One of my friends mentioned recently that she feels like she's a pretty good mom. I had a really strong emotional reaction to this, and it took me awhile to sort it out. I'm very happy that one momma I know feels pretty good about the job she does as a parent, but I gotta tell you, I lost my breath I was so overcome with emotion. I had to sit on it for awhile and think about it, to figure out why I was so upset by this simple statement. I think I figured it out.
I feel pretty good at being a parent nowadays, whenever I stop and think about it. But I still feel like I have some penance to pay for how bad I was at it for a year and a half after we adopted Matthew, and for how long it took me to sort myself out even after that. Certainly for how long it took me to love my adopted kid as much as I love my biological kids [about 3 years. Much like my realization that Stu had left, one day last fall I realized Matthew was finally fully assimilated into my emotional self, and that I felt the same about him as I did about Ayden and Riley, without really knowing exactly when it happened]. If someone were to ask if I think I am a good parent, I would be inclined to say no, because I would include an overall assessment of myself. A cumulative evaluation of my parenting over the past 6 years. That year and a half was so bad it drags down my average, in my mind.
So is Stu really gone, if I still flog myself with this? Is it fair or accurate, my memory of that year and a half? I did a lot of things right, even if some of what I did wrong I did in such a way as to discourage attachment and adjustment between Matthew and I...my intention was never, ever to actually discourage attachment. I wanted to encourage it so badly that my anxiety was so high and my expectations of myself and of Matthew so unrealistic that failure was a matter of when, not if. I. Could. Not. Cope. I wanted to so badly that it worked against my ability to actually cope. But I did some things right, and most of the minutes in most of my days were actually positive parenting moments. So can I give myself grace? I've been shaking my head in response to this question I pose to myself periodically over the past 3 and a half years. 'I'm not ready to let it go yet. I need more penance. I need to feel painfully guilty a little bit longer.'
I think in most regards, Stu is gone. But this statement by my friend regarding her own parenting revealed some areas Stu is hiding in the corners of my mind. I parent well now. I did NOT parent well for a year and a half of my parenting journey. So if I assess myself as a parent, that bad period reigns and I give myself an 'F.' 15%. 1 out of 10. This makes me feel aweful. Like I've failed beyond redemption at the most important job of my life, a job I'm committed to without a backout clause or a plan B, and with pretty major consequences for failure or even small weaknesses. Is this fair? Is it accurate?
NO. How can one learn a job like parenting, of necessity a task with on the job training, with no room for mistakes? Learning? Grace? Forgiveness?
Stu says, "Your mistakes were bigger than most parents' mistakes. Your actions more unforgivable." I think Stu needs to shut up. I think it is high time I stop flogging myself in penance: but HOW?
If I assess myself as a parent currently, with only my present actions included, I am a very good parent. I am patient, the majority of the time. I am attachment focused. I parent with goals in mind: autonomy, impulse control, reading readiness, nutrition, attachment, self assurance, a healthy view of sexuality, a sense of belonging, creativity development, and etc. I repeat myself, though I hate to do it. I control my emotions, though it goes against my nature. I get up at night, though I love my sleep. I push them on the swings, I carry their bicycles up hills, I play soccer, swim, play monopoly, and wrestle when I would really rather read a book and hide away in my room all day. I bath them. I wash their clothes. I tell them I love them, and why, and what their strengths are, and how to master their difficult to master characteristics. I am fun. I play with them, I garden with them, I sing to them, I play jokes on them and with them, I dance with them. I create boundaries for them for appropriate behaviour. I speak to them respectfully. I feed them, though I don't like the daily domestic tasks surrounding food. I lose my cool, but only sometimes. I resort to spanking, but only when I have lost my patience AND my ability to think creatively, and I strive to NOT spank at all. I get cranky, and snippy, and impatient, but not often. I would say I am good at this job currently, and have learned how to balance having multiple children and performing multiple tasks quite well, particularly considering it is not my natural gifting.
So why can't I feel good about what I do? Why can't I let the past go? Why can't I allow myself to feel like a good parent?
Some part of me feels like there was a lost innocence in my parenting journey that I can never get back. I have faced a pretty nasty monstrous part of myself and can't erase the memory of that encounter from my knowledge. When I try to give myself grace, it feels like I am making excuses. I did have an anxiety disorder, and didn't know it. I was angry, and couldn't figure out why. I had hypoglycemia, and hadn't figured that out yet. My expectations were unrealistic, and I didn't know that. I couldn't multi task, and didn't know how to learn it. I felt guilty and responsible for aspects of Matthew's life journey that I had no control over, and didn't know it was inappropriate. I had unleashed empathy, and didn't know yet how to build boundaries around it to conserve emotional energy for myself and my family. I was sad. I was angry. I was guilty. I worried I had made the biggest, most irreversable mistake of my entire life. And I rendered myself an utter failure as a parent.
BUT. I strove to be better. Every time I failed, I picked myself up and kept going, which is the bravest thing I've ever done. I tried to get help, and tried again, and tried again, and tried again. And from here, and from there, and from some books, a counsellor, some trustworthy friends, lots of prayer, and dedication and loyalty towards my family and towards figuring it out, S.L.O.W.L.Y. I learned to love my son, and to relax my grip, and to ease my anger, and to wrestle my guilt, and I got better.
'Courage is not defined by those who fought and did not fall, but by those who fought, fell, and rose again'
I don't know who wrote that, but I know it is true of my experience.
'Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a different past'
That one is by Anne Lamott. I haven't given up entirely, as is evident by this post. But I'm trying.
One step at a time.
And I'm very glad to be on the healing side of that journey.
'Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius'
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.