Monday, September 27, 2010

Me, too mommies

As a parent, I've never worked so hard for so little regular, positive feedback. I'm supposed to be okay with this apparently. It's called being magnanimous or selfless or an adult. Lately, I'm just not any of those things.

When you're a mom, there's really no one to tell you that you're doing the right thing. In fact, you're more likely to be told, in so many words, that you're doing something wrong. Often, there's no one there to tell you that you're doing a good job. There's no paycheck, no performance review, very few potty breaks, showers or even lunch breaks. And some days there's just no positive feedback. If we encountered these conditions in the workplace, I'm pretty sure we'd get all Norma Rae and unionize or just pack up and find another job. We're supposed to give without expecting anything in return. We're supposed to treat poor behavior as a teachable moment and not a commentary on our parenting skills.

It's hard to admit that some days I just want someone, anyone, maybe even my kids to say or do something that indicates I may be a decent parent after all. It's why I can be tricked into clicking on articles titled "Toddlers: Are tantrums a sign of affection?" and "7 signs your child loves you." And then be quite anxious when the page returns an error and I feel like the Internet gods are cheating me out of the answer to, well, everything in my life.

Day after day, week after week, month after month, it feels like nothing changes. The boy is still peeing his pants more than a year after potty training began. The girl is still screaming bloody murder for 10 minutes or so after we tuck her in no matter how long we talk, read or cuddle with her. The boy is back talking, spitting, being utterly disrespectful and defiant; the girl screeches all day like a terradactyl with a few intelligible words thrown in here and there. The boy just won't stop messing with his sister; the girl bites in retaliation. Neither will eat. In fact, sometimes they don't even eat the food they ask for.

Clearly, if you judge your success as a parent by your children's behavior day in and day out, you'll give yourself a failing grade every time. It's hard not to, though, when we live in a society where effort usually pays off in some measurable, timely way. In parenting, that just is not the case. Progress is so gradual that it goes unnoticed sometimes. Of course, the sleep deprivation that comes with parenting very young children make all but the most remarkable milestones almost invisible.

The parenting magazines and websites won't address these feelings in the scary language of despair and desperation. It's all wrapped in upbeat language meant to support and encourage. Let's face it: a mom who's hung herself on the cross of self-flagellation over her parenting missteps does not want to be told to "Hang in there." For God's sake, people, just look where a woman is hanging before telling her to hang in there, would you please? What moms really need is to have their worst, scariest feelings affirmed; not to be told that "This too shall pass" or "You'll miss these days" or "These are the best days of your life."

All these things are true and we moms know it. But these platitudes make me feel as though I'm not being patient or grateful or present enough. I've had enough of those feelings in my four short years of parenting so far. It all began with the complete and utter culture shock after Danny's birth. I was surprised by how much I loved and resented this child at the same time. After all, I was used to sleeping, eating and showering on my own time. And I felt so guilty because here was this child we'd struggled to conceive for two years and I was not totally in love with all of him—the warm, snuggly, cooing baby and the screaming, borderline-colicky baby. (Really, who doesn't love a colicky baby, right?)

My favorite mommy friends are of the Me, too variety. The ones who tell me they're having the same issues and the same feelings about their kids. They wonder aloud just how long a person can have what seems like a one-sided relationship whereby they're invested heart and soul with a child who doesn't yet know he has a heart and soul. They wonder aloud just how much longer they can give with so little in return.

Some people call this wallowing in misery or dwelling on the negative. But I've found that pain shared is pain divided. And when the pain is divided among friends who hear and affirm rather than listen and advise, well, I feel like I can face another day with eyes peeled for the positive.

Much thanks to all the Me, too mommies out there. Love you ladies.


Stacy said...

Well said, Josee. And, uh, let me just chime in with a "me, too," to all of the above.

Also? If it makes you feel any better or gives you any affirmation that you might just be doing it right, when I find myself wondering how to do something (or whether *I'm* doing it right), usually the next thought that pops into my head is "I oughtta ask Josee."

Anonymous said...

Let's hear it for the unsung moms of the world. Hooray!

-- Todd

Anonymous said...

"Some days I just want someone, anyone, maybe even my kids to say or do something that indicates I may be a decent parent after all."

Josee, Gotta admit, I still relate, tho I am 10 years farther down the parenting path than you are! HOWEVER, I think I can safely assume the peeing and biting are well behind us... I think I do honestly prefer being sulked at than peed on.


Josee said...

Laurie, I'll take sulking over peeing and biting any day!

Stacy, that means a lot to me, though, it's kind of scary that anyone considers me a source of credible information on child rearing! ;)