Some days, I feel like a horrible, terrible mother.
This was one of those days.
To get everyone up, moving, and out the door, I had to go three rounds with the middle child.
[Yeah right. It was fifty rounds.]
“Get up, Buddy. Hey, time to get up. GET UP. Make your bed, please. I asked you to make your bed. Get up and get moving. Why aren’t you making your bed? Okay, now get dressed. Move away from your brother, and get dressed. Get dressed. OMG GET DRESSED. Clothes are good, where are your shoes? Put the Legos down and get your shoes. WULFGAR. Put on your shoes. Too late, breakfast is ready, come and eat. You can put on your shoes after. Get in your chair, come on, let’s eat. Eat your breakfast. Turn around, please. Eat your breakfast. EAT YOUR BREAKFAST. Turn around in your chair and eat your breakfast. EAT YOUR BREAKFAST. Yes, you’re excused, get your shoes. Put your shoes on, please. PUT YOUR SHOES ON. Have you peed yet this morning? Go in and go pee, please. Hey, put down the Legos and go pee. Time to head out for school, grab your sweatshirt. HEY, IT’S TIME TO GO, GET YOUR SWEATSHIRT. Got your backpack? Get your backpack. GET YOUR BACKPACK IT IS TIME TO GO OMG.”
As I read the verbal exchange in print, it doesn’t sound nearly as bad as it felt. I didn’t beat him. I didn’t hit him. I may have (probably did) raise my voice, but I didn’t lose myself into a blood rage. From the outside, it probably wasn’t that bad.
In the moment, from the inside out, it felt horrible.
We’ve never talked about this before, but I am an adult survivor of childhood abuse. When I was a kid, there was no asking. There was TELLING AND ONLY ONE TIME, then fists and punches and grabbing and pushing and yelling and kicks and retribution.
Those bruised memories change a person. They change the way we think about our role as parents, and they change the way we perceive discipline.
They change the way we perceive obedience. And conflict.
In the moment, in those moments of conflict and disrespect and sass and back talk, when the rage fills my ears and my blood boils and my eyes spiral down to dark, black pinpricks of light, my heart forgets the difference between a punch and a hard word, because from inside a bruised and battered heart, they feel the same.
I was angry because he was not complying, so no matter how I dealt with it, I felt like I was abusive.
Even scarier, deep down I wanted to be abusive.
Dear Lord, that sounds terrible.
I’ve read a lot about the cycle of abuse. [“Physician, heal thyself.”] I know that those abused at a young age can be cracked and broken, and those abusive episodes can affect the way they treat their own children when they become parents themselves.
My abuser was abused. It was well documented and discussed.
I was abused. My family chose to pretend it wasn’t there.
I am another twist in a generations deep cycle.
I can’t pretend it isn’t there.
What I can do is fight against it. What I can do, is rail against my impulsive, instinctive tendencies toward violence, to fight with everything I’ve got against the cycle that threatens to suck me in and hold me captive.
I may feel compelled to abuse and hate and lash out. That doesn’t mean I have to do it.
I have three kids. Kid #1 and Kid #3 are creations of my own image and likeness. Their brains are built on a blueprint that matches my own. I get them. They make sense. To them, *I* make sense. It’s great. They tell me things, I understand exactly what they mean. I tell them things, they (mostly) understand and listen. It doesn’t mean they always like what I have to say, but they always listen. I talk and I know I’m getting through. My data plug matches their data port. Upload successful.
Then there’s Kid #2. The middle kid.
Oh. My. Goodness.
At the risk of sounding like a total asshole of a mother, I just don’t get my second kid. We don’t mesh. At all.
If you’re a mom of more than one child (and maybe even for moms of only one), you’ll know what I mean when I say “That kid and I don’t mesh well.” It sounds harsh, like “we’re not supposed to say that as parents,” but it happens all the time.
I’m a person. He’s a completely different person. My way of doing things is mine, and makes sense to me. His way of doing things is his, and makes sense to him. OUR WAYS DO NOT MAKE SENSE TO ONE ANOTHER. I struggle every. single. day. to understand what he’s thinking and why. I have tried every single method of parenting, every single consequence and reinforcement and encouragement out there.
We still don’t mesh.
