Yesterday we were out doing the five mile loop with the boys and we passed someone having a cigarette in their yard next to their dog behind a fence.
Predictably the little dog started losing its mind and predictably the person sitting there started shouting at the dog to knock it off, which also predictably had no appreciable result for the barking.
I was thinking about how this is probably one of the more accessible analogies for parenting styles and how they need to change. Our dog owner here is anxious thinking about how their “poorly behaved” dog is reflecting on them as a dog owner and in their anxiety to not be perceived as a dead beat dog owner, they spring to action with negativity and a goal of control. The dog is doing what he is supposed to do and what feels intuitive to him, he is letting her know there is a threat and trying to drive the threat away. Instead of soothing him and validating that he has done his job and she will take it from here, she is sending an unstable and confusing message that makes no sense in context, so he ignores it and the behavior becomes worse.
I am trying really, really hard to not parent my daughter the way I was parented. But it feels almost impossible. I’m anxious, I am introverted, I like quiet, I don’t like it when things are out of control. But that is about me. My daughter is extroverted, she loves groups and chaos and drama and five things going on at once. That she is fundamentally different from me is not some crime she is committing to make my life miserable, but that is exactly how I was treated and perceived growing up. An unstable and incomprehensible unreasonable daughter who at any moment could mortify my mother with what I was wearing, interested in, how I communicated. I remember my mother picking my clothes out for me at 16 before a family reunion, the truth being more bizarre than the narrative in her head, who on earth would be thinking she picked out my outfit at such a late age? Every time I reach for a phrase from my role model to help me parent it’s stuff that I absolutely cannot say. I cannot ask my baby if she wants me to pull something to drink out of my ass. I can’t tell her that normal people don’t think like she does. I can’t ask her what that has to do with the price of salt or make fun of her to her face or make comments about her body. But it’s all right there, it’s all my immediate instinct. It’s the familiar mother voice in my head.
I am thankful that I was given two sons at a time when I was able to do so much heavy lifting in trying to forgive and understand my mother. But I am filled with fear and regret that it might have come too late for my daughter and that for her, it probably mattered more that I wasn’t able to give her something other than anxiety and a feeling that she will never live up to my expectations. I am trying to be better. I am trying to unlearn communicating need with criticism. I am trying not to snap at her for what she feels is intuitive, to not sacrifice her joy and identity for the sake of a world full of selfish adults who feel entitled to children who are seen and not heard. The idea that kids should be perfectly behaved is really that they be perfectly stifled and edited and silenced. And the bitterness of that experience turns into selfish indignation and takes us from “how can I get a better life for you than I had” to “well no one helped me so why do you deserve anything else?” Things are such a mess because what we were doing before didn’t work. How do you teach compassion and consent if you treat your children like property? They are little people, someday they’ll be adults. I’m trying to give my kids only things that translate to adulthood, but is has been very difficult.
It’s been hard not to feel resentment about what happened to me and my sisters. About how the dysfunction is continuing to play out. You want your parent to be all seeing, to love you and support you unconditionally, the expectation is unrealistic. My mom was 21 when she had me. My dad was an abusive addict. Her own mother killed herself when my mother was four years old. She was shunted from house to house and she was sexually molested by more than one relative and family friend. She got out of town the day she graduated in a semi truck with some loser more than twice her age. I have known these things for most of my life. For anyone else, my heart would break with the idea of 1/10 of what my mother went through, but she is my mother. My expectations have been just as sky-high as her expectations for me, mine for myself, hers for herself. I am trying to cultivate compassion for myself so that I can understand that there is nothing wrong with me. So that I can feel the gravity of the history that informed my mother’s choices. To cut through the result and instead see the spirit or intent in which it was attempted. I hope that if I can do that, I will be able to make sure that my daughter turns out better than I did. That she feels no matter what she does the important thing is that she does what feels right to her. That she has perspective and lightness. Sometimes I see her doing the things I taught her and get so scared that it’s just too late.