(If you haven’t already read it, the first part of this two-part post can be found here.)
Later that evening, after I put the kids to bed and Matt finally got home, I replayed the tense conversation Sofia and I had. I told him I felt like such a failure. I felt like I needed to revisit the way I was parenting. That I was too quick to raise my voice and it was affecting Sofia, who was already so extremely sensitive. I told him I felt defeated.
Harlow’s research revealed that the female baby monkeys who were raised by the dummy mothers were not good mothers when they later had babies. They were either negligent or abusive. The lack of attachment to real mothers when they were young led to an inability to properly mother their young. They did not know how to develop healthy attachments to their babies. They simply didn’t know how.
Basically, my worst fear in life.
“That’s awesome” Matt said.
“What? What part of this is awesome? Have you been listening to me??”
“It’s awesome that you and Sofia are having those conversations. Instead of ignoring her, you listened, and then held out and got her to tell you why she felt that you don’t love her. You were able to figure out where she was coming from, and explain to her that raising your voice doesn’t mean you don’t love her. She’s at an age where she can communicate those feelings to you and understand your feedback. It’s starting. Good job, babe”
Well, knock me over with a freaking feather.
I was so busy wallowing in the weeds of my failure as a parent, I could not see the proverbial forest through the trees. Indeed, this was the first time Sofia and I had engaged in such a deep conversation about our feelings and actually came away with more than just hurt feelings or confusion.
My entire childhood, I longed for my mother’s love. I longed for her to brush my hair, play with me, cook my favorite food on my birthday, read me stories, sing songs with me, walk me to school, pack special lunches for field trips, help me win races on field day, praise my artwork. All the things my sisters told me she’d done with them. This was my ideal mothering model. Fluffy mama.
What I was missing from those stories (which were really the glamorous highlights and not the nitty gritty of real life) — is that the relationship between mother and daughter/parent and child — is much more complex than that. That love is more than kisses and treats. It’s easy to remember the fun and tender moments after a parent is gone. Especially when that parent was forever immortalized at 37 by 12, 10 and 7 year old girls, who’d always remember each kind word and touch.
But there are other stories too. The ones I didn’t fantasize about.
The ones they told of her sternness. Her no-nonsense approach to discipline. The way she became angry when my sister, Mia, got her “good tights” dirty by playing in the mud before an outing. The time Kate got in trouble for ripping apart HyeYong’s homework. Her unwavering dedication to ensuring they never ate junk, which made them long for the packaged, sugary treats their friends ate. How scared they were when they were all punished after they allowed me to leap down from the top of a dresser, gashing my forehead badly enough to require stitches when I was just a year old.
And this is what Matt’s reaction allowed me to see. He pointed out that this was an important step in our journey with Sofia. An opportunity for Sofia and I to learn from each other.
Because in real life, you might sometimes raise your voice to get your point across if you want your kids to STOP and LISTEN. But also, in real life, mamas get frustrated too.
In real life, little girls need a bit more grace when they just don’t want to eat two more bites of their stir fry. In real life, nothing catastrophic will happen if you give your daughter a special treat now and then, even if she doesn’t finish her dinner.
In real life, a little girl can tell her mama that she thinks she doesn’t love her, and it can be upsetting for both of them for a bit. But, if they are patient and are willing to talk it out, they can get past it and giggle together while finishing a meal.
Not every lesson that Sofia and I will learn together will end as well as this. But I hope if I remember to keep an open ear, mind, and heart — Sofia will remember all of the good stuff after I’m long gone, and she had Hugo can laugh about all the times I shouted at them to “just eat your dinner! PLEASE!”.
As it turns out, being a good mother doesn’t mean you’re only the fluffy mother. Without some wire inside, fluffy mother is really just a hollow hide. And both don’t amount to anything without the grace and understanding of a human heart, arms to cuddle in, ears to listen to whatever you have to say, shoulders to lay your head on, or without the tribulations and nuances of real life. I think it might also mean that you should try to remember that it’s ok to be both at the same time. That you may need to be both.
And sometimes, it’s ok to shout with just a little exclamation point.
– Julie xo