Top 5 reasons I suck as a mom (or, what my children will discuss in therapy someday)

You know those days where you just feel like the WORST? Well, read below and you will feel better and realize that I’m actually holding down that title, thank you very much.

  1. I yell too much. Every time I lose my cool, I hate myself for it. And yet, I can’t seem to stop. I’ve tried walking away. I’ve tried counting to ten (hundred). I’ve tried reminding myself that whatever I am getting up in arms about won’t matter in one-five-ten years. And all those things work until they don’t. Then when that straw hits my hump, it’s like I am unleashing every single freaking moment of mommy frustration that has ever been. The more I try to stuff my every day frustration/anger/bewilderment down, the louder it seems to be when it finally vomits itself up. And I have great kids. I can only imagine what I’d be like if I had terrors on my hands. Probably locked up in the loony bin.
  2. I am a walking contradiction. I can’t control my temper, yet I want them to control theirs. I set screen limits, yet when I need a break to get stuff done I let them watch TV to their hearts’ content. I want them to be happy, loving, friendly brothers, yet when they are talking incessantly about utter nonsense for seemingly hours on end, I just wish they would be quiet. I want them to keep their rooms tidy, yet my room has piles of books and papers and clothes all over. I complain that they don’t appreciate all I do for them, yet they get spoiled by getting what they want without having to work very hard at it. I’m my own worst enemy in parenting.
  3. I don’t do enough to facilitate their friendships.  Setting up play dates has never been my strong suit. Up until now, I have let Cub Scouts and sports be their main social activities, as well as birthday parties and such. That’s not to say that they’ve never gone over to other kids’ houses to play and vice versa, but it doesn’t happen with as much regularity as it probably should and it is almost always initiated by someone else. I want them to make friends outside of each other, yet I am not actively helping them do that. If they end up socially backward and unable to make friends, I am certainly to blame.
  4. My expectations of them are too high. I expect them to always do their best. I expect them not to sneak Halloween candy when they have been told not to. I expect them to follow my instructions the first time I issue them and not when they feel like it. I expect them to be able to remember to bring everything they need to bring to school with them in the morning and to remember to bring it all home again. I expect them to do their chores without whining and complaining so that they can have play time. I expect them not to run around the house, jump on furniture, and wrestle around. I expect them to hear the word “no” without the world coming to an end. I expect that when someone goes into their room to get dressed, I won’t find that someone naked 15 minutes later looking at trading cards. Really, I expect them to reason and behave like adults.
  5. I worry about them to the extreme. I am always worried about the ways I am surely screwing them up. I worry that they picked up all of the bad habits and traits of both of their parents. I worry that we don’t eat organic. I worry that they won’t have the right “stuff” to fit in. I worry that I yell too much and change my mind too much and don’t do enough for them or do too much for them. I worry that they are exposed to too much violence on TV and in their video games. I worry about bullying. I worry about drugs. I worry about their self-esteems. I worry that they won’t be happy. I worry that they will get sick. I spend so much time worrying about them that I don’t always make the most of the time we have.

I’m sure if I really put my mind to it, I could come up with many more reasons and examples of how I am truly sucking at the parenting thing. But I guess we all have our moments. Would love to hear other people’s thoughts on why they are the worst (or best).

Let it go

Long ago, one of my mentors told me that if I wanted to get ahead in business that I had to learn how to make a poker face. When my face then contorted into what was probably a mix of confusion and indignation, he smiled and said, that’s what I am talking about.

I always thought that being open and honest and transparent was a good thing. But, in business, not so much. That’s fine, I remember telling him, I don’t want to climb the corporate ladder anyway. Years later, I am still receiving the same feedback professionally. I’ve “climbed” and I am very competent and good at my job, but I am told that I need to learn to conceal my feelings on any given matter. It’s somewhat contradictory, since I am also always seen as the “logical” and “realistic” one in the group, but I also seem to get slapped with the “emotional” label as well. And there is no place for emotions in business.

Turns out, it isn’t much better as a parent.

You aren’t supposed to let your kids see when they get to you. You need to let hurtful remarks and sassy attitudes roll off your back. You can’t let all your hopes and fears for them get wrapped up in every choice you make. You need to have all the answers or at least pretend that you do or that you know where to get them. You need to be firm, but kind. Patient, understanding, in control, and above all else you are not supposed to lose it over little shit like someone refusing to change out of dirty clothes because they have to wear sweatpants or they are never going to school ever again. And if you feel differently, you aren’t supposed to show it.

