Please, don’t let them grow up like me…
I have three vivid memories of growing up:
The first is of my mother when I was five or six years old. I was getting ready for school and had difficulty putting my shoes on the correct feet (being slightly dyslexic), and my mother went ballistic. She hit me, over and over, all while yelling at me how stupid I was for not having it figured out by now.
The second is of my father when I was ten or eleven. We were driving back from a stage production rehearsal, and my sister told him how I got in trouble for kicking a boy standing next to me (because by this age, I had become rather angry and aggressive). My father turned to me and said, “Wow, you really are a little bitch, aren’t you?”
The third memory is simply of being alone. I know I did things with my family. We have pictures of us – at Disneyland, in Yellowstone Park, traveling all over the world. Some scenes I remember happening, but many I have no recollection of at all. I was with them, but I can’t think of a single conversation or a moment of laughter. Sometimes I feel my entire childhood was completely disconnected from anyone.
I don’t want that for my children.
When I became pregnant with my first son, I read everything I could find about being a parent. I was immediately drawn to the Dr. Sears books about attachment parenting. Everything he said about closeness, establishing a bond, and listening to your loving instincts as a parent resonated with me. That was what I wanted with my children. I wanted to show them as much love as I could.
I already planned a natural birth and to breastfeed, and the babywearing and co-sleeping followed easily. Terminology aside, I loved it. I decided not to return to work and enjoyed the hours at home with my son – playing with him, cuddling with him, and just loving him. There were many, many times when I was exhausted, but I willed myself to be patient with him, even when he was screaming. I was determined not to be like my mother.
When my first son was nine months old, I became pregnant again. When my second son was born, I did what I did the first time around: breastfeeding, co-sleeping, babywearing. I was secretly relieved my younger one preferred to sleep in a bassinet beside my bed instead of in it, and thankful he enjoyed playing by himself on the floor. Still, I felt guilty that he wasn’t getting the attention his older brother had enjoyed.
Finally, the nighttimes caught up with me when at six months my younger son began waking every two hours to breastfeed, and my older son refused to sleep without me next to him. It was too much, and the strain of sleep deprivation took its toll on my ability to cope during the day. I yelled more, turned on the television more, and finally in a frustrated rage smacked my son on his backside.
I needed to change.
While I love the building blocks of attachment parenting, it can become all-consuming for someone who is not good at establishing boundaries (a common trait of abuse survivors). RIE helps me understand how respect includes implementing and enforcing appropriate limits – not just for my children, but for me.
We’ve started a more structured sleep routine and independent play time, both of which have been met with predictable resistance. But even with the transition hurdles, it has taken immense pressure off me. It’s allowed me to step back and look at how I handle my connections to my children, and make changes to improve them.
I’ve learned that our bond is a relationship: one based not just on love, but trust, respect and mutual give-and-take. By recognizing my children as individuals who need to learn and grow on their own, I’ve learned to re-route my sometimes overwhelming emotions by saying, “this is too much, I’m frustrated,” or “I need to be alone now” – and then take time without feeling guilty about their reactions. I’ve also learned that I don’t need to respond immediately. When I see my older son hit his brother, I can step back to understand what just happened before I decide what to do.
I am a work in progress. I know this, and I occasionally fall back on harmful habits (frustration and yelling – not hitting) that shaped my childhood. But I can see my relationships changing. I’m confident the respect I’ve cultivated will continue to grow so my children will be attached to me. My hope is their childhoods won’t be marred by the unmoored loneliness of mine, and instead be filled with security, love and joy.
(Photo “Thoughtful” is by clairity on Flickr)
I know Suchada would appreciate hearing your thoughts…