When my daughter, Sofi, was little I would get very frustrated on busy and stressful school mornings. I would get mad when I had to fix her unruly curly hair several times, or when I thought she should change her clothes because she had picked out something miss-matched or ugly.
One day I was so mad I scolded her for the entire twenty minute drive to school then dropped her off a half block away. I told her to get out and made her walk alone. As she got out of the car I told her it was her fault we were always late. She was in kindergarten. I remember watching her walk into school so small and sad. What a shitty way to start your school day.
At the time I was a single mother, attending a difficult nursing school program and I lacked adequate coping skills. But these circumstances, in no way, excuse my behavior.
This was 10 years ago and I have absolutely no recollection of what it was she had done but I do remember, very clearly, how I treated her. I remember the look on her face as I kicked her out of the car. I remember her slow walk into the school and I remember my heart breaking because of my cruelty.
I tell this story as a reminder to myself and perhaps to other parents that there is a better way. There is a way to parent without shame, excessive scolding or fear. I have learned a thing or two about parenting from my many mistakes. I have been the kind of parent I do not want to be. I have come to see that I am the one responsible for the quality of my parent/child relationship.
Changing this dysfunctional parenting pattern required that I get very honest with myself about my strengths and weaknesses. I had to admit my lack of control when overly stressed and acquire some serious coping skills.
Like many of us, I do not do well in high stress situations. I am not a super mom. I cannot get the kids ready and off to school, work a full day, come home and jump right into family life: making dinner, laundry, dishes etc., without becoming overwhelmed and frustrated. I need down time. I need time for self-care each day and I need sleep. It seems our culture has an unwritten expectation for women to do it all, do it flawlessly and never let them see you sweat. I can't do that.
I have discovered that parenting is not a one-size-fits-all concept. It's a fluid dance full of give and take. For me, parenting requires humility, honesty and a willingness to admit when I am wrong and say I'm sorry.
My daughter is now 14 and she is a beautiful, intelligent and wonderfully strong-willed young woman. We work with a brilliant and compassionate child therapist to help undo the mistakes of the past and heal our relationship.
My daughter is a normal teenager who occasionally makes poor choices requiring implementation of consequences. My primary relationship goal for the two of us has become one of love. I have to be a tough momma sometimes. Enforcing consequences is not easy. When she loses privileges because of behavior I do my best to emphasize that I still love her. As parents we often assume that our children know we love them but when things get intense it's easy to forget this love and it never hurts to remind them.
The other day Sofi and I had an argument and she was very mad. After she left for volleyball practice I took some time to sit with my frustration (if you have a teenager I'm sure you understand how good they are at getting your goat) then I wrote her a note and put it under her pillow:
"Sofi, there is nothing you could do, not ever, that would make me not love you. Love, Mom. "
It just felt like the right thing to do and it helped dissipate my frustration. By the time I picked her up from practice we were both in a better mood and had a very nice evening together.
My son starts kindergarten in a couple of days and I am excited to begin this new chapter in our lives. I'm sure we will have stressful mornings and I cannot promise that I won't feel frustrated but now I will stop, take a deep breath and remember the kind of parent I want to be. If my child goes to school with messy hair but knows, without a doubt, that I love him/her then I have done a good job. Then we have had a successful morning.
When I feel the heat of stress and frustration rise, when we are running late and I'm supposed to be at work already I will remind myself that in 10 years I won't remember that my kid wasn't listening and needed extra cuing. I won't remember how they were goofing off when they were supposed to be getting ready. I won't remember the little hectic l things that are part of a usual family work/school morning but I will remember how I treated them. I will remember the look on their face if I yell out of anger. I will always regret sending them off to school feeling less than loved.
I have made many mistakes as a parent and I'm sure I'll make many more but I now understand that our relationship and our love for each other comes first. The details of a busy and sometimes stressful family life come second. I have never heard an adult say: "I got way too much love growing up and now I have serious issues."
Our children deserve all the love we can give them. They are worth it!