How can I prepare myself to have a great longterm relationship with my kid?
September 1, 2010 7:19 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to deal with some familial baggage that seems to be getting heavier by the year and I'm wondering from parents what your perspective is on your kids. How did their characters shape your relationship? If you had a difficult toddler (defined however you like) did that inform your relationship with them as teens and then as adults?

I've got my first child on the way and recently lost my father. I'm having a really hard time with my mom and what really seems to trigger a flood of negative emotion in me is when she mentions that I was a "willful" child or that she had to set very firm boundaries because I was constantly testing. Sounds like a normal kid, right? The thing is, I didn't have a normal kid life and so this just opens up a can of worms where I rehash all the shitty things about my life as a kid (alcoholism, violence in the family, frequent uprootings, other unpleasant things) and then it's a downward spiral where I just want to write off my mom and my family and never see them again.

I don't feel at all guilty about how I behaved as a kid. Because I was a kid. And, all things being equal, I was as normal as I could be. But I wonder, as I'm about to have my first, if my kid is a wild child as a toddler, will I be able to forgive them as an adult? Will I be able to handle the ups and downs of a child and have a great relationship with them later? I don't really even know how to ask what I'm asking but I guess I'm hoping that I'll be able to forgive them yearly (monthly? daily?) for whatever they put me through. Because they're kids and isn't putting parents through their paces what it is all about?

Or, am I just seeing this whole thing through a really warped lens?


Also, the pool of mefits with grown up kids who can respond is probably smaller than the rest of us so I'd be interested in whatever perspectives come up here. Sometimes I really wonder if it's possible to have an open and honest relationship with your parents. Or, maybe this is just how things are supposed to work so that you can separate from them and form your own little families to screw up in your own special way. (I joke. Sort of.)
posted by amanda to Human Relations (29 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I have a toddler.

I too worried about big picture stuff while pregnant.

Now I barely have time to think about the normal day-to-day stuff.
posted by k8t at 7:30 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

My older son was a willful child, one who had to test every rule. He wasn't bad, that was just the way he was wired. He needed those rules! He also needed constant interaction. It was intense to deal with him at the time, but we weren't angry with him for being that way. When he got old enough to be easier to deal with (which happened when he started reading for fun and could amuse himself at length by doing so), it was just a huge relief. There was nothing to forgive. He's eighteen now, so all of that is long past.

My parents were not abusive, and I had a stable family life, but I felt sad when my mom told me about some occasion when I, at age two, had really needed a spanking, or so she said. My older son was two at the time, and I could not imagine how anything he did at that age could require a spanking, instead of redirection.

There were some parenting books that helped me a lot in figuring out how I wanted to deal with child raising. I really liked the books by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, especially Liberated Parents, Liberated Children: Your Guide to a Happier Family and How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk.
posted by Ery at 7:31 AM on September 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Parenthood often feels like a string of failures. You only remember the things you weren't able to do. You relive your shortcomings. Parents who constantly rehash how their kids misbehaved as small children, and are unable to let go of the child's personal "failings", have not owned up to their responsibility. For me, it's usually an indication of a deep guilt that they can't acknowledge. They can't accept their own failures as parents whatever they might be, so they dump them on the child. You see this a lot, and frankly, it's weird as hell to me.

If you love your child, own up to your own failures, and acknowledge the natural limitations children have, you will be fine.

Also, I agree with k8t. You won't have the extra energy to contemplate something so cerebral. You'll be dead tired soon enough.
posted by milarepa at 7:37 AM on September 1, 2010 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Okay just from the perspectives of me and mine:

A notable moment in my life was when a long-time friend (who I had clashed with many times as an adolescent) told me this:

"They will like you. You are a good person."

That just blew me away. I was shocked. Someone thinks I'm a good person?

So, yeah. I understand the warped perspective about your value as a person, and your worry that you'll dislike your own children.

Look, I know at least three or four grown people who were notably difficult toddlers/children (like, clinically difficult) who have fine relationships with their parents now. Their parents definitely love them and they all had normal-ish childhoods. Yes, their parents lost their tempers occasionally. They fought. It's fine now.

