No, I’m not casting doubts on your child’s parentage!
If you were happy about bringing your child into the world (and many are not), one of the first decisions you made when you learnt you were expecting a child was to be the best parent you could be. ‘Decision’ is not the right word because it does not express your determination strongly enough – it was more in the nature of a vow. You promised yourself that you would be the best parent ever.
You will always ‘be there’ for your child – you will love her and support her and give her everything she needs all through her life. You will never hurt her… Stop right there!
Hurt your child? And this child not yet born? What are you thinking?
It’s simple! You are thinking of yourself. You’re thinking of yourself when you were a child. You are thinking of those times when you felt hurt because of something your parents said or didn’t say, did or didn’t do. You are thinking of the times you were looking to your parents for reassurance and failed to find it. You are replaying scenes from your past.
But now that you will be a parent, these scenes will have different endings. In the new endings, everything ends with the child feeling good. Obviously, the new ending features you as the parent and a featureless someone as the child.
Alright. Snap back to the present.
You have made your vows. You await the baby. The baby arrives. And you start living your vows.
You are exaggeratedly loving. You watch every word that comes out of your mouth. You don’t even let yourself frown around the baby because you are a wonderful, loving parent, and no such parent is ever tired, disgruntled, or irritated by the baby. (Or so you think, especially if this is your first child.:-))
After this phase wears off, you acknowledge your irritation, and make your peace with the thought that wanting a break from your child and her demands does not make you a ‘bad’ parent. And you go on being the loving parent.
Then one day, she hurts herself. The doctor advises that she stay in bed for a day.
Flashback! You were sick and in bed. Your dad was home that day, but came to check on you just twice, for a minute each time. And you lay in bed feeling sad and sorry and unloved and in pain and abandoned. You hated being alone and in bed! You wished Dad would spend some time with you, talk to you, sit with you to pass the time…
Today, your head tells you that Dad was working on something so important that he’d stayed home to avoid even the distraction of colleagues at work. But your heart still hurts.
And so you abandon your work and sit with your daughter and read her a story and talk to her, not noticing her drooping eyelids, not hearing her murmured, “I’m tired, Dad”. After all, you are a wonderful, loving parent, and you want her to know it.
So – who is it you’re parenting? You’re parenting yourself – the ‘you’ that you were in the past.
Which brings me to the title of this post: Are you sure it’s your child you’re parenting?
Sadly, a lot of the time, for most of us, the answer is NO.
We tend to get overwhelmed by the emotions of our past, and treat our children as we would have liked our parents to treat us. (Hey! Maybe our parents were doing that too! A thought that makes you feel better, doesn’t it?)
And what of the child that’s lying in bed? Tired and wishing Dad would just go away and let her rest? But too tired, or too polite, to tell him so. She suffers silently. And maybe creates a moment that she will remember when she is a parent. And she will leave her child alone. And so the cycle is continued…
But you ARE a wonderful, loving parent. All you need to do is to shake off the cobwebs of the past and look at your child as a person in his own right.
Dr. Gary Chapman, author of the The Five Love Languages, says each person tends to primarily express love in different ways. Yes, five different ways. The ways could be Words of Affirmation, Gifts, Physical Touch, Acts of Service, or Quality Time.
And here you are – being a loving mom, hugging and kissing your two-year old. And she spends her time squirming out of your arms, asking you to play with her, to solve a jigsaw puzzle, to cook with her. Not your style. So you do the minimum of these that you can get away with to keep her happy, but keep grabbing her for a hug that she’s trying to avoid.
You’re left feeling like she doesn’t love you – she’s just two and if she doesn’t want hugs and kisses now, then when? – and you’re puzzled and hurt. To make matters worse, she prefers being with your partner, who doesn’t hug her in days! (But does ‘stuff’ with her.)
Look again at your child. This is a person in his own right. And he’s telling you all the time how to love him. Well, love him! HIS way!
You have a son who’s always gifting you things. Give him gifts of pebbles, his favorite foods, feathers – anything, so long as it can take the form of a gift (and children are not fussy!). He will feel loved.
Your daughter pays you compliments ten times an hour. Tell your daughter all the things you like about her. Give her the appreciation she craves. She will feel loved.
Over time, their love languages will change. The little boy who squeezed you hard now shrugs out of an embrace. The girl that said “I love you” every day at bed time barely mumbles “G’night” before she shuts the door to her room.
But they’re still telling you how to love them. You come home to find she’s done some of your chores. Your son says you might want to help him set up the Xbox 360. They’re telling you.
And if you’re listening, then you’re sure – sure that it IS your child you’re parenting.