Monday, July 12, 2010

Parenthood. It Can Kinda Suck.

When I became a mom, I discovered this deep and untouchable place of love that grew from deep inside of me that I never knew existed. I was head over heels in love with my daughter in a way that I didn't know another person could love. It was this huge mish mash of love, joy, protection, fear, doubt, happiness... and so much more that isn't describable with simple words.

For more than 2 years, I bathed in this emotional sensory overload every day. I wept when I left my daughter at daycare. I fretted about the stress that adding a second baby would add to her life as she knew it. I worried about her safety. I delighted in her smiles, her laughs, how she experienced the world.

When Zach was born, the love connection was not instant. His labor was much more difficult. But I bonded with him quickly after the birth experience was complete and when he and I would spend quiet days at home... I felt that deep pool of emotion washing over him as well.

I never expected that the depth of love that I could feel for my children... especially for my daughter... included such anger towards my child. Before having kids, I was one of those people that was known for being great with kids. My entire life, I've worked with kids (or been one). I've worked with kids who are damaged, hurting, diagnosed and labeled. I've worked with kids of privilege. I've worked with theatre kids and church kids. I've worked with infants and youngsters and toddlers and teens. I was known for my patience, my creativity, my responsibility. I don't know where those traits went once I had my own children. Perhaps I've never recovered from Teagan's infancy. Hours on end of crying and pacing and dancing. The breastfeeding struggles and the feeling of being so lost because there were times that neither Jeff nor I could ever possibly calm her down. Exhaustion took on a new definition.

We are coming head to head with struggles that have been building for a while now. As Teagan gets older, she's becoming more and more headstrong. And the attitude... the stubbornness... the smirk... the maniacal laughter when she just doesn't care. Jeff and I both make efforts- good ones. We attempt to be calm, to be reasonable. We use everything we know. And sometimes, it just doesn't matter. The screaming and crying and howling don't stop. She is obstinate. Stubborn. Demanding of attention. Seeking to cause havoc. Unwilling to follow direction. She asks, she pleads, she demands, she does what she wants to do anyway. She gets in trouble and the screaming and melting down begin.

I hate that there are days that I seriously want to run away from home. I hate that there are times that I have to walk away from her because I so badly want to smack her. I hate that I can feel so frustrated and so angry with this little girl.

Most of all, I think and ponder about what it all means. Is this normal on her part? Do all 5 year olds challenge and fight and push the way she does? Or... Am I a failure as a parent? How is it possible that I could completely handle behaviors and attitudes far worse than my own daughter's without batting an eyelash but my kids refusing to cooperate, refusing to be polite, refusing to listen... well, that can turn me into a twisted up ball of blechiness. I forget my head, lose my cool, get fed up and frustrated and want to just quit.

Today was a hard day. Today was a roller coaster. She was either awesome or awful and there wasn't much gray area in between. We had a big falling out at the end of the day. Huge. And once the calm down happened and she was in the bath and back to being awesome, we had a discussion about how bedtime would go so we could avoid the melting down. She came up with her own consequence if bedtime was a failure. She decided that if she got out of bed, yelled for us, cried, yelled, screamed, or whined... no TV in the morning. If she continued, we should come in her room and take away things of hers that she would then have to earn back by doing special chores or having great bedtimes. And bedtime was peaceful.

So what's the next step? Is she telling me that she needs clearly explained rules and consequences? Do I need to make a list of what the house rules are that I can clearly point to when one is broken? Do I include her in the list of consequences for breaking house rules? I don't know. I'm at a loss. I long for the days when I could just hold her through my frustration, cuddle and snuggle her and hold her close to me while singing in her ear and dancing her around the living... when a tight swaddle and feeding at my breast was all that was needed to get through the crisis.

I fear what the future holds. I fear that my perceived failures will become her eating disorder, his drug use, her abusive boyfriend, his dropping out of school. I fear what tomorrow holds- more screaming and yelling and crying and frustration and tears and fighting. I fear my failure. I fear my reactions to this little whirlwind of ups and downs and twists and turns. I fear when this starts to come from Zach. I fear that I will fail him the same way I am failing Teagan.

Sometimes, parenting is the most awesome and fun job. We get to do such cool things and be part of such an amazing experience.

But sometimes, it really sucks. Really, really. Sucks.

