<Peers around at empty blog>
It’s been a while since I’ve blogged (obviously). A long and very difficult while, in which my DD2 has had to leave home and I have been trying to pick up the pieces since, and deal with my own depression and post-traumatic stress/secondary trauma. I’m not ready to talk about that yet, but I have finally had that ‘spark’ of an idea for a post, had it stick and develop into motivation, and am finally ready to put finger-to-keyboard again, and so I’m pleased with this bit of progress.
I do feel like writing about something a group of adoptive parents (including me) have been talking about and supporting each other with recently.
It’s the internal voice that can go something like this when I make a mistake or do something I later regret. My interal voice says this:
“I can’t believe I just did that. I’m such a terrrible parent. Anybody else would be better than me”
“That wasn’t a “therapeutic” reaction. That was the opposite of therapeutic. How do you expect her to make healing progress when you do things like that? How? I’m so useless at this”
“She’s already suffered through years of significant neglect and any kind of abuse you could name, so she deserves nothing less than perfect parenting from here on out. Oh, you just failed to do that. Useless mother. It’s so unfair on her”
“I’m a failure”
“I just can’t do this. I’m not cut out to be a parent to my child”
“I feel so guilty”
Often it’s a less extreme version of that. Same principle, less intense emotion. But I’ve been to all the phrases above, in my head. The voice has said them all.
It’s true that it’s a common feeling in parenting, but I’ve found that some adoptive parents, like me, manage to heighten it to extremes more easily.
Well, for me:
- I’ve spent a long time trying to find ‘better’ ways of parenting my children, and become committed to parenting them ‘therapeutically’. Because I can see it works for them. But in doing that, I managed to internalise an expectation that to do it right, I must do it 100% of the time. If I mistakes, or if I do something I could have done differently, or even couldn’t have done differently because by that point I had reached the point of no return (so to speak), then I must be doing something wrong. Therefore to respond by yelling my head off at extreme provocation is a complete failure that no reasonable person would do, just failure old me.
- It doesn’t help that when explaining these techniques and methods, few books or resources really cover the fact that it is not possible to always aways remain calm and therapeutic.
- It also doesn’t help that becoming an adoptive parent, requires a long and challenging journey to ‘prove yourself’ to the people who decide whether or not you will be allowed the privelege of parenting, and parenting this particular child. I felt and I suppose still feel to some extent, the desire to continue proving myself, but this was an especially heightened feeling in the first couple of years of the adoptions. I have to justify even when it’s finalised, why I’m better than anyone else for my child. And then suddenly I do something I regret, and feel I haven’t lived up to what I was trying to prove.
- And the knowledge of what my children have gone through created a real heightened expectation on myself to make sure they constantly experience perfect parenting, and that if I make a mistake, well, then they deserve better than that, and when I have a terrible week and am feeling rough anyway, well my internal voice of insanity is prone to saying “well they deserve better than you”
The thing is, rationally I know exactly why my thinking is really problematic and unhelpful.
I’ve internalised an ideal which isn’t workable. I am not physically or mentally capable of responding in a therapeutic, or un-angry, un-very-stressed, un-distressed way to every situation my children throw at me. I am not capable of never really losing my temper. Obviously my explosions have natural limits, but still, it is not my nature to be calm, thoughtful and in control of my emotions all the time.
The thing is, it’s not just not MY nature…it’s not human nature. We humans have not evolved to be calm and collected and able to react in this way all the time. It’s not possible (also from an evolutionary point of view, constant calm is a stupid idea). To parent like this ideal of therapeutic parenting I managed to internalise…that’s some kind of supernatural, superhuman thing. But I’m just a normal bog standard homo sapien. Of course the guilt I feel and the internal voice of insanity is also a very human thing in itself. I’d have to be superhuman not to question myself or beat myself up sometimes I think.
I know that even making mistakes is really a part of good parenting. To be human is to make mistakes. To accept other humans for who they are is to learn to live with their mistakes. To love myself I have to accept my mistakes, and my children need to do the same to have good self-esteem. So how is this ideal superhuman parenting going to help them do that? How will it help them understand the world? How will it help prepare them for other relationships than the primary caregivers relationship? I have to model normal human mistake-making and crucially, how to respond to mistakes and make it up to people. They have to know that they aren’t alone in feeling bad about stuff they’ve done. And so on. They need parents as human as they are.
The issue is not my parenting.
The issue is really my expectations. The humungous pressure I put on myself. My feelings are the issue, not my actions in all their human glory and flawedness. It’s true what wiser folk told me years and years ago – when you are emotionally struggling, your expectations should be one of the things you ask yourself about, because they might be one of the things that are actually a problem.
HOWEVER, despite all this wonderful, clear, well-thought our rationality, take one guess what goes out the window first when faced with difficult situations in reality? Yep, this very same rationality. I’m not a robot run on logic and good old common sense.
I’m human. I try, I do things I regret, I scream, used inappropriate discipline, I’ve sworn, I’ve even lashed out, and the list goes on, and no amount of years of parenting have made me into a supernatural being who doesn’t continue to do things she regrets
And no I never have managed to shake this unhelpful ‘ideal’ from myself. I don’t know if I ever will because unrealistic expectations are human nature too. So I have to try to accept that I have this ‘ideal’ which will hurt me sometimes, and try and love myself anyway. To give myself realistic asks regarding my parenting. To understand that being superhuman isn’t what this therapeutic parenting thing is actually about. This is a long learning path.
And say that yes I am the best mum for my kids. I’m a good mum. My kids have done well with me as their mum. Try and tell myself that when I’m hurting because of a mistake (and not mange to believe that little voice of rationality). Because my children do need a human mum.
Standard issue homo sapien signing off!