I've never been a post-it affirmations kind of girl, but lately I feel like I should stick little pieces of paper all over the house with this mantra on it. I am NOT my mother. I am NOT my mother. I am NOT.
Motherhood is full of NO right now. No, you may not eat nothing but granola bars all day, every day. No, you may not stay up until eleven o'clock. No, we cannot have a playdate with your friend today. No, you can't run up the wall in the house. No, it's not ok for you to hit your brother because you didn't like the face he made. No, no, no. I really do know many ways of saying YES to children, of setting them up for success, of relaxing and letting go of my agenda, but lately my kids have been pushing pushing pushing. It's one thing to provide lots of options to which I can say YES, it's another when you're being asked for the six millionth time for something that you simply are not going to give to the kid.
I'm a "gentle discipline" kind of parent, but sometimes after patiently explaining and redirecting and modeling and teaching for the umpteenth time, I just want to scream, "BECAUSE I SAID SO!!!" I mean really, sometimes kids are a royal pain in the ass, no matter how developmentally appropriate and normal they are.
And then I start to remember how many times I heard my mother use the exact same tone of voice that just came out of my mouth, and cringe. I think of how I lived in fear of her anger, how I disliked her even as a child, how unfair and excessively strict she always seemed to be. And I wonder, was I really just being an annoying little kid? Am I just forgetting the thousand times she responded patiently and kindly while remembering the thousand-and-first time, when she got exasperated? Have I become my mother, unreasonably strict and controlling, or have I misjudged my mother, and was she nothing like I remember?
When this merry-go-round starts turning in my head, it's time for a reality check.
I have no problem with the fact that my mother expected us to eat healthy food, get enough sleep, refrain from injuring siblings, say please and thank-you, value family, respect authority, et cetera. Those are things that every parent should teach her child.
I don't even really hold a grudge regarding the many times she lost her temper, or the choice she made to have more children than she could emotionally handle, or the level of control she exerted over her children through their childhood and extending beyond their adolescence. I think they were poor choices, but I understand the factors that led to them - both the realities of being a frazzled parent, and the context of her own personal history.
When it gets down to it, I don't even really take issue with my childhood. I mean, yes, I do take issue with it, but only because it serves to illustrate that the problems I have with her in the present did extend into the past, and demonstrate a consistently dysfunctional relationship.
The real problem, the thing I'm truly worried about when I hear my mother's voice come out of my mouth? Who she is today, and how she treats me today, and what I worry will happen to my relationship with my own children as they get older.
I do not want to be a woman who:
- refuses to take ownership of her actions
- never acknowledges hurts that she causes to others
- never apologizes
- considers tactlessness a character strength
- acts like her children are uninteresting or obnoxious to her
- plays her children against each other
- has favorites, denies having favorites
- demeans and shames her children
- has to have everything her way, cannot set her wants aside to meet children's needs
- will not acknowledge that her children are experts on the topics of their own lives, experiences, thoughts, and feelings..as well as other things
- makes fun of people who are smarter, dumber, fatter, thinner, prettier, uglier, richer, poorer, less talented, more talented, etc than herself
- projects her own insecurities onto her children
- lists her children's flaws when she is frustrated with them
- cannot allow her children to make their own choices
- identifies the parts of herself that her children need for physical or emotional support, and uses those things to manipulate them
- disregards her children's autonomy and physical or emotional boundaries
How do I know that I'm on the right track? How do I know that I'm not doing irreparable damage to my children? How do I know that I'm making choices that will help them to be healthy in the future and will ensure a healthy relationship between them and me? My mother didn't know. What makes me think I can be any more self-aware than she was?