painting by: Isabel Emrich
I’m not a perfect parent. I was 20 years old when I had my first, I have only just begun to heal myself and the things that have happened to me in my life, and I’m daily navigating a mental illness. I fail a LOT. I make so many mistakes with them. But anytime I do, I always make sure I sit them down and apologize. I was raised in a loud house, yelling, debating, arguing — this is a lot of who I was programmed to be. This benefits me in that, I’m used to standing up for what I believe and being sure in my position of my opinions. However, it hurts me in that I yell at my kids.
This kills me because my kids are brilliant examples of perfect love and do not deserve that side of me. They are so forgiving, so understanding, so loving despite all my faults. They teach me how to truly love someone. I had kids before I realized everything about myself that is harmful (to myself and others). I started the path of healing when my children would be old enough to remember the ugliness that comes up in healing. Despite all that, when I apologize they always forgive. I’m honest with them. I tell them where I’m at and they hug me and forgive me. This all started with a quote:
“A woman who heals herself, heals her children’s children.”
It’s inevitable that I will hurt my children, because I’m just a human parent, but I chose to heal myself so that I can do better than what was done for me. I know my parents weren’t perfect either, however, religious culture depends solely on the approval of the parents for a child’s life choices. Everything I wanted for myself had to run through my father’s approval and he had one vision for me. I was not made to feel human growing up. I was a robotic vessel for the “spirit of god” with one mission and one purpose to fulfill from some invisible life-force that would punish me if I wasn’t perfect. Oh, I mean, I was raised a Christian. I was never apologized too because what had my parents done wrong when they followed the instructions of the Bible. I was never related with because God is only goodness and all my darkness was sin and God cannot be with sin. I was given no real social skills, no emotional support and guidance, I was not taught how to navigate interpersonal relationships and create boundaries to protect myself from getting hurt. But they did teach me how to memorize my scriptures and pray and fast and have faith. Skills that are absolutely 100% pointless for the life I live now on my own. It’s like I headed out on a dangerous journey with rubber chickens and marshmallows and pieces of cardboard instead of like, water… and food… and some sort of weapon.
My parents had standards as high as mountains for me and really tough love to soothe the scrapes and bruises I’d get from climbing that high without the proper training or tools. I spent a good while pleasing them, but I’m just thankful I’m not all that into hurting myself. I have done it for a while, tried to self destruct but the thing is I am so proud of the person I am, that I have built, that I find it hard to destroy it all.
Maybe being so ignored by them is what saved me? Maybe all that time alone, learning and becoming this person behind their back is the reason I ended their control so swiftly and easily. Maybe they gave me too much time to think about how I really felt and they taught me to take too firm a stance in my opinions. Maybe that’s why when I decided to take control of my own life it all blew up so violently and destroyed our entire relationship. Maybe that’s what I’m afraid will happen with my kids if I try to control them too much.
I like disagreements, however. I like to know whether or not people think for themselves, and you know this when they disagree with you. I like to teach my children to think, so I don’t run my house with an iron fist. It’s not mom’s way or the high way. It’s an open dialogue because the truth is I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING. (Unless I do know what I’m doing and then the foot goes down!) I parent from my gut, I do the things that feel right for the situation (which sometimes is the wrong choice but I pay attention and learn from that) I read books, but a book cannot tell me who my daughter is, just like the Bible couldn’t tell my parents who I really was. Only I can know my daughter by spending time with her and listening to her and following her likes and interests, she’s the captain of this little tug boat that my cruise ship is dragging along. She’s navigating her own waters, I just need to tell her what’s up ahead in her path. A book cannot teach me how to discipline my son, just like the Bible couldn’t tell my parents what I truly needed. I still feel like I’m trying to figure out exactly what works for him and I am the one here with him every day trying to love him and teach him. The only thing I can do is try my best and apologize when I fail.
My dad apologized to me one time in my life, and that’s right before he died. I think he saw our situation for what it was and saw that my life turned out ok even though I didn’t do what he wanted. Maybe he just wanted to cleanse himself with the apology? Regardless, that feeling I had when he was humble enough to say “I’m sorry,” even if he couldn’t apologize for every item on my shit list, it was enough for me to forgive him of all the hell I went through as a kid. My step mom never apologized to me, and this is why I still have this disdain for her years after her passing. I see that and I tell myself that apologizing is always the right choice.
Parenting is not about a show of power, its just about giving your best effort and letting them lead the way. As long as I approached them with a heart of love, I can do what’s right for them. This is not being permissive parent, its being a philosophical parent. It’s thinking about the right response to the situation as they come. It’s being a zen master in their chaotic emotions. So yes, I’ve been stressing about my son for weeks about coloring on EVERY surface of my home, and yeah, my daughter still has a bad attitude about helping, but I’m still coming at them with love. I’m still being patient with how they learn and I’m trying new things every day. Sometimes I’m tougher on them and speak with more harsh honesty. Sometimes I sit on the ground and hold their hands and look them in the eye. Sometimes I whisper, sometimes I raise my voice. Sometimes I force them to fix it, and sometimes I make them watch me as I fix it. But I never tell them, “This is what God says and this is what you will do” Because who the fuck is “god” and how the fuck has he ever helped me.
I don’t know what’s right yet but I’m trying until I figure it out. I don’t believe anyone has the answers for me except me. I don’t think any mom’s group, or parenting book, or diet or lifestyle will help me achieve what I want to achieve. Because my goal in parenting is not to raise “good kids” my goal is that my children know who they are so when they are on their own they will be proud of their decisions and not regretful of their mistakes. Personally, all my mistakes have stemmed from what I was taught, who I was programmed to be. I’d rather help my kids wire themselves correctly then wire them to be a specific way instructed by an ancient book or an invisible man.
Most of parenting is feeling like you’re failing until its time for the kids to take the test. And then, those kids are probably going to surprise you. Mine always do. I don’t think there is any one answer to my parenting struggles, I think I can only navigate the situation for what it is. It’s not about force, or control, or results. It’s about love despite their mistakes, love despite their faults, love despite the fact that they don’t want to listen to you.
So this is what I’m telling myself today:
Deep breath mama. Be patient.
They will get it soon.