This is something I think about a lot. Because I am a single mom and because my child’s father only takes her on the weekends, I am always on. I still haven’t dealt with the trauma of my divorce simply because if I stop to think about it I feel like I will fall apart.
Having a child is really alarming business; they mirror us back don’t to the words we use and the coping mechanisms we employ. She regularly argues with me by yelling “relaxrelaxrelax, Mama!” I can see that she is becoming more reactionary, more easily injured by my tone. And it doesn’t seem to help that I can see in the moment that I am making a bad choice by raising my voice, by threatening to withhold toys/activities/treats in exchange for cooperation. It’s easy to see how, in this situation, I could move abruptly and injure her, or myself.
I have been that person standing in the parking lot making judgments about the way someone talks to, or yells at, their kid. But I have also been the mom about to burst into tears in public because I have no support and my child is testing me.
When B was a baby, a local charity organization sent a case worker out to visit me. “Don’t clean the house for me,” she said on the phone, “you do not have to impress me.”
When she got there she gave me some literature and some other baby related things donated by a church. And she said this too: “Remember that it’s ok to set the baby down and walk away for a little while when you see red. And its when you see red, not if you see red.” I remember this when B is screaming and I have spent the entire day applying for jobs and I feel like my head is going to explode.
There is an enormous amount of pressure in parenting: finding the right school, making play dates, even dressing them and owning the right stroller have a certain amount of caché. But there is a deeper pressure and that is the ongoing responsibility of raising another human in an already overpopulated, complex, uncertain world.
“Welcome to a lifetime of worrying,” my doula said to me when B was born.
A friend of mine whom I consider to be a mother deserving of sainthood was dealing with her five yr old once when I was over. He was in a particularly bratty phase at the time: whiny, sarcastic, belligerent. She kept at it, asking him calmly why he was acting so angry, why he wouldn’t look her in the eye. The whole time they were having this exchange i felt like popping him right in his pie hole. He finally relented and she released him.
“Well done,” I said to her. “I was ready to fling him out the window.”
“Well, I was able to hold it together because you were here,” she pointed out. “I wouldn’t have held it together if you weren’t here watching me.” We had a good laugh. The whole “it takes a village” thing is actually true. We all need other adults to step in when our patience is spent.
As far as we have come with awareness about child rearing, we still keep our parenting skeletons safely hid in the closet. It’s the reason that someone like Louis CK is so popular, because he is willing to voice some really uncomfortable truths about parenting.
Here is what I tell myself after a long day of boundary defending, bath time negotiating, pajama wrestling, and multiple tucking in’s:
She is fed and clothed and warm. And hopefully sleeping.
She is smart enough that I can tell her when I am having a bad day, and emotionally evolved enough to know what that means.
I am not traumatizing my child.
She knows I love her.