In contrast, my parents will tell you that I was an extraordinarily difficult baby/toddler/child. However, teachers, people who knew me when I was a child, extended family members, and pretty much everyone else outside of that particular screwed up system thought I was polite, kind, and affectionate. I was often chosen to be the "buddy" for new kids coming into my elementary school.

I am going to guess that you're similar, from the thoughtfulness and compassion you're showing by asking this question.

You are a good person. You will love your children, and they will love you.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:38 AM on September 1, 2010 [5 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds to me like communicating with your mom is stressing you out. And that's remarkably normal, even among healthy parent/child relationships.

Here's what I suggest. Grab a copy of Deborah Tannen's book, 'You're going to wear that?' it's a sociolinguistic look at how mothers and daughters communicate, and why certain mother daughter interaction habits form. (I can think of one, off the bat that might be relevant to you. As her daughter, you represent your mother out in the world. As a two year old even, your willfull behavior may have been something that was a social liability for her. Is this fair? No. Is it likely that she was cognizant of this social circumscription? No. Can you prevent this pattern with your child? Probably.)

Tannen has several great books. They're very well researched, but also very readable. Not jargony, not accusatory, and best of all, not dismissive.

I had a crazy childhood too. No children of my own yet, and also no relationship with my mom. But feel free to get in touch if you want to chat about any of this.

Big hugs for you.
posted by bilabial at 7:42 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would deal with these feelings where they arise, ie, as anger at your mom for your childhood, and not transmogrify them into worry about your parenting ability and relationship with your daughte. I don't blame you for your curiosity, but don't let what is basically a distraction take on more reality than it deserves.
posted by salvia at 7:53 AM on September 1, 2010

Oh, honey, honey, honey. Can we be friends? Because some of the things you're saying (specifically, the paragraph that starts "I don't feel guilty") are things that I've probably said verbatim. I'm terrified of this, too.

My family life wasn't abusive (at least not in the classic sense), but my mom has some major problems making reality fit her ideals. And boy, does she carry a grudge... and BOY, does she live in a world of denial.

We had a rather frightening conversation a couple years ago during which she told me that she felt that she failed as a mother because I had free will. Even typing that, I have a pit in my stomach. What a horrible, horrible, horrible thing to say -- for both of us. I know that she was trying to be honest about the awful psychological space in which she lives, but it reminded me of the decades I've been fighting to climb and love and make something of myself without her help. And I've been very successful despite that, but it HURTS. I see her all the time, so it's often fresh.

She is very different from me, and our circumstances are very different as well. It's brutal trying to convince yourself of that, but you have to keep telling yourself over and over again.

Another thing I've noticed as I move into my preparing-for-kids phase is that I desperately want kids and babies to like me. I want to know that I can have a relationship with them and influence them positively, but I don't want to spoil them. Ack! Tension! So I defer to my partner and let myself cool down. (Obviously, we have no kids yet, but when I get wound up I try to remember that it's not all about me and my hangups.)

I remember some random life-therapy show on TV in which the participants went to a ranch. Their first instinct when approaching a horse was to pet it and give it an apple, hoping that the animal would like them. But the horse wouldn't respond. Only when the person gave clear instructions and firm touches/movements (e.g., leading them, pulling up their foot to scrape the shoe, etc.) did the horse trust them.

For you (and me), I think this is the key. We need to give the kid what we lacked, and that's consistency and predictability. It's trust, and it can only be earned.

Ultimately here's one thing that might give you some hope: because of the way in which I grew up, I like a balance between a clear plan and complete flexibility. I need to know what's expected, but if something goes haywire I am sooooo used to improvising on my own, and I usually succeed. Because, hey, that's what I've done all my life, right? So a little voice in my head says, "Self, you will be AMAZING as a mom."

