This post is part of a series called “Motherhood Mantras.” To read more about the series, and the full list of writers, click here.
Mihee once told me I reminded her of Lynette from Desperate Housewives. Lynette’s the one who, in the first season, took her son’s ADD medication so she could be more productive. I don’t do that (I swear!), and I’m positive that’s not what Mihee meant. But, at that time in my parenting journey, I was harried to say the least. I had a 3-year-old and an 8-month-old. And I gritted my teeth hard every time someone told me to “enjoy every moment.”
I wasn’t sure I would make it out of that 4th year of motherhood with everyone’s spirit intact. About two weeks before his third birthday, I noted a shift in Bean. He became combative, volatile, and it was often directed at me. By halfway through that year, I was no stranger to 2-hour tantrums that raged against the inside of his door; earbuds shoved desperately into my ears and music turned up to deafening levels, so I couldn’t hear the screaming; endless advice of “ignore it” (really? REALLY? Ignore the two hours of rage? Ignore the screaming while the baby naps? Ignore the hitting and kicking and charging me? How?!?); the reserves of my patience tapped, but digging deep for empathy and motherly comfort for him…only to be met with kicks and screams; asking for help when feeling like a complete failure because the last thing I wanted was to be within earshot of my son; sobbing face down on my living room floor and telling my husband on the phone, “I don’t know what I’m doing. You have to come home and tell me what to do.”
The emotions were nauseating. The room spins when I think of how much I struggled to parent him through six or nine months of that year. There were days when I didn’t want to be in the same zip code as my preschooler. I took to strapping him into his car seat so I could walk away without being charged, hit, kicked, screamed at. I could walk away and hear myself think for a moment. We could both calm down. And being restrained would calm him down better and faster than encouraging him to rage. Thankfully, The Three-ness had let up by wintertime and I didn’t need a cold weather restraint strategy! (I joked about bolting a carseat to the floor of his bedroom!)
I’m sure you can imagine the immense guilt I felt. I did not like being around my child. I loved him – of course I loved him, and fiercely! But I also grieved for the close relationship and fun times we had had. And I blamed myself for the loss of those times and that bond.
The Three-ness, as I referred to it, seemed to ease up around halfway through that fourth year. By Christmas, three quarters of the way through the year, I was feeling more in my own right mind and like I could enjoy my silly kid again. He would hold my hand as I walked him to preschool, and we would chat while his brother snuggled in a carrier or hung out in a stroller.
He just turned four a couple of weeks ago, and we now are back to doing things just the two of us and having a blast. When I invite him to the grocery store, or even have a chance to read with him (something his brother doesn’t often allow at the moment), he tells me how special it is that we get some time together.
But out of that experience of The Three-ness came a mantra:
I don’t have to like them, I just have to love them.
Sometimes loving my kids means handing them off and being alone. It’s what I should have learned to do even sooner than I did, and something I hope I’ll remember when I see The Three-ness again in A-Train. (I’m just going to pretend that’s never happening…) Loving my kids can be ugly. Sometimes it is simply surviving the day with everyone’s self-respect intact. (The state of my own self-respect was often questionable. 8AM tantrums in the carseat with neighbors leaving for work and wondering what is being done to your child are not great for the ego.)
And sometimes loving my kids means not liking them, but making every effort not to let them see me roll my eyes. My kids are now 18 months and 4 years old. There are times when they are both crying, or each has a demand (A-Train doesn’t have many words, so there is a fine line between a tantrum and a request!), or one wants to climb and jump on me while the other wants to read quietly. There are a many and frequent times when I think I am growing hoarse saying the same things out loud all. day. long. (“Leave your brother alone.” “Don’t eat the [non-food item].” “If you don’t want him to have it, don’t leave it laying around.” “Were you listening when I just. said. ________?!?”)
I don’t have to like this. I don’t have to enjoy every moment. I just have to love them, and seize any opportunity to bask in bits of joy, soak up the snuggles, and giggle at their sillies. Enjoying every moment is a cruel, cruel bit of folklore. Possibly more cruel than the phrase “sleeping like a baby.”
Something else I realized: it’s ok to dislike aspects of myself as I grow and change and have the mirrors of my children held up to my face (NOT a pretty sight!). But I do have to love myself, too.
Brea Carlson of Contentedly Crunchy is the mother of two boys (Bean born Spring of ’08 and A-Train born Fall of ’10). Brea is a pretty practical lass who cloth diapers more for the money-savings than for the earth-savings, practices baby-led solids because she is too lazy for spoons and purees (not to mention the clutter of baby food jars, even in grocery store aisles, causes her to hyperventilate), and breastfeeds because it seemed like the right thing to do at the time (and still does). Over at Contentedly Crunchy, Brea is known to be honest – maybe too honest? – about her experience of motherhood, even if it doesn’t paint her in the best light.