Tag Archives: parenting

12Jan/16

Watch and Learn

I doze in bed, glad that I don’t have to get up just yet, but wondering whether I should get up now and make the most of this ‘extra bonus’ time, or try and drift off to sleep. We all know that successful people are always up before the dawn ‘getting on with life’.   The second option chooses me and I am woken again at 6 by my husband bringing me a cup of tea. He says his heavy and tired, too-much-on-his-shoulders goodbye, and my body automatically sucks up the responsibility for easing his pain. No thoughts, no plans, no words, just mother energy circulating inside me wishing for his relief and sticking expectation pins into my vulnerable psyche.

I sit up in the dark, enjoying the possibilities of the early morning quiet, but it doesn’t last long. Pad pad pad, my youngest son comes in rubbing his eyes and believing that he cannot possibly get back to sleep. He’s tried so many times in the minute since Dad woke him up going down the creaky stairs.

6.30 is the earliest getting up time for the kids in our house, but I shy away from insisting that he go back into his bed. Strike number one for integrity and boundary keeping. I decide that it’s ok, he can lie in Chris’ side of the bed and relax til 6.30. Bollocks does he! Of course he doesn’t; he fidgets and chats and checks the clock every minute. Soon I begin to sound like a boring, mean old witch repeating my ‘no’ phrases. ‘No I’m not playing a game, this is my time to wake up on my own.’ I do need my space in the mornings. ‘If I don’t write my diary in the mornings I’ll be a grumpy mum’ ‘No I can’t play the drawing on the back game now, the rule is 6.30. Just relax.’ I am soft and kind, I am gentle and playful, I am firm and calm, I am irritated and frustrated. I am mean mum apparently. Every time I go against his wishes he calls me mean. He is angry and rude. Despite staying calm I start to feel battered and bruised and the day has hardly started.  My energy is being sucked dry by Zach’s never-ending demands.

At 6.30, I’ve managed two pages of my diary and I relent to playing one round of ‘drawing pictures on our backs’ game.

He doesn’t ask me to play, or say please, or say it as a suggestion. It’s a demand, an expectation. I feel stupid for feeling so bullied by an 8 year old.  I ask him to rephrase it: ‘please could we play the touching back game.’

Zach: One round means two gos each.

Me: One round means one go each.

I draw a world map on his back and he struggles to guess it. I know – it was difficult and I don’t have much artistic talent, but he asked for a hard one. ‘It’s something you love‘, I say. ‘Chocolate, rugby, ice-cream, football?‘ he replies.

My turn: he draws a flag of india – and I guess it because he’s been studying Hinduism at school, and he loves flags.

He demands another round each. I can’t actually remember his exact words. Whatever I write down here doesn’t convey his absolute conviction that his needs are paramount and somehow I begin to feel that I am indeed being mean by not agreeing.

We play one more go each, then he disappears downstairs to watch TV after making absolutely sure I’m not going to change my mind and play some more.

I sit and meditate, but my mind is all over the place. I focus on Box breathing (in, pause, out, pause) and it’s easier. I manage 8 minutes. It’s better than the big fat zero I’m been achieving most of this year, so I tick it off in my new diary.

Its 6.56. I normally wake the other two at 7 and go downstairs to prepare breakfast, packed lunch etc. I could go down now and be ahead of myself. Especially because I should have eaten something before now as I recently learnt that it’s best to eat within 30-40 minutes of getting up. Or is that waking up? I don’t know – might need to check that. Don’t feel like eating yet though.  Chatter, chatter goes my mind, trying to do the right thing. Thinking that there is actually a right choice to make. Warning: Battery levels getting lower.

Instead of getting up, I pick up my ipad because I have a bugging suspicion which has been on my mind for a couple of days that I mentioned a few people in a Facebook post and missed someone out. That I’ve upset someone is unsettling me, so I go in and check. But of course I get distracted by friend requests and posts, and commenting on posts. Then I check, and it’s all ok. This person isn’t part of the closed group that I posted in. Phew. But it’s now 7.07 and I’m late.  I meet my daughter in the hallway and we have a morning hug. She seems quiet but fine. I disappear downstairs and focus on getting some food into me. I prepeared some veg last night to have in my scrabbled egg, and I smile smugly as I cook my breakfast. How lovely it feels to be in control and living with my integrity. Maybe I can rescue the day after all. I make my son’s breakfast and we sit down together to eat. Jasmine comes down, and it all goes wrong.

