Here I am, circling the drain again– banging my head against the same old wall– built with bricks of crumbling self-esteem, and topped with barbed-wire of razor-sharp self-loathing and remorse.
On the heels of a stellar summer of travel and adventure, it just sucks a little more than usual. I came home from three+ weeks in Scandinavia and BlogHer14 feeling excited, confident and enthusiastic– only to find that the same issues that drive me to fight or flight response were all waiting right where I left them. You can run, baby, but you sure can’t hide! It’s incredible how a few rough patches with my kids, or my husband, or a glimpse of exclusion on Facebook, can erase all the sparkle and steam I gained– from wrangling glaciers, discovering Vikings, meeting really cool people who thought I was equally cool, and generally living in my own happy groove for a while. It took a hot, miserable minute… And some key bad words.
No sooner had my two eldest children arrived home for the summer, and the power plays began. A fight “to the pain” (if you haven’t seen The Princess Bride, you should) over where shoes should be put (In your locker or in the garage, not on the kitchen floor); when dishes should be cleaned (When you’re done eating. Period.); who should clean something up (Ideally, the person who made the mess, but whatever– not me. Figure it out.); and, get this one: whether I am allowed/entitled/justified to weigh in on matters that are taking place in my house, but which don’t directly involve me– For instance, whether I’m “allowed” to say who’s turn it is to do the dishes, take the car, etc.– according to said grown kids.
If you’re shaking your head and thinking that I’m a pushover, you don’t have grown children. And, my kids would have you know that I’m much more demanding than “any of their friend’s parents.” That makes a lot of you the pushovers, apparently. If you’re shaking your head and thinking that I don’t have the confidence I should have, to stand my ground and not be sucker punched by grown kids, who aren’t necessarily entitled to be living at home at this stage– well, you’re right; but, again, I’d counter with: you probably don’t have grown children, or you’re a boxer.
It just isn’t as easy or clear as I thought it would be, when I was raising my three young children. That was tiring: Mommy can I have…; mom can Alison/Max/Mike sleep over; I’m scared/hungry/not tired…; I don’t like that; Mom! Little Man/Principessa/Middle Man called me a jerk/baby/loser/pain; Can I get my ears pierced, a guinea pig, an Xbox36o– Alison/Max/Mike did! etc. I can’t deny it; parenting young children was wonderful, sweet, frustrating, demanding– but above all, it was exhausting. At the time, I resented the “older moms” (read: mothers of older kids) who told me how easy it was with little kids, and how much harder older kids were– that I should enjoy it; it would be over in no time. Now that I’ve been there, done that, I know that this just isn’t true. It is in fact over in no time– “no time” being a long blink, that only feels short, after you’ve refocused your vision. But like marriage, parenting is inherently hard work. If you grow up, decide to get married, and create a family, you need to know that it will be hard work– beginning to end. If it isn’t hard at least sometimes, then I wager you’re missing the boat, or raising a turtle. Turtles are pretty easy.
Raising good human beings shouldn’t be easy; it’s too important.
That said– and again, having been there, done that, I admit that it would be a bit easier if my own self-esteem wasn’t so chronically weak, and if I wasn’t so willing to pitch my own needs aside when challenged by those I love most. I’ve heard a thousand times that: you’re their parent, not their friend; stand your ground– don’t negotiate with terrorists; be consistent and follow through– Countless excellent parenting gems have crossed my path, but making them work is another story. Self-esteem is my Achilles Heel, and the troupes figured that out a long time ago. They are smart human beings, as well as good ones. I may have come home from BlogHer14 with Arianna Huffington’s words ringing in my ears: “No, is a complete sentence,” but that message is lost in translation with my almost adult kids.
Things have changed enormously since I was walking their path, and I don’t really believe we’re headed in the right direction. When I finished high school, it was clearly understood that the door did not swing back open for anything more than a visit. My peers and I went off to college with the expectation that we would be working in the summers; that we’d get apartments and roommates (a critical first step in navigating the world), and we wouldn’t be moving back in with our parents. Returning home during college was not ideal, but certainly after graduation, it was the walk of shame– and I was determined to not go there. I lived in a few really awful apartments; I had some lousy roommates, as well as some wonderful ones; I ate macaroni and cheese for an entire summer, trying to save money. I worked really hard, but I earned my independence, and I grew up. I did not live with my mother.