I hope that voice gets a little louder as the time gets close.
posted by Madamina at 7:53 AM on September 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

Parents with good communication skills learn or make an attempt to not put old resentments on their kids. Now, a parent might joke, perhaps in a lighthearted way about "man, you'll see when you have kids" -- I think a bit of that is not unusual, and does not necessarily point to dysfunction that is actually part of a damaged relationship. It sounds like your parents actually have expressed such feelings in the form of resentment that has left an impression. Enough of an impression, that you fear that you may "pass along" that same kind of bad feeling.

I think your desire to be a different kind of parent than your parents were to you is excellent. Parenting, good parenting, and effective communication are all big topics, covered ably by many books and threads here and perhaps some folks can chime in on that.

Now, I'm more concerned about your relationship with your parents, this includes your father. That parental voice, that negative voice, that you carry inside you from your folks, judging harshly your childhood, and perhaps your present, learn that THAT IS NOT YOU. Parents have a profound effect on us, how could they not. The problem is, for better or worse, parents can only do the best they can do, and if there is alcoholism, their best can be pretty mediocre or bad. There are lots of good resources for dealing with the aftermath of living with alcoholic parents, one is the group Adult Children of Alcoholics, which I think you may find commona ground with.

I am a stepparent for less than a decade, to kids now all in their mid-teens to twenties, and it's very rewarding. The challenge of being a good communicator, providing guidance, limits, and love has been wonderful for me, though sometimes very hard. I wish you the best in seeking to be a good parent.
posted by artlung at 7:54 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Will I be able to handle the ups and downs of a child and have a great relationship with them later?"


I was a willful child. All toddlers are willful, at least to some extent. Some more than others. Some remain willful. I think I still am. :) But my parents helped me channel my willfulness in appropriate directions as I grew (and when you do that, it's called more flattering names, like "stubbornness" or "stick-to-it-ive-ness" or even "highly motivated" ... but sometimes "bullheaded."). I shudder to think now of some of the things I put my parents through as a kid ... but the key point is probably that I had NO IDEA of it then; not until I became a parent did I realize what a shit I must have been, at least on and off, as a kid. But I never knew anything but that I was loved.

I still want my own way and am determined to get it, but I've channeled that into being thoughtful about what I want and why, and into focusing that level of energy (which, when I'm feeling willful about something, is pretty much boundless) on appropriate sorts of things. When I decide I'm going to get/do something, I most often succeed through sheer refusal to back down, but my parents helped me learn to focus that energy on the right things. My mom said something not long ago about being able to see in a clear bright line how my contrariness as a toddler goes directly into some of the things I do as an adult. (You can memail me if you want specifics.)

I have a great relationship with my parents. For me as the child, even the adult child, it has pretty much always been an easy and happy one, teen dramarama notwithstanding (and oh, did I go in big for the teen dramarama). I realize, however, that making MY side of the relationship easy and happy took a lot of work from my parents. I'm trying to be just as good at it with my spawn as they were with me. I don't think it's EASY to be on the parent end? But I think you can absolutely do it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:05 AM on September 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I'd second the ACOA resources. My partner is ACOA, and his own therapy has helped me learn so much about my own situation and human relations in general. So even if your partner doesn't come from that kind of background, I think it'd be very, very helpful.

My partner, and others in similar situations, have really benefited from a type of therapy called EMDR, which is sort of like hypnosis. I know it sounds like it'd be super woo-woo, but it has proven quite effective with people dealing with traumatic situations in their past. Multiple therapists I've known from different therapeutic schools of thought have confirmed that it's not only legit but it works.

Basically, it posits that when you go through a traumatic event (of any size or type), the way in which you react never really moves past that time in your life. So, for example, if something touches a nerve that reminds you of something that happened when you were 8, your reaction might be a lot less adult. The therapy helps you go back to some of the times you were hurt and address them "in the moment," which can be a huge step toward letting go and moving forward in a more healthy way.
posted by Madamina at 8:07 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

You are seeing this whole thing through a really warped lens!

I'm pregnant right now. I could not imagine repeating those sorts of poisonous things to myself or my child (I heard them too as a kid and young adult.)

Make a list of the unhealthy things you are thinking. Go see a therapist for at least a few sessions to help sort out what's what.