She has a habit of dumping her school bag on the table and so in my new spirit of setting boundaries for behaviour that drains me, I ask her lightly to put it on the floor instead. Not the right choice.  Oh no! How could I have been so inconsiderate, always preferring her brothers to her? She storms off in a cloud of pain and indignation.

There are more arguments and shouting when I go upstairs.  I don’t know how to hold the space for her, so instead I go cold and shut her out. I may be setting boundaries of behaviour but I’m doing so in a cold and unemotional way because I’m at my emotional limit for the day and it’s not even 8am. If I didn’t shut down I would get angry and emotional. When I have no headspace I can’t seem to find the middle ground.

Harvey gets up and informs me that his Volcano homework project is due in today and he hasn’t finished it. Deep breath.  I help him find some coloured card and glue and leave him to it.

By the time we are in the car, my temper is frayed to say the least. Inside I’m saying: keep calm, keep calm. Be calm, speak kindly. On the drive Jasmine hits Zach for singing, and I shout. ‘It’s ok to be angry Jasmine, but it’s not ok to hurt people’.

Jasmine: Can you stop the car, I want to walk to the bus stop.

Me: No, I’m not going to stop the car.

Can you stop the car, I want to walk to the bus stop.

Can you stop the car, I want to walk to the bus stop.

Can you stop the car, I want to walk to the bus stop.

Inside I’m thinking, I would love to stop and let her walk to the bus stop but it’s me who has to pick up the pieces and I don’t want to. She’ll miss her bus and it’ll be me having to drive her into school. Part of me wants to leave her there and make her walk home and miss a day of school, but luckily I don’t listen to it.

Can you stop the car, I want to walk to the bus stop.

Can you stop the car, I want to walk to the bus stop.

Can you stop the car, I want to walk to the bus stop.

I fight every urge in my body to shout at her, and keep my emotions in. Instead I praise Harvey for finishing his homework.

Harvey: Thanks, I’ve thought about what I could do better next time.

I nod, say great and wait for him to elaborate but he doesn’t.

Me: Maybe you could treat projects like they do in Mythbusters and do a prototype next time?’

Harvey: I can’t really because it was small enough to start with. A prototype is usually smaller. (As usual my suggestion is batted back to me.)

Me: And you don’t have a workshop full of stuff either. But it’s a suggestion, a way of looking at things.

I am forcing my voice to be light-hearted.

We get to the bus stop, and Jasmine gets out determinedly, silently. I say bye to them both

Zach immediately moves into the front of the car.

Zach: Let’s forget about it all – let’s put it behind us.

Me: But the only way we can do that is if we learn from it.

Zach: Just today, let’s just forget about it.

Me: Well (humpf) you’ll have to wait for me to calm down.

Inside my head I’m writing a post for Facebook in a closed forum I”m a member of. I want to tell them all that I just can’t do this dealing with negative energy stuff. I either ignore it, or fight it. I can’t seem to dance with it and change it into something positive.

Zach and I usually have a morning game while we are waiting for the older ones’ school bus to come. We have a 3 CD pack ‘Now that’s what I call Rock Classics’ and we guess which CD and number a particular track is.

I say I’m still calming down, but I’m not. I’m ruminating, and going over stuff in my head. A voice comes up – it’s Lynne, my coach. ‘Change your state, Thea. Remember: don’t do this stuff any more. Change your state.’ I think back to my coaching notes. Dance, music, think differently. Just STOP. But I don’t want to. Part of me wants to be in this hateful, angry, suffering place. There is a pay off somewhere, but I’m not sure what it is.

I suddenly notice that Zach has put on a differenct track. U2 – With or without you.   He knows I like it. I immediately turn to him and stroke his cheek.

Me: Did you put that on because it would make me feel better?

He nods.

Me: Thank you.  You have such a sweet heart don’t you?

He nods shyly.

Me: See, you could use your loving heart when you want people to do things for you because it works so much better than fighting with your angry heart.

He nods again, taking it in.

Then I realise.  Duh!

Me: I could do that too couldn’t I? Come from my loving heart instead of my angry heart when I’m feeling battered and attacked.

