Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Courage to Fail

I don't know if I have anything profound to write.

This may just be one of those whiney, tiresome posts, somewhat akin to my junior high school diary entries, the majority of which seemed to revolve around who I was mad at or what was unfair.

Still, writing is an outlet, so I will write. What I need to say is something everyone already knows and has already heard before:

Parenting is really hard sometimes.

Really hard.

Add a special needs child, a typically developing but emotinally complex child, and a mom who seems to have an extra dose of Always Trying to Do Everything Right, and at times parenthood or motherhood specifically does not feel like some sort of richly rewarding experience, but more like an exercise in futility.

Okay, so here's the thing: in the space of a few weeks, my daughter has started acting like a teenager, while my son has become some sort of, I don't know, ninja (although he does not yet technically know what a ninja is. Then again, neither do I). She is oversensitive about everything (you can brush her arm and she'll yell, "OW! You pinched me!") and he is convinced the only way to relate to anyone is via hitting, kicking, or body slamming them.

As you can imagine, this isn't going over well.

The other morning I decided to count how many seconds until the two of them started fighting. The scenario went something like this:

Anna is sitting on the couch reading a book. Ethan comes downstairs, she sees him and grabs him and says she is "pretending to catch her fish." Ethan sees this as an invitation to fight and starts wrestling with her. Then he jumps on her and she's crying. All of this, in about 12 seconds.

It only happened about 37 other times, throughout the course of the day.

"But it's sibling rivalry! That's good! That's interaction and part of brother-sister relationships!" someone would say. And they would be absolutely right. I do remember that, and am grateful for that. Is it better that they are fighting than completely ignoring each other? I suppose fighting represents that they have some sort of relationship.

I understand all of that. Most of the trouble comes lately from all of the unspoken things, the undertone of their interactions and my stress at not being able to correctly decipher what's going on or how to address the situation.

With Ethan, I'm always thinking:
Is this just a boy thing?
Is he acting out because, as he has told us, "I'm mad that Anna's older?"
Is this an inability to regulate his emotions?
Is this a combination of all three, and when to discipline, and how to discipline?

With Anna, things get even more complicated. Anna has always had a personality that's hard to define, straddling somewhere between extrovert and introvert, the type who holds her feelings in despite us begging for her to be honest, the one who, even when she speaks, we don't know if we're getting the whole story. And now (how can this be?) there are days she seems to already be taking on the attitude of the adolescent, descending into her world of books, oversensitive at the smallest slight from a classmate, dissolving into tears in seconds, at times doubting herself, not sure of her place in the world or with peers.

Seeing Anna reach this stage is bringing me back to my own adolescence (This early? I thought I had more time!), and that's not pretty. Not pretty at all. Top that off with the fact that I too grew up with a brother with special needs, I feel as if I'm on a constant journey to Make Sure Her Feelings Are Expressed, Make Sure She Feels Special, Make Sure Her Childhood is, if not perfect, Pretty Okay).

This is why I tend to dissolve into tears myself sometimes. There's that pressure to make sure I get it right. Don't mess up the kids. Give them the tools they need so they don't grow up like me, crying in the bathroom when I was 23 at my first job, devoid of confidence, unable to control my emotions even though I was supposedly a grownup and in the "real world" now.

I love how parenthood shines a spotlight on all of your flaws. A-ha, here they are! In case you forgot! the condemning gremlins shout as the flood lights expose everything unpretty.

And so, I attempt to discipline. Dan of course does as well, but he doesn't tend to doubt himself so much. If he screws up, he screws up, and he will correct it next time. I'd love to be like that, not overthinking and overanalyzing. Can I say that again? To those who well-meaningly assure, "Just relax and don't be so hard on yourself," I would say please know how much I want to.

I give Ethan time-outs and take away preferred items and yes, sometimes give a spank, although that seems to be counter-intuitive to his whole hitting behavior at the moment. I watch the behavior continue.

I talk to Anna and encourage Anna and try to install confidence and quote Bible verses and reassure and beg her to share her heart and give hugs and delicately remind her that she can't hit Ethan and then be angry he is hitting her. Then I watch the behavior continue.

Someone once told me that studies have shown people are more fulfilled in jobs where they are assigned a task that can be quickly completed and in which they can see immediate results. More open-ended projects tend to be less rewarding.

Is that why parenting feels so difficult sometimes? Is it because it's a lot of planting and not much reaping, for perhaps a very long time?

As I've written and thought, I've realized, as so often happens, how little room I leave for grace. More than that, I've realized how little room I leave for failure.

It's dawning on me that trying to solve every problem is not necessarily the best remedy. Wouldn't I rather teach my children how to deal with stress, how to resolve an issue, or even how to accept gracefully that which cannot be changed, rather than just work to make everything disappear for them? Wouldn't it be better to give them the tools rather than always the answers? Wouldn't it be better to impart an overcoming spirit rather than leave them with complete ignorance or a defeatist attitude whenever they are faced with something unpleasant, unexpected, even undeserved?

Maybe the real question is not whether or not I can be a better parent than I'm already attempting to be, but rather whether or not I have the courage to fail sometimes, and even let my kids fail sometimes.

There is something freeing about throwing up your hands and realizing there is no way to do or solve it all.

There is peace in letting go and then hearing a whisper, in the midst of the stress and unanswered questions, words like the refrain of a song I listened to what seems like eons ago

Everything's gonna be all
Everything's gonna be all right
Everything's gonna be all right now
Everything's gonna be all right


Anonymous said...

I don't know if I have anything profound to write. =)
Just want you to know I'm thinking of you and your teenage mutant ninjas (ha ha?), and you're on to something here. Christ is our joy and strength.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if I have anything profound to write. =)
Just want you to know I'm thinking of you and your teenage mutant ninjas (ha ha?), and you're on to something here. Christ is our joy and strength.

Deb said...

Teenage mutant ninja turtles!! I love that! :) Now I'm going to hum the old theme song whenever they start fighting and crying. :)

Deenie said...

It's def tough when we get into situations that we're not sure how to handle. We want to be perfect for our kids but it's just not possible. I think it's good that you have this outlet. Hang in there mama.