Does hearing this sort of talk about yourself as a child make you feel good? Not so much, right?

Then do not repeat the mistake with your own child. You can do that! It's the right thing.
posted by jbenben at 8:12 AM on September 1, 2010

Mom of grown kids. One who was reallyreallyreally willful. And still is as an adult.

But, you know what? That is a trait that serves her well when used in the right way. She perseveres. She is a hard worker with an excellent work ethic. She has gutted her way thru some pretty tough circumstances. I love her and am proud of her even tho she sometimes makes choices I do not necessarily agree with.

I think the issue here is with your particular mom, period. It is true that more or less, the term willful describes children, particularly toddlers, period.

You will be an awesome parent. Why? Because you are selfaware. And that is so much of the battle, right there.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:16 AM on September 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have a 12 year old son and 5 year old twins (girl/boy), and I will readily admit that I 'knew' a lot more about parenting when I had a 7 yr old and 2 newborns, lol. I know I walked into parenting having a hundred (beautiful and loving) ideas and I have really struggled with discovering that adhering to those beautiful ideals doesn't guarantee any specific result. I was sure if I did A, B, and C that it would produce something akin to E, F, and G . . . and it just wasn't the case. And realizing that was a crippling heartbreak and resentment for me. I parented with my whole heart and worked my butt off, and it seemed to have had no effect. And now I'm thinking about my 12 yr old becoming a man and I have no idea what kind of relationship we'll have. It seems, from where I'm standing, to be something akin to magic that happens or it doesn't.

But I also have struggled with depression and anxiety my whole life. And my husband struggles with expressing his emotions. It's easy (for us) to love a baby/toddler -- it's harder to love something when love is not cuddling but endless discussions of pokemon, or the princesses you wish the kid wasn't even attracted to. Plus we're both pretty cerebral -- we feel connected to someone when they grok a reference, or laugh at our jokes -- that doesn't really work during the middle years (you can pretend the infant understood!).

So *today* my theory is that one will have a better relationship with one's kids if one works on themselves -- treat any depression or clinical anxiety sooner rather than later, learn how to handle your own emotions healthily, learn how to express your own emotions comfortably and healthily . . . it's easy to clean up and kiss a bloody knee, but how will you feel/respond when someone breaks their heart? And how do you make sure they feel comfortable enough to even tell you it happened? These are the things I'm asking my therapist . . .
posted by MeiraV at 8:19 AM on September 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

Willful child here who was told about all sorts of horrible things I supposedly did as a child to test my parents' limits. Which made me feel pretty crummy about myself for a long time.

Felt like you were feeling when I was pregnant. Major panic. I have a bright, assertive, fun-loving, independent, adventurous 4 year old now. Who was a lot like me when I was growing up. She's delightful.

The book "Highly-Spirited Child" really helped me to have a different frame about how to parent than my parents had. All of those negative attributes that they heaped onto me? They were actually very beneficial to what I was able to achieve in life. I've still got residual guilt from my childhood and all of the feedback I got about my "badness" but I'm letting it go. Slowly.

Two things:

1) You are not your parents. If your child is independent and tests boundaries, you will be more empathetic because, hey, you lived it. And frankly? Intense kids are tiring, yes, but they are also incredibly interesting and engaging if you can channel their energy and redirect them. My badness? I have a suspicion, as I look back, that when I acted out my parents stopped fighting with each other and that was how I was able to control a very chaotic home life. Who knows though? Kids do interesting things.

