Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What am I really teaching him?



I know what it’s like to feel like my needs do not matter. I remember the heavy weight of obligation to cater to the needs of others and the punishment inflicted when I failed to do so. I can still feel the sting of being told I’m selfish whenever I dared to vocalize a need of my own. I remember being told that my tears of pain and sadness were fake and manipulative when all I wanted was love. How dare I need something from someone who claimed to love me?

Although that life is far behind me now, the damage has been done, and I’m terrified of passing it on to my son.

I never want Quinn to feel like his needs are not important or inconvenient. I want him to have high expectations of his family, friends and future partner. I want him to expect people who say they love him to treat him like they love him. I want Quinn to choose people who will reciprocate his love. I want him to experience healthy relationships instead of choosing co-dependent ones where he always gets hurt.

That’s why I hate hearing him cry. Whenever he bumps his head or gets an obviously minor injury, I’m told not to make a big deal out of it. If I rush to comfort him, he’ll just cry harder. But if I just brush it off and say “you’re okay, honey,” he’ll brush it off too and continue playing as though it never happened. And that’s supposed to be a good thing. But who’s it good for? The parents or the child?

What if by doing this I’m teaching Quinn to ignore his own pain? What if I’m teaching him that if he expresses pain, he won’t be the tough guy that mommy and daddy want him to be, and we’ll be disappointed in him? What if he’s learning that his need for comfort is bad and makes him weak?

I’m told that I’m supposed to let Quinn cry at night so he can learn to put himself to sleep. They say it will be rough for a few nights, but if we can just get through them, he’ll learn to sleep all night long. “Experts” lead me to believe that I’m a terrible mother who’s denying my child this important life lesson if I cannot do this.

But what if instead of teaching him to sleep, I’m teaching him that I don’t’ care? What if instead of learning to self-soothe, he’s learning that his cries are futile? Maybe he just falls asleep from sadness and exhaustion and not because he’s learned to soothe himself. Instead of feeling comfort from his lovey, maybe he feels abandoned and alone.

I recently read a forum on this topic where a child behavior specialist’s wrote, “I believe allowing a child to cry when they are throwing a fit to get their way is very different than letting a baby cry and cry when all s/he wants is comfort from a caregiver... Babies are in the Trust vs. Mistrust stage of development where they develop their sense of whether their basic needs will be met in this world and they will be safe.” 

What if Quinn learns that he cannot trust me? If I let him cry, am I proving to him I am not safe?

These are the thoughts that plague me and break my heart.

But what if I’m swinging the pendulum too far in one direction, and I’m too focused on his needs? What if I’m creating a narcissistic monster who thinks his needs are the only ones that matter, and he inflicts the same pain onto others that I once felt? What if he grows up to be selfish and insensitive? All because his mommy raised him to think his needs were the most important thing in the world.

How do I prevent Quinn from becoming like me without turning him into something worse? There has to be a healthy range in the middle. I just don’t know how to find it. How do you know if you’ve found it before it’s too late?

These are the thoughts that plague me and break my heart.

It’s arrogant to think Hubs and I can completely control the type of man our son grows up to be. But it’s also irresponsible to think that we do not play critical roles in helping to develop his character.

When these thoughts keep me up awake at night, I try to remember that Quinn comes from a strong, solid foundation with two parents who love him madly. When worry and anxiety tighten their grip around my heart, I try to let go and have faith that Quinn will grow up to be a loving, happy person.

And isn’t that all a mother really wants for her child?

But how do I let go and have faith when no matter what I choose, it feels like the wrong thing?



7 comments:

  1. AAAHHHHH!!! I know what you mean!! The injuries (aka minor head bumps) are getting more frequent here too as K starts exploring. Oh, and the stupid comments like "Oh that's just one of many injuries he's going to have"....I might start smacking people and telling them the same thing is true for them if they keep making remarks like that, lol.

    Right now when K falls over and smacks his head, it seems to put him on the emotional edge, like he could go either direction (cry or just continue on about his business). I feel like he looks at me to see which one is more appropriate. So I try to say something cheerfully like it was a game: "Crash! Bang!" and smile at him immediately. If he smiles back, he's ok. If he starts screeching, he's not ok; he needs mommy hugs and comfort. It doesn't matter how many times it happened before or will happen again. He's hurt and he's a baby and needs his mommy. Anyway, that's how I'm dealing with it right now....but later, who knows???

    And when you figure out how to balance the other issue, let me know! I worry about that too, based on my childhood (I wasn't allowed to have friends or have an opinion different from my parents. And I was homeschooled, so my family was my entire world.) I want K to know he is allowed to have needs and feelings and opinions of his own, but also learn to realize that other people have those too. Maybe that just happens naturally from years of healthy family conversation and affection.
    ----Rebecca

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Rebecca. I totally agree with you. I know people are right when they tell me that this is just the start and his bumps and bruises will get bigger and more frequent over time. But that doesn't mean we should minimize the pain of the bumps and bruises right now! It certainly doesn't make them any easier to deal with. And you're doing such a fabulous job with K. He's such a sweet, happy little guy, and he knows how much you love him.

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  2. This is a deep question that we all struggle with as moms, and I am thankful by the raw emotion you're willing to share here! I was raised in an achievement-driven household which, albeit has led me to academic and career success, has also molded me into an often anxious and outwardly-focused person. I've been very captivated by the idea of attachment parenting, and have made my goal as a parent to raise a secure, confident person who is capable of loving themselves and others unconditionally. (I sometimes worry if I can actually pull this off without first transforming myself...) What I've heard/read about soothing, which I totally buy into, is that it's our job as parents early on to help babies and toddlers learn to regulate their emotions. Babies will mirror our emotional state...and I agree with you - I can't imagine NOT coming to our child's aid when she is crying. There is also a difference between RUSHING to their side, and being frantic, which mirrors anxiety and a heightened state to them, and just being there with them, mirroring calmness and that it's OK.

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  3. This is a deep question that we all struggle with as moms, and I am thankful by the raw emotion you're willing to share here! I was raised in an achievement-driven household which, albeit has led me to academic and career success, has also molded me into an often anxious and outwardly-focused person. I've been very captivated by the idea of attachment parenting, and have made my goal as a parent to raise a secure, confident person who is capable of loving themselves and others unconditionally. (I sometimes worry if I can actually pull this off without first transforming myself...) What I've heard/read about soothing, which I totally buy into, is that it's our job as parents early on to help babies and toddlers learn to regulate their emotions. Babies will mirror our emotional state...and I agree with you - I can't imagine NOT coming to our child's aid when she is crying. There is also a difference between RUSHING to their side, and being frantic, which mirrors anxiety and a heightened state to them, and just being there with them, mirroring calmness and that it's OK.

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    1. Thanks so much Amaya. You're comment really helped. You're right, children so look to us to help them regulate their emotions. I can still give him comfort without being frantic and anxious about it. I like how you put it - "mirroring calmness." I'm reading a book right now about how motherhood in America is fraught with anxiety and that we're passing the stress onto our children. Really makes me think. Thank you so much!

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  4. This is what makes parenting so hard. You're always afraid of doing the wrong thing. I've learned that I'm confident my kids will learn the best of waht I am as long as I love them unconditionally. Quinn will too. I promise.

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    1. Thanks so much for the supportive words. You're right. And love is certainly not lacking around here. Thank you.

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