“Write down these rules, Mama.”
So I did. And then I hung them up on the refrigerator. Because what better way is there to encourage a child to do something, than to remind them that it was their idea in the first place? Numbers 2 and 3 are all Esper. She came into the world, it seemed, ready to give to everyone. She’s never hesitated to give a toy to a friend or sibling. She always wants me to give money to people holding signs that say they need some. She takes pride in how she hugs me and comforts me when I am sad. She is truly amazing.
Numbers 4 & 5 have been a huge undertaking for us. I say “us” because raising a child involves both the child and the parent. I have had to learn how to parent as much as Esper has had to learn how to function as a human being. You think we would all come prepared with a nice set of tools and a clear understanding of our own emotions and thoughts. Unfortunately, we are all on our own. Sometimes we have parents and teachers to guide us, but more often than not, adults aren’t quite clear on how to deal with their own emotions and thoughts. That’s where parenting books, meditation, personal therapy, and child & family therapy come into play.
Last year Esper told me something that devastated me. My sweet five-year-old told me that she didn’t want to exist. I panicked. My mind was flooded with overwhelming guilt and a need to analyze every interaction we had ever had to determine just how and when I had failed as a parent. I received some interesting feedback from those I opened up to about this experience. One person suggested that her thoughts were a result of my boyfriend dying last year. They pointed out I shouldn’t have introduced her to him in the first place (um, what?), or let her see me sad. Others suggested that it was simply part of growing up. Since she’s not with me 100% of the time, it’s hard to know exactly what she’s struggling with if she won’t tell me. And at this age, it’s hard for kids to even put those concepts into words sometimes.
I needed answers, so the two of us headed off to weekly therapy. Answers weren’t necessarily what I received. I still don’t know why Esper felt so sad and overwhelmed that made non-existence a thought in her mind, but I do feel like I know her better now. She is a girl that thrives on order and predictability, much like most kids her age. She is also extremely self-aware and hard on herself. (I wonder where she gets that from.) Our therapist has given us some great tools (that I plan on talking about in more detail in a future post) that work very well for my daughter. Raising a young child to be self-aware is the goal, but it means that she is learning now what many people don’t learn until adolescence, sometimes even adulthood. So she gets an emotion and we use our tools and we try to remember to be mindful and allow it.
Yet I’m still a parent that finds myself feeling like a failure unless I can keep her “negative” emotions away permanently. These emotions aren’t negative, though. Anger, fear, sadness, frustration–they are essential parts of being human. And yet as I experienced some of these emotions myself this weekend I found myself wishing that they would just go away. I also recognized the little Monster that sometimes pops up in my mind- the Being-Hard-On-Myself monster. He just waits for something to happen to try and convince me that I’m the biggest loser that’s ever existed. I sink into the emotions. I begin to believe that they are me and I am them. I let the Monster run the show. I cower, I hide, I reach out for something to hold onto.
But then… I walk past the fridge and see Esper’s rules. The rules that provide her with order and predictability, a set of guidelines that comfort her and that she knows are the secret to a good life. “Be proud of yourself. Be nice to yourself.” A year ago she wasn’t nice to herself. She now knows just how important it is. I see the list and just like that, the Monster is gone. Because I decided to follow the rules, and being nice to myself means the monster can’t come around. I’m proud of myself for following the rules.
Just don’t tell Esper about the leftovers I threw out yesterday.