Monday, December 17, 2007

Taking My Own Medicine

It is a challenge being a parent, no doubt. The hardest part, for me, is knowing that the only way to teach children is by example. You can talk till you are blue in the face, but in the end it doesn't matter a smidge what you say. The most idiotic words a parent can say to their child is, "I don't want you to end up like me." So, how do I get my daughter to understand that I really don't want her to parent the way I have parented her? Notice I don't say "the way I parent," because, as we all know, it is nearly impossible to parent each child the same way. For some reason I am able to consider myself a pretty durn good mom to my other children but not to Cookie. This has been a ache in my heart for many years. I don't know when we started having problems, maybe it was because she was so hard to nurse so we didn't get that relaxed bonding. Maybe it was because I felt jealous when I first realized that I was no longer the only woman in my husbands heart. Maybe it is because she is so much like me and I don't like having a sentient mirror image of myself following me around, demonstrating all my faults. Maybe it is because she is the oldest and so I expect WAY too much from her. Maybe it is a little bit of all these things. What it really comes down to, though, is that I'm not at peace with my child... and that is unacceptable.

This has been a self improvement project of mine for the past 2 years. The best step I took was sending her to public school. As much as it hurt me to give up homeschooling her we really needed that time away from each other for me to gain control of my reactions to her actions, and also just to give us time away from each other to develop our own personalities. But, I hadn't really improved any of my parenting, I had just gained a bit of freedom and the ability to avoid her for half a day.

Lately our biggest struggle has been the way she treats her brother, Monster Man. She hasn't really liked the poor guy since he was 2 and has been rather obvious about it. It took us two years to get her to eat at the same table with him. She still won't sit next to him at dinner, church, or during family prayers. I was able to just accept it as sibling stuff and we set things up so that Monster Man wouldn't notice. But lately things have gotten REALLY bad. Cookie is a good kid and doesn't get in trouble for the most part but it seems like I am lecturing her all the time about the way she treats and talks to her brother. I finally sat her down for a talk and this is basically how it went:

Me: Cookie, what have you been getting in trouble for every day lately?
Her: For talking mean to Monster Man
Me: Do you love him?
Her: (Shrugging) yeah
Me: Honey, if something awful were to happen to Gabe today, if he were to die right now, what would be the last thing he heard you say?
Her: Yelling at him (she is tearing up now)
Me: Have you ever noticed that any time I have to get mad at one of you guys I always end it with hugging you and telling you what I love about you? I do that because I want to make sure that the last thing my children hear from me is how much I love them. When was the last time you told Monster Man that you love him?
Her: I don't know
Me: When was the last time you hugged him?
Her: I don't know
Me: When was the last time you asked him to play with you?
Her: I don't know
Me: When was the last time you said something mean to him?
Her: Just a few minutes ago
Me: Cookie, I know that deep down you love him, but do you think he knows you love him? Now, I have talked to you about this over and over again. You've gotten in lots of trouble and even been punished for the things you've said to him. Nothing I've done has made you stop being mean to him and I think I know why. It isn't enough for you to try to stop being mean, you now have to start actually doing loving things to him. Starting now I want you to tell him you love him at least once a day. I want you to start telling him why you love him. I want you to start hugging him and playing with him. Because unless you start showing him that you love him he will never know. And the more you show him your love the harder it will be for you to be mean to him because you won't like the way it makes it feel anymore.

Later that night I layed in bed staring at the ceiling thinking about why this situation had gotten so bad. Then I started realizing that I needed to show her how to be loving. I am ubber loving with my other kids but, for many reasons, I find it very difficult to be loving to Cookie. It is highly probable that her treatment of Monster Man is simply another reflection of the way I treat her. Ouch! Talk about your humble parenting pie. So, I am determined to be loving towards my daughter. I am going to try the same experiment I gave her. I am going to tell her I love her before she tells me. I am going to ask her if she wants to play chess instead of telling her I don't have time. I am going to stop correcting her unless it is something serious, and even then I will count to ten first. I am going to hug her for no reason. I am going to look at her and tell her she is beautiful. I am going to tell my husband only good things about her for the rest of the year. I am going to start seeing the humor in her little quirks rather than let them make me bristle. I am going to do all of this because, frankly, if she were taken from me this moment I could not be confident in thinking that she knows how much I really love her. No child should have to wonder if their mother really loves them or is just putting up with them.

I love you Cookie, more than I will ever be able to make you understand.


Jen said...

Her picture is so cute!

Have you considered doing a daily/weekly "secret friend" program in your family? Randomly assign each child to a secret friend who they must secretly serve with x number of acts of kindness per day. Maybe rigging it so Cookie has Monster Man may help her out too.

My Ice Cream Diary said...

Jen, I love those kind of things, but again, it is up to me to make it happen. I'm hoping I will get to that point very soon.

Duchess said...

She's such a beautiful girl and you are such a great mom!

Anonymous said...

*sniffffffff* that was an eye-opener. Thank you for sharing it!

Cocoa said...

This is such a good post. I like how you point out that we parent each child differently because they are all different.

My oldest is so much like I was at her age. We clash a lot of the time but its because of me. I see my faults in her and try to correct them in her forgetting to look at my own first. When I remember to praise her goodness and bite my tongue when she messes up our relationship is a lot smoother and I notice she tries harder to be better. Positive reinforcement really works!

Maria said...

When I get frusterated with my kids or hubby, I always think of the best words of advice my mom ever gave me, "Never ever give up on your kids until the day you die!". I'm know you didn't give up on her, but if you keep trying, she will grow up and you will have a wonderful relationship with her. She is VERY pretty.

Anonymous said...

That is a great picture. It's really good that you are able to see these things and try to fix them while she is so young.

I need to do better with my oldest and being loving and giving him the attention he craves!

Misty said...

First of all - - Cookie is BEAUTIFUL.

Second, Thank you for your honesty and ability to inspire us each to look at ourselves as mothers. Reading your post gave me a LOT to think about.

Thank you for that.

Sonja said...

Sometimes I read your posts and feel like we are living parallel lives. I have every confidence that you and Cookie are going to make it. Just from reading your blog these past few months I have come to admire you as a mother and friend so much!:D I really don't have any advice but this scripture came so strongly to my mind as I was reading (because I am working on a very similar situation). I'm sure it's been on your mind too!
Ether 12:27

Rachel said...

I was moved by this post. Thank you for your honesty. It's not always a given that we'll have that easy instant connection to our kids. And I admire you for putting it to words.

So glad to know you guys had a good experience recently!

Don't sell yourself short. How many parents would have not pursued that elusive connection or found ways to improve their own thoughts and actions.
Thank you