In recognition of the fact that I had a lot of difficulty in parenting my oldest children, my dedication to doing a better job of parenting Luna, and because I have memory issues and cannot actually remember my own childhood and being parented or the details of parenting Marco and LaLa while they were growing up, I have been actively seeking services to support my parenting efforts. As a result I have again engaged in services through The Volunteers of America’s Family Relief Nursery Program. One aspect of that program is a parenting class, Make Parenting a Pleasure.
I have had a very hard time letting go and moving on from my parenting mistakes. I have been wearing heavy layers of regret, self-recrimination, and self-blame for a lot of the challenges and difficulties Marco and LaLa have experienced in their young lives and identify my failings as a mom as the foundation for troubles they may be experiencing now. The reality is that I have done a lot of things that were good, healthy, and right. However, because I operated out of a sense of lack and what I did wrong, I taught them to see that in me as well. The truth is that regardless of outcome, most of my choices and actions as a parent were because I was attempting to do right and make the best choice in sometimes impossible circumstances. I couldn’t give what I didn’t have and I didn’t have what I didn’t get. Whenever I recognized what I didn’t have I made every effort to learn it, acquire it, assimilate it and provide it for them and for myself.
The most recent class focused on stress and how the brain works with regards to it, both in ourselves and in our children. The instructor had two bottles of soda, or pop ~ depending on which part of the world or U.S. you live in, that were used during the class. She asked each participant to hold the larger bottle and shake it up while we shared a situation where we felt angry or stressed. I shook the bottle A LOT, you can read why here. After going around the room and listening to what everyone had said, we started talking about the different parts of the brain and how our kids get affected by stress, too. Again, the bottle made it’s way around the table.
One parent talked about the stress of being the only caregiver in the middle of the night or wee hours of the morning when the baby wakes up crying for a bottle. How the sense of stress and urgency is exacerbated the longer the child has to wait for the bottle and the louder and more pronounced the cries become. Not wanting to remove the child from the sleeping zone because it would be very difficult to get him to return to sleep. There’s also the fact that one parent only has one set of hands and can either get the bottle ready or hold and soothe the baby, but not both at the same time. There’s a sense of distress that the child is feeling abandoned and neglected, fearful that the absence of the parent and food are endangering it’s life. Caring and loving parents feeling a conflicting need to provide for the child’s need to be fed as well as the child’s need to know it’s not alone. Add to that the fogginess and disorientation from having had her own sleep disrupted and the parent may be fumbling and spilling while making the bottle. The parent is taking care of the child’s needs but still winds up feeling overwhelmed and less than competent.
I know I have certainly felt this way numerous times, and still do, in fact. As parents we think it is our job and our responsibility to protect our children from distress, to create a barrier between them and the things that cause them harm and to feel unsafe and uncared for. We judge ourselves and other parents according to whether we believe the child has been kept content and happy. We witness and participate in the vilification of parents who publicly berate or discipline their children. At the same time the same thing is done to those parents whose children seem to be allowed to run amok and out of control.
The truth of the matter is that it isn’t our jobs to make sure our children never experience painful or harmful emotions or events. Those things are going to happen whether we want it to or not, regardless of our vigilance or lack thereof. We may even be the once triggering those things, either purposefully or by accident. Our job is to help our children learn how to handle, heal, and grow from such things.
Whenever a child’s sense of attachment, worth, or well-being is ruptured, for whatever reason, it is our role to help them repair it through touch, comfort, and reassurance. We help them move through it, learn from it, and move on. We help ourselves do the same things. Then, because it’s going to happen, we repeat the process. Through repetition, we learn, we grow and we model to our children and teach them at the same time. So, while we do our best as parents to protect our children, the truth is that the most important part of our parental role, after loving our children, is that we guide and teach them through the repair portion of any trauma and relationship disruptions they experience.
I was not a bad mom because my children experienced trauma, including the trauma in our relationship with each other. I wasn’t even a bad mom because I wasn’t necessarily able to guide them through the repair portion of the cycle and they experienced rupture after rupture before repair was achieved. It just means I was a mom who hadn’t experienced my own repair and wasn’t able to help them achieve their own. Throughout it all, I recognized that I was lacking something and I continually sought after it. I sought out parent education, counseling and therapy, team sports, social service agencies, and I tried to establish relationships with people who I could see were healthier and more functional than I was, so that my kids could see that my way wasn’t the only way.
Now that I have a better understanding of what went wrong in my life and how it carried over into theirs, I have an opportunity to work on the repair portion of our damaged relationship cycles. We didn’t get here overnight and it will take time, patience, understanding, and a willingness to just let them heal and work through their issues in their time. Repair is possible. I just have to keep repeating that to myself.