Isn’t it amazing how incredibly foul it is possible to be to those we love the most? One moment I’m hissing angrily under my breath at my children, the next a friend walks up and I’m back to being cheerful and smiling. In the same breath as that horrid telling off I was giving them earlier I said a lighthearted hello to the postman! It sometimes seems as though I save my worst moments for my children.
It can be hard not to feel guilty about those moments when my worst side shines through. For the most part I have let go of the guilt, knowing that I am only being too hard on myself and that self-blame does nothing to help the situation. But I still feel sadness that I can be so tremendously despicable to people I would die for. The ideal for me would be to change my behaviour, but while I work on that (a lifetime’s worth of work I suspect) I always make sure to say sorry, give a long hug and attempt to rebuild connection.
The most surprisingthing to me, and in fact the most reassuring thing is that in spite of my own poor handling of these situations, my children seem to be okay. How is this possible? If we are to believe our culture’s popular psycho-babble, it would seem that every adult’s unhappiness is due to something her parents did in childhood. When my children were much smaller I wondered whether my flawed parenting would land them in a therapist’s chair in 30 years’ time. I jokingly tell people that I now no longer wonder whether they will be in therapy, but rather for how many years! It’s a huge burden to think that when my children are adults they will hold me to account for today’s failures and my only excuse will be a shamefully mumbled, “But it was hard.” Although I hope they are better at parenting than I am, some part of me also hopes that they will find it hard too. Then they might forgive me for the times when I was horrible.
One thing that I have found extremely helpful is the belief that in spite of life’s daily ups and downs, when you have a loving, trusting relationship with your children, this is what they remember… and having that love and trust makes them more resilient to the peaks and troughs of familial and other relationships. I know that my children are confident in my love. I know this because all three of my children feel free to be themselves with me– even though I admonish them to just behave, they actually ignore that and they just be themselves (fortunately). My middle child has tantrums, tells me lies, rails against me, rolls her eyes when I speak to her (unless she is totally ignoring me), hits me, conceals things from me (needlessly), does precisely the opposite of what she’s asked to do, and in general is just her own unique person. It doesn’t make her easy to live with, but it makes her authentic. And if my children are authentic with me then I know they are confident that no matter what they are, I will love them. And the nice thing is that no matter what I am, they love me too. Phew.
Photo credit: D. Sharon Pruitt, Wikimedia Commons