“You Can’t Use Me To Feel Good About Yourself”

“You Can’t Use Me To Feel Good About Yourself”

As I write today I’m reminded of a post I wrote 8 years ago, What I Did When My Daughter Said, “You’re the Boringest and I Hate You! This time, however, it’s not what she said, but instead what she didn’t say and didn’t do that shined a light on some difficult parenting wisdom. 

 Part I – The Sweater

It all began when I knit my 14 year old daughter a sweater.  She’d accompanied me to the store to choose a soft, washable yarn in a neutral color she’d actually wear. During Covid I’ve picked up knitting again and found a healthy distraction in searching for patterns and scrumptious yarns. Because my grandmother taught me to knit when I was young, knitting sent a gentle signal to my brain, “Everything’s okay.” 

A couple of weeks ago when I completed the sweater, I laid it on her bed so she’d see it when she got home. I imagined she’d try it on and show me how it fit. Over the past month I’d measured the length of her arms, inquired about how cropped she’d like it as that’s the current fashion and worked to tailor it just for her.

Because she never mentioned the sweater, I checked in with her in the afternoon, “Did you see the sweater?  Please try it on — I’d love to see how it fits.”

She answered, “Not right now.”

Later I asked her again and she explained that she’d already changed into her pj’s but that she’d do it the next time she got dressed.  The next day I decided to mention it one last time. My heart felt heavy.  I didn’t want to get entangled in a power struggle with her over the sweater I’d made for her because I adore her.  Needless to say, I never saw it on her.

Part II – The Pile

My daughter had recently cleaned out her room, placing all outgrown and unwanted items into a huge bag in the hall.  Beside the bag was a loose pile of papers with a blue glue gun resting on top. 

After a few days of watching the pile collect dust, I took a closer look and saw under the glue gun a photo storybook I’d created and given to her for her birthday some years ago. 

This project, with a closeup of her soft two year old face on the cover looked to have seen better days. I picked it up and brought it into her room asking, “What’s happened to this?” She confirmed that she’d found it spoiled, likely because last fall she’d placed a little pumpkin from our garden on top of it, in a drawer. The pumpkin decomposed over the course of months.

I felt an anger rise in me and said, ‘You clearly don’t care about it.” 

She answered,I do care.” 

I said, “If you cared you’d have come to me when you found it and asked what we could do.”  I swore, “Just f***ing get rid of it then, but don’t leave it on the floor for me to take care of.” 

Heart pounding, I retreated to my bedroom across the hall where I stood motionless, a little shocked that I’d spoken to her so harshly.  Being the youngest child she was adept at avoiding conflict.

For a split second I thought, I’m going to ignore her, give her the cold shoulder.  A memory flashed from the recesses of my mind of my dad ignoring me for two weeks after his feelings had been hurt because I’d been spending weekends at my friend Sharon’s house. I can remember him scolding me as we stood inside our front door, “You care more about her family than you do your own!”  I was in 5th grade at the time and it was two weeks before he looked at or spoke to me again.

I decided I wasn’t going to ignore her, even though to hurt her back felt like the “natural” response.

Returning to her room, disintegrating storybook in hand I said, “I realize the reason I’m so upset is that my feelings are hurt. It’s becoming clear to me that you don’t care about things I’ve made for you.”

I was of course thinking about the unadorned sweater.

I repeated myself, “It’s becoming clear to me, and I’m speaking to myself now, that I need to focus less on you and more on myself.”

I felt my voice catch and tears well in my eyes.

Unlike 8 years ago, this time she said nothing.  Through the uncared for storybook and forgotten sweater I was getting a message loud and clear, “Mom, get a life. While I need you to be there for me, I don’t need you the same way I used to and I’m not going to act in ways to please you. You haven’t trained me to take care of you and I’m not going to start now. My main concern right now is my friends and all the changes I’m going through. You can’t use me to feel good about yourself.

I felt grounded when I turned to leave her room, closing the door quietly behind me.

I haven’t figured it all out yet.

It felt valuable to write about and share with you because it’s not spit spat all settled in me and tied up with a bow and maybe you’re having your own messy parenting moments.  I’m sitting with a real life collision between my daughter’s age appropriate growth and what I’m gently naming my age appropriate stuckness, a slice of difficult wisdom. 

It’s not only children who grow.  Parents do too.  As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours.  I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun.  All I can do is reach for it, myself. 

— Joyce Maynard

For this moment, good enough is just right

For this moment, good enough is just right

Our current situation

I’ve been thinking about you. This is a tough time for everyone, including parents.

It’s extraordinarily important that we’re compassionate with ourselves right now.

My hope for you is that in between the chaos and overwhelm of juggling it all, you have moments of sweet connection with your children and even some clarity for yourself.

You’re just where you need to be.

If you’re working in one of our many essential services, thank you, thank you, thank you. For my friends in hospital settings, you’re on my mind and in my heart everyday.

Sunday night, watching 60 Minutes, I was reminded of a phrase that is so important in this moment. The army general responsible for overseeing the building of temporary hospitals across the country said they were using a “good enough design.” Not perfect, but good enough is what’s called for right now.

Good enough is what’s called for right now. Embrace it.

The other day I lost my temper with my daughter as I found her empty dishes around the house (she knows they belong in the dishwasher) and a dog fur covered carpet (that I’d asked her to vacuum hours before). I found her in her room, curled up on her bed (this is hard for her too) when I came in and scolded her, “why haven’t you _________?!” She responded “You didn’t give me any time!”

Exasperated, I huffed and puffed (thankfully I didn’t blow the house down!) and left the house to do an essential errand, fully aware that trying to work it out in the heat of the moment wouldn’t be helpful.

The next morning I made a simple and genuine apology, “I’m sorry I got upset with you yesterday. Did that scare you or make you mad?”

She said it was okay and that she didn’t want to talk about it.

This is no time to push.

This is no time to push. My nervous energy and need to clean is a longing for control. I’ve decided to slow down, do the cleaning I see that needs to be done, and to ask for help when I feel calm (not angry or afraid).

It’ll be good enough.

In the midst of this new coronavirus life I notice I feel most calm, connected and clear when I’m engaged in helping others:  cooking for my family, giving a box of disinfectant wipes to a friend (that’s love!), or picking up items for neighbors when I make a run to the store.

These past two weeks I’ve been collecting a list of free resources I thought you might find helpful.

Resources

  • Here’s a list of of free on-line meditation resources compiled by the Awake Network
  • Here’s an easy way to get local (Northern California only) produce delivered to your home. You’ll save money on your first box if you use my referral code: LISA8836 
  • Here’s a 2 month free trial for Daily Burn, a fitness website offering everything from meditation to kettlebells!

Parenting

Educational

My sister inspired our family to start a daily gratitude list. I’ve set up an easel in the dining room to collect our silver linings. Here’s a sampling:

  • Hearing the birds singing & smelling the clean air
  • Being able to walk around outside
  • My husbands calm demeanor and positive attitude
  • Middle school humor!
  • Time with family
  • Home cooked meals

Thank you for all that you do as a parent… right now it’s more than good enough.