I would love to know the secret magical cure that the nice mommies use to prevent the screaming threats and mimed profanities (what? You do it too) that send children running for cover when they hear the Angry Footsteps. There must be something they have that I don’t. (Aside from plenty of percoset. Which I don’t even want. Yet.)
The question that runs through my mind when I step back and view the awfulness of these types of moments is ‘how did I get here?’ I can point to hundreds of small choices and life changes that put me in number 1 freak-out mom mode, but a more interesting question to me these days is, “How do I get out of this mess -this problem right now that I’ve made?”
Yesterday BB was 3, tomorrow she’ll be 10. I’ve concluded, after discussing puberty with friends of older kids and some late-night viewings of Disney Kids in hotels on business trips, that puberty basically repeats the toddler years but with more iphones and boobs. How do I get out of this mess before another one starts?
First, the problem: the mess. What is it? Beyond busyness (everyone’s busy) beyond stress (again, everyone’s stressed) what can I actually do to improve myself as a person to make me better at mothering? I love my children. I knew what I was getting myself into – no one’s ever put forth the claim that motherhood is an entirely easy gig. So why do I get so upset – sepcifically, angry – when this little person who I put here challenges me?
I asked that question today at some parenting lecture. After learning from a very earnest and chatty leader that my heart was actually another brain in the body and following her guided meditation wherein we visualized our hearts as welcoming and bright green and breathing (yes, I was lost too), one of the other panel members – a no-nonsense, IDGAF grandmotherly type (my favorite!) basically shut that shit down ala Marilla Cuthbert but with more side-eye. One point she made was that you perpetuate the cycle you were brought up in. We hear crying and it takes us back somehow to when WE were crying at that age. And it seems the majority of us had this in common – instead of a loving caretaker holding us close through the tears, and simply offering comfort – we experienced something like “Stop crying” “Be quiet” or perhaps something hurtful. I’ve heard variations of this theory, but for some reason it really resonated. I sat and listened to her common-sense grandmotherly voice tell me, “You’ve got to work out your issues with your daughter”. And suddenly I realized she was right; I constantly silenced my daughter’s hurt. And judging from her behavior, she has some pretty deep hurts that need to be released one way or the other.
So I tried it. The next time we faced a battle of the wills, I stuck to my guns as usual. But this time I didn’t try to quiet her protests, or even offer an alternative to placate the disappointment – “the answer is no. I’m sorry you are disappointed. You’ll be fine.” And waited for the tantrum which unsurprisingly ensued.
What did surprise me though was how quickly she moved from anger to tears. Deep, racking sobs that went on and on and on and on. Where did this all come from? I followed the advice I received at the parenting conference – held her, stayed by her, gave affection and merely said, “I’m here. You’re safe”. Almost comically, she started to calm down after about 10 minutes and turned into her self – but her sweet self. Not sulky, not sullen – just sweet and clear. After two more episodes similar to this, I feel as I have found an answer. Not THE answer by any means – but another tool, one that I’ve been neglecting to use out of fear or guilt. Who knows why – all I’m interested in is moving forward in a way that allows us to discipline our daughter without secretly worrying we are damaging her irreparably the entire time. (Of course we know we’re damaging her somehow – we just want to make sure it’s not to the point of dysfunction – or, if it is dysfunctional, hopefully it’s a cute kind that ends up as the basis for really great memoirs).
The worst part about looking back on the mistakes I’ve made thus far is that, I’ve known what I have been doing wrong, even as I was doing it. I just never allowed myself to face that, in the name of – what? Busy-ness? How many times have I rushed my daughter to hurry up with her feelings? Why did it irritate me when she didn’t behave as a robot? Of course I want you to question everything darling – just not me. Well for whatever reason, letting out those deep emotions the past few times has made her incredibly compliant in a different way. We’ll keep at it. And start taking notes for the memoirs.