Helplessly Devoted

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?

Should I?

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.



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26 responses to “Helplessly Devoted

  1. So much of what we do is so hard. Don’t second guess yourself…Do what you think is right, help her become the woman you know that she can be. There will be bumps in the road, but know that you are doing it from all the right places in your heart.

    Sending strength and happy days your way, friend!

  2. Fynn’s been doing much of the same, only in a three year old way rather than a five year way…
    Someone recommended “How to talk so your kids listen, and to listen so your kids will talk” (I think that’s the title..) and it’s good – and I also don’t tend to read/like parenting books and that sort of thing. I actually throw them against the wall in most cases. But this one seems really good (even after just the first chapter…)
    It’s so hard… so so hard. I feel like he’s bipolar. On the good days, it’s so so good. On the bad days, it’s so so awful.
    Hugs to you. Hang in there… you’re doing a great job!

    • Yes, bipolar! I so often say that to Tim. She’s like Jekyl and Hyde! I will definitely check out that book… I’m willing to try anything at this point. Thank you Corinne!

  3. Yes: “Still so young. So fragile. So impressionable. So little. I forget.” I feel the same way with my own daughter. Have you talked with her teachers or her pediatrician? They might, at the very least, confirm your gut and soothe your heart.

    • It’s so good to know I’m not alone in some of this Stacia. Thank you. I have spoken to her teachers and I’m working with them to see if there’s anything we can do together to help the situation. I’ll hope things improve with a combination of support, strength on my part and input from some non-biased parties!

  4. I’ll admit I’m typically that parent who reads…everything! Consumes it all, looking for answers. I’ve never found any that feel quite right for me so perhaps I should abandon that strategy. I think you’ve got the right attitude though, I think mothering/parenting is more about going with your gut than anything else. Books don’t offer real solutions because they don’t know our real life. Our children are all individuals. It’s a hard pill to swallow though isn’t it? That they are individuals, unique in their own right and sometimes just beyond what we can manage. I know, my oldest son is emotional like your daughter. He can be content and smiling one moment and lapse into a sadness in the next moment. He often says “I’m sad mommy.” It breaks my heart, but in my heart I also recognize that sometimes this is his way of controlling our relationship. That sounds harsh perhaps, but it’s true. When he wants something from me that’s what he uses. So I think carefully about what I am prepared to give in that moment and stand strong. If it is a good time for cuddles and chat then that’s what I give. If not, than I acknowledge his feelings and offer him suggestions for self coping. Doesn’t always work but sometimes it does. I think that’s the key, stick with your gut, model behaviour by knowing your own limits and offer her opportunities to learn to cope. It’s a skill she’ll need as she gets older. I hope this helps and I’m sending hugs because really, I don’t think there is any one right answer and that makes it just hard.

    • Yes, I do think that Hannah uses her advanced communication skills to manipulate me in a way. She knows the buttons to push with me and knows when I’ll cave. She’s got me figured out! I think what you’re doing is great – choosing when to give your son what he WANTS and when to give him what he NEEDS. I need to be better at doing this and staying strong. It really does help Christine, thank you.

  5. Nicki

    I know how hard this is, Becca! I would give you a big hug if I were closer.

    But, on another note, did something else happen at school? Some other child say something about the way Hannah eats or how much or some sly little remark? I tend to think that the not eating at school has nothing to do with the wanting all of your attention but with something that happened at school. Of course, you also know that I am a huge “you know your child best” person so disregard the above.

    • No, nothing happened at school regarding the eating. She just knows how upset I get when I see she didn’t eat and she likes that attention, I think. I’ve talked to the teachers and we both agree that this is not in response to something that happened. Although, now the kids are all commenting on Hannah’s not eating which is another problem in itself.
      Thanks Nicki! I’ll take the cyber hug!

