Tuesday, February 23, 2010

How can a child parent her own children?

This was supposed to be a major cleaning and grocery shopping day (since I'm off of school this week)...but life had other plans for me today I guess. I had an "I'm a horrible mother" kind of day. If I'm totally honest with myself (and whoever happens to read this post) I must admit that these days occur about once a week. Some are worse than others. This morning was one of those times. In the big scheme of things, one out of seven days in a week doesn't seem that bad. Yet, often I discover that these difficult days hoard a lot of power in the relationship. My hope is that how I recover from them holds an equal amount of power.

Mornings have been a struggle this particular school year. Brian leaves the house around 8 and the rest of us are typically out of the door by 8:30. The effort required to get everyone groomed and prepared for these immensely long days leaves me feeling exhausted before my "official" day has even started. Faith entered into the GATE program this year which came with a new set of anxieties and pressures pertaining to performance that we hadn't anticipated. Managing and containing her affect in the mornings is always a challenge. Krisalyn is attending all-day kindergarten which has proven to be difficult on both of us. We chose to place her in an all-day program partly because of the intensity of my schedule this year and also because it was the only way to place her in the class with Bailey's former Kindergarten teacher (an amazing woman who has greatly impacted our girls' lives). Mornings are often hard on Bailey as she is the only one of our three kids who actually enjoys sleep. This has been Brian's first year teaching 5th grade which has birthed it's own set of challenges and anxiety. And I've been working 16.5 hours a week while taking more credits than I ever have throughout my program in grad school. The inevitability of our pending transition back to Colorado is also looming somewhere not too far into the future and there is much to sort through during this ending season of our lives as well. There is a lot going on for each of us. I actually think that is an understatement.

This morning was a typical morning of relatively controlled chaos until Krisalyn and Faith began to fight over a balloon. A freaking balloon. That's what started the madness. Krisalyn has learned to scream in order to get a response from someone. If we didn't live in an apartment (where everyone can hear just about everything that goes on...yes, everything), I think I would give the girls more space to work through their own conflict. We have been living in (extremely) close proximity to others for what seems like a lifetime. Actually - it has been at least for the duration of Krisalyn's life thus far. We sold our house when we decided that we would simplify our lives for a season and live in a 3 bedroom condo. We only had Faith and Bailey at the time and it seemed doable for at least a little while. While staying in this condo we became pregnant with Krisalyn (actually...conception occurred when Bri and I were painting and doing a few things prior to moving in...TMI...of course), and Brian decided he wanted to go back to school to become a teacher. We knew this meant it would be awhile before we ever bought another house but we knew it was worth him pursuing a career he could feel purposeful in. Not even two weeks after he quit his higher-paying corporate job (in comparison to a teacher's salary of course), we discovered that my boss, the pastor of our church, was stepping down from his position and leaving the country in a matter of weeks. It was beyond devastating...and surprisingly life-giving at the same time. I knew that his decision to leave had somehow loosened the self-imposed bindings I had felt trapped by. I began to dream of what I could do with my life as well. Fast forward 4 years and here we are...still living in small spaces.

That was quite the tangent. But that's just how my mind is working today. Living in a small space, surrounded by many other people adds to my anxiety everyday. At times this anxiety is connected to the internal pressure I often feel to "respect" the lives of others by keeping the volume down. The fact that I have spent much of life feeling as though I have to apologize for simply living and taking up any space has been a significant theme in my own therapy lately. But the anxiety also stems from what I'm afraid others will hear. If they hear my children yelling at each other, or at me, what will they think of me? What will they think if they hear me ever raise my voice at my children? What will I do with their realization that I'm not perfect...that I don't have it all together, that my children aren't angels?

We have transitioned into a different stage of parenting now. Our youngest is 5 and though she still needs us to help her with a few tasks (like tying her shoes...though she's indicated that she really wants to work hard at doing that on her own as well), for the most part the ways in which our children need us have significantly changed. I'm discovering that these needs are at times more difficult to discern. They're difficult to ascertain, but also difficult to figure out just how to meet them. Faith has always been one heck of a strong-willed child (I wonder where she got that from) and she did not appreciate my way of contending with this specific altercation this morning. She let me know that she was very angry with me for taking the balloon away from both of them without even knowing what was going on. At a different time, I likely would have attempted to figure out what was going on and assisted the girls in coming up with options for how they could handle it lending them their own sense of choice in the matter. But for whatever reason, I wasn't in a decent place in my own mind this morning. My own 9 year old self showed up for the occasion today as I began to demand respect from my actual 9 year old who was defiantly (and beautifully) demanding her own. It was a showdown. And I hate it when I regress like that. My own shame seems only to exacerbate the conflict.

Contending with the natural process of separation/individuation from me while still staying engaged and providing the structure, boundaries and maternal presence that she still desperately needs (though she doesn't recognize this as a need...but often reveals that she doesn't think it's fair that I get to tell her what she needs to do and that I don't have to listen to her) is an exhausting process. I think I'm beginning to understand why many parents either begin to check out at this point in the game or they become controlling and domineering in order to force their individuating child to behave how they need them to. This work is exhausting and it requires a deep commitment to being honest with oneself. Everyday or every moment that I exert my parental power out of my own defense, hurt, or need I fail to treat my daughter(s) as though they are a self separate from me. The power I am given as a parent is to be utilized on their behalf...not my own. Such a hard lesson for me to learn. Yes, they took up space in my own body. Yes, they nursed from my breasts the nourishment that only my body could create for them. Yes, my entire life has revolved around them for a third of my life (since the moment I discovered I was pregnant at the age of 20). But no matter how much of myself I have offered for their use, I do not get to claim possession of them. They are a gift. The greatest of gifts I have ever received. I learn every week of how undeserving I am of their presence in my life.


Emily said...

Wow Unknown Journey! Quite an adventure is the life you live and share with us readers. I commend your courage to put it out here, but moreover the courage to be fully honest. You are quite an inspiration to me. Blessings for your parenting skillz to rock the house!

The Journey Unknown said...

Thank you, Emily, for your kind words.

Anonymous said...

I like you guys. such good words, shauna. let's all hang out soon.