It happens a lot in real, grown up life. You work with someone that makes you want to poke your eyes out. Jeff across the hall that snorts when he laughs, and he laughs loud and all the time, even during meetings. The secretary that knows you’re on a diet, and still brings you donuts and cookies and treats from home. Debbie in accounting that has sixteen cats, tells you about them every day at lunch, and thinks the two of you are samesies because “You have kids? I have kids, too!” **omg she’s talking about her cats** “Isn’t it so great being a mom? This is my oldest,” **produces cat picture** “Mr. Scratch-N-Fluffy. He’s a rescue. I rescued him!”
There exist in the world all kinds of people that you don’t mesh with, because you’re different. Your priorities are different. Your wiring is different.
It stands to reason that, if you are raising your kids to be who they are and not who you want them to be, they will sometimes not mesh with you. The little people they are will react with the person you are, like oil and water.
…or napalm, depending on the circumstances.
In reality, not meshing with your kids means you’ve done your job and allowed your child to be who they are, even at the expense of your own comfort and understanding.
It also means that your job is harder. Congratulations. :)
Kid #2 is a good kid. He has a wonderful personality and a kind heart. He does well in school. He likes math. He loves Legos (if you couldn’t tell by how many times they came up that morning). He is a concrete sequential human, one step at a time, and “there is no point in thinking about steps three through ten, because I’m only on step two.” I think that tendency would be fine and I could work with that, but he is also HUGELY imaginative. He disappears in his own head to live a separate life inside a world of fantasy, like Walter Mitty. (Great movie, if you haven’t seen it. I swear it’s a story about my middle child.)
Between the fantasy in his head that I can’t see (or even guess how to interact with), and his exacting, detailed nature, it’s no wonder I have a hard time making sense of him. He is a paradox.
The more I learn about psychology, development, and kids, the more sure I am that Kid #2 is on the highly-functioning side of the SPD and Autism Spectrums. He FEELS things that the rest of us don’t feel. He senses things that we can’t perceive, and copes with his amped up emotions in a quiet, internalized way. When he gets upset, he cries and shuts down. When he gets angry, he’ll take-it-take-it-take-it, then snap and lose his shit. He doesn’t genuinely laugh much. Fake laughs for effect, yes. Genuine belly laughs, no. He doesn’t cheer. He’s rarely excited, and when he is excited he gets …squirrelly. His emotions come out in a physical way, not a verbal one.
Verbalizing his emotions is not something he knows how to do, and not something he wants to do. I don’t even know that he CAN do it.
For him, I’m sure it’s frustrating. To feel so much and not have the ability to process what he feels, nor to express it, must be disheartening.
For me, the fact that he doesn’t do it is infuriating.
Of the Five Love Languages, “words” are how I operate. In fact, I lean so far toward that measure of love that the rest are almost nonexistent.
To have a kid that doesn’t talk is hard for me.
Super duper hard.
So yeah. This was a hard day. I felt I was a worse mother on this day between 7 and 8 a.m. than over the course of an average week.
The end of our morning found me at the end of my rope. My heart hurt. My head hurt. My feelings were hurt. Everything I asked of the kid was ignored. Every sentence took three repeat attempts before it sank in, and even then it seemed like he didn’t care that I’d said anything at all. Getting him to function was like forcing a horse to drink. Or like herding cats. Or like moving the ocean ten feet to the left, with a teacup. Nevermind that I was rushing to finish laundry and get breakfast on the table and wash dishes and pack lunches. Nevermind that I have a monster cold (brought home by the kids, of course), a low grade fever, a sore throat, and the start of a migraine. Nevermind that I was patient, tolerant, kind, and steady of voice. I wanted to yell and scream, but I didn’t.
[“Nevermind what I NEED, let’s do all the things YOU WANT TO DO.”]
As a grown up child of child abuse, I have had to learn to mother and discipline with one (and sometimes both) of my arms tied behind my back. I am emotionally cracked. Not broken, not really dented, but definitely cracked. My emotional response to children is healthy and positive, but I have had to learn how to interact with all people in a cognitive, thought-first kind of way. I have to think, then feel.
It’s not that hard, really. My tendency is to cogitate first, emote second. Thinking first about the situation before I decide how to feel is easy.