EDITED TO ADD: Thank you for all the great comments so far. I can't tell you how much I appreciate having this place to come and share my open and honest feelings and thoughts and get feedback from experienced and wise people. Jeff and I have been talking about what to do next. Teagan seems to really thrive on very clear and set boundaries and rules and having things in a certain order. I think it gives her a sense of control over her environment- it gives her the chance to really feel like she is the boss. I think having written rules of the house- that we will engage the kids in to create- will give her tangible limits that she can claim ownership of.

But keep the ideas and positive reinforcement coming. The best moment of my day yesterday was the validation that I got from my mom when she witnessed a minor incident with Teagan that Jeff and I had to tag team to manage... and she recalled the same feelings of frustration and anger and losing her temper with my brothers. Given that I think my brothers have turned out really, really well, it gives me hope to know that my mom felt the same things I feel when dealing with my kids. I also know that more is coming. Zach is starting to throw his own fits but, so far, he is easily distracted or calmed or just takes the "No" without much protesting.

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17 comments:

Julie said...

Have you tried a sticker chart? We used everything with our oldest...some things worked, others didn't. Sounds like she knows right and wrong, when she is good and bad and even has consequences figured out. I think a token economy or sticker chart might work for her. Find a system that works for everyone and see what happens.

The biggest thing I found is to say what you mean and do what you say. If there is a consequence, stick to it. Make her know that when mom or dad says something will happen, it will. I have left full shopping carts at the grocery store, I have had to cancel a fun "playdate" that I really wanted/needed because of behavior, I have sent kids to bed and listened to their protests for hours, I have followed through...no matter how much it hurt ME.

You are a great parent...most of us are but sometimes, it does suck to be us! It does get better (and also gets worse). Hang in there!

noexcuses said...

Liz,

This is a powerful post, and one that I think many can relate to.

First and foremost, I don't think you are a failure. Failure is giving up. You definitely don't do that!

Yes, it sucks, and from what I hear from those who have gone before me, it sucks for a long time. But the joy keeps coming through just as strong!

Talking about it, reading about it, possibly getting involved with a child therapist could help. I did all of those and, for a long time, I felt like I had a handle on it. I think it helps if you avoid looking into the future and "what might happen." Staying in the present kept my stress level at a pace I could handle.

God will walk with you all the way, but you already know that.
There are a bunch of us out here cheering for you. Hang in there!

Liz

Expats Again said...

I think she is finding her boundaries and you are wise to realize she is looking for rules. The sticker chart Julie recommended might be the answer. She will benefit from having her good behaviors rewarded (positive reinforcement). I'm also certain that her advice on being consistent is crucial. But, I'm very certain that what you are experiencing is what many mothers experience, but they may not be so forthcoming in sharing it.

Melisa with one S said...

You are DEFINITELY not a failure. Every couple of years, a kid gets to a point where they are re-testing you for boundaries. I think you should try the rule chart. Having something on the wall (which you go over with her first, of course) can clear up lots of issues in a jiffy. And I'm in TOTAL agreement with Julie, to say what you mean and mean what you say. I wrote a post about this a few weeks ago. If you missed it, let me know and I'll get the url for you; I can't remember what I called it! :)

Ups and downs are part of everything, especially parenting. Don't worry, you'll get this nipped in the bud way before she's a teen, because you care to do so.

And now go look at yourself in a mirror and repeat ten times, "I'm a great mom!" :)

michelle said...

You are so not a failure. Look what you've done. You're raising a girl who knows what the rules are and is able to self-modulate. You're raising a girl who wants to be in control of her own destiny. You're raising an alpha female. No easy task.

I have all the same fears as the mother of an alpha female

You're doing just fine

xoxoxo

Deborah (Teach Preschool) said...

Just one small tip from your neighbor in Noblesville:) When it comes to setting boundaries and expectations - they need to be done one day at a time. Read this post and see if it helps...
http://deborahjstewart.com/2010/04/teaching-preschoolers-expectations/

Hang in there and you will overcome each obstacle as they are presented.

Jason, as himself said...

It sounds to me like you are a fantastic parent. Teagan is headstrong and it sounds like you've got a battle on your hands, at least for a while, or maybe for....ever? You just keep doing the best you can do and I'm sure you will find something that works better.

One of my daughters basically a piece of cake. The other one has been a huge challenge since she hit puberty...still is, and she's 21 now.

Hold on tight.

Mrs4444 said...