My personal challenge is that I am a passionate person. I feel things very deeply, for better or worse, and they are always right there on the surface. If I am happy, you know it! If I am not, you know it! If I agree with you, you know it! If I don’t, you know it! My trouble actually starts when I try to hide what I am feeling…something that seems to come naturally to others, is not easy for me. If I try to mask my frustration or anger, whether in business or otherwise, it seems to leak out of me in other more destructive ways.

So what the hell is a mama with no real outlet for frustration supposed to do with all that pent-up angst?

Let it go, let it go, can’t hold it back anymore… unless you’ve been living in a cave, you know how the rest of the song goes.

The thing is that Elsa (or Anna- believe it or not, I have somehow manage to escape seeing the movie even though my sons have- not sure which, but using contextual clues I am going to say Elsa) seems to have the opposite problem. She didn’t seem to feel at all. Frozen, I guess. So, she is ready to unleash her passion on the world and let the storm rage around her because that cold never bothered her anyway. Well, good for you, sweetheart. What about the rest of us who are just trying not to let every feeling and emotion we have affect the rest of our lives?

The irony, of course, is that the answer is the same. Let it go.

It’s like meditation. You empty your mind of thoughts. And if you have a mind like mine, it is nearly impossible. I always felt like a failure at meditation until someone told me that you can just acknowledge a thought without going into full-blown analysis mode on it. So you think about your son’s seeming inability to bring home his lunch bag from school. OK. That’s it. Let it go. You don’t need to wonder why he can’t remember, or think up a new points and rewards system designed to make him more responsible, you don’t have to feel any feelings about it; you just had a thought. Poof. It’s gone.

My goal is not to devoid myself of feelings, but not to hold on to them and become them either. To let my feelings surface and then rise like a bubble to pop in the air, not to simmer and stew like bubbles trapped under a lid. I will never be a good poker player, and I will never be a good liar, but I can aim to be someone who doesn’t attach themselves to their emotions so they may come and go with little effect.

What is and what should never be

Summer is starting its descent. Camp is over, school is looming, and I’m done with work for the time being. Like on the “fourth day” after a church retreat, I am already feeling the let down, the melancholy, the impermanence of it all. Nothing gold can stay, after all.

I decided to make a little schedule and tell the boys that for the last week of summer, they would be attending camp after all…Camp Mama Bear. G was totally into it and was digging my ideas and also said the “baby bear” would like some input into the activities for the week. We were off to a good start today until game night this evening ended in tears and with both G and I feeling very sad and misunderstood.

Being sensitive, analytical Virgos, schedules and plans are double-edged swords for us. When things aren’t going quite as expected, there is the potential for a freak out (or two). Closing in on age 40, a woman who has taken on an unplanned pregnancy of twins with a fair amount of complications, one would think that I would be able to go with the flow at this point. Unfortunately, sometimes I get so wrapped up in my idea of how it all should be that what actually is can throw me for a loop. And so our game night, and the fun family time that I was sure would ensue, ended because they weren’t into it anymore, no one had good letters left in Scrabble, and they wanted to go play legos.

My reaction should have been OK, good deal, go have fun, but instead I was mad that they didn’t want to play. And I was feeling sorry for myself that I had no better option. I didn’t have someone to go talk to or engage in another game. There wasn’t going to be any fun for me. Just chores. Maybe some time to write later. I was listening to music and putting the dishes away and thinking about how sometimes being a single mom really sucks. How nice it would be to have a partner, someone I loved and could laugh with, someone who I could sit and talk to and play cards with after the boys had gone off to play legos. But I don’t. And then after being told not to touch the music, G turned off what I was listening to and put on what he wanted. I lost it. Doesn’t anyone care what I want??

No. Nor should they really, they are only 9. They care about the next thing in front of them. Who cares about their boring, old mom. And I guess I felt like dammit–I scheduled some fun here and we aren’t having any fun! What the hell?! So stupid to get mad and yell because he turned my music off. But I did. And then he got upset and said things he didn’t mean and it escalated and of course I felt like an awful mother because let’s face it…not the parent of the year to be acting like a three year-old and carrying on because no one listens or cares about the feelings of their way-too-sensitive mom. Ah, the road to hell is paved with the good intentions of a mom trying to create some fun.