2) You will have ups and downs in the relationship with your kids. You can't control that, it just is, as kids will become independent and then come back to seek comfort. The best thing that you can do is try to keep yourself emotionally healthy and functional, so you don't project all of that stuff onto your kids. Take care of your issues and address the stuff from your own childhood that still affects you, and you'll keep that clutter out of the relationship with your kid the best that you can. Some of it is expectations, as well. If you expect your toddler to be willful and your teenager to be surly, it's more likely that you will be interacting with them based on your expectations and they will respond accordingly. I'm not saying that expecting the teenage years to be all sunshine and light will make it so. But expecting it to be dismal will affect how you interact with your kid in all sorts of negative ways. Be curious about them, and wait to see what happens.
posted by jeanmari at 8:33 AM on September 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I really like what St. Alia said. I was a willful child and difficult in many ways, and I heard about it from both my mom and my dad. But the difference was, from my mom I heard in her voice that my willfulness, even when it made me difficult, was a character trait she admired and respected in me (she was pretty willful herself). What I heard from my dad was that my willfulness made his life more difficult. That difference made a very significant impact on how I saw myself and saw myself in relation to them.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:02 AM on September 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have a 15-year-old. Not exactly "willful" but does like trying to game the system. Since he could talk, he's always been about seeing how far he could take a conversation (to the point of getting a reaction or "his way"). All in all, though, I've been pretty lucky as a parent; he's a bright, caring, happy, good kid.

The one thing that amazes me about being a parent (and more so after year 2 or 3) is how often it brought me back to memories of my own childhood. During those times of recollection, you will remember how you were treated or acted in a similar situation, or how parents/elders treated you, and you can make a conscious decision whether to follow a similar path or create a new one. It's pretty cool that way. You are not destined to do exactly what your parents did when raising you.

(Although, maaaan, the number of times I've said to myself, "OMG, I sound exactly like my mom/dad.")
posted by not_on_display at 9:23 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

A good parent sees "willful" behavior, a not-so-good parent sees a "willful" child.

I have good kids, they are bright and have really good intentions. They sometimes make questionable decisions, so as a parent it's my job to help them understand that those decisions have consequences. Whether that's the fact that if you color on the wall then you have to clean it up or that if you don't keep your grades up then you will get kicked out of the special program you're in. I've set rules and the consequence of breaking the rules are punishments.

Their actions do not determine mine.

I'm still the adult in the relationship. I'm sorry, but I think a parent who blames the child for what went wrong is being at best lazy and abusive at worst. Sure, my kids make me late sometimes, but that is the extent of what they are responsible for. Even then there are probably things I could have done to change the outcome, getting them up earlier or having clothes laid out the night before. No child has ever made his parent hit them, no child has ever made his parents drink. If a parent says that then they are deluding themselves.

Don't get me wrong, I lose my temper and yell at my kids. More than I should, but I don't turn around and blame them for it. Like I said, I'm the adult and nobody is responsible for my actions but me.
posted by TooFewShoes at 9:46 AM on September 1, 2010 [7 favorites]

And a few things that might help from the perspective of someone with similar concerns (me!):

The thing that helped me the most when it comes to coming to terms with my childhood was reading about other, normal, and sometimes difficult children and the way their parents love them and relate to them.

There are psychologists who specialize in mother-child relationships, actually. (Well, I know one at least.) Here in NYC I could point you to one but I'm not sure about Portland. If you want I can try to walk you through the process of finding one. I don't know if you need or want ongoing therapy but I think that it would be valuable to have someone around who knows you and your history in case you need help from a trained professional in the future.

There are also groups/classes for mothers and babies. The baby is happy to have music or whatever, but the real benefit is the friendship of the other mothers. If the class is over a year or so, you can see how other people's children are developing and get reassurance that they're normal, your frustrations are normal, and that everyone loves their children anyway.

If you know an experienced caregiver, they can help give you perspective about the many children and families that they've known, and how they've turned out over the years.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:55 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

My middle child (now 21) was definitely a challenge. She was a born nay-sayer; never wanted to do what the rest of the family wanted to do; had a ;lot of social anxiety; was very perceptive and could read people well, using those skills to verbally cut them (us) down to size; and was just generally hard. She made me angry a lot and she put me through some tough moments, but I never thought of her as "bad" and I have never felt a need to forgive her-- it was and is my job to deal with her particular personality.

