13.1.11

On parenting

I stumbled across an announcement from our local theatre about a winter conservatory for children Javi's age. Immediately, I was bumrushed with memories of wanting so badly as a child to be up on stage singing and dancing and accepting flowers from an adoring crowd. When Javi got home, I raced to show him the information and raved about how fun it would be for him to be in one of the plays we love attending so much.

He had zero interest. And by zero interest, I mean barely even looked at me as he muttered No, thanks and went back to playing his video game.

A few months back when I found out about low-cost ballet classes, I spent half a day driving around my town piecing together the perfect ballerina-pink tights, shoes, and leotard for Bella. I took photos of her purchasing her own shoes and twirling through the tights aisle. I daydreamed about sitting in a dark auditorium as she pranced through The Nutcracker as either Clara or the Sugar Plum Fairy (naturally), her arms a flurry of grace and precision, her legs long and purposeful as she effortlessly sailed across the stage. I looked down at my plump, graceless body and grinned with delight that my daughter's future would hold a drastically different shape.

She lasted two sessions before she let me know she no longer held any desire to "'ticipate" in ballet.

Notice a trend?

There are a string of moments going all the way back to the first moment I held my big kid so many years ago and whispered to him, "I will always protect you. You are safe, here." In that moment, I wasn't thinking about my child -- I was thinking about my childhood, about how slippery the feeling of loved can become, about how at some point I became a child who no longer felt safe and protected and loved unconditionally. That red, smoosh-faced newborn was a second chance at the perfect childhood.

Amplify that urge times a thousand when I birthed an eerily quiet and observant little girl six years later. Where my son was a child, my daughter was a clone. Dark hair and brown eyes and a nose just like mine. A daughter with a father who'd die for her ... unlike mine. Looking at our actions without the emotion of here's my chance, I can see that every move I've made -- including the mate I chose -- has been motivated by bone-deep grief over a childhood no one could've predicted or controlled.

I am parenting my children to heal my childhood. And it's wrong.

Sure, ballet classes and youth theatre are harmless ... but I also fail to encourage intense relationships between my children and the trusted adults in their lives in favor of proving to them that their father and I are the adults who love them most, fiercely and reliably -- no matter what. I cater to their perceived sensitivities and treat them like fragile works of art that could shatter at any time.

I overanalyze and judge and choose paths that I wish my original family had traveled, not the ones that make sense for the family I have now. I make choices based on unhealed hurts and anger from my childhood, not based on the needs and quirks of my children.

I've been thinking about this for awhile. And then ck's comment on my previous post pushed those thoughts further. "Every mama needs a little blonde warrior. How else would we be able to let go of who we once were and live in the present?" she wrote -- cutting straight to the heart of me and shining a clarifying light on the murky thoughts that were already swirling toward epiphany.

On this week's Parenthood, Sarah poured her mothering heart out to her daughter and I found myself rewinding over and over again: When you have kids -- if you have kids -- there's something you should know. It's a very confusing thing they don't tell you. You see so much of yourself in them. You see your ironic take on the world, you see your smile, your walk, your sense of humor ... whatever ... and you think they're you. But they're not you. And they shouldn't have all of your baggage -- your fear and your insecurity and your life experience -- because that's not fair. They have their own. I'm so in awe of you. I want you to go out there and fly. You can fly.

My children aren't me and they don't need protection from the things that hurt me -- an absentee and drug-addicted father, one abusive sister and one chronically sick one, a mother who was stretched too thin despite possessing a love for her daughters that continues to amaze me. My children don't need me to push them in the directions I would've loved to explore. They are strong, resilient creatures with their own songs to sing and their own wings to test.

"We don't deserve these kids, that's for certain. I'm sure I'll mess mine up, and they were so perfect when I got them," Amy observed. Wouldn't that be the greatest hurt of them all?

I can create limitations and false boundaries for my children or I can recognize and respect the perfection and trajectory of two lives that will (hopefully) be dramatically different than mine. I can stay mired in the mess that was my foundation, or I can let go and enjoy the fresh truth of my children's reality.

I am choosing to step away from the baggage I've dragged around for too long. I am choosing to acknowledge my children's gorgeous, unique wings and let them fly.

This feels like healing.

16 comments:

  • Corinne

    This was beautiful Kelly.
    It's so hard to see the differences between us and our kids when there's so many similarities... I struggle with this daily.
    Thanks for putting this out there :)

  • Kelly

    Thanks, Corinne. Those similarities are so deceiving!

  • Cheri

    Here's the thing Kelly - you DO deserve your beautiful blonde warrior and your video-playing, no theatre, big kid! And at any given moment you are doing the best you know how with the skills and information you have. Parenting is definitely not for the feint of heart or the squeamish, but I think you are doing just fine.

