I’m about to confess something that isn’t easy to confess. I have no trouble writing about personal things. In fact, writing is my way of sorting through my thoughts. But this…this is admitting to a flaw that is intensely painful and shameful to me. This past year I’ve seriously lost touch with the mom I want to be and that my daughter deserves. I certainly didn’t intend it to go this way. I knew from the start that I wanted to practice gentle parenting, that I leaned more towards attachment parenting philosophies, and that I wanted to teach my daughter to respect others by respecting her first.
But something has gone awry. This past year, I have found myself gruff, grumpy, too tough, snappish, and well to be frank…a rather crappy parent. This is not who I want to be and it’s definitely not what Aria deserves.
I cannot pinpoint when things started to shift for the worse, but I can point to exactly why things have gone this way. I’m too busy, I have absolutely no time to myself, I’m spread too thin and I get way too little sleep, I don’t eat well, I live off of coffee and energy drinks, we’re not financially secure, we’re spending too much money but aren’t entirely sure where to cut back, I’m stressed out and worried about Aria’s sensory issues and I don’t know how to help her…in a word my life is pretty unpredictable and chaotic and I’m feeling extremely insecure about it.
None of this is Aria’s fault. Instead she is the unfortunate victim of my impatience, insecurity, and even anger. And that is simply not okay. Rather than have a mom who is an amazing support system as she struggles with her sensory problems and general anxiety and to be honest with the trials and tribulations of simply being a little kid, she has a mom who swings from one extreme to the other, from being understanding to impatient to angry to remorseful. I’m on a roller coaster of emotions and I’ve dragged my sweet daughter along for the ride. Is it any wonder then that she feels insecure and anxious and has trouble managing her sensory issues?
About a month ago, after months and months of knowing that this was not okay but not knowing how to get off the damn roller coaster, I asked Aria to help me. It’s not her responsibility, she shouldn’t have to help me…she’s only five for goodness sakes, but I was desperate. We came up with a word. A silly word. It was her code to let me know that she was feeling vulnerable and that I was being too tough on her. Jelly Beans. We figured a silly word would help snap me out of whatever irrational emotion I was let guiding and influencing my behavior towards her.
It has been working for the most part. When she looks up at me with her sweet face and trusting little eyes and whispers, “Jelly Beans, Mommy, Jelly Beans,” my heart sinks and I stop. I smile at her. I contemplate whether my request is reasonable and if it is, whether there is a better and gentler way to request it. And I remember to hug her and let her know I love her.
But I don’t want my daughter to feel that she is responsible for reining in my frustration and anger. It’s a temporary solution to a problem that has been festering for the past year.
Last week, we had a particularly bad morning. I don’t know what it was that set me off and it doesn’t really matter. But I was feeling frustrated and Aria was back talking me as 5 year olds sometimes do, I found myself using threats that I didn’t really mean in an attempt to show her who the bigger boss was in this household. Instead, I showed her who the bigger ass in this household was and I left the house angry. Aria was angry too and very hurt; she didn’t even attempt to use Jelly Beans. Maybe because she forgot or maybe she didn’t think it would work. She refused to say goodbye to me. By the time I got to the bus stop, I was crying and feeling like the world’s crappiest mom.
At my desk, I googled random things, hoping to find a solution to our MY problem. I found a site for gentle parenting. They pointed to a Facebook group called The Yell-Free Year Challenge. I joined, because sometimes what we need is to read about other people’s struggles and triumphs to not only learn to forgive ourselves but to learn what hope really means.
I came home reinvigorated and determined that this time the change I was seeking would come from within rather than be placed upon the strong but wee little shoulders of my five year old daughter. When I entered our apartment, Aria dashed from the kitchen into the bathroom and I felt my heart break just a little. I figured she was still hurt and hiding from me and I didn’t blame her. I steeled myself for the long, hard road of earning her trust back.
My daughter is already far advanced in the art of forgiveness and understanding. She dashed from the bathroom into the living room, stopping in front of me, shouting, “Boo,” and squealing with delight, “Did I startle you, Mommy?!” I assured her that she had and I hugged her. I hugged her a lot and told her how much I loved her.
Four days. It’s been four days. I haven’t raised my voice in these last four days. I can’t say I’ve been the parent I hope to be. I still need to learn how to parent without resorting to threats I don’t want to and mostly don’t intend to keep. I still need to learn to distinguish between what’s the small stuff and what really matters. And most importantly I still need to figure out how to disentangle my ego and how I view myself from the way my daughter behaves. But it’s a step.
I’ve learned to be silent for a moment when I feel the anger, long enough to gather my thoughts and respond more rationally. And I’ve learned to whisper when I feel the need to say something immediately but am afraid I will yell. I have no idea if I will make it for a year, but that’s okay because I’m shooting for a lifetime of one day at a time changes. Aria is worth it. I’m worth it. Because life is entirely too short to feel like the world’s crappiest parent.