  6. Joely

    I have 3 girls: 10, 8, 6. And you have described some of my days; many of my days. Why are they not like that with my husband? He says I don’t set enough boundries and I am push over. But here is what I think. Mothering is just plain different. We are where they learn empathy. If we dont teach it they never have it. And you can tell by the adults you meet and work with, who got that trick taught to them. I figure it will be hard and I am gonna cry and scream but god willing they will learn the empathy, compromise, and respect because that is my only job. It is not to buy them Uggs or take them to the right ballet school(although it is nice to). My job is to raise adults who know how to interact in this world with others and to be proud of their actions. So here is how I get myself through it all: I run (somedays much further than others because it takes that long to clear my head) and I do yoga and I clean. Lately the house has been spottless and I have been a workout fiend but atleast the coping mechanisms have a positive effect. So let them see how you cope with your stress and hopefully they will start to do the same for themselves; atleast I hope so. I love that your daughter sees you writing and wonders what is going on in your head. She already has the empathy. She already is watching and learning and it is healthy coping skills she sees. Some kids learn how to drink and hit and abuse. Some kids learn how to make the picture look pretty and that is it. Most people just want the picture to look good and forget the rest. Yours are learning how writing and honesty make you a better humanbeing so kudos to you.

    • Where’s your blog Joely? You write such wonderful comments – I’d love to read a blog of your own too!

      Yes, I am definitely teaching Hannah empathy and sensitivity! She models most of her personality after me so I guess I need to start showing her better coping skills too. I appreciate all of your thoughts, really I do!

      • joely

        I will consider the blog idea, that is how I ended up here reading your blog. It is a daunting task considering all of the topics to write about. I am not sure I am ready to expose it all. Maybe I would be anonymous. I am a bit reluctant to let go of my mystery. How would I blog and be honest to everyone considering that minor faux paux? Is it better to be exposed or mysterious going through life?

  7. It sounds like you’re doing everything right, Becca, although that probably isn’t much comfort.

    Miss M. (4) is going through a really difficult, willful phase right now. Hubs and I have decided that every Saturday (we alternate) one of us spends one-on-one time with her. Which means that Miss D. also gets some alone-time with a parent. It’s not about fanfare…sometimes it’s just as simple as taking a walk or going to the book store. But her intense neediness right now, her clamoring for attention, has us on guard.
    This will either ease her insecurity or increase her diva tendencies…who knows?

    • I do the one on one time as well and it definitely helps. She craves more time with just me and I wish I could give it to her, but I can’t. And as far as the new diva tendencies… if she thinks I’ll just sweep her away and leave Luke behind whenever she’s sad, we’ll have a whole different issue to deal with. Somehow, we’ll figure this out! Thanks Kitch!

  8. Parenting isn’t an easy job. But I highly recommend going with your gut instinct. In addition to your unconditional love, your children need your strength. Your daughter needs to learn that she does have the strength in herself to pick herself up and brush herself off.

    There will be many more meltdowns. Keep an eye out for them when the kids are gearing up for growth spurts.

    Hang in there!

    • Yes, I do need to give her more strength. I know she has it in her but I save her before she needs to use it. If I show her I have more strength, maybe she’ll start using hers too. And as far as the growth spurt… that is interesting, I’ll have to look into that! Thank you PLR!

  9. As a mother of two teenagers can I tell you that the dynamics going on in your home are not atypical. Neither are your feelings. Parenting is a difficult job. I don’t think we can every love our children or tell them we love them too much.

    The advice that I would give as someone who has been there (and survived!) is to teach your daughter that independence is a reward in and of itself. When she does something on her own, even it it’s just looking at a book for a few minutes, praise her for that accomplishment. Tell her how grown up she is getting. You might also tell her that Mommy needs to get XY and Z done and then afterward, she can pick an activity for the two of you to do together.

    This worked well for me. My daughter is now 15 and extremely well organized and a real self-motivator.

  10. Awwww, I can’t even begin to imagine how tough it is to say No or punish your little lady or not hug her back when she’s trying to get out of trouble.

    This was my thoughts when I read your post (which I loved your honesty and introspection I wish all parents had this quality), my first thought was that you don’t have to say Yes all the time to let her know you will be there for her.

    I think while you may not see she is learning, she is. Remember when she was a baby and you had to push the baby food in her mouth multiple times before she’d eat it? Same concept,, only with learning. Sometimes kids need repetition (and consistency) to learn a task. The problem is, if you feel like its not working or if you change the outcome (this time she gets a hug), she did not learn the lesson, she learned how to manipulate which is not the lesson your trying to teach.

    The second thing I thought was when you mentioned that you had another child and he’d just stand there quietly watching her sister’s meltdown, and it made me sad for him. Because he does not demand the attention or love does he feel like its his job to be put on the backburner? Would you want him to grow up to be a adult or husband or employee who thinks that its okay if everyone else gets the promotions but him?

