Thursday, November 14, 2013

True Confessions of an Imperfect Parent

If you are a parent, or if you have ever been a child, then you know for certain that in a family of more than one kid, it's inherently wrong to pick favorites.  You are NEVER EVER allowed to say: "Billy, you're my favorite kid." - especially if your other child is standing next to Billy.

I know, I know, sometimes you have a child who is an absolute delight all the time, sickeningly sweet in demeanor, always being helpful and making you feel like you are the best parent in the world.  But you just don't pick favorites.  It's wrong.  It's cruel. 

However, I have an admission.  A confession.  I'm gonna say something that parents should never, ever say.

One of my children is my least favorite.  I even have moments (sometimes hours) where I feel like I don't even like this child.  (And I am rightfully embarrassed about this.)

It's awful, I know.  A mother's love should be unending and unquenchable.  We've all heard the phrase:  a face that only a mother could love...  So what does that mean?  Could it mean that I should be full of love, cuddles and syrupy-sweet goodwill towards my child even at the worst of times?

Sorry.  It just doesn't work that way.

Somehow, this child (whom I will not identify) has the ability to reduce me to tears with only a few words.  Their stubbornness and effluent attitude melts my patience like a snowflake melts when it lands on an open flame.  I have found myself at wit's end more often than not due to this child's amazing ability to push all of my buttons, excessively and repetitively until I feel literally broken and totally inadequate as a mother.  I am not exaggerating.

Yes, deep within my heart, and on the good days, I really love this child. 

But it is so stinkin' hard sometimes.

So what do we do with a close relationship that seems to be all bumps and jagged edges?

What do you do when someone you are supposed to love has an amazing ability to rub you the wrong way?

What do you do when you're supposed to be the grown-up, the example, the leader... and you keep on making mistakes, saying the wrong thing and over-reacting?

Pull them closer.

Yep... you heard me.  As much as you want to run away... instead, when you are in a difficult spot with a loved one and you feel like you just don't get it and you can't make it work... the best thing you can do is pull them into your embrace (figuratively and maybe even literally).

Now, I can't exactly take credit for this advice - I don't remember where I heard it though, and I've adapted it to my own situation.  So I'll paraphrase and try to explain what I mean and what I've experienced with this "special" child of mine.

When my child doesn't respond or react the way that I want, to the things I say, I feel threatened.  That's the bottom line.  I end up feeling a loss of control both of my emotions and of my child.  Unfortunately, when I'm losing control,  this child reacts to my emotions and has a way of escalating the situation. 

Certainly we are clashing due to personality differences, due to circumstances and personal stress (mine and theirs) but life will always provide reasons (excuses) for blame in a difficult relationship.  It doesn't mean that the end result should be frustration, hurt and separation.  Believe me, I WANT to run away.  I'd rather give myself a 'Mommy-time-out' and disengage myself from the conflict.  Yet, my child deserves more.  And I hope for so much more in our relationship.  Instead of leaving, instead of shutting the door to my heart emotionally, I'm learning to draw this child close - to seek out points of connection and closeness even though the conflict seems to trump a lot of our days.

So how do I cope?  Well, I'd like to say that I have learned to instantly recognize when I'm becoming too emotional and acting like a child and losing control.  However, I'm not there yet.

My strategy is three-fold. 

First, I stabilize the situation.  If that means that I have to stop the conversation... (even to the point of putting down the school book that only has half a question answered so far, despite all of my encouraging and prodding...) I will let it go - even if just for the moment, and sometimes for the rest of the day.

This is similar to the idea of "picking your battles".  Sometimes I know that I will not be able to handle the situation well, so we just end that situation while our emotions are heated.  We can always come back to it later.   The schoolwork can wait.  My child's heart is not worth being trampled upon because I don't know how to respond without being emotionally stirred.

The second part is the "pulling closer" part.  That could mean that once you've shut down the situation, you immediately connect physically with your child (or significant other, if that is the person with whom you're having conflict).  Or... if this doesn't seem feasable, then plan a way to connect later that day.  Do something special together.  Read a book, have a cup of tea, share a cookie.  Just find a place of loving connectedness.  Re-engage in a way that doesn't feel stressful.  (Now is not the time to bring up the issue of conflict!)

Lastly: try, try again.  Could you have approached the situation from a different angle?  Or, if it was clearly one-sided (and it rarely is....) then could you just get yourself to a place of peace where you don't react wrongly?  Obviously when it comes to dealing with kids, I can't just expect them to act like mature human beings all the time.  They are going to respond childishly.  I do have to be the "better man" and choose to be more patient, loving and kind than I feel that their actions deserve.  That is my responsibility as a parent.  And if I'm dealing with an adult - whether friend, spouse or stranger - that is being difficult, I want to learn to be gracious.  I desire to be a peacemaker - even when it is challenging.  It's not easy, though.

On easy days & hard days: Pull Them Close!
Okay, so I've admitted my weakness here.  I'm not the perfect parent who deals graciously with my kids at all times.  I screw up.  I get emotional.  At times I feel broken and sorely lacking in my relational skills.  But there is hope.  There is even forgiveness.  And I really believe that the key is connectedness.  Don't let the angry moments overshadow and quench the moments of kindness and closeness.  Fight for the connection.  Though I may feel wounded, I will push past my bruised ego that wrongly says "I'm the mom, so I always need to be seen as right". 

Life is a journey.  I'm set on learning, growth and change.  Even though there are the "bad days", and on those days, I may not feel as though I "like" my child(ren),  I will always love my children and I'll keep on trying.

Oh, and for the record, it isn't ALWAYS terrible with this child.  We have some great moments, too.  (But, I am looking forward to the season when we can relate better... probably when they and I have grown up a little more!)

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