Let’s start by talking about the broken neon sign that I discovered last night as I was ushering my kids into bed in anticipation of solitude and wine. This particular neon sign was given to me and my husband when my cesarean baby, Jack, was a tiny little thing. It’s one of those neon signs you see in bars and it says “Jack Lives Here”.
Yes, it’s a whiskey advertisement. Leave me alone. You don’t know my life.
It’s been in Jack’s room for almost as long as he’s been on the planet. As silly as it seems to type this out, it was one of our prized possessions. It was given to us when I was in a cloud of postpartum depression and anxiety that I thought I might lose myself to. After my cesarean with Jack, I was angry and sad and overwhelmed. I didn’t know that I’d go on to have a healing birth with my Marley and that it would change my life and I was treading water just to make it through each day without drowning. For me, that sign represented a time in my life when I was struggling with my feelings as a mother and announced to me, every time I saw it (and in particular when it was lit), that Jack lives here now. I’m building another human being, brick by brick. Jack lives here. He needs you. Live in the now. It was The Thing that spoke to me about how I’d made it through that darkness. Funny how we get ourselves attached to things and allow them to hold some measure of power over us, isn’t it?
I never got that solitude or wine because what happened when I discovered that The Thing was broken was something that I’m mortified to admit.
Like a lunatic.
I. Yelled. A. Lot.
I lost my shit, fortheloveofgawd.
I was so hurt and upset that the kids had broken it and I told them how awful it made me feel and I let them know, in no uncertain terms, that they were the cause of my pain. I made them cry and, even in the midst of their obvious and sincere regret at having made choices which led to this situation, I couldn’t reign in my anger. Maybe I even enjoyed it a little.
Mind you, they hadn’t meant to break The Thing, the loss of which sent me spiraling into a horrible rage directed at the humans I love the most on this planet. They were, truth be told, probably trying their best to be helpful in the set of circumstances which led up to its breaking.
Here’s what happened: they had decided that they wanted to switch rooms, as they’re wont to do on occasion. I had given them my blessing to do that with the caveat being that it didn’t create additional workload for me. My sweet and helpful 12 year old daughter, Layla, removed The Thing from the wall in the room which had previously been 10 year old Jack’s and placed it, gently, onto his bed in the room he was moving into. Neither of them told me that it had been moved. Jack moved it to a shelf in his closet where he thought it would be safe. He did this because he was trying not to create additional workload for me (as per my instructions) and he figured I’d get around to hanging it back up soon enough. This had all occurred several weeks prior to the discovery that it was broken and I hadn’t been even remotely aware of it. At some point after that, he had a particularly rambunctious friend over and that friend broke it. When Jack realized it had happened, he was scared to tell me…probably because knew I’d turn into a raging mad woman if and when he did.
That’s precisely what happened when I discovered that The Thing was broken last night.
I remembered what that possession represented to me and it hurt. I remembered all those nights of holding him and nursing him and coming to terms with what had happened to us and I got really angry that they broke that stupid neon sign. You know what I forgot?
Jack lives here.
I chose to bring this child into my life. I grew him inside my body and I ached for the day that I’d hold him in my arms. I WANTED him. I love him and he loves me and I don’t like making him feel something different. I did, though. I made him feel unworthy and like an awful person and that was wrong of me on so many levels.
I’m growing a human right now.
Every day, I’m molding him into the boy he is and the man he’ll become and he looks to me to model to him how he should interact with OTHER humans. What I model to him will literally impact all of the relationships he encounters in his life. I will influence his eventual interactions with his own partner and any children they decide they want to invite into their lives. That’s an awesome responsibility and it’s one that I know I need to, daily, start forcing more intentionally into my awareness.
I woke up this morning to get the kids off to school dreading coming home and sitting with myself to work through my feelings. Coming to terms with having made bad choices in my interactions with my kids sucks. I lost my shit. I yelled at them and I made them feel horrible about themselves and I still haven’t made amends with them for that. It’s on my to-do list but it hasn’t happened just yet. They all woke up this morning and cautiously looked at me with hopeful eyes. Those eyes were searching for clues about my state of mind and asking me if everything was okay between us. In the midst of the morning rush and through my haze of guilt, I wasn’t ready to respond lovingly and intentionally.
