I have been battling this for a while. When I went through post doctoral fellowship interviews at Boston Children’s Hospital I was asked how having a child affected my approach and understanding in working with children and families. I explained how it had changed my perspective and gave me a newfound respect and openness to parents. I believe it has made me more gentle and compassionate in my approach. To learn the skills and interventions is one thing, to apply them is another. Having children was a huge game changer. There were so many things I told myself I would never do before having children (i.e., “I’ll never give a pacifier, rock to sleep, co-sleep, give in to tantrums, etc.) But shortly after my first son was born, I put that binky in his colicky mouth in desperation to stop the incessant crying and thought “Ok. The pacifier wins.” I think you go into an intense survival mode and do whatever it takes to get through the moments and I do not see anything wrong with that. Then they grow and throw a fit when you try and get rid of the pacifier, or the blanky, or stuffed animal. And you have to try and figure things out again.
This brings me to the current struggle. I tend to be very anti-video games/electronics for children. I did not even want my husband to get a game system. I still have the image in my head of when we were in college, and I walked into his apartment one morning to find his roommates passed out in front of the television holding the game controller with drool dripping out of their mouths. It was a scary sight that I would rather not witness again.
Yet here I am, looking at my boys playing on my tablet (which I use for work), which was taken out of my bag without asking. Here I am allowing them to play Fortnight with the intention of getting work done myself, but instead picking up the messes they have made. I end up cleaning the instead of doing anything work related. Then yell when they do not respond to me. And then I am 10 feet deep into the “You are a Horrible Mom” story my mind likes to wrap me up in. As if that was not a painful enough, my mind then jumps around to all the negatives as proof of how terrible I am. This pattern ends with me insisting the kids do something and when I am ignored or spoken to disrespectfully, I say they are spoiled, entitled, do not care, or something along these lines. Then I cry in my closet, or car, or bed. And the vicious cycle continues.
My plan to break the cycle. Step 1: Recognize the bogus story my mind is telling me and the unhelpful pattens of behavior it brings. Then name it and step back from it. I pictured “Horrible Mom” as a movie title and projected it onto a big screen. It makes me think of Mila Kunis in “Bad Mons” when she is sitting spills coffee all over herself while she was rushing from one thing to the next and crying and saying “My kids hate me” after dropping them off. I can identify with these scenes.
Step 2: Ask what is behind the Horrible Mom curtain? I see my younger self reflecting on all the wrongs and mistakes and the little voice is telling me I am not good enough or worthy of all of this.
Step 3: I sit and watch all of this unfold on the movie screen in my head and I make room for it. I cry, I eat the popcorn, I wrap myself in the soft comfy blanket, then in a gentle, loving, motherly tone, I remind myself that my imperfections are what makes me human. Just because I went through a lot of school and training doesn’t mean I will have the answers and will not make mistakes. And I do not need to have all the answers. I remind myself of how much more I gain from not automatically knowing. I am stepping toward these scared and hurt feelings instead of away, because I am a mother who cares about my family enough to work through them.
Step 4: Examine the pattern, set my intentions on breaking these, and devise a plan to keep from repeatedly falling into the hole each time I cross this path. I rehearse it in my mind. For this particular example I chose principles from the “Parenting with Love and Logic” by Foster Cline and Fay, and some good old behavioral modification techniques.
Step 5: Carry out the plan and stay consistent. I held a family meeting to discuss the concerns I have observed, gather input from family members, expectations and consequences, and then implement. I scheduled weekly family meetings on the calendar to review and revise as needed.
This is another work in progress, as is everything in life. The struggles are worth it and so are the payoffs.