Friday, October 09, 2009

For Sale: Overused and Unwanted Parenting Subwoofer


For Sale: Overused and Unwanted Parenting Subwoofer

I had a bad couple of Mommy days. And by bad, I mean I was at times so impatient and frustrated and distant that I almost didn’t recognize myself. The kind of days where I thought again and again that I need to take a step back and settle down and refocus and think instead reflect on how grateful I should be, but I simply could not do that. Instead, I was almost vibrating with impatience as I struggled with simple tasks, like getting the girls in the shoes and coats and into the stroller so we could go outside and take a nice walk, dammit. Just completely overwhelmed.

That is the thing about parenthood: It highlights and amplifies your good qualities, but it also showcases your not-so-good ones. Like a subwoofer, bringing my lowest qualities to the surface for all to see (and hear).

My good mothering qualities, the aspects of parenthood that I excel at and am proud of, are completely opposite of my upbringing blueprint. And while that may sound judge-y toward my mother, I do not mean it that way. I am merely saying that I show love and nurture and care for my daughters in a way that wasn’t necessarily done to me. For example, I feel the need to tell Madeline and Avery all the time that I love them. I whisper it in their ears and I tell them before nap time and I yell it across the room. I say it in first person, second person and third person constructs. It pops out of my mouth at random times so much so that at times I worry that I am diluting the power of that little phrase. And yet, I still feel a strong need to tell them constantly, which, of course, speaks more about my needs than theirs.

But my bad moments, the ones I am not proud of, the ones that I would like to erase completely, are almost identical to my upbringing. And, wow, does that scare me. When I look in the mirror and see a reflection of my mother, I know I need to try harder. But trying to figure out a new way to deal with parenting’s frustrating moments is just not an easy task.

One of my biggest challenges is patience. I am not the most patient person in the world, by a long shot. That said, I must say that I have gotten much better. The infertility years helped with that. So now, these days, when I am stuck in traffic, I am able to settle into a groove and just accept it. When the girls empty the six bins of toys all over their room, I can sometimes scoop them all up and put them back in their place with sighing and lecturing. When Avery refuses to take off her doggie pajamas and insists on wearing them all day, I can shrug it off and just deal with it. But those are the good days, when my patience cup runneths over.

When my patience level dips, I change mentally and physically. I become quiet and distant. I grit my teeth and clench and unclench my hands. The tone of my voice changes. All because I just cannot understand why my two two-year olds refuse to put their shoes on, or something similarly as silly. But the thing is, my girls don’t deserve to suffer due to my own inability to have patience and due to my own shift in balance.

These are the moments when I need a break. I need to be able to take a walk by myself or go to the food store alone or sit in a dark theater and escape. I just need to walk away and re-center myself. I love my girls to the end of the earth, but there does need to be some spaces in our togetherness. Because no one can be a good mom for twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Right?

And I do get breaks. Nicole is home relatively early every night, which gives me the opportunity to have a break. The girls are in bed every night by seven, the latest, so I have that finish line daily to anticipate. My evenings are filled with baths and reading and internet surfing and mindless television. And when the weekends come, I know I can escape when I need to. The thing is, those rarely are the times when I need distance. It is in the middle of the day, when I am alone, that I most need relief. It is when something seemingly simple pushes me over the ledge for no good reason at al. It is when I see myself starting to get angry and distant and frustrated because a two-year-old did something a two-year old is expected to do. It is when I look in that parenting mirror and not like what I see looking back at me.

What helps, I learned, is positive feedback. Lots and lots and lots of specific, pointed, positive you-go-girl feedback. I was complaining to my friend Jen, the one I bailed on visiting this week because I was stuck in a lousy parenting cyclone and wanted to mope rather than do something that might break the spell, and she told me that I am doing a great job; that my girls are happy, healthy, well adjusted and smart. Her comments both acknowledged how hard this motherhood job is and assured me that I was doing fine, even though I feel like I am not. And comments like that mean so much. Those comments added some fuel to my tank and helped me to take a step back, go a little easier on myself and find my groove again.

Time is fleeting, and I will someday long for these days again. Remembering that helps. We tried so hard and endured so much to get here, and that helps too. They are miracles, my two little girls, and we are so lucky. Which makes my occasional breakdown moments seem even more unreasonable. But I think the important thing is that I am trying.