Today will be a day of allowing myself to feel feelings about what happened, sorting through those feelings and preparing my heart for the conversation I know I need to have with them when I pick them up from school this afternoon. It will be a difficult conversation but it will also be a conversation that will build on the foundation of love that I’ve laid with them. If we were building a house, this would be the part where I realize that the toilet I bought (because a toilet is an appropriate metaphor for last night’s shit show of fury) doesn’t fit in the space we’ve prepared for it. I’d throw said toilet out to the road because I’d have smashed it to pieces beyond the point of even being able to return it to the store. Smashing that toilet probably felt good but it was also destructive and came at a cost. Last night cost me trust points with my kids. I lost some ground with them. It’ll take time to recover that ground and I’ll need to gently remind them that they’re valuable to me. They’re so much more valuable to me than The Thing and I made them feel something different.
Here’s my truth: that’s what was modeled to me. It doesn’t make my reaction to the situation any less horrific, but it means that I know where it came from. My father died a few months ago. Before he died, though, he did a lot of making amends. He was an angry man for much of my childhood. He drank too much and he and my mother communicated in ineffective and hostile ways. He was gone a lot and he dealt with demons that I’ll never understand. He did the best he could, but he made lots of bad choices as a father. He made a lot of GOOD choices, too, and I learned some really important things about life from the kind of man he was. I digress but I wanted to clarify that his legacy is a mixed bag as will mine be. I’ve made good choices in my relationships and I’ve made bad ones. The goal is that the good to will outweigh the bad and that we’ll choose live with intention more often than not.
We learn so much more effectively through observation than we do through instruction and we tend to perpetuate cycles of dysfunction and cling to them as if the uncertainty of moving beyond them into healthier places would literally kill us.
If you’re one of those parents who has been perpetuating unhealthy cycles in your relationships with your kids, you need tools.
We all need tools.
Hell, I need a whole toolbox.
I need lots of options.
If you’ve ever eaten breakfast with me, you are familiar with the production that is my breakfast beverage buffet. I like having options. I need coffee, water and orange juice every morning with breakfast or my day is ruined. I don’t always drink all of each of those beverages because some mornings require WAAAAAAY more coffee than orange juice. Drinks aren’t helpful tools for parenting, though, and I’ve officially exhausted all of my Basic White Girl clichés at this point so I’ll get back to the Evidence-Based Parenting Toolbox we’re going to build together.
I know what I don’t want to put in my parenting toolbox and it’s anything that distances me from the babies I made, out of love, with my life partner. I don’t want tools that make them feel like I can’t tolerate them when they make mistakes and I don’t want tools that make them feel like they’re not worthy of my love. I’ve got too many crappy tools in my toolbox right now and I want to work on that and I want to invite you to take a journey with me into learning to parent with intention based on what the best evidence we have says produces the healthiest children who then become healthy adults. Health is so much more encompassing than the physical stuff. Convincing kids to ingest something other than Fruit Loops and French fries is a feat in its own right and one I heartily congratulate you on, but what of their mental health?
Did you know that there’s actual research that we can use to guide us as we parent these babies we love more than life? Do you know what that research says about some of the parenting techniques that might have been modeled to you? Do you know that there are a whole range of other options that we can use to guide our interactions as parents?
Whole Mothering Center is thrilled to announce the launch of a brand new series we’re going to call the “Evidence-Based Parenting Toolbox”. If you want to follow our journey into building our parenting toolboxes and consider working on your own, we invite you to request to join our Facebook group.
You’re going to screw up but so am I.
It takes a village, Mama.
Come along for the ride.
Amy is mom to 4, ages ranging from 20-7. She’s a homebirthing VBAC mama who is also a WMC Doula, a student midwife, a peer counselor with the Beaumont Breastfeeding Coalition and a local birth rights activist. She and Heather Thomas founded WMC in 2006 and passionately work to improve local birth and parenting options for Southeast Texas families.