One Guilt Trip & A Blog Post Is the Price of A Bunch of Lilies

By Ameriankiwi

By Ameriankiwi

As we walked into the grocery store, I stopped by the bouquets. Oh flowers, I said, wouldn’t that be wonderful on our Thanksgiving* table? Which one should we get?

My 2-and-half-year-old daughter pointed to a bunch. I checked the price tag. It was not the bargain bunch I’d been eyeing, but a proper bouquet over $10, which qualifies as luxury. It was also (to my eyes) the most tattered: red lilies half smashed against common scotch broom (how did that weed make it into a bouquet)?

Hmmm, I said. You don’t want these healthy-looking sunflowers for half-price instead? No? You sure? Ok.

I felt guilty but I put them in the cart.

I adjusted the remainder of my purchases accordingly.

I didn’t surreptitiously switch them while we were waiting in the checkout lane.

I didn’t ask my daughter again.

I felt guilty all the way home from the store.

The List of Parenting Mistakes To Avoid 

The List of Parenting Mistakes To Avoid was considerably shorter before I became a mom. Before I became a parent, that list was about four twelve lines long and mostly comprised of things that seem almost impossible now: don’t yell, don’t lose your temper, be patient.

I spent most of my daughter’s first year terrified that I was failing. I set the expectations pretty high: as an adoptive mom, I wanted/needed to be better than my utterly imperfect self.

In an agonizing therapy session during that time, my counselor asked what I thought I was doing RIGHT in mothering. I had to think. Hard.

Finally I said, “well, I guess one good thing I do is that I almost always let my daughter be herself. Whatever she wants or needs or feels, I don’t talk her out of it. If it is something dangerous, then of course I say no, but I don’t make fun of her for wanting it. I let her be her.”

“But that doesn’t seem like a very big thing,” I said. “Not as big as say, not yelling and being patient. Not as big as sleeping through the night, making friends, and learning the alphabet. Plus I have meltdowns. Over little stuff. I hate it.”

My therapist said affirming your child’s true self is actually a pretty big thing, and I thought, well for ME it is. Because nearly every important decision I’ve made, from my choice of a mate to graduate school to my second career, has been something my parents didn’t want for me. So being allowed to be myself is a huge issue for ME. But what if my daughter really wants other stuff, like moms who are good at sports or have mad social skills and brilliant tips on being popular?

I want to be the kind of mom that my daughter needs, not the kind of mom I need to be for my own personal healing.

Mother-Nurture-Need

Recently I read the Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett (one of my favorite authors). Gorgeous writing, heartbreaking story, troubling characters, messy ending.

I finished the book quickly because I wanted Rose to redeem herself as a mom, and of course, that never happened. I was moody the rest of the day: WHY did Rose abandon her family? WHY couldn’t she be a good mom to her daughter, Ceceila?

The answer woke me up in the middle of the night. Rose couldn’t be a mom because she was so estranged from her own mother. (This isn’t a truism that applies to all moms, but I think it fits in this case.) This thought lodged in my tummy and kept me awake.

When I am fighting with my own mother, it is hard to rock my daughter to sleep. Easy to rock her, hard not to cry while I’m doing so. Mother-nurture-need gets all tangled up inside me.

In order to be present as a mom, I have to be whole as a person.

It is hard to be whole when I am trapped in fighting to be myself.

Being Her Self

When we were writing our adoption marketing material (which should clue you in that adoption in this country is all kinds of broken), my wife and I said we “couldn’t wait to help a child grow and become who they were going to be.”

It turns out I had almost no idea what we were talking about.

I had this vague sense of supporting a child’s independence, nurturing curiosity and fostering imagination. I assumed that conflicts would come in the preteen years, spats over politics or religion or cheerleading.

I wasn’t prepared for moral dilemmas so early into the journey.

As it turns out, supporting my daughter’s sense of self involves letting my daughter pick out the toy/T-shirt/flower she wants, not the one that is the best value or the safest or the one I would want.

As we paid for the flowers, I battled the critical voice in my head saying: “she’ll never learn about money. She’ll think she can have whatever she wants. She needs to learn now: life is expensive. We can’t afford luxuries. She needs to get used to disappointment.”

And I thought: I know that voice. This isn’t about you, Papa, or you, Grandmother.

Being My Self

Being a mom requires me to work to free myself from the places where I am wounded, so that I can refrain from passing those wounds on to my daughter.

I don’t want my daughter to spend her twenties (or thirties, for that matter) trying to figure out what she REALLY wants because all she knows is what other people need.

What I really mean is:

I don’t want to set my daughter up to meet the emotional needs of others. I want to her know her own mind first, and hear it loudest and clearest. I want her to be free.

Emotional Freedom

One thing I learned early in childhood was how to read emotional weather and take precautions for storms. When I got older (say, 35) I realized it wasn’t so much me I was protecting, it was my parents: the furious, out-of-control father who couldn’t manage his rage, the never-mad mother who couldn’t claim her anger. I was their emotional processing power station, my transistors and resistors tuned to help them calm down, settle and feel safe.

I want to be the kind of mom that is MOST what my daughter needs, not the kind of mom I need to be for my own personal healing.

In order to do that, I have to take care of myself, so that my daughter doesn’t have to do it for me.

If I have a problem with something she is doing, I have to figure out why I am struggling.

When my daughter is pushing the limits, she won’t look me in the eye. I read somewhere that discipline is about connection, about engagement. Since my wife and I don’t believe in spanking, I often teeter on the edge of near-equivalents: using bribery, threats, or sheer emotional force to induce compliance. I rationalize: but she HAS to eat vegetables. She NEEDS to nap. I REFUSE to raise a rude, disrespectful person.