I’m surrounded by other parents scrambling for cover, just like me, as we negotiate with semi-grown kids, who come home and think their parents are their roommates, and “grown-up” means having survived a year of keg parties. Hey, I left my dirty beer cups and snacks in the lounge at our dorm, what’s the problem with leaving stuff in the sink? What’s wrong with my shoes on the kitchen floor? I’m just going to wear them again, when I’m done doing “stuff.” And the infinitely ambiguous: I will. (When? For the love of all that’s holy, what does that mean?) It’s exhausting! If you’re kids are that minority, who come home and get good jobs, clean up all their stuff, and speak respectfully all the time, then clearly you are entitled to scoff at me. However, I imagine there are a few more parents nodding along right now. But I forget all about these other parents, when I’m fighting my own battles, and I just feel like an isolated failure.
For the record, I didn’t start out the summer feeling deflated. I started with a bold statement that I thought would make things clear:
I’m not your roommate; I’m your landlord!
But, my kids know that I will blink first. They love me, but they also see me through their unique, twenty-something prisms. By their reckoning, I am unreasonable (What does it matter if my shoes sit there a little longer?) and demanding (Please put them away now!). I am clueless and lame. I can’t keep up with their gigabytes; Gap years; texts; plugged in-tuned out attention spans, their technology, and their attitudes–> Clueless. Lame–>Me. I wanted to raise free-thinking, independent kids, but I want them to do as I say in my house*. I wanted them to explore the world, but my heart fractures when they fall in love (with a person, place or thing) and leave*. I want them to check their expectations at the door, but I run around making their favorite meals and ultimately seeking their approval*. I wither when communication crashes and they say, or suggest with a well-honed look, that I am in fact unreasonable, demanding, clueless and lame, and apparently hypocritical*.
Worse, if we come to verbal blows, the fallout is crushing. As a mother, I may know that my child is actually anxious about big changes and new directions, and that his/her nasty mood and careless words are not directed at me, but stray shots leave me bleeding out. When I feel myself losing the ground I thought I’d won, I lash out with angry words (enter the “key bad words”) and injured statements; they in turn reload and take closer aim, causing wounds much deeper than they know. It’s not their job to know, or their responsibility. I’m the adult here. Right? But that self-esteem issue undermines all of my strength and confidence, and when things get really rough, I inevitably circle the drain.
I drive off in my car; I sit alone and stare at the water. I turn on myself, and withdraw from others. I pick at my own scabs and unearth all of the flaws in me, which I imagine must have led to this moment. I cry.
I don’t remember that others read my writing and respect it. I don’t remember that people I admire have asked me to take leadership roles in their organizations. I don’t remember that I climbed a glacier; I navigated airports, train stations, Viking ruins, foreign cities and countless strangers– I travelled thousands of miles and had endless successful adventures this summer. I forget that I came home from the BlogHer14 conference feeling inspired, capable and empowered. That all dissolves with one dismissive glance, an angry tirade, a strategically placed land mine: “Mom you’re so unreasonable/lame/clueless.”
I stare at the water, until I rediscover my bearings. Inside, there is a kernel of strength, that helps me bounce back, that helps me staunch the bleeding. I’m not irrevocably damaged or flawed, and somewhere inside I cling to that, and keep working on myself. “You come from strong stock;” my aunt’s words replay in my head, and help me heal. “Your writing really helped me;” a young, grieving reader’s comment pulls me back to solid ground. “Mom, not many other mothers would go on an adventure like this!” My own son’s matter-of-fact verbal hug shimmers from the corners of my self-destructive mind. I sense a shift, as I lick my wounds and turn away from the sea.
And I begin to reclaim my ground again, and work on myself… some more.
Times have changed. Kids are coming home, and they have some attitude. It’s a different generation, with new challenges and issues to deal with. In many ways it’s harder for them than it was for me and my friends, and in other ways, they have it easier. The economy is tough; a college education doesn’t guarantee a job, and kids return to nests in ways that my generation would not have considered, confident that their parents will welcome them home. It’s not easy, and I’m not alone. I’m not the best mother in the world, but I’m not the worst either. You know kiddos, I may be lame and sometimes clueless, about things you find simple. I may be lame, and clueless, unreasonable and demanding sometimes; I may be all of those things, but you still came out of my vagina– So check your attitudes at the door. My door.
Are you parenting older kids? Are you cruising along, or flailing in the water with me? What has worked, and what doesn’t? I’m not looking for reassurances that I’m a good parent, thanks though. I’ve said it before, this is where I work my shit out. Thanks for riding along.
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