I’m not a By-The-Book type mom. I rarely never read parenting guides or parenting help books. Right or wrong, I parent by my gut. I parent by what feels right to me. I decided when Hannah was born that I’d show her love and adoration every day. This was my priority. I’d give her as many hugs as I could find the time to give. I’d sweep her into my arms at the first sign of sadness. I guess I figured that if she felt comforted, safe and warm knowing how much I love her and am there for her, she’d thrive and respond with respect, and kindness. I thought this love would translate into gratitude and sensitivity as she grew older. I am sadly finding, however, that this is not the case. And I’m surprised.
Hannah is lashing out. She gets into moods where she’s angry. So angry. She’s rude. She’s stubborn and nasty. She acts like she’s the only person in the world and doesn’t listen to a word I say. She abuses me and the love that I shower upon her. I had expectations, and her behavior is not going according to my plan. I had her current behavior in my mind for 10 years down the road. And now, I’m simply petrified of ten years down the road if I’m experiencing THIS now.
Be Strong. Be Consistent. Set Limits. Have consequences. Yes. Yes. Yes. I know. And I am. It doesn’t come naturally or easy for me, but I am trying. But the taking away of the toys, the sending her to her room, the reward charts, the threats, the strikes, the time outs Are Not Working. She is miserable in the moment when I show her the consequence but it doesn’t stop her from doing it again. And agin. She promises to be better, she swears it’s the last time, she begs for forgiveness and we hug and I forgive her. And then it happens again. And again I’m surprised.
I suppose part of the problem is that although what I’ve described is what she looks like on a bad day. Her description on a good day is the polar opposite. She’s articulate and reasonable. She’s helpful and nurturing. She’s giggly and witty. She’s magnetic and wise beyond her years. And I think all of that, might be the problem. I know she has all of THAT in her. I know I can expect THAT from her. And when she behaves so IRRATIONALLY, so cruelly, so immaturely, like she’s FIVE or something, I am at a loss. And then I remember. She IS five. Five. Still so young. So fragile. So impressionable. So little. I forget.
But even when I remember her age, I’m still surprised. She has started crying when I leave her at school. She has started to refuse to eat while at school. She has meltdowns with her teachers when they ask her why she’s not eating and tells them she has a stomach ache or that she misses me. She’s crying out for attention, attention that you’d think I’m not giving her, but I am. Maybe too much of it. She wants 100% of me 100% of the time. And I don’t have the energy for it. I have another child who also needs me. He stands quietly looking on at his big sister who screams at the top of her lungs at me. Who thrashes around on the floor in a fit of hysteria. Who grabs onto my leg as I try to walk away from her to give her “space” that I’m told she needs to calm down. Who cries, “I NEEEEED you mommy. I WAAAANT you mommy.” so that I’ll drop the rest of my world for her. And usually I do. Because I still want her to know that she can feel safe knowing I will always be there for her. How can I stop giving her that?
I can’t help but blame myself for this recent behavior. But I don’t know what I blame myself for? Giving her too much attention? Being too much to her? Allowing her to expect so much from me? Would I have been better off if I had been stern and unforgiving earlier in her life? Is there such thing as Too Much Love?
And right now, as I type, this girl that I’ve been describing is curled next to me. Her head is on my shoulder. She just looked up at me and said, “Are you unhappy Mama? You look unhappy.” And I said, “No sweetie, I’m not unhappy. And I kissed her and told her I love her. And then I second guessed my response. Should I have told her I am in fact unhappy? That what she put me through today made me miserable? I’m now second guessing everything. Because my gut is now telling me something very different than it told me when she was born. It’s telling me to step back. Be tougher. Be harder. Be less emotional.
I feel almost helpless in my devotion to this girl. Rosy cheeked and snuggled in her polka dot pajamas. Sucking her thumb the way she did when she was an infant and a toddler, the way she does when she’s nervous or tired. With her well-loved elephant tucked under her chin. Her toe nails painted a a pattern of pink, blue, silver, purple and silver. Her long hair braided in Dorothy braids down each side of her face. It is going to be a near impossible challenge to back off. To not immediately scoop her up in my arms when she’s melted down onto the floor, push her hair wet from tears off of her cheeks, rock her until I feel her tense body relax into mine and I hear her sobs subside into sniffles. It’s what I’ve always done. Right or wrong. And I truly believe she at least THINKS she needs it since she knows no other way. But my gut now tells me she needs to find this calm within herself on her own. She needs to learn how to pick herself back up without so much from me.
So I’m going to go with my gut. Even if it breaks my heart.