(For part I – please see this post – What I’ve learned-Part I)
I must say, resourceful or not, motherhood knocked me on my ass.
I can look back now with compassion for myself.
Due to my own very difficult family upbringing, I was ambivalent about having children. I was ambivalent about what to do about my career when children came, so much so that I didn’t start having them until I was 31. I was TOTALLY unprepared for having 3 daughters in 3. 5 years. That was such a drain on my physical and emotional resources.
Today I was responding to a comment on my page The Highly Sensitive Child. I realized how I am in such a very, very good place right now. But I have a confession to make (for my new readers anyway).
For the first 5 years of parenting my three girls, I totally sucked at it. I didn’t know how to attach to my firstborn, who couldn’t nurse well, was extremely fussy, who NEVER SLEPT the first 4 months of her life (and after that became the best sleeper of them all). I was grateful to slink off to work while my then laid off husband took care of her. When daughter number two came along, I was slightly better prepared – I was more aware of the challenges and having discovered Dr. Sears “The Fussy Baby” book, I adjusted my expectations, which helped some. But then I decided to quit my job because it was still too much for me to handle. It was the best decision I made, because I was no longer split between two very strong desires (my career and my daughters). My career could wait, because it was killing me anyway. Then I got pregnant with daughter number three, and that tipped the balance again.
The first 3 years after my youngest was born were extremely bleak as my husband worked a new job with a swing shift and could not help with the nighttime routine (and the girls had a very difficult time falling asleep).
The following year is when I discovered my middle daughter was selectively mute. Things just weren’t getting any easier, but at least I had a good REASON for all of her struggles, and all of my insecurities,my anxieties and my depressions were at least understandable. I certainly could not turn to my mother for help…though in a strange twist of fate, she’s the one who actually suggested my daughter had selective mutism, as she sat on a school board for 2o years and had seen a lot of kids issues in the school, including one who was selectively mute.
And now, with my oldest being 9.5, my middle being 8, and my youngest 6, and with this blogging opportunity to meet other mothers with highly sensitive children and mothers with selectively mute children, I am quite aware of one thing: I feel GOOD right now as a mother.
I have grown exponentially in experience AND confidence. My daughters have grown in the emotional and intellectual arenas. There are many more calm, easy, enjoyable days.
We no longer have banshee-like screaming, wailing and gnashing of teeth (we still have some bad days like any ordinary family). I am no longer frazzled, angry, confused, adrift, and terrified that I can handle the challenges anymore and guilty that I’m a horrible mom. It wasn’t so long ago that I frequently broke down in tears, or yelled, or threw one of my own tantrums, or daydreamed of running off to Tahiti.
My husband too, has grown and his frustration level has been dramatically reduced as he has been working on some of his childhood issues. For him, John Bradshaw’s Healing the Shame That Binds You, David Deida’s The Way of the Superior Man and Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know by Margaret Meeker, MD has been instrumental in catalyzing change in him. I’m quite relieved about that.
Right now I feel so much more capable of handling this difficult task of raising children (it only took me 10 years). Sure, I can’t be sure how to navigate the emotional storms of adolescence, but I’m sure I’ll find the resources I need when the time comes. And hopefully, with all the emotional work we’ve done now, we might have planted some seeds that will help them when they are in the thick of new change.
I guess I wanted to tell younger mothers (and fathers) who are struggling with their highly sensitive, highly spirited, intense children, it does get better. Our challenging children are a gift for us to dig beneath the surface of their behavior and also to dig beneath the surface of our responses.
Wherever you are bumping heads with your child, chances are there are some unresolved issues you’ve brought from your own childhood. Inasmuch as it seems like the issue at hand seems to be only about them, chances are the conflict is also about you, and you experienced something similar but your own parents had handled it poorly.
If you think about it, your child is not the only one growing through developmental stages. You are being called to grow right along with them. Every conflict is an opportunity to discover a part of your own humanness, every emotional outburst and breakdown of is a light being shined on areas that need compassionate examination. In some cases, we need to re-parent ourselves as we parent our children, and be our own nurturing parent that we may not have gotten as a child.
Our job as parents is not to create children that achieve great things. Our job as parents is to teach our children to face our humanness with grace. How to acknowledge and communicate the dark emotions of anger, hate, jealousy and frustration without resorting to destructive behaviors.
Feelings don’t hurt people, destructive actions that result from those feelings do.
When someone has an outbursts, they are communicating a need or a frustration or a violation of boundaries.
Depending on their age they may not initially be able to identify and articulate exactly what they need or are frustrated about, but they have something that they are trying to tell you about. Our sensitivity and empathy come into play and as parents we can help them recognize the signals their bodies give them, which are guides telling THEM something is amiss. It’s your role to help them figure out how best to identify and articulate before they get to the boiling point.
Sadly, my parents didn’t teach me how to deal with the darker emotions I had. They didn’t know how because they were never shown how. But I, along with my children and my husband, are all learning how to communicate needs in constructive ways.
I feel really good about our family right now.
I wanted to share that feeling and the lessons we’ve learned with you.
Have a Peaceful Tuesday.