Someone sent me a quote the other day and I loved it so much that I put a paraphrased version of in my Instagram bio.
“Parenting is the most rewarding thing that has ever completely destroyed my sense of self.”
And those couldn’t be truer words for me.
I’ll strip it right back to the bones: “Parenting is the most rewarding thing”
Yes. Absolutely it is.
It can give me chills (of the good kind) it can make me laugh and it can give me the greatest sense of accomplishment I’m ever likely to experience.
Watching mini versions of myself running around is amusing, wonderful, heart-warming but also somewhat frightening. When my child achieves something whether spectacular or a smaller personal progression, my heart swells with pride and I also get to feel some of that euphoric feeling they’re experiencing.
There is a part of me that takes ownership for their success and I become so happy for them that I feel as though I could almost burst. I pat myself on the back and mentally list off all the ways that I helped them to reach their goals and the emotions can be simply overwhelming.
When one of my kids succeeds – I feel as though I have finally done SOMETHING right in raising them and the self-talk is usually kind, compassionate and positive.
(But I do have this warped idea in my head that I will somehow be more acceptable to society when my kid is seen to be “one of the good ones”).
And when one of them is hurting– I also go through similar pain to what they’re experiencing and it’s hard to separate my own feelings from the truth of the situation in front of me.
This happened a lot when my daughter as younger. She was bullied for a while in primary school – as was I – and it took me back to my own past hurts. To this day, I still struggle to be civil with the girls involved in tormenting her.
I was only chatting with her about this the other day and she told me point blank that I need to bury the past, get over it and move on. (She’s very different to me in this way. She’s a far less emotionally-led person than I am and a lot more matter-of-a-fact about these things).
And she was right. If she has been able to forgive and get past this, why then can’t I?
Because: so much of my time and compassion and love was invested into helping her through the horrible years that I forgot where to draw the line between caring and taking it personally.
I believe that this is a common parenting mistake for a lot of mothers.
I’ve also done it with my boys concerning societal judgments on their behaviour (whether that was incorrectly perceived by me or the criticisms were real). I’ve gone all psycho-mum on educators, doctors and family members/friends when I’ve thought that my kids were hard done by or ripped off in any way.
I’ve stepped waaaaaay over that invisible line and I’ve come out swinging because my emotions told me that it didn’t matter whether I was right or not, it only mattered that I was seen to be fighting the good fight.
And now to the second part of the above quote: “completely destroyed my sense of self “
To me, that means that the very same child that can cause me to reward myself with kind, compassionate and positive self-talk, can also cause me to hate on myself with toxic venomous judgmental words that I would never ever direct at another living person.
Because I know that words can bring life or be a destructive force. I just don’t seem to value myself enough to withhold such harsh judgments from me.
Let me explain:
If my child doesn’t listen to me and shouts at me and calls me unspeakable names; instead of me just recognising that my child is being a jerk, I instantly blame myself for not having taught them better ways to manage their anger.
If my child gets in trouble at school; I’ll give myself a major dressing down because I tell myself that I probably should have better prepared them better for a situation such as this. I tell myself that I’m a failure and that I’m not present enough in their lives and that it’s all my fault that they’re being a dickhead.
The reality is that sometimes, they really ARE just being dickheads. And that’s a fact.
When my kids fight with each other, I reprimand myself and assume that they’ve only learned this because they watch their father and I tear strips off each other on a frequent basis, and I tell myself “Oh well Fi, I guess they’re only doing what they’ve had modelled in front of them for years”
And it’s like a vicious cycle.
But the reality is that my kids are probably no worse than any one else’s kids. The difference is that I constantly compare myself to other parents and most of the time; what I’m seeing is only a small snippet of what really goes on in other households.
Or it’s what has been presented to me.
Because I’ve discovered that most parents just aren’t as candid as I am. Most parents only show the highlight reels and cover up all traces of them stuffing up when dealing with their offspring.
I get that, really, I do. I get that airing dirty laundry in public makes others uncomfortable and can sometimes make for some awkward conversations and predicaments. But I’m not talking about that. I’m not talking about hanging your kids out to dry (see what I did there? – the laundry reference?)