Most of the time.
When it’s not easy, it’s really, REALLY HARD.
When I finally do get angry, I’m not “upset.” I’m gut boiling, steam blowing, throat aching, blood rage FURIOUS.
As a grown up child of child abuse, I know what true anger feels like. I know what it looks like to use anger as a weapon, and how it feels when that weapon is used against you. I know how it feels to be beaten with the buckle end of a belt, a paddle, or whatever board or tool or stick is close at hand. I know what it feels to be weightless as you’re thrown across the room, and what it feels like to be choked and lifted until your dangling toes barely brush the carpet. I know the anticipation and anxiety of walking by someone with quick feet and hard boots, never sure if they’ll lash out and make contact, and the even deeper fear of an instinctive dodge that causes the boot to miss. I know how to force tolerance as you’re wrapped in a clumsy embrace, alcohol breath burning your eyes and nose, praying that it’s over soon, never daring to push away or fight, because hugs are much less painful than fists.
Now, as a parent, I know what it feels like when a kid just won’t obey, and you’ve tried everything, and you feel the ugly, black and green rage monster boiling hot and poisonous in your chest, and you have to take a timeout or walk away to keep the fury in check.
As a new mom, I felt that a lot.
Now it’s not so bad.
…most of the time.
This day was bad.
After nagging and asking and telling and cajoling and requesting and entreating Kid #2 and still no action was taken, the Rage Monster started to rumble, and I had to take a timeout.
When the kids were tiny, I called my rage timeouts “Don’t Shake The Baby Walks.” Now I call them “Don’t Eat Your Young Timeouts” and “Don’t Sell Your Kids to Gypsies Walks.”
[I totally get why wild animals eat their young. It’s because of the arguing. And dear Friend, if you’re reading this, I pray to God you recognize dark humor when you see it. Dark humor keeps me sane. I have never shaken or killed a child.]
I started sweeping the floor. I slammed chairs around. My son stood and watched me for a moment, started to say something, then closed his mouth, turned around, and walked away.
In that moment, in that rage filled, steam-out-ears moment, I stopped. I watched his retreating back, traced his small figure with my eyes as he walked away from a too-tough conflict, and I saw what was really happening.
“He acts like he’s fine. He’s not fine.”
OF COURSE HE’S NOT FINE. He is an empath. He feels things 100x deeper than normal people, and he feels ME, and I AM FURIOUS. He doesn’t know why I am furious. He just knows I am, and he doesn’t know how to fix it. He can’t fix it.
*I* have to fix it.
WE have to fix it.
As parents, 100% of the responsibility for the state of our relationship with our kids is ours. It’s on us, People. It’s our job to make sure that things are running smoothly, that the culture of our home is a healthy one, that we have good habits, that we eat and sleep and exercise, and that the emotional state of our children is a positive one.
That is the definition of leadership. To LEAD, and support and love and give and hold and help.
That is the definition of parenting.
Holy hell it is hard. Especially when you were never shown how to do it.
Most of the blog posts I write have a point. “Think about this. Change this. Try this. Become what you want, be strong, you can do it.”
This time, the only point of writing all of this is in the hope that one person, JUST ONE PERSON, will read it and realize they are not alone.
If you were abused as a kid, you are not alone.
If you struggle as a parent because you were abused as a kid, you are not alone.
If your rage blinds you and blurs the lines of discipline, if you have a hard time telling the difference between redirection and retribution, you are not alone.
If you have a hard time connecting with your kids, you are not alone.
If you love your kid more than life itself, if you would kill or die for them in an instant, if they have taught you the true meaning of true love and still you have a hard time controlling your temper, you are not alone.
If you struggle with any of those things, not only are you not alone, I’d guess you are more normal than you realize.
There are thousands of us.
Here’s what you need to know, my friend, and I guess the point of my story altogether:
The childhood scars we carry do not have to define us today.
We can be better parents than the ones we had,
we can be leaders to our families and refuge to our children,
and we are not doomed to repeat a cycle, no matter how stuck inside of it the generations were that came before us.
No matter how we’re broken, we have what we need to put ourselves back together, and to pass on not even a blemish to our children.
We are mothers, and we can change the world for the better.
One child at a time, and every day.
Much love, my friend.
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