Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Good Momma?

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 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.


Louise and Gary Chapman said...

Melissa, I just wanted to say a few random things...
1. I think you are a wonderful mom.
2. I meant that I think I'm a good mom compared to my less than good wifey skills at the moment. I think sometimes an area or two of our life takes a backseat when we are adjusting/busy. For me, that's Gary and I feel bad about it.
3. The one thing that i see that has been beneficial (can I say that?) from your struggle with adjusting to Matthew being part of you family is that you are like a wounded healer. I feel that way with others who have lost a loved one or are struggling with the fact that their loved one is sick. I know, i've been there. I think that you have been, and will continue to be, a healer for others.
4. I think you are really hard on yourself. I hope you don't take that the wrong way. I think you are such a fabulous mom. Who else takes their 3 boys berry picking, to Canada Day celebrations and then to a group dinner BY HERSELF?!
5. SYTCYD is on right now...I'm loving Brandon. You?

Love, Louise
PS I really, really try not to spank either but I did it once and it was very effective:)

lori lls said...

This post is really hitting close to home, Melissa. I haven't been a parent long enough to assess myself or be assessed, but I have failed in other very close and significant relationships. Those times of failing are what jump readily to mind when I'm thinking about the overall relationship.

I gots no answers. Just sayin' you're not alone. Surely there will be a day when this Demon of Regret's ass is kicked for good.

Rachel Clear said...

Shit, woman. This post so was raw and honest and real and... wow.

I am not a parent, but I wrestle with these feelings in other areas. I often feel like I'm the shittiest wife in the world, or the shittiest sister, daughter, friend. Then other times, I realize that I am totally awesome at all of those things. Then back again.

You are aware, and that is more than I can say about most parents. As much I want to say, "Don't be hard on yourself", I also want to say, "Don't stop being hard on yourself. Never stop! Always keep trying!" and I don't mean anyone should REALLY be hard on themselves, I just mean that so many people don't know (or don't care) that they are failing others and this cluelessness is palbable and gives way to more hurt. I know your boys will be great men because they have a mother who never stops trying.

Be a bit more gentle with your soul, but never stop trying to be better, just as you are today.

Janet said...

I go through reaallly good times, when I feel I am doing well, then other times when I feel I'm a horrible mom. I am thankful that kids are so forgiving on the days that I am such a big grump!

tamie said...

Jon and I spent last weekend with James Finley, who is my most trusted spiritual teacher. And by "most trusted" I mean that if I felt let down by James Finley in any major way, I might abandon faith entirely.

He talks a lot about meditation. Learning to sit still, to sit in God's presence, is one of the keyest keys, in his teachings.

Well, I've been listening to him for 6 years, but I've never regularly meditated.

We talked about this, as we were there on the retreat. We talked about what comes up when people meditate--anger, fear, sorrow, deep grief, hatred, painful memories, boredom, etc.--and we talked about how we have this (bottomless) capacity to hate on ourselves for the struggles we have in meditation. Like, we think that we won't be lovable until/unless we get the spiritual life right, and we have very specific standards (always just out of reach) for what the spiritual life should be, and we withhold love from ourselves until we reach those standards. So, in meditation, if it didn't go well, we hit ourselves internally. (And if it "went well" we congratulate ourselves, which is also missing the point, in another way.)

I don't know if this kind of thing is true for everyone, but it is so so so so so so so so so so so so so true for me. My capacity to punish myself is absolutely bottomless.

Well. So this weekend we meditated a number of times, while we were with James Finley. Before we meditated, he gave us detailed instructions for how to sit, breathe, posture ourselves, etc. And at the end of all those instructions he said, "It will go how it will go. And it will be more than enough. Count on it."

Then he said. This is true of your life, your whole life. When you get to your death bed you can say, "It went how it went. And it was more than enough. More than enough."

Somehow that felt like redemption, entire. Our life goes how it goes, we try our very best, and we fuck up, but in the end, in God's eyes, all our bumbling efforts are more than enough.

So I say to you. Your parenting goes how it goes. You try your damndest. And it is truly enough. More than enough.

Dana said...

You are a wonderful parent! Hip hip hooray for being on the healing side of the journey. Be encouraged as you find your finish line. Love you.

lori lls said...

Good word here, Tamie. Real good word.

Asheya said...

I was talking with my friend here about this issue of "being a good mom." She is very attachment focussed too, but is at a point where she is pregnant with her second and her first is still keeping her up all night, so she is going crazy with lack of sleep. She went to a counsellor to get some help. The counsellor told her that in the eyes of the law, a good mom is very different from how we interpret it. The counsellor told my friend about a woman whose case she worked on some years ago when she was a social worker. This mom left her 4 month old child unattended all day, lying in his crib, with a bottle of kool-aid, while she went out. The neighbours finally came to check when the crying went on and on and no one was going in or out of the house. The child was taken away, but the court decided to give the child back to the mother when she explained herself by saying that she gave him kool-aid because she knew milk would go bad in the time she would be gone. Knowing milk would go bad = good mother. Obviously this story is probably more complicated than that, but the point is that while this story is appalling to me, this mother was considered competent! I don't think you or me or any of the moms I know would even come close to leaving our babies unattended all day with just a bottle of kool-aid. So, yes, you are a good mom, and no, we are not perfect human beings. I know one day I'll have to ask my kids for forgiveness for how I've messed them up, probably in ways I don't even anticipate. But I think being willing to say sorry and be humble is all part of being a good parent too.

melissa said...

Is it enough, Tamie? I don't feel like enough. I don't, I don't...

I love you all and I appreciate your response to this post. It was pretty raw and wide open. Thank you for gathering around me as I wrestle with this.


tamie said...

Sorry it's taken me so long to get back. The farm in South Dakota swallowed me for a week.

Wonderful story, Asheya. I mean, tragic, but it illustrated the point perfectly. I think the thing is that if being a human while being a parent isn't good enough, then no parent on earth is good enough. Which is absolutely true, in one way. And in another way, it isn't true at all. Somehow we are enough--you are enough--even with your shortcomings and failures. I hope someday Ayden, Matthew, and Riley will be able to articulate that and reflect it back to you.