I’m not saying that we all need to compare horror stories online of what our kids have done wrong. I don’t think we need to shame them- especially publicly. Our job as a parent is to protect them- not tear them down. But admitting that sometimes we – as parents have missed it, or stuffed up, or even reacted in the exact opposite way to how we should have, doesn’t mean that we have failed as parents.
It just makes us real and honest. And that’s a very healthy place to be if it’s used correctly: to better yourself and learn from your mistakes.
I’m talking about the idea that social media seems to have purported that we are only allowed to show our successes and our wins. That we’re supposed to bury the messy, gritty and downright soul destroying parts of parenting down to depths never to be seen, and make everyone believe that we have are shit together and we are sailing along calm waters all the time.
Because all that THAT does is make parents like me second guess ourselves and wonder what the hell WE did so wrong to have to battle the situations that no one else seems to even understand, let alone live when the reality is that everyone of us have struggles but only some of us own them.
Most one-on-one conversations I have with other parents (particularly mothers) usually go along similar lines to this: “Wow Fi, thank you for admitting that- I know EXACTLY what you’re talking about, I totally agree with you and your honesty is refreshing, I wish I could speak so openly about that but ….”
And then when I ask them why they hide behind their pretty pictures and captions they tell me that they’ve learned to shut up and ‘smile and wave’ as the saying goes. Just fake it and hope like hell that people are buying it.
And I think that’s sad. Really, really sad. Because if you can’t be honest about where you’re at – nobody knows how to help you.
Occasionally I’ll have a day where I’m tearing my hair out, I’ve exhausted all my patience and have hit a brick wall emotionally when it comes to parenting. And sometimes on those days, I used to post a picture or quote on Instagram.
On those days, I could usually predict who would avoid me like the plague and who would comment, like and rally alongside me. I was usually correct in guessing the texts, DMs, and phone calls I’d receive and it never failed to amuse me when someone would passively aggressively post immediately afterwards a quote or caption that was intended to put me in my place.
Or worse: they’d make a point of coming and talking to me in person because they were “concerned” about my mental health and how I was coming across. A few times I was told that they were concerned about my children’s wellbeing. I can tell you that this is like waving a red flag to a bull with me – (don’t EVER allude to the fact that you think I’m an unfit parent just because I chose to be real).
It was like they were saying: “How DARE you use a social media platform to garner sympathy or whine about your life. How dare you be so forthright and in my face when all I wanted was to come on here and look at the pretty sunsets and happy families.
But I got rid of all those phoney followers long ago. I didn’t need their judgments (I’m harsh enough on myself!) and I have realised over the past few years that they were in fact the ones who were struggling the most.
I have been scared away from the internets on more occasions than I care to admit but gradually I am becoming a lot stronger and surer of myself.
The Case Worker I have just acquired has been counselling me and showing me how damaging my self-talk has been in the past and she’s been encouraging me to ‘give myself a break’.
I am learning to step back from any situation where I feel as though I have failed my kids and talk to myself as though I were talking to a friend. She’s having me roleplay and speak out my responses so I can hear for myself how damaging my own words have been all these years.
Here’s an example:
My little one was very sick last week. But I missed all the cues and all I saw was the revolting behaviours and aggression during the days leading up to it. When his teacher sent him home with a spiking fever and a throbbing headache and sore throat- I suddenly realised that all his meltdowns and outburst were because he felt crappy and didn’t know how to tell me. His behaviour told me, but I wasn’t able to see past the shouting and the kicking and the defiance. It was autism 101 and I totally missed it.
My case worker asked me to imagine that my friend had called me and explained the above paragraph. She asked me how I would respond to my friend in that situation.
I would tell my friend that it wasn’t her fault. That she is too close to the situation so was unable to see the signs. That she can’t be expected to get it right every single time but that it doesn’t mean for a second that she’s a terrible mother. I would tell her that she’s an incredible mum and that even realising in hindsight is awesome and that she should be proud of how far she’s come. I would tell her that I can see how exhausted she is raising these kids whilst working long hours and that she needs to give herself a break.
Lastly; I would tell her that I love her, that I’m always here for her and that I believe in her.
It’s totally a thing, and my goal this last 6 months of 2017 is to learn to love and care for me better because no one else is going to do it.
If you’ve gotten this far- through the 2000 + words and are still reading; I thank you.
I hope this weekend is kind to you.