I believe strongly that you are a fantastic mother. I truly can't think of anything you you could try that you haven't already. She's a "strong-willed child." (Have you read that book?) I seriously wish I could come out and play SuperNanny with you. Not that I'm an expert, but I would really like to meet Teagan. Do you have a friend whose parenting skills you admire and who you could consult with? If I recall correctly, she has also had problems elsewhere, which confirms that it's not you. Maybe consult with someone at a behavior clinic? Hugs to you, my friend.

Mellodee said...

The first thing to remember is that kids frequently behave better for others than they do for their parent. With parents its all about testing limits in a safe environment. Somewhere deep inside her scheming little head, she knows that mom and dad will love her no matter what, so let's keep testing to see how far she can go. The other thing to remember is that strong-willed children are frequently quite bright and they like to be "in charge". By coming up with her own punishment (which is a good idea anyway, because kids frequently come up with more severe measures than the parent would) she holds on to doing it her way; therefore she's still in charge. There are lots of disciplinary measures to try to help her learn what works for her, you'll find the combo that works. Consistency, consequences, follow-through, and such will eventually help her learn how to understand how life works!

As far as your anger, well of course, she makes you angry. That is OK! Your little angel is pushing all your buttons and she knows it! There's no reason you can't tell her so. The phrase we always used was, "I love you very much, but I don't like you right now and I don't want to be with you until you (fill in with whatever is reasonable; i.e., stop screaming, start behaving, eat your vegetables....whatever!)". But then you must walk away! (You don't have to go far....just out of her sight.)

My granddaughter was EXACTLY the same for the first seven years of her life. But in the last two years she has turned a corner and her own behavior, control, and anger issues have become much more manageable. Something turned on the lightbulb above her head and she began to "get it", at least most of the time.

Its not easy. Its not the same for everyone. But it is survivable. When it gets overwhelming do something to help you release your anger....write, run, go somewhere where you can scream all the things you feel, but no one can hear you. And remember...This too shall pass!

Courage, my friend!

Karen said...

Just the way you love your kids like you love no other, you get mad at them like no other. It's completely normal because the bond you share with them is different from those you have with anyone else. So go a little easier on yourself when things aren't perfect.

As to rules and discipline, I was just in a conversation about this the other day, actually. I have a lot of elementary teacher friends and they have universally agreed that kids in their classes follow the rules much more diligently when they "come up with them" on their own. It can be the exact same list the teacher makes up, but when the kids think those are THEIR rules, they follow them better. And deciding their own punishments is a great way to teach about consequences.

kbiermom said...

"You learn a lot about yourselves as parents.". That pearl of wisdom has resonated with me for over fourteen years, since my OB said it the day he discharged us from the hospital w/ our firstborn.

A lot of what I've learned about myself isn't pretty. Along with all the primal feelings of love and protectiveness and nurturing come the equally intense and primal feelings of anger, frustration, and fear. Learning how to be ther grownup is hard work. Learning self-control is hard work.

And you have to learn it on a whole new level. The feelings run deeper and more intense than when it's your own kids, because there is so much more at stake. There is no handing them off to their parents at the end of the day. There is no walking away. The choices they make will affect us forever, because they are in our lives forever.

Around age four or five, our oldest began to challenge us by refusing to go to time-out when told. You're entering one of the more difficult phases. Kids this age are testing out their newfound ability to do lots of things, and they don't yet understand how their plans affect others. They know what they want to do, and they have an intense drive to just DO it!

Sounds like you're on the right track, giving her the choice to set her own consequences really worked, and is likely ti continue working. Stick with that whenever possible, and she'll appreciate the consistency. You don't want to question your own strategies and change them up too much -- that will only end up frustrating her.

Every time our kids hit a developmental change like this, we will find ourselves at a loss. And the past ways seem so easy, so simple. But try to remember how you found your way then -- it probably is looking easy in hindsight, but there were probably times you felt just this helpless and clueless when she was a baby, too.

And allow yourself to let go of the fear. Fear really is the path to the dark side! Pray for god to guide their decisions, as well as your own. Pray for "daily bread" in parenting -- the strength for today, and the ability to let go of tomorrow.

And know that not every one of their decisions will trace back to something that you did or said. There are many reasons for their choices, and you are just one person. A really important person, yes. A great mom, definitely. But still, just one human being.