He nods – but his capacity for meaningful conversations has been reached.  It’s time to lighten it up.

Me:  Thanks, Hon,  you taught me something. Well done.

We drive to his school doing our music quiz. He’s about to go in and asks where his lunch box is. I’ve forgotten it. He had asked me where it was when we left and I said I’d bring it, but in all the craziness I forgot to pick it up. As we drove home to get it we laugh at how he had been wiser than me twice that morning.  Once about remembering his lunch box, and then about letting things go and talking with your loving heart.  We are still laughing about it when we get back to school.

Me: Any other suggestions or wise words you can offer me, Zach?

Zach: Just watch and learn, Mum. Watch and learn.

 

Written: at home, at the table in my bedroom, overlooking the garden.

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09Jan/16

How Could a Mother do That!?

The view from the doorway

The view from the doorway

 

I’m standing in the wooden doorway of my youngest son’s bedroom.  It’s a small bedroom – him being the third child – only just big enough to fit a smaller-than-standard high bunk bed and a thin, tall but still too small chest of drawers.  Piles of his stuff and toys sit on the homemade, wonky shelves underneath the bed –  I keep tidying them but I can never get rid of the sense that the room is in a perpetual state of unloved disarray.  It is one of the resentments that Zach has about being the youngest child. But that’s another story.

Today we are arguing about bedtime. Again.

He is standing halfway up his small ladder, his boyish face full of undisguised anger toward me.  In that moment the feeling is mutual. I have a battle going on in my head between two voices, two instincts, two different views of the world.  And I can feel my body too: tense, scared, pumping adrenalin, getting ready to fight.

I hate this place. I hate it with a passion, and with a fear that I cannot seem to get away from, get over or control.  I visit this place often in my parenting life and it is the root cause of all my feelings of shame and unworthiness.

This is because being in this emotional place scares me into not loving my child.

In this emotional place I choose to protect myself rather than my child. My love for him cannot speak in this space, it’s like I cut it off, just to save myself.   What makes me do that?  I’m a mother for goodness sake – aren’t we meant to protect our children to the death?

What makes me do that?    What am I so scared of?   These questions have been on my mind for a while now. For years and years, in various forms.  Through the ups and downs, and through depression.  Long enough for me to now be really curious about the answer rather than mulling over it as a way of beating myself up.  Long enough for me to have extended enough love and compassion to myself despite acting like this, despite feeling I don’t deserve it.  Long enough to begin to forgive myself for this treacherous, unmotherly vice.

So we fight.  But this time I notice what I’m thinking and feeling. I desperately want to get to the bottom of these questions, which means I have to be mindful. I have to notice.

Here’s what I notice: I hate feeling so out of control, because it makes me act in mean and horrible ways.  I’m also feeling ashamed because I can’t control an 8 year old, and that triggers the shame of being a failure and a bad mum. I’m ashamed that I react so emotionally to such a normal parenting problem. So I’m angry at myself, but I’m also angry with him because he is spoiling everything.   It’s all his fault because he doesn’t need to be this unreasonable, this mean, this angry – it’s entirely unnecessary.  Why can’t we all love each other and be nice to each other?   Then I notice that I’m wracking my brains trying to work out what to do (not easy when you are so emotionally triggered). And this not knowing what to do is the ‘caught in the headlights’ moment.  Do I fight or flee?  My brain senses that I probably don’t need to do either – being calm and kind would probably solve the situation best of all, but that is impossible given the adrenalin already pumping through my veins. It ain’t gonna happen – unless I walk away and calm down.  I think about this for a second, then my ego steps in and shouts in my ear:  But HOW DARE HE?  So I’m back in with my boxing gloves on.  How dare he ignore what I say, and speak to me like that? In my own house, when I sacrifice EVERYTHING for him! How bloody dare he!?

So all this is going on in my head as I stand in his doorway unable to love him like a mother.

I don’t remember what happened in this instance, and I hope that I walked away.  But I probably didn’t because is has ended very badly many times. I’ve screamed at him until my throat is hoarse.  Or in an ice cold rage I’ve stood holding his door shut while he’s been crying inside. I’ve even turned his light off and held the door while he is screaming in fright. My little baby, begging me not to be mean to him.  Why and how could a mother do that? Because she needs to protect herself. Now can you see why I hate being out of control?  It’s all about the emotions ‘making’ me do things I wouldn’t normally do. Being who I am not. Except I must be, because this is me acting like this.