Lesson learned. The schedule for Camp Mama Bear will allow for plenty of input from her baby bears. And if they want to do things without me, I will be happy for the time to myself and make the most of it, instead of bemoaning the fact that they are growing up and into independent little men and losing myself in the drama that soon no one will want to hang out with their mom and I’ll be an old, lonely spinster with my cats and my books. We are nearing the end of the big kid years and peering ahead at the tweens. I’m realizing that a whole new set of adventures lie ahead. The question is, will I be able to make the most of it? Or will I continue to fight against what is because of my vision of “supposed to be”? Let’s hope I can be open to possibilities come what may.

when they liked hanging out with me

when they liked hanging out with me

 

Mrs. Brightside

Those that know me know that winter just isn’t my time of year. I really dislike being cold. As a kid and young adult, I enjoyed skiing and ice skating (still do) but what always killed it for me was being cold. And when I get cold it seeps all the way into my bones and I feel like I can never get warm. It sucks. Add in the darkness and basically my instinct is to crawl into my nice warm bed and come out sometime in April.

this is where i'd like to spend the remainder of the winter

This is where I’d like to spend the remainder of the winter

I’ve long suspected that I suffer from S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder); things always seem a little harder to deal with in the winter and the dark, but like any other sign of weakness, I’ve blown it off telling myself that I need to just suck it up. Grin and bear it. Tough it out. But here’s the thing. I’m so tired of doing that. I’m tired of saying that everything is peachy keen even when it isn’t. I’m tired of feeling like I always have to be little Mary Sunshine sprinkling rose petals on the path of life and pooping rainbows. Somewhere along the line I got the message that if I wasn’t always thinking positively the world would reject me. Well, screw that. Life isn’t always puppy dogs and lollipops.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the power of positive thinking. I know that the laws of attraction are real. I have experienced for myself the way you get back what you put out into the universe. My favorite parable has always been about the two wolves and the fight that goes on inside every person. I know which wolf I need to feed. I recently posted another parable of the same ilk on Facebook about two dogs, one friendly and one not, who go one-by-one into a room. The friendly dog comes out even happier, tail wagging and loving life. The other comes out growling and snarling. A woman goes into the room to find out what could cause such different reactions from the dogs and finds a room full of mirrors. The happy dog saw thousands of happy dogs and the other saw a room of dogs ready to attack. Yes. I love the truth in this. I get it.

The bottom line is that there are some times when I get sad or scared or frustrated or overwhelmed with everything that I’ve got going on. I know that people have it worse than I do and that I shouldn’t complain and I should just be grateful for everything I am blessed with. And I am. But it gets exhausting pretending that it is not freaking hard sometimes. Pretending that the choices I’ve made haven’t led me to a place that isn’t exactly easy street. Pretending that sometimes I don’t think, gee, I really wish I lived on easy street. Wouldn’t it be nice if I hadn’t made so many mistakes and didn’t have so many worries?

Does it make me a negative person to acknowledge these thoughts and feelings? Does the negativity just breed and then things keep getting harder for me? Maybe it does. I remember when I was pregnant in the hospital and was so scared and lonely and miserable and uncomfortable and I was crying, a nurse told me that I needed to stop or that when my babies were born they were going to cry all the time. Nice.

I feel like all along the line I have been conditioned to believe that it isn’t OK to feel  negative emotions. And it definitely isn’t OK to show them or let anyone else know you are feeling them. I want to call bullshit on this.

The last thing I want to teach my kids is that their feelings are wrong. How can feelings be wrong? Why are some feelings acceptable and some aren’t? Behaviors, OK. We can’t go around punching people when we are angry. We can’t literally crawl into our beds and never come out when we are sad. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t feel these things or that it is wrong to feel that way or even talk about it. It doesn’t make us negative people to have these natural emotions. It makes us human.

One of the things that I’m trying to work on with C is the anger thing. We both have tempers and neither of us ever know what to do with our anger. This is definitely the scariest of the “negative” emotions for me because for those of us who have stuffed it down for so long, it can be explosive. The trick is figuring out a way to feel the anger and let it out in a constructive way. What I don’t want to teach him is that getting angry is “bad”. Because what is “bad” is the stuffing it down part; the not acknowledging that something has made one angry and holding it inside because you want to be good and lovable and angry people aren’t good and lovable. I want to teach him that good and lovable people get angry sometimes. Because bad stuff happens sometimes. Things that aren’t fair. Things that aren’t the way we want them to be. And it is OK to be angry about it and to say you are angry about it and to find a proper vent for that anger.