Oddly, as she moved through puberty she became a lot easier and is now one of the most delightful people I know. She is still sarcastic as all get-out, but I kinda like it.
posted by idest at 11:06 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Parent of an adult child who was very difficult here. My daughter was a very willful child. She is now 18 and a freshman in college. She is our youngest child and only daughter, we also have two sons who were very "easy". The qualities she presented at three were those that I wanted her to have at 20, and we always laughed about it at the time. Our philosophy was "She's going to be a great 25-year-old with that streak of independence, strong self-image, self-direction, and certainty about what she wants and where she fits in this world." So the challenge with her was always how to support those qualities while teaching her how to use them to her best advantage. As with most parents, we were sometimes successful and sometimes not. I think as long as you keep your child's best interests at heart, you'll be fine.
posted by raisingsand at 11:08 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I feel like I know where you are coming from. I've been given long lists (in writing, even!) of all the supposedly horrible ways I acted during my entire childhood. I've come to view these differently now - not as me being a bad person, but as my parent saying, "When I had you, it didn't solve my problems. I thought it would. You turned out to be a separate, individual human being instead of a mirror for me to use to look at myself and fix my self-esteem."

The strange thing is that there is a huge disconnect between the type of kid I supposedly was (willful, for instance), and the way I saw myself (fearful, overly compliant, unable to speak out in my own interest). Perhaps the truth is somewhere in the middle.

I now have a preschooler. She is very, um, independent. I read tons of parenting books just so that I can take away (or leave) the parenting methods that I think will work for us. I wanted to see the what/how/why of different philosophies, so that I could try to avoid making mistakes that were made with me. (I'll surely make my own.)

I find that when I try very hard to see things from her childlike perspective, I can understand her better, and she can actually be reasoned with. I'm very lucky in that. It takes patience. It also takes a lot of consistency and follow-through to get your child to always trust you and believe what you say. But I don't have to yell, I don't have to spank, and I don't have to shame or humiliate her. I do find myself needing to put her in time out/cool off when she does something she shouldn't - it's my job to help her build her social skills and learn to be nice. Honestly, though, part of me is always proud when I see her stick up for herself and go after what she wants because I was so afraid to do those things myself. I think that when she channels these traits in a positive way, they are going to serve her well. I really don't think I'll ever use these memories as weapons against her.
posted by Knowyournuts at 11:15 AM on September 1, 2010 [7 favorites]

My daughter had the most terrible twos on earth. Now, she's 19, and we tease her, gently, about being so awful that we couldn't take her out in public. (Seriously--she wouldn't sit, she wouldn't stand still, she'd take off her shoes and throw them.) She wasn't "pulling the cat's tail destructive", but she was a big pain. Now, she's lovely. I get a kick out of looking at those photos of her in full tantrum mode, and wonder what she was thinking.

She grew from being the Toddlenator into being a wonderful preschooler, middleschooler, and on and up. It's just a stage.

Our parents like to replay the tape, I think--one kid was wilful, one was dreaming, etc. I hope I don't do the same.

There's also a bit of parental schadenfreude at work--it's swell to see the next person sweat/worry like they made you sweat/worry.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:57 AM on September 1, 2010

Response by poster: I guess the thing that is at the heart of this is that my mom was my only ally growing up. She was the only one who I could turn to for help. Her method of offering help clearly fell short in a lot of ways. I think she does feel guilty. If she doesn't, she ought to. So, it's like, if my mom didn't even like me growing up then I pretty much had no one. Which, you know, at a very early age I had the realization that I was on my own. It just sucks to feel like you're finding out that yeah, kid, it's true -- you really were on your own.

I really appreciate all the perspective here and the book recommendations and everything else -- your answers have been really, really helpful and reassuring today.
posted by amanda at 11:58 AM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

How could 'being wilful' possibly be seen as a fault? How ghastly it would be to have a child that was not wilful. What would that be? A child that always did its parents' will? That sounds like a horror film.