  • Hyacynth

    Well. This was so beautiful, and it was so true, Kelly, for all of us. Even those who don't bear deep scars.
    I needed this tonight. Your words come at such a good time. I've been reflecting on my childhood for a class assignment, and I wrote my autobiography and shared it last night. And as I reflected over my childhood -- the good, the bad, the ugly -- I actually could see some of the decisions I'm making now are a result of my experiences.
    I don't think it's always bad to take our unique experiences and use them to parent, but you're right about taking it too far. I have to be careful not to do that, too.

  • Kelly

    I think too far is the definitely issue. I learned so much from the way I grew up, and I appreciate and respect that knowledge. However, I can't let it create issues for my children that don't exist. That's the so-hard-to-find line in the sand.

  • Justine

    Hear, hear a thousand times, Kelly. When I watched that scene, it hit me deep in my marrow, knowing that I often do that with my daughter too. Like you, I had an absentee dad and there were certain things about my childhood I didn't want for my daughter so I've been careful in making sure she has a better one than I did.

    But I do think there is a difference between trying to protect them from the hurt and trying to make them fulfill your own unrealized dreams. Of course we can't always protect them from harm (also a theme in that episode) but while they're still tiny little beings in need of direction, perhaps it's our job to be there to provide a little guidance and help so that when they eventually fly, they will soar.

  • Dan

    I was happy to discover your blog today. I was unable to find a contact link. I hope it's OK that I'm contacting you through a public comment. I've developed an educational program for Windows called SpellQuizzer that helps children learn their spelling and vocabulary words without the battle that parents often have getting them to sit down and write them out while the parents dictate to them. The parent enters the child's spelling words into the software making a sound recording of each word. Then the software helps the child practice his or her words. It really helped my children with their weekly spelling lists.

    I would love to have SpellQuizzer reviewed in The Miller Mix. If you are interested in hosting a giveaway of a SpellQuizzer license I'd be happy to supply a free license to the winner. You can learn more about the program at www.SpellQuizzer.com. There's a video demo you can watch at www.spellquizzer.com/SpellQuizzer-Demo.htm and a community site where SpellQuizzer users can share their spelling lists with one another (www.SpellQuizzer.com/Community). Finally, there's a page targeted to homeschooling families at www.spellquizzer.com/spelling-software-for-homeschoolers.htm. I'd be happy to send you a complimentary license for the software. Please let me know if you are interested.

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  • Christine

    As you know, I worry about the very SAME things. It's a little disconcerting isn't it? To see that? But I think that's what sets us a part. We recognize it. We're strong enough as mothers to know that it exists, that it's us. That's who we are. And that makes us better. Stronger. More intuitive. I believe that, I have to believe that.

    Let's keep feeling our way along together okay.
    xo

  • Emily

    I loved this Kelly. LOVED it.

  • Stacia

    Parenting is so damn hard. For what it's worth, I think you're doing a great job. Better than great, exceptional. Your words here in this eloquent post prove it.

  • The Drama Mama

    This is really gorgeous writing, Kelly, and its true. We really do have to let them fly and hope that the love WE give them is enough, and that all we have to offer them in ourselves with our broken pasts and baggage and all is enough.

    I know how hard it is when your own childhood sucks to make sure that your own children have a better childhood. It's so hard to set those things apart from parenting because we want to make sure its different.

  • Amber Page Writes

    This was not just beautiful, but really true. I'm already struggling with that - I'm sure I'll struggle even more as she gets older.

  • Draft Queen

    This is something I struggle with as well. It's hard to set them apart from us when they imitate us so darn often!

    I'm happy to see your making good headway.

  • Jack

    What you wrote here is real and beautiful. It is also applicable to many parents, including those of us who were blessed with a very normal upbringing.

    It is normal to encourage our children to do the things that we wished we could have done. It is normal to want them to enjoy what we did.

    It is all about balance and it sounds to me like you have that.

  • Rudri

    I am so sorry I am coming to this conversation so late. But this post was honest and beautiful. And I assume difficult for you to write and acknowledge. There is power in the words you write Kelly. I believe you will guide your children with awareness and grace.

  • BigLittleWolf

    Also sorry I am coming to this discussion so late. What a gorgeous post, Kelly.

    But...

    I believe that many of us could say I am parenting my children to heal my childhood.

    Think about that. Think about the potential good in that - healing yourself through the awareness of what was missing or wrong in your own childhood - which doesn't mean insisting on a child being the "you" that you would've liked, but allowing for those options, and recognizing if they don't fit your child.

    Who among us hasn't made choices in parenting that are a direct response to how we were - or weren't parented?

    We heal ourselves, and offer our children the wisdom of our process. It won't be without flaws, but it will be filled with mindfulness - and love.

    I say Bravo.

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