways to cope, and take a little extra time in the morning to floss.

@augustqueue is his own dad.

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