I could go on and on but that is a post for another day.

7 comments:

ms.bri said...

You are doing a great job! REALLY!

Are you thinking of at least part time pre-school for next year? Or any sort of part time play group/daycare/pre-preschool sooner? I really can't say enough good things about Beck's little "school" experience. Not only do we get to hear these constant warm fuzzy reports of his brilliance and adorableness, we also get to see him come home having learned something new WITHOUT US! Days of the week, most recently! I am loving the feeling that there is a larger team of people involved in his socialization, people who love him and are exposing him to different things and new ways of thinking. It has taken a lot of pressure off for me and I think it has been so good for Beck - all that following directions stuff is a tiny bit easier when it's coming from multiple sources.

And just to give you a real kick in the pants, if you do end up considering private school (which, given the impossiblity of getting into public "universal pre-k" I am betting you will have to do until Kindergarten), there is this page in the application that is meant to be given to their pre-preschool teacher with this giant checklist about all their socialization stuff. It's enough to break one out into a cold freaking sweat. And I WORK in the school!

Jeannine said...

Of course you are trying, and you are succeeding! We all have a few less-than-perfect moments, days, weeks, etc, but we try to do the best for our children without completely losing ourselves in it. It is so demanding, no wonder we all feel as though we fail sometimes. And to keep your metaphor going, our experience of motherhood is amplified because we are mothering in stereo. I have no idea what it is like to have one toddler, but having two is the greatest joy and greatest challenge of my life. We have been going to a one morning a week preschool where the mommies stay for the first hour (to participate and observe) then separate (just in another section of the room, behind a partition) to discuss our issues for the last hour. It is wonderful. I know your trepidation at leaving the girls with a stranger, so maybe something like this would benefit all of you. Check into it. And here's a pat on the back for you my dear: you are a good mother, and your girls are blessed and lucky to have you.

K J and the kids said...

Every mother feels like this.
This isn't like the conversation between me and my mother when I was having post partum thoughts either.
This is normal every day, we've all felt EXACTLY like this.

I think what we all struggle with is that we are supposed to mirror to our children how we want them to act. So if we throw tantrums and act irrational over a NICE FUCKING TRIP TO THE FUCKING PARK...then how do we expect them to control their tempers. and they are only TWO ! The other thing that pisses me off. You can be nice and patient 98 % of the time, but 2 % of hysterics from you and BOOM. that's what they remember and act out later. ugh !

I just found out that the neighbor growing up who I think about most while raising my children was on mood altering meds.
She has 8 children. Her oldest is my age, her youngest is in high school(oops)
She has 2 doctors, 1 on his way to being a doctor, 2 married to dentists, one married to some yale graduate with honors something or other...etc.so on.so forth. I know that career level doesn't always equal good people. but in their cases it is true. They are all good people. good and happy people. and their mother, who I thought made homemade wheat bread and spaghetti knew the secret to patience. She did. and it came in a tiny little pill form :)
I love knowing this. It makes me feel like I might just be doing ok.
That my kids will be ok.

Your kids are going to be great. because you love them. You show love for them. and 98% of the time...you are patient :)

Molly said...

Jen you're a really good mom. An exceptional mom. When I read your post yesterday about readin parenting books, I was thinking "Why is she reading parenting books?" you don't need them.

everyone feels overwhelmed, and you're not your mom, and never will be. It's okay to have a bad day or two or three, it happens. Last week I threw a grilled cheese across the kitchen because Luke wouldn't eat it. Not my finest moment.

suz said...

We all have those days, you can't expect perfection from anyone, ever. We can't be perfect parents or spouses and we won't have perfect children. We just do our best. I don't even know you and I'm sure that you're doing a great job, how can you not - you are a loving and thoughtful parent and I'm sure that your girls know that already!

K said...

I read this post and I feel your pain. I myself deal with these issues on a daily basis (especially the not ending up like my mom ones).

I myself am going through a split and now my focus is not on myself (once again) but what will happen to my babies. I cry every time I think about it.

We just have to continually remind ourselves that we're not perfect, nor should we have to be and that our kids will survive in spite of us and our mistakes and that's okay (to make mistakes that is).

Hang in there.

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