So why and how can a mother act like that?  I’m only trying to protect myself, like an animal caught in the headlights. Believe me, I know how weak that sounds.  But here’s the worst thing. Here’s the completely fucked up thing that is going on.

I’m trying to protect myself because I’m scared.  But the very thing I’m scared of is the thing I do when I’m scared. So being scared makes what I’m scared of happen.

So my fear is really a fear of the fear.  Which makes the fear come true.  That’s so messed up.

How on earth have I got myself in this situation?  Another question for me to answer.

After mindfully noticing what was going on on the threshold of Zach’s room, I began contemplating why I was so scared in the first place.

Firstly I concluded that there must be some trauma from my childhood embedded in my psyche for me to be so scared of negative emotions. True my parents weren’t a whole lot emotional, but I can never remember being aware consciously that emotions were bad.  Maybe somewhere inside me I was damaged and I needed to find out exactly what had happened so that I could heal myself and move on with life without getting so triggered by my uncomfortable emotions.

Next I read a book by Miriam Greenspan called Healing Through the Dark Emotions: The wisdom of grief, fear, and despair, and I understood that these emotions come along because we are human, and not necessarily because anything specific happened when we were children. It might have done, actually the probabilities are high, but either way we’re going to feel fear, grief and despair in our lives whoever we are.  It’s actually the fear and attempted avoidance of the fear, grief and despair that makes things seem so much worse. She even argues that it’s only by accepting and working through fear, grief and despair that we can really experience and enjoy gratitude, faith and joy. Brene Brown also argues that we cannot selectively numb; when we numb pain we also numb joy.

Then I thought about how my ego might be involved with all of this? My ego: that protective, monkey-like, child-like, scared, cheeky and rightious, easily humiliated, legacy part of my evolved human brain.  How big a part was it playing in all this fear and fear of fear?  Well probably quite a lot, mainly because I’ve allowed it to.  I sometimes think my ego is really me, and it’s voice is really my voice. So I listen when it says ‘How dare he?‘ and I agree, ‘yes, how dare he!‘ and I let my emotions whip up again.  And I listen when it says ‘if you let him speak to you like that, you are the biggest failure as a parent that the world has ever known! Loser!‘  And I say, ‘yes, you’re right. We can’t let that happen.  Better make him know his place. Better make him sorry.’  (Note: this never works…it only makes children and adults want REVENGE.)   And I listen when it says, ‘if you walk away now, he’ll have won. And then you’ll never be able to control him because you are conditioning him to act like this. Ramp it up baby! Ramp it up!‘  And, sadly, we all know how that ends.

So I realised that this wasn’t me being an awful, terrible mother. This was me being human.  And probably (I dared to hypothesise) it was all actually pretty normal, and not particularly unique to me. Please let it be so.

Here’s my current theory about what’s going on.  Long ago I established some reliable coping mechanisms to deal with negative emotions.  I took on the role as peacemaker, an emotional-smoother-overer, trying to make sure everyone was OK. And I suppose it worked a lot of the time. I could create harmony out of impending chaos or collaboration out of potential arguments. It felt good, so I did it more.  However it doesn’t work all of the time – and nor should it – emotions are there for a reason.  So my increasing failure to keep or create harmony when bringing up my family meant that each time a potential emotional situation reared its ugly head my fear ratcheted up a bit more, because the stakes were raised. The threat was higher, because defeat was more probable. So then the fear went up some more and so on until I find myself screaming at my 8 year old  – my gorgeous sensitive loving 8 year old – for getting out of bed. All because my coping mechanisms from years ago don’t work any more and I’m getting carried away by fear induced hormones that trigger my inbuilt flight or fight mode.  All the while aided and abetted by a very loud and unchecked ego.

Mmmm. What now?

My challenge is to work with my fear.  My fear of my fear of being a horrible mother.

First step – more noticing what is going on when fear visits.

Second step – more saying no to my ego and the stories it tells me.

Third step – more walking away when I feel triggered by fear and/or my ego.

Forth step – I don’t know.  That’s another blog post I imagine!

Let’s see what happens.

Wish me luck!

 

 

Written:  At home, on the table in my bedroom overlooking the garden.

 

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