MOTHER, PARENT THYSELF
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” The worst opening line to anything, and the best summary of motherhood.
Parenthood is binary; it’s all 0’s and 1’s: Want/Don’t Want. Come here/Go away. Love like mad/Don’t even like you.
Being “mama” is brilliant for a lot of reasons. It also happens to suck for a lot of reasons (there, see what I mean?) One of the best things about it, the thing that I maybe knew academically but didn’t appreciate until I actually became a mother, is that it affords us the magical, time-warping opportunity to re-parent ourselves.
If we pay attention, if we let it, parenting can be the most profoundly transformative thing we do.
When my son was 3 and 4 years old, he went through a phase of hurting me. Like, physically. Hitting, biting, pinching with nails. I had plenty of people tell me he was acting out in a “developmentally appropriate” way, blah, blah, blah, but I’ve got to tell you: being physically accosted by my kid pushed my cheese completely off its proverbial cracker. I became all cracker!
I screamed, I demanded “respect,” I isolated him in his room, I even hit and pinched him back. “You treat people the way you want to be treated, so I guess you’re telling me you want me to hit you!” Like that. I was nuts.
I practice an approach called “Peaceful Parenting,” (I know. Laugh loudly, and at will), and my response to my child’s physically hurting me was pretty much the opposite of everything “peaceful.” Parenting FAIL. Big-time.
If that wasn’t enough, you will be shocked to learn that freaking out CHANGED NOTHING. At least one night a week, he’d be hurting me again. This went on for months, and I was a little panicked. Because I was insane, I began to extrapolate: If I can’t control my kid and stop him from hitting me at 3 years old he’s going to go through life thinking this is OK and pretty soon I’m going to have a gigantic 14 year old young man in my house who’ll think it’s OK to beat me up and I’ll be too small and weak to stop him and he’ll physically hurt his girlfriends too and ohmigod I’m raising a woman-hating wife-beater!! Because pinching your mom at 3 is obviously how these things start. Sweet. Jesus. Christ.
This is all not to mention the self- loathing that comes from being the worst mother ever, and deserving every minute of it. Because seriously: I bit a 3 year old!
Let me just back up for 2 minutes here to say my son is built like a pretty, willowy string bean. He can be willful and stubborn for sure, but as a rule, he’s a gentle, curious and creative little dude, his blonde head perpetually in the clouds. He’s the kid who needs to “make a craft”- usually for someone else — before his eyes are even open first thing in the morning. The point? I had clearly packed all my bags and moved to the centre of Crazy Town.
But then something remarkable happened: the skies opened up and that near-blinding, streaky, movie-God-light shone down and with harps and snare drums in the background The Man Himself sang words of truth right into my ear!
OK, not quite.
But something no less dramatic did happen: I SAW THAT WHAT I WAS DOING WASN’T WORKING!
This was big! Rather than just digging in with the usual, “I’m the mother and I’m right” self-talk righteousness, I literally took some deep breaths and changed my mind (cue angels singing).
And here’s the thing — here is so often the thing when our kids send us off the deepest end of ourselves — it wasn’t about him at all. My little man was trying to get some need met in his very limited-number-of-tools way. It wasn’t especially personal, even. It was more physics, really: action/reaction. He was acting out to get a certain response. If this was true, why was I taking his “attacks” so personally?
The biggest clue it might not be about “him”? My emotional response was wayyyyy out of step with actual events. And in a sky-opening moment, I saw it.
It was totally about me. When my child physically hurt me, I took it exceedingly personally because it triggered deep, old feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness. I was the adult, Goddamnit! You respect me, NOW!
In the face of being challenged, I did what I’d been doing my whole life: I gave my power away. TO A 3 YEAR OLD!
So I planned ahead. The next time it happened — because a ‘next time’ was inevitable — I would try something new.
Next time arrived. My beautiful boy hit me, hard. When he moved to do it again I gently but firmly held his hands together and pulled him into a long hug. I said, “I love you. But I am not going to let you hurt me, and I’m not going to let you disrespect me. You take some time to be by yourself, because I don’t want to be with someone who will hurt or disrespect me.”
I got up to leave, and added “I hope if anyone ever hurts or disrespects you, you can walk away too, and tell the person why.”
Then his twin sister and I walked over to my room to read books. About 3 minutes later he came in, sad, and apologized profusely. Said he’d really like to cuddle and read books with us. Calm. Peaceful. Parenting WIN! Big time.
I’ve had opportunity to use this technique a number of times since, including a few times with his sister. It blows my mind every time, and not just because it works like a charm either. No, it’s because I exaggerate not at all when I say my entire life would be different if someone had taught me this message when I was a kid.
When I say the words, “I will not let you hurt me, I will not let you disrespect me,” it is for each of us to learn: son, daughter and absolutely me. As I parent them, I re-parent/reprogram myself at the same time.
Real life MAGIC.