Saturday, December 19, 2009

This One's for the Mamas

I wrote this post a few months ago and while we have somewhat moved past this specific moment, the thought still stands...

Some days, I really feel like a Bad Mom.

There, I said it. I don’t mean a Truly Horrible Mom, not by a long shot— it's just that some days, I get to feeling that parenting a toddler is a little like having an hysteric, headstrong and furious teenager around the house. And it’s so mercurial; things can be clicking along just fine and happy, Kiddo is engaged, learning something new every day and then BAM!, the season of shrill shrieks and crying and “don’t want” starts with a fervor one never could have anticipated. Simple requests that were once pleasantly accommodated (putting away one’s shoes or sitting down to eat) have today turned into opportunities to ignore me and wander off to do as he darn well pleases. He wants things he can’t have and gets mad because he can’t have them. And this puts us in a space where we are locking horns a bit.

And just when I think “Man oh man, I need to walk away now!” Kiddo looks at me plaintively, helplessly and says “Want to hoooold you.”

It reminds me that, inasmuch as he’s pushing my buttons and frustrating me with his sudden lack of cooperation and need to do as he wants, he’s also a little afraid too. I think this is reasonable and realistic. Kids at this age press and press— developmentally they are stretching, spreading their wings, not to fly away but to flap and flap and make a big fuss and say “One day I’ll fly all by myself, I’m my own little bird!” and we Mama birds sometime get tired of cajoling and inviting and redirecting and we raise our voices and squawk at our chicks. This makes the chicks nervous and then we feel like Bad Moms.

Yet, between the layers of guilt and love and the desire to do the best to raise our kids to be well-adjusted and self-actualizing (no small task we’ve got, eh Ladies?), I think there’s another dialogue running in our head like a CNN banner at the bottom of the screen. On some days mine would read: “When is he going to learn to stay out of the food garden? I gave him that huge patch of dirt……I’m so over this screamy-fake crying thing…What?! Again?!.....GET DOWN FROM THERE!!!......Okay, time for Mama to escape and take a shower …..Amazing how I disappear and he’s happy....” That last one is the worst; when Dad comes home or I go out of the room and Voila! The sun comes back out on his once-cloudy face. What a Crap Mom I must be if my kid is happier when I’m gone, right?

Fortunately, I’m not the only one dealing with this feeling of Not Living Up to Expectations. I met a group of mothers for breakfast this morning, all of us with children in tow, and miracle of miracles; most of us were on the same page. We wished we had infinite wells of knowledge in regard to how to address our children’s needs. We wished our children were--dare I say it?-—a little more compliant to our perfectly reasonable requests of them. We feel down on ourselves for getting frustrated with the simply unreasonable and demanding little people we have charged ourselves with raising up right, and for not having endless patience with the child who is yet again wandering off as they hear us calling “come here, please”.

It takes extra brain power for me to sometimes remember that my son now needs me to be physically present to help him do things he did just fine all on his own yesterday. In fact, as he’s pushing away from me, he needs my presence and support even more than if he weren’t. It occurred to me that I have to stop talking as I parent; sometimes just doing is far better than giving him another idea to say “no” to.

And it’s so incredibly silly. Today as we laid down together for rest, I felt appreciative. “Now we can just snuggle and relax,” I told him. This is the kid who, for the last half hour, had nearly chanted “want to lie down with you”. Instead of getting all cuddly he looked at me very seriously and said: “Don’t want to relax.”

“Okay, honey” I told him. “You don’t have to relax.”

He was asleep in less than 10 minutes.

I think most of us mothers of toddlers have had it up to here with advice from books on “How To Make Your Kid Want To Mind.” Heck, I’m full of strategies and after a day like this, my brain comes up blank. And what I want to know, more than any tip on discipline, is how to feel good about myself as a parent when I feel like some moments are complete failures? When I use a sharp voice in frustration and find myself feeling crappy? How do I not feel guilty when he says to me “I’m sorry for yelling at you”, only because he’s repeating what I’ve said?

No one comes along with a Candygram and says “Hey, you’ve done a consistently terrific job up until now and everyone’s entitled to mistakes in the eye of the storm. You’re a wonderful parent and this is like Colic, Part Two. Your kid is going to be angry and inconsolable at times and it’s just a part of their growing up. They will be mad at you and not at all agreeable and when all of this has calmed down, they will still love you and you will still love them. So don’t worry, pour yourself a cup of tea or glass of wine and just chill out now, even if they aren’t napping. Need to put on a dvd for the kid and go hide in the bathroom for a few minutes? Nothing wrong with that! We all need a break! You’re doing a fine job!”

We are doing a fine job. If we never doubted ourselves, never questioned our own weaknesses and values in regard to how we parent, we wouldn’t be doing so hot. What is it that we revere about those whom we consider great leaders? It’s not their perfection, but their humility. It’s their ability to say “I don’t know if this is going to work out, I don’t have all the answers, I can only do my best” as they press on and continue to be brave and try to do what’s right. Parenting looks a lot like international diplomacy: it’s rarely smooth, no two parties see absolutely eye to eye and yet, there is often some sort of progress, even if it’s in learning what isn’t going to work.

What’s more: if we love our kids in all their mistakes, we should try to extend that same grace to ourselves. It’s a challenge for me, especially when I hear that little voice in my soul whispering how badly I’ve blown it for the moment. It’s hard to remember all that’s going right on the days when every interaction feels charged. If we pull back, we can see that in the big picture, things are going right. Like our children, we take our steps, we stumble at times, but we are all in this crazy growing cycle that challenges us to cut ourselves some slack so that we can do the same for our kids. Forgiving ourselves means that we can forgive them for the days that seem endless and full of emotion, so that we can put it to bed and try to get a good night’s sleep for the next day. There’s always another day to do it better, even if we don’t know what that looks like. There’s always tomorrow, and that’s promise enough, even for a Bad Mom like me.

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