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?