    Maybe you could have a date-day with each of your kids separately so that they both know they’re hugely important to you, and on that date do something to help them express their love. Like take your daughter to a pottery class and have her make something for herself, and also a present for your son. So she gets the attention and love but she learns to share it.

    Whatever you decide, the fact that your thinking it through and trying to find the solution means that your a great mom, someone that wants her children to grow and develop and learn, and that deserves a gold star!:)

  11. “Should I have told her I am in fact unhappy? That what she put me through today made me miserable?”

    Here’s my two cents. I would say, No. Telling her that she’s making you miserable puts it on her shoulders to make you happy, and that’s no job for a 5-year-old. Also, telling her that she’s making you unhappy would come crashing down on her like a ton of bricks. She might not distinguish between “my behavior makes Mama sad,” and the much more dangerous “I make Mama sad.”

    The rule are the rules. They shouldn’t be tied to emotions. As much as we hated hearing it when we were kids, it seems like this is the perfect time for “Because I said so.”

    I offer all of this not having walked this road yet. This is what my gut says, and it could be completely wrong.

  12. I remember feeling just like you with my older son. I had such a difficult time not being there for him. I always rescued him. My gut told me not to, but I couldn’t help it. And you know what? He’s just fine today. I still rush in too fast to rescue him and I don’t need to…but in reality he is fine.

    Relax. Enjoy. It all works out.

  13. All I can say is that discipline is much harder on the parent than the kid. Just hang in. It’s all you can do. Been there, many times, and it’s so draining. The need to stand your ground comes and goes at different stages. It doesn’t get easier, but it does teach them the necessary limits.

    I do agree that if something is truly not working, try a different approach. One of my sons could outlast anyone in the sit by himself and not budge department. Time-outs were virtually pointless with him. Did it anyway, and eventually I had to re-evaluate which things I really felt were priorities (health, respect, understanding boundaries), and which I could let go. Ultimately, the greater give-and-take loosened his willfulness in other areas.

    But there’s no one answer. Ever.

  14. Thank you for this. For opening up. For describing your struggle. A struggle I will face. That so many of us will face. I don’t think you realize how powerful your words are. They are words borne from experience, from trial and error, from endless love.

    I have no answers. None. But the questions resonate and bind all of us parents together. We are on this rough road together.

  15. Oh, Becca. I am a gut instinct parent. I haven’t entered unknown waters yet, but something tells me it will be similar to what you are experiencing. Gulp.

    I am thinking about you. You are doing what is best, don’t second guess yourself!!

  16. My 5 year old is just ending a difficult phase where I had to adjust my style a little bit. I had to show more physcial affection for him, despite the fact that he is strong and wiggly and very difficult to snuggle. Once I did the fits stopped. My problem was like yours but required the opposite solution because my parenting style is a lot more hands off, if they can fix it themselves I let (and/or force) them.

    I never give into fits or screams. Once they are calm we can pick up where we left off. My only advice is if you try to step back be careful you don’t give in after she escalates (which she will) because then you’re teaching her that escalation will give her what she wants!

  17. The willful, difficult, surly phase really tests your mettle — and it’s a stage of development that doesn’t always pass quickly. My only advice is to hang in there and keep your cool. I’ve been getting a newsletter called “Empowering Parents” and this week’s message was to keep your power (rather than giving it to your kids) simply by refusing to let yourself get frustrated or angry when they don’t respond the way they should to our parenting. I’m trying it — it’s not easy, but it has helped me see the big picture despite the surliness. Good luck!

  18. Emily

    I think you are doing the right thing. You will still get to scoop her up and love on her. She just will learn that certain behaviors will not result in that kind of affection. Which is a good thing. I have a VERY strong willed daughter, she challenges me in way I NEVER imagined! I think one of the most important things we can do for our children is to set boundaries with love and to lovingly enforce those boundaries. Yes Hannah is young, but she is very intelligent (from what I have read). Teaching her to gage her emotions and to handle them in an appropriate manner is a skill that will serve her well in life. Why not begin teaching it now? You are doing a great job. And if you are still having hard time following your gut, keep in mind that Luke is watching all of this and will one day decide that perhaps that is how he too will get some extra attention. Good luck and stay strong!

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