People often say it’s impossible to understand the intensity of feelings that come with parenthood until you hold your own child for the first time. This is true. But I would argue that there is one other parenting moment, equally impossible to imagine or describe until you’ve experienced it first-hand.
“My life is terrible; I wish I was never born!”
“You are a bully and the meanest mom in the world!”
“I hate you!”
I’ve always known this day would come. I remember telling myself when he was a tiny baby, rocking him to sleep, holding his sweet, chubby toes in the palm of my hand, “Someday he is going to hate you.”
This child. Born with his mother’s passionate nature and feisty temperament (poor kid). Today he is looking for a fight, and I am the worst parent in the world, because he is not allowed to have Instagram or Netflix on his iPod.
Just yesterday (literally) he was singing out angelically, “I love you! You’re the best mom in the world!” Instinctively, my response to this kind of unbridled, youthful adoration has always been: “Thanks Honey! I love you too, but I don’t really need to be the BEST mom in the world. I always try to do my best, but nobody is perfect.”
Truthfully, I’ve been preparing myself for this moment since my first EPT showed up with two blue lines. Some mothers lay in bed at night planning play dates, work schedules, family vacations, bills to be paid, and closets to be cleaned. Me? If I’m awake at 3am, chances are it’s because I’m planning what I will say the next time a kid throws me an emotional curve ball. I have been worried [read: obsessed] about the emotional health of my children since long before they were born. We all have our “thing” —that deep fear that lurks below all our decisions and actions, silently impacting the trajectory of our children’s lives.
I am a person who wears my feelings like a hand-knitted, ugly Christmas sweater, passed down through the generations—loud, but not always proud. Thankfully, parenthood is the greatest of all teachers when it comes to our personal limitations. These days, when the kids’ emotions run high, my job is to back off and be quiet. Much harder than anyone could ever imagine, I promise you, but I am not afraid to call in reinforcements when necessary. A phone call from Grandma has more than once been the only thing to break the cycle of anger for my beloved first-born. I sent my husband to console that same child, hiding under the cafeteria table, after he ran off stage mid-concert during the first-grade Christmas musical, mostly because I was busy hiding in the car, crying just as hard as he was.
It has taken me a dozen years and many tears to realize that no matter how capable I am of calming frantic families in the emergency room and empowering clients toward success in my professional world, all bets are off when it comes to the hearts of my children. Thankfully, by the time my youngest headed off to kindergarten, I was fully prepared to handle the emotionally charged good-bye. How you ask? By spending an entire summer envisioning the calm nonchalance and casual, uneventful tone I planned to use on the first day of school. Like an Olympic athlete, I visualized my way to success. Experience has taught me that children are genetically and spiritually programmed to sense our unspoken fears and apprehension. As a result, their moods and behaviors are often a direct reflection of the subconscious energy we bring to a situation.
With this in mind, my parenthood mantra has become: “The calmer I am, the stronger they will be.” And for them, I can do anything. This means I can pretend I am brain-dead at the sound of, “I hate this whole family! I wish I was never born!” And I can gently reply with a heart-felt [read: not sarcastic] “I love you too much to argue. We can talk about this when your voice is calm again, like mine.” Even when every fiber of my being is telling me to shake the child in front of me, and four letter words are bouncing around my brain like an exploding pinball machine, I try hard to bite my tongue and swallow my heart. By stepping back and staying quiet, I am creating enough space for them to learn that they can do hard things (like apologize for acting like a motherless little brat). Of course I will always be right around the corner, holding space (and my breath) for when they are calm enough to notice I am there—just in case they want to ask for help. Because, after all, the only person on earth who truly understands how tough it can be to feel all the feelings that come with this jackpot gene pool is Dear Old, frantic but faithful, Mom.