First, let me say that I am not writing this so that those who read it can tell me I’m wrong, reassure me that I’m a good mom and not to be so hard on myself. I don’t really want to hear that. Sometimes, you’ve gotta cop to what you’ve done, and how you’ve screwed up, and deal with the fallout. Sometimes it’s time to be real.
I’ll be the first to admit it- I have made a lot of mistakes as a mom. A LOT.
Some of those mistakes are from trial and error. Some are from personality flaws of mine. Some are from not understanding that just because 4 kids are growing up in the same house, doesn’t mean they should be parented the same way.
I was unkind to my daughter today.
I didn’t mean to be, but before I knew it, things were coming out of my mouth that made her feel terrible. As I have sat here thinking about why I said the things I did, much of which was truth contained deep inside the ugly delivery, I know that the root of all of it is a deep love for her and a fear and frustration with myself that I haven’t parented her in the right way, I haven’t given her all the tools she needs to succeed in this life. And I don’t mean just financially, I mean to be a whole person, a self- reliant person, one who is unafraid to face the world. I know that it’s mostly my fault. I know that I have no one to be angry with but myself.
I’ve had this strange parenting style that is a combination of fierce love, wrapped in a prickly outer shell. I’m not a soft parent. I’m not good at affection or affirmation. (That’s not just in parenting, that’s in my life in general) I thought if I was too soft, my kids would be wimpy, unable to deal with the harsh realities of life. So I taught them to “suck it up.” Be tough, so you can’t be hurt. I’ve been teaching survival at it’s most basic, with no path to thriving.
In the back of my mind, I feel guilty for not being softer, for not being more nurturing, so I give leeway where I shouldn’t. I do more for them, instead of requiring them to do for themselves. (Currently I am in a battle with myself over whether or not I’m going up to Zoe’s room to put her clothes away for her. She’s 10. She’s perfectly capable. And yet I feel compelled to do it. ) I feel guilty when I ask them to help, even if what I am asking them to do is clean up their own messes! So I often do it for them.
Somehow I have managed to raise kids who can suck it up and not cry when they fall and scrape their knee, but don’t know they’re perfectly capable of getting themselves a Band-Aid.
I have created independent thinkers who aren’t independent doers.
I have inhibited their personal growth in an attempt to assuage my own parental guilt.
Somehow I have never quite figured out how to balance encouragement with expectations, discipline with self discipline, nurturing not through coddling, but through creating opportunities for self sufficiency.
It probably doesn’t help that I have four very different personalities (The kids, not mine. I only have two), at 4 different stages of life and development. As a result, I am often all over the place with how to handle each child’s needs.
I’m harsh when I should be kind, enabling when I should be fostering self reliance, distant when I should be engaged. I have been lazy instead of proactive.
I do for them to gain love and respect, and then wonder why they are uncertain about which steps to take. In doing for them I have undermined their ability to build confidence in themselves.
When I don’t understand where they are coming from, I lash out in frustration, and then require less than nothing from them as my penance for losing my temper. “How can I ask them to clean their rooms when I just hurt their feelings? I’ll make it up to them by doing it for them.”
I do it not to hear the complaints. I do it because I am tired of having unfulfilled expectations. I do it because deep down, I feel I owe it to them as an apology for all of my failures.
I’m no dummy. I see it all for exactly what it is. I have read enough books to know that the greatest way to build self confidence in a child is to help them learn to do for themselves. Somehow I have emotionally bought into the idea that I am showing love through doing things for them, even though my head knows it’s simply not true. The greatest way to love your kids is to help them develop healthy personal habits, self-control, self discipline and a sense of responsibility for themselves and their community.
I just can’t seem to figure out how to get that idea from my head into my parenting.