I am the parent of two adult children and I regret parenting mistakes I have made, but never anything my children did, least of all 'being wilful'. Children need to have and exercise their will, to become ready to be adults.
posted by communicator at 1:33 PM on September 1, 2010

Amanda, fwiw I was "on my own" as a child even tho I had hovering parents-especially my mom. But it was always hovering directed at "don't embarrass us, your parents" instead of trying to meet my needs. But look, even crappy parents (and I wouldn't call mine crappy, just clueless) usually are trying to be good parents. And it's embarrasing to look back on one's parenting years and see how you've failed (and every parent can point to failures. Every one.) I know I have in some ways. But again, the past can be cut loose and you can look to the future. You are not bound to fail in ways your folks did. Again. that selfawareness will help tremendously. My own parental failures were my own-I never did fail my kids the way mine failed me-and I take great comfort in that.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:54 PM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you think that your mother being unhappy with you or angry with you means that you were truly on your own?

I think it's important to remember that transient emotional states do not need to affect our ability to get our needs met, or to meet the needs of others.

Nor does your behavior as a child justify the fact that your needs weren't met, make it explainable, understandable, or inevitable.

Meaning that your mother did the best she could to meet your needs. Sometimes she failed.

Her being angry or frustrated sometimes does not change that. It does not mean that she was any less there for you, or that you were more "on your own" than you would have been if she were always happy. Anger or frustration are emotions, not facts or actions.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:19 PM on September 1, 2010

The good news about that is that you will be able to be angry or frustrated with your child--and your child will not be alone. They will have you. You will be there for them. They will never doubt that or feel lonely and vulnerable in the way that you did.

I am very, very sorry for the way you felt when you were a child, and the way that you feel now. You did not deserve that. No one does.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:22 PM on September 1, 2010

Setting firm boundaries for children ("willful" or not) is what a loving mother does. More willful children may need firmer boundaries, I don't know. I also don't know the tone of voice with which she's saying these things to you, but I don't think setting boundaries is at all inconsistent with being there for you and loving you. Not setting boundaries would be more like "I don't care what you do, eat candy for breakfast, play in the street, do whatever you want." Being there to be a guardrail for someone while they're a toddler and keep them safe is a very core part of eventually being a loving ally.

Maybe you could ask her if she liked you despite your willfulness. My perception is that every loving parent half-loves their children and half looks on in perplexed amazement at how weird they are (there's a certain age of toddler that tricks me into thinking they're normal adults until they do something that is totally ridiculous). So, if you're hearing or feeling a sense of alienation, I don't think it's a lack of love. I bet you will soon be feeling that same "oh wow, what am I going to do with you, you crazy beast that I love so much, how will I ever protect you and help you grow up, when you are seriously such a weirdo?"
posted by salvia at 10:26 PM on September 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: That's a good point Salvia. If I had a "normal" childhood then I'm sure that her comments would come across as neutral and even humorous. But, all her stories about me as a kid seem to have a negative component. I started really noticing it a few years ago. "And then you threw up all over me and we had to pack up the picnic and go home." It starts out as a sweet childhood story and then ends up with some way I sort of ruined it. Her memory seems to be just as much the negative part as anything positive or cheerful. There seems to be an undercurrent of "but I loved you anyway" -- the suffering martyr to the parenting cause.

Anyway, when I hear that, it just really triggers a flood of emotion that encompasses my whole childhood and gives me an overwhelming sense of being not wanted. So, the warped lens.

I just don't want to end up on the other side of this parenting thing with a bad attitude about my child. I know there will be challenges. I lay awake thinking of them! But, no matter how difficult the kid is, I just don't want to blame them for being a kid. I think from hearing the opinions here that this won't happen. Obviously, the way she's sharing these memories with me is part and parcel with the weird environment in which I was raised. I can understand objectively her challenges as a mother but this stuff still seems to hit me in the gut. I have trouble actually sympathizing. And, I don't, really. Like I said, the reality was that I wasn't a bad kid despite any "willful" tendencies. I don't know what the hell her expectations were as a parent but I know our dysfunctional unit couldn't have been what she had in mind. I just really chafe at the idea that I should take even a little blame for it.

Okay, whoo! I really needed a reality check here and some perspective. Thanks again, all.
posted by amanda at 6:54 AM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

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