Friday, August 16, 2013
You are enough
Before I became a mother, I thought I was patient and laid-back. Before I became a mother, I was happiest in the shadows, almost invisible to the world that passed me by. Before I became a mother, I thought I understood everything there was to know about raising a well-grounded child. And then I became one and everything I thought I knew and everything I am was turned topsy-turvy. Don't get me wrong, my child is my joy. She is inquisitive, intelligent, creative, sensitive, and simply amazing. But everything that makes her such a glorious and wondrous child also makes her a challenge to parent.
For the last five years I have struggled the best that I could; for the first three I did it feeling very alone and like a failure. The most ridiculous thing in the world is to find yourself questioning whether you are too easy or too tough, or maybe its really that you're not consistent enough, but whatever it is, it must be about you because every other child appears to coast through life without the same intensity as yours. Our society seems to breed such contemplation with all sorts of extreme us versus them mentality where you find yourself pressured to pick a team: CIO or co-sleeping, breastmilk or formula, stay at home or working, helicopter or free-range, and the list goes on...and you worry about the choices you make or the choices you had to make because they were all that were available to you in the moment because surely if something goes wrong, it'll all come down to the over-simplified accusation that you must have picked the wrong team. And really none of this is helpful when you find yourself struggling to be the best parent you can be, when you feel as if you are somehow not measuring up to some invisible and impossible standard of parenting.
I don't want to give the impression that parenting is all struggle. We have our happy times certainly but we also have a fair amount of intense times where nothing I do or say seems to make a whit of difference. When Aria was three I stumbled upon a book called Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. Suddenly, it felt like I wasn't so alone. In that book, I found other parents just like me and other children just like Aria. I started to think to myself that perhaps I wasn't so inept at raising children and that perhaps our struggles were not necessarily ones that I had created by being too lenient or too tough or not consistent enough; that maybe Aria was just more persistent, more intense, more sensitive, more perceptive, and less adaptable than your average kid. All children express these traits at varying levels in different contexts and situations, but spirited children express them more frequently and more consistently across the board for a number of situations, even ones that seem rather mundane.
Not all spirited children express them in quite the same way though so two children may be spirited but in totally different ways. Aria is very outward in expression. When she feels anguish because her sock or underwear seams are bothering her (sensitivity to touch - one of her main foes) or plans did not go as intended (slow to adapt - another main foe), she wails loudly; her pain and suffering is sent outward. If you're in the vicinity you can almost feel her intensity hit you like a ton of bricks. Any attempt to comfort her or distract her are buffeted away as she screams at you to leave her alone and runs from the room. I am often left feeling helpless. Aria cannot be distracted or ignored. She is persistent and when something goes awry, she cannot conceive of a way out of it; she cannot foresee in the moment how everything will be okay. Its almost like every minute of the day is written out in her mind with its obvious conclusion and a change in her script means the entire day is derailed, the plans are ruined, and nothing can possibly turn out alright. Its a tenuous balance between giving her the space she desires to work through her overwhelming emotions but not allowing her the room to sink so far into her anguish that it takes hours to work her back out of them.
Aria also finds herself getting caught up in the minute details, becoming so engrossed in whatever it is that she is doing, that she misses out on everything else around her. She is the kid that people sometimes think is scattered, unfocused, and not paying attention. But she is paying attention, intense attention, only to something others don't notice; she perceives things that others frequently miss. Perhaps its the way two colors bleed together on her paper when they touch or the tiny cracks and holes in a crumbling wall or the way the water makes little sparks of light when the sun hits it. She becomes so engrossed with whatever it is that she has picked up on that everything else becomes fuzzy and indistinguishable to her. Its a skill that will surely serve her well if channeled properly but in our rush-rush society can also be a detriment.
Raising Aria has taught me to suspend my judgement of other children and other parents. I've never been vindictive or malicious in my judgement, but it was there just the same. It would slip in when I saw other parents struggle with their children; that niggling little thought that if they would just do this or that, life would be easier and their children would behave.
Is this to say that people never make mistakes in parenting? Certainly not. I know that I have made my fair share of parenting mistakes. But this is to say that most of us are doing the best that we can, trying to make it through the day, we love our kids and want the best for them, we want their days and futures to be easy and bright, but not a single one of us has the ultimate book of parenting and sometimes just getting through to the end of the day is an accomplishment.
So if you are ever that parent, the one whose kid is flipping out, the one who is struggling to keep your cool as you feel the eyes of strangers boring into you, the one who is trying everything but feeling like you are succeeding at nothing...know this. I don't have any tactics or tips that will magically make your child behave in predictable and desirable ways. If you ask, I will tell you what seems to work for me, but I won't pretend to be all knowing; in fact, my advice will likely be tempered with all sorts of caveats about how it didn't work last week, but it seems to work today and maybe it won't work tomorrow but it works today and that will have to suffice. More than anything know that I'm the one who is trying hard to send you that look that says, I understand, that I've been there, that things will be okay. Maybe there is something more to your kid's inability to adjust to life's curve balls, maybe its a sensory processing disorder, a delay in social emotional development, or perhaps some other official diagnosis, or maybe your kid is just spirited liked mine, but whatever it is, you are doing a good job. You love your kid just as I love mine and you are enough. You will make mistakes and you will probably kick yourself late at night like I have done countless times but you and your child will get through this. Remember to revel in the good times, soak them in and let them permeate your very being, because its the good moments, those simple times when everything seems to click and you are able to slow down long enough to remember how very beautiful, magical, and wondrous your child is, that will get you through the tough times.
*If you would like to read a little bit about how wonderful my very spirited daughter is, you can check out some of her antics on Aria-isms and other snippets of widsom. I mainly started it to keep track of just how silly, smart, amazing, and creative she is because I know I can't remember every single moment and I don't want to forget. I want to remember. Because really its these moments that remind me how very blessed I am to be her mother.*