And then there is sadness, which is the most insidious of the “negative” emotions.  Especially for sensitive souls like G and myself. We are told from a young age “big boys/girls don’t cry”. We are told throughout our lives to “get over it” and “move on” from the sources of our sadness: the loss of a prize, a dream, a relationship. Even seeing someone mourning death makes many people uncomfortable and so people who are grieving are encouraged to do so in private. Why? Why can’t we be openly sad? Because crying and sadness are equated with weakness. And weakness isn’t valued in our society, only strength. So, we try to smile and keep our chins up and all the things that show the world that we are good and lovable and strong people. But if unreleased anger is like fire that will heat us until we explode, lingering sadness is like water filling all the space inside until there is no air and we drown.

I’m not saying that one should dwell on negative emotions. What I am saying is that it is not healthy to ignore these emotions or to label them as wrong or bad or to make people feel guilty for feeling them. It isn’t healthy to constantly put on a happy face because that is what is expected and accepted by the world at large. Yes, sometimes you have to suck it up. But sometimes you don’t. And it is OK if you don’t. Especially during the winter when it is so cold and dark outside. As for me, I’m going to pour myself a nice hot cup of tea and start counting the days until spring: 50. How’s that for looking on the bright side!

Tomorrow is another day

“Never get so concerned with raising a good kid that you forget you already have one”– Glennon Melton

I blew it today. Or more accurately I blew my stack. I blow it fairly often really, but sometimes I do it in a more spectacular fashion than others. Yes, I know that all parents blow it, but that doesn’t make me feel any better. I just want to live the impossible life in which I know just what to say and when to say it in order to get cooperation or understanding or whatever it is that I need in the moment. Instead, my kids talk back and disobey and occasionally behave so atrociously that I forget they are really good kids. And that they are 8. And that they have some challenges the other kids their age they know may not have. So, I should be cutting them a break probably as often as I wish they would cut me a break. Probably more often.

Not only do I get sick of the sound of my own voice from the nagging over typical annoying child behavior (chewing with mouths open, tipping over in chairs, dripping wet bodies on the wood floor), but then there are these moments of incredulous wonder for me as my sweet little cherubs get into a knock-down drag out fight or scream at me for whatever reason or let a curse fly or speak to me in a nasty tone and occasionally with charming words that they learned at school and my head starts to spin. Before I know it I’m screaming like a banshee. Then all of us are left feeling sad and angry and defeated. And I can’t help but think that if there was a man in this house more than half this shit wouldn’t happen. I realize that sounds a little sexist, but I’m beyond political correctness at this point. Of course, if anyone else suggested to me that the boys needed a man around in order to grow up into good men I’d go Mt. Vesuvius on them. However, I do recognize that there seems to be a certain amount of button pushing and boundary testing which goes on with moms that I do not think happens with dads. Maybe if dad is the only parent around, but I would have to get back to you on that. 

As a single parent, it is easy to point to doing everything alone as a reason my fuse is shorter than it ought to be. All the responsibilities, all the child-rearing decisions, all the joys, frustrations, illnesses, money problems, negotiations, teaching, learning…it all falls on me. Yes, I have an amazing set of family and friends. But at the end of the day, I don’t have that other person to share it all with. I don’t have a regular “buffer” between me and the boys. I can’t say, “I’m going to the gym!” and go and make time for me and blow off steam and do something that makes me feel good and will in turn help me to be a better, more patient mommy. And on the flip side, the boys have no one (on a regular day-to-day basis) who really understands what it is like to be a boy. Or someone to show them how a respectful, loving relationship works. No one to tell them to listen and respect their mother. No one to model the way to be a man. I can tell them. But I can’t show them. 

Obviously, this is just one of the many challenges that I face as they become older and more independent and want to “try out” different personality traits. I will have to try and continue to be good cop and bad cop, mom and dad, and also try to figure out how this won’t deplete me altogether. Because right now, I’m running on empty. The only thing I can do is remind myself that this too shall pass and these good little boys will eventually grow up and I will lament the time that I wasted nagging them about table manners or crying in my room because I feel like I am doing a terrible job as a parent. And taking the easy way out by blaming my “singleness” for my temper isn’t going to get us very far.

Everyone tells me that when they grow up, they will understand all that I did for them- the sacrifices, the hard times. And I’ve always thought that I would give up that future revelation in a heartbeat just to have them be happy now. Happy, respectful boys with good table manners. But until then, I will just have to keep doing the best I can and keep forgiving myself for these bad days and keep on keeping on. Because a corollary to the above quote about raising a good kid is also something I need to keep in mind:

“Never get so concerned about being a good parent that you forget you already are one.” –Glennon Melton