Mostly what those precarious moments do is challenge me to look myself in the eye. Where is my connection with myself? Which of my parents or grandparents am I trying to shield or placate? WHO AM I AFRAID OF?

The more I stand up for the right to my own life, the more I’m able to be at peace in myself, and the more open I am to letting my daughter explore the world on her own terms.

Two days after buying those flowers, I sit down in the kitchen with cold feet during nap time to write this out. Because I need it for me. So that I have less to carry and more room in my arms for the daughter I’ve chosen to love for herself, whoever she turns out to be.

 

*I’m aware that as I publish this, it is New Years Day, but I wrote this at Thanksgiving and am just now finding time to post it. I really wanted to back date it to make it look like I am not the overcomitted crazy woman that I am, but this blog is all about being authentic, so here we are.

**I struggled with the title for this post. “Emotional Freedom”…is that what I mean? What do you think I’m talking about? Does this resonate with you?

Tightrope Walking the Line of Integrity

tightropeSo I went “back to work” (in quotes because I’ve been nothing if not working since our daughter was born).  I went back to the kind of work where you leave the house in clothes that aren’t stained and sit in front of a computer ostensibly producing something of value that, in the end, turns out not to matter very much because…DUH…everything that matters is about 34.5 inches tall, 25 months old, obsessed with popsicles and in love with a stuffed giraffe named Girard. (Girard is actually the one who wants a popsicle at every meal; he also wants to sleep with mommy in the “big bed,” doesn’t need naps, and runs around in circles yelling “Hooray for Hat!” at the top of his voice.)

But this post is not about work. Or Girard. Or the talkative toddler who loves him. (Unfortunately, because THAT would be a lot more fun to write.)

integrityThis post is about trying to live in integrity.

Mostly this blog is a place where I try to figure stuff out. I write about it, and in writing and hearing your comments, parts of my confusion and clarity separate like oil and water, and I’m able to suss out the source of unease, despair or longing. Thank you for that.

This evening I’m uneasy because I’m starting to notice that in some ways, my behavior is driven by a desire to “do the right thing” rather than my own internal need, want, desire. I perceive this disconnect as signaling that I am “out of integrity” in some areas of my life.

I would be lying if I said I don’t care what people think about me. I care very much. I want them to think that I’m kind, loving, responsible, respectful, passionate, talented, and fun.

I want to be a good mom, and I want others to see me as a good mom. (I’m happy to jettison those who judge me not to be, as long as I net a few in my corner.)

But often I don’t really want to do the good mom things. I want to do the lazy-tired-go-away-I’m-grumpy mom things. And – here’s the rub – I STILL want to get the gold star.

For example, I am planning a celebration with my lovely wife (since we can now legally get married in our home state), and what I feel is: I want to do the right thing with our daughter’s extended birth family AND our daughter’s extended adoptive family AND my wife’s birth family, but I don’t want to hurt so-and-so’s feelings and so-and-so’s feelings and really I just want to shout: GET ALONG, GROW UP, STOP MAKING IT SO DIFFICULT FOR ME. This is MY day.

On the other hand, I’m hyper-aware of how an adoptive mom in our extended family is defensively proud of her “open” relationship with us…a relationship that lately has been heaping full of  closed doors, hurtful accusations, lies and denials. (But I think I’m confusing “open” with “honest”…maybe they aren’t the same thing.)

What if “openness” is just another “good mom” badge? Like the little medals that boy scouts accumulate on their sash. What if “open” adoptive moms and dads don’t really mean it, as I suspect is the case for many people?

Here is where my usual fallback of “we are all doing the best we can, we mothers, and everyone is okay” completely breaks down. Because we are NOT all doing okay. Some of us are hurting others, maybe unconsciously, or because we are wounded, or whatever.

I, as an adoptive mom, DO really mean it. I want to be loving and respectful, but sometimes I don’t honor my own boundaries.

Because this adoption relationship is imbalanced when it comes to power, I feel something akin to guilt: As an adoptive parent, I’m the dominant party. I can’t abdicate my power and privilege, so I need to use it to break the system. This makes it very difficult.

I am so aware of how it feels to be afraid to say anything that might cause us to lose the (little shred of possible) access we have as a birth family. This means that, as an adoptive mom, it is challenging to be honest when my feelings are hurt…because I deeply know how painful it is to be so afraid.

Thinking about this, I can feel that deep down, what I really want and NEED is to be real. (I think being an abuse survivor wires you this way…denial is the death knell of healing.)

Just like the “real dear birth mother letter” that I posted long ago, I want to be honest about everything that troubles me with the extended family in our life. But as the wife of a birth mom, I can’t take that risk. And as an adoptive mom, I don’t want to hurt others. Openness isn’t a badge to me.

Which makes me wonder: is it even possible to be honest in a relationship where the power imbalance is so great? When it comes to open adoption, I doubt it, and that is part of why I believe we need to change the system.

So I’m uneasy. There must be a balance between being respectful and being honest.

What do you think: Is it ethically wrong to stay silent in order to keep something that you aren’t willing to lose?

If you don’t have any thoughts about that, tell me about your child’s best soft friend (we call ‘stuffed animals’ soft friends in our house, it sounds so much nicer). Distraction from the hard questions is always welcomed.

Why I Haven’t Been Writing

sad-timesIt’s hard to write when you are sad. I have been sad lately. Things in my life (second child, career) aren’t happening. They aren’t happening in a persistent, door-slam-in-my-face kind of way. This, combined with some heartache in my extended family, is conspiring to Eeyore my days.

In fact, I’m here only because my good friend asked me about writing. Actually, she’s a GREAT friend, and what she did was email me and TELL me to write, which is what truly great friends do. So here I am, writing to ask you:

How do you deal with disappointment? How do you take care of yourself when every move you take is thwarted?

Because right about now I feel awfully tempted to just give up.