Aim to control your own behavior, and make it clear to them (and to yourself) that they, not you, are in control of their own behavior. Sometimes it will feel as if a method of discipline is not working, since the child is not stopping a particular behavior. But sometimes a child is simply not ready, developmentally, to give it up. As long as they learn that a particular action is not allowed and that the have given consequences for doing it, they are learning -- even if they are not stopping. Sometimes they need time to develop the appropriate self-control.

Last thing (sorry this is so long, and i know I'm pretty much preaching to the choir) -- just listen to her. Help her find ways to communicate with you that are appropriate, and tell her that you want to listen to her -- when she's not screaming or stomping! And take her words at face value. To a five-year-old, sometimes a flower really is just a flower. :)

Garret of Jim and Garret said...

I'd need a straight jacket for myself and one for my kid. There, that solved it.

Barnmaven said...

Five was a tough age for my daughter and it is a tough age for my son, in different ways but I think for the same reasons. Its a crossover age, there are a lot of developmental processes going on. I remember my daughter testing out her strength of will in regards to boundaries, and I see my son do the same. He's become Mr. "I know everything."

Its hard to stay calm, but the best thing I have found is a lot of self talk, reminding myself that I don't have be invested in his behavior. When he behaves in a way that isn't acceptable, there is a consequence that is enforced, period. He has until the count of three to make a decision. Once three arrives, the decision is made and the consequence is enforced. Period, every single time. Once the consequence is explained and the countdown starts, the choice is HIS, not mine. I try to pick consequences that only impact him and don't make things tougher for me, but sometimes I'm just going to have live through some crying and screaming.

One thing you can do is a pictoral chart of kids' jobs. For a five year old, a bedtime chart could show pictures of brushing teeth, eating breakfast, getting dressed. For bedtime it could be brush teeth, put on pj's, read books, go to sleep. If you make it on paper and laminate it, you can use dry-erase or projector markers to check things off.

Because my kids are ADHD, rewards (sticker charts, etc) don't work. They don't have the patience to wait for a reward, they want it now and when they don't get it, they have more bad behavior which sort of negates the point of the whole thing. We do a lot of immediate positive reinforcement - GREAT JOB brushing your teeth! Here's a hug! I really appreciate how you used your manners to ask me for something. I love you so much! According to our therapist, hugs and kisses and compliments are also big rewards for kids. My kids love to be reminded when they've done something good, and when you have kids who have behavioral disabilities, they too often hear about what they are NOT doing right. I try to "catch them" doing the right thing and make a big deal out of it. When they make bad choices I try to be very consistent about instituting consequences. And sometimes I do lose my temper, and I have to apologize, and move on. Sometimes Mom nees a time out too!

Leticia said...

I am a big believer in the power of house rules...and they worked well for us until about age 7-8. The kids helped make them, and they also helped decide on the consequences.

Yes, I do believe this is normal limit testing stuff. I also think that you are a wonderful mom! I look up to you Liz, and sadly there are not many moms that I consider "look up to" worthy these days.

I think you'll find, or at least I have found, that with every year past Kindergarten the rules have to be updated frequently.

I remember the time that you are going through, and I remember not understanding where I had gone wrong. I now realize I hadn't.

As they get older, and wiser, they will learn to appreciate and approve of that guidance, even if they wont admit to it.

Just tonight my son had a run in with some neighborhood kids. They were giving him some flack over how "mean" his mom was to them, and demanded to know why she hated them.

My dear, sweet Andrew said "She doesn't hate you. She just doesn't like your behavior lately."

Well said son, and with that I know I must be doing something right...because had they asked me that...I'm not so sure that "I don't hate you" would have been my phrase of choice. ;)

<3 hang in there mamma!

Huckdoll said...

I know you've had a little resolve and some amazing comments here, but I just wanted to add that I can relate big time to this.

One of my 4 year old twins is no problem and the other, Callie, is so fiercely independent, strong, temperamental and even scary sometimes that I'm often just taken aback and shocked at how this has come to be.

Anyway, this post and especially the comments have really helped me in my own obstacles right now. Much appreciated.

((HUGS))

Huckdoll said...

PS. I wanted to say before that I think your daughter is absolutely beautiful!

Minivan Lover said...

My friend just left my house. She has three daughters- 5, 2, and 10weeks. The 5 year old is really giving her a hard time- lots of hot and cold- I love you I hate you kind of days. I think it's great that you were able to have a reflection period with Teagan. Keep it up and she will come around. Zach will learn a lot through observation- I am 3rd in a family of 4. I know of what I speak. :)